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While the temptation to bitch endlessly around the vagaries of climates and airlines is still present (and will fallalal along soon enough, worry not), I thought I would take the time to post the six comics I drew as part of our wedthing favours. This, in part is because I’m not sure if anyone managed to get all six, since we put them into the bags individually and at random. So prease to enjoy and click to embiggen!

Sarcasm and Silliness Read the rest of this entry »

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My relationship with comics is often abusive. There is a lot wrong with industry, much of it to do with the portrayal of women. That it is a pretty even split between the art and writing doesn’t make it a more palatable equanimity. Heroines, super or otherwise, tend to face significant back problems in later life should they manage to survive past the Women in Refrigerators phase (or present day hip problems incurred from sporting an upper torso significantly larger than scale), all the while standing at risk of hypothermia.

The subject matter of sex, fetishisation, bondage and objectification is not so much dealt with in comics as it is blithely side-stepped. Your average superheroine may get captured, tied up, humiliated, but it will be okay in the end because after she has been saved she will stab the villain in the brain and say “GRR! THAT FEEL GOOD BETTER!” The reader is allowed to leer and then profess just how awesome the book is without any moral trepidation because the nice lady has just said they are feeling better now! If drama is to be injected, it is usually by way of Girls Night Out, rapine or pregnancy, because That Is What Defines Women, Yo. Were the double page spreads of ripplingly-bemuscled masculine superheroes and their scantily or shreddingly-clad damsels to serve a purpose beyond the shallow artifice of drama and dilemma (and more to the point, the enhancement of wrist function and musclature), it would be a level of sophistication that you might just be willing to give a pass. This is rarely the case.

All is not lost, though. Everything that these comics does wrong, Empowered does right.

Empowered’s author, Adam Warren, has been flirting with the issue of female representation for years. His Dirty Pair adaptation was less focused on the Lovely Angels scanty attire so much as on the ridiculous scale of destruction they caused. His Gen13 run had no end of cheesecake, but it did acknowledge and mock the fact and in return offered just as much in the way of beefcake as an act of balance (to the point that it was Grunge, the male hound-dog archetype, that suffers a heterosexual rape and not his female counterparts). Entertainingly, Warren used the demonstration of flesh most flawless to turn the series into a stealth science fiction book, and in the process set the genesis of Empowered in motion.

Empowered began as a series of jokes when he was attending comicons: weary of the constant slew of damsel-in-distress sketches and commissions requested, he started adding in the commentary of the damsels, typically taking issue with the heavily codified sexual imagery and, gradually, the emotional toll of the subject. From this humble origin in gallows humour, a character began to emerge and grow into the figure we now get to read about.

Empowered is the personification of insecurity. Rather than basking in the joy of being an attractive superhero, she is crippled by body issues which are exacerbated by her skintight costume. Her status as an inexperienced fledgling superhero means she is more at risk of capture, yet instead of offering support or condolence by her Superhomey peers, she is mocked and insulted as a bondage-prone laughing stock. Her closest companions are a former henchman, a failed ninja and imprisoned extra-dimensional entity that sits on her coffee table and watches TV endlessly. What makes it work is that for all the presentation of ineffectiveness, it’s superficial. Empowered is far more than a sum of sex jokes and superhero stereotypes. While this would seem to align it with the unfortunate issues mentioned at the beginning of this spiel, there are important differences.

First, Warren works by the method of showing, not telling. A surface reading of the material would suggest that she is a well-meaning doof. Look closer and we see how in fact she overthinks herself into insecurity: for all her failings beforehand, when faced with a situation where others are at stake she charges in without question and simply acts (the first instance we see being the protection of her ‘alpha-male’ boyfriend). Secondly, she is not okay with what she suffers. She frequently breaks down from the stress of what she goes through – unlike her Superhomey teammates, she is not invulnerable and it shows. The scene in book 2, one of the rare inked sequences, is one of the most painful examples of the emotional toll as Emp breaks down mid-coitus in a desperate need for emotional security. Most importantly, she perseveres. It would be easy for her to quit – her superhero career is not going in a direction she would want, but she continues to do so simply because any positive difference she makes is worthwhile to her, whether it is toppling an interdimensional overlord demon or saving the life of a henchman because she doesn’t want his child to experience what she did as a child when her own father… She’s a good person, and you want her to succeed. It’s just going to take longer than it should (for her, at least).

Not that the series is a dour, po-faced expression of how Emp’s life unfolds. She vacillates, allowing herself to feel attractive as often as she does overstocked of Sir Mix-a-lot’s preferences. As much as she can rant about her suit, she can enjoy the liberation and empowerment that it can give her (which in turn feeds into the ongoing and simmering plot that is surely about to come to the boil). While her career is stalled, she has friends and enjoys a healthier sex life than any of her counterparts. That she gets to clearly enjoy her sex life is in fact one of the main draws – sex in comics usually rates as an event singular, the culmination of a relationship storyline rather than an important ongoing element (I’m looking at you, Gambit and Rogue!) Moreso than anything else, it is honest in its telling. Emp’s life is not static: she makes friends within the superhero community as time goes on, her popularity grows by weird increments and in a strange yet obvious way. Piece by hard-earned piece, she builds her confidence. When she falters, her friends help pick her up. Thugboy’s intermittent speeches on Emp’s finer qualities are his efforts to champion his lady love, not to transform her into a trophy, and lord help whoever pushes him in that regard…

This is all before addressing the matter of Warren’s art. The manga-esque trappings aside, the most notable feature is that it is illustrated with pencils rather than the traditional inked style of comic. It creates a relatively unique colour palette for the series, but also allows a greater intimacy as pencils can allow for more subtlety (inks are typically used since they were easier to print in days of yore and now are a visual standard). This has the knock-on effect of making what scenes are inked really have an impact, as suggested above, or when we get our first glimpse of the psychotic Willy Pete. It also helps that Warren’s pencils are frankly gorgeous: the level of control he holds over his line and shading are unrivalled, the nuance unmatched. I am at a loss in fact to figure out how he avoids smudging everything (the other reason why inks are more common – once dry, they will not be your enemy!) Warren also holds the dubious honour of drawing what bodies and musculature actually look like, in motion as well as repose. Breasts are not spheres, nor muscles globes.

What is most interesting is that it is one of the few series I feel I could recommend to people who don’t normally read comics or superhero stories. The sex and bondage themes could so very easily come off as crass or voyeuristic exploitation, yet it never does. Warren is too focused on the human meaning to allow it to do so. Instead, what we have is a rare example of maturity in a mature subject matter, neither glossing over the darker elements nor wallowing in them. The main reason among reasons is that it is funny, whether it follows the cross-purpose dress-up sexploits of the Sexy Librarian and the Ravaging Centurion, the rampaging monologues of the Caged Demonwolf, or Emp’s own frustrations at the obnoxiousness of the superhero life (and less known slash-fic community). All of this is emphasised by Warren’s stellar comic timing and capacity to show action and reaction in his cast, perfect for the innuendo-laden tone of this series.

Are there flaws? Some, albeit few. Volume 2 isn’t quite as balanced as the others, hewing closer to inner turmoil at the cost of humour. The shift to science fiction themes later on may alienate readers who just want the series to evolve into Carry On Comics. The former issue is redressed by Warren taking tight control of the material, while the latter is a more interesting way to take the series than standard superhero fare. Then again, I’m one of the six people who read his Gen13 run that considered similar issues, so that was never going to displease me. More to the point, you will not have to read 17 other titles in order to fully understand what is happening in each volume, which makes it practically unique among superhero books. Empowered is one of the best series out there at the moment, definitely worthy of your time and investment. It also has The Maidman.

Sherlock
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s new iteration of mssrs Holmes and Watson is taking the not so radical step of placing them in the modern day. Purists may well bitch, but the point of the original tales being set when they were set is that they were at the time set in the modern day. It’s not a soulless revision of the concept, it’s giving it a new lick of paint.

The marvelously monikered Benedict Cumberbatch is thus far entertaining in the role of Sherlock himself (it is easy to see why the press has been asking if he would be playing the Doctor in Moffat’s other show, however erroneous the suggestion might be), but the stand-out is actually Martin Freeman as Watson. Freeman usually doesn’t show much range in his roles, due in part to the typecasting hangover of The Office, but in Sherlock he gets to play a role quite different to his usual oeuvre. He is still playing an everyman role, but one this time with more flair, drive and ability. It reminds me of why everyone liked him before The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

As to the story itself, it was engaging moreso for the introduction to the world rather than the mystery itself (although the idea of murder by suicide is interesting). The main issue was that at an hour and a half the suspense wasn’t quite able to maintain itself as fully as might be hoped, but as the series at the standard one hour length hereafter, that shouldn’t be an ongoing problem. The emphasis on establishing the world in this instance took precedence, so slight padding was otherwise going to be inevitable. Hopefully, the slight repetition between the visualisation of Holmes’ thought process and exposition will also reduce over the coming episodes (again, I suspect this was an issue of filling the timeslot rather than a determination to make sure the audience is following the story). Overall, it was a good start: I’ll be watching the next few episodes with interest.

True Blood
This is the stupidest and most ridiculous thing I watch, have watched and am likely to watch in the near future. It’s erratic, flailing, over the top nonsense that drives my every notion of craft and criticism crazy with rage. It has managed to realise all of this and has since begun to mock itself, adding with every episode more and more madness to its burgeoning, overloaded Jenga tower of a mythos, including but not limited to: vikings; hillbillies; Jessica; Nazi werewolves; vampire PR and governmental machinations; a vampire queen who plays Yahtzee; every other character mocking Bill’s accent; Talbot’s obsession with decor; town-wide bacchanals; Tara faking Stockholm Syndrome; the single most twisted sex scene to ever air on television; and having Jason Stackhouse kick the crap out of a blatant Robert Pattinson analogue.

It is utterly brilliant in a weird and broken way. It’s a soap opera with fangs: the more insanity the show adds, the better (and the funnier) it becomes. There is little chance that it will last its run without imploding into a hideous mess, but even that mess is likely to be hilarious to watch.

Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour
Technically not something I watched, but it gets a mention because it contributed to a magnificent weekend. Having mentioned the series before, and given the theme of closure in the book, it’s certainly apropos! In the aftermath of book 5, Scott is at a loss as to what to do next. Worse, he has begun to regress to the state he was in before the start of the first book: struggling and failing to get over heartbreak. This time however, Scott’s circle of friends has now disintegrated and no one is willing (or able) to deal with Scott’s self-centered funk on an individual basis. The series has always been about moving on and growing up, but here it is put into sharp relief: everyone bar Scott is in a different place, while Scott is trying to retreat from what progress he made rather than deal with his losses and culpability.

The final chapter of Scott’s story is absolutely fantastic, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. O’Malley strips away any pretense that Scott is a victim of circumstance and instead presents us with a man-child trying to allay all his own guilt at the cost of those around him. Whereas before the cast were willing to rationalise his behaviour and even excuse it, he is allowed no such room here and instead must finally face up to his responsibilities and grow up once and for all. This doesn’t mean that we lose the humour and giddy fun that was the hallmark of the series prior: we still have subspace, glowing heads and Scott’s uniquely filtered view of the world, but it is now balanced against his personal realisation and those final, vital and defining choices.

What is also interesting is that it’s in many ways the least dense of the volumes in terms of stories. Looking at it from the outside, it’s Scott bouncing between friends while trying to cope with the state of his life, before launching into the final battle of the story and its resulting epilogue. As the first chapter title states, Things Stop Happening. Instead, it becomes an artistic tour de force as O’Malley drives his art into overdrive and smashes it through the wall. The result is glorious: Scott and his friends have never looked better, nor more expressive or individual.

Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour is in a lot of ways about closure, not just for the characters but the audience as well. Everyone gets a moment to shine, while Scott has a final opportunity to prove his worth not just to his friends and enemies, but also to himself. As sad as it is to see the series end, it’s fitting that the title is appropriate.

Inception
It’s going to be pretty hard to discuss Inception without spoilers of any kind, so before reading any of this, please go watch the movie first. This will still be here when you leave the cinema. I’m typically a stickler for people going into a movie as blind as they can and Inception requires that you know as little as possible for maximum impact. It is hard to avoid spoilers these days, but not entirely impossible (having steadfastedly avoided trailers, previews, podcasts and reviews, it was the posters that got me in the end…) Anyhow, get thee hence if not yet seen, as spoilers follow. Read the rest of this entry »

Casanova is coming back after a long hiatus, and that is more than swell. The intense and psycadelic adventures of Casanova Quinn, a dimension-hopping superthief trapped in double and triple identities was the stuff of intense joy and wonderment are outright delightful. This is the sort of series that burned through ideas rather than saving them for a rainy day in an age when every possible notion is squeezed for all its worth and merchandising. Originally designed as a 16-page comic with back matter essays for €1.99 at a time when other comics were €2.99 for 22 pages, it was consciously designed to be a book you would pick up on the spur of the moment (both in the matters of content and fiscal).

It also sold about three copies.

But times, they were and are a changing: writer Matt Fraction was then an up-and-comer. Now he writes the X-men, Ironman and Thor. Where once brothers and artists Moon and Bá were unknowns, they now run as darlings of the indie circuit, drawing The BPRD and Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy (as well as writing and drawing the fantastic Daytripper). With their newfound fame, they are bringing Cass back to introduce his first stories to a new audience and then continue the tale through Marvel Comics and in colour. The history is well recounted here, so let’s move on to why I will be buying it all over again like a weird vinyl fan buying a CD.

I love comics, but they’ve been cheating on me a lot lately. Cycles repeat in stories, but in better cases they are revised and refreshed with some new twist. Mainstream comics have become increasingly gratuitous and inward-looking in terms of what they try to achieve – characters die, come back, die again… All very typical, except that a lot of characters are now not likely to come back because the rate of death prevents them from building a fanbase that wants them to come back. Instead we are now seeing a trend where the characters the writers and middle-aged readers are being restored at the cost of new and more recent creations. The most chronic case of this was the pointless killing-off of new Asian character Ryan Choi, the most recent Atom, to restore the WASP character of the sixties in the role (that this occurred in Asian-American Appreciation month is even more spectacularly short-sighted). This is in fact the case for all legacy characters in the DC comics line: all recent iterations are being cast off in favour of the older version from a better selling age, as if this reversion will bring back the money train. It’s all just so dull.

Casanova isn’t dull. Casanova has me rereading the full story once complete to see all the things I missed first time round.

Frankly, double-dipping Casanova will mean it’s more likely that I will get to see the whole story. It’s not the first time I have done this (although it’s not a common thing for me to do): Brandon Graham’s King City was initially released in 2007 as the first of however many volumes by Tokyopop. Much like Casanova, it did not appear to sell well (although this was at least in part due to the glut of mostly-unwanted Original English Language manga that sprang up like fungus during the big manga craze a few years back). Even though it has been relaunched from the start with a view to see it through to the end, the singles were always unlikely to sell well as it wasn’t released by Marvel or DC, had no major name attached, and was written by and about people in a sci-fi city of spies who have not had to pay to see ladies or gentlemen naked. It also contains the most useful cat in the world, but that wouldn’t quite segue in with my comparison without drawing some odd ideas about my life… To see the end, it would have to sell as many copies as possible, so the wallet shall willingly be a comic’s IV feed. It helps that I think exceptionally highly of Graham’s art and abilities (it’s a rare talent that bothers with negative space in comics). It’s for the very same reasons that I buy the collections of webcomics that I read. I would like to see the creators continue to put out their unsung joys. In the case of both King City and Casanova, they are also adding in new extras (KC has about six or seven extra pages of comic loveliness each issue to entice anyone who has read the previously published material, and has continued providing this even though it has moved into the new, previously unseen material).

It’s not as if there isn’t prime examples of comics being stopped for lack of sales. The magnificent series Phonogram had similar sales issues and unfortunately had to cease. Writers and artists have to eat, after all. The idea was at once simple and complex: music is magic (lets see how people will use it). The execution improved by leaps and bounds with each issue. It had an interesting cast and a unique style. No one noticed it on the shelves, if it even made it that far. Worse, when some more traditional comic fans saw it, they complained that the characters were too well dressed (a horror story confirmed when I met writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie a few years back…) How do you win against that sort of mentality? Hell, how do you just survive? The Singles Club was one of the best things I have read in years and so many people ignored it in favour of SuperXBatLanternForce number eleventybillion.

If Phonogram came back and had to start at the beginning, I would buy it again just the same as I will be buying Casanova once more (although in fairness to Phonogram, they wouldn’t need to start from the beginning again as each series can be read in isolation). Some things deserve to be supported. If that means I will be buying one less X-book or the like, so be it. They will just be retreading the same ground in a few years so I can read it then. But books like Casanova and King City and Phonogram and RASL and Orc Stain and so many others won’t be, and they are all far more worthy of my / your / anyone’s time.

Sitting in the midst of a group of ladies, my love of the ink splattered tomes that were the origins of such luminaries as the Spider-man and that Bruce Wayne fellow was somehow once again invoked. While it was mostly on the issue of boyfriendly compulsion towards the works, a question of note did arise.

“Do you call them comics or graphic novels?”

I call them comics; I have really come to hate the term ‘graphic novel’. Read the rest of this entry »

I am, as many of the people who have to endure me on a daily basis can assure you, a Scott-a-holic. I find Kim Pine’s attitude endearing, I love Wallace Wells as much as a straight man can with cheating on his Good Lady, and I can relate to Scott, in all the joy and squirming guilt that entails. Bryan Lee O’Malley has created something that accurately (or maybe that should read honestly) reflects a group of nerds, geeks, misfits and pleasant ne’er-do-wells. It’s not the first series to do so, it will not be the last, but it has struck a powerful shared nerve amongst its fans nonetheless.

And now there is a movie coming out – did you know that there is a trailer for it on the internet?


Read the rest of this entry »

Offered with far too much comment, some of the old comics I mentioned – in this case, my old diary web-comic, 90% real and very little exaggerated – that didn’t make me want to gouge my own eyes out, Oedipus-style. Most of these were drawn and inked within the space of an hour – the colour comics I did beforehand fell to the wayside as they took up much, much more time to little appreciable benefit…

It’s weird to think I haven’t posted any since 2007 (weirdly, the cut-off point coincides with a promotion, a significant pay-rise and an epic jump in the responsibilities held). Looking at the highlights below is reminding me of why I enjoyed it. I couldn’t go back on a schedule of posting daily comics any time soon (or at least not daily diary comics, as that was mind-crushingly narcissistic of me), but the itch is back, and it is strong. Anyhow!


I don’t know what it is about this picture of Olivia, but I love it. She’s probably cleaning up something I… No! Not me for a change, that’s from the first year in Trinity, where two of her three flatmates were filthy. I’m messy, but at least I’m clean…
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