Small (press) oaks – Ben Nunn

Ben is the artist of the small press comic The Secret Protectors (we reviewed issues 1&2 here and read our interview with them here) and does his own comedy strip on Webtoons called Guff Canyon.

Yesterday we posted an interview with Adam Wheeler, his collaborator and the writer on The Secret Protectors.

Like many creators of his generation he mixes US superhero and manga comic influences

They’re currently Kickstarting a collected edition of the first 4 issues of the series (you can sign up for the first two issues for free here and you can see art from the series throughout the article!!) You can back it here.

You can find The Secret Protectors here

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Ben is on  instagram

It’s over to Ben now

Can you tell us a bit about the first creator whose work you recognised?

John Romita Jr
John Romita Jr

As a kid I remember seeing issues of Spider-man illustrated by John Romita Jr. Before that I’d devoured every Superman and Batman/Superman comic I’d been able to get my hands on, so I was fairly familiar with the John Byrne influenced style of the time but Romita Jr stood out and made me think about comics in a whole new way. They didn’t have to be in the typical comic book style, there was a lot more room for experimentation than I thought possible.

 

Which creators do you remember first copying?

When Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT were airing on Toonami in the early 2000s I would record them on VHS. Then, after watching a new episode a couple of times I’d pinpoint some cool frames and pause the tape on those moments so I could copy them. This was not a good system. Anyone who’s ever paused a VHS knows the screen becomes a distorted mess of static, discolouration and incomprehensible blurs. Somehow, I did manage to eke out some good frames and had a lot of fun doing so.

VHS scroll
VHS scroll

 

Who was the creator that you first thought ‘I’m going to be as good as you!’?

I’m not sure this is a thought I’ve ever exactly had for a well-known creator. Growing up it was more about imitating people’s styles because I liked them, not necessarily to get better. That said, I do distinctly remember when I was about six years old, I saw an awesome piece of Batman fanart in a Batman/Superman comic. The kid who’d drawn it was ten and I remember being blown away and not being able to imagine being that good at ten years old. If I saw the drawing today, I’d probably think differently but I do sometimes wonder if I caught up with that kid in the next few years.

 

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

At the moment I’m really loving the work of Bilquis Evely of The Dreaming and Soroush Barazesh (AKA Koteri Ink) of Kings of Nowhere. They both have very strong, distinctive styles that create a great sense of tone and atmosphere. They’re also both just incredibly technically proficient.

Soroush Barazesh (AKA Koteri Ink) - Kings of Nowhere
Soroush Barazesh (AKA Koteri Ink) – Kings of Nowhere

 

Which creators do you most often think about?

Frankie Boyle

I don’t listen to as much stand-up comedy as I used to, and I think that’s partly due to Frankie Boyle. Frankie Boyle is incredible at summoning up an incredibly precise image with as few words as possible. In his BBC Three show New World Order he calls upon imagery that’s mad, grotesque or surreal but it’s always to serve a greater point. In his Mock the Week days he’d take cheap shots for the sake of shock but these days he always has something valuable to say and always says it in a brutal but uniquely valuable way. If brevity is the soul of wit then he’s really got that nailed, and the ability to be concise is a huge element in both illustration and writing.

 

Can you name the first three creative peers that come into your head and tell a little bit about why?

Die Hard of the Dead - Written by Matthew M Stapleton Art by Mark Hooley
Die Hard of the Dead – Written by Matthew M Stapleton Art by Mark Hooley

We’re relatively new to the con circuit as we’ve only been at it for a few years, but we’ve met some great people doing some really fantastic work. The first that comes to mind is Matt Stapleton (@what_if_stories), writer of the What If Stories. He takes pop culture icons and adds a horror twist. Die Hard of the Dead for instance is Die Hard plus zombies. His ideas have a lot of potential on their own but it’s the execution that really makes them stand out. His writing is great, and he’s teamed up with some fantastic artists too.

 

 

 

Sam Dempsey
Sam Dempsey

A few years ago I did a bit of a business course where I met comic book artist Sam Dempsey (@dempseyillustrates), we’ve kept in touch on and off over the years and whenever I see him pop up on my Instagram feed I know I’m in for something special. Every now and again I’ll check back on his feed just to get another look at all the awesome work he’s done.

Rhys Wootton
Rhys Wootton

Rhys Wootton (@rhyswootton) is another artist we’ve come across in our con experiences. He’s worked with Matt on What If Stories and has some really awesome comic art for sale. Definitely another one worth checking out.

 

 Finally, can you tell us a bit about your recent work and yourself?

Ben Image
Ben from The Secret Protectors (not to be mistaken for Ben Nunn the artist!!)

My recent work has been a bit eclectic as far as comics go. I’ve been working on the superhero series The Secret Protectors with Adam for a few years now but since the beginning of 2020 I’ve also been doing a series called Guff Canyon which might best be described as gag strips on Webtoon. They’re mostly little four panel skits about whatever pops into my head. The Secret Protectors is definitely way more towards the mainstream end of the spectrum and heavily influenced by classic X-Men so it’s fun to have a different kind of creative outlet in a totally different style. I think it’s important to have different kinds of projects on the go so you don’t get creatively burnt out. Standalone jokes are also a fun way to stretch my uh…nonsense muscles…

Thank you very much for taking the time to fill this out and let us into your mind.

Guff Canyon
Guff Canyon

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

 

Small (press) oaks – Adam Wheeler

Adam is the writer of the small press comic The Secret Protectors (we reviewed issues 1&2 here and read our interview with them here)

Like many of us, Adam balances a job and writing, looking to grow creatively and get his story out into the world. What appealed to me about The Secret Protectors particularly is that it’s a raw work, finding its voice and style and watching Adam and Ben Nunn (the artist on the series) grow is as much a part of the story as the actual comic.

They’re currently Kickstarting a collected edition of the first 4 issues of the series (you can sign up for the first two issues for free here and you can see art from the series throughout the article!!) You can back it here.

http://kck.st/2CKH9pP

You can find The Secret Protectors here

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Over to Adam

small press superhero comic the secret protectors in this image one of the heroes with flame powers is running and set fire to something
Secret Protectors

Can you tell us a bit about the first creator whose work you recognised?

Yeah of course, you know, I don’t think I realised it till I got a lot older, but the first creators who really left a lasting effect on me were Filmation (responsible for He-Man), Eastman & Laird who somehow thought up TMNT, along with Toei animation who created the Transformers cartoon. Perhaps even more important are husband and wife Eric & Julia Lewald, the two main creatives behind the X-Men animated series. That show, I can genuinely say, really taught me a lot and instilled in me morals I hold to this day. It was an absolutely great show! Crazy to credit that to a kids Saturday morning cartoon I know but I don’t think you can overestimate how important our younger years are in defining the adults we’ll grow in to.

 

Which creators do you remember first copying?

I remember as a kid playing with my action figures and it was never enough to just have the good guys facing off against the bad guys for the sake of a cool battle. I can vividly remember trying to create the Secret Wars storyline with my figures. Instead of just Marvel characters though I’d have Turtles there as well, along with a bunch of other figures. I remember I couldn’t include Transformers or Thundercats though! They didn’t scale well! It would have been ludicrous to include them too! As for my adult years, I’ve tried to not outright copy anyone of course but at this point I’ve so many influences that play into my storytelling approach.

 

Who was the creator that you first thought ‘I’m going to be as good as you!’?

Woah, tough one that! Creatively I’ve always wanted to try and have my own way. As a small press indie guy, I’m not sure its about trying to be better than someone else. I think it’s more about improving your craft, learning from your mistakes and growing as a person to improve your work!

 

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

There’s so many! If I had to narrow it down, I guess I’d have go with a top 5 format, so:

David Chase – The creator of, in my opinion, the best TV series ever – The Sopranos. It’s been labelled all kinds of superlatives, I’m not sure I can really add anything to the list. I’ve heard it described as an 86hr film, which is probably about right. It just never misses a beat and the storytelling is just so deep and rich. It’s the only series I’ve ever watched over from start to finish more than once. I’ll definitely been watching it a third time at some point in my life!

Spawn 300 by Todd McFarlane
Spawn 300 by Todd McFarlane

David Simon – The man is responsible for a bunch of incredible TV series, such as The Wire, Show Me a Hero & The Deuce. I’m a pretty unemotional guy but Simon is phenomenal at drawing you in emotionally before then absolutely crushing you. Show Me a Hero in particular left me completely exhausted.

Christopher Nolan – He’s just never made a bad film, in fact, I’d argue literally all his work is top drawer stuff. Not only does he tell original, amazing stories, he does it in a way that is normally a way you’ve never been shown a story before.

Todd McFarlane – When Todd left Marvel and started up Image, he, along with the other founders of Image changed the industry forever. In Spawn, he has the longest running independent comic of all time and on a personal note, anytime I see an interview with him he just seems so humble and grounded. He worked his absolute arse off to get where he is and to improve himself. He’s gone from aspiring, struggling artist to a one-man empire! He makes comics, films and toys! The man must never sleep!

Chris Claremont – The man wrote X-Men for 25 years! The longevity and quality of his work is pretty much unparalleled. To quote the great late Stan Lee ‘Nuff said’.

There’s plenty more but this is a pretty good representation.

 

Which creators do you most often think about?

I actually try not to really! I’d end up depressing myself by comparing myself to someone on top of the, figurative, mountain that I’d love to ascend! I kid, of course! That’s a tough one. I try to focus on being better personally. Just keeping my head down and doing ‘me’.

 

Can you name the first three creative peers that come into your head and tell a little bit about why?

Sure, first up! Matt Stapleton – The mind behind What If? Stories. He’s such a great guy! He’s one of those people whose enthusiasm is just unrelenting! Some might find that jarring but it’s honestly infectious! In a good way! He’s so positive when taking on a challenge, like his recent Kickstarter for instance, he smashes it! If you’ve got a dream and want to make it happen, surround yourself with individuals like Matt. People who dream and believe!

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Ben Nunn – 2000AD submission from sample script

Ben Nunn – The second half of The Secret Protectors duo. Ben’s great! We’ve been working together now on The Secret Protectors since 2017. We’ve both developed a lot since then but Ben’s improvement is remarkable. He’s never happy with his work and he’s constantly looking to do better. If I let him, he’d probably completely redo issue 1! Hahaha!

 

Lastly. My wife! Kate Wheeler. Now, she’s not a typical creative. She is an actress but she’s not currently working. She had to get a real job to pay the bills unfortunately. But she is my muse. She’s the only reason I developed the belief needed to go out there and get my comic made in the first place! She is my number one confidant, partner, friend and consigliere! The Silvio to my Tony Soprano so to speak.

 

Finally, can you tell us a bit about your recent work and yourself?

I’d love to shamelessly plug my Kickstarter which is Live right now! It’s for my comic book series The Secret Protectors! It’s Ben and mine’s take on the superhero genre. There’s sci-fi and fantasy aplenty but it’s more about the drama and tension between the characters themselves! It’s the story I feel I’m here to tell, essentially. There’s not a day that passes that I don’t think about it in some way, shape or form! It’s definitely my burden to carry! My curse!

(editor’s note — It’s here – remember!)

I also recently wrote the short story ‘The Ville’ – download The ‘Ville – By Adam Wheeler. Completely different to anything comic related. To be honest, I just wanted to challenge myself to make something up new. Something that was a complete departure. Just to prove that I could, more than anything.

As for me, I’m Adam Wheeler a 35-year-old male. I’ve been creating & crafting stories since I can remember, not that anyone ever asked me too. I’m not so interesting. I’m just a working-class guy with aspirations. Cliché I know but it’s the best backstory I could come up with for myself.

 

Thank you very much for taking the time to fill this out and let us into your mind.

Praise Image

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

 

Go look – The Secret Protectors

small press superhero comic the secret protectors in this image one of the heroes with flame powers is running and set fire to something

I have a fondness for comics that are raw and starting out, where you can see the creators working out their influences and their craft each issue

The Secret Protectors satisfies this urge very nicely

(click on images to follow links)

webshop of the secret protectors a small press super hero comic
shop

 

secret protectors comic pages from the instagram account for the small press superhero comic
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facebook page for the secret protectors small press superhero comic featuring the comic logo
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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

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Long List interview – The Secret Protectors

Currently Kickstarting

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Adam on instagram                              Ben on instagram

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

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

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

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?

gravehort1cover
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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