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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sliced (Quarterly). An Experimental Comic Anthology. Issue 6. Ken Reynolds (Editor).Ken Reynolds Design (April 2017)

A very engaging and enjoyable anthology that takes a happily generous view of "Slice of Life" as the central theme for various comics in the collection. The wonderful diversity in the stories is never confusing or distracting, they comfortably sit along side each other.
Killing Action Man, Martin Feekins (Writer), Jonathan Scott (Art), Ken Reynolds (Letters), very sharply captures a moment in childhood when we fear that an attempt to evade consequences will be uncovered and the trouble doubled. Talking Action Man suffers in action and the pervasive fear and guilt that follows are conjured up with precision and detail, as is the outcome. The low key tone of the story captures the moment with rueful compassion for the terrors that no one else could see. Jonathan Scott's art is is perfect for the moment, it captures the look of comics from the time , 1968, without trying to copy them. The colours are a joy, they capture the nostalgia essential for the story to work. Ken Reynolds' letters are natural and easy to read, the sound effects are precise and perfectly placed.
7ER MONNEN, 7ER MONNEN: Narrative-Shmarrative , 7ER MONNEN IM NISCHT, Daniel Ableev, are three one page comics that feature a solidary stick figure in different contexts. The first one, 7ER MONNEN is a neat joke, strong colors and strong timing make it work. 7ER MONNEN: Narrative-Shmarrative is a second 4 panel comic that teases the reader to impose a narrative on the panels by developing the context in each one. Daniel Ableev is clearly enjoying himself and the reader gets to do the same. 7ER MONNEN IM NISCHT, is the third 4 panel comic and I did not get it at all, whatever the intent of the the creator it has evaded me completely.
Old Plymouth. Eric Gaghan (Writer), Gregory Floch (Art), Ken Reynolds (Letters), is the most conventionally "slice of life" of the the comics in the anthology. A father who is ill is talking to his son, telling old stories and memories that have shifted and changed in the telling. Maybe the father broke his nose in a boxing match or in a terrible car crash, maybe he met his wife in a casino or a run down pub it does not really matter. It is the telling and the listening that counts and Eric Gaghan writes with sympathy and humour about the telling. The care for the cast gives the stories a warmth that invites the reader into the listening. Gregory Floch's art brings out all of the nuances, told and untold in the stories, the expressive cast respond to each other, the smiles of the father and mother for each other are a treasure. The blue tone saturating the memories/stories gives the memories a soft focus while the action retains it force. Ken Reynolds' nicely differentiated lettering allows the layers of the story to sit next to each other without confusion.
Dreamscape 1: Nightmare. J.M.Bryan (Writer and Art) is a standout even in such powerful company. Writing a comic about dreams is a fantastically difficult problem to solve, the nature of dreams and dream logic is virtually impossible to express convincingly. There are no rules for talent, using abstract art and cunning placement of text J.M.Bryan creates the sensation of a dream in a comic without ever compromising either. Words, pictures and colours are used with disciplined simplicity and powerful effect.
Psychedelic Entropy. Kyle Huston (Writer), Caleb Lindley (Art), Ken Reynolds (Letters), fabulously overboiled writing that is heard as much as read follows the possible disintegration of a mind trying to cope with reality. The wonderful grandeur of the words come right up the limit of parody or outright pretentiousness, they never cross the line because they are anchored so firmly by the stunning art.  Caleb Lindley manifests the words in the art that holds the slippery ideas so firmly that the intent is allowed to be revealed. There is a joyous tension between the flight of the words and ideas and the huge physical weight of the art, the balance is a substantial pleasure to read. Ken Reynolds' letters are hiding their craft in plain sight, they never draw attention to them selves while to bind the whole comic together.
Child Gunther. Bob Schroeder is wonderful, the strongly expressive and dominant art is astonishingly stylised and completely engaging. The story of how a picture of a child was used for years on Kinder chocolate bar, steadily modified over the years is captured with great force and expressiveness. The lettering is as forceful as the art, big blocks of text compete with and try to crowd out the art. The reader is forced to choose one or the other concentrate on at a time. The competition works because the art is so expressive and powerful, it can tolerate the force of the text and incorporate it into the overall scheme. A intriguing story that is served by the powerful artistic imagination of Bob Schroeder.
Without You. Kim Roberts (Writer), Denis Vermesse (Art), Ken Reynolds (Letters) takes an unexpected perspective on a delicate issue. Getting a diagnosis of cancer is such an all encompassing moment that capturing it without without over or underplaying it is extremely difficult. Kim Roberts manages this by taking a deeply unexpected view that reveals the impact, the struggle and outcome with a honest and understanding eye. The art by Denis Vermesse is carefully set up to capture the progress of the story, the passage of time and the ebb and flow of the cancer. The panels control the timing of the story, the overlays capture the rest. The combination is wonderful, the reader is pulled in and along without ever being delivered to false sentiment, the art amplifies every delicate nuance of the writing. Ken Reynolds's letters give the voices clarity and shape, allowing everyone to be heard.
In addition to the comics there is a review of Sticky City, a graphic novel by Joe Bloch. The preview pages of Sticky City are great, strongly expressive, highly disciplined art that looks spontaneous and is clearly the result of deliberate artistic consideration.
Sliced (Quarterly). An Experimental Comic Anthology lives up to its title, the comics are outstanding, made by creators who understand the potential of comics and have the talent and creative muscle to achieve their ideas.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Ken Reynolds. To get a copy of Sliced (Quarterly). An Experimental Comic Anthology. Issue 6, and you should because wonderful, creative comics are a reminder of the joy of living, it is available from  www.slicedquarterly.co.uk

Wolf Country 7. Jim Alexander (Writer), Will Pickering (Art), Jim Campbell (Letters). Planet Jimbot (2017)

There is a sense of tectonic story plates shifting in this issue of the gripping and hugely entertaining story. Halfpenny, the driven leader of the vampire settlement in the Wolf country has been recalled to the Kingdom, the vampire city. The ambiguities of living in the Kingdom have grated on Halfpenny, while a swirl of politics surrounds him. Finally he manage a direct confrontation with a werewolf, the results are not as conclusive as Halfpenny hoped as the jaws of a trap finally close around him. Halfpenny is a sharp blade, this issue starts to reveal the hand that hopes to direct that cutting edge.
Jim Alexander has given the story an interesting structure, there is a brutal fight which has an unexpected consequence, Halfpenny drifts close to a vision of hell that is really his heaven before being recovered to the fantastically more dangerous reality. Halfpenny has been expertly played, it remains to be seen if those who hope to grasp the blade can hold it safely or not.
Will Pickering's art is more that equal to the varying demand of the story. The fight with the werewolf is punishing physical , the close up bring it home, the quiet aftermath leads into the vision of hell or heaven as Half penny makes a stand that aligns him with the vampire god. Swing back to the Kingdom and the brutal calculations of political power the action lies in the contained body language and savage words of the cast. The brutal assessment of Halfpenny the asset by those who intent to exploit the asset have an impact equal to the physical fight with the werewolf.
Wolf Country shows with extraordinary confidence and thoughtful detail the layers that exist in every struggle for power. What has been increasingly fascinating as Wolf Country has developed and extended is just how seriously the creative team take the story and their readers. Moving from a brilliant premise the story has moved deeper and deeper into the structures and plans that entwine the apparently straightforward struggle. The story possibilities become increased as the weight of the actions of the cast become increasing meaningful and dangerous.
The crucible of religious motivation and power politics never produces unmixed or happy results, the scale that Wolf Country is steadily building to is enthralling,  the cast are being backed into various corners, when they start to move out of them it is likely to be astonishing.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Jim Alexander, to purchase a copy of Wolf Country 7, you should and issues 1-6 as well to see exceptional comic storytelling unfurl, it is available here, https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/511072174/wolf-country7

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mistress of the Art of Death.Ariana Franklin. Berkley Books (2008)

A hugely enjoyable and engaging medieval murder mystery that juggles plot mechanics, cast and context with confident ease. 1171 in Cambridge and four children have been murdered and the local Jewish community have been identified as the killers. This is a significant problem for Henry II, the Jews are a crucial source of revenue and they cannot provide any trapped within Cambridge castle. To investigate the case The King of Sicily has sent the only female doctor trained at the famous medical school of Salerno, Adelia, a woman who can read a corpse to understand why the person died. Travelling with two others, one of whom is a castrated Moor, Adelia investigates the deaths as quietly as she can, while navigating the weather and customs of a foreign country. The reveals are cunningly staged, the plot mechanics are very well delivered and the grim justice of the conclusion is harrowing.
For any historical  story the context looms large, it has to be credible and understandable which is a very difficult balance to achieve. The cast must inhabit it naturally and be accessible to a reader, too little or too much information are equally bad. Ariana Franklin creates the context via the landscape and the cast and does so with utterly convincing confidence. Cambridge, set in the marshy fens and prosperous trading routes on the river Cam, the potent fears of outsiders as the source of trouble, the political tides of monarchy and church are all carefully woven into the story that is brought to life by the wonderful cast.
Adelia is an outsider from birth, rescued from exposure on the slopes of Vesuvius, a female doctor and now in England understanding disease much better than humans. Simon of Naples and Mansur her companions who see Adelia for who see is and create the space for her to live as she needs to. The rest of the cast are vividly loudly alive and  demanding attention from the reader, in particular the voracious predator who stalks in the shadows of the story slowly coming forward into the light. The suspects are plentiful and credible, with great skill one investigation crosses with another and the tension between the two becomes personal and professional.
Most impressively Ariana Franklin develops a credible romance between two adults that respects the context and the cast equally, it never robs the characters of their hearts or their brains. Their responses to the developing situation increases the depths and engagement of the characters and the way they manage is very satisfying.
This is first rate crime fiction set in a superbly imagined and credible context with a great cast that are all fighting all the time to be the leads in their own lives. Fantastic.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Ghostly Tides: The Curse of Witch Island (Kickstarter). Kim Roberts, Chris Allen, Denis Pacher . Swamp Line Productions












Swamp Line Productions are running a Kickstarter campaign  for a pirate comic, Ghostly Tides: The Curse of Witch Island. Finn, having failed in the annual pirate trials is open to the suggestion of a witch that he travel to witch island to meet up with the greatest, most fearsome pirate in history The Black Pirate. It is fair to assume that this will not end well for Finn. The sample pages posted on Kickstarter show that the creative team are bringing all the required energy, smart detail, humour needed to make a pirate story.

The cast are full of energy, they are wildly expressive as they should be, this is high order melodrama everything needs to be at full blast. The decorative details in the art are a pleasure and add greatly to the story. The balance, hard to achieve between charm and genuine threat has already been established, the Black Pirate is no lightweight.  The project captures the possibilities of pirate comics with flair, since I would like to see the whole story I am backing this project, a visit to the Ghostly Tides: The Curse of Witch Island Kickstarter page will demonstrate why.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1139490928/ghostly-tides-the-curse-of-witch-island

Anna Galactic. Christopher Baldwin (Writer & Artist). Good Port Publishing (2016)

A wonderfully engaging and enjoyable romantic science fiction story. On board a stranded ship on an alien planet Foxglove Muriel defies the rules to search outside the ship, actions which bring her into direct conflict with security officer Dilvan Ceylon. Foxglove is sure there is something suspicious about their circumstances, Dilvan is trying to enforce the rules. When they cross paths with Anna Galactic, a young woman who parents are arrested , all three flee the ship along with Anna's nannybot, Pewter. They start on a journey to locate the energy source required to power the flight of their ship off the planet and find that the planet is full of surprises and dangers. The action is smart, forceful and frequently very funny, the reveals are cunningly set up and the conclusion is smart and satisfyingly unexpected.
Christopher Baldwin has embraced the challenge of presenting an unknown world with great energy and thoughtful detail. The variety of N.E.B. (Non Earth Beings) is nicely set up so that there are a limited number of different NEB's and the interactions with each are significant. They way the human cast respond to them and the N.E.B.s respond to the humans is always revealing and develops the themes of the story with deft wit. There is always a nice edge of incomprehension that makes the responses and actions ambiguous, every interaction has multiple possibilities, there is a consistent variety in the outcomes to keep the reader engaged.
The journey is not just about the outcome, it is as much a process whereby the human cast get to demonstrate themselves and question what and why they act the way they do. Dilvan and Foxglove are mature adults with established life patterns that they fall back on in trouble. They are also self aware enough to consider different ways of responding even if they are not always able to follow a new path. Anna Galactic is a young woman who is emerging into a entirely new life where she has to be more confident in herself and decide if what she is doing is what she wants to do. This process is very happily complicated by the presence of Pewter whose advice is consistently sharp, awkward and voices the happily unheroic at every turn. This nicely undercuts the more tortured thinking of the human cast and ensures that it never becomes pretentious.
The art is wonderfully friendly and welcoming, the cast are very expressive and move through their context with physical weight and impact. The N.E.B.s are varied without every being too fantastic, they fit into their context as comfortably as the human cast do. Christopher Baldwin sets the imaginative bar very high, knitting crabs should be a ridiculous point that blows up the story, instead they are a terrific and in context entirely credible event.  The art is never angular, its softer lines are complemented perfectly by the colouring. It is slight muted and brings out the details of the expressions for the cast and the details of the physical context with subtle care.
There is a great deal going on in this story and the various elements never trip each other up, smart ustilisation of the story framework allows Christopher Baldwin to effectively and dramatically follow the human drama without ever sacrificing the genre requirements for action and close escapes.
Anna Galactic is thoughtful, smart science fiction, a deep pleasure.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Cold in Hand. John Harvey. Arrow Books (2008)

A very engaging and enjoyable UK police procedural. In Nottingham Detective Inspector Lynne Kellog is involved in a fatal shooting, and finds herself being publicly blamed for the death by the victim's father. Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick, Lynne Kellog's partner, is called in to lead the investigation into the murder and has to manage the conflict of interest smartly exploited by the victim's father. Lynne Kellog on return to duty finds that a previous murder case at a sauna she was involved in is starting to take a very awkward turn and she has to manage two critical witnesses. DI Resnick's investigation finds itself stranded when a possible lead emerges, Lynne Kellog has to deal with some unwanted attention from a colleague involved in sauna murder. When a new murder shakes up everything, the investigations start to collide personally and professionally before they are driven to messy and horribly credible conclusions.
John Harvey has a masterful control of the plot mechanics , the cast and above all the context of the story. The city of Nottingham is seen from the police point of view as a constantly simmering cauldron of violent crime, carried out by people who are not exactly career criminals, more that they simply live lives where violent action and the willingness to take what they want is as natural as breathing. This context keeps bleeding into the story with apparent news flashes of crimes peppering the story, that slowly become entangled into the greater context of the investigation. This context is vital to the story as it makes the isolation of credible suspects fantastically difficult and the work that has to be done to find them all the more engaging.
John Harvey delivers great plot mechanics, a simple case proves to be extremely difficult in part because of the simplicity, a victim shot in public in front of a group of people who have absolutely no interest in revealing anything to the common enemy, the police. A grieving father who understand how to to use words to cut as effectively as any blade and direct his anger and guilt. A complex plan to smuggle a large number of guns into the country that is really the story of modern slavery. Surrounding, colliding with and desperately trying to influence these events the vivid cast that are bristling with life and all working really hard to get what they want. Charlie Resnick who is coming to the point where could retire if he chose handling a case that centrally involves his partner Lynne Kellog. Balancing the personal and professional is never easy, Resnick is given the room to manage it well while accepting the strain. Lynne Kellog is smart , competent and deeply wounded by the accusations of the victims father. Never distracted enough to loose sight of the implications of the sauna murder as she finds them. Detective Chief Inspector Karen Shields drawn into the investigations after another murder is dedicated, capable and forceful. All of them are surrounded by a cast of sharply drawn supporting players who assist and interere as they see the advantage to doing so. The dense and wide ranging cast make the work that Charlie Resnick, Lynne Kellog  and Karen Shields do more difficult and considerably more credible. None are superhuman, they are experienced and sometimes lucky, they know how to capitalise on luck.
This is top flight crime writing, it develops a whole community for the action to take place in, the plots pulls the cast and the cast force the pace of the plot. It is bleak and harsh,the cast have a weary resilience that allows them to continue and provides enough lift for the reader to engage and enjoy this excellent book.

Fredrick The Frost Gnome. Troy Vevasis (Writer), Tyrell Deaver (Art), Nikkki Sherman (Scripting). WP Comics (2017)

A charming and engaging comic that completes a nice set up and pay off in a single issue. The ice sculpture of the Frost Gnome king is vandalised by Ice Goblins who also leave a message about returning for the Frost Gnome King's crown. This naturally leads to a declaration of war though Fredrick is concerned that there may be more going on. As events unfold Fredrick proves to be cool under pressure as well as rather smart and the conclusion is nicely set up for more trouble.
Troy Vevasis, thankfully, does not take the view that writing for children means that a story should be any less well developed than for any other audience. The presentation is more light handed than it would be for a more adult audience, the plot mechanics and the story development would not be changed. The conflict is presented with a considered level of serious intent that the story and the audience deserve.
Tyrell Deaver's friendly art is a pleasure to read, the gnomes and the goblins are strongly differentiated, the Goblins are clearly green skinned villains, the are visibly angry and frustrated. They are going to be tricky opponents. The Frost Gnomes are altogether friendlier, they are peaceful but should not be taken lightly. Fredrick is every inch the hero, loyal and resourceful.
The action is delivered with just the right amount of force and weight, there is no blood but there is plenty of actions and reactions from the cast to bring home just how serious the problem is. The reader is never shortchanged in the story or the art, it is a rock solid action story.
Nikki Sherman's scripting is natural and easy, the lettering blends into the panels without ever drawing attention to itself. The sound effects are sparing and very well used, they give just the extra emphasis that is needed and at the end loudly and suitably underscore the situation.
Writing for an all ages audience with a particular emphasis on children is a seriously difficult matter, all of the distractions and short cuts that can be used for a more adult audience are not available and children are very critical of any attempt to shortchange them. Troy Vevasis and Tyrell Deaver make it look easy, talent has that effect.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy, very kindly sent by Troy Verasis, to purchase a copy of Fredrick the Frost Gnome, which you should because good comics are always a great purchase, you can do so here, WP Comics.