Star Bright Review

Star Bright can be found online, on twitter and bought here

Alice Clarke can be found online, on twitter , on instagram and facebook

Rob Zwetsloot can also be found on twitter

At the beginning of the year I wrote about 5  works that I thought deserved recognition. One of these was Star Bright and you’ll find what I wrote about it here, this will be a very specific dig into just a little thing I noticed in the work that struck me.

I keep coming back to this work for a couple of personal reasons, not the least of which is that it’s really a good world to spend time in. By that I mean that, I enjoy how calm it is, that it’s filled with kindness, but most of all, the strongest sense that brings me back is how it models acceptance. Sometimes showing an answer is the best way to help someone with hard questions.

So, I guess I’ve read it four or five times by now, critically read it I should qualify and then the other night, that’s mid-April 2020 or mid COVID-19 lockdown, I just sat down to enjoy it and not dig in.

Then I started noticing something I’d not picked up before, which is one of the joys of re-reading really. Now, I can’t say for definite whether it was intentional, whether it was the writer or the artist or the team figuring it out. I can say it doesn’t matter, sometimes you’re a good story because things happened that came together well. I can tell you that I had seen these things, but not consciously considered them before. To unpack that, my mind has felt the story being built those actions, but until now I’d never THOUGHT about how that was achieved.

I’m going to stop being coy in just a few more lines, but I want one more piece of context before I do that. When you write a story, you will have actions, scenarios and often similes and analogies in your story. It’s considered good literature if you manage these in a consistent way, so all similes relate to water or fire. In visual media you can achieve the same but in a slightly different manner, they are often repeated visual cues. Critics have picked apart works like Watchmen for its use of such literary techniques.

Well, here I was stuck inside and facing another seven weeks before I could go out. I have a child we’re having to shield and had spent two weeks with them having to be separated from my other two children and then from me as we showed symptoms. Then I was reading and seeing all these panels with hands clutched away from friends, afraid to reach out as well as panels of hands just gently held, friends in love with their friends. It was like fire through my veins, but it was also so very simple and very human and that’s why I keep coming back to this beautiful little comic.

 

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

Paper Underground Awards – Originally, I said that this would be – Best discovery I made in November (but it was really just being sarcastic) Then I received something in October that fitted the bill.

pannonica issue one a printed and hand stapled zine made by nick prolix with abstract images and thopughts structured into a coherent narrative

Originally, I said that this would be – Best discovery I made in November (but it was really just being sar

Originally, I said that this would be – Best discovery I made in November (but it was really just being sarcastic) Then I received something in October that fitted the bill.

Which is an odd title for an award, but there we go.

Download from here

Pages from Pannonica issue one by nick prolix featuring abstract black images on creamy coloured paper
Pages from Pannonica issue 1

The winner is Nick Prolix with his Pannonica series (and experience)

Originally, I included this as a dig at all those bests of lists that come out in December thereby blowing off everything that comes out in December.

Then in October and again In November I read part of an ongoing series that struck me as amazing and original, but also as something that concretised a feeling I’d had for a while about UK comics and zines and where I’m seeing work that I would consider vital and important.

Petrichor, our initial award winner, is part of that wave. A wave that drives its visuals with non-representational art married to real life thoughts and emotions. It has narrative, but not story. Structure but not linearity.

Sort of a comic slipstream fiction, but nothing like it.

Anyway

Why name it?

Pannonica was something very surprising to me, considering Nick’s normal mode of comics are very representational and timebound. Here’s this printed and hand made zine with abstract images.  A zine related to tweets and Instagram posts. World building by building in the world rather than the fictional page. Yet, amazingly, it’s a work that still manages to be structured, human and about matters of life. Dealing with the humanity of his thoughts, his present concerns, his art history and art future. Not necessarily universal, but personally meaningful to me and timely – like it froze a wave and made a statue for generations to come to look upon.

What’s striking about Pannonica is how it creates narrative structure in the same manner as Nick’s story work, with call backs, shadowing plot points and running a theme through its paces.

iestyn

 

Review – Sprouting and Other Tales of the Curious

 

Kickstarter

Asa Wheatley –   twitter       web              Sammy Ward –  twitter      web

Michelle Marham –   twitter      web       instagram     patreon

Emma Graveling –  instagram

Emily Pearson –  twitter     web                  Kat Willott – instagram        web

The Brief

I enjoyed reading this. There are some interesting subtexts to chew over and some skilled pacing and design. I really love that cover a lot!

The ongoing serial A Witch’s Penance had me interested to follow it. It was certainly my favourite story.

As an anthology, it felt consistent and well balanced. It mixed up approaches to story telling and left me thinking about some of its themes. It’s a solidly created anthology with some interesting and more personal moments. Essentially, it delivered a good read and I was left thinking.

Hanging in the Darkness Page 2
Hanging in the Darkness – page 2

The Detail

This is an anthology mixing prose and comics works. It uses a traditional ‘horror story with a twist’ format that, when I’m looking at it, seems well handled. Nothing comes from left field in terms of the twists. It manages the foreshadowing and punchlines well.

Now that probably sounds cold coming from me and that’s really a matter of my reading of the work. ‘Horror story with a twist ending’ is low on my list of likes unfortunately. However, there’s a bit more at work in these stories than just that format. Maybe I’m reading more in there, maybe I’m not, but I’m going to come back to both Sprouting and Hanging in the Darkness to get into my thoughts about what they made me think about.

First, I want to discuss Finders Keepers, the prose story, then go onto A Witch’s Penance.

Finders Keepers Page 3
Finders Keepers – page 3

Finders Keepers is a fine prose story but, for me, didn’t move me too much. It’s paced well, it develops it’s plot well, it builds its tension well. But that’s it, which is not a complaint or a method of damning anything, it’s a recognition that I don’t really get into these stories. The prose is clear, avoiding being purple and that’s to its benefit. I guess the only thing I wonder is what it’s trying to tell me or talk about? I hate saying that, because I hate anytime when someone says, ‘it was done well, but…’ because that’s just an awful snipe. Things have a right to exist the way the are without having to meet my sense of meaningful.

Unpicking my thoughts really does just bring me back to the fact that the style of story is not one I am personally invested in, with the other stories I feel like there’s enough extra there to dig hooks into me, where this one feels like a nice pot boiler without much to say for itself outside of being well executed. If you like stories with twist endings, it’s well made for you.

I like the illustrations style for the story. It reminds me of a Ladybird books and that matches the tones of the story and age of the characters well. They also given some very lively acting, giving a good sense of personality and action.

A Witch's Penance Page 2
A Witch’s Penance – page 2

A Witch’s Penance, the only ongoing story in the book, and the other two tales gave me much more of an idea that there’s something at work under the surface. I picked A Witch’s Penance out from the other two for a reason though. This story, at the moment, seems to have less of a theme and have more of a plot. Unlike the others, this is not a ‘twist at the end’ plot. This is very much a ‘revenge doubled’ plot. By which I mean, a mysterious figure with a past seems to be revenging something, but exacting this revenge sets up an excuse for the antagonist to also seek revenge. The circle of revenge is spinning and pulling in unwitting victims all around.

It’s not the plot, or even the characters that interest me as much as the approach to storytelling. Here, it’s very much that delivery which makes it my favourite in the anthology. The pacing and rhyming between panels is handled poetically.  It’s got that bouncy rhythm of doggerel verse. Plain, driving, seemingly simple but incredibly effective at dragging you along. To mix my metaphors. It’s a catchy pop chorus, very simple structure delivering something immediate and accessible and hiding some very clever production techniques underneath it all.

This piece comes into its own in the chase through the wood, with panel layout and the positioning of figures (and a tree!) creating rhythm, leading to comparisons between characters circumstances, if that makes sense? To pick that apart, I get a lovely, punchy sense of action happening. It’s tense here, because there’s a sense of the figures moving around each other, of proximity and the level of danger and luck involved in trying to escape and how thin the line between success and failure will be. The end delivers a couple of cliff-hangers that set the future wheels in motion and maintain that sense of things happening and matters to learn.

It’s difficult to know how the layout was decided, where writer and artist begin and end, but I would say that the layout and characterisation achieved in the woodland scene by Michelle Marham impressed me and I thought delivered the tightest storytelling in the anthology. Whoever worked it out, did a good job, but the delivery sells it well.

As mentioned, Hanging in The Darkness and Sprouting gave me a sense of subtext in the work. Each has a nice little plot. For both, the artwork is a little rough in places in terms of anatomy and expressing emotion but paces itself well. It adds atmosphere and I like the colouring on Hanging in The Darkness most of all, I’m not sure whether there was a single colourist, or if each artist did their own. As no colourist is named, it seems likely that each artist did their own work.

Hanging in the Darkness Page 1
Hanging in the Darkness – page 1

Hanging in The Darkness seems to me to be a study in the slow eroding of memory and the chill and dread that comes with the loss of that memory and, as such, the art is very much telling a separate story to the text. It’s atmospheric but lacks a bite of good character work to it. The art has a hard task as it’s there depicting a story that’s less engaging than the text, which gets to delve into and explore the deeper psychological content of the piece. The art is there to deliver the chills, which it does very nicely, but I can’t quite work out what point that was serving other than as a plot device.

Sprouting on the other hand has art that is very much in sync with the writing, adding layer to the words and working together to deliver additional depth to the plot. Where Hanging in The Darkness played with loss of identity and personality, Sprouting is dealing with a sense of dysmorphia and the ability to come to a safe space where we accept our form and ourselves. Where we find friends that accept us for who we are and, through that, a place in the world.

Sprouting PAGE 2
Sprouting – page 2

I very much feel like this idea needed more space to develop a sense of the person, to make them meaningful, for my tastes a story dealing with such themes needs to get me to see the lead as a person rather than delivering plot beats. I think the limit of the space and the scope of the storyline conspired against it making its message deeper and more meaningful by affecting me emotionally. It ended up delivering something polemical rather than persuasive or personal.

They’re both good ideas though, ways of dealing with their subjects that I thought were quite effective concepts, interesting ways to explore those concepts and personify the psychological physically.

I do feel like there was room for these two stories to breathe more and get down to the bone. It’s a bit grisly here, you can feel it roll around as you’re chewing over the idea. To be clearer, and I can’t second guess creators, but to me these seem like strong ideas that either space or time didn’t allow for a full resolution to. I didn’t come away with a sure image of what the creator was trying to say about these things, or whether they were meant more as hooks to hang a good story on. That may be on me, and that may indeed have been the intent here all along, but to me it felt like there was room to go deeper and more personal in these stories, to commit to an opinion. They had interesting things to bring up and interesting ways of personifying the abstract, I just wanted to know more about what they personally felt about these subjects, because I think there’s an interesting set of voices here.

Artist page
Artists page

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

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!

Review – Secret Protectors 1-2

 

TSP-LOGO-HEADER-E

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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

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

The Marriage of Njord and Skadi

By Jon Mason & Simon Russell

Simon –           twitter             instagram          web

 

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.