Saturday, 1 August 2020

In Review - ‘Love on the Isle of Dogs’ by Jude Cowan Montague.


Love on the Isle of Dogs

Created by Jude Cowan Montague.

Published by Friends of Alice Publishing.

197 pages - Black and White Comics and Prose.

The Story. 

LOVE ON THE ISLE OF DOGS is a true story about my marriage to a man who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. It's a poetic tale told in pictures.

The Review.

I have settled down to read this over coffee at an outside cafe in a square in London. I was kindly sent a preview copy of this new graphic memoir by Jude herself who contacted me by Twitter. I’ll say from the outset that I found the reading experience both frustrating and involving. I will attempt to explain why.

Let’s start with the cover. It is a simple scratchy and seemingly instinctual image of Jude herself. This time in colour, as the interior art is black and white, and shows the bright yellow of her hair, the blue of her dress and the visual shortcut of a baby in her arms. Jude stands on a dark and murky background and I anticipate something emotional and insightful on the inside. The title is bold and eye-catching and overall I enjoyed the simplicity and iconography in it’s and the cover’s overall design. 



There is no doubt at all as I read onwards that this is a heartfelt account of Jude’s life, her husband, a child and a home. For those without the important geographical grasp this is a tale that is situated in The Isle of Dogs in central East London. An area I worked in the late nineties and a place embattled by the encroachment of big industry, the usual fat cat banking bastards and ridiculously expensive rentals. It is an area that has changed much since the seventies and can be seen as a mirror for what has and is happening elsewhere in too expensive to live in London without a millionaires bank account.

The initial part of the memoir is in comic form. Or for the Hampstead hipsters what is often described as a graphic sequential form - if you prefer? And so we find the area that I found frustrating. The art seems to mimic the drawings of children the type that parents pin to the front of the fridge. I’m not being cruel here as you can see above. What they have in good intentions is completely wiped away by the rushed and badly drawn figures and scenery. Initially at my first glance i presupposed that these images were part of a flashback to junior school or the drawings made by a child. They are not a momentary visual shortcut but rather fill the comic section. If I wasn’t reading this for a review I would have put the book aside. 



This book is of course a memoir a book that is personal and so should obviously be a reflection of the creator. But Jude’s  art does not communicate the story and is far too abstract and without the required personality. In basic terms it looks rushed and without skill. It’s also worth noting from a graphic design POV that the pages look like they have just been copied onto the bright white paper stock without any attempt to blend or visually join the bright framing with the dirty uncorrected scan. Of course this may be intentional and art is always subjective but for this reviewer whose review you are reading it is far from successful.

I’ve watched a couple of online videos of Jude talking about and showing her process. She makes use of a large page and a brush dipped into ink. The smudges of ink to me would be a good starting point. The child/baby imagery as below for example. But these pages need more. They need a depth that I’m not seeing. A comic page is not something so slight. It needs more.

As I say, this is purely my opinion and the eyes of others may see something else. Sure it can be seen as experimental. Comics are of course allowed to experiment and I always welcome that as a reading experience. But I am at a loss to discern what this particular book achieves. Have we had enough of this underdone style? Does it do a disservice to the more accomplished line-work that this book may sit next to on a book sellers shelf? 

I wonder if this and I are part of an elaborate artistic prank. Am I part of this mischievous act. 



The last quarter of this book is autobiographical prose which I read that with much more interest. I didn’t feel the frustration I had felt earlier. This seemed to communicate with me more successfully. It held me with its moments of reality.

‘When I found a star, it fell into my hand. But it burnt me, so I let it go.’

I felt that this was more of a direct pipeline into the mind of the creator. This was the aforementioned insight I was in search for. I’ve watched Jude’s online poetry readings and found that they have much of what I am seeing in the prose. A frankness of the realities of urban living and the rollercoasters of relationships but mixed with the romantic and fantastical. You feel the often very painful life in each paragraph. Jude shapes this prose with quick and exceptionally well crafted paragraphs. Each opening angles to see lives from a different place. 

The evenings grew dark and he grew more worried. He’d sit in the darkness. I’d surprise him when I turned on the light.’

Jude also makes some brilliant use of dialogue. It occurs to me that this could have formed the basis for a more traditional and coherent comics script. Maybe with someone more able to carry off the sequentials.

Who are you?
WHO ARE YOU!’

So what did I walk away with? I certainly have an impression of Jude and emotionally I connected with her life. But in total honesty this was due to the prose a lot more than the comic. There is something here. Something that’s should have, in my opinion, been developed artistically differently. Comics have their own special language and I didn’t feel the movement or the people. It needed more thought put into the passage of time and sense of place than I was getting. The prose was dynamic and practical yet also showed an eye to the magical and the life of the interior. I could have read that all day.

We should as always value all art. Part of this wasn’t for me but for you that may be an altogether different bucket of apples and pears.

You can find more about Jude by visiting her website here https://www.judecowanmontague.com/love-on-the-isle-of-dogs

Many thanks for reading. 

Sunday, 19 July 2020

In Review - 'Victory Point' by Owen D. Pomery.


Victory Point.

Created by Owen D. Pomery.

Hardcover - 80 pages - 160mm x 210mm.
Full Colour - £14.99.

Published by Avery Hill.

The Story - During one summer we follow Ellie as she returns to the coastal town of Victory Point. In the bright sunlight she arrives by train to the place that she grew up to visit her family. As she walks around a town that has a singular architectural vision we join her in revisiting the past. 

Does Ellie feel like she still belongs here? Will this visit home refresh something she has lost?



The Review - It's been around a year since I last reviewed a comic from Avery Hill. It's not that they haven't been releasing product but rather that I hadn't been feeling what they had put out books that connected with me. I'd been looking forward to reading the next graphic novel from Owen as I'd enjoyed Between the Billboards and British Ice last year from Top Shelf Comics. 

I pre-ordered Victory Point and it arrived just a couple of days ago. 

This is a gorgeous book. A small hardback with the cover design printed straight onto the book instead of using a dust jacket. The blue of the sea draws the eye immediately and you can then roam the cover spotting the idiosyncratic buildings and flowing curves of the walls and pavements as they perfectly slice into the curve of the coast. Then relevant to the story is the image of Ellie standing alone and being part of the townscape and the shadows cast. Then above in the faint grey sky is the subtle title. It's a book cover that cleverly mimics a photographic coffee table book with it's broad shot and bold colours. It also cunningly echoes the story inside.

As Ellie walks the streets of the town she rediscovers, discovers and remembers what was there before and realises that things do change. You begin to get to know the area as she explores and the involvement her family had there. She meets up with her father, sees people she used to know and goes swimming. She even makes a new friend who has opened a local café. Ellie also has that feeling of dissatisfaction in her life that borders on moments of being a little lost and without direction. You can imagine that she has returned home to recharge and learn a little bit more about herself through that reach back into the past.

As you can see from the pages above this book is intricately drawn and Owen's background as an architect has translated over to comics with often breath-taking effects. It is this that is the highlight of this graphic novel for me whilst reading. I was straightaway drawn to this town and caught up in Owen's nefarious conspiracy to make me think that it is real.

'In 1933, the village of Victory Point was the selected site of an architectural experiment. Funded by both the government and private investors, they appointed the architect, M.L. Schreiber, to redesign the town on new principles, hoping to create a visionary example of 'a modern way to live'.

It is worthy of note at this point that if you google 'M.L. Schreiber architect' it comes back with a link to the Avery Hill website. 

Pomery!!! You are a cruel man. I was planning my next holiday.





So, we can all I agree I am sure that this is an excellently drawn and designed book. The only exception that I would make is in the faces of the characters. Owen carries on his style in Victory Point that we have seen in his previous works of intentionally counterpointing the full detail of the surroundings with a style that could be described as 'under-drawing' the faces of his characters.  He uses the technique of often just showing dots for eyes and lines for mouths. Whilst I totally understand that this is intentional I'd love to see more in the faces. Ellie's father, for example, is crying out for more craggy and lined details. As he builds a boat and sets sail or just lays down some home-spun wisdom I'd have liked to have seen more.

What is the book saying? It certainly captures a moment. You feel that time has at once stood still in Victory Point with the time capsule buildings and streets but that it has also significantly moved along for Ellie. The question floats ever present of whether or not we can return to our past. Many of us have felt this connection/disconnection when we return home from the early pressures of University or our first job. We want to feel refreshed and also at once tackle in a safer and familiar environment some of our new problems as a new out of the box adult. The world Ellie has left has changed and her father's bones creak as he walks up the stairs. As she goes to catch her train back to her life the rain falls and she pauses with a woman she'd met earlier. This woman is a vision of what she could become. 

'I study the heaven. They cause the waves at my feel' - Dr Abigail Small. 

This is a book that on an initial read I have to admit to finding a little empty. I wondered what the point was with it all. After all many of us have felt that feeling of returning home to recharge and it all seeming at once the same but new and different. But there are two things that brought me round on a second read. The brilliantly realised landscapes on show in Owen's art and the pacing. This is a book that never rushes and takes that time to explain, show and develop. It's the visually stunning and at once restful to read. It's the graphic novel version of laying on a summer beach where a clock stops. 

This is also a wonderful deception. A false landscape fully at home with it's own verisimilitude.

Nicely done- more please.


You can find a copy of this book here. You can follow Avery Hill Publishing here on Twitter. 

You can find out more about Owen D. Pomery here and follow him on Twitter here

Many thanks for reading.









Friday, 19 June 2020

A Rant - ‘Take A Bite.’


Hold onto your socks I’m off on another rant. It’s been a while.


I’ll start it with a phrase I’ve been considering for a while.


‘I believe that you have to have lived to be able to write.‘


Now, I’m sure that there will be people out there who immediately take objection to the above statement and consider that they are able to write convincingly from their bland lives as they believe they have enough ‘imagination’. Then I would counter that by asking them how much better their writing would be if they could add to that stew some flashes of genuine reality relocated into their craft.


I do not make any claims at being a great writer but I do push for that truth in everything I write.


For example, I may not have lived in a post apocalyptic world and drank in McGregor’s sleazy dive but I have been in a few fights in pubs that embrace dangerous personalities.


I may not have met and fallen in love with a prostitute but I have chatted to and laughed with working girls and I have fallen in love.


I may not have been an East End gangster but I have drunk and laughed and fought with and against them. Those complicated men and women are real to me, I can describe them in detail.


I may not have been a member of a ‘Monster Spotters Club’ but my son (and I) were in the scouts and we would go looking for animals (he loves hiding and spotting squirrels) as a 5 yr old. He would come up with cunning ways to hide without being seen all the while telling me to ‘Shush Dad’.


More and more these days I’m seeing a lack of reality in writing. No depth to the situations. No individualism to the people in or narrating the comic book stories. This problem stops the reader from being all in. It’s a disappointing trend that is making comics a laughable commodity at many glances. There is a lack of true investment. 


I used to say that you had to fight a bull to write about it. I never ever meant it literally and there are levels of understanding here that can be picked apart. I’m sure that Alan Moore was never Jack the Ripper but I’m also sure that he’s met rough men, he’s walked the streets of the East End, he’s heard and internalised the stories of Detectives and he’s practised in the diabolical darkness present on the Eddie Campbell gloriously illustrated pages. 


The experience never needs to be literal. I wouldn’t expect you to have met The Devil - however we all have our demons. Explore the experiences that have taken you down some dark alleys. Or alternatively to the top of some beautiful mountains. And if you don’t have those memories to explore then get out of your bedroom and live some life.


‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’ Ernest Hemingway. 


We need to take a bite out of life to be able to describe how it tastes. We also need to be hurt to bleed. Feeling is part of writing and if you have never felt then you cannot translate it into words on a page. Being in love is unlike anything else in this world. That feeling in your gut and the moments you daydream about that other person are special and magnificent. So I ask you, how could you write about love in any of your stories without having had that experience. 


To be a writer you have to understand the feeling of extreme moments and you can’t do that by sitting at a desk and watching Netflix. As an industry we will end up writing ourselves into a box of dull shapes, banal reactions and stories written by the slightest and unreal motivations. 


It seems that at this moment in time we are more likely to get a comic about watching the recent Black Lives Matter protests on a television than from somebody who was actually there and has that truth to their work. 


Is this beginning to make sense?


‘I feel ever so strongly that an artist must be nourished by his passions and his despairs.’ Francis Bacon.


Don’t we need to experience high emotion to translate it into art? We need to use our art to be part of that emotional process. Feed off that moment. 


The adults have left the room and we are left with the OMG’ing faux polemic of the spotty millenial writing in a way to impress their Twitter bubble. Send it to their friends, get a pat on the back and wait for the moment to take hold before they smugly create more unchallenging, emotionless drivel. These attempts are obvious and trite and ultimately unsatisfying. 


We will be left with comics that show the emotional depth of a toddler shouting ‘Look mum, I saw a dog’. 


So go and experience. Feel the gambit of emotions. Let them penetrate your mind and enhance your soul. Not always easy I’ll give you that but enriching and very, very useful. And then strive to be that better writer.


Many thanks for reading.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

‘Atomic Hercules 2’ - Tribute Press in Full Effect.


(Variant Cover - Ben Mara).

Yesterday was a full day of enveloping, bagging, planning, recording and chuckling at the Socially Distant yet fully diabolical and sweary Tribute Press Headquarters in a dirty basement in St Albans. 


(Regulation Mask removed for aesthetic purposes but gel and antiseptic wipes on show!)

Myself and Co-Publisher Mr Adam Falp had a meeting at the offices along with a freelance Logistics Consultant to get this Kickstarter whipped into shape! It took a full six hours to get everything ready for posting and now all we are waiting on are the postcards to be added and they will be heading to the Post Office.

As those who are following the campaign will know there are two covers to issue 2. The standard cover by Adam himself and the variant by Benjamin Mara (see above). Like the variant we had from Ken Langraf on issue one this was another brilliant interpretation of Hercules by an artist both myself and Adam admire greatly. 


(Standard Cover by Adam Falp).

But as you can see above Adam was no slouch himself! 

We can’t wait to get this into your hands. This has been a huge satirical love letter from start to finish. Sure it’s not for the faint of heart but we hope that we hit what we aimed at again in this second issue. We tackle subjects like bullying, war, love, sex, racism and more with a psychedelic lens that will hopefully become clear when you read it through. But if you want to read this just for the crazy violence and just plain weird sexual practises there is that too! Oh, and I also have a dig at Hipsters and the lack of adults in our modern world.

Adam has absolutely killed on this issue and added some great characters and moments. Along with Mr Nick Prolix you can see the faux Bronze Age adverts that Adam has also created! If you pledged to the project you’ll also get an extra digital only story with fan-favourites Noodles and Kristal and an audio commentary that we also recorded yesterday.



Please head over to Tribute Press here and follow this new imprint on Twitter @TributePress

If you missed out on the Kickstarter project you’ll soon be able to order the second issue through the website.

Many thanks for reading.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Podcasting During Lockdown.

Hi Chums. Apologies that I've been a little quiet on here of late. I've been flooded with work and been creating some new comics (more on that soon). 

I've finally bitten the bullet and started up a spin-off podcast that is running to keep people (including me) amused during this lockdown. Myself and a comics buddy have been talking about a comic, graphic novel, story or creator and doing a deep dive. 

I thought that I would share with you a few of the recent episodes.

Episode 13 - 'Alex Toth an Angry Genius' with Jonny Canon and Russell Mark Olson.

This was cracking fun and I got to sit down with Mr Canon and Mr Olson who helped me define why Alex Toth was such an incredible artist and why he should be more revered in the modern comics landscape.

Have a listen here Episode 13.



Episode 14 - 'Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow' with Pete Watson.

Myself and Pete really get into the nuts and bolts of the two comic story that would mark the end of an era for Superman. Does it still work? How much do we miss Curt Swan? Is this the ultimate Superman story? 

Have a listen here Episode 14


(Some John M Burns for your eyeballs).

Episode 15 - 'Masters of British Comic Art' by David Roach with Richard Sheaf. 

Using the excellent new release by David Roach on the history of some amazing artists and showing their magnificant art myself and The Don of British Comics Richard Sheaf each choose three comics artists we love and talk about their history and body of work. It's a love letter to some amazing work that needs more attention.

Have a listen here Episode 15.



Episode 16 - 'Brian Lewis and the Halls of Hammer' with Jason Wilson.

Myself and comics creator Jason Wilson mix it up in the comics and movie adaption world of Dez Skinn's Halls of Horror comics magazine that featured the art of Brian Lewis. A creator with the ability to both recreate the character of Hammer Horror movies and then turn his style to action adventure, saucy comedy and much more.

You can have a listen here Episode 16.


Episode 17 - 'Marshall Law' with Dan Butcher.

I meet up with Awesome Comics Pod brother Dan Butcher and we examine the themes and legacy of one of our favourite series. This is a book that breaks down the hero myth and examines those that put on the cape, those that worship them and he that hunts them.

Have a listen here Episode 17.


Episode 18 - 'Born Again' with Eamonn Clarke.

What a story! Told my two absolute masters of the craft. Myself and Eamonn from the Mega City Book Club Podcast really examine the moments, art and story-telling in this classic Daredevil run. A book ahead of the pack at the time and still in pure quality.

Have a listen to here Episode 18.


You can find all eighteen episodes with more being added weekly over at the Never Iron Anything  Podbean Page here.


Many thanks for listening.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Honest Review Month Goes Audio Again! Adam Warlock with Dave Robertson.



I sat down this evening with Dundee’s own comics creating guvnor Mt Dave Robertson. We talk about the run that leads through Strange Tales to Warlocks’ own named series and finally into a couple of Marvel annuals.




This is a book at the height of the cosmic seventies weirdness. It is beautifully drawn with a multi-levelled narrative that makes it a classic of the time and still very readable. We compare highs and some lows and examine the themes and visuals in depth. Does the story end too soon? Should it have run onwards into those gauntlet comics? What is Starlin trying to say?

We also chat all about Dave and his comics imprint Fred Egg Comics. Some great releases such as his suburban time-travel story Belltime and many more. Hop over to http://fredeggcomics.blogspot.com/ and grab some to read. You can also find Dave on Twitter @FredEggComics

Many thanks for listening.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Honest Review Month Goes Audio - ‘A Death in the Family’ with Damian Edwardson.



ON this Audio Episode of Honest Review Month my self and one half of  Art92 Collective’s Damian Edwardson take a deep dive on one of the most controversial storylines ever to hit the Bat Books.

Batman issues 426-429 featured the death of the then Robin after a public vote decided if he should die or not!



Written by Jim Starlin with art by Jim Aparo, Inks by Mike DeCarlo and Colours by Adrienne Roy this really got some interesting conversation rolling. Was it a crass commercial decision? Did it work as a story? Why did the Joker hog most of the story and get the best costume changes? Why was Superman acting so strangely? 

There’s loads to ponder in this new episode that you can find here https://neverironanything.podbean.com/e/episode-6-batman-and-a-death-in-the-family-with-damian-edwardson/ 



You can also find out about the mighty Art Collection that features Helena and Damian at their website here https://www.artninetwo.com/ Have a look for their great comics and art.

Many thanks for listening.