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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Maidenstone 2.Chris Robertson (Writer), Scott Beveridge (Art), Andrew Kelly (Cover Art), Angie Smith (Editor). Baguette Noir Press (2015)

A very engaging and enjoyable comic with a stand out lead character. Lucy Maitland has lost her father in an accident and her brother and her mother are crumbling in the aftermath of the death. Lucy is trying to hold everyone together while coming under significant pressure from fellow pupils at school. When she meet Dylan, a friendly stranger who helps her Lucy finds that she is falling for him. As the story continues in this issue it becomes clear that Dylan is not entirely what he appears to be and Lucy's problems with the other pupils become significantly worse. Lucy's brother Jamie is becoming aware that something strange is swirling around them but is unable to express it clearly or forcefully enough to be properly heard. Lucy gets a dressmaking commission which may become the opportunity that Dylan was looking for.
This is Lucy's story and she deserves the spotlight. She is a great character, Chris Robertson has done something remarkable, written a teenager who feels like a teenager. Unfortunately most teenager characters are so buried in cliches that the reader cannot hear their heartbeat. Lucy is vital and strongly herself, she is massively distressed, confused and horrifyingly vulnerable, she is also resilient, aware and determined. Lucy engages the reader forcefully by being herself and this is what makes the story work. Lucy is increasingly in danger and the tensions exists because the reader has the opportunity to care about her. The rest of the cast are equally varied in themselves and have a strong claim on the reader. The chief bully who spearheads the trouble at school for Lucy is not given any extra dimensions, the sheer force of her attacks give her powerful and nastily credible life.
Scott Beveridge's art is a pleasure to read, it captures the atmosphere and the subtle moves of the story with force and vivid expressiveness. The gray tones of the art capture the pervasive sense of loss and anxiety that hang on everyone, the emotions are loud and sharp, anger is always just waiting to explode. The quiet time with Dylan is a relief and frightening at the same time. Each member of the cast is distinct and at the same time share strong resemblances. Nicely done to capture the sense of a small town with a strong local population that has not changed much over time as well as being Lucy's perspective.
The creators have delivered another intriguing episode in a strongly individual story with a confident and forceful style. They are taking advantage of the medium to push the story and capture the reader, making it look easy and unforced. A pleasure to read.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Chris Robertson. To buy a copy of Maidenstone 2, and you should give yourself the pleasure of reading a strong, thoughtful and original comic, it can be purchased at  Forbidden Planet and Plan 9 in Aberdeen, and on our Big Cartel site. http://baguettenoirpress.bigcartel.com/ 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Gabriel. Jim Alexander (Writer), David Hill (Art), Mick Trimble (Art), Nate Pride (Letters), Jim Campbell (Letters). Planet Jimbot (2015)

A wonderfully confident and unexpected comic that neatly avoids the inherent problems that comes with the subject matter.
The Devil is Everywhere. Jim Alexander (Writer), David Hill (Art),  Nate Pride (Letters). In 2015 Glasgow is a Christian,perhaps Catholic, theocracy and Gabriel Stewart is trying to deal with the last stage of a failed marriage. At the same time something is cutting a very bloody swathe through the city and is being pursued by the Saint Templar, the the forceful arm of Church security. Gabriel and the killer cross paths and find themselves tied messily in a knot together. The story unfolds across a very cleverly splintered narrative that gives multiple views of the story that finally arrives a neatly and satisfyingly uncertain ending.
Religion, like any topic based on belief is a problem for fiction, it is either obvious or stupid depending on perspective and neither allow for creative tension which is the heartbeat of fiction. Jim Alexander has threaded this needle with craft and a very engaging element of uncertainty. The dominant church is based on certainty, it is the source of truth therefore anyone and everyone else by definition is lying. Not simply lying but actively denying the truth of the church and therefore an enemy. The enemies of the church are demons and demons need to be dealt with harshly, the Saint Templars are theretofore entirely correct in their violent and brutal actions against the enemies of the church.
The demon who is killing his way around Glasgow is sure of what he is doing, the moment that certainty is shaken is a fatal mistake. Gabriel is pretty much alone in not being sure of anything excerpt that he is still in love with his wife. It is this ambiguity that Jim Alexander uses to move past the problems of certainty and create room for engaging fiction that allow the whole cast , context and story come into life on their own terms. There is no slashing satire at the stupidity of credulous believers being lead by hypocritical and corrupt divines. Believers are granted their beliefs with all its various shades, honest brutality is still brutal. Gabriel brings the shadows to the black and white and allows the reader to read the story without feeling boxed into a settled point of view. Jim Alexander has built a story arc that bends very nicely away from reader expectations that are equally cleverly set up at the start.
David Hill's art is a pleasure to read, detailed and fluid, the cast are full of life when resting or in violent action. The cast are all delivered with telling detail, the walk on parts are given as much attention as the main cast. This gives the whole story a depth and strong presence that is really important. The action scenes where the demon is busy with killing are stunning, the demon is always horrifyingly calm while still in deadly motion. The physical details of the buildings and the clothes the cast wear are superb, they are never obvious, they are just right and give the story real physical weight and presence.
Nate Pride's lettering is so effective as to be virtually invisible, it is set up with care so it is just read naturally as part of the story, it never snags the readers attention while it is always clear and effective. A considerable achievement.
"I am the Resurrection"Jim Alexander (Writer), Mick Trimble (Art), Jim Campbell (Letters)  is a sort of epilogue to the main story and one where Jim Alexander takes an entirely logical and huge storytelling risk and resolves it with sharp humour and an very satisfying dash of optimism. A man in a Stone Roses t-shirt appears interrupts a street race, washes a prostitutes feet and gets really angry at a market and is arrested. He tell a priest a strange story and greets Gabriel Stewart. The fallout from these actions is smart, unexpected and happily optimistic.
Mick Trimble's art is friendly and engaging, the art feels full of light, there is very little shadow in the work. This is perfect for the story, it is about the place for optimism, not denying anything but dealing with it and getting on. The art has a light, subtle good humour even when the scenes turn violent, it never loses its touch. Jim Campbell's lettering is an example of how to put a lot of information into a speech bubble without making it crowded or obtrusive.
Unexpected and very engaging, Gabriel is strong comic by a very talent group of creators, a great read.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly send by Jim Alexander. To buy a copy of Gabriel and you should give yourself the pleasure of reading an excellent comic by doing so, you can purchase it for £5 plus P&P at the Planet Jimbot online shop at: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/244444294/gabriel-tpb