Tag Archives: image comics

CBO – The Relaunch

Last month, Scott, my co-host, and I did a soft relaunch of our podcast, Comic Book Outsiders, for a third time. We’ve been going for over seven years now, and this is more of a refresh than a total relaunch. We’ve got a new theme tune, which is more relaxed and chilled out than previous intros, to reflect our approach, but we’re still going to be producing similar content, just on a more regular basis.

As well as doing CBO once a month, we’re also going to add a new podcast to the network. As soon as I can say more about this I will. I think it’s something different, and quite new, which is increasingly difficult to find with podcasts these days. When we started there were not that many around, and we had to explain to people what a podcast was! Technology moves so quickly it’s hard to believe. I’ve seen 2 year old children swiping tablet screens and knowing how to turn them on and off.

Anyway, back on podcasting. Also on our network, I co-host Bags of Action, a monthly podcast about action movies, where Pete Rogers and I cackle as we dissect modern and classic action films. We’ve just completed a three part Salute to Swayze, and are now moving into a trilogy dedicated to Arnie. We always have fun recording it. This was the initial requirement Scott and I had, and that if it ever stopped being fun and started to feel like a job we’d stop doing it. We came close a couple of times over the seven years, which is why our output and schedule varied at times .

Since we started Comic Book Outsiders our plan has always been to highlight hidden gems and spotlight comics, books, films and TV shows that deserve more attention. Over the years we’ve spoken to some amazing comic book artists and writers, novelists, film directors and people whose work cross several mediums. This is absolutely the best thing about doing the podcast. Talking to amazing people who are out there creating amazing content.

Our approach remains the same, as we both have quite eclectic tastes, and my comic reading horizons have definitely broadened over the last fifteen years. We do enjoy mainstream media and will discuss it, like some of the best films but I’m constantly challenging myself and Scott to step outside our comfort zones.

In the first episode of our relaunch, we had a Challenge Scott section, a semi-regular slot where I pitch Scott three comic books and try to get him interested enough to pick up at least one of them. Further down the line we then discuss the comic book. Last episode I pitched Letter 44 from Oni Press, The Fuse from Image comics, and Southern Bastards from Image comics. In the end Scott went with SB, because it sounded the furthest out of his comfort zone and the story intrigued him. I think it will be a really interesting discussion which we’ll be having as part of the January episode. So if you want to get involved, have read any of the three mentioned, and have an opinion on SB, then get in touch.

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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!

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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.

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Holiday Reads

It’s almost time for my summer holiday so I thought I’d do a quick post on what I’m going to be reading while relaxing by the pool. I’m not a fast reader at all, but when on holiday with few distractions, I can get through about four or five books in a week. So I often save up special books and also add books from authors who are new to me into the mix. I’m also taking a few trade paperbacks I’ve been saving up from my to read pile.

The Eigth Court Mike ShevdonThe Eighth Court by Mike Shevdon from Angry Robot Books.
I have very particular tastes when it comes to urban fantasy, and just can’t get on with some series, so finding something that I really like is tricky. Shevdon’s books are one of my favourites and this is the fourth and final book in the series which is set in modern day in the UK. There are some scenes in London, but it is not London-centric, and throughout the course of the series we get to explore all sorts of places and buildings with historic resonance. I’m being very vague on purpose to avoid spoilers because he mixes real world history with the fantastical. We follow an everyman into this bizarre world hidden in plain sight and delve into the world of the feyre and a secret history of the world.

Exit Kingdom Alden BellExit Kingdom by Alden Bell from Panmacmillan. This is the second book by Alden Bell set in a post apocalyptic world where zombies have overrun the world. The first book, The Reapers are the Angels, is one of my favourite books, probably ever. I’ve also read it twice already and it only came out maybe two years ago. Yeah, it’s that good. I came to his first book completely cold, I knew nothing about it, and absolutely loved it. In a review I compared it to I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, but with zombies instead of vampires, so it’s really about the people, the situation and coping, it’s about isolation and humanity and not so much about running away from shambling ghouls. It’s also set many years after the fall, so it is not a world where everything has just fallen apart. The first book focused on a young girl called Temple and along the way she came into contact with an interesting character called Moses Todd. This book is set before the events of Reapers and this time Moses is the main character, along with his brother. I’ve been holding on to my copy of this since March when it came out and saving it. I’m really looking forward to it.

Ice Forged Gail Z MartinIce Forged by Gail Z. Martin from Orbit books. Martin is an author I’ve been aware of for a while, but I’ve not managed to find time to read something by her until now. The blurb for this book sounded exactly like my kind of thing, and it is a nice dash of fantasy, which is different enough from the other two books on my list so far. So I’ve avoided reading any reviews or interviews about this and am going to come to it, and her writing, completely cold and see what happens.

This is also the first book in a new series by Martin, so if I enjoy her work I can back and pick up some of her other novels in the interim until the next book in this series comes out! Discovering a debut author is always brilliant, but coming to a more well established one that I’ve just missed out on until now for whatever reason is a real treat as there is a lot more to read with no waiting.

Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell from Solaris BooksAck-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell from Solaris Books.
The first time I heard anything about this book was at Eastercon this year where Gareth was doing a reading. The reading was funny, crazy, full of action and very exciting. After investigating a little further and reading the blurb on the back I immediately picked up a copy at the convention. What’s not to love? A one-eyed cigar smoking monkey who was a Spitfire pilot in WW II. I’m sold on that sentence alone. From what I’ve read in reviews and from overhearing other people talking it, I think the book is going to be jam packed full of action and humour, making it another very different book to the others I am taking with me.

The Name of the Wind Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss from Gollancz.
It’s easy to assume everyone knows what this book is about and who Rothfuss is, but I’m also aware other people will be horrified that I’d never read a book by Gail Z. Martin until now as she is not a new author. The fact is there are a lot of authors out there, the fantasy market is more crowded than twenty years ago, and all of us only have so much time and varying levels of awareness via our various media channels. I’m very aware of who Brandon Sanderson is, and I have one of his books on my pile to read, but so far haven’t got around to it. Once again it comes down to too many books and not enough time.

So, The Name of the Wind is the first book in the Kingkiller Chronicle, an epic fantasy tale by Rothfuss who I would describe as a storyteller. By that I mean he creates a wonderfully dynamic and rich world without bogging the reader down in pages and pages of detail. His story in some ways feels like an urban folk tale, about someone who actually lived, or it’s a parable that has been told down through the generations. It’s also very hard to describe the book as it doesn’t fit into any pigeon hole and is hard to put it alongside other books for comparison. It tells the story of Kvothe, a figure of legend almost, a man feared and loathed by some and respected and loved by others. The story begins with him as a grown man telling a scribe his version of events, starting with his childhood and gradually bringing him up to the present. But there are also chapters set in the present so it’s not just a look back at another time. Kvothe is also a renaissance man, and again you can’t say he’s a wizard, or warrior, or mage etc, he’s just a man who has adventures, gets caught up in weird and wonderful events, gets in to lots of trouble, goes through some terrible and awful moments, but also makes some amazing discoveries full of wonder and maybe even a touch of magic. There is a lot to tell, there’s no doubt, as Kvothe has lived a very interesting life and this first book is pretty weighty, and is one of at least three. The second book is even bigger I think but again, this is not because Rothfuss spends ten pages describing the smoke coming out of the chimney.

This book has sold a lot of copies, I mean hundreds of thousands, maybe even a few million. It’s incredibly popular and rightly so in my opinion. It’s one of those lightning rod books in the genre like Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora or The Painted Man by PV Brett, or The Blade Itself by Abercrombie. It’s an incredibly unique book, something that is not perfect, and there are some bits I didn’t like, but overall it marks Rothfuss as an incredibly talented writer and someone who is forging ahead and doing his own thing, which others will then seek to imitate.

This is the second time I’ve read Name of the Wind, because it was quite a while since I read it, and now I have a copy of the second volume staring at me. I’ve also forgotten quite a bit from the first time around so I want to sink back into this rich world, rediscover the nuances of the character and get myself up to speed in readiness for reading book 2, The Wise Man’s Fear.

Comics
Reading comics is a very different experience for me compared to novels. It takes me a bit of time to sink back into a book, but with a comic I can read for five or ten minutes, read an issue and I’m in the story almost straight away and can be completely satisfied. So I always take a few trades to read for those smaller gaps of time when I want to read something.

Danger Club Image ComicsDanger Club by Landry Walker and Eric Jones from Image comics.
I read the first issue of this when it came out a while ago, thought the premise was very interesting, thought the artwork was amazing and the colours very vibrant. Briefly put, all of the worlds superheroes go off into space to fight a very serious threat and then they never come back. So, suddenly all that’s left are lots of sidekicks and kids with powers. So it’s a bit Lord of the Flies, and it focuses very much on the next generation of heroes and villains. What do you do when your mentor is taken away from you? Are the junior heroes ready to cope? And if not, what will they do? What effect will the responsibility have on them? Likewise for the junior villains. Are they really capable of carrying out some terrible acts?

Manhattan Projects Vol 2. Image ComicsManhattan Projects Vol. 2 by Jonathan Hickman from Image comics.
Simply put, what if the Manhattan Project that we know about was simply one of many strange, weird and wonderful scientific projects that were being worked on by the best minds at that time in history. This twisted science fact meets science fiction book focuses on a group of very weird almost mirror universe versions of well known historic scientists getting up to all sorts of stuff. It involves portals to other worlds, alien invasions and lots of other weird science. Hickman writes for Marvel comics and is known for writing very big stories, and by that I mean long term, big sky, complex but not convoluted stories which are structured into chapters almost like a novel, with rewarding endings. He did a great run on Fantastic Four that was planned out years in advance and now he is doing the same on Avengers. This comic is a breeding ground for all sorts of ideas he probably can’t fit in other places and for some stuff that is too weird to go into a mainstream comic.

Peter Panzerfaust Vol. 1 Image comicsPeter Panzerfaust Vol. 1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe from Image comics.
Peter Pan, and the Lost Boys, in World War II. That’s pretty much it. I read the first issue a long time ago, then lost touch with the series for some reason, but now I’m trying to catch up in trade. It begins with an almost Band of Brothers storytelling device, where an old man is talking about his experiences during the war, and it then flashes back to him as a young boy meeting a heroic and dashing and strange young man named Peter. The scope is vast, the twist on characters is only limited by imagination and this series has been picked up by the BBC to be adapted first into a digital motion comic (for some reason) and then later a live action TV series. I can see the latter working very well, not sure what the point of the former is, given that motion comics are the new dodo, and the real evolution in digital comics is coming from Thrillbent.com. Check out the website for free digital only comics where they are pushing the boundary of digital. Anyway, this series looks like a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the first issue.

Fatale Volume 2. Image comicsA possibly sneaky fourth trade, if I get time, is Fatale Vol. 2 by Brubaker and Phillips.
It’s crime meets Lovecraftian horror. Meta fiction within fiction, weird people who don’t appear to be quite human, strange cults, immortals, demons, random chaos that actually points towards something else. Lots of ideas thrown onto the page and you have to hold on to your seat and just enjoy the ride.

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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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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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