Tuesday, 7 August 2018

A few thoughts .... ‘The Human Beings issue 6’ from Stuart McCune



The Human Beings issue 6.


‘The Dark Family in the Golden Field’.


Created by Stuart McCune.


40 pages - Full Colour.


Published by Millicent Barnes Publishing.


The Quote.


As if in a trance Maria watched the woman.


For it seemed to her then that she was watching the dead still centre of the world.


The quintessential intersection of nothing.’


Joan Didion. (Play it as it Lays.)


The Approach.


I approach this review in the same way that I have approached the reviews of all of Stuarts work. I read the book, try and find how it affects me, and it always does. I try and examine what I think he is saying. I try and investigate the underlying truths of the book. And I compare it to nothing else out there.


My fingertips reach out to touch just the edge of Stuart’s reality, never totally in contact. I suspect that I’m picking up on a few things here and there that he will never admit. Nothing should ever be totally understood. None of us are that stupid or that insightful.


I make no claims that this review is accurate.


However.


This week as I read I am struck that Stuart is in fact a hitman.


I messaged him.






A Brief Mention of the Story.


A man and a woman share a moment. A sensual and post coital moment in a bed. She nags him to repeat a dream that he has had. This world of the two people is a familiar one. We lay in that moment of total timeless existence. Sharing ourselves after the physical moment has ended. This takes place in a hotel in Rome.


We shift locations.


‘I tell people I’m an artist, I even hold exhibitions.’


A sniper picks out his targets. Narrating his life and never totally being what he seems. At once the world of The Human Beings takes a nasty and sinister turn. Faces are intensely gruesome and plans are teased at the players and the reader.


Maybe there is a moment that links back to a certain Monologue? Maybe not.






For this is a world of quietly spoken sentences becoming a nightmarish brutality. This is a twisted love story, a dark and dangerous romance. The images of the past, of stars being interviewed on a chat show couch. The reflections of the television screen giving it a sheen of glamour.


Added to the main story which is absolutely captivating you get a shorter story that is connected called Heist. It hints to future crimes. You also get a one page hint at issue 7. (Coming soon to a Kickstarter near you).


A Letter from The Creator.


What you also get that I found interesting is a two page piece of prose from Stuart. It is prefaced by this quote;


‘I no longer belong to anything you can imagine’.

Dr Thomas Oro (14/6/71).


A piece about an encounter in an old bedroom is not what you may expect. I read it with a smile on my face. The Roman equivalent of chasing a wasp with a shoe perhaps? Or something more? I smile again at it’s imagery.


Everything McCune creates has an extra layer.....


It is followed by an image of a woman in a photo. Her hair barely visible as the centre section has been torn out to obliterate the personality. Maybe?





A Few Further Thoughts.


The Human Beings is a series that interconnects with theme, character and story. It is, as I am often saying, not designed as a quick read on your lunch break. But it should indeed be read. It has both a literary feel and a beautifully sinister art style. It whispers at you with nuance like a great jazz solo.


I also assert that it is the nearest you will get to a David Lynch movie in a comic book. Intense moments are handled with supreme ability and also have a slight, ever so slight, wink at the reader. A wink that dares you to investigate, explore and uncover what is at it’s heart.


It is, as the early quote suggests an intersection of many things, themes, people and purposes. I consider Stuart to be a good friend, a man of depth and humour. His fingerprints, in fact anyone’s fingerprints, have never been so visible in a piece of art. The artist is the art. His story is verse and chorus bouncing the reader through a chaotic structure of a narrative. I enjoy what he does, find it a puzzle I want to at least try to solve and am also at the same time inspired to create for myself.


If you have never read his work before you need to open up your eyes. Just try, you never know what it will inspire you to do.


Stuart also sent me a couple of extra pieces that I’m not allowed to talk about at the moment but speak to future events in this great series. What out....


The Links.


You can find out about Mr Stuart McCune at www.millicentbarnescomics.bigcartel.com


You can also find him on Twitter @StuartMcCune 


I also suggest you follow him on Kickstarter. Just search for Stuart John McCune.




That bit I always put at the end.


Many thanks for reading.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

In Preview - ‘A Real Job’ from Alberto Madrigal



A Real Job.


Written and drawn by Alberto Madrigal.


Published digitally by Europe Comics.


129 pages - Full Colour - Release Date 15/8/2018.


The Story - ‘Javi has left Spain for Berlin. He doesn’t speak German and hardly knows anyone there. He wants to be a comic book artist, but all his friends advise him to find a real job. He desperately needs to believe in himself, and to be believed. Burning with the desire to leave his mark, yet patient like any professional observer, Javi tells the story of his world, which becomes his first comic.’


The Preview - I read this comic a couple of days ago. A preview copy was very kindly sent through by Irina Polianina from Europe Comics. I have found that it has been playing on my mind since. I’m not sure why but images of the pages and panels are drifting back into my mind. I think I am being totally fair when I say that not much happens in it’s narrative but that it is also totally entrancing.


Javi is a slightly lost character. He is full of the indecision’s of youth. He is a little directionless but believes that his dreams are attainable, just when it can be accomplished eludes him. For Javi wishes to be a comics artist. A familiar story for sure but this is done with the twists and turns of reality added to some outstanding artwork.


A story told with a smile and a sense of melancholy. I book of memories of how we form ourselves into who we are and want to be. A book of friendships and personalities.


Alberto Madrigal creates circumstances, a sense of place and a group of friends and colleagues who you feel familiar with. The outspoken one, the friend for life, the encouraging one. His characters wander round small bedsits and flats as well as the gloriousness of the big city. The creator pulls out from a small vision to a landscape of vast buildings and personal opportunities.






It is not missing a sense of humour and is mixed in with fatalistic pathos and combines these with a world opening up with opportunities and possibly, just possibly crashed on the rocks might be his dreams? (no spoilers). You wander the streets and thoughts of Javi. Many of the faces lack detail and are mere iconic cliches but this is done with a sense of artistic style and purpose.


Float along in this artwork. It might take a moment for your eye to adjust but when it does you won’t want this book to end. It has a lovely combination of water colour, washed out sepia scenes from memories past and the lines of a caricature artist.


Just gorgeous.


Head over to http://www.europecomics.com/album/a-real-job/ to preorder a copy.


You can also find Europe Comics on Twitter at @EuropeComics Also make sure you sign up for their mailer.


This was originally published by Bao Publishing in Italy.






The Creator - Alberto Madrigal was born in Spain and has been living in Berlin since 2007. After a few short stories and freelance illustration gigs, Alberto Madrigal debuted on the comics scene in 2013 with Un lavoro vero (BAO Publishing; A Real Job, Europe Comics 2018). In 2015 he followed this by releasing Va tutto bene, again with BAO, in which he tackles the estrangement of a generation fighting to affirm its identity. In the same year he illustrated The Story Tree, novel for younger readers written by Gabriele Clima and published in the Battello a vapore imprint of Edizioni Piemme. Most recently, Madrigal has illustrated the graphic novel Berlin 2.0, written by Mathilde Ramadier and published by Futuropolis.



Many thanks for reading.

Friday, 3 August 2018

In Preview - ‘Follow Me In’ by Katriona Chapman




Follow Me In.


Created by Kat Chapman.


Published by Avery Hill.


248 pages - Full Colour - Hardcover.

£18.99.


The Story - ‘Kat had no responsibilities and nothing to tie her down. But she had graduated university with no plans. She was an artist who hadn’t drawn in five years. She was lost. 


What’s more, she’d been avoiding admitting to herself something that all of those around her knew; that her boyfriend, Richard, had some serious problems with alcohol. 


Looking for a fresh start, the two of them quit their jobs and embarked on a journey to Mexico for what what they expected to be an adventure of a lifetime. It led to experiences that changed both of their lives and to Kat rediscovering a love of art, a lifelong attachment to Mexico and the strength to move on.’ 





The Review - As this autobiographical comic opens you see a solitary Kat Chapman looking at her watch and towering above her is the clock tower at the front of Kings Cross. A building that in a strange coincidence is about a hundred yards from where I read this outstanding book. She then meets a man, Richard, who you realise is her ex partner and that what is about to take place is an awkward at first and highly personal meeting and conversation between two people who have a history.


Kat asks Richard his permission to use a trip they were on years previously as the basis of a comic she is creating. Surprisingly he agrees and the tone of the meeting softens. 


As I read I am struck with a number of feelings immediately in this the opening prologue. The creator shows their thoughtfulness and also their ability to direct this medium by using such a scene as the opener. It does a number of things that are clever. It straightaway gives you a sense of empathy with the players and also poses a number of questions for the story that will you expect to follow. What happened on this trip? Will we find out why they seem distant now? Will we find out what split them up?


I am reminded by something I heard as good advice years ago. ‘Always have a good way in to your story.’ And in accomplishing this Kat creates an environment and characters who grab your attention. You care from word one what will happen to who and why.


OK Kat Chapman. You’ve got me here, let’s see what happens next.





Almost immediately Kat changes gears. You are thrown from a measured and emotional scene between two people into the faces and landscapes of another country, another continent far removed from London. Mexico, a place that seems bright and dusty and magical and just a little bit out of our comfort zone. As a change from the greys of central London this is a little visual poke telling you to sit up and pay attention.


In fact the next scene opens on a village nestling in the valley of golden brown roofs and greenery. Kat is worried, Richard is missing and they are due to catch a coach anytime soon to a tour of local villages and islands on The Day of the Dead Festival. The worry plays on her face and in her thoughts. He eventually turns up and you realise that he is drunk. They continue on their coach tour she is embarrassed and he is throwing up against a house in view of the others in the street. You feel the clash of worlds, the beauty of Mexico at night against a man, a tourist, drunk and sick in the street.


The holiday makers get into a boat and row slowly out to an island. In a touchingly captured moment Kat reaches into the water and sweeps it with her hand. She grabs that moment and escapes from everything else that is happening. A really lovely moment.


Kat then pulls you back in time again to the flight and arrival in Mexico. Tired travellers eventually find their hotel and sleep. Kat wakes early and decides to grab the moment and begin drawing again, a pastime she hadn’t touched for sometime. She draws a local building and tells herself that at least she has started. It was cool to see that this, the actual drawing, was then in the book. This is a common technique that the creator uses throughout. These little extracts of her sketch book really add to the setting and feel of this narrative.





We follow the couple as they stay mainly in each other’s company but do on occasion connect with others. We see cities, and towns and ruins and forests and wildlife. All done with the conversation between the pair and Kat’s narration of their trip. This is an autobiographical comic that also works as a pretty useful travel guide. I learnt a lot about the country. We get illustrated pages on all subjects involving Mexico. How to get about, festivals, what to eat and what not to eat, history, maps and more. A lot of the dialogue is in Spanish without translation, after all who has a handy subtitle running along reality...?


When I started this review/preview I thought that I would examine the story as it’s beats hit for the whole of it’s length. But after the first pass through it’s pages I decided to just let the book do the talking. I’ve described above the initial sections and scenes and these hopefully will give you an idea of tone but you need to examine this for yourself. You need to walk in the footsteps of this couple, at least through the medium of comics.


I have a feeling that this may win a few awards.


I am again struck by the sentiment that we spend our days and our art attempting to capture a moment. A feeling that can be put on a page or a screen and that projects out into the minds and hearts of the readers. I came away from this book moved, genuinely. It’s not just the grandeur of Mexico that hits you, and it hits you hard, but it is also the complexities of the relationships on show here. 


Let’s be fair here. Kat doesn’t paint Richard as a pantomime villain in the slightest. The pair share some genuinely romantic moments. But he also drinks, he is an alcoholic. The reality of this fact comes to a strong realisation during this trip and is dealt with honestly and with a reality in both the art and the dialogue.


A gamble. But I’ve just run out of energy.’


Moments are fatalistically poignant, especially where Kat confides in a man she meets on the road. You can see how nervous she is when she discloses this very private matter.


This is a book of so many themes and subjects. Informative and at once also especially personal. It is a book that I have read as a digital preview but will go back and purchase it as a hardcover and enjoy all over again.


This is a book that will also want you to go on holiday. (It also goes to show the usefulness of keeping a diary and/or sketchbook. A lesson to us all.) 


A good piece of art reinterprets life in some way and then communicates. This journey takes place in all sorts of ways. Kat has allowed the reader to breathe in her journey. It will entrance you. This is a conversation on many things. It is most importantly a document on life and its full opportunities and love of living in that memory.


I know I am prone to enthusiasm and hyperbole but this is without a doubt in the running for my personal book of the year.


But Kat! That dog!


You can grab a copy by heading to www.averyhillpublishing.bigcartel.com or follow them on Twitter @AveryHillPubl


Find out more about the creator and find some more examples of her comics, art and travels at www.katrionachapman.com and follow her on Twitter @katchapman



Many thanks for reading.


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Return of the Rant.

A Projection....


Let’s do what nobody seems to be doing and project how our hobby will look in twenty years. Fear that due to some outside and inside factors that we are in trouble.


We have been in a period of transition for what seems like a decade at this point. Digital, Small Press/Indie, Big Three, all are evolving, or attempting to evolve, to fit the times.


Are we succeeding? 


Are the times changing too quickly?


I have my concerns that there are a couple of trains leaving and we aren’t on them.


Let’s look at format to begin with. The monthly comic. Is it working? Sometimes yes but more often than not we are seeing fall offs in sales after the release of the first issue and that merry-go-round of reboot after reboot. A desperate attempt to recoup sales that is a currency of slowly declining value and return.


So, what are selling? Some comics that are on a hype train or have a big name or event behind them. But they are not selling for long. There are a couple that buck the system like The Walking Dead or Saga but even these are falling a little bit out of the public view. It feels like the days are numbered for both these titles. Saga is being released irregularly and the inevitable fall off in sales that the Walking Dead will feel with the decline and cancellation of the tv series is only a couple of years away.


I’ve seen a few reports that digital is slowly improving? But is it at a fast enough rate to help the industry? I myself finally gave in a couple of years ago and buy and read a pile of comics weekly in a digital format. However, I rarely buy anything that isn’t in an, at least, half price sale.


Do we go to a digital only deal on the singles and then the trades are the physical copies? I can see a plan for this beginning to form in a few minds. There are quite a few digital only series being released on ComiXology from Marvel, DC and Valiant at the moment and more on the way. There will always be a market for physical comics from the odd weekly to the prestige hardback but as a mass market venture it seems that the medium’s days are numbered.


Remember when they had that mass market appeal? You could pick them up anywhere. You wouldn’t care about condition and as I am fond of saying you would roll them up and stick them in your back pocket to read on the bus or in the playground or on the commute. Some of my happiest memories of comics are reading them sat in the back of my parent’s car on the long drive on holiday. Or in a cafe covered in a towel, shivering a bit after playing in the sea in Clacton or Great Yarmouth.


So there are a couple of main factors that are preventing comics returning to what they were before.


They are obvious.


Price. 


You pretty much pay a minimum of £2.65 (more normally) for the average comic book and that is honestly far too much! They are being treated as speciality purchases, artefacts, collectors items. This should not be the case. The printing is currently in my opinion at an all time low. The paper that the majority of Marvel and DC Comics are printed on is toilet paper thin, doesn’t hold the blacks, generally due to a combination of art style, house style and printing processes looks muddy and due to the surface shine on the paper is difficult to read in direct light. How did we get to this point? What was wrong with the newsprint. It seems to have in the most part disappeared and was last seen in some Vertigo trades giving the finger and running off over a hill ....


What is it with trade paperbacks these days? Marvel and DC and some other companies will often charge more than the amount that it would cost you to buy the single issues for a trade with very little else.






Here’s an example of a comic that is thirty years old. How has it got a RRP of £35.99?! It is sixteen comics collected. These comics were created decades ago! That’s a price of £2.50 per issue! What on earth is that all about? To buy a Back Issue of any of these is pretty much £0.89 a piece on Ebay! 


To buy a digital copy of this book is £13.99. That works out at £0.87 per issue! These single issues (or single issues of a similar age/company etc) go in sales for £0.69 regularly on ComiXology.


This is not a solitary example I’m afraid. Listen I love Marvel Comics. They were literally my first love and I buy them every week still to this day. 


But.....Look at the above and tell me that we are not being ripped off.  


Yes, I know that some companies are keeping their prices down. My pals at Nobrow for example offer a good price for a beautifully presented hardback. £13.99 for an oversized, colour interior, bound hardback is a great price. But sadly this is not a trend followed by many of the larger corporations.


I’ve also seen recently a trend to overprice a lot of the comics coming out of the Small Press scene. £3 for a photocopied A6 comic that has black and white interiors and is eight pages long is just plain greedy. £5 for your digital Kickstarter tier for a forty page comic is also far too much. Keep the prices down might mean that you’ll sell more in a Comic Village or at a Convention.






Here is another recent example that I saw in a Sheffield Forbidden Planet and was so incensed/amazed/dumbfounded that I took a photo of it in the wild. A comic series that you can pick up at a Comic Mart for 50 pence an issue. This collection has eleven comics (yes, I know that four of them were prestige format) and it costs £33.50 for a physical copy and £13.99 to buy digitally.  Yes folks, that’s just over £3 an issue for the hard copy and £1.27 for online reading!  This comic came out in 1989!


Seriously?


Next up in the inadequacy box is Distribution. Where and when are comics sold? Ask the average person in the street and you are likely to get the reply:


Aren’t they on the computer now?’


Or


I don’t know, you never see them in the shops these days.’


The truth is that they are mostly sold in a dwindling number of what used to be called Direct Market Comic Book Shops. The location and existence of these shops feels like we ought to treat them as if they are part of The Official Secrets Act they are so well hidden. 


The Diamond catalogue is such an antiquated and overly complicated way of preordering your comics that it still looks like something from the 1990s. Yes, I know it’s available online but being expected to pick up a phone directory every month and go through the list of reboots and variant covers to order your comics at minimum three months down the line is just plain idiotic. It puts people off! Then we also get a mess of delays and cancellations to contend with.


I’ve got high hopes for the direct to supermarket DC Comics project that is happening in the states at the moment. I’m also hoping that we get them over here as you can’t actually order these Comics at the moment. Another obvious hiccup in the system.


So what happens? Prices have to come down, the companies have to take a short hit price wise in order to shift much larger numbers down the road. They also have to sort out a distribution model that doesn’t entail you being in an inner sanctum just to know how to order the stories. 


The price of digital is also unrealistic compared the price of movies, albums and even fast food. What does a kid spend his money on? It sure as fuck isn’t Comics. 


I totally understand that we need to obtain enough money to pay the creators a decent wage for what they do. This is twofold. Firstly the art that many (most) create is of an incredibly high standard. Work that is composed of multiple images for the cost of only a portion of that in may cases paid for a single piece of illustration or fine art. And secondly we need to keep these people, we don’t want them running off to the games/storyboard industries for a quicker and better pay check.


Growth is obviously the solution.


Movies that have millions of people see them need to start advertising and being completely integrated with the comics that spawned their existence. Why aren’t we giving away comics at the movies. Why don’t kids get a free copy of The Avengers at those characters’ movie? Why isn’t there a copy of a magazine with pages from Wonder Woman at her movies!? Add some articles on Chris Pine and Gal Gadot and teenagers will look for more on their movie idols.


The industry needs to stop relying on forty something men to buy their books. We won’t be around forever and at this rate neither will Comics of a good quality.


The price of art is essentially calculated on what people wish and/or are prepared and able to pay and that is something that should not change. But the cold hard facts are that people are not buying comics. This is an art form that is in danger of disappearing. 


Think about that future? I hope that I can still buy a monthly comic. But the future could be a bit brighter?



Many thanks for reading.


Sunday, 29 July 2018

It’s the way forward.....

From last week’s mailer for those who haven’t signed up you can find it at www.tinyletter.com/Cockneykungfu 


Let’s all take a moment to worship at the altar of Reality.

Before I begin I must point out that I fall into the guilty side of the isle in much of this conversation....

Let’s ask the questions to ourselves about ourselves. What are we wasting our spare time on?

You know the answer....you are probably looking at it now....come back....

What effect is social media having on how we create and how others create? I’m going to focus a little bit more on writing because I have had a slight yet pretty bloody obvious revelation over the last week.

The internet and Social media in particular It is a constant chatter. I have, for my shame, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (I’m not a teenager for fucks sake!). I have in the past looked at and interacted with these platforms on a daily basis. The voices of people that I both admired and found incredibly annoying have been echoing in my eyes for years now and I suspect it is a similar situation for many others.

How could this fail to affect/influence our writing.

Let’s face it, other than the replies to videos on Youtube it’s Twitter that contains the most deluded and stupid commentary on daily life. Twitter is often factually incorrect and full of imagined expertness, pompous self importance and often the only place that sad shut ins get to shout their mouths off. People believe that their relationships on this platform are realistic and genuine. They believe that their actual verbal humour can translate into making them a Twitter sensation (nearly always it does not).

Let’s face it, a big chunk of Twitter is just baby talk!

Staring at the opinions of others on our glowing screens is stopping us just plain being ourselves. We are seriously losing that sense of ourselves, it is slipping away with every scroll.

So I stepped away. Not completely. I value some areas of Twitter. It’s great for getting the word out there for people and art that is work promoting. But for getting in stupid discussions - nah gangsta!

I’m sure that none of the above is a great revelation to those thinking people amongst us....

In this retreat from the boringly self infatuated I have found that my writing has increased in word count by at least twice and I am also finding that I am able to dig deeper into what I want to translate onto the page. That story I know I have always wanted to write is within reach and I can feel more honestly what I’m getting down on paper and with more clarity.

Give it a go. Just for a couple of days.

It’s like that time I stopped Crack Cocaine for an afternoon.

Many thanks for reading.

Now fuck off and read some comics, breathe them in.... then fail to mention on Twitter how cool you are for reading them! (Please).