Published on November 19th, 2014 | by JCDoyle0
Thought Bubble 2014 – Comic Reviews
Last weekend was the exciting, creative and, some would say, best comic convention in the UK: Thought Bubble. Two days jam packed with writers and artists of all levels sharing their passion for sequential art across three halls and a number of extra rooms. Every year I come away with a stack of signed merchandise, hours of anecdotes and a collection of new, usually self published comics.
One of the hardest things for comic creators to do is get their work seen by readers. At Thought Bubble they spend two days fighting for the attention of thousands of people who pass through Clarence Dock and it’s not easy to be noticed. Therefore I am going to shine a small spotlight on some of the work that I picked up and have, mostly, enjoyed.
Exit Generation #4
This is not a new title to me. I have been reading and enjoying Exit Generation all year and a review of issue 4 can be found here.
The Human Next Door
This is a beautiful little love story written by Josh Alliston and illustrated by Jen Smith.
In a small suburb, the protagonist wakes up and gets ready to go to work at The Hunting Lodge in the centre of Hamptondale. However, he is a human masquerading as a monster in a Monster only city. The text-less story follows the central character day after day, slogging away in his disguise until one day the unthinkable happens: he is discovered.
The story is wonderfully designed and the layouts for each page capture the tone and emotion that would be expressed through the speech in other comics. Josh Alliston has paced the narrative perfectly, building up enough momentum through the daily grind so that when something unexpected happens everything, including the reader, comes to a grinding halt. It’s a massive shock: Theres an unwanted eye at the protagonists window.
And what can I say about Jen Smith’s art? A picture speaks a thousand words is a phrase which sums up her ability to express so much in fairly simple images and methods of portrayal. The central character goes through a massive range of emotions and each is plainly visible upon his face for the reader to digest and understand. No text is necessary on these pages.
The Human Next Door is the first work published by Stag Press, which was set up by Alliston and Smith. It’s a surprisingly beautiful comic visually and narratively and it wears it’s heart firmly upon it’s sleeve. I highly recommend checking it out.
Jen Smith: http://www.thatbeastjen.com/
Stag Press: https://twitter.com/StagPress
In this 10 page comic there is a tale of bullying and not fitting in. The titular character is trying to cope with his difficult home life: he is being brought up by his Grandparents but both of them are no longer able to raise him. At the same time he is trying to find out who he is, where he fits in, which leads to his mistreatment at school. His answer to this is to skip out the middle section of ‘life’ and take on the role of a pensioner. He styles himself on his grandfather and adopts the carefree attitude of his grandmother with surprising results. The narrative for the most part is very emotional and a lot of the themes brought out will be relatable to a lot of readers.
The artwork as well is aptly handled with the roughness to the style working in it’s favour for a number of panels. Most notably is when Matthew is sat next to his grandfather in the hospital. There is something about the composition that makes these panels very touching.
My only problem with this comic is the very end. There is a great moment where Matthew accepts that he will never fit in and just wants to be his own person, marking the end of the story. However there is an extra, unnecessary scene at a school disco which apart from adding nothing to the story, contains a twist which turns the readers sympathies away from Matthew Crown.
Jim Pownall, the writer, and Steve Roberts, the artist, have produced an interesting comic and it’s a shame that the last few panels, the punchline as it were, misses the mark. I am intrigued by their work and think that it may be worth checking out their other products to see what they have to offer.
Creators Website: http://fingerscrossedcomic.com/
Don’t Feed The Pigeons/That’s So Random
The risk of buying any comic without any prior knowledge is that you can pick up something awful or something you just don’t understand. And like Napoleon Dynamite was a movie ship that sailed without me on it, Don’t Feed The Pigeons by Anna Dowsland is a comic I had difficulty connecting with.
The artwork is rough and ready which is never a problem and it isn’t too dissimilar to a lot of underground, self published comics. Some panels are better than others and there is some inconsistency between the page layouts that affect reading more than it probably should. The switch between gutter-less pages to a standard 2 by 3 panel lay out is distracting at best but disconcerting at worst and neither of these were in sync with the pacing of the story.
The narrative itself is simple: the relationship between a couple in a ‘friends with benefits’ agreement becomes strained when one of them meets someone else and falls in love. This is all laid out for the reader in the introduction before the start of the comic which seems a bit pointless, especially as this is the basis for the story in the comic. It is also very difficult to gain any connection with the characters because they aren’t really introduced in any meaningful way: it’s straight into the story that the reader already knows about.
The second comic by Anna Dowsland, That’s So Random, is a collection of strips and is a much more satisfying read. Some of the pages are not as funny as others, especially in the Under Ground section, but this will depend on your sense of humour. There are a few pages that made me chuckle out loud and some which had me a touch bemused. The highlight of this comic are the Zombie Pin Ups in the middle. The artists’ sense of humour shines on these pages and are definitely something that could be interesting if developed out side of mere single drawings.
Check out Anna Dowsland’s website at http://www.anitos.co.uk/ but maybe stay away from Pigeons and focus on the Under Ground and Zombies.
You may have heard of Porcelain: A Gothic Fairy Tale, well the writer Benjamin Read is one of the founding members of a comic studio called Improper Books. They focus on producing stories which have a fairy tale of Gothic element to them and love to play with peoples expectations of such stories. Night Post is a picture book, free from text, and suitable for pretty much the entire family: there are a couple of sequences that may concern very young readers but it all depends on what they are used to.
I bought the book for my son and it is a wonderful read. It tells the story of a man who works through the night as a postman delivering magical and fantastical parcels to Myths, Legends and characters from the history of fantasy literature. There are so many visual references you could spend an hour reading it and still pick up less than half of them. From a host of recognisable Witches to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, this is a book that engorges itself on cultural references. However the story does not rely on the reader understanding any of them. The story is a beautiful, moving and sometimes scary journey through the night following a single man at work. Imagine if Morpheus from The Sandman had a ‘bring your child to work day’, this book represents the adventure his child would have. The artwork is atmospheric and inviting and the illustrations guide the reader through the sequences as easily as a sleeper drifts through a dream.
My favourite idea in this book is that the Royal Mail has a ‘Magical Department’ and the first splash page where our Postie enters the cellar sorting room is such a magnificent and humorous image that anyone of any age can appreciate it on some level. There is an alligator wrapped in bright purple paper and a ominous green glowing box sealed in another glass container with the words “Unidentified Package” taped all over it. There is so much going on that I guarantee you’ll re-read it again and again.
Publishers website: http://www.improperbooks.com/
Horizon. Book Three: The Flying
The final comic in this list is my personal favourite for two reasons. Firstly, it has been written, illustrated and produced by Andrew Wildman who has been one of my favourite comic illustrators for over two decades. His work with Simon Furman on the Transformers comics in the late 80’s early 90’s is one of the reasons I fell in love with this medium. Every year I make a bee line to his table to have a chat and pick up a copy of his latest work.
The second reason this is my favourite purchase from the convention is that it is such an outstanding end to the Horizon series.
The book continues the story of Ali as she attempts to understand what has happened and is happening to her in the fantastical labyrinth of a town. She has fallen from her tower and after finding ‘a glimmer of light’ she is faced with a scary mechanical creature who tries to beat her down.
From the very beginning, this series has taken a metaphoric journey through a young girls life, drip feeding her existence through her experiences within her fantasy world. It is obviously a very personal book for Andrew Wildman and has taken him four years to produce because he wanted to get everything just right.
While speaking to him this year he said that he is pleased to have finished the story and to be able to see the entire work as one, full piece. And reading it, I can see why he would feel like this. There is a moment in the story where it invites you to re-read what you have just read and also go back to the beginning of book one and start again armed with a simple bit of information revealed near the end. It is a simple narrative device but it changes the reading of the comic. Some of the characters no longer represent what you originally believed they were metaphors for. The experiences that Ali has had to endure in her life suddenly comes into focus and the reader is forced to reassess their understanding of what they have just read. It’s simplistic brilliance and the entire three volumes suddenly become one, understandable concept.
At the end, Wildman quotes Dr Wayne Dyer:
“if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”
and this is the best way to explain what happens at the end of Horizon book 3.
It is a brilliant piece of art which incorporates a life affirming message and is such an obvious personal journey for the creator. You can understand why Wildman wanted it to be just right and without a doubt it is. Hopefully these books will be picked up by a new generation of comic readers who can be bewitched by Andrew Wildman’s work in the same way his transformers work drew me in.
Andrew Wildman’s work can be found here: http://www.andrewwildmanart.com/
At any good comic convention there are a whole host of new and self published comics on offer. Some will be from big names, artists and writers who have been in the industry for a long time, others will be first attempts by people new to comic production. But the one thing they all have in common is that the creators believe the comics they are trying to sell to you are worth your time. My advice, if you are going to a convention, is to pick up something you have never heard of and give it a go. The worst that can happen is that you’ve wasted a few quid on a bit of next weeks recycling but it’s equally possible that you find a pot of gold, a beautifully constructed story that will engage you and transport you some place new, even if it is only for ten minutes.