Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: The Bizarre Adventures of Gilbert and Sullivan

Any comic by Laura Howell is always fun and entertaining, whether it's Les Pretend in The Beano or her own creations. Laura's latest book, The Bizarre Adventures of Gilbert and Sullivan is a fine collection of her creator-owned strips of the Victorian composers and their secret life as defenders of the realm. Yes, that's what they did apparently. Who knew? 

The strips in the book are, as Laura tells us, "re-drawn versions of very sketchy and loosely-scripted strips dating from 2001 to 2006". The originals were funny and these re-crafted ones are even funnier. The beauty of comics is that anything can happen, and in these pages it certainly does, with Gilbert and Sullivan having strange and surreal escapades. It won the Best Comic Award at the International Manga and Aninie Festival, and whether you love or hate Manga you should enjoy this as it both embraces and spoofs the Manga styles in equal measure. There are also elements of traditional British comics in there too of course, as one would expect with Laura's background in comics, but more than anything this is distinctly Laura Howell doing things her own way, and it's brilliant. 

The book comprises 17 short stories of 2 to 6 pages in length, drawing inspiration from Gilbert and Sullivan's compositions and Victorian society. In the back, there's a Guest Art Gallery by other talented artists such as Jamie Smart, David Leach, Hunt Emerson, Woodrow Phoenix and more. 

This really is a must-have book for fans of humour comics and a great addition to the swelling ranks of modern British comics. 

The Bizarre Adventures of Gilbert and Sullivan by Laura Howell. 76 pages, softback, published by Soaring Penguin Press and available now from their website here:
http://www.soaringpenguinpress.com/publications/graphic-novels/the-bizarre-adventures-of-gilbert-and-sullivan-pre-order/

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Are you ready for ICE?

One of the most enjoyable comics conventions I attended last year was the International Comic Expo in Birmingham, - and it's back again next weekend! Situated in the city centre just a few minutes walk from New Street Station at The Studio venue in Cannon Street, just off New Street. I'll be there, along with many other guests from the comics industry. Here's the details from organizer Shane Chebsey....


THE STARS OF COMICS ALIGN IN BIRMINGHAM

Some of the biggest names from the world of comic book art and publishing will be descending onto the Studio Venue in Birmingham city centre this coming weekend.

The International Comic Expo, or ICE as it is known by the fans, plays host to over 30 top artists and writers from both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. On Saturday 5th September, in the heart of England’s second city, expect a spectacular fun day for fans of popular characters like The Avengers, Spiderman, Batman and The Flash.

Of course comics are far more than just super heroes and visitors to the annual event will also be able to meet creators such as Charlie Adlard, artist on The Walking Dead and writer John Wagner, creator of Judge Dredd, who will be joined by co creator and artist Carlos Ezquerra who is flying in from Spain especially for the convention.
There are also guests from further afield making the journey over the Atlantic to see fans, including legendary Iron Man artist Bob Layton and Wolverine artist Joe Rubinstein.

In addition to the usual sketching and signing there is a full program of exclusive free events for ticket holders scheduled for the duration of the convention, including interviews with featured creators, fun quizzes, a workshop for kids and some more serious industry discussion panels.

Dave Gibbons.
Highlights include a free talk aimed at younger readers and fans by Watchmen artist and Comics Laureate Dave Gibbons, plus an interview with Green Arrow and Losers writer Andy Diggle.

Unlike many UK conventions ICE has a strong international presence and joining the major UK Publishers like Titan Comics are representatives and editors from American publishers including DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics and the most recent major addition to the industry Aftershock Comics who is represented by Editor In Chief Mike Marts, who recently left Marvel to help form the new company.

Of course no convention is complete without a varied selection of exhibitors, and ICE is no exception to this.
As well as thousands of comics and graphic novels, there will be collectibles, merchandise, and original artwork for sale from over 120 exhibitors, so plenty of chance to fill those gaps in your comic collection, or to own a unique piece of artwork form your favorite creator.

Not only that, but the ICE exhibition halls feature a huge selection of independent and small press publishers, who offer readers a whole new level of diversity and really show everything the medium of comics has to offer.

And if you’re not quite sure what all the fuss is about when it come to comics, entry to the event is just £12 (£6 for students) and kids go free, so you won’t have to break the bank to satisfy your curiosity and discover something new for all the family.

The event starts at 10am for those booking in advance with doors opening to the public at 11am and closing at 5.30pm. There is also a special VIP after show party running 7pm until late for the most dedicated fans, all happening under one roof, just a few minutes’ walk from New Street Station.

To book tickets for the expo and to find out more go to the main website at: www.thecomicsshow.co.uk

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: The House of Daemon

I've had this book a few weeks now but I'm eventually catching up with doing my reviews so please excuse its lateness. 

Hibernia Comics have been producing some excellent reprint albums of classic 1980s British strips and their latest release, The House of Daemon, is one of the best. With scripts by John Wagner and Alan Grant, and art by José Ortiz, you know you're in for a treat. The serial originally appeared in Eagle Nos.25 to 47 in 1982 to 1983 and this book collects the run. 

The story is an atmospheric supernatural tale of a haunted house, but it goes beyond the usual 'ghost story' tradition to plunge its occupants into nightmarish otherworldly situations. There are quite a few twists along the way and although the horror has to be reigned in to a certain extent (because it appeared in a children's comic) it's still quite creepy and a good 'all ages' horror comic. 

The art by José Ortiz is perfect for the horror theme, creating the right tone and menace throughout, plus of course his mastery of the human figure is superb. Sometimes collections like this feel a bit 'choppy', because the episodes were never designed to be read in one book, but with writers as skilled as Wagner and Grant the serial flows perfectly. It would actually make a very good movie, but as a comic it also stands on its own as a fantastic story. 

The reproduction of the strips is top class too. Although the pages are scanned from the comics, not the original art, they've reproduced perfectly, with sharp blacks and subtle grey tones. 

The House of Daemon is available from Hibernia Books here:
http://www.comicsy.co.uk/hibernia/

Friday, August 28, 2015

Piracy Is Inexcusable

This cannot be emphasised enough. 'Piracy' of comics, or films, TV shows, music, games, whatever, is morally wrong. It's also illegal. Yes, I've heard all the excuses about how piracy "helps creators get more exposure" (cobblers!); how people "can't afford to buy every comic they need" (theft is never an option, and 'needs' include food and water, not comics); how they "wouldn't buy it anyway" (yet they like it enough to download a series); how they're "only sampling to see if I like it" (still no excuse for theft)... and so on. All the excuses boil down to the fact that some people just want something for nothing.

Some people might think it's cool to flout the law and gain comics illegally. Hey, they're "sticking it to the man". Except they're not. They're hurting the creators, damaging sales of a comic that publishers might then cancel because they think there's little interest in it, - when in fact thousands of copies are being read illegally. 
One of my favourite British comics at the moment is Surface Tension, written and illustrated by Jay Gunn and published by Titan. It's a fantastic, intriguing story and as the cover and panel sample shown here demonstrates the artwork is stunning. (And a fine example of how UK artists are still in the same league as those of the past.) On the Down the Tubes site today, Jay Gunn has written a passionate and important post about how piracy affected him. Perhaps if people aren't bothered about breaking the law they might consider the human cost of piracy instead. Give it a read...
http://downthetubes.net/?p=25088

And to critics who will undoubtedly say I'm "banging the same drum again", bloody right I am! Myself and many of my friends depend on comics to earn our living, and I'll defend our right to protect our work and our livelihoods against thieves as much as I can. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Jessica Martin art exhibition

Artist / writer Jessica Martin has an exhibition of her comics work launching at Orbital Comics this Saturday, 29th August. The creator of It Girl, Vivacity, and the upcoming Elsie Harris Picture Palace graphic novel will be presenting a short guided tour of her work and a talk / Q and A session, at 7pm at Orbital Comics, 8 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JA.

It's been fascinating seeing Jessica's style develop over the past few years and I'm sure the exhibition will be a great success. I can't make it there myself unfortunately but if you're in London on Saturday night, Orbital Comics is the place to be. The exhibition runs until early October. 

For more info, see the excellent Broken Frontier website here:
http://www.brokenfrontier.com/jessica-martin-elsie-harris-picture-palace-orbital-comics-it-girl-clara-bow/

Commando 4839 to 4842 - out now


Here's the lowdown on the latest Commando comics, in the shops now:

Commando No 4839 – Eagles of the Crimera
In the Mid-19th Century, Adam Carrick, an American war correspondent with English ancestry, was at the frontline of the Crimean War. As British forces clashed with Russian infantry and cavalry, the young journalist stumbled upon a fascinating story — a long-standing rivalry between two British officers, one from the artillery and the other from a special Royal Engineers detachment. 
   Adam even discovered some distant relatives of his own and soon became caught up in the fighting itself. Although a non-combatant, it soon became clear that the reporter would have to fight to survive.

Introduction:
With only a few notable exceptions — step forward the Convict Commandos — recurring characters have been rare on the pages of Commando over the last 50-odd years. However we were of the opinion that you, our readers, might like a series which carried the story over more than one issue. With the pen of Ferg Handley recruited to do the writing, we decided that a historical saga spanning many generations would hit the spot.
   Episode Ten sees the continuing story of three — entirely fictional —inter-linked families and now we find them in the thick of battle in the Crimean war.
   In this instalment, one main character is a war correspondent, rather than a soldier, which makes for a different tone and pace to previous episodes. However, it would seem that being part a family steeped in a unending legacy of war can only have one outcome…
   We hope you enjoy this story and the journey to come.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor


Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page




Commando No 4840 – Tank Buster
TWO old tanks – two knocked-out Italian tanks whose guns still worked, and were trained on the prison camp fence – these and some vicious strands of barbed wire were what stood between a crowd of desperate British prisoners and freedom.
   Captain Al Kelly and Lieutenant Pete Smith reckoned there was a fighting chance of escaping – and that was all these two desert fighters asked… 


Introduction:
This is a hard-hitting Commando yarn and no mistake. In the arid expanse of the North African desert, Captain Al Kelly, a non-nonsense Australian, has good reason to be mad at British Lieutenant Pete Smith — and a bitter clash ensues. But this vendetta is played out against a deadly backdrop — the battle for the war-torn port of Tobruk.
   Boutland’s script is taut, C.T. Rigby’s art is dynamic and Ken Barr’s font cover illustration is simply outstanding. I hope you agree.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Boutland
Art: C.T. Rigby
Cover: Ken Barr                                                                                                                           




Commando No 4841 – Prisoner At War
When his P47 Thunderbolt was shot down over Sicily, Major Mike Dante of the USAAF was caught by some passing Italian infantrymen. However, when Italy surrendered to Allied forces soon after, this particular unit were having none of it. They decided to wage their own guerrilla war against a vicious German panzer grenadier squad who had killed one of their comrades.
   Still technically a prisoner, Mike knew that a fierce battle lay ahead…one that he felt honour-bound to get involved in.


Story: Ferg Handley 
Art: Morahin 
Cover: Janek Matysiak




Commando No 4840 – Suicide Run
BLEAK Point – a training area for Captain Jake Baron and his Royal Marine crews of high-speed launches packed with explosives. There they learned the perils of mechanical failure, rough seas, bad weather — and how to tackle enemy defences. They began to think, though, that the biggest danger came from their hosts and rivals — the Royal Navy!

Introduction:
This great sea tale has a lot going for it. At a secret base in a remote part of Scotland, a tough Commando Captain and his squad embark on their most hazardous task yet — piloting powerful experimental boats packed with explosives in the bows, ready to take out enemy targets on a one-way trip basis. Throw in a rivalry with the unit’s Royal Navy commander and writer R.A. Montague’s story soon speeds towards a thrilling conclusion.
   It’s nicely illustrated by Keith Shone, who, luckily, can draw explosions well — as there are lots of them throughout the 63 interior pages. An atmospheric cover by sea artist extraordinaire Jeff Bevan finishes things off perfectly.

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor


Story: R.A. Montague
Art: Keith Shone
Cover: Jeff Bevan


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Con Cancellation

I'm sorry to say that I won't be attending the Bournemouth Film and Comic Con this weekend (29th / 30th Aug). Caught a flu bug again or something and it's put me behind schedule so I need to get on with work. 

My apologies to those of you who were hoping to see me there. Hopefully I'll still be at the ICE (International Comics Expo) in Birmingham on September 5th, and hopefully BRICKMAN RETURNS! will be ready to launch then too.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ten years of GRAMMARMAN!


Today marks the 10th anniversary of a superhero you may never have heard of in the UK, but he's one of the greatest heroes of all because his comics help kids in the real world. He's Grammarman, who makes learning good fun, and he's the creation of cartoonist and teacher Brian Boyd. 


Here's Brian to reveal the Grammarman story....


"Grammarman is the result of my combined interests in comics, writing, drawing, computers, puzzles and teaching English. My main job is teaching English as a second language (ESL). I work in Bangkok, where Japanese manga are very popular. As I've loved comics since I was a kid, I started hatching an idea for a comic that would exploit the medium's popularity and bring a fun element to the classroom.

On August 23nd 2005, I floated the idea of Grammarman to my teaching colleague, Thom Kiddle over a pint of beer. 

The concept: a tongue-in-cheek superhero strip where the hero battles crimes against the English language in his adopted metropolis, Verbo City. Grammarman's roster of villains includes Sammy Colon (punctuation villain), Anna Gramme (a mixed up lady), Uncle Uncountable, King Wrong, Butch Clausidy and The Sentence Kid, Auxilla, The Wizard of Was and many, many more. Grammarman is aided in his quest by Alpha-bot (a genius android) and Syntax (an alien visitor from a distant galaxy).

Each episode of Grammarman is also a puzzle, similar to Buster comic's Mastermind. At the end of each story, Grammarman breaks the fourth wall, turning to address the reader and ask for assistance in solving a problem, finding clues or identifying the criminal. This makes the comics suitable for supplementing a grammar lesson.

Thom was very enthusiastic and encouraged me to create some sample strips to send to publishers. When I got home that evening, I started doodling and scribbling on scrap paper and by about 4am I had a pile of ideas for characters and stories.

Within six months, the comic was in print and I had started www.grammarmancomic.com

Now, Grammarman has appeared in magazines and newspapers in China, Russia, Argentina, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei and Canada. It has also featured in the main ESL magazines and on MacMillan Publishing's onestopenglish.com

You can find out more at: http://grammarmancomic.com/about/ "

Grammarman comic has featured in:
The Brunei Times (Brunei)
The Buenos Aires Herald (Argentina)
Business English Magazine (Russia)
Crazy English Teens (China)
EL Gazette (UK)
ETP magazine (UK)
Nation Junior magazine (Thailand)
The New Straits Times (Malaysia)
Your News (Canada)
Grammarman currently appears in Student Weekly magazine (Thailand) and on Macmillan’s OneStopEnglish website.

Thanks for the info, Brian. What a great concept, and one that obviously has proven to be very successful over the last decade. Congratulations on ten years of Grammarman. An achievement to be proud of!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Eaglemoss launch DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection

Not much spare time for blogging at the moment but here's a quick plug for the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection that has just been launched by Eaglemoss in the UK. The format is the same as the long running Marvel partworks that Hachette have produced and the launch edition (shown above) is just £2.99 which is in newsagents now. (Note: After the first few issues, shops often only take partworks on an reservation only basis, so you may have to 'place a regular order at your newsagent' as they used to say in the comics.)

From the looks of things the books will reprint contemporary material but it'll be from before the 'New 52' relaunch that DC did across their line in 2011. To find out more info, see the website here:
http://www.eaglemoss.com/en-gb/comic-heroes/dc-comic-books/?gclid=COamiNrWvccCFZUYGwod5uUAOw

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Into the time vortex

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine is out today, with another 84 pages of great material. Amongst the many features there's the regular 12 page comic strip of course, with part two of Spirits of the Jungle by Jonathan Morris and John Ross (with colours by James Offredi). Anyone who believes the myth that British comics don't have the standard of artwork they used to needs to look at this. Fantastic work by John Ross.

There's also another Daft Dimension strip by me, in which you'll meet this trio...

Plus illustrations for The Time Team feature by Adrian Salmon...

Doctor Who Magazine No.490 is in the shops today, priced £4.99.

Let's not forget DWM's companion mag for younger readers. Doctor Who Adventures No.5 came out last week with 36 pages of stories, features, and fun, plus free gifts. 

There's a complete 9 page comic strip featuring the 12th Doctor and Clara in Trust by Jason Quinn and Russ Leach...

...plus a three page text story featuring The Paternoster Gang

Doctor Who Adventures No.5, out now, £3.99.

Support UK comics!

Johnny Red returns in a new comic

Classic 1980s British comics character Johnny Red returns this November courtesy of London based publisher Titan Comics, by arrangement with Egmont UK.

The monthly eight-issue mini-series Johnny Red is written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Keith Burns. With a 'mature readers' advisory it promises to be a grittier take on the character than that of his days in the boys weekly Battle-Action. Ideal then for those who grew up with the character and who are now adults. (Although I suspect some will still want him exactly as he was in 1980.)

Johnny Red No.1 goes on sale in November and will be available from comic book speciality shops (not newsagents). However, from personal experience some shops order low on non-superhero comics so I'd advise placing an advance order right away to ensure your copy.

For more details of Johnny Red and the other Titan Comics being published in November, see the Bleeding Cool website here:
http://www.bleedingcool.com/2015/08/19/titan-comics-solicits-for-november-2015-doctor-who-johnny-red-and-the-sdcc-specials/

For an interview with artist Keith Burns, see the excellent The Beat website here:
http://www.comicsbeat.com/interview-introducing-keith-burns-artist-extraordinaire/
    

Monday, August 17, 2015

Commando comics - Out now!

My apologies for being late in posting this info. Been busy with conventions and deadlines so apologies also for those of you waiting for me to plug your comics. Will catch up as soon as I can.

These four issues of Commando came out last week but your local WH Smith etc should still have copies. Here's the info sent to me from D.C. Thomson....


Commando No 4835 - Voyage of the Eagles
Luke Carrick was unexpectedly “press-ganged” into Royal Navy service at the height of the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th Century. Serving on board the HMS Hera, a frigate, Luke’s resentment at his treatment and loathing of authority steadily grew as the ship embarked on a series of increasingly dangerous voyages.
   Luke’s older brother, Silas, had died in mysterious circumstances a few years earlier. Convinced that the British officer responsible for Silas’ death was now fighting alongside him, vengeance — even more than survival — was now on the young sailor’s mind.

Introduction
With only a few notable exceptions — step forward the Convict Commandos — recurring characters have been rare on the pages of Commando over the last 50-odd years. However we were of the opinion that you, our readers, might like a series which carried the story over more than one issue. With the pen of Ferg Handley recruited to do the writing, we decided that a historical saga spanning many generations would hit the spot.
   Episode Nine sees the continuing story of three — entirely fictional —inter-linked families and how they find themselves in the thick of the action of the Napoleonic Wars.
   The majority of this exciting instalment takes place at sea — with Royal Navy vessels clashing against their French counterparts. Yet for one of our characters, these tumultuous battles are only a backdrop to a personal quest for revenge…
   We hope you enjoy this story and the journey to come.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page



Commando No 4836 – Rocket Blitz
PURPLE with rage, the Luftwaffe squadron leader shook his fist at the lone Typhoon disappearing over the horizon. All around him, shattered planes and burning hangars covered his blitzed airfield, victims of one pilot.
   And on the airfield in Belgium a British squadron leader scanned the horizon for the same plane. He was furious too. That plane was his own brand-new Typhoon, and it had been stolen!

Introduction
This is classic Commando in every sense. From the wonderfully lurid colours of Ken Barr’s cover, to Gordon Livingstone’s dynamic black-and-white line art and McOwan (first name unknown)’s all-important script — these three elements fuse together perfectly for an epic tale of guts versus glory.
   When a plucky mechanic takes it upon himself to stand up to a ruthless squadron leader, we’re set for a brilliant story which is all about one man having the courage to do the right thing, whatever the cost.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
Rocket Blitz, originally Commando No 312 (February 1968), re-issued as No 1027 (May 1976)

Story: McOwan
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover: Ken Barr


Commando No 4837 – Sniper Zone
Salerno, Italy, 1943.
   Life as a sniper suited Lance-Corporal Eric Shaw. He had seen a lot of mates die after a couple of tragic accidents and now he had become a loner – guilty that he had survived when they hadn’t.
   His sharp-shooting skills improved with each day and he tried to help out any Allied troops whenever he could. Nonetheless, Eric was unexpectedly working alongside a fellow sharp-shooter – an American. Little did the two crack-shots know that soon the hunters would became the hunted – in the
SNIPER ZONE

Story: George Low
Art: Rezzonico
Cover: Janek Matysiak



Commando No 4838 – Desperate Measures
THEY were trapped in neutral Spain – the pilot of a ditched Hurricane and the first mate of a merchant ship which had also become a casualty of war.
They weren’t the best of mates, but they were all that stood between the British fleet at Gibraltar and a lethal strike force. The odds were stacked against them, but they weren’t quitters, and now was the time to take 
DESPERATE MEASURES

Introduction
As ever, veteran Commando artist Ian Kennedy’s terrific cover gives us a tantalising glimpse of what this book is all about. 
   Air and sea — as a Fleet Air Arm Hurricane blasts from a cam-ship via catapult…we see that there is also some kind of mysterious raid happening underneath the murky depths of the ocean, led by a pair of manned torpedo chariots.
   Air and sea — as a pilot and a sailor bitterly clash.
   Air and sea — with both combining to form a winning Commando story.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
Desperate Measures, originally Commando No 2698 (September 1993)


Story: C.G. Walker
Art: Keith Shone
Cover: Ian Kennedy
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