Sunday, 17 March 2019

In Review. ‘Skullfucker’ issue 1 by Warwick Fraser-Coombe.




‘Skullfucker’ issue 1.


Created by Warwick Fraser-Coombe.


Full Colour - 30 pages - Lysergic Content.


The Story - A man opens mail that has been sent to his flat for the previous occupant. He’s rather pleased to see that in the envelope are some pink pills with a skull face emblem. It would appear that they are part of an experimental batch that is being sent out to be tested. They are described as being a form of extreme aphrodisiac. He talks to his very naked and very sexy girlfriend about trying them out and she agrees and suggests they take the whole day off work.


‘Babe you just read my mind!’


What follows can only be described as one of the most horrific visuals I think I have ever seen in a comic. The two lovers are transformed into alien beasts or demons of some kind. Their skin has changed colour and the woman has developed teeth for nipples. As the man pulls out her entrails with his own horrific jaws she screams ‘Yes, Yes, YES!!!!!!!’


The story then skips ahead and we watch a meeting between a bent Detective who is on the aforementioned case and his equally corrupt journalist/photographer contact. The detective is trying to sell this story to help claw back his mounting gambling debts.


The story takes off and you begin to see that the conspiracy goes much further than these body morphing and modernistic sex pills. Big business, drugs and governments are all involved.


And this is only issue 1.......






The Review - Sometimes I read something that might stick with me. Something that I will think of when I can’t sleep maybe? ‘Skullfucker’ issue 1 won’t just make me think of it from time to time but it will absolutely, one thousand percent stop me bloody sleeping! There are a lot of so-called Horror Comics and movies out there that could learn a lot from this particular series.





I loved this comic! I loved the story and the at moments sexy/grotesque/super realistic in your face art. I also especially loved the fact that Warwick goes there. He tells a story that is complex and horrific and relevant to the UK right now but he does so with authenticity and complete artistic freedom. Never afraid to insult, repulse, excite this is a comic that is an antidote to the fluffy Care Bear world fiction now often occupies. This is a true conspiracy thriller in a world that David Cronenburg has nightmares over. Smart and complex.


‘I get to crawl into the filth of the world..... I see around the edges and the truth.’


The art reminds me of something like ‘Strangehaven’ by Gary Spencer Millidge. The creator on this seems to use his pals as models for the players in the story and, I would guess, direct them as artists models. This gives the story a super realistic art style that works great in this context. Add to this the flabbergastingly incredible New Flesh designs he applies that mount both the horror and the tension up to quite a disturbing level. Real next level stuff!


The last few pages are exceptional!


You can order a copy by contacting the creator on warfras@hotmail.com


This review can in no way be blamed for your nightmares!!



Many thanks for reading.


An Early Preview - ‘In Waves’ from AJ Dungo




‘In Waves.’


Created by AJ Dungo.


Released 4/6/19 - Published by Nobrow.

376 pages - £16.99/$18.95.


The Story - ‘In this visually arresting graphic novel, surfer and illustrator AJ Dungo remembers his late partner and the shared love of surfing that endured throughout their time together. 


Dungo explores the beauty and complexity of the author's relationship with his partner as they face her prolonged battle with cancer. With his passion for surfing uniting many narratives, he intertwines his own story with those of some of the great heroes of surf in a rare work of nonfiction that is as moving as it is fascinating.’





The Review - This is a book that isn’t so much in two parts but does manage to instinctually and intelligently interweave two narrative styles. The history of surfing rides the rails alongside a very personal story of young love and loss. Both lines of story are true accounts but are approached differently. The autobiographical element is easily one of the most touchingly communicated stories I have read in many years. It’s quite an accomplishment, especially for a creator so young. 





The art has a clean and often iconically executed style but never caught me as sterilised or cold as some modern graphic novels seem to often. It’s never brash or complicated but conveys with a two colour approach with exactly what you need to see. It’s a book of many, many pages but never seems like a chore or a ‘long read’. It’s testament to the artist that at no point did I find views of surfing or beaches and California piers in any way tedious. The waves themselves are rendered in a variety of experimental ways that I found entrancing. You often watch the drama from a distance looking out to sea or back to the shore, this is a marvellous effect in emotional resonance for that sense of longing and loneliness. I’ve put a tick in the impressed column! I read it in two sittings and it would have been one solid session but I felt the need to walk away for a time and ruminate on what I was experiencing.




If I had one small niggle it would be that I found the ‘personal’ side of the story the more interesting of the two strands and would absolutely loved to have seen much more. Learning about the history and characters involved in surfing was interesting but I’m a sucker for the autobiographical.


‘His legacy began on the shoulders of a giant.’ 


In fact the sea and the surf are only part of what is going on here in both sections. What really gets you is the romance that is at it’s emotional centre. A perfectly captured awkward encounter at a school disco is followed by nervous contact, text messages and finally a kiss stolen in an all too brief moment. It’s these selected moments from the memory of a relationship that make this book so special in my opinion.


‘The headlights tore us apart.

Her parents were home.

And I was left in the dark.

With only the rain for company.’


The history of surfing is also told at a pretty great pace with a love for the sport and parallels thematically the story about love, loneliness and loss. The two parts begin as larger chapter sections that are delineated with a colour palette change. But as you progress through the stories the palette remains the same but the narratives reflect each other in very clever styles and shorter bursts. Whilst the history is told chronologically the story of the tragically unfolding relationship skips to and fro through timelines.


It’s not to say that this is just a heart jerker of a story (no spoilers) because you actually get to learn a thing or two about surfing and surfers, as I did, that you may not have previously realised;


‘Beach boys were part surfer, part tour guide, part entertainer and art escort.’


(Who knew?)


Being out amongst the waves on your board is spoken about with great passion and occasional injections of wit and warmth. The creator AJ shows an affinity with what he writes and draws and you begin to understand the allure of being out there all alone. The sea and your board becomes a home, a challenge and a way of life. This we see in the rise and the fall of love and it’s pursuit. You feel the actual cold rush of the waves and also allow the motions of these surfers to clarify moments of love and loss. The lives of those chasing the thrill are opened up and shown to us without anything being hidden. The time jumps and the emotional beats become a jigsaw for the reader to enjoy putting together. 






Like all good fiction this is a book that you can escape into. It affected me and just for that moment as I read it and for a time afterwards I was there living alongside it’s characters. When a story has depth and palpable art you do indeed inhabit it and it surrounds you as you observe it’s world. I hope that I never lose that feeling and this book only went to reinforce my love for the medium of comics.


‘Life is short, AJ. You better enjoy.’


And remember that emotions and feelings of all kinds....


‘Come in Waves.’



You can find AJ Dungo on Instagram @agedungs and follow the links to find out more about this creator.


Head over to https://nobrow.net to reserve a copy and follow them on twitter @NobrowPress




PS If this book doesn’t have you crying like a baby you may want to check for a pulse! 




Many thanks for reading.





Here’s a little about the creator from his website;


AJ Dungo is an illustrator from Los Angeles. He attended ArtCenter College of Design. He has worked with great people at Nike, Nobrow, The New York Times, Esquire, Narratively, Vissla, Skechers, etc. His work has been recognized by American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, and AD&D.


You can find him surfing shorebreak or loitering in an empty parking lot or at dungoaj@gmail.com.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

In Review - ‘Alone’ by Chaboute.




Alone


Created by Chaboute.


368 pages - Black and White - £15.99.

Published by Faber and Faber - 2018.

Originally published by Glenat at ‘Tout Seul’ in 2008.


The Story - ‘On a tiny lighthouse island far from the rest of the world, a hermit lives out his existence. Every week a supply boat leaves provisions, yet the fishermen never leave their boat, and never meet him.


Years spent on this deserted rock, with imagination his sole companion, has made the lighthouse keeper something more than alone, something else entirely. For him, what lies beyond the horizon might be... nothing. And so, why would you ever want to leave? But, one day, as curiosity gets the better of him, a new boatman steps onto the island…’






The Review - I got some vouchers from work and picked this up off a shelf in the Forbidden Plant on a whim. The cover has that feeling to it that perhaps we all seek, that mood where all we want is to be left alone to look out of the window. About five pages into this long book I fell in love with the pace and the art.


There are no big explosions or shoot-outs as this is a very quiet and slow book. I say neither ‘slow’ nor ‘quiet’ as any form of criticism just the opposite. This is emotion written silently and slowly in rough edged black inks on a spacious white and cold background. You move slowly through this small and insular canvas and discover the world at a perfectly delivered and executed speed. But it strangely never seems at peace with itself or even tranquil. The images and narrative push you forwards to a conclusion that may well surprise you. You feel every single glance between characters and every single splash of the sea on the rocky dock.


There is also very little dialogue. You feel the wind rattling at your eardrums and the stunning silence builds as the book unfolds. It slowly lifts and puts in place it’s building blocks and I never at any point wanted it to be any faster. As an example I would add that it takes some twenty-two pages before the comic reveals a human face of anyone and one hundred and two pages before we see the Hermit albeit briefly in silhouette against the seascape. Once he is revealed you move in with him and watch as the drama slowly reveals it’s intentions.





This Hermit is a man who looks similar to those popular depictions of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He is unkempt and not someone who could be considered handsome but you warm over and over and over to him as he discovers what lays beyond the horizon. He is a dreamer and this allows Chaboute to take flourishes and flights of his own fantasy. The Hermit dreams of the battles that his dusty old toy soldiers could have fought through. He makes use of his dictionary and after discovering the word ‘metaphor’ day dreams of it raining tennis balls on a crowd of people with their umbrellas opened.


In fact it’s this dictionary that takes centre stage and pushed the Hermit on to both dream and at least consider what else there is for him to try. Every day he opens this book and picks a word at random, sometimes the book almost seems to sense his situation and mood - it’s a great story technique. I wont go further for fear of spoiling this incredible book.






All I will say however is that when you read the line: ‘Is there anything special you would like?’ The hairs on the back of your neck will shuffle about in anticipation.


The themes and moments of this book are simultaneously sad and enriching. It speaks to imprisonment, freedom, interdependency, loneliness, friendship and how we should all push ourselves to discover what is beyond our own garden gate.


How have I not heard of this before? Very highly recommended!


Find this book here https://www.faber.co.uk/9780571332441-alone.html




Saturday, 9 March 2019

Little Heroes, Ian Ashcroft and Matt Soffe (what more do you want?






I’m often asked who are the up and coming artists in the small press and indie scene here in the United Kingdom. In the sentence that follows I am currently using the words Ian and Ashcroft. 


I first discovered his work after backing the excellent Kia Wordsmith issue 1 that was also written by the equally ace Dave West.


I’ve met Ian a few times over the last year or so and he was also a guest on the Awesome Comics podcast. He seems a modest guy with a truckload of talent and style and in my humble opinion that will get him far in this world of talentless blowhards. He also speaks with passion about his craft and comics in general. A man that excels at describing the written word into a mosaic of movement, action and beauty. There is a real flow and grace to his characters they have visual depth and a certain unexplainable mystery in their eyes.





Here are a few words that I had to say about Kia Wordsmith just as the Kickstarter was launching:


You can see that this is a labour of love in all the multi faceted pages, incredible detail and original layouts. It is a ballet of storytelling and combines all that we love in fantasy from the storytelling of books like The Sandman, Mage and Fables to the album covers of progressive rock bands in the 1970s that you could stare at all day! It is also a tale of growth and experience in a world that lives in the shadows of the fantastical and the impact of wartime. Impressive stuff indeed.’


It can’t be long before this guy is approached by the bigger comics organisations.


So why am I mentioning this now?


I have recently had the great pleasure of working with Mr Ashcroft on a two page short for volume three of the Little Heroes anthology. I had an artist fall out of the schedule due to the weight of other work and Ian stepped in at a moments notice and excelled. 


The third volume is currently on Kickstarter and I urge you to give it a punt. 




(Cover by Andy Hanks).


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/littleheroescomics/little-heroes-comics-charity-anthology-3


Here’s a little about what Aaron Rackley says about this anthology series and the charity it raises money for.


‘Think back to your earliest memory of hospital. Were you scared, bored, or confused? Perhaps you had no idea why you were there, or thought you had done something wrong.


Little Heroes Comics provides children in hospitals across the UK with comic making kits to provide a creative outlet and alleviate boredom during what can be a scary time. 


The money raised on this Kickstarter campaign is to cover the cost of getting the anthology printed and for the delivery cost of future kits to children in hospital.


This is the second year of our fundraising anthology and we are excited to bring you our 3rd Issue! After the overwhelming success of Issue 1 (Strength) and 2 (Family), we are back with a series of creator-donated stories around the theme of Science.’





(By Matt Soffe - Just look at this - Wow!)


Not only did I have a blast with Ian on ‘My Mum and Dad Fight Werewolves’ but we were also lucky enough to get an artist and colourist who is also on the rise in the comics firmament. Matt Soffe is also plying his craft for Rebellion on 2000 AD at the moment. I consider myself extremely lucky!


So head over to Kickstarter and pledge to this worthy and much needed charity project. As well as our story there is also an amazing cover by my pal Andy Hanks that is getting loads of buzz (and quite right too). Also on board for this issue are Dylan Jackson-Gibbs, Rick Jackson, Ken Reynolds, Steve Tanner & Sasha Tanner-D'Cruz, Susie Gander, Lee Brandrick, Dave Hingley, Daniel Ferreira, Alan Bay, Rob Barnes, Helen Greetham, Craig Turl, Mitch Campbell, Cato Keefe, Drawn, Abby Hontiveros, Matt Vroom, Jason Doring and Saad Shehri.


You can find out more about Ian Ashcroft at over on Instagram at Ian.aschcroft.art


You can find Matt Soffe and his work for sale at https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/mygrimmbrother


Find out more about the Little Heroes cover artist over @Zootbot on Twitter and www.zootslash.deviantart.com 



Many thanks for reading.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

In Review - ‘Arale published by Europe Comics.




‘Arale’.


Script by Tristan Roulot.

Art by Denis Rodiet.

Colour by Bruno Tatti.


64 pages - Full Colour - £3.99.

Published by Europe Comics.


The Story - ‘The year is 1934. Rasputin holds the reins of government. When the Czar is mortally wounded in an ambush, the mad monk turns to his Council of Dark Mages and his former mentor, Baba Yaga. Together, they concoct a plan that involves trench warfare mechas, mind-to-mind transfers, and the long-lost heir to the Romanoff throne: Kyril Noskov, a hero of the war that's been raging since 1914, to which generations of Russian youth have been sacrificed. Roulot and Rodier's reimagining of a Russia that never was blends science fact and dark fantasy into a spellbinding fable of the price of power.’


‘Deep in the woods, look and you will find Baba Yaga’s little hut.’


The Review - ‘It’s OK, it’s fairly simple, just draw some horses and then blow them and the carriage they are pulling up in a faux future Russian setting?’ Typed a writer in about two minutes. But Rodiet pulls it off with panache over and over!  This is a book that I really wasn’t expecting after seeing the cover image. It’s also another book from the Europe Comics stable that caused me to send images of what I was reading to comics and art loving pals with the words ‘Fuck Me!’





Essentially at it’s heart this is an alternative history book. A narrative that examines the assertion of what if the Czar had survived (redacted - spoiler) in old Imperial Russia. Lieutenant Kyril Noskov is a hero of the ongoing war and has now been given the task with his partner Sergeant Saskia to train the (very) young future pilots of the Soviet Mech - The Vector 9 aka ‘The Trencher’. Nothing here is as it seems.....


This book is full of both gorgeously creepy details and Machiavellian plans within plans. Rasputin claims that the Czar is immortal. Is he? Or is something altogether more deadly and mystical going on behind the doors of the palace and in the basements of military bases? Kyril is our hero and a soldier who is loyal to his leaders but he is pulled into a mission that may well change the course of Soviet history in this sinister alternate universe. It’s unlikely that he is being told anything near to the truth yet follows through on each of his perceived obligations. This is a comic that gallops along from one amazing piece of artwork and speculative plot twist to the next. 


‘These are hard times for the truth...’


The art is hyper detailed and full of realistically realised heroes and villains. I could read the pages containing Rasputin over and over! The artist has a strong grasp of physicality and setting. He knows exactly what he is doing with a strength of purpose and fills every single page to astounding effect. I could see him in the same class as current artists like Steve Epting or even Sean Philips with a direct line back to Raymond, Toth and Gil Kane. Rodiet has worked extensively in US floppies but this book is next level!






As well as being an incredible artistic artefact this comic speaks to so many themes in it’s 64 pages. Duty, patriotism, a war weary society, mysticism, Mech soldiers and the evolution of the art of death and destruction, love and relationships and dark and dangerous conspiracies. It’s also about the nearest you’ll get to combining action and adventure in a fantasy setting with the war poetry and tragically beautiful quality of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. It manages by the end of the book to have knotted together all these ideas into a satisfactory ending.


It’s quite the book.


As I type I’m about two hours from recording an interview with Irina Polianina from Europe Comics for the Awesome Comics Podcast with Dan and Vince. I’ll be talking this book up and asking when there is more!


Listen in tomorrow to Episode 191 here https://awesomecomics.podbean.com


You can find out more about Europe Comics by following this link http://www.europecomics.com


Many thanks for reading.






Here’s a little about the creators from the Europe Comics website;


Tristan Roulot is a French journalist and scriptwriter, born in Rennes in 1975. After obtaining a Master’s degree in law, he left the judicial sector to devote himself to comics. He started his scriptwriting career with the humorous series Goblin’s (Soleil), illustrated by Corentin Martinage, which has become a great commercial success, with more than 200,000 copies sold. In Canada he met Patrick Hénaff, with whom he created Le Testament du Capitaine Crown (Soleil), a dark and violent two-part thriller. The pair later joined with Philippe Sabbah for Hedge Fund (Le Lombard), a financial drama at five volumes and counting. Roulot has gone on to create Irons (Le Lombard, with Luc Brahy), set in Canada, as well as Arale (Dargaud, with Denis Rodier), which reimagines a Russia that never was, blending fact and dark fantasy into a spellbinding fable on the price of power. Both titles are available through Europe Comics.


Denis Rodier was born in Quebec in 1963. As a comic book artist he has worked for the likes of DC Comics, Milestone Media, and Marvel Comics. It was in 1986 that he began a career as an illustrator, which would lead him, two years later, to the world of comics. Among his first work for DC Comics was a Batman story published in Detective Comics #589 (August 1988), and his portfolio includes other world-famous characters like Captain America and Wonder Woman. It was his work on Superman that garnered Rodier his greatest acclaim, including the award-winning The Death of Superman story arc. As a painter, his work has been seen in such publications as the illustration compilation Arzach: Made in USA, and his freelance work includes work for such clients as Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel's band), Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), and Suzanne Vega. He joins the Europe Comics catalog alongside Tristan Roulot with the graphic novel Arale (Dargaud), which reimagines a Russia that never was, blending fact and dark fantasy into a spellbinding fable on the price of power.

In Review - ‘Irons’ Volume 1 - ‘The Engineer’ from Europe Comics.





‘Irons: Volume 1 ‘The Engineer’.


Written by Tristan Roulot.

Art by Luc Brahy.


57 pages - Full Colour - £3.99 (digital only).

Published by Europe Comics.

Released 21/2/2019.


The Story - ‘Meet Jack Irons. He's a cold son-of-a-bitch, but he's got a gift. He can look at a disaster—a fallen bridge, a collapsed skyscraper—and see everything: the physics, the material stresses, the behind-the-scenes insight into how it all went wrong, claiming lives and property. Makes sense: he's a structural engineer. And when he applies his brilliant, analytical mind to crimefighting, then the truth will out. Because that's what he cares about. Not people. Not feelings. The truth. And the truth is about to turn a little Canadian fishing village upside down...’






The Review - Let’s start with that cover! I posted it on my Twitter feed last night (what would modern life be without posting everything that you do/read/see/think on social media? I digress, many apologies.) and it got quite a few comments. It’s a great image that speaks to a tragedy on a big and bleak canvas. A quick look may have you thinking that you have picked up yet another End of the World comic book. But this is much more than that old and dry cliche.


I have to say that opening sequence, that is in fact a flashback from the antihero’s past, is probably one of the tensest sequences I have ever read in a comic. (I’ll partially spoil this as it does appear on the ComiXology preview pages section.) The Irons family fall into a deep river in their car as the palpable cold of their world hits the reader emotionally. As the water pressure builds up on the closed windows the father remains calm although his family are scared and severely injured from crashing downwards. He tells them what to do when the water invades the car’s interior. You are literally on the edge of your seat. I was breathless at this incredible scene. This frightening scene will also come back to haunt Irons years later in another chilling sequence later.





This book is a mystery in the same way that Watchmen in a mystery. It has that whodunnit element as it’s central conceit but speaks to much bigger and possibly important issues than who broke the bridge. This is a story about a community that is based around the fishing industry. A society that is well past the tipping point of falling into the poverty trap and most of the inhabitants of the town and the port are scrabbling to make ends meet. You get real moments between the people in this town as they fight to preserve their way of life.


Walking into this scene in the aforementioned Jack Irons. I would argue with the above story summary and say that outwardly he seems not to care a jot about others. But his actions through this book tell a different story. Albeit that he is pretty much stranded in the snowy town with the collapse of the bridge and he takes to his duties without a small amount of pushing and financial bartering, help he does and very successfully. He has a deep sadness about his that is combined with a stoic intelligence.


‘You really do your best to come off as an asshole don’t you?’


As this book progresses Irons gets pulled into a complicated conspiracy of big business, local law enforcement, crooked politicians and families struggling to survive. Irons make connections in different ways with these townsfolk including the local female sheriff and an ex fisherman who now drives a cab and becomes something of a sounding board.





The art has character and depth and the scenes of deep slushy snow under foot as more comes down in waves from the heavens are really beautifully realised. You feel the layout and personality of this town and it’s inhabitants at every swipe of the guided view. There really are some breathtaking panels that you could stare at all day. I am genuinely in awe of how how does this. (Can Luc draw all the mysteries please?)


Another Europe Comics release that I recommend without reservation. An intelligently told story with emotional depth and social worth. It’ll also keep you guessing throughout.


Head onto ComiXology for more of the same.


If you listen out for the next episode of The Awesome Comics Podcast we’ll have Irina Polianina from Europe Comics on for a chat about all things BD. Irina is also a fan and a goldmine of information about European Comics and what we might be missing here in Blighty.


Find out more about Europe Comics by visiting their site at http://www.europecomics.com or follow them on Twitter @EuropeComics


Many thanks for reading.


Here are some details of the creators for you (many thanks to Europe Comics for the hook up).


Tristan Roulot is a French journalist and scriptwriter, born in Rennes in 1975. After obtaining a Master’s degree in law, he left the judicial sector to devote himself to comics. He started his scriptwriting career with the humorous series Goblin’s (Soleil), illustrated by Corentin Martinage, which has become a great commercial success, with more than 200,000 copies sold. In Canada he met Patrick Hénaff, with whom he created Le Testament du Capitaine Crown (Soleil), a dark and violent two-part thriller. The pair later joined with Philippe Sabbah for Hedge Fund (Le Lombard), a financial drama at five volumes and counting. Roulot has gone on to create Irons (Le Lombard, with Luc Brahy), set in Canada, as well as Arale (Dargaud, with Denis Rodier), which reimagines a Russia that never was, blending fact and dark fantasy into a spellbinding fable on the price of power. Both titles are available through Europe Comics.


Luc Brahy, born in 1964, has always been fascinated by art and adventure. At only two and a half years old, he gravitated toward comic books, and it wasn't long before he was devouring Hergé and Hugo Pratt, and other novelists including Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, and Ernest Hemingway. As an adult, he quickly got a foot in the publishing world through advertising and press illustrations, and it wasn't long before he crossed paths with Frank Giroud, with whom he would go on to publish Zoltan (Vents d’ouest, 1994). He later met author Éric Corbeyran, another important encounter for the young artist, and they teamed up on a number of projects, including Imago Mundi (Dargaud, 2003). Over the ensuing years, Brahy went on to establish a variety of successful collaborations, on such series as Insiders Genesis (Dargaud) and Mission Osirak (Dargaud). His most recent work includes the series Irons (Le Lombard, Europe Comics in English), created with Tristan Roulot, which tells the story of the sarcastic and brilliant engineer Jack Irons.