Saturday, 6 July 2019
Monday, 1 July 2019
Wednesday, 26 June 2019
Tuesday, 18 June 2019
Another first for me but I’ve heard some great things about this event. I’ll be passing through as a punter but will also have a boot full of recent Nobrow books ‘In Waves, ‘Kingdon’ and ‘Skip’ so let me know beforehand and I’ll hand deliver.
Sunday, 16 June 2019
Created by Jim Woodring.
Published by Fantagraphics - Black and White - £17.99/$19.99
The Story - ‘When Pupshaw and Pushpaw depart for the orgiastic delights of Poochytown, the forlorn Frank is thrown by a twist of fate into an unlikely friendship, propelling him down a long road of escapades and trials that ends in one of the most shocking acts ever depicted in the Frank canon.’
The Review - You know sometimes you put a book off. Until you have reached the correct state of mind? I’ve been meaning to buy this for months when that perfect series of events pushed me off my arse and got me to purchase and read it.
Event 1 - I recently spent some time with my pal Bob Fingerman. A clever guy and a talented artist. I commented over dinner that I hadn’t yet read Woodring’s release through Fantagraphics of Poochytown. He gave me one of those sideways looks and said ‘You really should do’ and then recounted a story how he’d hung out with Mr W whilst they anointed a museum toilet with their art (with full appreciation it might be added from the owner of said lavatory!)
Event 2 - The book ever seems to be in my eye line in every comic shop I attend. It’s there taunting me. It knows that I need it. It sees me when I walk in and eyes me suspiciously yet also teasing me by lifting it’s skirt a tiny bit.
Event 3 - A Facebook associate shared an original page he had bought and I sat admiring it on my phone whilst drinking my fourth coffee of the day.
Event 4 - I bought a new book release from equally surrealist art styled creator called Andy Baron at the recent ELCAF and promptly arranged for him to come of the podcast. Was I being subconsciously pushed in the direction of P’Town throughout this time?
The misshapen eyeball prodding planets were indeed aligned and with their hands on my shoulders guided me into spending the £17.99 in a London comic shop just yesterday.
I read this book, as I am prone to, on the train home and became hypnotised by it’s contents. The work of the unconscious mind had me gripped.
I have now read this book three times in the last twenty-four hours and honestly cant image reading anything else all day.
This is also a book that confounds a proper description but I will try nonetheless because as you all realise by now I am fond of my own voice.
Imagine a sentient flesh altering virus, it first invades our dreams and sends them over a nightmarish edge. We then leak our sleeping mind into the world of Disney cartoons and old fairy tales. This twisted freakish reality then appears fully formed onto the page of a hardback book in alternatively precise and chaotic inks. All the while we watch obsessed with the next troubling turn of (almost) narrative. Some worrying highlights.
A pig/human hybrid eats a nest of baby birds.
Beings, creatures, objects, organs take bites out of each other only to have them grow back.
A tuba case contains a snake like animal curled up that when you force a reed into it and blow really, really hard a black and white psychedelic maelstrom forms and grows and pulses above the heads of the animate.
A steering wheel appears out of the ground at the feet of creatures who use it to drive through not only shifting landscapes but ever changing realities without ever taking a step away from where they stand.
Over and over and over Woodring chases your reading mind and points out that you don’t really have a clue what you think you know. He brawls with your conception/preconception of what you see and points at the floor whilst he kicks you in your ass. The reading experience changes and you give in as the glorious pages work their way past and into your eyeballs.
The story does again contain Frank. A recurring character who Woodring is often careful only to describe as ‘a generic anthropomorph’. He is alsodescribes him as ‘naive but not innocent ‘ and is undoubtably connected symbolically to his own highly peculiar world.
The art is solid and strongly asserted black and white lines with an OCD level of intricate interlocking and lines of parallel and interweaving chaos/precision that you wont see the like of elsewhere. Woodring learned his craft early on whilst working in a studio with Jack Kirby and Gil Kane and you can see their influences in the mix but also the work of the surrealists. Dali can be heard shouting crackpot theories just out of sight perhaps.
The comic is wordless but transmits a symbolic language and twisted logic that shows some great machinery at work. It flows so well that you get caught up in his midst and swept along as you read instinctively and naturally that you never notice the lack of words. For a speech free book it is also conversely a dense read. It will take you a while. Make some time for it and swallow the whole dose.
Organically the story pulses with some shockingly sudden yet great double page spreads with often intricate detail everywhere. In my view every page could be a liner note from a sixties psych band album but with more crazy/cohesion. Yes, there are those nods to animation as I mention earlier. Woodring himself quoted that working in cartoons was the worst job he ever had (and he spent years as an alcoholic bin man!) But you can see how he has made in this book a transgressive and anarchic version of Mickey Mouse, Porky Pig, the candlesticks from Beauty and the Beast and much more.
This book deals with all the themes that you might expect from our dreaming and hallucinatory states of being. Life, Death, Danger, Sex, Friendship, Anxiety and more. Some of the meanings seem sharply obvious and some we will never work out from the guesses we make at Woodring’s intentions. I personally don’t need to be told and the experience of this book is enough (for the moment) for me.
I can’t recommend this to everyone. Not all of you will get it or appreciate it. Those that will/should can eat it up!
Find it and buy it. If you don’t want to......then don’t.
Open your eyes!
Let’s face it though, works of realism only get the juices flowing to a point. We need the hallucinatory and instinctual crazy in our lives occasionally.
Many thanks for reading.
Friday, 31 May 2019
So. The findings.
At the risk of offering my head to the block of raging Joe Public stupidity I decided to venture out on Honest Review Month. Being a comics creator myself I was aware of the karmic dice roll I was chancing. I even wrote an angry mission statement spurred on by the fawning infants who were lauding certain deplorable attempts at comic making as awards worthy. I wont repeat that diatribe here but some thirty-five reviews and one month later I’m going to have a think about what I discovered about comics, their creators and myself.
I got sent a lot of comics. Some of which I have not yet got to for a review. (For those waiting please hang on in there, they’re coming.... soonish). I got some great comics and some pretty darn bad ones. I had, at various times during the thirty-one days, to remind myself that this was an exercise in reviewing what I was sent and not just what I fancied reviewing. I also had to steel myself and plough through some comics that were really not the sort of style I normally read but also that were often of such bad art and a story that they were very difficult read.
I made up rules for myself. I would post each review twice and I would not ‘at’ (aka @) overly critical reviews towards the creators (that always seems unfair). This is something I myself have fallen prey to, where a reviewer sends multiple messages to the creator with their review attached hoping for a retweet to promote their own particular brand. I also told myself that one post on Facebook was enough and apart from a ‘half-way through the month’ post in the Awesome Comics Podcast Group I didn’t repost anything there either.
I also felt that I had to be honest. This did in a few late night and exhausted moments stray into sarcasm but hey I’m only human. I also made sure that if I had been contacted by a creator I replied with the link and a short line on my opinion. Something akin to, ‘I’m afraid I found a number of flaws’, or ‘It’s not a very positive review I’m afraid.’ I felt that if I had the forthrightness to post a review I should also have the balls to tell the person submitting the comic what I thought.
I also chose in four separate occasions after a sensible discussion with the creator to give a personal and not a publicly posted examination of the issue in question. I approached this differently each time and gave a more page by page analysis than a ‘For the public’ style summary and breakdown. I’ve been doing some editing work recently and found that everyone I spoke to was keen to get that type of help. Perhaps that is something I may post in the future with the creator’s permission?
Due to an American holiday and some keenness in getting items posted I actually wrote some 35 reviews. Some comics were about to be released or Kickstarted and some got posted due to jet lag insomnia. I never felt that I was running out of material but went a couple of times for a palate cleanser with a comic that didn’t have the weight of an artist’s expectations hanging over me. The Punisher review is an example of this.
Speaking of expectations I genuinely feel that some people wholeheartedly believe that their comics are the best thing since cheese. I got at least a couple of review requests where that creator in particular strongly believed their work was perfect and on one occasion virtually compared it to the second coming! I didn’t find anything that was perfect but some were very close. Some though wouldn’t be able to spell the word or even get close to recognising it written in toilet cubicle.
One common failing was a severe lack of originality. One piece of advice I’ll suggest is don’t be derivative and do please, please, please come up with your own ideas. Too many people think ‘I’ll do an urban vigilante story’ or ‘I’ll do a unicorn story’. In basis that’s not a crime but failing to think beyond that basic theory and making a comic so dull it makes my balls itch is clearly a hangable one. This can also be very relevant in the dialogue, I recently read an indie comic (that I came by through a colleague but didn’t get a review posted as it wasn’t actually submitted to the blog) that was a space comedy. OK you might think, as did I, ‘that’s quite acceptable’ but it came with jokes so groaningly bad that I actually think they were stolen from a nineties Kevin Smith story. (Saying ‘Nerfherder’ stopped being funny before the job of herding nerfs was invented!).
Which takes me to one simple fact that applies in life as well as in comics creation.
If you have nothing to say keep your trap shut! Getting words on a page and cramming then into a comic does not a comics writer make you.
Learn your trade. Look to the good examples of comics making. These are not to be found in ‘The Guide to Guerilla Filmmaking’ or ‘Film Scripts 101 by David Mamet’. They are found in comics. So many of the scripts and comics I have read recently have been created by people who clearly know nothing of the medium. Knowing about comics, knowing about how they are created, knowing about what has been done well and badly IS REQUIRED! It seems like people just decide they are a comics creator and wait for the Eisner to roll on down their driveways while they wipe the excrement from their keyboards and mouths.
One more piece of advice - if you aren’t sure of what you are doing then please get an editor. This is simple. Many people are unable to see the wood for the trees when deep into a project and even if its just someone to bounce ideas off it can be very useful. We’ve interviewed quite a few full time editors on the pod over the years and I would say that often a second eye and one that can pay attention to the detail is of real worth. Chat through dialogue and structure and even format.
Whilst we are on the subject of dialogue I’ve noticed a fashion to overwrite. Especially in those who are producing one of their first comics. A writer, in my humble opinion, needs to think about stripping back language to make it realistic. We rarely speak in paragraphs. Also remember that a page full of writing can be a real chore to plough through. This criticism came up an awful lot and there are a lot of people who should know better.
The response to this approach can be looked at in a number of areas. The first is from the average comics reader who looks at my posts for recommendations or entertainment. Because of the small nature of our hobby there is an obvious crossover with creators who are also readers and whose books I hadn’t reviewed. Over the month I got quite a number of messages of support and agreement. Nothing negative apart from one funny bastard who suggested that I review my own comic. Sure there were a few choice comments I made that got repeated but on the whole people were supportive of what I was doing.
I also got some emails from other podcasters and reviewers. One in particular admitted that they had not been as hard as they possibly could/should have been on one of the books I reviewed. We talked about it and this brought out some interesting points about a ‘Review’ compared to a help with ‘Promotion’. In the promotion of a comic it isn’t always right to comment on quality necessarily but conversely you are putting your name or stamp on something you might not want to. It’s a really interesting distinction. One that I intend to think some more on.
Finally, the one you have been expecting, the response of those I have reviewed. The people who got mostly positive reviews were of course happy and would, on occasion, reply stating that. For those who I was more critical of I am very happy to say that I did not receive a single angry reply. When you post something critical in this internet world you hold your breath and wait for the bounce back. All I got where messages of thanks or simply radio silence. I did have to laugh though when after one highly critical review and no response I then got a mailer from the writer asking me to back their comic on Kickstarter..... It’s been, in the most part, really adult and I have tried to add moments of positivity in even the worst of the lot. Although sometimes that equated to going to a friend’s gig and telling them afterwards what great beer the pub served?
Let’s examine the numbers game. Without boring you with the specifics I can say that this month has been the biggest month on my blog in the nine or so years it has been in existence. It’s actually been over twice the audience of any month so far. The post numbers have fluctuated and whilst some of this equation may be down to the times of posting it is extremely noticeable that the more critical pieces are by far the most popular by at least around a half again in views. Don’t worry I wont be using this as a way of getting my ‘Brand’ out there but it does make you realise why some sites court controversy to get hits.
The top three posts where as follows;
- ‘Frenemies - issue 1.’
- ‘For Molly - issue 1.’
- ‘Experience the Magic of the Legend: Excavated Esoterica.’
The demographics of submissions is worth a short mention. Whilst I got submissions from female and male editors it was noticeable that not one female creator submitted her comic to me. I have no answer why this was as I have a pretty mixed and diverse readership from what I gather. The split in nationality was also pretty broad. I also tried to hit all the various tribes and areas of comics and even tackled an LGBT+ romance book which is something I don’t often review or even read. Interestingly I also didn’t get many from the more ‘Ziney’ side of the hobby. I can happily say that this month has opened my mind to a few different genres and reading possibilities going forward.
Benefits that I can see from this approach on reviewing? Hmmm. I genuinely feel that bad comics will kill our favourite medium. Very rarely is a comic considered anything but GREAT in this modern world seemingly. And as I said before this non-stop self congratulatory circle jerk will hurt us and make comics eat itself. Comics will go away. New readers will open a comic and be confused as to how any intelligent human being could possibly think that what they have open in their hands is any good. Even as a daily reader and a weekly visitor to a comic shop I feel the shiver when I open certain comics hoping that nobody else saw me looking at them and take that browse as a visual recommendation.
We need to examine what we do. Without that constructive examination there will be a lack of growth. Sure you can personally learn as you create but sometimes you are missing that crucial clarification by being too close to the work.
I will be honest and say that on some of the days in this month of May I have felt jaded and needed a good push to read and review certain titles. I suppose that’s human nature. But I truly believe that it has been beneficial to myself and some of the creators who submitted work. I intend to continue with this honest approach and hope that not everyone hates me!
For the Record my favourite three books for no particular single reason from May are as follow;
- ‘Maggie Garrisson’.
- ‘Black Iris.’
Now to finish that script ........
Many thanks for reading.
Thursday, 30 May 2019
‘Baad Food issue 2’
Written by Nic Ho Chee.
Pencils an Inks by Pietro Antognioni.
Colours by Davi Comodo.
Letters by Ken Reynolds.
Cover by Nic Ho Chee.
Published by Bedtime Comics Limited.
The Story - ‘BaadFood is an off-kilter sci-fi comic series which follows two music obsessed standard-Homo Sapien twenty-somethings stuck in a government run "back-to-work" scheme. They are trying to find their way against the backdrop of a planet where machine intelligences, altered-Homo Sapiens, and an ageing population have taken all the best jobs. A chance event causes them, despite their protestations, to become the poster boys for a group of Neu-Human extremists that want to forcibly genetically engineer all Homo Sapiens and to destroy the emancipated sentient machines (WarSuits) that they share the planet with.’
The Review - This book came along at just the right time. I’ve just hit the final days of my Honest Review Month and beginning to feel more than a little beaten down by the weight of derivative, unoriginal, prosaic and just plain dull comics I’ve been sent. As part of the exercise in giving honest and constructive reviews I’d almost hit the end of my tether. Then I got Baad Food issue 2 as a Kickstarter reward, I read it on an early morning train and there was finally light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m kicking myself that I hadn’t got on this series earlier but thankfully I’d pledged at a level that got me issue 1 and 2. I tore through them both on the half hour journey.
Issue 2 leads on from the original concepts from the previous issue. The characters are elaborated upon and new mysterious ones are duly added. The youths that we got to know in issue one are back and pretty much as annoying with their ‘Street Talk’ as they were earlier. This style of speaking is expertly transposed onto the comics page. It is so accurate that it gave me flashbacks to being forced to listen to South London bellends spouting non-stop repetitive bullshit from the back row of the upper deck of the Number 12 Bus!
Here are a couple for you to try out;
‘Oh. My. Days. Your mate just helped smash up that R-R-R-Ruster, Fam!’
‘I’m not going nowhere till I get my free, made by human hands, creps Fam!’
It’s a credit to the scripting that whilst much of what is said is in slang the book remains eminently readable someone old like me. I never felt like a fifty year old fish out of water.
This is an adventure that doesn’t begin with a bank robbery or a noble quest for a princess. This one commences because someone wants a pair of new trainers! What could be more of a satire on modern youth culture than just that! But it’s not just a trip to Oxford Circus or The Bullring that these idiots head out on but something rather more dangerous. They get thrown into something akin to a mix between a Deadly Circus game show, The A.B.C. Warriors and J.D. Sports! In fact pretty much every page throws more new ideas at the reader. The revelations of the dangers of the inner city robo-nightmare are thrown at these chuckleheads and they manage to survive and also remain on the lookout for new shoes! The new technology is told and shown once again with an edge of danger and realism.
As well as humour and sharp social satire there’s also a bucket load of blood with heads being bitten off and someone’s morning business being interrupted. Finally something that is worth my time from the UK Small Press scene. It really is a ride!
I can see a direct line between writers like Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison with what the creators are trying out here. It’s a pretty polished affair but still has that experimental headspace on show. It’s a change of artists from issue one but it’s just as good and takes some real chances with layouts that pay off. The characters look like they’ve flown out of a nineties Tank Girl or Johnny Nemo strip (and I cant think of a bigger compliment than that!) There’s an urban landscape of madness that could also easily fit into a Block War story in 2000AD for example. Technicolour Cyber Gore in a chaotic setting. The art is worthy of anything that the prog is currently putting out.
If I had one small quibble it would be that the cover is a little on the quiet side compared against the mental violence of the interiors. (I had the regular cover and sadly haven’t seen the variant by Rugman. Oh hang on....here it is!)
Now where is issue 3!?!
You can find out more about this series by heading over to http://bedtimecomics.com (currently under construction) or even better by following the Twitter account @baadfoodcomic
Many thanks for reading.