The Short List – Ken Reynolds

Disclosure – I provided the cover for the final collection of Sliced Quarterly, edited and published by Ken Reynolds

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cognition                                   sliced quarterly

 

ZL – I have the impression of you as a long-term and influential individual within the UK small press scene. How do you think of yourself in those terms and who would you consider your peers?

The Cherry on The Awesome Cake
The Cherry on The Awesome Cake

KR – Perception is a funny thing. I’ve only been involved in making comics in any capacity for the last 5 years or so… I started shortly after my daughter was born. That’s not really a long time when you consider how long it can take to pull small press comic projects together. We’re 3 years and 3 volumes in on Sliced Quarterly, and it took about 3 years to do 5 issues of Cognition. That felt pretty quick to me.

So, I don’t feel like I’ve been around for ages.

As for influence… If you run an anthology it can give off a perception of being ‘in charge’ but that’s never really the case with Sliced. I round things up rather than commission on that one.

All in all, I still feel as though I’m figuring things out. I think back 4 years to the person that had aspirations of making comics… I’d have looked at me now thinking, ‘wow, you made all this stuff’. I guess that’s the trick. Keep making books.

The only way I’ve ever felt influential is when I can help other creators. Something I will do any time I can. It’s indie comics, you don’t step on people on the way up, we all lift each other.

As for peers… I guess that’s just all the people I work with consistently, the people that help me as much as I try to help them. Chris Sides, Jimmy Furlong, Jon Laight. But I could list hundreds of creators. Anyone I’ve worked with through Sliced, anyone that’s hired me as a letterer.

COGNITION #0KS PT1 AW
Cognition issue 3 cover

There aren’t levels to me. If you’ve made a comic, any comic, you’re a creator. You’ve done something special. After that it’s all subjective. But if you’ve had an idea, do everything you have to do to get that book over the line and made a reality, you have my utmost respect. If you keep doing that over and over, you might get a reputation, I suppose? But if you make good stuff, you make good stuff. I always want to read books I love.

 

ZL – You’ve mentioned that you’re planning on focussing on single publications now that you’ve put Sliced Quarterly to bed, are there any concrete plans in place or is more of an ambition at the moment?

KR – I have one book that is a definite. We began to serialise a story over the last 5 issues or so. We got to a nice pausing point, and when I decided Vol 3 would be the last collection I promised the creator that I would continue to help them publish the story in some form. That is partly where the idea came from.

Ultimately this move is an extension of what Sliced has always been about. Getting stories in front of readers that don’t usually get that chance. Now it seems like a natural evolution to do the same thing with longer form books instead of short comics. My experience in self-publishing and crowdfunding can be useful to someone that is attempting it for the first time. It’s still that principle of helping other creators. The Sliced banner is just a label for that.

 

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

KR – The first thing I really remember loving when I was growing up that made me want to make something myself was Wallace and Gromit. I couldn’t get enough of it. The animation delighted me. I tinkered with simple animation throughout my design education, but I never fully committed to it.

META AFFLICTION AW-01
Meta Affliction

There was something about the style and sense of humour that made it all so accessible. It was tangible and real. Animation that you could reach out and touch. There is something special about stop motion animation, even now as it becomes more scarce. Anything that takes that much time, effort and artistry deserves attention and respect.

If we talk comics, I recall the moment I realised comics could be more than what I knew them to be from my childhood. I’d loved the Beano etc, but when one of my college tutors showed me Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, it opened my eyes and I went on to discover how diverse the medium can be. I wish more people had this sort of revelation. My main bugbear is comics being described as a genre rather than a medium. It’s reductive because comics can and should work in ANY genre.

 

 

ZL – You’ve spent a few years now working with creators as an instigator of some kind, what do you personally gain from taking that role?

KR – I think I’ve touched on this a little in an earlier question. In indie comics we HAVE to help one another. Simon Russell once said something that I thought particularly pertinent to this point. “Art isn’t a zero-sum game.” It isn’t a competition. By helping others succeed you don’t affect your own chances of success.

Another answer would be the realisation that lots of people helped me on the road to making my books, and I would have to be a huge arsehole not to do the same for others.

As for what I gain? Satisfaction. To know you helped someone makes books that are special. To know that without you something special had less chance of existing… If you think of it like that, then it’s a responsibility to help, isn’t it?

IN TROUBLE #1 PT1 AW
In Trouble issue 1

Making is the aim. It isn’t sales or reviews. It’s the process of making. That is the goal. Everything else is out of your control, and to put your hopes on how things are received is a set-up for failure and unhappiness.

Enjoying making something, put it out, it has a life of its own, make the next one. And the next.

 

ZL – You are gifted the opportunity to set up a new museum showcasing all of the creators who have influenced you from birth to now.  The first show is called ‘First, Formative and Now’ who do you pick and why?

KR – Oooooof! This is a brutal question.

First: 

The Hobbit – Tolkien

The first story I got really lost in. I return to it a lot and have recently begun studying the mythology Tolkien created in his lifetime.

Formative: 

Neville Brody

When I discovered and researched his work in college it cemented my career path.

Now:

The friends I’ve made in small press comics. The people I speak to regularly, the people I send my work to for feedback, and they in turn send their stuff to me. It’s comradeship, support and guidance from people that are trying to achieve similar goals in very different ways. It’s not competitive, we all want to see the others make the best stuff they can. There are hundreds of these small groups in the wider scene, everyone drives everyone else on and it’s a fantastic atmosphere to grow and explore your art. Each time I go to a convention, meet new people, see new work, it refuels me. Encourages me to make my next thing. The vibrancy and enthusiasm within indie comics is special, and we shouldn’t take it for granted.

 

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Simon Russell

 

buy Njord & Skadi

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review of Njord & Skadi

 

ZL – What made you choose folk tales for your series?

SR – Art is many things at the same time for audiences and artists, but one of the most important to me in this phase of my life is the idea that Art is Play – making or appreciating anything provokes an emotional response and in a world of hard noses and cold shoulders, the emotion I am most keen on pulling to the surface is delight.

Every time I set out to make comics, I was finding that I’d box myself in by insisting that the piece must be Original or Important or Worthwhile.

I think that was a valid reaction to seeing a lot of work that is very well executed but … why does it exist?

So much stuff consumed, with no change in my world and no desire to reread it left me muttering ‘that was well done, but why did you bother? And why should I care?’

But I was letting other people’s work dictate how I approached my own and that lead to me taking everything too seriously

I didn’t have that problem with my paintings or drawings – I was embracing accidents and chance and letting images grow from the different ways I could play with the media.

boing creations
Simon’s output

It seemed that retelling existing stories could be a way of getting past myself, so I wouldn’t obsess over the ‘value’ of a project and could enjoy the Play. Folk tales, myths and legends have been a recurring choice for me as a consumer over the years and I like the way that the same story can be told in ways that differ slightly or wildly. It’s like music in that respect.

So, I reasoned that if I work (sometimes) under the banner of Once Upon Again… I would never run out of material or challenges and wouldn’t hit a what-to-do block when snatching odd hours for work, as I often have to.

I may never have tested the idea if it hadn’t been for a chance meeting with Jon Mason, the Storyteller who became a collaborator. We both had a love of Norse myths and the Marriage of Njord & Skadi turned out to be one we’d each been tinkering with independently – so it was a quick decision to work together on the new comic, focusing on ‘the giantess who came for revenge, but chose a husband… and then chose again.’

That makes Once Upon Again number 1, and number 2 is a 2-page comic I did of Loki & Coyote Talking By A Tree, but OUA 3 will probably be my more comical retelling of the Njord & Skadi tale – old stories being told and retold in different ways really appeals to the part of me that wants to use more than one approach and my interest/obsession with formalistic aspects of the comic form.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

SR – The first time? That was probably a Goofy t-shirt I had around age 5. I probably wore it for a while, but what I remember is tracing the image over and over and over and then drawing the cartoon character without tracing because I’d worked out the ellipses he was made from. And then drawing other figures. It may not be a true or accurate memory given how early it was, but I treasure it as the spark that lit a fire in me for drawing.

The first identifiable pieces of art I can remember loving were Tove Jansonn’s pictures with pen and word in Finn Family Moomintroll; Starry Night by Van Gogh (on a biscuit tin or a place mat at somebody’s house, I think); and the drawings of Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko in Mighty World of Marvel number 1 (and the t-shirt transfer that came with it! for somebody who never got in to self-expression through fashion, pictures on clothes seem to have loomed large in my formative years)

 

ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, what would be the project you’d make to be remembered by?

SR – I’d like to publish a line of superior comic works by other artists – funded to create their best work over a proper time frame; edited and mentored and stretched to make each piece a substantial and lasting work; promoted and distributed to an audience that is taught to appreciate comics as more than stories or visuals

 

Tales of the Norse Gods & Heroes by BL Picard

 

ZL – What single creation would you settle down with and just chill?

SR – I watched Star Wars hundreds of times growing up so that film is definitely a relaxing comforter. I would read the works of Tove Jansson or the Tales of the Norse Gods & Heroes by BL Picard in books and Krazy Kat or Calvin & Hobbes in comics. Maybe listen to Colours by Ken Nordine (Spotify)or something

 

 

ZL – You have a new comic, NORSE COMIC: (Once Upon Again) The Marriage of Njord & Skadi, out soon.  What image from this work would you choose to have pasted all around town? Skadi cover image

SR – I guess I’d use the cover image for Njord & Skadi, because it shows her as the one with more gravitas and it’s obviously a ‘love story’ but it’s not a romance comic or a norse battle. Plus it shows the sort of drawing inside as well as anything can when so much of the art was made though deliberately accidental mark-making

Thanks for asking!

The Long List interview – The Secret Protectors

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Review on zinelove

KS Image
The Secret Protectors

 

Having run the review of The Secret Protectors yesterday, I caught up with it’s two creators, Adam Wheeler and Ben Nunn in a follow up conversation after they very kindly responded to the draft review with some very interesting points.

They’ve been very accommodating and considerate, so I wanted to take a minute to give them a big thanx and wish them both well as they grow, and their comics grow with them.

 

The Secret Protectors Interview

 

ZL – What was the initial kernel of the idea for The Secret Protectors, that initial thought that made you start to build the whole story?

AW – The initial creation of The Secret Protectors characters and universe was a fair bit different to how Ben and I have it all structured at this point. These characters began, believe it or not, as Superheroes and Supervillains on the now defunct MMO ‘City Of Heroes’. I’ve always had a keen interest in sci-fi and fantasy. Playing that game as a young teen really allowed me to get my creative juices flowing. A fair amount of that ‘work’ still exists within these characters now. As time went on I started to imagine my own comic book universe where all my characters would take part in a grand narrative. As such, they’ve all ‘existed’ in my head for around a decade or so.

 

ZL – What are your backgrounds with comics?

BN – For me it all started when I was about 3 with watching the old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons with my nan. It wasn’t long before we were watching the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, then the New Adventures show, then we branched out into the Marvel offerings. Every time my mum dragged me shopping she’d get me a Superman/Batman comic but the first comic I really remember is one I still have to this day. An issue of Spider-Man illustrated by John Romita Jr. That’s when I saw the potential for telling stories with uniquely stylised artwork.

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AW – I’m bit older than Ben, so I can’t remember being 3yrs old! Ha!

But, growing up I always loved my cartoons, TMNT, Transformers, Batman TAS, X-Men, Spider-Man… the list of great cartoons is endless. As for comics a good friend of mine when we were growing up had a bunch of copies of older comics like ‘Journey into Mystery’, ‘Action Comics’ and some old Spider-Man comics. I wasn’t poor growing up, but I know money was tight for my parents and locally there wasn’t really anywhere to buy comics, so growing up they weren’t as big a part of my life as they became later on.

 

ZL – When did you start making comics and when did you start thinking about The Secret Protectors and the world you’ve built?

BN – I started off with some obscure webcomics in a kind of manga style but it wasn’t until meeting up with Adam that I decided to take it beyond a hobby.

AW – Hmm… I remember making a stick-man book when I was wasting classroom time at school but that’s about the limit of my artistic capability. I wouldn’t know exactly how to describe how bad my drawing is. With that said, making a comic alone is not something I’ve ever given any serious consideration to!

Although I had all the story written up for The Secret Protectors, I only began giving serious thought to it when I told my now fiancé (soon to be wife) Kate about my idea. She really got onboard with it and supported me in trying to get it actually made into a comic. It was not long after that I found Ben via a website. We met up soon after and began working on the project together.

 

ZL – Can you give us a few details about:-

  • The first creator you ever remember recognising the work of?
  • The first creator you remember copying or studying for hours to work out how they made things work?
  • Creator you most wanted to be like when growing up?

BN – John Romita Jr was easily the first creator I remember recognising. His characteristic style is what made comics real to me. While most of what I’d seen before that was very silver age, ironically heavily influenced by the likes of Romita Sr. But Romita Jr showed me that it was possible to create something totally visually different. In the days of dialup I became obsessed with Dragon Ball Z and found myself recording episodes onto VHS and desperately trying to copy that distinctive Toriyama style. Needless to say the weird warping that happened when you paused a VHS certainly didn’t help. I wouldn’t say I wanted to be like Romita Jr or Toriyama. I’ve always just wanted to create the best art I could and tell some great stories.

AW – As the one here who cannot draw at all this is a tough one. I do actually love both Romita Sr and Jr! Add Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and Alex Ross to that.

 

ZL – Are there any particular influences fuelling The Secret Protectors?

BN – When Adam approached me with the story we were in a Starbucks. Adam explained the premise then launched into an enthusiastic breakdown of the characters and their backstories, their world, and even the eventual endgame of the entire story.

Miles Morales by Sara Pichelli
Some of Ben’s inspiration – Miles Morales by Sara Pichelli

I think Adam and his enthusiasm has been a driving force. His drive to get these stories we believe in out there and in front of people has inspired me in my work on TSP and other projects. We’ve been really happy to have kids and adults coming up to us at events thrilled to see a black protagonist. I don’t know how much thought Adam gave to creating a diverse cast, I think it just came naturally when you’re writing a story that spans the globe. Not every superhero has to be a 6’2” white American dude with black hair, blue eyes and a jaw that could cut glass, right?

AW – There are so many influences… Some are perhaps more obvious than others. The genre of Superheroes is clearly our playground (The 90’s X-Men cartoon for instance) but beyond that I have so much love for actual sci-fi, fantasy and maybe just as importantly iconic series like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Fargo. These sorts of influences may not be apparent in an obvious sense, but I’ve always drawn great enjoyment from storytelling that makes you think, doesn’t spoon feed you, allows you to draw some of your own conclusions so to speak.

 

ZN – You’ve already made your goal on Kickstarter – that must feel pretty good! Was getting the money the main goal or were you hoping for something more out of Kickstarting your comic?

BN – We’ve been overwhelmed by the support. The idea that there are kids and teenagers out there that cared enough to contribute what they could means just as much as the people who were able to pledge on the higher end of things. I think the Kickstarter was about getting the audience excited and being able to offer them more bang for their buck. I probably can’t say too much about the statistics but we’ve had support from some very unexpected places.

What’s most exciting is that some young fans have already taken to drawing the characters even having only read issue 1 so we just want to be able to get it out there more and be able to thank people for their support in some cool and interesting ways. And, of course, how could we resist the opportunity to duct tape my phone to the wall for two hours while we tried to read a 2-minute script for the Kickstarter video!

AW – Having followed Tyler James (ComixLaunch) for a while I always thought that if we could find an initial audience that we could use Kickstarter as a platform for the project so that one day it could become self-sustaining. We’ve received amazing support on the campaign itself.

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Ben Nunn – 2000AD submission from sample script

With that said, I’m not a businessman, if I was, I probably wouldn’t be doing this! Ha! The Secret Protectors is very much a passion project. I draw great meaning from it. My main hope was that we could begin to garner a larger audience of readers. Promoting the comic and getting eyes on it has always been the toughest side of the ‘business’. I’m not a natural salesman and especially with something that has so much of my heart in it. Ben and I both know rejection is part of the game though. We have both had cause to pick each other at some point in this process.

 

ZL – I’m hoping the review comes across as supportive and that I enjoyed it! Sometimes I think I sound terribly negative!

AW – Ha! I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve read it a few times and I’d like to thank you for your honest feedback. We know we aren’t perfect and we’re still at the beginning of both our creative journey and actual story. That’s our first review! Ever! That’s a huge deal to me.

Issue 1 pacing was always a concern we had but we wanted to show the ‘status quo’ of this world and set things up. We wanted the reader to be able to just spend a bit of time with Ben before he gets dragged into the main conflict. He’s a normal guy and by showing him with his family we hoped to show how tough the decision would be to make in issue 2, obviously you can be the judge of whether or not we pulled that off! Ben doesn’t know or understand his powers and that’s something we hope to explore with him as the story unfolds.

BN – Yeah, the most important thing is honesty and I’ve got to say your review was thorough and will no doubt help us continue improving in future issues.

 

ZL – Going back to your comment about this being your first review ever, I’m interested in picking apart the experience of getting copies out to reviewers, whether you’ve found positive responses, or it’s been more a wall of silence! What you did to find sites that would be useful for promoting your comic and Kickstarter in general and what your method of contact was?

Also, generally, how it felt to send things out, waiting for a response, what it felt like if people haven’t responded?

Also – what was your first gut reaction to receiving a review and whether that felt different/ was different to how you thought it would be?

Ben Nunn - drawing from 2000AD sample script
Ben Nunn – drawing from 2000AD sample script

AW – Having never run a Kickstarter before I can’t say that I truly prepared for everything it would require from me. Even though we’ve surpassed our target if I could go back and start over I would probably do so. I realise now that we could have done a fair bit more pre-launch. I sent copies to quite a few people, I won’t name names, but essentially it’s been a wall of silence. I’m not at all salty or complaining about that though. Time is precious and those who do this sort of thing, like yourself, on behalf of Indie Comics are providing a service. There are so many projects out there at any one time that, understandably, getting reviews actually done is a real tough task if you don’t perhaps already have a reputation. That’s something that as a creator you need to expect and plan for. The only advice I could really offer is cast a wide net. Contact anyone and everyone!

As for receiving your review (as our first)

I can honestly say it’s a very humbling experience. By that, I mean, actually having our work prodded, tested and pulled apart is awesome! It’s helped us evaluate our work and goes down as a real sign of the progress we’ve made so far. Reviews should, in my opinion, always be tough on whatever the product in question may be. Reviewers / critics should be the stress test, the mechanism by which they the consumer can make an informed decision whether or not to spend their hard-earned money.

 

ZL – I wondered a bit about your thoughts on Ben being more a cypher and whether that’s a part of the plan, or a product of focussing in on the plot?

AW – I would admit that Ben does suffer slightly as you point out as the ‘cypher’ but our take was also that; he is extremely unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time at the beginning of issue 1. Bad things unfold and as a twenty-one-year-old growing up in a world where the existence of super-powered beings isn’t common knowledge he was completely out of his depth; emotionally, mentally and physically. He was basically a passenger as he’s in over his head.

 

ZL – I guess there’s a fine line between being a cypher and feeling lost and out of your depth and my feeling is Ben is too much of an empty vessel, I kept wanting to know what he was, how he was thinking but at the moment he seems to be all anger and little of the implied gentle side of him is coming out. Put another way, I feel like I spend more time thinking about him and who he is than I do feeling what this is like for him – if that makes sense?!

AW – There’s a few things to unpack here… so, as much as Ben is a very important character to our series this is also an ensemble title. With that said, we made a conscious decision to not spoon feed the reader too much. I definitely did not want us beating the reader over the head with a stick but it’s a fair criticism. Ben in the first issue is still reeling over the loss of his father. We made that decision early on that Ben should not be laughing and joking (just yet) as I don’t know how natural that would be. There’s a lot to Ben too, but at this stage in his journey he’s at sea really. He doesn’t know what’s going on, who to trust, what to do. He’s a mess. Issue 1 and 2 take place within quite a small timeframe.

We have a number of characters who, over the course of the next few issues will be introduced but spending time with Ben is definitely something the reader can expect, and we’re excited for.

Invincible - Ryan Ottley
Some of Ben’s inspiration – Invincible – Ryan Ottley

ZL – What are the longer-term plans for TSP? Is this intended as an ongoing series, a number of story arcs with a beginning and end to each, that also build to an overall story in sum? What kind of things can we expect to see dealt with in the series?

AW – Our plan, which may be naive given our experience, is for TSP to be a long running series. We know where we want to get to though and hopefully the reader sees that and enjoys it. Although on bare face value it’s a superhero comic we want to explore the notions of good and evil being relative. Other themes we want to explore are parenting and the duality of the human-psyche. It’s a tough one really because we don’t want to give too much away. This initial run, the first story arc, we envisage running at around 12 issues. These first 12 issues will really help develop and provide the reader context for the world. The characters all have lengthy backstories as to why they are the way they are which we’ll get the opportunity to explore more of in our future issues.

 

ZL – So, for me, this is interesting for the very reason that we’re talking themes and plots here and I wonder if it’s because they’re part of the big plan and less of the by issue planning? Anyway, that’s not actually a question sorry!

What plans have you got for dealing with the character of these individuals? Their relationships, the nature of who they are, how they behave? What I’m wondering is, for example, the scene in issue 2 where we see Mohammed and Mika. I thought that was a nicely handled way of showing the relationship and managed to put some flesh on the characters and on their relationship, so I’m wondering what sort of planning goes into that?

Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail
Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail

It felt very organic, was it planned in that way, or did it come to you from getting to know your characters?

AW – in my opinion the grand narrative of any story really should be shaped by the individual actions and motivations involved and that is something I believe we have achieved. Each of our characters, both good and bad, have their own way of thinking. Their own plans and schemes. Early on that may not be completely apparent but as things take shape the reader will notice things early on that we did that have affected the flow of events.

 

ZL – Are there any questions or points you had that you’d like to make?

AW – Firstly, the close-up on page 1 of issue 2 is actually of the mech, not the van, not sure if you wrote van by mistake or just thought it was the van / not the mech.

Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel
Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel

ZL – My bad! Sorry about that. Still is a beautiful panel though!!

And that brings up an interesting point? This is aimed at Ben more – what style of art do you normally create and what source and references, in terms of artists, are you pulling in to your work?

What is your input in the comic, do you share writing credits, are you working full script or sitting around and working it out together?

Does the style feel comfortable for you yet or do you find you’re still trying to figure it all out a lot?

One final one! What is your favourite moment/ drawing in the two comics and why?

AW – We were certainly trying to go for older ‘Adventure style’ comic sort of feel, as it’s set in the 80’s we wanted the art be similar to the styles employed in that era but obviously Ben has his own style on top of that. I’m a big fan of Claremont & Byrne’s long run on X-Men. We also thought that having the comic set in the past gives it the chance to have that, for lack of a better way of putting it, ‘nostalgia’ feel.

BN – Thanks! I suppose I like to draw from people like Ryan Ottley and Sara Pichelli. I’m not sure how much I specifically draw from either of them. Consciously I draw from Hirohiko Araki when it comes to faces, but with a bit more of a westernised slant. Occasionally I’ll work in a simpler style when I’m commissioned to do a light-hearted comic for a birthday or anniversary present. That’s apparently more reminiscent of Herge’s Adventures of Tintin which I apparently loved as a child, but truth be told I don’t have much of a memory of it.

Gyro Zepelli by Hirohiko Araki
Some of Ben’s inspiration – Gyro Zepelli by Hirohiko Araki

It’s hard to nail down how much of a collaboration the writing was, especially early on. There was definitely a lot of back and forth and we still discuss scripts in detail. Then there are those times when I’ll cheekily just do something differently to how it was written and just see what happens. Sorry Adam!

I enjoy the style and I think it’s evolving as I do. I spend a few hours every day studying so that’s always going to reflect in my work. Hopefully that’ll be as noticeable between issues 2 and 3 as it was between 1 and 2.

My favourite moment was one that you mentioned in your review. The panel of Wildfire propelling himself forward on page 4 of issue 2. That page was one of the last to be completed after an 11th hour decision to punch up the fight a bit. I think that shows. I’m always tempted to go through a whole issue again to bring it up to the level that I’m at by the time we finish but I’ve fallen down that hole before. I’m reminded of a quote, though I’m not sure where it comes from: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. Obviously, that could be taken as permission to half-arse things but I think of it as permission to let things go and keep moving forward, instead of getting trapped in an endless loop of building up and tearing down your own work and never showing anything to the world.

Ben Nunn - Game Of Thrones
Ben Nunn – Game Of Thrones

AW – To make this point easier I’ve just copied and pasted what you wrote:

“Just looking at things, we can also see that we’re dealing with a battle between diversity and racism/fascism/the shadow government”

So, just between us! As we get into spoiler territory that’s kind of it, but also kind of not. Now if it hits home that way then that’s our fault as the storyteller so I don’t take any fault with your description, the bad guys SCIMITAR, or Supreme Command for Incident Management and Initial Tactical Armed Response are obviously somewhat of a homage to Shield, or Hydra or any other clandestine organisation in comics, in a certain sense, however, we certainly weren’t going for them being viewed as fascist, is there a reason to you that that’s the case?

ZL – Well, partly, the Shadow Government is a form of fascism, but not of the race variety, (there are many forms of fascism as it’s essentially the belief that one group of people are superior to any others), it’s a form of free market fascism, where the possession of money and the associated power that comes with that, means you are worth more than poorer individuals. Also, though, there were the two thugs in the store with the Texas Flag, and one had a swastika, that sort of foreshadowed the presence of fascism and racism. The look of Mayhem Marauder is also quite fascistic and felt like a reference back to those thugs. I guess I’m saying, maybe my understanding of fascism is slightly different to others around the shadow government and that the character designs have sort of flagged a feeling about fascism being a part of the work’s themes.

Does that sound like a question even!!

Um – What are your thoughts on that?

AW – Gotcha! I see where you’re coming from now. Again, I’m careful to not go into spoiler territory. S.C.I.M.I.T.A.R have an agenda, but I can’t really go into that just yet, but they aren’t really drawing from a fascist playbook in my mind. The thugs in issue 1, we wanted individuals who were clearly detestable from the off. They were shaking down a shop for money. Ben, being a good guy (but naive) rushes in trying to do the ‘right’ thing and gets beaten down pretty quickly. As for Warren AKA Mayhem Marauder there’s a reason behind his appearance, something which again, will be explored later on in the series.

Ben Nunn - Hellboy fanart
Ben Nunn – Hellboy fanart

What we really wanted was to have a diverse set characters on both the good and bad side. This isn’t a tactical or political stand (we’re bombarded with more than enough of that in real life), it was more just a ‘why not?’. Why not have Ben be a black guy? Why not have Mika be Japanese? Why not have Mohammed be Asian? Instead of making our cast all white, black or any other ethnicity we wanted to have a diverse cast. But yeah, we certainly aren’t looking to go for anything racial at all. I’d love to know why you thought it?

 

ZL – The theme I picked up on was the use of a diverse cast, just generally, and sadly, nowadays that carries with it the weight of the current world political climate, with Islamophobia, institutionalised racism being highlighted by a highly racist American president and British ‘Johnny Foreigner’ scaremongering leading up to Brexit. There’s also the opposite side of the argument around why you’re writing in characters of colour when you’re not familiar with the culture or background.

So, I’m wondering from what you’ve said, whether you’ve had positive or negative or no feedback on any of those issues? Also, what have you done, in terms of research, to avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping characters by race and gender?

Essentially, it’s a very thorny area to walk in and I wonder how you’re planning on finding the safe path through?

BN – Speaking for myself I’m always wondering about that delicate balance. I think it comes down to doing your due diligence, but more than that, just treating characters like they’re human. Trump, Islamophobia, Brexit, they all come down to a basic lack of ability or willingness to empathise with people who are slightly different from you. I guess people just prefer to feel superior or succumb to fear (or both somehow) but at the core of being a good person, and at the core of good writing, is empathy and compassion.

AW – There’s certainly a minefield of different opinions out there on that subject. Personally, I don’t want The Secret Protectors to be a vehicle for my own personal politics. It’s a strange one really, I can see why politics often find their voice in comics, but I’ve always thought that if super-powered beings did exist then our way of politics would be completely different, if that makes any sense? There certainly comes a point where, logically, politics within the context of the story / world would need to be addressed but that doesn’t represent my own thoughts but rather reflects the story and the characters themselves.

I don’t want anyone to read our comic and feel like we’re preaching an agenda to them as that is not our prerogative. As for the diversity of our characters backgrounds I’ve always believed that good characters are written as individuals with their own mind, ambitions and problems. Their group identity should always be a secondary factor, that’s not to say it’s unimportant but I don’t think it should be the primary driver behind their actions.

The feedback so far, from readers, has been really great overall. I think, that with everything in life, if people can see you’re trying to put something good out into the world, even if it’s not their cup of tea, they do tend to get behind it. They can see its value and the love behind the project. I believe that the reason behind that is that, for the most part, we are more good than not.

TSP-LOGO-HEADER-E
The Secret Protectors

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

Review – Secret Protectors 1-2

 

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Let’s get this right at the beginning

At the start, this may seem like I’m going in hard on this comic and also going in hard for choosing to be something I don’t like.

So, I want to say this clearly up front.

I like this comic, it’s a work forming for sure. So if you want the slick, mature work of creators fully situated in their styles, or a very settled format of superhero comic similar to corporate comics, this is not what you’re looking for. I think it’s not yet formed, and I think it’s still firmly rooted in its genre work, but it does nothing badly. For most people who read the kind of thing I’ve reviewed before it’s likely not the kind of work that will interest them, and I’ll argue why I can fit this in my mind in the same space as those works at the end and why I think it has a virtue worth investing in. It’s entirely possible these are patronising things to say and I’m going to hold my hand up to that if I’m called out on it.

I also add the extra caveat that all comments about style and genre are not to be considered as a definition of the creators’ interests, influences or personal systems of categorising. They are comments upon my thoughts, values, and ways of thinking. They deal with what I’ve put together and brought to this work. Talk to the creators for their opinion.

It all gets quite deep and specific as I parse those things out for you.

On that sinister note, let’s go!

TSP - Logo SP

This is an interesting comic

Maybe you’re old enough, maybe this will mean nothing to you, but this really reminds me of the comics put out by Adventure Comics in the black and white glut. Now, I really like them, in fact, I’d say that I actually own comics just like this one.

They’re the sort of comics that mix ideas the creators have seen in fiction and thought, ‘Oh my god, I want to do a story with that in it because it’s so COOOOOOOL!’ Then there are moments where there is something so personal and out of context with the stuff in it that it throws you sideways. I like them for the very reason that they’re often just this weird stew of genre cliché and they’re often characterised by being about plot point and cool scenes and some stuff to string them together. I just like sitting down and parsing all of those influences out and enjoying how clearly these are people fulfilling their kid comic dreams.

This work is near to that experience, but there’s something more than that about it. It’s one of those ones where you can see it has potential for the creators to get better an not just sit making their own weird stew of fan-fiction.

Which is to say that this is a work that leans heavily on its inspirations, has not shaken off that inspiration enough to call itself its own thing yet, but it has these moments and ideas that could really be exploited if they dig into it. It’s a work you can see where the creators are figuring out their choices and solutions a hitting some and missing others.

Which is an appallingly long way of saying that this is the work of a team finding its feet between doing the stuff they’ve loved reading and wanted to make since they began wanting to make stuff and finding their own style and purpose and their own way to say it. They have made some quick steps between issues though.

I found the second issue, for example, much more interesting than the first both story and art wise.

 

 

Let’s go back in time

Now, we have to establish a bit here. This is a ‘modern’ superhero comic and I am genuinely not a fan of modern superhero comics, they take too long to get to anything and they don’t know that they’re too serious or how to package an idea. They equate heroic poses with emotional gravitas and, as with all modern media, angry emoting is seen as ‘character’ and ‘depicting male emotions’. I’m not a fan of either thing, it’s hysteria not emotion, its going ‘BOO’ when you could sneak up and tap someone quietly on their shoulder. It’s a smiling emoji rather than laughing with your friends.

That’s definitely a taste and age thing. It’s also a bit damn unfair of me to knock something for reminding me of a style that I’m not a fan of. However – there’s work in here that has a much more interesting nature than the genre it’s leaning into, so I need to deal with why I feel this could ‘move up’ (in my estimation). It is also the nature of this blog that I’m talking about my reaction to thing, so honesty around that is required.

To me, this story doesn’t get going into the characters quickly enough because it has decompressed its story too much. Its story also seems more plot than story, as in, stories have character arcs not just things that happen. Stories talk about something relatable to their audience, not relying on a familiarity with genre to carry the weight of identification.

Put another way, these could be interesting characters, but we don’t know them. We know their plot points, not their personality and those two things are very different in my head. We know the main character got his powers in a disaster and that there are shadowy powers at work and a superhero team at work. Just looking at things, we can also see that we’re dealing with a battle between diversity and racism/fascism/the shadow government.

All we know about the personality of the main character is that he’s a bit shy around a pretty girl, loves his family and gets angry when confused. We’re two issues in, for me that’s two chapters of this story, which means two chapters in and I’m still not comfortable about whether these he’s going to be an interesting character to read about. I know he’s there to be a cypher for the reader to identify with so they can be led into this new world through him, but he’s too much of a cypher, really too much of a stereotype and not a person yet. Sometimes you need to know the head of a character before you trust their heart and their insight.

As to the Secret Protectors, the same is true for them, except that there are some moments where you get a little ‘in’ on their relationships. I’m unsure whether issue 2 delivers more interest because of their presence, or their presence in issue 2 mean that they’re treated with more skill and so come across as more interesting.

I think the art also needs to work harder at selling this comic at this point as well. It’s uneven at the moment and fluctuates in ability sometimes panel to panel. There are moments where the anatomy is bang on, followed by some really awkward posing or poorly executed foreshortening and that throws around the reading of the story. On the whole though, those anatomy issues are about time and practice. There are more fundamental decisions here about the approach to the story where there’s an uneven approach that throws the story out. Choices of posing and pacing and sequencing that at points flatten the character portrayal or the excitement of the action, but at other points serve to really punch it up a notch.

 

Diving down into the detail

Now – I’m going to get into a quite close read of this here and this is where I talk about why I enjoyed this comic and what I see as its virtues. That all comes with the caveat that I’m neither writer, nor artist, nor editor and that none of these things are anything other than the reasons I have for reviewing and recommending this.

So, lets begin by picking 2 pages from issue 2 to compare, page 2 and a detail from page 5.

Page 2 is the first half of a double page spread and we’re seeing what should be a really impactful moment where a mech droid is confronting the Secret Protectors. I’ve decontextualized this a lot by removing the big robot, because I want to talk about character and the depiction of those characters.

If you look at the poses being struck here, I find them vey static and generic. There’s nothing individual about those poses where you couldn’t reverse the costumes and be showing them as having the same personality. Also, the composition relies very heavily on the action lines to feel dynamic. That barn in the background carries as much dynamic force as the figures themselves in my reading of the scene.

Compare that to the action shown on page 5, the position and shape of the body, the placing in the frame and the composition of the action between those two panels. They’re small on the page in the actual comic, but they carry much more action and punch and show more of the character’s personality, The writing here adds an extra element to the character depiction, seemingly at odds with the ‘go in there and do it’ look of the action we can see someone concerned with not causing harm to their enemy.

Then you look at that pose in the panel and instead of opting for a typical ‘blasting out flames’ pose, the arms are thrown backwards whilst getting into position, so now I see that the writing explains why they are thrown back without banging you on the head with a hammer.

Interestingly, the anatomy in both drawings is no better on a ‘realistic’ scale, it’s just that the flame panels have their own rhythm where those shapes put together make sense as a person running fast. Also the shapes made by the flames between each panel match up dynamically, twisting the eye around in a near circle, moving your eye down from top to bottom before retuning it to the right so you move on to the next panel. My eye moves quickly, like the action it’s depicting.

Even the computer art works differently; the orange flames, though very painterly, sit within the context of the image; whereas, the action lines on page 2 stand apart, almost speaking a different language to the image on the page.

Secret Protectors 1 page 4 detail
Secret Protectors 1 page 4 detail

The computer art has a nice pace of its own at points in this comic as well. There’s a panel on page 4 of the 1st issue that is just orange colour with a white speed line filter applied. It works, at that point, as a nice story beat, it’s very otherness serving to break out the rhythm of the story. The approach is not used in such a considered manner throughout though.

Secret Protectors 2 page 1
Secret Protectors 2 page 1

The 1st page of issue 2 also has an interesting moment like this and shows my point more clearly, I think. If you look at the whole page, the middle panel again uses some computer made speed lines to give a sense of dynamism. This time, I feel, they’re working against the real dynamism achieved in the figure drawing and panel composition. They’re dumped so artificially onto the panel it breaks up the flow of the story where it should move dynamically. Then you get that final panel, where there’s this amazing, expressionistic depiction of the van shown very realistically in the first panel. Break beat. Sinister yellow eyes glowing out. Impact of the message driven home. Game changer engaged. Essentially, such a different outcome.

 

Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel
Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel

I guess the point that’s being skirted around is that there is some really good work here, but I’m not sure that it’s a choice as part of the story delivery. I hope so for the creators, because these are interesting techniques to employ consciously. Personally, it doesn’t matter so much, intent doesn’t stop me from stopping and looking at that and thinking it is awesome.

But the application is inconsistent throughout the two issues and that’s a shame as it can really block the story at points.

Maybe one last group of examples might make my point clearer.

Secret Protectors 1 page 1
Secret Protectors 1 page 1

The use of computer colour and design on the drawings, particularly on the buildings, has a sort of deadening effect on the art quite often, as do the pacing and drawing choices. If you look at the 1st page of the 1st issue, the very precise nature of that building, the point of view disappearing into the centre of the building, the matching tones of most of the page, all of these serve to force you to just stare at the centre of the hospital complex. It’s a real work of effort to move your eye on.

When you do, it’s the same battle over again to move your eyes off those repeated panels, then again, the first panels of the bottom tier are matched so closely that the final panel of the page seems like it’s clipped from a completely different story. That page is just hard reading all the way through. Yet I can feel that it’s trying to create a rhyme on the page, a pace to draw you through.

Secret Protectors 1 page 9
Secret Protectors 1 page 9

I get the same feeling about the pacing set up on pages 8-9 of issue 1. Just looking at page 9, you can see the rhythm being aimed for. Yet it’s so flat, the characters aren’t made interesting in either drawing or writing. It’s stiff at all points. Maybe not stiff, forced, like the creators know they’ve got something to get across and they’re going to make it happen.

Now, why I’m interested in this comic can be seen when you contrast that with issue 2 page 13. Just stop and look out the layout and how it rhymes and matches up, window panes below matching panel layout above, colours in top and bottom tiers balancing yet contrasting. Even the way that the panels show the change in character personality. The anatomy may be no better or more consistent, but the pacing is on point so it doesn’t matter to me.

Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail
Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail

Look at how the relationship of characters is mirrored between their powers at work, the story beats are well chosen and well depicted. They sell the relationship of those characters to each other, rather than labouring the point. It’s subtler already. It’s unfolds before you rather than TELLING you about itself.

 

One last dive

I just want to look at this last page, mainly because of those bottom three panels and the way I like the look of them! Also though, because that middle panel works so well to deliver an emotional moment. Simple, good facial expression and body language and colours focussing the moment. Then those last three panels delivering such a different artistic style, changing the rhythm of the comic instantly. It’s moments like this that make me enjoy this comic.

Secret Protectors 2 page 7
Secret Protectors 2 page 7

It’s served up in a way that shows me some character and emotion, in a way that feels like it’s a personal solution for its creators. It’s fine entertainment and I’m all about that at times.

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – zines.need.you

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ZL – What is your history with zines and how did that lead to zines.need.you?

 

ZNY – I began writing zines as a teenager – as a kid I’d make my own little magazines but didn’t realise that zines existed until I was about 16 and got into mailart through the internet. I made 20 copies of my first zine on a photocopier in a newsagent in 2001 and gave it to my friends. I’ve been making them intermittently ever since – zine fests help foster a community of zinesters, and more recently Instagram is good for seeings what’s out there. I’m not particularly prolific in terms of making zines but I think about them a lot and love them as a way of sharing experiences and ideas. Zines Need You is a new project that came out of thinking quite hard about who doesn’t get heard in the zine scene and how that can be changed. I’ve been involved in DIY scenes for 15 years and wanted to use that familiarity to open the door a little wider. I’m a middle class white punk and zine fests often feature alot of people like me – it can be a little too comfortable and I would like that to change. ZNY seems like a low key place to start – its a small project to help get zines into print that might not otherwise be published. We’re keen to do a good job with a small project rather than promising the world and half-arsing it – we’ve committed to printing a zine a month for 2019 then by the end of the year we should have some idea of whether its sustainable to continue.

 

 

ZL – What sort of process do you use to decide on recipients for the zines.need.you monthly publishing deal?

Helen Dearnley @helendearnleyillustration
Helen Dearnley – second zine published under the scheme

ZNY – There isn’t much of a process so far as it’s early days, and certainly no standard criteria for inclusivity. We are keen to avoid people feeling like they have to list all their points of marginalisation in order to get our attention so we’re largely trusting them to decide for themselves whether they need our help or not. We also don’t want people to feel like we’ll only print things they’ve written that focus on their experiences of oppression because we want them to be as free as anyone else to write about whatever they like. Some of my favourite zines are hilariously frivolous and making those shouldn’t be a luxury, you know? I think there’s a danger that those financially supporting projects can end up expecting to have influence over what is created, so in this project we’re trying to be mindful of that dynamic and so far staying out of people’s creative process as much as possible. That said it’s been really cool to get lots of queries about different parts of zine making and nice to be able to share knowledge about printing, cut and paste, mini zines, zine fests and so on.

We are bringing our experiences and knowledge of anti-oppressive practice to this project so there is a core ethos to who we are interested in hearing from. We’re keen for this project to show solidarity with communities of colour, disabled creators, neurodivergent folks, working class makers and so on, and especially the people who live in the overlap of those identities. There have always been rad zines being made by these folks but there are more that haven’t been printed for lack of funds and encouragement and that’s where ZNY hopes to offer a signal boost.

 

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

 

ZNY – The first zines I came across were ones that I got in the mail as part of art swaps coordinated online. The first few I got came from Australia and America and turned up in these wild envelopes covered in stickers or made out of x-rays. They absolutely blew my mind – looking back now the content wasn’t anything exceptional but the realisation that you could just crack on and make a zine and that there were other people out there who would read them was huge. Like I mentioned before I had been making these little homemade magazines since I was a kid and I’d always had this fascination with the form of magazines – free gifts and cut out coupons and letters pages. Finding there was a big scene of scrappy homemade versions of magazines was wonderful, and also tied into to other interests like anarcho politics, feminism, punk, etc etc. I grew up in the countryside and our house was down a long lane. Once I was home from college I was miles from anyone so my lifeline was MSN messenger until I found mailart and zines. It was the first time I felt connected to other weirdos and gave me hope that I could get to a city and find some in real life, which I did as soon as I could. So while I’ve read zines since that are more interesting or better written, those first zines will always be special.

 

ZL – You’ve just announced your first recipient hit on the heels of what looked like an extremely well received launch, how does that feel?

 

ZNY – It’s been very unexpected – we were hoping for maybe 50 instagram followers and to tick over quietly but then we got 800 followers in the first week and we’re still growing. The project was conceived as a small and self-sustaining project (basically we committed to putting our own money in for the first year) that didn’t need donations. So we didn’t think massively about getting attention other than trying to get the word out to people who might want printing. But now that people do seems to have noticed us then it’s nice to think that our featured zinesters might get some extra readers. And getting some donations has meant that we can increase our monthly budget which is really exciting.

 

ZL – You get to build the world’s most exciting web platform, people flock to see it, which five creators do you first showcase and why?

Jacq Applebee on WordPress
Written in Shadows by Jacq Applebee, first to be published by Zines Need You!

ZNY – First up would be Jacq Applebee, our February zinester, because they write about so many different topics with realness and humour and generosity. I would love a world where Jacq’s zines got left around on bus seats and in hotel rooms so that people who really needed them would stumble across them.

Then it’d be Saffa Khan who is well known in the scene but should really be a household name. She makes these exquisite and intimate zines that are precious and profound and beautiful – she has her own risograph machine and has really pushed things forwards with her use of colour and interesting layouts. I always want there to be a space for splotchy cut and paste zines but I love that there are DIY artists making things beautiful too.

Third and fourth is a double whammy of Holly Casio and Seleena Laverne Daye who each put out their own zines but  are close friends who met as penfriends on Teletext back in the day! They’ve been around zines longer than me and they kind of personify what I love about DIY – I first came across them as radical cheerleaders supporting The Gossip in 2003, since then between them they’ve been making art, zines, podcasts and loads of other shit. Since people are flocking to see my web platform I’d hope their showcase meant they could spend less time working and more time making glorious weird shit because it makes the world better. It’s hard to pick a final creator because I could go on forever so I’m going to pick a non zine wildcard, Kensuke Koike who is a collage artist I follow on instagram. His work is so simple and total genius, he manages to conjure humour, subversion and the unexpected out of a few cuts in old photos. It’s nice to run across people who spark off that sense of wonder and possibility with their work so I would recommend him to everyone, not that he needs my help!

 

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Douglas Noble

 

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ZL – In my mind, Jazz Creepers is your first anthology and did amazingly well. From a personal note, I was just jealous at the fact you got Sarah Horrocks, Gareth Hopkins and Paul J Milne all in one anthology, 3 favourites of mine! Why did you decide on an anthology and what was the experience like organising contributions?

 

DN – The title jumped out of a conversation Paul and I were having, and after a couple of days of it rattling around my head I found myself seized by the urge to make that the title of an anthology. The look and feel of it was pretty much all there from the off, even down to the design of the cover and the idea to integrate art from the past into the comic, and it really coalesced after talking it through with Sarah Gordon, who is also in the first issue.

As an anthology Jazz Creepers has only two rules: Florid, and no autobiography.

After that I just asked people who I knew or who’s work I liked, told them the rules and let them get on with it. Of course, not everyone was available, or able to contribute, but I was extremely lucky to get exactly who I had first imagined in there in there. I knew everyone involved would make great comics, so was very hands off in terms of editorial involvement.

Organising how everything fit together was maybe the part that I enjoyed the most. There’s a specific aesthetic to Jazz Creepers: ripe fruit, velvet, the masquerade, and peeling paint. It was fun to try and preserve that in the flow of reading the comic, flitting between stories in a way that made sense, making sure everything fitted in, and making sure that the design of the comic helped the whole cohere into something that reflected the intention.

The award seemed to say that it did. Next time, it’ll be even better.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

DN – I came to comics fairly late, though having thought about it, I keep revising the date back.

Was it Colin McNeil’s splatterpunk take on the world of Judge Dredd in Chopper: Song of the Surfer,with its splurging sunset golds and russets, violence refracted to the abstract through a kaleidoscope of colour? Or earlier, John Ridgway in Doctor Who Magazine; lines scratching into the page, nervous and febrile, pushing the TV show toward the epic? Or before that, maybe The Quest for the Gloop, with its wild flights of fancy, it’s weird worlds and textures?

 

 

ZL – You are gifted the opportunity to set up a new museum showcasing all of the creators who have influenced you from birth to now.  The first show is called ‘First, Formative and Now’ who do you pick and why?

DN – It’s a grand museum this. A great sweeping thing of interlocking chambers and vaulted ceilings, a museum with weight behind it, so it’s only fitting that it should house my vast obsessions and passions.

The first chamber: A visitor walks up into an enormous blue space, like a summer sky, and there in the centre of that space is a golden column, quite thin, with a black sphere atop it. The visitor can walk around and around it, and, if they reach out and squeeze the sphere, it will make a noise.

HONK!

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Harpo Marx

At that sound screens drop down from the ceiling and the image of Harpo Marx flicks across them, mute, in constant motion. Running and chasing and doing impossible things. Unlike anything and utterly true to himself.

 

The second chamber: A green room, like the colour of a hillside at dusk, clover flowers on the walls. In great slashes of charcoal, the art of Carol Swain.  Swain’s work is something that stays with me, and towers over comics in general. There’s an essentiality about it, a truth to it. Her landscapes of borderlands and between places speaks to the places that I grew up. The elliptical tilt of her stories is an angle that appeals to me.

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Carol Swain comic page

The Third Chamber: A room full of old nitrate stock, and in the centre a candle. Old peepshow machines lining a wall, each with a different Guy Maddin film playing. I think the reason I enjoy his work so much is that it explodes the normal tools for building stories and finds new ways to say things. It takes fragments of the past, grafts them onto current techniques, and produce a glorious hybrid – something that never existed but should have. Something like his recent Seances builds a wonderful, never to be repeated experience from the bricks of lost films.

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Guy Maddin

 

ZL – What one publication would you choose if you had to choose something for all the world to read?

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Flannery O’Connor The Violent Bear It Away cover

DN – Under my benevolent fist, my troops will round up my people and force them to brutalist storerooms where everyone will be provided with a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away. They’d be given strict instructions to devour it, to give in to it; in short, to be the good and loyal citizens that I demand. They will thank me.

It’s a sensuous, lyrical book, tense and muscular, about the awful weight of destiny and the race to outrun it. It starts with the death of a prophet, and follows his nephew as he rejects both a religious and a spiritual life. There is fire along the way. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

 

 

ZL – If you could live for a day in the body of any creator and experience what it was like for them to create, who would you choose?

05-01
Sculptor Elisabeth Frink

DN – I’d choose a sculptor, because it’s a medium that I haven’t really worked in, and the physicality of it, the fight and the heft of it is something that appeals. I think that Elisabeth Frink is wonderful – the textures and life that she managed to put into her work is something that seems almost channelled rather than decided upon.  So, Frink then, building up one of her shattered ravens, or facing the solidity of making something real.

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Paul Jon Milne

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Grave Horticulture Issue 2 – cover

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ZL – I feel like you’ve been doing zines for a while, when did you start and what inspired you to do so?
PJM – After I graduated art college in 2003, I started contributing pieces to various publications. I did a fair few one page things for excellent Dundee arts zine ‘Yuck n Yum‘, and I was trying to get some work going as an illustrator with varying amounts of ‘for exposure’ success, but finally decided to make an actual comic around 2009/10.  I had a lot of spare time due to being unemployed, and wanted to vent frustration about how rotten the ‘Jobseeker’ life was, and so I made my first ‘proper’ zine, Guts Power 1. It was pretty rudimentary but it exists and that’s what’s important.

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Guts Power issue 6 cover

Unemployment’s not a particularly entertaining subject and was covered surprisingly accurately already in League of Gentlemen, so in the end Guts Power was less about the dehumanising aspects of the jobcentre, and more about absurd jokes, ridiculously specific pop cultural references, body horror and musclemen in fetish clothing, plus lots of thinly-veiled self-hatred. Basically my attempt at a ‘Deadline‘ sort of thing but with much better taste in music.

Once I’d made issue 1 and realised that it was a thing I could actually do, it spurred me on to start making other comics. The final issue of Guts Power 6 finally came out last year, phew.

 

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

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Marvel UK Transformers – Time Wars cover – Art Wetherell and Dave Harwood

PJM – Comics-wise, I was very taken with the weekly Marvel UK Transformers comic,

specifically the ‘Time Wars’ storyline by Simon Furman and Andy Wildman. It seemed impossibly dark and important to young me, and maybe the first time I was aware of the comic as something other than just nonsense with my favourite toys in it.

But I still abandoned it when the Hero Turtles comic came out, as I sure did like those Turts, and kids are daft.

Other formative “what is this, this is incredible” moments as a tiny bozo were the Night on Bald Mountain section of ‘Fantasia’ , catching a random and unadvertised showing of Ghibli’s ‘Laputa’ on ITV on a school holiday (which seems to be an experience shared by many people of my generation), and first contact with Street Fighter 2, which broke my brain.

 

ZL – What single creation would you settle down with and just chill?

 

PJM – I find it hard to ever properly relax due to my delicious cocktail of mental health issues, but at the moment a pretty good time can be had lying in bed with a glass of milk and a volume of Q. Hayashida’s ‘Dorohedoro‘ which is ludicrously imaginative, gory and kinetic. It’s also very sweet, but crucially not twee. No tweeness at bedtime, I don’t want to go to sleep angry.

 

 

ZL – You have just published your second Grave Horticulture issue after what seemed like a good amount of success with the first publication, does that make it harder or easier this time around?

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Grave Horticulture issue 1

 

PJM – I suppose it was a kind of success as people seemed to like it, but the box of leftover copies cluttering up my bedroom says otherwise! The fact anyone had an opinion on it is quite daunting, and as a result while working on issue two I’ve definitely found myself overthinking things.

This is useful when it comes to stuff like “will people be able to follow this sequence?” as it pushes me to consider storytelling clarity, but not so useful when I start second-guessing nearly everything and worrying about if something seems “professional-looking”.

Best just to try and follow my instincts I suppose, which is certainly easier in theory.

 

 

ZL – (Let’s hope this never happens, but let’s also pretend!) A psycho runs up to you in the street and chainsaws your hands off. Your life is saved, but they couldn’t save your hands. Who draws in your hands’ place?

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Grave Horticulture issue 1 cover

 

PJM – First of all, I hope the chainsaw person gets the help they need! And secondly I hope I’d still carry on with art in such a situation, but I suppose it’s good to have backup plans.

Not sure I’d want anyone else to draw my comics really, it’d be pretty unfair on them as my scripts are very vague and confusing. I mainly piece the story together as I go, apart from a rough outline and certain scenes. I’ve done ‘full script’ once or twice and it’s been much easier for me to draw, but the final results haven’t been as good, I don’t think.

I like the idea of making Michel Fiffe draw whatever I tell him to, but I would feel bad keeping him from making more issues of Copra.

 

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Nick Prolix

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ZL – I’m really interested to know the influences for your comic?

NP – I call it a slice-of-life in as much as the characters and their stories are imagined if not directly from real life, then from lives that could plausibly have been real. Will Eisner prefaced A Contract With God by saying that the book contained “stories drawn from the endless flow of happenings characteristic of city life. Some are true. Some could be true.”

Issue 4 detail page 7
Issue 4 detail of page 7

I would say exactly the same for Slang Pictorial. I’ve taken characters, incidents, stories and sayings from my own life and the lives of my parents, recollections of friends and relatives, events recounted in memoirs, plots borrowed from TV narratives and the best lines stolen from the pulpiest paperbacks and mixed them all up in a hodgepodge to such a degree now that I’d be hard pressed to be able to tell you what was true and what was just plausibly, possibly true-ish in the sense that Eisner identified.

In terms of specific formal, thematic and structural influences I’d point to Film and Television as being very central to my thinking, as befits my coming from an academic Film Studies background. Take a love of the French New Wave, mix it with a deep admiration for the ambition of Anthony Newley’s criminally under-rated creative endeavours such as The Small World of Sammy Lee and The Strange World of Gurney Slade, chuck in as much Sam Selvon and Colin MacInnes as you can read plus the long-form narrative ambitions and character-driven genre storytelling of contemporary TV like Fargo and The Deuce and I’d say you’ve got a good sense of the kinds of art that feeds my drive to keep making The Sheep And The Wolves

The Sheep and The Wolves
The Sheep and The Wolves

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

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Cover – Iron Man 150 Copyright Marvel Comics

NP – For comics it would be Iron Man #150, the special double-sized issue in which Tony Stark and Dr Doom find themselves thrown back in time to the court of King Arthur. It had fantastic John Romita Jr visuals and a done-in-one story featuring sorcery and pseudo-science and an army of undead zombie knights that I read and re-read hundreds of times. I found the comic in a pile of my primary school teacher’s rainy-day comic books and so had no idea of continuity or who the characters were beyond what I’d seen in cartoons, but I was absolutely hooked and have been an Iron Man mark ever since.

 

 

 

ZL – Your cartooning style is very reminiscent of classic Belgian cartooning styles. Is the style influenced by the retro nature of the content, or is the content influenced by your retro style of drawing?

NP – I have a very binary brain and so as a child I was a Marvel reader which meant I didn’t read DC and I was an Asterix fan and so avoided Tintin. I loved the energy and dynamism of Uderzo’s art and the knockabout humour of Goscinny’s writing and compared to that Herge’s clean lines were always too clean, his characters too buttoned-up and the worlds he created too rigid, rule-bound and well-ruled in terms of everything being about straight-lines whereas Asterix was all curves and swooshes, architecture bending and straining to contain the lolloping limbs of these bonkers characters. I loved the historical aspect of the stories being a big ancient history buff, but I also remember wishing that Goscinny and Uderzo would do stories set in more modern times, with gangsters and spies and detectives, etc. I had no idea that there existed a slew of artists and writers working in the magazines Spirou, Pilote and Heroic that were doing just that sort of stuff, Franquin with Spirou and Fantasio, Maurice Tillieux with Gil Jourdan, Francois Walthery and Natacha, even Peyo and Benny Breakiron. I only discovered this side of the Franco-Belgian bookshelf when I came back to comics about six years ago and ever since I’ve just been steeping myself ever deeper into this stuff.

Issue 3 detail page 4
Issue 3 detail of page 4

 

ZL – You are gifted the opportunity to set up a new museum showcasing all the creators who have influenced you from birth to now. The first show is called ‘First, Formative and Now’ who do you pick and why?

Issue 2 detail page 20
Issue 2 detail of page 20

NP – I’d say First is going to be Dan Clowes, certainly not my earliest cartooning memory but very much someone whose work defined my return to comics in the early 2000s. I read Ghost World, David Boring and Ice Haven in pretty quick succession and each one seemed to progressively build on and transform what came before it. These were revelatory comics for me, both formally and thematically, in terms of what comics could be and say and how the interlinked craft of comics-making; of inking, hand-lettering and book and page design; all served to strengthen the kind of storytelling being showcased.

Formative is probably Franquin, a cartoonist I feel an affinity towards both in terms of his wonderful art style as well as, less positively, his psychology; but I am always trying to emulate and incorporate his character designs and world-building as well as to try and keep pushing myself to adopt new styles and techniques, adapting them hopefully into my repertoire in productive ways.

Now is definitely Gus Arriola, a cartoonist who doesn’t get enough love or column-inches, but his Gordo strip is very much everything I strive to make Slang Pictorial, expressive and animated cartooning in a character-driven soap-opera set within a fully-realised and jazz-infused world that’s just the epitome of hip, mid-century modern comics.

 

 

ZL – You are currently Kickstarting and you’re offering a package collecting all previous issues as well as the current 4th issue of Slang Pictorial. I like the way that the whole of the work is being made available as a tier, by the way! How was it to have successfully achieved your funding within 90 minutes?

NP – It’s always amazing when you hit that target and you can breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing that the project is going to get funded. Slang Pictorial #3 hit its target in under 12 hours and that was huge for me as it was my first ever time on Kickstarter and I really had no idea how it was going to go. I won’t say with #4 I was specifically trying to hit that 90 minute target but I did do a lot of work before hand in an effort to try and beat that previous result. So I set up a pre-launch mailing list, did a lot of Instagram and Twitter promotion to start hyping up the launch as well as offering a couple of Early Bird only rewards for backers who pledged on the first day. The point of doing all of that was to try and get us over the line as quickly as possible, but the fact that the project funded as quickly as it did is ultimately all down to the fantastic folks that jumped on board and did such a great job sharing and spreading the word.

Issue 1 page 23
Issue 1 page 23

In terms of the logistics of this Kickstarter, the funding will go towards printing issue #4 as well as reprinting some more of issue #3, issues #1 and #2 were reprinted as part of the previous campaign. I always try and budget the funding ask to cover printing enough copies of the comics to fulfil the backer rewards and leave me enough stock to cover convention sales for the following year. After issue #5, which I hope to launch at the end of this year, I am going to have to think about perhaps a trade collection of the first five, as I can see that after a certain point, new readers might like to engage with the work in a nice chunk, however I am very much committed to maintaining the serial form of the single issues. The challenge is working out a balance between what to keep exclusively for the individual issues and what to put in the trades by way of back matter, etc.

 

 

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

Short List – pip_odyssey – Sophie Ell

 

Disclosure – I am currently working with pip_odyssey on an anthology planned to release in June.

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ZL – Why and when did you start making comics?

SE – I’ve been a fan of illustrated books since I was a little kid, and that never went away, but it wasn’t until pretty recently that my own random doodles and drawings started taking shape. I am currently working on a PhD in American Studies, and to be honest, making comics is simply a way to stay sane in the face of the hyper-cerebral academic overload. About two years ago a good friend handed me a high quality (i.e. expensive) drawing pad and said, fill her up! I don’t think I would have bought such a thing for myself. So I did, fill her up. Now I do it somewhat compulsively, as a way to counter the dreariness of grad school while also exorcising some demons. It became a ritual; a panel a day keeps despair at bay.

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Taxonomy page 2

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

SE – The first graphic novel I got seriously hooked on was Transmetropolitan. I fell in love with the character, I was thrilled by Warren Ellis’ bold social and political commentary, but probably most of all I was blown away by Darick Robertson’s artwork, the shifting perspectives, the composition, the careful attention to every little detail. Every panel vibrating with so much energy. Incredible.

ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, what would be the project you’d make to be remembered by?

SE – For me, making art has nothing to do with budget or time. In fact, I often find that my best work comes out of constraints, out of lack, out of not having enough money, time, space, or energy. Creativity needs to push against something, it thrives on contradictions and polarities, it comes alive when the conditions are not optimal. I have no doubt that amazing art is being created every day in prisons, hospitals, and mental health institutions, probably much better than the stuff generated in the studios of fine art academies. The other secret to my own process is not having a project in mind. I cannot plan, I must trust the logic of the moment, which is always in flux. Every day it’s something else that wants to manifest visually on a blank page. I try to tune into what feels most urgent right now, and let things unfold on their own. Then, later, I can see themes and threads that either come together or not, and that’s an exciting process of discovery.

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Consumer Culture

ZL – You’re currently working on a graphic novel, what are your hopes and aims whilst working on it?

SE – The graphic novel I am working on is a growing collection of ideas, memories, observations, and feelings that are all pieces in a bigger puzzle.  My only aim is to keep going and stay out of the way, if that makes sense. I would like the collection to reflect the fact that the puzzle may never be complete.

 

ZL – Which one creator you love seeing do you feel the world knows too little about, and what would you like to tell us about them?

SE – I have a big list of visual artists and musicians I want to tell the whole world about. Look at this! Listen to that!! But today, in this moment, if I had to choose just one, it would be the Swedish band Goat .

Review – Once Upon Again: The Marriage of Njord & Skadi

The Marriage of Njord and Skadi

By Jon Mason & Simon Russell

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It’s a funny thing getting something you’ve watched grow and come to life over a long time. It’s funnier when you realise, suddenly, how the experience of watching it grow is little to no indicator of what it is you end up getting. Which is a loopy sort of way to say, I’d never thought about this as a story and surprised myself upon reading it, reacting to the comic as a story rather than the artwork as ART.

That’s still not picked apart terribly well, so let’s talk about my background with this comic.

I knew Simon for a while before he started posting images for the comic. When I first saw Simon’s art on Instagram; these big splodges of messy colour, no form and all texture and space for the imagination; I immediately just loved them.

process-WIP
Mark making – colour and space – work in progress

Absolutely wanted to take those images, run away with them and make things with them. Then I watched him carve and inscribe meaning to them, hewing image out of those spacious textures, making space into form.

process-FINISHED
Finished page

They still LOOKED cool and I knew I’d buy the comic because I wanted to see that art and stare at it, all together. Compare it to what I’d seen made, space to form to object.

I backed it and recently picked up my copy from Simon and sat down at work, thinking I’d flip through and wallow a bit in all that mark making. Now, to digress from my own point a minute, the art is great, the writing too.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a lovely moment in this spread I particularly like. That little image set at the end of the left page telling a story in just two panels. Succinct but meaningful, art and words punching together to tell it all with impact.

Skadi-spread-1
Njord and Skadi spread

There’s also just this lovely balance and variety. That first panel stretching, summarising. How it places the end of the story told in those two bottom panels as a single moment before retelling the same story with greater emotional impact. That small panel/ large panel combination flipping on the next page. The story focus moving from past to present, from fire to ice. From one enemy to another. That first summary panel that stretches time reflected by the final summary panel that concatenates moments. Frozen memory, action bursting from the frozen castle.

This tale tells itself so simply whilst using this very clever structuring, pulling in colours and textures, balancing pacing and time patterns seamlessly. The images rhyme and pace and create new contexts without you even really paying that much attention to it. It’s structured so that it’s just there to tell the tale, it gets out of its own way and does the job it needs to do. Yet it’s so well thought out if you want to pay attention.

The strength of this comic, though, is the story-telling, the emotion it delivers. You don’t need to appreciate the art, you don’t need to admire the structuring. None of it is done to impress you. It’s written in word and image to make you feel, feel what is going on and nothing is getting in its way.

When I sat flipping through it at work I just read the odd word but had to turn back to the start to read from the beginning. I got to the end and just felt this welling up of sadness about what happened to the two of them. I don’t know whether we’re meant to feel like it was inevitable, whether it was good that it was fleeting, but I felt like it was a terrible and sad outcome to it all. It should have worked, they should have had the chance to stay and be. Sorry to be oblique but still spoil the story for you!

It’s now over a week later and I see that cover and I think about how I want to read it again and imagine how they could make it work, find the answer to their problem.

Skadi-spread-2
Feeling and emotions – succint and poetic

Njord and Skadi, that is, not the creators. My memory is fixed on the story and the creators and the creation don’t really matter at all.

To put a context to this, when I sat down to write this, I went back to look at my notes and realised that my plan was to talk about how awesome it was to see all of these marks off a flickering screen and sat on a page, how much I loved the mark making and how it was exciting to follow its journey; space to form to object. That’s not what was actually exciting at all. Reading the story, how the words and images were so in tune, was exciting. How all of it just wanted to tell this story, in fact the story itself, that’s what mattered.

Another slight digression, but I want to be a bit clearer here, when I’m talking about words and images being in tune, I’m not talking action to word matching, but rhythm and style. No words rhyme, they’re not epic couplets, yet it has that ‘rhyming’ rhythm one associates with poetry. Everything is told in these simple beats. Short clipped captions condense time to a feeling, a synopsis, to pack a punch. The same with time between and in the panels. You’re not getting a linear transcription of time passing here. You’re getting a succinct timeline carefully weighed up to deliver an emotional punch.

When I put the comic down I didn’t think about the art or the language. What I thought about was how sad it all was and kept thinking about that. About how differences can, in the end, tear us all down, keep us all apart. That’s what’s stayed with me. Just that crushing sense of emotion, of promise failed. It’s maybe a mirror of my mood, maybe a door into my feelings, maybe just melodrama on my part. But it’s there. That sense of being broken hearted, of seeing a story that’s an oblique observation of actual life and people; not just structure, characters and plot. A tale telling us what it feels like being broken and let down by life and how you can snatch a gift from that. That may be the message of the story, but it’s not how I felt afterwards, I felt like the world had let me and these people down by not having space for them to be together and it made me sad.

The Short List – Zeno Carta

Disclosure – I am currently working with Zeno Carta on an anthology planned to release in June.

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ZL – Your work is, so far, all black and white linework, would you like to see your work coloured?

ZC – I’ve been focusing for now on the rhythm of black and white because, while colour can do a lot, it can also easily overwhelm. Black and white is all most comics need to do their work, and I find that, when done well, black and white is actually clearer and more appealing. It’s hard to match good black and white design for pure impact.

That said, my most recent comic as of writing, “Warehouse (nsfw)” uses limited colour to do what black and white can’t.

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C-Series – Rev.0.978 – Warehouse – detail – page 10

I think that many comics treat colour almost like an afterthought, but colour has its own rhythms to consider–otherwise you lose the focus that black and white line art often has on its own. At the very least you need to know the colour wheel and basic pleasing palettes like dual and split complimentary.

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

ZC – No idea when I first liked something, but the comics I read as a kid were mostly Tintin and Peanuts. I pretty much believe that Herge and Schulz can teach you most of what you need to know about comics, before learning on your own. Learning comics is mostly practice–more of a craft than book-learning–but Tintin and Peanuts make a pretty good foundation.

Going back to those comics now, I think you can still see a sort of spark that explains why everyone knows them. I mean, it’s no fluke that they’re still popular, while the vast majority of comics never make it out of the basement. They have something to say, but know how to say it in a way that feels like a real experience.

ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world what would you create and where or how would you send it into the world?

ZC – Given unlimited time and resources and time, I’m sure I would start a whole bunch of crazy projects and never finish any of them. There’s far more creativity in restriction and discipline than there is in unlimited resources.

Restriction, both in time and money (and even in skill) forces you to think of new ways of doing things. If you’ve got to draw a page that’s supposed to be an intricate city scene but you’ve only got a few hours left, you’re going to have to figure out some different way of doing things that might actually end up being better from a design or story perspective, while still taking less time. In other words, restriction forces you to experiment.

This isn’t an excuse for laziness in comics, but rather what I mean is that, when given unlimited freedom, there’s nothing to spur you to change bad habits and discover new ways of doing things. (This the is the reason I tend to stick to a grid. I’ve got to box myself in or else I lose all sense.)

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MKVI-3 – Default Mode – page 4

ZL – I’m new to your work but have dug through your website and really love what I see. How long have you been drawing comics and what was the impetus to start putting them online?

ZC – I made comics as a kid but only came back recently. Right now I’m just sort of seeing what people might be interested in.

Or in more modern terms: In order to reach #success you must #motivate and #extricate your thoughts #fromdepressiontoinvention to #testthemarket and #findyourself today in this web of internet tubes that create a mirror on our life and demand our attention at every moment but take us even farther from the nature which would make us #happy, which is why you could do with a monthly #successquotes postcard (from my Patreon) with a custom sketch to help you out of the trap.

ZL – What is the most important influence on your current work?

ZC – Impossible to pick one. Some prominent influences recently would include 40s noir films, Mike Mignola, W.T. Frick, and vaporwave. There are ideas everywhere if you’re a curious sort.

I really liked those “influence maps” from a few years ago (basically ancient in internet time) because they revealed how far away influences can be even for people who have stuck with a similar style their whole career.

Or in other words, once when I was a teenager I was out in an old flat-bottomed aluminum boat. The water was really low that year, and a shoal that had never been a problem before suddenly looked way too close to the surface. I was still running fine, but instead of skimming the surface I decided to slow down. The boat lowered just enough that the propeller crunched where it shouldn’t, which snapped the shearing pins. And being the idiot I was at 15, I hadn’t replaced the spare shearing pins after tangling with some lily pads in a marsh the previous fall. I had to prop the motor and paddle a mile home, meaning that when I got there I had to eat moose instead of venison.

The Short List – J Edward Scott

Disclosure – I am working with Ed on a small zine with no set publication date as yet 

ZL –  You have a very idiosyncratic and personal style to your comics, but one very situated within the history of UK comics, how did you arrive at your style and how satisfied are you with it?

 

JES – When I started drawing with a view to doing it seriously, I did that thing most people do which is drawing in a way you think is how you’re meant to draw. In my case, to start with, that style was newspaper editorial cartoons, somewhere between Steve Bell and Ralph Steadman because that was what I wanted to do out of university. Probably (Gerald) Scarfe was in there too, but he is such an egregious old wind-bag, I’m less keen to admit to being fan. I then tried to simplify my style when I started doing small press Page 7 - Full Page Spreadcomics, trying to be like Tom Gauld (who I still love). Then I thought I’d try and go ultra-realistic like Brian Bolland or Arthur Ranson and do a long form gothic Frankenstein story (currently unfinished and mouldering in my parent’s attic). Anyway, the best piece of advice I ever heard was from a Chanel 4 fly-on-the-wall documentary about a kid trying to become a graffiti artist and the guy coaching him was having a go at him for not drawing enough. You should be drawing all the time, draw anything, develop your style. So I tried to focus on just draw things ‘wrong’ until I found out what the wrong drawings were trying to tell me. So that’s sort of it. Also, I creep in Kevin O’Neil and Mike McMahon’s house at the dead of night and suck bits of their brain out with a straw. Did I mention I have Michael Moorcock’s head in jar?Page 3 - Magic healing

 

 

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

JES – I really loved the Beano like most kids growing up. I also really enjoyed Adam West era Batman and the cartoon at the start of the show which I think got me hooked on cartoon violence. He-Man is lurking in Blade of Arozone, which is hardly surprising. Akira blew the back of my head off when I bought the first volume when I was a teenager after seeing the film on BBC 2. A big thing I am channelling at the moment is the Warhammer art of people like Ian Miller, Paul Bonner, Kev ‘Goblinmaster’ Adams and John Blanche, which I was obsessively into as a kid. I was actually more into Warhammer than comics growing up!

 

ZL – Do you yearn to work in colour?

JES – Working in black and white was originally a practical choice because I was printing comics on a photocopier in Kinko’s (RIP) and I knew colour would cost more. I’m not averse to colour, but I really like that feeling of black, inky comics, so I will be monochrome for a while certainly.

 

ZL – You are gifted the opportunity to set up a new museum showcasing all of the creators who have influenced you from birth to now.  The first show is called ‘First, Formative and Now’ who do you pick and why?  Page 12 - Single inky panel goodness

JES – Growing up in the 90’s there happened to be a lot of documentaries about underground comics, so I remember Robert Crumb being the first example of a guy being vaguely ‘rock and roll’ but not being a musician but instead doing something I could do (since I was no good at music). Formative is definitely Simon Bisley, who I tried to emulate as a teen-ager (with zero success). Current is a long list, but in terms of style, energy and imagination (not to mention jaw-dropping work ethic) I’m a big fan of Hyena Hell. On reflection, that’s the exhibition that taste forgot, isn’t it?

 

ZL – You’re due to release the second issue of your comic ‘The Blade of Arozone’, how well has the first issue done and how different are you feelings now compared to when you released the first one? Blade of Arozone

JES – I’m pretty buoyant at the moment – I’ve had some really good feed-back and some great support, especially from Tom Oldham of Breakdown Press and Gosh Comics. I’m mainly glad to have gone from being a guy who used to make small press comics a decade ago to a guy who makes small press comics again. I also really want to tell this story, so the fact there is a willing audience is excellent. The alternative was handing out pamphlets about Death Priests and Elderkin on the streets. There’s always that to fall back on, of course.

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

Review – Slang Pictorial 1-4 – Nick Prolix

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I like this series, it’s got a real charm to it. Bouncy, friendly and likeable and going down into depth on the characters. The characters are likeable and engaging. You’re not seeing great story arcs, you’re seeing the quotidian increment of people’s daily lives. Bad decisions, poor choices, changing attitudes. It layers them into the storyline, rather than laying them out in front of you. I guess that’s why I class this as a friendly comic to read. It’s not shouting at you about itself, it’s putting itself out there for you to hang out with and find out about.

I’m a huge fan of the book ‘Georgie Girl’. This is a descendant of that. It’s a descendant of those New English Library books with painted people draped on each other lustily and fags hanging from their lips. This is Kitchen Sink Drama. This is also cheeky Brit comics by the like of Hunt Emerson. It’s also low life story telling about wideboys. Not the Crays, not dangerous or evil, just cheap and desperate and showy and trashy.

This is the 60’s swinging London as lived by the poor in all its genre glory. All the characters you’d expect, or the class and cultural meters are fed in. There’s not a trick missed. This is 60’s kitchen sink drama, this is ‘Angry Young Man’ world, gladly lacking the entitlement and white male hero complex I see in those other works.

I probably need to pick that apart!

Stories can be about SOMETHING and they usually foreground those things as the main character, they ‘DEAL WITH’ depravation, personal disenfranchisement and everything that happens, happens to drive that point home.

Stories can be about SOMEONE and there’s your protagonist flexing their character muscles whilst others throw shade and reflection upon them but do little else.

This story is very much about SOMEWHERE and SOMEWHEN. This is 60’s Soho.

Issue 1 - first story page of sheep and the wolves

It’s seen through the lens of genre. Maybe genres? But it’s very clear that the milieu is the character. There are interesting people, there are fine twisty little plots, there are even big themes. None of those is the purpose of this comic. This is telling you about the lives lived and the environment that bred those lives. This is telling you the history, the changes but it’s dealing with it through the experiences of lives lived. That’s the key to this comic and what I like about it. It gives you a story, then it fleshes that story out with shades of past and future, with the view of the other people involved. Turn around, turn back, look at it again. What I like about issue 4 is how it goes back in time to things that have happened but it’s not plugging a hole in your knowledge, that flashback is somehow a linear part of the way the story makes sense.

I’m not sure that’s a clear point, so I want to re-iterate this thought. There is something in issue 4 that happens before the events in the previous 3 issues. Now, although that happens to be a travel back in linear time, it’s a linear movement forward in storytelling and character depth. That’s something as I’ve thought about this work that just seems amazing. Lord know if that’s planned. But I’m not concerned by what the Lord knows, I’m concerned with how it all works together. That’s truly a very impressive writing feat to achieve, to write backwards in time and make it feel like you’re moving the story forwards linearly.

Issue 4 really is that issue where the things click as well. I’m glad I got to read it as a series as it builds well when read together, issue 4 hits the stride of the main story threads, pulling the disparate little bits back in to one story. I’m glad I got to read it as a series with issue 4 as it lays any concerns I had to bed. What concerns?

There was a feeling of likeable characters and likeable work being made here, but it hadn’t made me feel it would hit an emotional depth. I felt like I could gladly indulge my like of the genre, spot the tropes being picked off. Carrying on my long running desire to talk about things no one knows much about, it had all the niceness of DC Comics ‘’Mazing Man’. Now I love to sit down with that and enjoy the beautiful cartooning and the fun little comic stories, but that comic is no great piece of work, it’s just a very nice piece of work. That also feels like it’s ambition as well, so it feels alright to meet it on that level.

Issue 2 - Dancing girls at the club
Issue 2 – Dancing girls at the club

This comic really doesn’t feel like it wants to be met at that level, because this has a feeling of something more about it. Aside from anything else, there’s the environment and how well put together it is. There’s the effort to make characters that clearly have depths to reveal as well. The concern I had in those first 3 issue is that these great characters wouldn’t have space to breathe in a story that leans into its genre trappings and delivers small sized chunks of story.

Issue 4 dropped then like a sugared pill. Relief followed by that sense of something finally getting deep and taking itself seriously in a way that is totally deserved. Clever structure, characters revealing depths, not UNEXPECTED depths, the soap opera version of depth. Totally understandable and believable levels of character that we just hadn’t seen yet.

I really want to see how this goes and I really want to own a big thick book where I can experience this in one sitting. In some ways, this is like Cerebus, it works really nicely as bits, but it hits home when it’s there in a big lump to experience.

What’s true of Slang Pictorial as it is of Cerebus, is that it’s damn good at drawing its world. This is consistently great cartooning. It’s very personal in style at this moment, oddly enough, considering how much it draws on the language of comics cartooning. It follows a lineage from classic Belgian cartoonists in the 50’s/ 60’s, think ‘Lucky Luke’ and ‘Asterix’. It leans into British Jazz great Hunt Emerson. Yet it has its own distinct design sense. It builds a consistent and detailed and believable world in its pages and it’s the kind of world you drop into and don’t notice the detail and skill shown on those pages. It’s not interested in showing you how well thought out and consistent it is, it’s is there to make this story grounded, to give you the in to the world you’re looking at. It just digs in and delivers story telling chops again and again.

Issue 3 - cartooning chops on great show
Issue 3 – cartooning chops on great show

Little marks changing the look of a character instantly to ‘woken up and feeling rough’ by slashing in some well-placed lines on their face.

You don’t have to think about this art, it does the hand holding and hard thinking for you to get that story told. But it does it with panache and style; clever, but gracefully so.

This is a damn fine comic series and a lot more clever than it would have you believe.

The Short List – Nyx of Sea Green Zines

Disclosure – I have worked with Nyx on a contributor’s copy only zine before and am currently working with her on an anthology planned to release in June.

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ZL – You were one of the first YouTube channels to discuss zines, but there seems to be a wave of sites recently, how does that feel?

Nyx – I’m struggling for the right words, to be honest. When I started reviewing zines on my blog, zine enthusiasts seemed few and far between when you stepped off the We Make Zines site. And when you did find others, you’d almost be just as likely to find places that hadn’t been updated in a long time or clearly stated they wouldn’t be posting/reviewing/etc anymore. I hesitate to call it ‘renewed’ enthusiasm because there are many people who were there all along, but it does feel thrilling to be able to see so many sites, channels, and socials popping up where people are letting their zine love shine.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

Nyx – I always loved books and reading, but the first time I truly fell in love with a book – or any creative work for that matter – is when I read The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. I fell completely and utterly in love with the world she created (since before I could read, I’d had a strange, unexplainable conviction that I was meant to be in a much more arid environment than I was), I loved the main character, Harry, who just wanted to fit in, and I of course loved the adventure of hidden heritage and going with your heart even when your head didn’t quite understand.

I rented and re-rented The Blue Sword from the library so many times, always desperately hoping that it would end up in the excess bin where I could purchase it. (The internet existed, but I certainly didn’t have a bank or credit card to use online.) That book gave me the courage to write my own first novel with a world all my own. A novel I would spend a lot of my pre-teen and teen years rewriting many times and loving every minute of it.

 

ZL  – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, what would be the project you’d make to be remembered by?

Nyx – Oh, my gosh. That is a question I think about quite a bit, both on the darker side with life being what it is and wondering if/how I’d be remembered and on the lighter side with what I would like to do had I the ability. My first thought went straight to a dream of mine to set up a multi-vendor website for zinemakers that doesn’t charge a huge amount of fees – big fees being a huge hindrance to people who want to sell $1-$5 items.

With an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, though, that would be thinking too small.Don't Call Me Cupcake 1

I would love to be able to set up a beautiful, relaxing distro bistro. Ha ha ha. A nice, open space that has coffee and nice food, plenty of tables and some comfy couches/chairs, a zine library section, and a zine shop as well. There would be a performance space in the corner for bands and zine readings as well as an adjoining room or two for holding workshops, zine club meetings, and we could even bring in travelling zinemakers to chat about what they’re working on – who could then sell their goods in the shop, of course.

This building would be paid for in full and a trust put into place so no one would have to contemplate selling it to pay the bills, etc. There’d be solar, water filters, and even a community garden space out back.

That might still be thinking too small, but I reckon it’d be fabulous.

 

ZL  – You’ve decided to start a distro up, can you give us some details about that and how it feels being trusted to rep other creators’ work?

Nyx – That I certainly have! I remember years back when I was first diving into zines: I was reading Stolen Sharpie Revolution, and when I got to the part about distros, I thought, “I want to run a distro someday.” Here we have the first little step. The distro will be officially opening within the next month – barring any hiccups. It will be its own shop tab on Sea Green Zines and will launch stocked with zines from Australia, Japan, and the US as well as my own.

Zine Pile

These kind of things need to be taken slowly and carefully if they are meant to last, so I’ve only been able to approach a few zinemakers so far. (I’m not selling on consignment and thus am approaching zinemakers instead of the other way around.) With reviewing, it’s all about my love for a zine. As a distro, it’s not enough to just love a zine; the zinemaker needs to trust me with their work. To have all positive responses so far has been absolutely brilliant.

 

ZL – I know you talked a little about having been published as a prose writer, but not in any great detail, could you tell us a bit about the experience?

Nyx – I’ve been writing stories since I could write. Even when I was very young, I understood that I was physically born to my biological family, but I was convinced that I wasn’t where I should be. Where I’d truly come from and where I belonged. I spent a lot of time thinking about that ‘other’ place and writing the stories that bloomed from there.

My first stories were not nearly so serious, though. One was about my brother letting out a nuclear fart that made humanity move to Mars, and another one about the ‘real’ story of the three little pigs and how history had it all wrong. Funny how I was so sympathetic to the wolf back then when, many years later, I’d start a series about werewolves.

I’ve been published in a few anthologies with short stories and non-fiction (Chicken Soup for the Soul if you’re familiar). I was lucky in that the experiences of submitting were clear cut and not at all vicious. Yes or no, read the contract at least a few times if it’s ‘yes’. It was an easy, straightforward introduction to mainstream publishing.

My three novels are self-published, though. I was never very patient, and that was to my detriment given the first book could use a rewrite. Live and learn, right? I taught myself along the way about formatting, layout, and so on, and it gave me the chance to meet a lot of great people who were/are cover designers, freelance editors, etc.

I adore zines through and through, but writing will always be my first love.

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019