Category Archives: Comics

Thought Bubble 2013

Last weekend was the Thought Bubble comic convention in Leeds. What started out as a small one day event in the basement of town hall with maybe twenty five tables, has grown into a two day event with a couple of hundred tables spread out across three halls. A few years ago it relocated to a different part of the city with bigger facilities, and more space for guest talks and panels. The first year there were predominantly UK comic book creators, but now every year the organisers bring over several big names from overseas. A couple of years ago one of the biggest names was John Romita Jnr, last year it was Mark Waid and Jason Aaron, this year there were several well known creators including Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue Deconnick. As well as well known writers and artists, there were many inkers, letters and colourists, and several editors from comic book companies including Marvel, Image and Titan, who offered art portfolio reviews. So there’s a real spread of creators, and I’ve not yet mentioned the many independent comic book creators from across the UK and wider afield who were there with their books.

Thought Bubble is a purely comic book focused convention, so there are no games, TV or film people. The two day con is part of a larger week of events in the city, but the weekend is purely comic book focused. I’ve been going since the first year and have seen it grow significantly. Relative to US cons it’s still very small, and it’s smaller than some of the big London conventions that mix together comics, TV, film, video games etc, where you might get 5-10 thousand attendees over the weekend. I believe Thought Bubble is nowhere near that, but that’s fine, as it makes it a more intimate and less pressured convention. The big named creators had constant lines for signings and sketching, so they were working hard all weekend, but I suspect it was not as tense or stressful as the US cons.

Every time I speak to people about the convention they all say it has a very unique vibe to other UK comic cons and many have said it’s their favourite. Overseas visitors have also said how much fun they had and maybe it’s because there isn’t a wall between creators and fans. During the day they’re behind tables and fans are in front, but at night everyone is usually in the same place, fans and creators. Last year I stood behind Jason Aaron as he had a drink and a chat with his friends and I did the same. I could have gone up and introduced myself, said hello and that I liked his work, but I don’t know him, and I could have done that during the day. At night he was relaxing with his friends, so I didn’t bother him. People didn’t swamp any of the big names. They were there, in the crowd, talking with people and having a good time, but people just left them alone. Maybe it’s a British thing and we’re overly polite. For us it’s not uncommon to see Kieron Gillen spinning his disks and being the DJ for the party, or seeing Al Ewing shaking his stuff on the dance floor. This year I was introduced to someone by a mutual friend, I shook his hand, said I enjoyed his work and we chatted for a little bit, and then he and his friends went to the bar. He was one of the big names from this year but I’m not going to claim we’re now best buddies or that I know him. The convention certainly has an interesting dynamic, but this sort of inclusiveness is common at UK comic cons like Bristol and previously the Birmingham comic con.

For me the convention has become more about catching up with people than the comics. I like browsing the halls and seeing what’s out, but it’s at this event I’m able to catch up with a group of people I might only see once a year in person. I talk to lots of them online via social media and email, even Skype with some, but it’s just not the same. So it was great to catch up with old friends, share stories of the year gone by over a pint, speculate about the future and discuss our plans and ambitions. The convention is almost at year end, so it’s a good point for me to become a little reflective and look back over the last ten months or so. As a slight aside, although my co-host Scott and I have not hung up our podcasting microphones, and we now put out episodes as and when we want to, it was nice that several people mentioned to us that they still listen and enjoy the show. As various comic book projects creep forward, I am hopeful that by Thought Bubble next year I might be behind a table, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. As ever and when I can, I’ll post updates on various writing projects.

One year I’d like to visit one of the big US comic conventions, to experience the chaos and madness, to swim through the seemingly endless crowds and see how much they differ from UK conventions. But for now, I’m happy to spend time at UK cons like Thought Bubble which are inclusive, familiar and a great deal of fun.

Comments Off on Thought Bubble 2013

Filed under Comics

November update

I’ve not posted in a bit as ever since I came back from WFC I’ve been pretty busy with various projects. So just a quick round up of what’s going on at the moment.

The game is still in the testing phase, I just received a message to download another version for me to play with. So it’s still moving forward which is great, and I’m 99% it will be out next year. More info when I have it.

The day after I got back from WFC I received the next round of edits from my agent on the novel. So I’m currently hip deep in them, whittling, chopping, refinishing and polishing for all I’m worth. Lots of massaging stuff, trimming out extra bits that, at the time I thought were cool, but now they’re just extra weight and they slow down the main story. Not sure how long I will need for this, but I’m aiming to get it all done before the Christmas holidays so I can switch off this part of my brain for a few days.

killianApparently not content with the number of existing comic book projects I had on the go, I approached my co-writer on Flux, Pete Rogers, with another idea. We bashed it around, whipped it into shape and then approached an artist we’d both been chatting to for a couple of years via social media. We told him about the idea and what we wanted to do with it, and that was it, he was onboard. He’s currently working on another project, but that hasn’t stopped him from doing character sketches for us in his spare moments. So I’m delighted to say Pete and I are now working with Near Death artist from Image comics, Simone Guglielmini. So, above is a rough character sketch from Simone for a cop called Killian. At this early stage I can’t share too much, but I can say it’s a creator owned action thriller mini series written by Pete and myself. We’ll be submitting it to publishers next year.

Flux, the second project co-written with Pete is still moving forward. Our artist Maysam is busy working on issue 1. I previously posted a part of artwork so dig back through previous posts for that if you want to see it.

Comic project 3 – This is the new project with Adam Bolton. Very early stages. We bashed around various ideas until we settled on something we both liked. It’s wacky, weird, and a lot of fun. Currently waiting for Adam to come back with some preliminary sketches. Thought Bubble, the comic book convention in Leeds takes place in two weeks, so I’m hoping to have a catch up in person with Adam who is attending the event for the first time.

Comic project 4 – This is a supernatural crime mini series, and again, I’ve developed it to the point where the artist attached is now working on the cover for issue 1 and the first 5 pages to create a submission packet. We’ll be submitting this next year to publishers.

So, as ever, there are lots of things ticking along and I poke various projects to keep them all moving. Also a couple of other longshot, long-term projects are ticking along, but right now most of my spare time is focused on the novel, getting my head back into that space, going through it at a micro level but also a macro level. Stepping back and saying, does this make sense? Does this flow? Do I really need this or do I just want it? Lots of angst, chewing my nails and anxiety. Fun!

Comments Off on November update

Filed under Comics, Writing

Coming About

The comics market is changing. That’s not news, it’s always changing and adapting. However what is perhaps news to some and is becoming more and more obvious to me, is that the Big2 publishers, Marvel and DC, are no longer the Final Destination for creators, probably writers more so than artists.

For years, breaking in (in my mind at least) meant doing some indy work, self publishing, doing enough work of some sort to get noticed so that someone further up the food chain said hey, let’s give this guy a one shot on Spider-Man Team Up, and see how he does on a Batman tie-in book. If it flies and sell well, then they give the writer or artist a bit more work until they develop into a named Talent. People start referring to the book as Johnny NewGuy’s Spider-Man or NewGuy’s Batman. At which point they’ve made it. Roll credits.

In the last, probably ten years or so, there’s been a shift. Talent, to one degree or another, has always done creator owned work alongside their work for hire gigs. Exclusive contracts used to be par for the course, now they’re rare. Working for one of the Big2 doesn’t guarantee X number of books per month anymore and therefore a steady income. Creators write for 3 or 4 or even 5 different publishers each month, to create a steady income which enables them to write comics full time.

A few years ago (before the Walking Dead was THE WALKING DEAD) and long before Robert Kirkman was known well outside the comics industry, he tried to inspire other comic creators to follow in his wake with a video, where his call to arms was mostly mocked or ignored. He tried to explain that the industry was changing, and that if you worked for the Big2 for the rest of your life, at the end of the day you’d be left with nothing. No creator rights to the characters, because it’s work for hire, so no pension of any kind and there’s no union for creators. No payouts if anyone adapts your character for another medium, which was also on the rise at the time.

He suggested that while you are in the spotlight and you do have an enthusiastic fan base and are a known named Talent, create something original that you will own 100%. Some in the industry listened, some said we’re already doing it, some just couldn’t take the risk of stepping away from a regular monthly salary to jump into the abyss and hope that the idea of a bungee cord became a reality before they hit the financial rock bottom. People have to pay the bills, put food on the table so there’s no blame being thrown around.

Another shift came, maybe five years ago, whereby the number of well known Talent, doing creator owned work alongside their Big2 was steadily increasing. For many reasons I don’t know, and a few that were discussed  at length in public, several well known creators walked away from the Big2. Some went into other industries, some self published, some produced comics via Kickstarter and creator owned books with other publishers, some worked for smaller publishers and the scales started to tip.

If they don’t already, then in a couple of months Image comics will have 10% of the monthly comics market. A few years ago, that 10% comprised of all of the independent comic book companies. In ten years I wonder what the landscape will look like and right now I suspect the split will be much more even three ways between the Big2 and all of the other publishers combined.

Now, more and more of these known creators, the Talent, with loyal fans are producing some of the most innovative and interesting comics in the industry. There are no IP rights to exploit, no shareholders to pacify, no limits. Now while the monthly sales figures for most of these creator owned titles are nowhere near those of the Big2, that is changing too. Saga was just outside of the top 20 sales figures for August 2013, and The Walking Dead was at number 12. However, the money the creators are receiving is still very healthy, because their slice of the pie is much bigger and there are fewer mouths to feed.

Just to clarify, the Big2 are not evil corporations. They’re not destroying the comics industry. They’re businesses with well known icons and IP, and they want to make money and tell stories. They want to promote their brands to as many people as they can across as many mediums as they can, be it TV, film, animation, merchandise or comics. Working for them is not working for the Dark Side, but now it’s not the end of the story, it’s just another step on the road. Creators who do work for them should be totally aware that anything they create does not belong to them. So if they want something that is completely their own, there are many opportunities and different avenues out there. You can have your cake and eat it. In fact, now is exactly the right time to do that.

New York Comic Con is running as we speak, and while the Big2 are coming out with lots of announcements, I’ve found I’m actually more interested in the creator owned series and independent work from the well known Talent because I have no idea of what they might do and where they might go. The deck is definitely shifting beneath my feet.

Comments Off on Coming About

Filed under Comics

Ongoing Adventures in Digital Comics

Back in June, I posted about Digital Comics and my foray into going digital with a monthly comic. A few months on I thought I’d post a bit of an update.

As mentioned, when digital comics were first taking off, comic book retailers threw a hissy fit thinking it would hurt them and mean their days were numbered. The opposite has happened. The trend seems to be, those who are reading digital comics are actually reading more physical comic books as well. One has not leached numbers from the other. It could be because digital gives them a taste of that wonderful comic book drug, and then they just have to seek out physical comics to get another fix! Or, the digital comics acted as gateway books, gave them an idea of what they like and don’t, and then it enabled fairly new readers to go into a shop and pick up a collection or start a monthly pull list. I’m sure there are many reasons, but there’s one I’ve not seen discussed very much, which I wanted to suggest.

I believe, one of the reasons, not the only one, that digital sales have not cannibalised physical comic sales is that some of the readers live in countries where getting hold of physical copies of monthly comics on a regular basis is not easy. Or, when it does happen, it is months behind, and then there is the problem of missing issues, and having to just guess what happens, or read about it online.

I’m lucky because I’ve always lived near a comic shop since I was about twelve, and also living in the UK, we used to get American monthly comics one day after America. Now, UK retailers get them on the same day as their US brethren. But, if you live in Romania, or Russia, or China, and you want to read Detective comics, if you want to be a part of your tribe’s discussion, when it happens, if you want to feel like a part of that community, relying on physical comics is not easy. In this shrinking world, with it’s 24 hour news culture, the constant buzz of information, people are always switched on, connected, plugged in. So who wants to be left behind and find out 2 years from now what happened at the end of the Court of Owls in Batman?

Mark Millar has a theory which he’s mentioned a few times that most people who read digital comics are casual readers only, and that day and date releases are not a good idea. To be fair to him, he’s said the latter as he was worried about retailers, but I think he’s very wrong for the reason I’ve outlined above. I’m not alone in this as Brigid Alverson outlined in a CBR article back in May.

As someone who is not a casual comic book fan, and someone who has taken a bigger plunge into the digital comic book world, I’ve found that something unusual has happened. Or rather, it’s exactly what I’ve described above. I’ve actually found I’m reading a few digital monthly comic books, whereas back in June my initial plan was to read one and see what happened. I’ve discovered new and interesting titles via all of the usual channels (podcasts, comic book websites, word of mouth and recommendations). There are definitely some pros and cons to digital comics, which I’ll come back to in another post, but for now below is a list and a brief description.

Secret 1 Image comicsSecret – Not an easy comic to describe, but to give you an idea of the flavour, it involves espionage, kidnapping, mysteries, revenge, hitmen, and it focuses on the characters in a private security firm. This is written by Jonathan Hickman, who is known for having big, complex ideas and out of all of his independent work, I prefer this over Manhattan Projects, which I enjoy. This is less zany, cartoony, totally grounded in reality, but there are layers and puzzles and intrigue. From Image comics.

LazarusLazarus – Written by one of my favourite writers in the industry and drawn by one of the best. In a near dystopian future, governments no longer exist and the Families rule. Each has certain advantages and are masters of certain technologies or resources that keep them above everyone else who they exploit. Part mystery, part near-SF, part action thriller, it follows one of the Family’s protectors, a woman called Forever Carlyle, who is shrouded in mystery and I won’t say any more as it’s a fascinating and brilliant read. From Image comics.

Suicide RiskSuicide Risk – Mike Carey writes an ongoing superhero comic for Boom! Studios, which means he can write the story he wants without worrying about protecting the IP. People with powers are popping up, the police are fighting a losing battle and most of those who do have powers seem to be dangerous maniacs or villains. An ordinary cop gets dragged into trying to track down some of the most dangerous but it’s not all action. Carey takes time to make you care about the main character, his family and his relationships. Lots of unexpected twists and turns in this story and we’re only 4 or 5 issues in. Very liberating because I genuinely have no idea what is going to happen next.

Archer and ArmstrongArcher and Armstrong – this is from Valiant comics. They publish about 6 monthly titles. That’s it. They’re not connected, they’re all very different, the writers and artists are all excellent and all a lot of fun. Archer and Armstrong is funny, wacky, full of action, mysticism, adventure, weird cults and genuine laugh out loud moments. Archer is the product of a weird religious cult bent on destroying the ultimate evil, Armstrong is an immortal drunk and the ultimate evil Archer was hunting. The odd couple end up on a globe trotting adventure. A really fun rollicking good adventure.

Red SonjaRed Sonja – From Dynamite comics, written by Gail Simone. Not sure if it needs much of a description but if you’ve never read Red Sonja before it is a fantasy comic book focused around the titular hero who is a sword wielding red haired warrior. Also you don’t need to have ever read any previous issues of Red Sonja and can jump on with this series which is only 3 issues in so far. Gorgeous artwork, great storytelling, fantastic fun with swords.

SidekickSidekick – Written by JMS, creator of Babylon 5, who has written mainstream comics for decades. In the last couple of years he’s started doing more creator owned comics, and now has his own sub studio imprint at Image comics calls Joe’s comics. This is a dark superhero comic, with art by one of my favourite artists of all time, Tom Mandrake. The setup is what happens when the great hero, a Superman archetype, is taken out of the picture. The big hero everyone knows and loves is assassinated and his sidekick is left with nothing, in a world where he doesn’t seem to fit without his friend and mentor. It’s pretty bleak at times, but the sidekick searches for answers, for a place to belong and a way to matter. Definitely for adults only and because it’s not tied to any big named characters JMS can go in all sorts of directions you would never see in a mainstream superhero title.

strangersOther honourable mentions that I pick up are Mysterious Strangers from Oni Press, it’s fabulous light hearted pulpy fun. Edison Rex from Monkeybrain Comics which is a digital only comics publisher (with physical collections later on down the line) and I’ve been reading some titles on Thrillbent, Mark Waid’s online digital comics experiment website where there are lots of interesting ideas. My favourite is The Eighth Seal by James Tynon.

I’ll come back to digital comics again in another post with some of my pros and cons. But for now I’m enjoying digital comics, there is a lot of great stuff out there, and I’m reading more comics and looking forward to the almost weekly digital pull list.

Comments Off on Ongoing Adventures in Digital Comics

Filed under Comics

Man of Steel

I’ve held off writing a post about this, mostly because I wanted to get some distance from the film, so I could write about it with some perspective. In the end I managed to say everything I wanted to on the latest episode of the Comic Book Outsiders podcast I co-host with Scott Grandison. We’re now putting out episodes as and when we feel the need, although we used to be fortnightly. So if you’ve only just heard about this now for the first time, there are 5 years of podcasts on iTunes to get through. I’ll wait here until you’re finished.

I ended up speaking about the film it a fairly calm and mostly wounded manner, although I did have a good rant about some fans reactions to the recent Doctor Who casting news. So if you’ve not seen Man of Steel or don’t want to know who the new Doctor is, then I’d skip those bits.

Looking ahead to Man of Steel 2, or whatever they end up calling it, I remain nervous and anxious. I’m worried because the same director looks set to sit in the chair, and I sincerely hope all of those involved in making the big decisions about the new film listen to the genuine concerns that have been raised. Not the fanboy moans about the shield being the wrong shape, or Jimmy being Jenny, or a thousand other tiny things that don’t actually matter. I mean the big things. The contradictions. Clark apparently not caring about the wanton destruction he inflicts upon humanity in one breath and then doing something totally against character to save a single family. The big stuff, the character issues that sit at the very heart of the character and the message he stands for. It may not be what Siegel and Shuster intended when they created Superman, but that is what he has come to mean over the last seventy years. Hope, caring for your fellow man, that every life counts, that there is good in every person and that we can be great as a people in time.

Dark and gritty and humourless doesn’t work for Superman. He’s the light, Batman is the shadow. They work so well together, sometimes, because they are so different. He wants to bring Batman into the light, he wants Batman to believe more in humanity and the belief that there is good in every one. Naive, perhaps. Inspiring, absolutely. Batman experienced first hand as a boy the evil and desperation that lurks in the hearts of men. He doesn’t always see the best in them. That’s one of the many differences between them. Right now, in the new Superman film world, they’re both different shades of grey.

Casting wise for Batman, I hope they go for someone older, with an edge. Like John Hamm, or Josh Brolin, not someone who is young dandy with a chiselled jaw. We need acting chops, we need gravitas, not dreamy eyes and great abs. Time will tell if they listen at all and who they cast, but rather than being excited, as I am by the prospect of more Avengers films, I’m just worried and nervous, which isn’t a good thing.

Comments Off on Man of Steel

Filed under Comics, Films, podcast

Projects Update July 2013

Thought I would just do a quick general post on the projects I’m currently working on.

The Novel – The next draft has gone off to my agent for her feedback. I’ve timed it just right so that I can go on holiday in a few days and I won’t spend the entire time pondering, staring off into the distance and making notes. I’m going to chill out for a week, switch off, unplug and just unwind. It will also give me time to ponder (more quietly in the background) what I’ve written, or defrag it and reorder it in my head, to fall back on my old computing terms. Hopefully when I return I can then listen to the next set of comments and be a more detached and hopefully make the next draft even better.

The Game – I’ve been quiet on this for a while, but we’re starting to move forward again. This is a work for hire job I did where I wrote the bulk of the main story. I have to be very vague on details, but I can say it’s currently in testing, so once testing is far enough along, they will plant a flag in the sand and announce a release date. The game is innovative in many ways and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, which is one of the goals we set out with. I’m very excited to see what happens with this, but it is also another string to my bow as writing this was unlike anything I’d done before and if I get a chance I’d like to try it again in the future.

Flux – This is a comic mini series I’ve co-written with Pete Rogers and with art by Maysam Barza. We’ve now sent the submission package off into the wide world to a couple of comic book publishers. Now comes the awful waiting, the nail biting, the gnashing of teeth as we wait for an answer. In the meantime Maysam is cracking on with the next chunk of art.

ComicSeries2 – I’d not co-written something before and when I approached Pete about writing what would eventually become Flux, it was with a lot of trepidation. Writing is normally a solitary affair, except for TV where you have writers rooms (which I’ve not tried, but would love to), so I had no idea if it was a good idea and if it would work. I chose Pete very carefully too as I thought we were well suited and I thought we would get along, but again there was no guarantee. Thankfully my leap of faith paid off, it worked really well and we immediately starting talking about doing something else. There’s a working title for this but I’m keeping it mum as it might become the actual title. With this project we’re doing something completely different to Flux, totally different genre and approach and right now it’s in the early stages. But I’m feeling the same level of excitement and am looking forward to seeing what we can come up with together.

The River – Adam, Ryan and I put Empyre on the shelf, as despite what we thought was a cracking and interesting idea, with amazing art (that’s me saying that not Adam, as he doesn’t think he’s very good!), the publishers we submitted to weren’t interested. We were told there’s too much like it out there already. A big shame but we did learn a lot from it, so we just have to chalk it up to experience and move on. What Adam and I are cooking up now with The River (working title) is pretty off the wall, but I’m also keeping it pretty focused which is something I seem good at doing. It’s very different to anything I’ve developed before and we came up with the core of this idea together. It’s based on lots of different things we’re both interested in, so we keep brainstorming lots of little touches, which is making the world feel more realistic and lived in. When I get back from my holiday I’m going to press on with this with the goal of having another submission ready before the end of the year. Sounds easy, six months away and all, but experience has taught me lots of stuff gets in the way, so Christmas is reasonable and any earlier is brilliant.

Dapper Chimp web comic – Digital comics are going through a revolution, there is so much innovation in that space at the moment it’s amazing. I’m not a full convert, but I really like some of what is going on, such as what Mark Waid and others are doing at Thrillbent.com and what they’ve done with MonkeyBrain comics. They’ve produced short, punchy comics that are only available digitally, and at some point may be available as physical collections. Several different publishers have expressed an interest in different titles and they are printing the trades. Dapper Chimp was set up by Pete Rogers and the first digital comic will soon be available on ComiXology. I’ve recently developed a superhero satire in the mould of Mystery Men, as a mini series, and the idea is to publish it exclusively via Dapper Chimp and then if it does well, produce a physical printed edition at some point. The story is ready, now all I need is an artist. So if you’re a budding artist, looking for something funny but also with heart, get in touch.

The second novel – I’d actually started working on this before I submitted my first. I’ve got the spine of the story sorted, the characters are ready, most of the main beats are there and I’ve written the first couple of chapters. This has been put on hold of late but I’ve been poking around at it again recently, looking forward to it and also backwards to book 1 to make sure they fit together. They’re not connected like you’d find in a trilogy, as each book in the series is a standalone story, but there is connecting tissue between them as they’re set in the same world and linear in time. I guess I’ll inch this along as and when I can in the next few months and just see how I do.

All of that sounds like a lot, but everything moves at different speeds, so it’s rare for many things to overlap. Occasionally I do start to flap a bit, and what follows are several late nights until the pressure is off a bit, but overall I am able to juggle different things quite well. It also follows the whole ethos of not putting all my eggs into one basket.

 

Comments Off on Projects Update July 2013

Filed under Books, Comics, Writing

Going Digital

Digital comics have been around for a while, but it wasn’t until a couple of years that things started to really get organised. There were various options out there for quite a while, reading comics as PDF documents, reading them in weird web browser versions, all sorts of stuff. Then the rise of tablets started, they became more popular and the price came down a little as many alternatives came out to the leading brand. Then a couple of prominent digital platforms sprang up for comics. Comic companies, keen to explore all new avenues of revenue, developed their own apps for the sale of their comics.

Roughly three years ago a comic rorschach the end is nighcompany tried their first day and date experiment, releasing the digital comic on the same day as the printed copy. The retailers kicked off, announced the physical comic shop was going to die as a result, the industry was doomed and digital comics were to blame. It turned out they were wrong. Digital comics sales didn’t cannibalise physical comics sales, in fact, over time as we saw a proliferation of digital comics, the opposite has happened. Sales of physical comics increased. Digital comics are simply another sales channel, and people are buying more comics as a result, sometimes double dipping (buying digital and then physical trade paperback collections).

Small aside. Mark Millar, isn’t a believer in digital comics. He’s a strong supporter of comic retailers. He thinks digital comics are just for casual fans. I think he’s wrong. He seems to be ignoring the obvious, not everyone has easy access to a comic shop. Not everyone can get physical comics regularly in other countries, and when they can get them, they may be months behind. So they can’t take part in any part of the worldwide comics community without having stories spoilt for them, they can’t read the websites, listen to the podcasts, attend the shows. Digital comics allows fans, anywhere in the world with internet access, the ability to be an active part of the comics community.

Despite being a lifelong comic book fan I know how intimidating comic shops can be to newcomers to the medium, and I’ve spoken about this many times so I won’t labour the point. Digital comics platforms allow an individual to browse as many comics as they want without any pressure to buy, or to be experts on everything straight away. Because there is a bit of that mentality in some comic shops and I hate to see it because it scares away new readers. With digital comics, people can find their own way, dig around, try a few comics and see what they like and don’t, and if they then want to, and feel comfortable enough, will visit their local comic shop. Hopefully. Because there are all sorts of treasures and artefacts in comic shops, like oversized hardback editions, limited edition special prints, rare comic covers by all sorts of artists, absolute editions, signed comics and a tonne of other stuff. Don’t even get me started on the joy of the monthly pull list. There’s also being an active part of your local comic community, attending local meet ups and events and conventions.

DC LogoIn 2011 DC comics rebooted their whole comic book line. Every single monthly comic book was reset and all 52 titles started over with a new number one. To attract new readers, to refresh everything, and to plant a flag in the sand. They also did something else very interesting and bold that no one had ever done before. Every single book was scheduled to be released on a day and date schedule. Again the retailers kicked off, cursed DC, promised not to stock their books, all sorts of stuff. There were discussions and compromises and now digital comics typically cost the same as physical comics for at least the first month, to encourage people to go into their local shop and buy the actual book. After a month or 6 weeks, the price of the digital version drops slightly, because by then, the physical comic is often off the shelves in the shop, so it’s no longer direct competition. A little while later Marvel followed suit and now many, if not all, of their titles are also available in a digital format on release day.

ComiXologyComiXology is now the largest digital comics retailer. They’re the iTunes of digital comics, selling comics from pretty much every large publisher and many smaller publishers. Recently they’ve even opened the doors a little, so really small indy publishers can submit their comics to appear on ComiXology. Other channels for digital comics are still available, but they’re the big dog.

So, that journey has been going on, and I’ve been watching it for the last few years very closely. Now I’m not a gadget guy. I don’t like cars, don’t want the latest phone, don’t care about brands or fashion, it’s just not my thing. I’m definitely not an e-book reader. I love physical books. I understand why ereaders are useful and why some people like ebooks, and again I see them as another channel, but they’re not for me. I had the same attitude to digital comics for a long time too. Then I ended up with a tablet. Essentially I did some work for hire and I received the tablet as payment.

So, I downloaded a few digital comics. There are things I don’t like about digital comics, and I still buy and prefer physical comics, but my initial dislike has now shifted. I sometimes double dip, buy the first couple of issues of a title and if I enjoy it, I will switch to physical trade paperback collections which I buy from my local comic shops. I sometimes buy digital only comics, those crafted for mobile devices. About a year ago I tried an experiment, to read a monthly comic book only in digital format and see what happened. Sadly, through no fault of my own, the experiment ended, as the title I was following ran into trouble and it disappeared after 2 issues.

bat19So now I’m trying the experiment again. Batwing, one of the new 52 monthly comic book titles from DC, recently went through a refresh, with a new pair of writers and a shift in the story. It’s a great jumping on point, I like the writers and artist, so now I’m on board.

I’m going to try and read it on a monthly basis, digitally, and see what the experience is like. Hopefully this title will be around for a while so I will have some time to explore a longer story, but purely from a digital standpoint. I can already see some pros and cons, but I’ll come back to this in a few months and do another post.

As ever, if you’re interested in getting into comics, want to read them but don’t know where to start, then get in touch and I’m always happy to point you to some titles to match your interests and favourite genres.

5 Comments

Filed under Comics

Free Comic Book Day – May 4th

The first Saturday in May every year is Free Comic Book Day, and it means exactly what you think. Every participating comic book shop orders a bunch of specially produced comics for this particular weekend and anyone is allowed to come in and pick up some of them for free. Now obviously people have to be sensible, and can’t just grab ten copies of everything, plus the free comics cover every sort of genre and age group, which is done on purpose, as they’re designed to attract new readers from across the spectrum.

What I often notice at my local shop, and has become clear from quickly perusing the list of comics this year (which you can preview here), is that there are a lot of comics for kids. I think that’s a brilliant thing and the industry needs to attract lots and lots of new, young readers. Because in 30 years time, they will be the evangelists keeping the industry alive, writing and drawing the comics, and making as much noise as possible to attract a new generation of readers and creators. Comics are doing well at the moment, the monthly numbers are up compared to a couple of years ago, but they’re not as impressive as I’d hope. I think part of this is because comics have become a transmedia phenomenon, and some young people come across and then follow comic book characters without actually reading the comics. They play the computer games, watch the cartoons and TV shows, and of course a quick look at the top grossing films at the cinema will show you, they also watch the films and buy the DVDs. But how many of them then find their way to their local comic shop, or now, buy a digital comic on their tablet or phone featuring the same character?

From speaking to both of my local comic shops I know that every year they do very well from Free Comic Book Day, because people pop along for the free stuff, and then browse the shelves and pick up other titles that catch their interest. This makes it worth them buying and paying for the free comics which they then give away to new customers. I usually tend to avoid visiting my local shops on Free Comic Book Day because they’ve already got me, they don’t need to convince me to come back, and they’re rammed with people.

Looking down the list of Free Comics, my top picks would be, Atomic Robo and Friends, Grimm, Mouse Guard, and The Tick. There are so many others

As ever, I’m always happy to recommend comics, from any genre, so if you want to start reading comics, but don’t know where to start, get in touch.

 

Comments Off on Free Comic Book Day – May 4th

Filed under Comics

Projects update April 2013

Just a quick update on current projects. The day job has been keeping me busy, but I’ve been chipping away on the creative endeavours which fuel me.

Sadly, it looks as if Empyre is dead. For now at least. We submitted it to a few comic publishers, one of which didn’t bother to respond at all, so after several months we sent it to a different one. An editor got back in touch with us, told us it was too similar to lots of other comics out there, and he thought the art was good, but not great. I disagree completely, and despite his modesty, I think Adam’s art is excellent, especially when I’ve looked back at the original pages he did a couple of years ago. He’s progressed significantly since then and he is a really good artist. As to the comic being too similar to others out there, well, I can’t find any, but perhaps they’re in the works now and will come out soon. Anyway, my disagreements don’t really matter as they don’t want it. So, we talked about self publishing, we discussed other options and decided to leave it for now and maybe come back to it. So in the meantime we’re currently thrashing some out some new ideas together, and Adam, Ryan and I will start work on something new very soon.

Flux is pretty much ready to submit to a publisher. We had to make some changes to the first few pages of art, due to external complications, so that required a rewrite and then Maysam rejigging and redrawing parts. However, that’s all done, we’re tweaking the submission document and then it can be sent off.

I also want to move forward with a digital comic idea I’ve been knocking around. The whole script is done, I just need to find an artist now with the right style and then get it moving.

On the novel front, I’ve been delaying the inevitable. I’ve been revising it, and editing it, polishing it and then polishing it again. I’m currently working my way through another polish, this time by printing it all out on paper in a different font to normal, and marking it up with a red pen. It’s slow going and I’m taking my time and trying not to rush it, but I also think I’m now just stalling. Once this latest draft is done, I’m going to submit it to the first agent on my list. This will be some time in May by the time I’m done with the red pen. I’ve very carefully drawn up a list of agents, listened to a lot of the #askagent Q and A sessions on twitter, done my homework on other authors and who they are represented by, and I’ve listened to a few agents at events. Feedback from beta readers has been positive, and I’m looking carefully at their comments, but now it’s really all up to me.

So, it’s almost time to cross my fingers, close my eyes, and hit Send.

Once it goes off, I will move forward on book 2, which I’ve actually started and have gone over the first chapter eight times already. Normally I keep moving forward, then come back and revise, but I’m being a little bit more careful this time. I suspect once in find my rhythm again it will become easier but I’m a bit rusty.

I’m still remembering to take the odd day off, relax, not do any writing and try not to feel guilty about it. I’m also trying to remember a previous promise I made to myself about getting enough sleep, which I seem to fail at regularly. So, it’s a work in progress, like everything else it seems.

Comments Off on Projects update April 2013

Filed under Comics, Writing

Good Comics – Part 1

I’ve been reading comics for so long, I sometimes forget how difficult it is, and how intimidating it can be, to walk into a comic shop, or browse in a book shop, or search online, and pick up a comic worth reading. Yes, it’s all subjective and what I think qualifies as a ‘good’ comic, other people might loathe and think is boring and dull. There are other opinions out there, but hey, it’s my website.

If you’re interesting in buying any comics, either from this list or anywhere else, please support your local comic shop. The Comic Shop Locator will help you find your nearest, and even if it is too far away to drive or walk, many will deliver comics to you through the post. Please support your local comic shop if at all possible. The website is for comic shops around the world.

Recommending the Wrong Thing
There are now so many comics out there, it can very hard to know where to start. Far too often when I hear that someone wants to get into comics people will point them towards classic superhero titles, the most well known stories which people may have heard about, such as Watchmen, or The Dark Knight Returns, which I think is a terrible idea. Because they’re complex stories, steeped in the genre and the mythology and history of comics, and in the case of DKR it’s steeped in decades of the character’s history. New readers can understand the stories, and they may enjoy them, but I think they will have far less of an emotional impact. Also, and most importantly, why always recommend superheroes?

Comics are a medium not a genre
Superheroes are just one genre. Comics are a medium. That’s worth repeating, because sometimes when I mention that I read comics people say, oh like The Beano and The Dandy (which are children’s comics) or comic strips (Garfield, Marmaduke, etc.), or they say like Spider-man. It’s the same as when someone says they read fantasy books and people say oh, you mean like Lord of the Rings, or now, the new touchstone is Game of Thrones. The attitude towards comics is changing, but every time I think we’re moving away from the stereotype of comics being one thing, a stranger comes out with the same old chestnut. Or they insist on saying graphic novel, as if comics are a dirty word and graphic novels are something completely different. Then I wince and realise we’re still decades away from more widespread understanding.

For every genre there is a comic book
If nothing else, please remember that there is a comic for every single genre you would find in a book shop. Every one, and many that blend genres together too. With all of that preamble out of the way, below is a short list of different comics from a range of genres. I’ve split them into Complete Series (which are finite stories available as several trade paperbacks or hardcover collections in some cases), and Ongoing Series. Also, this is only part one, as there are a lot of great comics available right now, so I will add to this list with other posts in the future.

Complete Series

Sleeper – An espionage story where a man named Holden Carver goes undercover in a dangerous international crime organisation, in an attempt to destroy it from the inside. Several people in the story have powers, but there are no capes and tights. These are dark, sometimes subtle and nasty powers, such as the ability to twist the mind, to confuse, or in Holden’s case, store up pain and then inflict it on others. To be clear, this is very much a crime and espionage comic, not a superhero comic. The main problem for Holden is that the only person who knows he was going deep under cover is now in a coma. All of his former friends and colleagues  think he has turned and is now a villain and terrorist. So the story is really about how far can he go, how much can he do, supposedly in the name of good, before he becomes evil? Is he just pretending that he doesn’t enjoy what he does and his new life? And is he just acting or does he really care about some of the people he now works beside every day? A brutal, adult story, full of twists and turns.

Y: The Last Man – One day Yorrick wakes up to find that every other male mammal and human male on the planet has died. This is an epic road trip and adventure story across a transformed modern day America where he, and a small group of friends, try to unravel the mystery, but also survive in this brave new world. All major industry has effectively ended and society has collapsed, and out of the ashes of the old world, new tribes are emerging. New ways of looking at the future and how to remake the world, but of course, everyone has different ideas. Also does it matter who you were in the old world when everything you knew is gone? Who is Yorrick  and why was he spared?

PreacherThis is the story about a man named Jesse Custer and his two friends, Tulip and Cassidy, an Irish vampire. Jesse has lost his faith in God and he wants answers. This is a very violent, very bloody, very wordy, road trip across modern day America. The writer is well known for over the top antics and this is full of extremes, but he doesn’t do it just to be naughty or to show off. Beneath the language and blood, there is a story about faith, friendship, honour, love, doing the right thing and family. During Jesse’s search they get into all sorts of trouble with serial killers, angels, demons, immortal killers and Jesse’s insane and very dangerous family. It’s over the top and wordy, a Tarantino film is probably the easiest shorthand description, but with a lot more substance and heart.

Ex-Machina – Mitchell Hundred is the newly elected Mayor of New York, but once he was a superhero known as The Great Machine. This is in our world, one without superheroes and this is not a superhero comic. It’s a political action story about modern society and trying to do the right thing in a world that is infinitely more complex than it used to be. Mitchell was an ordinary civil servant until something exploded when he was at work on the Hudson river. The device didn’t kill him, and was probably alien in origin, but it did change him. It made him able to speak to and control machines. As the Great Machine, he saved many people, but also realised his inadequacies and the limitations of being a superhero, as it was reactive and done one person at a time. This comic covers a whole host of hot topics from racism, to sexist, art, homophobia, the media, and it also looks at power and how it corrupts.

Sweet Tooth – Most of the world’s population has been wiped out by a terrible disease. No one knows the cause or why it happened. Since then, the only children being born are human animal hybrids, kids with tails, wings, feathers, or in the case of the story’s main character Gus, he has antlers. Gus is raised in seclusion by his very religious father, who has told him how evil and dangerous the world is outside. When Gus’s father succumbs to the disease Gus finds himself thrust into the new world. At the other extreme is Jepperd, a tough old man who seems born to survive in this post apocalyptic world. Jepperd and Gus make an unlikely pair, and what follows is a touching and sometimes harrowing story about living versus surviving. Beautifully drawn and written by Jeff Lemire, the last single issue has been published and the last trade paperback collection is out later this year. So technically it’s all a complete series.

Scalped – A gritty, crime and noir series set on a modern day Native American reservation. After years of living off the reservation, Dashiell Bad Horse comes home. The rez is awash with organised crime, drugs and gambling and Bad Horse has not come back to make friends. Minor spoiler, but it is very early on and critical to the story, he is actually an undercover FBI agent investigating a murder. While the very basic premise may sound slightly similar to Sleeper, this is a very very different comic. Sleeper is espionage and this is a straight crime comic. Bad Horse struggles to cope with the two sides of his life being together in one place, staying loyal to the Bureau, while also getting hip deep in rez politics. At times the rez feels like the wild west, as they have their own laws and operate in a bubble in some ways, and many of the characters and stories are tinged with despair. If you like gritty cop shows, shows like The Wire, where it’s full on but clearly going somewhere and not just for show, I’d recommend this.

Strangers in Paradise – This is one of my favourite comic book series ever, so I’m bias. However, I will try not to gush too much. This is best described as a slice of life story about an unorthodox love triangle, mixed with some crime aspects, but ultimately it’s a massive sprawling story about life and love. It’s a contemporary story set in the real world, with no magic or super powers, and the story focuses on two girls who meet in high school, one of who harbours a lot of secrets. As the story develops and with flashbacks to their time in school, we learn about Katina’s dark past, Francine’s daily struggles with her weight, finding a job she likes, and dealing with difficult men in her life. David is the third side of the triangle, and he loves Katina, but there again he is keeping secrets and he is far more than just an arty student type. It’s quite a complex story to describe without spoiling, but this is definitely an adult comic, exploring adult themes of sexuality, love, passion, crime, fear, family and pain. There are guns and the occasional murder, a crime syndicate, a plane crash, break-ups and tears, but mostly it is a story about three people. I say people rather than characters, because they are so well developed, both emotionally and physically. I don’t want this to sound like a bleak read, because it isn’t, and all of the dark is balanced with humour and comedy. As I say it is difficult to describe and this can be a bit of a marmite book for some people. Terry Moore wrote and drew the series and no one draws women like him. They look like real people. Fat, thin, tall and short, every character looks realistic. Overall, a remarkable book and it’s why I have a special print from the series on my study wall.

Bone – Back when self publishing comics was a radical and new idea, long before the internet opened up and digital, print on demand and web comics made it even easier to reach your audience, three men were creating comics. Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Dave Sim (Cerebus) and Jeff Smith, writer and artist of Bone. Like all of them, Bone was originally printed in single issues but is now available in giant collections. This is an all ages comic full of wild, wacky and very inventive ideas, wonderful characters, and adventure. It’s about the journey of three little bald headed, cartoony characters through a fantastical world. It’s light, silly, and a refreshing and fun story. It has won numerous comic book awards and is very highly regarded.

Ongoing Series

Saga – An epic space opera with unusual spaceships, magic, bounty hunters, sex planets, giants, sentient planets, dinosaurs, and animal headed aliens. Two lovers, from different sides of a conflict, are tired of war, and trying to get out with their new born baby, who is loathed by many for being a cross-breed. This comic is for adults only due to the language, violence and other adult sexual content. It’s a huge tale that is gradually unfolding, and it is told from a very unique perspective, as the narrator is the child being born at the start of the first issue. The main story follows the girl’s parents as they try to escape and start a new life. A quick touchstone is Lord of the Rings meets Romeo and Juliet, although to me, it’s more like Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet. The story is clearly influenced by many comics, films and TV from the SFF world and it’s a thrilling, interesting and exciting adventure where you have no idea what is going to happen next and what is around the next corner. There are no limits, each issue ends on a cliffhanger and you care about the main characters. One trade paperback is out now, plus you can get single issues or digital copies.

Chew – This is a story set in the modern world where a bird flu epidemic killed millions of people and this has resulted in the ban on all chicken and chicken like meat. Speak Easy diners sell black market chicken and the enforcement of the ban has resulted in the Food and Drug Administration FDA branch of the Government becoming incredibly powerful. Tony Chu is a cop who has an unusual talent, he is a cibopath, which means he gets psychic impressions of whatever he eats and know their history. So if he eats a burger, he will see the cow being cooked, then ground up, then killed, and so on all the way back to it grazing happily in the field. Everything he eats gives him the same mental imagery, except beets, so he eats them a lot. This is, in the most loose terms, a detective comic, but it is incredibly dark and with lots of black humour. It has lots of weird and wacky characters, as Tony’s ability is not the only one, and all of the other abilities are related to food in some way. Overall this is an incredibly funny comic but it is very odd and I admit, not to everyone’s taste.

The Sixth Gun – This is a mix of several genres where the sum is far greater than its parts. It’s a spooky and creepy horror western with supernatural elements, where six guns bestow unnatural powers on the people who wield them. For the longest time they were in the hands of some terrible people, with some fairly unpleasant results (I’m being fairly vague on purpose so I don’t spoil the fun!), but now they’re after the 6th gun and they want to find their leader, General Hume. At the beginning of the story it focuses on several groups trying to track and then retrieve the 6th Gun, which has now fallen into the hands of the heroine Becky. She and Drake Sinclair, a man with an unpleasant past trying to make amends, are thrown together as they try to outsmart and outmanoeuvre the dangerous group of killers on their heels. This story has touches of magic, ghosts, unnatural dark powers, legendary weapons steeped in a dark and twisted history, and bags and bags of fun. It’s bright, colour, explosive and a really great and exciting read. I love westerns, and the supernatural, and this is the perfect blend of the two. It’s not really suitable for kids, despite the style of art, and so far there are four trade paperback collections available. With each chapter the story and the world expands, but there is a resolution, so the writer is not just stringing you along. It’s one of the most unique and interesting comics I’ve read in quite a while.

Spider-Man – Miles Morales – I’m being careful about the number of superhero comics I put on this list, because the market is dominated by them, also it’s hard to know where to start sometimes when a comic has been going for decades, and as I said, they’re just one genre in the medium. However, if you want to read a Spider-Man comic then I would suggest you start with this one because it is fairly new and you can read it without knowing much about what came before. It is also suitable for younger readers, probably anyone ten and over I would say. I’ve put Miles Morales because this is about a new Spider-man called Miles. He is a modern kid and the story is set today, so he has the internet and a mobile phone and a whole set of new issues to deal with as a child growing up in the 21st century. It’s about a boy who is given great powers and how he copes with the responsibility that comes with them and what he chooses to do. It’s very refreshing as well because there is very little you need to know before picking this up and a quick internet search would fill in any blanks. The story plays with familiar archetypes for those who have read Spider-Man before, so there are lots of nice Easter eggs for us older readers, but you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy the series. A really entertaining, fresh and fun comic about a new hero in the making and the decisions he makes. There are several trade paperback collections available already.

Manhattan Projects – This series is written by Jonathan Hickman, who I think is one of the most interesting writers to have come into the comics industry in the last ten years. He has big ideas. I mean epic. He did a long run on the Fantastic Four that wrapped up last year that was one big story with lots of interlocking pieces. He’s doing the same sort of grand story on The Avengers right now, and he’s talked about in interviews how the idea he pitched was pretty big, and will unfold over several years. He also has a vivid imagination and this comic, and all of his other creator owned comics, demonstrate that fact. The story revolves around the idea that the term ‘Manhattan Project’ was actually an umbrella under which several weird and wonderful scientific experiments were being developed by leading scientists from all over the world. This story includes nasty and dark scientific ideas, touches of sci-fi, aliens and creating portals to other worlds and parallel dimensions, historic figures re-imagined and twisted slightly through a lens. It mixes small touches of fact with a lot of fiction, so at one point we see Einstein working on something that is far beyond what most people would assume. It is one of the most unpredictable comics I read and jammed full of strange ideas. If you like shows like Eureka and Fringe, where lots of different things are jammed together and strange geniuses are walking to the beat of their own drum, then this is for you. I like alternate history stories, or stories that suggest a secret history of the world that most people don’t know about, and this is both of those really. It’s a lot fun and two trade paperback are available.

All Star Western – A self explanatory title. It’s focuses on different characters in a western setting, and although technically it is a DC comic, don’t expect any superheroes or people with super powers. There are amusing Easter eggs, such as famous names that will later come to mean something in 200 years time in DC comics continuity, like Arkham, but these are proper, down and dirty, six gun, stories of crime, passion, greed, lust, envy, hatred and bravery. Some of the characters don’t talk about their feelings, they shoot them in the street and move on. They have goals and objectives and the law can only do so much in a country so big, so people turn to those on the edges of the law, bounty hunters and men of action with a conscience. The story focus on Jonah Hex, a scarred and famous bounty hunter and man with iron principles, and the back up stories have other characters. A really solid western comic, and if you enjoy the Hex stories and want more of him, then you can dig out lots of Jonah Hex trade paperbacks.

Morning Glories – Six very different and exemplary students are chosen to attend the prestigious Morning Glories academy. They’re known for being excellent and all are delighted by this opportunity, until on the first day one of the teachers tries to drown everyone. This story is a giant mystery and a huge puzzle box that is slowly being unravelled. I’m delighted to say the writer knows how it ends and where the story is going. He is not doing a Lost, and has explicitly said this in interviews. None of the students remember how they arrived at the school as they were unconscious, so no one knows where it is. After several attempts on their lives, often at the hands of teachers but sometimes other students, they begin to realise they’re being tested and challenged for some greater purpose. The story involves ghostly apparitions, time travel (maybe), conspiracies, cults, and a whole host of other elements I won’t spoil. If you like mysteries, and complex intriguing stories, if you like TV shows like The Prisoner, with people trapped and having their strings pulled, then I would definitely recommend Morning Glories. Three trade paperbacks are currently available. Definitely an adult story for adult readers, despite having teen protagonists.

Elephantmen – In a distant future, a twisted and deranged scientist, working for a powerful corporation, created some human / animal hybrids using African animals. These bulky and incredibly dangerous children are trained from birth to be soldiers and brutal killers, denied freedom of thought and essentially brainwashed into believing they are unkillable machines. When the UN discovers what has been going on the programme is shut down, but not before the Elephantmen inflict heavily casualties. They are released, given independence and they try to live normal lives. Some of them are loathed, some become celebrities, some powerful businessmen, some just want to disappear and some can’t shake off their past and they become dangerous criminals and rulers of the underworld. This comic has a real Blade Runner vibe to it, as when you look at the art there is a lot of dark shadows, bright neon lights and signs, and a blending of many modern and historic elements to create a future that is a mix of many cultures. The story focuses on different characters, including Hip Flask, a hippo hybrid who is a private eye, Ebenezer Hide, who is an Elephantman, who works with Hip from time to time, and Obadiah Horn a rhino hybrid who is now a successful businessman. The artwork in this book is simply amazing, gorgeous painted covers by Ladronne, and the colours are so important. The stories are a mix of genres, but ultimately about these unusual and rather remarkable outsiders who are trying to find a place in the world. An incredible and unique comic book. Five big trades are currently available.

Well done if you’ve made it this far. This post turned out to be much longer than anticipated. I’m going to do this again at some point, but if you would like me to recommend comics from a particular genre, then let me know in the comments section.

3 Comments

Filed under Comics