Sunday 14 November 2010

Things to buy at Thought Bubble

Long post this one, and unusually it's mostly about other people's work. This weekend (all being well) I'll be at Thought Bubble comic con in Leeds and hopefully I'll see lots of you there. I will be selling posters and postcards and original art again, but this time from the Blank Slate table which will be at the end of the big ol' Forbidden Planet table. The only new addition to the posters I had for sale at BICS is the Solipsistic Pop 3 poster above. Here are the others:

If I'm not at the Blank Slate table you may find me at the Solipsistic Pop table helping give the Solipsistic Pop 3 book it's official launch. There's a long shot that I may be lurking around my own publisher's table because SelfMadeHero will be there with their increasingly excellent list of titles. I won't be adding to the list until next year, but my friend and inspiration Mr Ian Culbard will have his new adaptation of At The Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft on sale and will be sketching and signing at the event.


Ian's adaptation is perhaps the best of his SelfMadeHero books. Here "Britain's answer to Darwyn Cooke" works in double page spreads and uses the broader space to give us snowy vistas, frozen oceans, alien cityscapes and vast mountain ranges. The writing is stripped down and the book zips by, in stark contrast to the heavy going Lovecraft texts. All is rendered in Ian's trademark style, a kind of Yves Chaland/Frank Robbins lovechild.
As I know from struggling through my adaptation of The Dunwich Horror (which Ian has drawn and, in my opinion, is his best strip work yet!), voice overs are pretty inevitable in Lovecraft comic adaptations. Here the best sequences are where Ian shakes off the voice over and lets the characters play off one another or the action move seamlessly. If I have any criticism of the book, it's really a criticism of the source material - and that's the characterisation. I didn't really care about them. Lovecraft's characters are flat; he's all about ideas and the characters too often become cyphers. What Lovecraft excels at is spiking the imagination with his poison and enveloping the reader with a sense of menace beyond our ken. Ian's version loses non of that. You won't buy a better Graphic Novel or comic at Thought Bubble, don't hesitate to get it.

So when you've got you Solipsistic Pop 3, some of my posters and At The Mountains of Madness what else can you spend your pennies on....? Well, seeing as you'll be standing at the Blank Slate table I suggest you buy as many of their books as you can because I can't think of a comic publisher with a higher hit rate. All things going to plan I will be adding to their list with something of my own, something I'm so excited about I need to move on before I blurt. What there will be on the table is the standard Blank Slate excellence in the shape of Oliver East's books (Oliver's work is truly unique, check it out), Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham (the comic book that even mum's love!), books by the brilliant Mawil and the hilarious Speenal by Nigel Auchterlounie, (check them all out here) plus the two newest editions: Sleepyheads by Randall.C and The Girl and the Gorilla by Madeliene Flores. Buy both!

Image of Sleepyheads - Randall C. - Hardcover Version

Sleepyheads is a quite beautiful object. It's drawn in a style I instantly fell in love with: flat, tattered, desaturated colour swatches for panels and wonderfully realised characters scrawled across the pages with deceptive ease. I could eat a book like this. The question is would the story match up? Well, a story about dreams with characters strolling from one dreamscape to the next could have been a real let down - how do you relate to characters in a story like this? Why should you care what happens when you know that it will end with every kid's favourite first story ending "then I woke up and it was all a dream"?
By coincidence I read this at the same time I was reading Sleepyheads. Any comic about dreams will always make me think of Little Nemo and Bill Watterson's comments ("I can’t read the strip without thinking how much more enchanting Slumberland would be if the characters, rather than the backdrops and costumes, advanced the story") in that piece had me questioning what made Nemo work for me. The answer is that sometimes a comic or book just has a feeling to it that you can only reach via reading that piece of work. Perhaps we shouldn't let our tastes and biases make demands upon what comics should be, they're still in their infancy I think, we don't know that answer.
So back to Sleepyheads, what does it offer? Well, strangely enough it offers more than most comic books I've read this year. The dream logic means the strip morphs from one thing to the next, but there is a real structure as the story flits between the two characters trapped in a dream and two Russian sailors stuck on a desert island. The book has an inescapable intrinsic logic of it's own and asks questions about perception that might spring open a few minds. The chapter about the Senoi and whether their perception meant the Spanish invaders were invisible to them is an anthropological idea I've always been in love with and underpins a lot of my own ideas about perception. If I have a criticism of the book it's just that I don't see why it had to be framed as a dream. I would have preferred it with the going into and out of the dream chopped off and let the reader be the dreamer. Who's to say though the balance between crediting the reader with intelligence and going over their heads is always a tricky one.

Girl and the Gorilla is a simpler story in a sparser style told on bare white pages with deftly described figures that I followed faithfully from the first page on. The story is a 'through the looking-glass' affair in which a fed up girl called Aurelie is transported to a world of creativity where books roam free like wild animals, buildings are constructed of a writer's words and there's a newspaper reading Gorilla who acts as a kind of spirit guide for writers. The Girl and the Gorilla is an all ages book that reads like a kids book adults can enjoy, I was reminded of The Phantom Tollbooth. The great success of this book is that it makes storytelling not just its most important aspect but its very reason to exist.

Back to Thought Bubble, I haven't seen the programme for the Saturday, but I believe I may be listed in the programme as signing and sketching at 10:30 to 12:00. I won't be there, I've told you where to find me and if you want a signing or sketching I will of course oblige. The good news is my ridiculously talented friend Simon Gane will be signing and sketching on that table instead, so get him to draw you a girl. He draws great girls. He's even better at drawing street scenes but that would be a bit of an unfair request.

Right, sales pitch over, normal service (me talking about me) will resume next week.

Monday 8 November 2010

Observer/Cape Graphic Short Story Prize

First time I've reposted something. I won't make a habit of it. I always planned to repost this after the 2010 Observer/Cape prize was announced mainly because I've connected with more followers via Twitter and the blog and I thought you/they might like to see it.

As it happens this year's winner is one of the people who commented on the original post and someone I have real admiration for (his comment seems quite ironic now). You can see Stephen Collins' winning entry here, although it worked best in the full spread of the Observer Review section yesterday. Hopefully this exposure will lead to a Stephen Collins book, something I'd happily pre-order now.

The style of Stephen's strip is a kind of metamorphosis/magic realism that I've always loved, a style I will always associate with the short story Axolotl by Julio Cortazar. As I said to him via Twitter yesterday it also reminded me of Dylan Thomas's Map of Love. Literary allusions aside what makes this so great is that it is a comic strip and it could only be a comic strip. It's in a different league to previous winners and gives the prize a genuine credibility many felt it lacked.

There's a suspicion among many UK creator's that Observer and Cape have a fear of comics and feel the need to throw an arty or literary veil over comics to give them credibility. This ignores the real quality of great literature and art - they are of their own form and are often great precisely because they are aware of their own form. A comic strip that could only be a comic strip. Stephen Collins' strip is precisely that - what it is not is a 'Graphic Short Story'.

It's comic strip, and it's a bloody good one.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Autobiographical comics

Press copies of Solipsistic Pop 3 have gone out, the launch party is next week, and my mind has taken a break from Quixote to go through that wonder-what-people-will-think-of-it phase about my contribution to SP3 (just like everyone else no doubt). This is a bit like a flashback to 1989 and the first issue of SLANG. I'm pretty thick-skinned about most of the published work I do, but my SP3 strip is probably my first autobiographical work to hit print since SLANG.

Autobiographical comics are the oxygen of the small press, in many cases they reflect the mundanity of the everyday - the minute details of personal hygiene and tiny fissures in personal relationships. There are of course some wonderful examples of this and some that are eye-curlingly bad. Mine tend to be slightly veiled, 'semi'-autobiographical sort of stories that deal with the more traumatic aspects of my life.

Back in the late 80s my main strip for SLANG dealt with much of the same stuff that you'll find in The Torturer's Garden (that's the SP3 strip). In a way things have come full circle. At the top of this post is a panel from The Torturer's Garden and below is a panel from SLANG No 2.

Damaged youths in bovver boots, and there's that Dennis the Menace jumper. It may not look like most people's idea of an autobiographical comic, but my thoughts about it are the same as anyone who has done this kind of comic are - have I exposed too much of myself? will people be judging me rather than the art? etc etc

You know, the good thing about this anthology is that I'm in such great company, it really does contain some of the most talented and original creators working in UK comics right now. Even if my approach and/or subject matter isn't to people's liking there are so many other approaches to comics on show here that, if you love comics, you will love this book.
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