Published on November 17th, 2015 | by JCDoyle0
Thought Bubble Comics Review
Comics – Old and New
If you have any sort of love affair with comics then you will not need telling that last weekend saw the 9th Thought Bubble convention take place at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Despite the continual rain and flooding in some parts of the city, the convention was the success it seems to be every single year; there was plenty to see and plenty to do and plenty of ways to spend your hard earned money. My advice if you ever go is to set yourself a budget and stick to it; it’s not as easy as it sounds, even buying small, self-published black and white comics will still add up to a hefty chunk of cash but most of the time it’s worth it.
This year I did have a gripe, very unusual for Thought Bubble but it wasn’t really to do with the convention or the organisers. There are a huge amount of guests in the halls at the convention and a number of them are used to attract the crowds; they are billed as ‘special guests’ and used in promotional material etc. Some of these guests are a joy to meet or watch at the panels or even catch a quick drink with if you manage to get to the after show party. Unfortunately some have punctuality issues and here is where my gripe comes from. It’s good that they are there and it’s great they bring in the crowds but how long should these people expect to stand, this year in the rain, to wait for you to turn up? The convention opens its doors at 10 o’clock and, even on the Saturday, a number of the guests weren’t there. I know that as consumers we don’t actual owe you (the creator) anything, you wrote or drew your comic and we’ve bought it, end of relationship. But if you want us to continue to buy your comics in future, maybe don’t leave us standing in the rain while you slowly munch on your late breakfast in your cosy hotel. Personally I didn’t feel like queuing and instead met a whole bunch of people who did turn up on time and whose work I will now be following.
Gripe over, onto some comics.
Every year I buy a selection of books from a number of different people, some old and some brand new; some I love and some that turn out not to be my thing. And like last year I’ve decided to nod my head at a few that are worth looking up when you have the chance.
Team Girl Comic – various creators
The beauty of self-published anthologies is that you get to sample a selection of creators work all in one small, and usually fairly cheap, package. Team Girl Comic is Scotland’s all-female anthology and has a mix of fantasy/sci-fi and introspective work. The cover for issue 11 (the copy I picked up) is by Maki Yamazaki and almost worth the cover price itself. The fluidly illustrated female figure floating in an ambiguous setting prepares the reader for the variety of work that the comic contains.
Not every story will appeal to every reader, that’s the point of an anthology, even collections printed by Image Comics or DC’s Vertigo contain stories that some people won’t get to grips with but it’s the strips that do impress that are worth the cover price. With Team Girl Comic 11 there are several that stand out for me.
The first is Rolling With It, written/illustrated by MJ Wallace. This is a two page look at how a young woman’s life is changed by the introduction of a Dungeons and Dragons game. Instead of being the negative influence that her peers insist it is, the game actually opens up her mind and imagination and make her see some of the people in her life for what they really are. The art is naturalistic and the script is straight forward but the message shines through and will encourage readers to embrace new things.
My second favourite tale is called Urban Legend by Amanda Stewart and is an 18 panel, silent modern myth reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s early fairy tale short stories. A young woman visits a local thrift shop and buys a selection of jewellery which she takes home to wallow in. The twist isn’t especially outstanding but there is charm embedded in the simple story and the grey scale artwork is delightful.
However my favourite story in this anthology is The Bandit Café by Shona Heaney. It plays on the fantasy tropes in the same way the recent Rat Queens series does, poking fun at the ridiculousness of the genre while creating two engaging, and wildly different, characters. It’s a short story with a comical twist but there is a lot of character development in such a short time and out of all the stories in this anthology, this is the one I want to read more of.
TGC is a triumphant mix of styles and stories that will appeal to a range of people and probably have them arguing over which is their favourite.
Information about Team Girl Comic can be found on their Tumblr page.
WesterNoir – Writer/Artist: Dave West/Gary Crutchley
I bought the first couple of issues of WesterNoir at a convention earlier in the year, unsure how much I would like them I didn’t invest in the full set.
I know have the full set including the newest release, Tales of WesterNoir #1.
The basic premise is that Josiah Black, a bounty hunter type cowboy, gets himself embroiled in a number of awkward situations usually involving some mythical creatures and he then must become a monster to fight the monsters; And this is all set to the backdrop of the old west.
Part comedy, part horror WesterNoir knows when to take itself seriously and when to have a bit of fun. There is a cinematic feel to a lot of the art work and the influences of old western movies is obvious from page to page; and I don’t just mean the popular Clint Eastwood opus’s but the full range of western history. Some of the panels look like greyscale prints of movies like Shane or True Grit.
And when it all gets a bit mystical the style doesn’t change, it’s still a western just with a few beasties or semi-naked mermaids. The horror aspects slide in effortlessly and never pull you out of the comic. It’s not an easy task but the creators have managed to produce a character driven, genre mash up that’s compelling and gritty enough not to become a joke.
The latest issue, Tales of, has two back stories illustrated by guest artists Roland Bird and Pedro Lopez. The different art styles work well with the different narratives and it’s always fun to see someone else’s take on a character or location.
It’s always difficult at a convention, when faced with a new series of comics, just how many to buy. If you have the money I would recommend buying the entire run of WesterNoir in one go, it will save you having to track them down at a later date. (If needs be, you can order them directly form here)
Hand Me Down/Vessel – Writer/Artist: Kristyna Baczynski
Although Hand Me Down and Vessel are two separate comics that aren’t linked in the same way that WesterNoir are, they do have a theme in common. Each comic is about experience and the journey that someone, or something, takes. In both beautifully crafted comics, travel becomes an extension of experience and illustrates how the highs and lows of the journeys are more important than the destination; not a new idea but so rarely has it been illustrated in such a simple and appealing way.
In Vessel, a new comic produced this year, the central character waits patiently for her ‘life’ to begin but after so long realises that she’s going to have to go out and find the experiences to fill her body. There will be a number of people who read this and recognise themselves in the central character, as she sits, bored at work, staring into the abyss of a computer screen. Inspiration takes hold and the vast landscapes that Baczynski creates are a delight to behold. And the best thing is that the narrative moves from page to page quite quickly but you are not forced to turn the page, you can linger on a landscape and experience it for yourself. It’s a simple but effective technique that allows the reader to have control over the comic in exactly the same why that Baczynski is saying you should have control over your own life.
The second comic, Hand Me Down, is from 2014 but was nominated for Best Comic at the British Comic Awards 2015. Although it didn’t win its category it definitely deserved its nomination. It is fed from the same theme as Vessel but this time follows the movement of an ancient animal horn as it travels through the eons and is adapted to each society it encounters. The horn is changed and forgotten and renewed just like the character from Vessel; and so the journey makes the horn what it is, not where it came from or where it finally ends up. It is changed through circumstance and experience in a surprisingly moving tale that captures so much emotion without the need for a single piece of text; this is a comic that any reader can identify with.
Both of these comics are still available from the writer/artist along with many others and prints and badges and all the rest of the paraphernalia that comes with modern, independent artists. Check out her website, or find her at the next convention you go to, you won’t be disappointed.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics: Metallica – various creators
This is an old comic, published by Revolutionary Comics in 1989. There was also a Guns and Roses one (which was the first issue) which I also picked up.
Basically, we saw these comics, we laughed and then we bought them. My partner is a Metallica fan and I grew up with GnR (first concert was a GnR warm up gig) so they hit a nostalgia spot. And that’s the beauty of conventions, you can find things old and new that you never knew existed. I own these two comics purely because they were there, on a table, and made us laugh. The comics are exactly as you would expect – shit – but not everything has to be the greatest quality to provide entertainment, if it did there would be a lot of empty spaces on the shelves of comic book stores.
I’m not recommending this comic to anyone, except maybe a Metallica fan with a sense of humour, but I am recommending taking a punt on something for the sheer hell of it. You might get lucky or you might end up with rubbish but for a couple of pounds, one punt per convention is probable worth the risk.
The Coldest City – Writer/Artist: Antony Johnston/Sam Hart
This Cold War based spy thriller originally came out in 2012 but Antony Johnston convinced me I would like it after telling him how much I enjoy The Fuse (and I do so enjoy The Fuse). Plus it’s becoming relevant again as they are just about to start filming the big screen version staring the outstanding Charlize Theron. Apparently when she was signed to the project there were murmurings that she wasn’t an action star and not right for the role but then Mad Max: Fury Road came out and all that changed.
In The Coldest City a British operative has gone missing along with a list of the locations of all the spies, friend and foe, currently working in Berlin. Lorraine is sent in to find the operative and, more importantly, the list but she has a very little time and, even worse, she has to work with the old school operatives who have no time for ‘a woman’. It is set in Berlin just before the fall of the wall and oozes with tension, almost instantly putting you on the edge of your seat. The story slowly builds as the mystery unravels and the secrets seep out. Stylistically, the stark black and white art will remind you of Sin City but the narrative couldn’t be any more different; this is all about atmosphere and working in the shadows. The starkness of the art is sometimes in contrast to the layers of grey that envelopes the narrative; nothing is as cut and dried as the two tone art might suggest.
This book is a gripping read and I read the first half totally oblivious to everything around me; I would have read it all in one go but my bath had gone cold. It’s gripping and drags you into the murky world of espionage without the need to spice it up with gadgets, chases and half a story full of none stop action. The art work makes no real distinction between the mundaneness of the operative’s lives and the world shattering events that are happening all around them; each is as important as the other as the wall falls and everything changes but for some, nothing at all changes.
Antony Johnston’s recommendation wasn’t wrong, if you have been enjoying his series The Fuse then I am sure you will also enjoy this wonderfully written and illustrated piece of art. And, as he said to me at the weekend, read it now before the film is released.