Category Archives: Comics

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.

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Remakes

In general I’m not a fan of remakes. I understand why they exist, the in-built audience and familiarity with a franchise or character, but my main issue is there are thousands of new ideas out there crying to be developed. Sadly, some amazing ideas will never reach a large audience, because the risk of adapting something that is completely unknown, from a creator no one has heard of before, is too great a  risk for some. Not all, but some.
Sometimes, remakes take the original material and they bring something new to the table. They update it for a modern audience and realise simply reshooting the material with new actors and better special effects isn’t good enough. That’s a point I’ll come back to. Some remakes have really impressed me and despite being initially wary they won me over, such as the new Battlestar Galactica. In my opinion the remake was better than the original 1980s TV show, which I am old enough to remember from the first time around. I always thought it was cheesy, but it was made for that period and the modern version took the original material and did something new. What followed, Caprica, was pretty dull in my opinion, but the new Blood and Chrome web mini thing, looks like a return to form. Shame it didn’t turn into a new TV series.

So, sometimes, remakes do work and are worth pursuing for characters or franchises. Look at the new Christopher Nolan Batman films for example. In my opinion they’re the best of the bunch, and now we have a new Man of Steel, Superman film waiting in the wings. Time will tell if it equals or surpasses the Christopher Reeve films.

All of which brings me around to two remakes I’ve watched in the last month. The Amazing Spider-Man and Total Recall. With ASM it brought Spider-Man back to the screen only a few years after Toby Maguire hung up his costume. Sony made lots of money from the first three films and, regardless of what I think about their varying quality, they were obviously keen to keep milking that old spider shaped cash cow. So ASM came out in 2012 with Andrew Garfield in the blue and red spandex suit. Ok, let’s start with the good. Garfield, for me, was a much better Peter Parker than Maguire. He was gangly, quiet, and a nerdy genius, which is what Peter is supposed to be. At times Garfield’s Peter did seem a little bit too confident at school and more of a skater-boy than a true outsider, but Peter is meant to be an ordinary kid and, in general, I was convinced. Martin Sheen and Sally Field were brilliant, but then they always are in everything. They felt like a real family with secrets and there were some great set pieces, fights and the CGI was good. Now the bad. It was an origin story. Again. Seven year old children are not idiots. They’ve probably been watching Spider-Man for years via cartoons, playing Spider-Man on video games, and (hopefully) reading the comics. So five years later, they’re just old enough to go and see the 12 rated film in 2012. If you ask anyone on the street, who is Spider-Man?, most of them will be able to tell you something. It’s the same with Superman or Batman. They’re international icons. So who, exactly, was this remake for? The best part of the previous Raimi films was that in the credits for the second film, I think, they recapped the whole of the first film, including Spider-Man’s origin. It took maybe five minutes while names roll past, boom, done, on with the action. So why, why, why, do yet another remake?

At times during ASM I found myself doing something else, flicking through my ipad or phone, because it wasn’t holding my attention as I knew what was going to happen. I’d seen it all before and so had the audience. It did well at the box office, but, not as well as the first Raimi Spider-Man film, or the second, or even the third film! There were some interesting new additions to the film this time, minor plot points, but apart from switching Green Goblin for The Lizard, it was more or less the same film. They’ll do another one, and this time, maybe, just maybe, it will be interesting because it’s not yet another origin story.

One other thing on ASM before I move on, and to me it’s a huge thing and is a major spoiler for the film, so look away now if you don’t want to know. The fundamental foundation of Peter Parker and Spider-Man is, with great power comes great responsibility. He had the power to stop the thief and he didn’t, and because of that someone else paid the price. On that occasion it was his Uncle Ben who stood up and said no. Peter makes a promise and is determined to do the right thing. So, at the very end of the new Spider-Man film, Captain Stacy is dying, he knows who Peter really is and what he’s done. He asks Peter to make him a promise to keep his distance from Gwen, because anyone in his orbit is in danger. He’s going to make enemies as Spider-Man and they will try to find his weak points and exploit them. Villain puts girl in peril, hero shows up to save her, they fight, and sometimes the girl dies in the process.

On his deathbed, Stacy makes Peter promise and he agrees. Peter keeps his distance, Gwen is hurt at first, but then works it out and sort of understands. Then, right at the very end of the film, Peter changes his mind. He breaks his promise to her dead father, he breaks his word and decides, ah, sod it, he’s never going to know and I know best, and I want to be with Gwen and he can’t stop me. What a load of bullshit. Utter, utter bullshit. That goes against everything. He may as well just let certain criminals go because he can’t be bothered to catch them. I mean, why not? If making a promise to a dying man means nothing to him, if his word means so little, if he is that bloody selfish, why not? This completely undermined the film for me and it undid all of the goodwill they’d built up. So, in ASM2, Gwen will no doubt get into trouble with the next villain and she may die, and then they can bring on Mary Jane from the wings for the end of ASM2 and she is the love interest for ASM3. Utter crap. I didn’t see ASM at the cinema and won’t be rushing out to see ASM2 either.

Total Recall. Ugh. I admit, the original film isn’t the best film ever and despite the fact that I haven’t read the source material, I’m confident in saying the Arnie film deviates a great deal. However, it was charming, interesting, exciting, different and a great deal of fun. This remake was built on a crap premise to distance it from the whole Mars thing. All of the action was set on grimy Blade Runner-esque Earth in a post apocalyptic world where people take a lift from the British colony to Australia for work. That’s right, they commute, through the centre of the earth on a lift to the other side of the world.

Ignoring that, and putting to one side the updated CGI and special effects, the modern actors who are people I (normally) enjoy watching, I’m struggling to find anything original this film brought to the table. In general the film was just dull and really didn’t hold my interest. This wasn’t a shot for shot remake, but there was nothing we hadn’t seen before. The duplicitous wife, Melina coming to rescue him, the fight to find out who he really is, then rejecting that and deciding to side with the rebels. Fighting for a good cause, and for some reason, destroying the lift that connects the two sides of the planet. It was just really boring. It has been a long time (relatively) since the original Arnie film, and there were some nods in there for older viewers, the women with three breasts, the woman in yellow going on vacation for two weeks at the scanner, and probably some others I didn’t spot as I was doing two other things while watching this at home. It made it’s money back at the box office and some profit on top, so the film makers are not complaining too much, but it wasn’t the runaway juggernaut at the box office they were hoping for by trading on the name.

This, more so than ASM, was an example of where a remake was, for me, completely pointless. If they’d tried to do something new and taken the story in a very different direction, but had held onto the central premise of buying memories for recreation to become a spy, or fighter pilot or whatever, then I might be more enthusiastic. At least, even if it didn’t work, they had tried to do something new and fresh. This was just lazy at its core. I’m off to read something original, novels seem to be the best place for new stories.

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Dredd

dreddI absolutely refused to see this film at the cinema when it came out because to begin with it was only available in 3D. In general I’m not a supporter of 3D films. It’s not new technology and in my opinion it’s rarely needed. If the film is relying on 3D to bolster ticket sales, then that’s worrying. Leading with 3D as Dredd did, on all of the posters, was also worrying. I don’t think Dredd needed 3D, I think it was a big enough character, big enough name, big enough world to get by without it. Anyway, after a few weeks, cinemas started releasing it in glorious Two Dee, but only late at night in my local area and not very often. Did this ultimately hurt it at the box office? I think so. Also I believe the 3D was retro-fitted and it was not all shot in 3D, so that was an extra cost that the film didn’t need. After the last Dredd film with Stallone, which I’ll come back to later, people old enough to remember it were wary. 2000AD fans were extremely nervous and some members of Joe Q Public might have gone to see something else instead of paying an extra couple of pounds to see what, in their minds, was yet another comic book film. At the moment the new Dredd has made 35 million at the box office worldwide on a 50m budget. My opinion aside, something didn’t work as well as it should.

Before watching this film I read a fair bit about it, had watched a couple of trailers and was very excited. I was also very pleased to hear Karl Urban, the NZ hunk, last seen by me in Star Trek as Bones, say he would not be taking off the helmet. It was one of many gripes about the Stallone film. We’re not supposed to know what Dredd looks like. He’s faceless and it’s his will and unrelenting appetite for justice and his name that inspires fear. To me he’s a more extreme version of Batman in a dystopian future where killing criminals is something he does on a daily basis and doesn’t feel any regret. So, having done my homework and knowing a reasonable amount about the character and the world, I sat down last night to watch.

Overall I was pretty impressed by the film. I thought it was engaging, exciting and I came away wanting more. Urban was excellent as Dredd. He was grim, had a great chin and scowl, his voice was rough without it being Batman rough, and his depiction of Dredd’s unbreakable faith in justice and law and order was great. I’ve never seen Olivia Thirlby in anything before but I thought she did a really good job as the rookie Anderson. She was tough, but she also brought a naive and slightly child-like quality to her performance as someone on the cusp of fully embracing the law and all that comes with it. Such as carrying out lethal judgments on people on the spot. While Dredd may never hesitate, she shows how much he has already lost because she was emotional and she cared, even about those who were trying to wipe her out moments earlier. Bit of a spoiler, but there was also a moment where Anderson scans Dredd with her telepathic powers and she picks up on his emotional state, someone full of rage, and she hints at something else under the surface. I’d kind of like to know what it was, but I also think you’re not supposed to know. It’s like finding out what he looks like under the helmet. Sometimes you don’t need to know every little detail about a character.

On reflection I can see why this film didn’t deliver a record weekend at the box office and make everyone go back a second time. To me it felt very much like ‘A Day in the Life of Judge Dredd’. It was just another day, just another crime. At the start of the film the rookie picks a target and they go out and take care of it. That’s it. She could just have easily picked a different one and the film would have been a bit different, but not hugely. Given the post apocalyptic world, given the futuristic setting, given the larger than life character, I think people were expecting a story on a grander scale, more like a Prometheus or a Star Wars.

The story was enjoyable, but it was everyday for Dredd. It wasn’t one tiny crime that was actually part of a much larger conspiracy which he investigated and that led into a plot to destroy the whole of Megacity One. It was a story about a drug dealer trying to flood the city with her product, protect her home and industry by getting rid of two nosey but determined Judges. For all that was wrong with the Stallone Dredd film, and there was a lot which I won’t detail, the core of the story was much bigger. The elimination of naturally born judges and birth of a new race of genetically created and severely unbalanced Judges all based on the DNA of Rico, who wanted to change the whole of Megacity.

There were explosions and lots of gunplay in both films, and mercifully the light touches of humour were black in Dredd 3D and there was no comedy sidekick this time, but the scale of the threat was pretty small. What epitomised it for me is when Anderson looks out across the city and we can see several other Megablocks with their own names in neon down the sides and you realise this is just one story, in one Megablock, in a giant city that stretches from Boston to Washington DC.

I know several other people have compared Dredd to The Raid, and have said the latter is a better film. I’ve not seen it so can’t compare, but part of me thinks they shouldn’t be comparable movies. As I said, I did enjoy Dredd, but it felt like a very small story in a giant setting. It’s like getting out a massive piece of paper and then only drawing in one of the corners. I know what comic book fans and experts on all things 2000AD might say, but the film is something divorced from the comic. It should true to the heart of the source but it should also be different and epic. Yes, you absolutely can have small and personal films on the big screen, but they don’t feature a big bloke in a helmet with a giant gun on the poster. Dredd at the cinema should be a grander story, told on a grander scale. I would love to see another Dredd film more along those lines, but unless Dredd does really well on DVD and blu-ray, I don’t think we’ll see another one for at least another17 years or so. Overall definitely worth seeing, and it’s a great action film, but I would suggest you go with the right expectations and then you won’t be disappointed.

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YA Comic Books

This idea has been somewhere in the back of my mind for a while, but it came together last week when Marvel Comics announced that they are launching a series of YA novels, based on their superhero characters. The first two announced are She-Hulk and Rogue, written by Marta Acosta and Christine Woodward and they will be published by Hyperion. I’m going to be stay optimistic. I’m going to say I’m excited by these and I hope they do very well. And I’m not being disingenuous. I want young people, those under 25, especially those under 20, to be interested in comic book characters, whether that’s from Marvel, DC or other publishers.

Superhero comics dominate the US comic book market, but in other countries superheroes are not the main focus. Despite the diversity that now exists in the US market, the majority of the top 100 comics every month are superhero titles. There are exceptions (Walking Dead, Saga etc) but mostly it’s superheroes.

In the last 2 years both Marvel and DC have had one of their biggest reboots and relaunches in a long time. Not just a bit of a tweak, but an almost (almost!) wipe the slate clean and start from issue 1 across the board at DC. Marvel took a right turn and all titles are gradually relaunching with new creators and very new directions. All of which has been great for me, as a lifelong comic book fan. Sales are good in general, but my gut tells me that the percentage of brand new comic book fans, coming into Marvel or DC for the first time because of these initiatives, is very small. My gut also tells me that not many of those were women.

DC and Marvel are always actively seeking new writers and they do mentor new writers. They pair them up with an established creator who helps them learn the ropes. We’ve seen this time and again at Marvel and now some of their most interesting and unique writers were once being mentored. Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction are two names that immediately spring to mind. DC are also doing it as well, and people like James Tynon IV first partnered with Scott Synder before writing solo books. It’s a tried and tested method.

Both companies also bring in writers from other mediums, TV, film and novelists. Sometimes it works out very well and we get writers like Duane Swierczynski and Allan Heinberg, both of who have done some very memorable work for Marvel and DC. Sometimes it doesn’t work and we get Jodi Piucoult. I am sure she is a lovely person and I know her novels sell very well, but her run on Wonder Woman was very short and she’s not been invited back. Her view of the character did not gel with the audience, sales were poor, and they tried a different approach with a new creative team.

I’m very aware that women read comics and superhero comics, but I think there are more men reading them than women. I also think it’s fairly safe to say that the percentage of new and young readers coming into the books is fairly small. I’m also pretty sure that if you took the average age of a mainstream comic book fan, it would be twenty or thirty something, if not older.

Here’s a wacky idea to get more new readers and more women reading comics. Perhaps, in addition to the YA books, Marvel and DC should hire some YA authors to write their teen comic books. As I mentioned above, it doesn’t always work out and if the person is not a fan of comics to begin with, or is not at least familiar with the medium, then the chances of success are fairly small. But I know of several YA authors, most of them women, who are massive comic book fans and I know they would love to write comics. Can and do some of them write their own independent comics? Yes. But getting noticed and getting the word out about one of those comics is a lot more difficult. Also, both of the big companies have some very well known brands and icons that are immediately recogniseable. It’s a lot easier to convince someone to take a chance and spend their money on a new Supergirl comic than something they’ve never heard of before.

I’m sure most, if not all of the YA writers, would need to be mentored first, and during that co-writing phase both the lead writer and the company would find out if it was working or not. But imagine if it worked. A Teen Titans book, written for a YA audience. Now this isn’t me dumping on any of the teen focused books that have gone before, because I have read and enjoyed some of them. But DC in particular made an effort to put some of their comics into sections. Here are the Dark books (Vertigo-esque) grouped into The Edge, here are the Teen books, here are the Batman books etc. So with the relaunch I’m not the target audience for Teen Titans.

In theory, it would also mean that if more younger readers jumped on board with the teen books and assuming they keep reading for several years, they would eventually progress to the mainstream titles. It would also mean more women reading comics, more female role models working in the industry, and hopefully more women who become mainstream comic book writers. The number of women writing at both companies, who are working on major icons, is tiny.

I’m not privy to what is going on behind closed doors at the Big 2, and I’m sure those who are may instantly reject my idea for a number of reasons, or perhaps if I am being optimistic, these sort of talks are already taking place. From an outsiders viewpoint, it seems like a sensible and logical idea to me. It ties together some of what they are already doing and it would tackle one of the biggest problems in mainstream comics. It wouldn’t solve everything but it would be a step in the right direction.

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One Man Army

When I was growing up it seemed to me that there weren’t that many interesting books to read. Looking back, I know I was wrong. Obviously. However, at the time, I read fairly   the fantasy genre and I went through pretty much everything I could find. Now I now read across several genres and non-fiction too, but if I just read fantasy novels there is no way I could keep up with the number being published. For starters I’m not a fast reader and although I love fantasy books and love reading, I do want to do other things with my spare time. So, now more than ever, whether it’s novels or comics or TV, it’s important to find your voice and stand out from the crowd.

Last week I read this tumblr article by comic book writer Gail Simone about brutal tips on breaking into the comics industry. It contains a lot of hard lessons, and some might whinge and say she’s just being mean, or she wants to discourage people from even trying. Yes, you have to be utterly realistic, but to be honest, if mean words and a harsh dose of the truth puts you off then maybe you should try something else. Or maybe you’re just not hungry enough. The most thought provoking part for me was her Step Three: Find Your Voice, Dammit. What do you bring to the table? What is unique about you and your view of the world? It’s something I’ll come back to in another post at some point.

For the longest time my parents have known I’ve wanted to be a writer, but even from a young age my dad impressed upon me the importance of a good education and good skills to get a good job. Writing was the passion, the dream, but it wouldn’t pay the bills and I had to be realistic. It didn’t kill my dreams, but it kept my feet firmly on the ground. I have those business skills now, and a good job and nice home, and although the road to get here has been a lot bumpier than I ever anticipated, my head is now in a good place and I can spend more time contemplating the creative. But, as Gail Simone mentioned, you need to be a sales person, so once again, and now it’s happening more times than I can count, I’m using my business and marketing skills as part of my creative endeavours. It’s something I honestly never thought would be needed. The article mentions being a good sales person, and you really need to be. You need to be able to talk convincingly and with passion about your work, about what it means to you, and what it is all about. See a previous post (Ok, but what is it about?) for more info on that!

As well as being a positive sales person you also need to be quite outgoing and approachable, because no one wants to work with or be associated with an arsehole. Ever. Find the worst or most obnoxious person on the train, or in your office, or on the street, and imagine that person wrote a book, comic or TV show you really loved. Now try and read it again with the same passion. I’m not saying you have to become someone else, but a friend of mine, Barry Nugent, is actually quite a shy guy, but in public you would never know it. He’s been podcasting longer than me, he’s written novels, hosted panels at events, and now he is running his own comics empire. He’s grown a thicker skin and the nerves that previously required liquid lubrication before being in public have faded. He’s a professional and he gets it done.

Whether you’re an author, comic book writer or any other type of creative person, you need to be able to navigate the online channels, be tech-savvy enough to know the difference between Facebook and Twitter, attend industry relevant events, get yourself interviewed, post articles on a blog or website, and basically create as much noise as possible about your work. Because although there are people that will help, and many more that work behind the scenes that most people don’t know about, you will have to do a lot of it for yourself. The work doesn’t stop when the novel, comic, or TV show is written. You need to make a splash, you need to stand out, you need to make your voice heard. There are exceptions to the rule, very successful authors, celebs and comic book writers even that never go near social media, don’t have a blog or a website. Good for them I say. But they’re pretty uncommon. For the rest of us, it’s necessary and very important. I saw some grumbling last week about people self promoting. Of course you have to do it and you should be. End of story.

If you’ve built up any kind of online following then those people are there for a reason. They like something about you and not telling them about your work is shooting yourself in the foot. Equally if you only fill your social media streams with self promotion posts and nothing else, then that is also shooting yourself in the foot.

In today’s crowded world, where there are more distractions than ever before across a multitude of different media, a creative person needs to be seen and heard, and you must be both business minded and bursting with imagination.

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Show Don’t Tell

I’ve posted a few times on here in a vague fashion about some of the comic projects I’m currently working on. Today I’ve decided to just show you some of the artwork and you can judge for yourself. The first two pages are from Empyre (with Adam Bolton and Ryan Taylor on art) and the second two from Flux (co-written with Pete Rogers and with art by Maysam Barza). Empyre has been submitted to a publisher and we’re awaiting their response and we haven’t submitted Flux yet but are getting close.

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Bring Me My Red Shirt

There’s an old joke I remember from my childhood about a brave pirate. Whenever his ship is about to be attacked he calls for his red shirt which he wears over his other clothes and then fights as hard as he can. The idea being that no one will know if he is wounded because the blood won’t show. Then one day they are attacked by several ships at once and he calls for his brown trousers.

Anyway, the story is apt as I’m now approaching the critical red shirt stage. I’m not quite at stage two yet, but I think that will be next year when projects are no longer under my control and are in the hands of readers! This week, my artist partner in crime, Adam Bolton, will be at the New York Comic Con. Adam is the artist for an all ages book called ‘Where’s My Shoggoth?’ which came out about two weeks ago from Archaia and he will be signing copies at the Archaia booth. So if you are going to the show, please drop by and say Cthulhu at him and jibber and rave about monsters from the sea. He’ll appreciate that. And buy a copy of Shoggoth as well please. Anyway, Adam is also armed with about ten pages of Empyre (the four issue series which I wrote and he drew) which he will be showing to various people. While he is doing that I’m going to be sat here in the UK, biting my nails down to the quick, checking my phone every ten seconds to see if he’s sent me a text. And if not, why not? Should I text him? When is it appropriate to text him? After the first hour? First two hours? How many times can I text him before I become a nuisance? and so on. As I said, red shirt time.

Next month in the UK, is the Thought Bubble comic book convention, and Pete Rogers and I will be armed with completed pages from Flux, the mini series we have co-written. Maysam Barza, the artist, has been doing a remarkable job and I am very impressed with his work. Both Pete and I are confident that we have something quite special, so now it’s our turn not to mess it up and speak about it with both passion and clarity. The schedule for Thought Bubble was released yesterday and there is more of a focus on creator owned comics and Image comics than in previous years which is very encouraging. Eric Stephenson, the publisher of Image comics, and several Image creators will be attending, so I’ll be taking notes and listening closely to conversations throughout the weekend.

I think there’s definitely been a shift in the comics industry in the last two years, more so in the last ten months. More established creators are getting involved in creator owned projects, crowd funded projects and digital only projects. I could talk at length about that but I won’t here. The relevance to me is that readers are more open, now more so than ever before, to new voices, new characters and new publishers. For every well established creator working at the Big2, there are now two dozen names I’m vaguely familiar with who are slowly building their own following, through their creator owned and work for hire comics. Three years ago no one knew who Scott Snyder was, but now he is a rising star and his name is very familiar. Equally Jeff Lemire was known to some for his creator owned work like Essex County, and his Vertigo book Sweet Tooth, but it was his step into the mainstream with Animal Man that put him on the radar of many mainstream readers. There have always been new faces (artists and writers) at both companies, but there’s definitely been a bit of a change lately, or at least it seems that way to me.

Online digital platforms and catalogues like Comixology mean that once a reader has gone through their usual stack, there are so many other comics they can try with just a click of a button. Some people, retailers in particular, are very afraid of digital but in my opinion it’s another flavour, not something that will completely replace print. Nothing digital will ever be able to compare to a glorious hardback, super sized, collected edition with a sketch and signatures from the creators. IDW have been publishing some amazing art books that are glorious artefacts that would be inferior, in my opinion, if read on smart phone or tablet.

So the market is shifting and constantly evolving, and I’m trying to wade in and tread water and it is both terrifying and exciting. I’m really looking forward to what happens in the next few months and what 2013 will bring, which could see writing posts about when a comic book project will be published, rather than if it will be published. That’s when I move out of the red shirt phase.

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Projects Update

So as it’s three weeks until the New York Comic Con (11-14th October) and there is some related comic news of a sort, I thought it was time for a bit of an all round projects update. Apologies for being vague in some places, but this is because of contracts and NDA’s, not me being petty.

As has been mentioned a few times, I’m currently working on a 4 issue comic book mini-series with artists Adam Bolton and Ryan Taylor. Adam has a new graphic novel coming out from Archaia Entertainment, written by Ian Thomas. It will be released on September 26th in comic shops and October 1st everywhere else. Adam will be attending New York Comic Con this year, and here is a link to a recent interview he did with Ian about their book ‘Where’s My Shoggoth?’ At the end of the interview Adam mentions what he is working on next and I get a brief mention. Without giving away too much, we’ve got a good chunk of the art completed for issue 1 and I’m sure Adam will have some in his portfolio when he is at NYCC. We’re hoping to pitch Empyre to a publisher very soon.

The graphic novel is ticking along, I’m working with a third party to pair me up with an artist. We will then create a submission pack and start sending that out to publishers. The other mini series I’m co-writing with Pete Rogers and with art by Maysam Barza, is also approaching the critical point where we will have enough material to submit to comic book publishers and I’m very excited by the idea and story.

Project Alpaca, is a games project where my contribution is done, and now lots of other people are busy working very hard to make it the best possible version before they release it out into the world. There is not a fixed release date, but realistically I would not expect to see it before 2013.

I have also just finished the first draft of my fantasy novel. I was then swept along by two very busy weeks at work, and since I intended to have a two week break anyway, it worked out well. I now have a little bit of distance and there is an initial list of 50 things I need to fix, both big and small, before I start re-reading it and editing it over the next few months. It will be ready to submit to an agent at some point in 2013. There again I’m not willing to put a date on it, because I will only get one chance to make a good first impression and I want to make it the best version of this book and be 99% happy with it before I show it to any professionals.

Looking back at all of the above, it looks as if I must never sleep as everything is happening at the same time, but of course that’s just how it has worked out as some of these projects have been cooking for a few years. I think 2013 will be a busier year whatever happens, and hopefully a positive year for me creatively.

 

 

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What comes next

Last night my co-host, Scott, and I recorded the last episode of our podcast Comic Book Outsiders. We broadcast and recorded it live and some listeners joined in with questions and we even had a guest listener on the show. Unfortunately for him he’d only just discovered the podcast, but at least there is a back catalogue of episodes for him to listen to and lots of interesting comics to discover.

During the show Scott also played a small portion of episode one, where we outlined why we were doing the podcast. Our goal at the time was to promote comics outside the spotlight, those that didn’t get as much attention in the press and comics press, but are equally as fascinating, thought provoking and of equal quality in terms of the writing and art. Over the five years we talked to, and even met, many creative people all around the world making great comics and I hope we managed to open a few eyes and widen a few horizons.

So, what next? Well, I’m not getting out of the podcasting game, but I am easing off on the throttle and I will be doing less. I’ve always been a big SFF reader and as part of the podcast we started The Book Club about 3 years ago. Every 6-8 weeks we talk about a novel, alternating between a classic work of fiction and more modern novel. There are no hard and rigid rules, but we tend to term modern as anything from the last fifteen years or so. We’ve covered a wide range of books from I Am Legend, Caves of Steel, Slaughterhouse 5, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale to more contemporary work such as The City and The City, Empire in Black and Gold, Hull Zero Three and Zoo City. We’ve even been lucky to get some of the authors on the podcast, among them Adrian Tchaikovsky, China Mieville and Lauren Beukes, and pose questions from listeners. For me this podcast is great because it forces me to read some of those novels I’ve always talked about getting around to but never quite managed, both classic and modern. It also forces me to try new stuff and get me out of my usual comfort zone which can make me a bit of a lazy reader. I always have a massive To Read Pile, but the deadline makes me get it done. Another part of the book club I enjoy is receiving feedback from listeners, as they often pick up on things I’ve missed and we always get a wide spectrum of opinions on the book.

There is a Good Reads group here, where you can post comments on the current book club selection and make recommendations for future book club selections if you want to take part.

Every month, but something I’m only taking part in every now and then, is a new podcast called Bags of Action. It mirrors the Book Club in a way, as every month a bunch of people will watch an action movie and then talk about it. We had lots of fun talking about our favourite action heroes on a recent episode of CBO and this is where the seed of the idea came from. There are about seven hosts, and we’ll have guest hosts too, so it will be a rotating cast of people talking about classic and recent action movies. It will be fun and silly and I am really looking forward to taking part. I enjoy movies that make me think and have something to say, but I also like the crazy action-hero popcorn movies. I don’t want to say CBO has not been fun, because it has, but there is an element of work that goesBags of Action into every episode, preparation for interviews, gathering news etc, and then the post-show work, editing, uploading and distributing. The only thing I need to do for this podcast is watch a movie. We’re recording the first episode later this week, so it will be out in another week or so. You can follow Bags of Action on Twitter here and there is also a Facebook group here if you want to talk about action movies, action heroes and all related geek and sundry. Also if you want to recommend action movies we have to watch, then post it on the Facebook group.

The last podcast I’m doing is a new writing focused podcast called Head Space. At the moment it’s monthly but we’ll see if I stick to that schedule. Episode 1 is already out and it is focused on the craft of writing. Every month I will chat to a writer about their process and how they create characters, story, worlds, their influences and where relevant, their experiences with the editing and publishing process. This is not intended to be a teaching podcast or a How To, it’s just a discussion about writing and how that particular personHead Space Podcast approaches it. I enjoy talking to other writers and finding out how they create and hopefully this podcast will provide interesting food for thought for myself and other writers out there. In episode 1 I spoke with Lou Morgan and you can visit the Head Space blog here (it will soon be available on iTunes under its own name if you want to subscribe there), to download the podcast. We talk about her debut book, Blood and Feathers from Solaris Books, which is released on August 2nd 2012 and her approach to writing. The book is being launched this Thursday at Forbidden Planet in London where Lou will be reading from the book and signing. Next month on the podcast, I’ll be speaking to Kim Curran and there will be more info on the Head Space blog closer to the time.

The last podcast on the new CBO network is called the Outsider Files and this is Scott’s new solo venture. I’m not sure about the schedule but every episode he will have a guest host on the show and talk to them about all of the stuff that they’re currently enjoying – comics, books, movies, TV etc and just have a nice chat.

That probably sounds like I’m doing more podcasts than before and committing myself to even more, but it’s actually less. We used to do CBO 3 weeks out of four every month and then moved it to a fortnightly schedule. I am always reading something, so The Book Club just makes me read certain books to a deadline, and 6-8 weeks is not tough. I’m not going to be on Bags of Action every episode, so that’s an every now and then thing, maybe every other month or one in three. And while Head Space is monthly, it might drift and become less often, but I’m not worried as I want to enjoy all of the podcasts I’m involved with and not punish myself if it runs late.

One of the questions we received towards the end of the live podcast last night was, am I still excited about comics? In all honesty, I am more excited now than I was five years ago. There are more independent comics now than five years ago and more importantly, many of them are receiving more widespread attention. Of course it’s still a struggle to get noticed in this crowded market, but some great independent comics are now enjoying remarkable sales and widespread attention because of adaptations on TV, animation and even films. Even a rumour of a TV or movie adaptation can cause a massive spike in sales as some properties are bought and then sit in development hell for years. But that’s fine, as long as it helps the creators, increases sales and gets the name of the comic out there into the wider market. So CBO is done, but I’m still very passionate about comics and am now creating some of my own. I hope to have some news about those projects next year but we’ll see how things go.

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Ok, but what is it about?

This has been bugging me for a while. That’s probably not the best way to start a post, but there it is. It’s not something new, and it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but it was recently brought to the front of my brain again by the big changes in comics, namely DC comics reboot/relaunch of their new 52.

Overall, I’m a big fan of what they’ve done. It was the right thing to do, rather than a piecemeal approach which they’ve tried in the past, and it has reinvigorated their sales and the interest in their characters. Some of the new comics didn’t succeed, which was bound to happen as they launched 52 ongoing titles, and those that didn’t connect with an audience have been cancelled and replaced with new titles. We’re currently onto the 3rd or 4th wave of titles being cancelled and replaced and there are some new titles very due, but I think only one of them appeals to me. There again, that is not a dig at them. Not all of the comics are meant for me. I’m not the target audience for every title and therefore won’t enjoy all of them. There is something about the latest wave that made me question some of the decisions made, but I’ll come back to that. I’m highlighting DC because they’re at the front of my mind at the moment but this is actually a more general question for all forms of creative writing.

Ok, but what is it about? This is a question I’ve asked a thousand times before about films, TV shows, books and more recently comics. There’s often the tag line, or blurb on the back of a book, or listing and preview on a website, which gives you the highlights, it might even give you the story, but my next question is always, ok so what is it about?

I should preface the rest of this post by saying not everything has to have a deeper meaning and be a rich tapesty that is speaking to you on multiple levels. Sometimes it’s just about scaring people or blowing things up. Sometimes it’s just there to make people laugh or to entertain them. Sometimes you just want something light after a heavy or busy day at work, a screensaver for the mind is a phrase I recently heard that comes to mind. I should also point out that I’m a big fan of action movies. I loved The Expendables and I’m a huge fan of Stallone and Arnie movies. That being said, when I read something, I usually (not always) want there to be more than the tag line. I want it to have meaning, or purpose, or at least to be about something with engaging characters. The back of a book tells you something about what to expect. The inciting incident, the characters, the world, and it might offer you a few clues as to the what, but most often that comes in the reading, which for me is part of the enjoyment.

Also, the what can be different things to different people. Readers see beyond what the author intended and the printed word. They read between the lines or they see something that sits on a parallel to what was presented and it reflects something in their own life creating a special connection to the material. Maybe it reaches them on some emotional level and they feel something. There are many books that are just good rip-roaring adventures with clever characters outwitting the villains, but my favourites, the ones that stick with me, are those where the characters feel so real I wouldn’t be surprised to see them walk past me in the street.

This brings me back to DC’s newest wave of comics. Rob Liefeld is a well known figure in the comics industry, mostly for his art and for being one of the founders of Image comics, but also for being a very outspoken individual. I respect him for his accomplishments, but more recently I really like the way he asked DC difficult questions about some of their new titles. They asked him to take over and reinvigorate some of their flagging titles and he basically asked them – ok, so what is this character about? All of the characters he was asked to look at had been around for decades but the characters, their stories and their purpose were not clear.

Because of the age of many comic book characters their back stories are often complex and muddled, but with the best of them you can still pinpoint the why. Batman’s is a story about vengeance and justice. Righting wrongs and protecting the innocent. Stopping tragedies from occuring like the very incident that created him. Superman is about hope, inspiration, the human spirit and (to me at least) a message that we’re all the same regardless of our skin colour, religion, gender etc. Equally I can point at specific titles from the 52 and I know what they’re about once you strip away the costumes, the fighting and the gadgets. The latest incarnation of Batman and Robin is really a story about fathers and sons, about bettering yourself, about living up to expectations, about absent parents, and so on. Most of those points are from Damian’s point of view and there is also the other side, with Bruce trying to reform his son and prove to him that people are worth saving, rather than destroying, as his grandfather would have him believe. It’s a fascinating and quite unique dynamic, and that is what would make me come back rather than a new Batmobile or to see them fighting the Penguin or the Riddler.

Comics that feature teams, where several well known characters work together, are sometimes less complicated and more about entertainment and facing bigger enemies, but they can be about family, duty, honour, responsibility and so on. The problem, for me, comes when there are five or six or seven team books from the same publisher and they all start to look the same. Some DC comics team titles are very distinct. Suicide Squad is a disturbing and dark team book. They’re lifers, people who will never be released from prison, getting a chance to make some small amends. The stories are about redemption and very grey, where they go on missions the heroes wouldn’t be able to stomach. Justice League (or JLA) is the blockbuster movie of team comics. It includes the biggest heroes and they go after the biggest villains, and so on with a couple of the other team comics.

One team book was recently cancelled (Justice League International) and in the latest wave of replacements comics, another team comic is taking its place (The Ravagers). Even more recently another team book was announced (Team Seven). In both instances I asked the question and didn’t know the answer. Even from reading the blurb, looking at the characters and knowing quite a bit about their background (because I’m a DC fan of old) I kept asking, so what is it about? And I don’t think they really know. I’m happy to admit that I could be proven wrong and will say so in public. I’m also willing to admit I don’t know everything about the new books and all of this is from an outsiders perspective, but at the moment I just don’t see the appeal of these new titles. And by that I specifically mean, as a fan and potential reader, I’m trying to find a reason to pick up these new titles and am not motivated to because I dont know what they’re really about. I like some of the characters involved, but that’s not enough for me.

DC are trying lots of new things, they’re experimenting, they’re taking risks and throwing characters together that don’t normally interact to see what happens. All of these things are great and to be commended, but for something to have any kind of longevity, I don’t think that’s enough, especially when there are lots of other team comics out there. And that’s not even taking into account titles published by other companies and then all of the other titles in different genres. Rob Liefield asked DC similar questions about the titles he was asked to work on (Hawkman, Grifter, Deathstroke) and he is now trying to give a definitive answer in each case. Whether or not he succeeds, and whether or not the stories are good, is irrelevant. Someone is asking the right questions and is trying to give a clear answer and provide a reason to make you interested and pick up the comic.

I’ve ended up focusing more on comics than I anticipated, but that’s only because I have more info about it than other areas but it’s all still relevant. All of this made me look more closely at my own work and think about the dreaded synopsis. I actually think it’s the worst part of writing a novel. After spending months (or possibly years) of working on something, of immersing yourself in a world and breathing life into the characters, it feels like a hideous betrayal of all that invested time and effort to then condense it down into a sentence, soundbyte or a couple of paragraphs. But you have to do it. You have to scrape away the top layer, and dig below the surface and then keep digging until you can answer the question. I’ve yet to see a publisher or agent’s submission guidelines that want a one line hook, so it doesn’t quite need to be Ocean’s Eleven meets The Godfather, or whatever, but you do have to pare it down. And that doesn’t mean just a list of the main plot points because that list should bring you back to the original question.

Am I closer to writing the synopsis to my novel? Well, a little bit, but I am now thinking about the project in these terms and once the first draft is finished (and I’ve revised it a lot thereafter) I’m going to sit back and see if the actual novel that I ended up with is the same as the one I started out planning to write.

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