Sunday, 6 May 2007


Newcastle upon Tyne has two comics shops, located on the same street a few yards away from each other. They presented quite a contrast in their approach to Free Comic Book Day yesterday.

The branch of Travelling Man had gone to town with it. Their window display was made up entirely of FCBD books, and a table piled high with FCBD comics was the first thing you encountered coming through the door. Then you noticed the balloons, the cheerful music and the crowds of children. In addition to the FCBD comic books, Travelling Man had a big jar of promotional Batman Heroclix to give out, as well as copies of an A5 32-page comic, And That? put together by staff and regular customers. As you’d expect, this was quite a mixed anthology, but I particularly liked the 2-page strip “Xtras” written by Lee Robson and drawn by Lonny Chant.

Up the street at Forbidden Planet, I thought at first that the shop wasn’t participating. If there was a notice up about FCBD, I didn’t see it, and there were no free comics on display. When I went up to the till to buy some books, the assistant rooted around under the counter and came up with a couple of FCBD comics to match, but you can’t use a free gift as an incentive to buy unless you tell people that it’s available. I normally like the Newcastle FP: unlike most branches, the staff there are friendly and helpful. But they really missed a trick yesterday. I have never seen the shop so quiet on a Saturday.

Still, the point of the exercise is not just to give stuff away, but to encourage customers to come back and buy more. Here are the unfamiliar comics I sampled.

The Lone Ranger/Battlestar Galactica, Dynamite Entertainment, 2007
The Lone Ranger by Brett Matthews (writer), Sergio Cariello (artist), Dean White (colourist), Simon Bowland (letterer), cover by John Cassaday, 8 pages
Battlestar Galactica by Brandon Jerwa (writer), Stephen Segovia (artist), Inlight Studio (colourists), Simon Bowland (letterer), 8 pages

The Lone Ranger was the most pleasant surprise of the day. The story has the Lone Ranger run through the moral code his father taught him while rescuing a school from some bad guys. It is nicely paced, includes a couple of jokes, and has fluid but convincingly realistic artwork. I’ll be checking out the regular series and the collected edition of the first six issues.

But this is a flip book, and Battlestar Galactica is a dreadful B-side, with a muddled story (which seems to undermine the whole set-up of the relaunch), leaden dialogue, and artwork that takes us right back to the worst of 1990s Image.

That’s Commander Adama on the right. If I were Edward James Olmos, I’d be insulted.

Virgin Comics Special, cover by Alex Ross, Virgin Comics, 2007
Ramayan 3392 AD by Shamik Dasgupta (script), Abishek Singh (art), Ashwin Chikerur (colour), Ravikiran BS (letters), 8 pages
The Sadhu by Gotham Chopra (script), R Mandikandan (art), SS Bhaskar (colours), Nilesh S Mahadik & Sudhir B Pisal (letters), 5 pages
Walk In by Jeff Parker (script), Asish Padlekar (art), Sheetel Tanaji Patil (colours), Ravikiran BS & Nilesh S Mahadik (letters), 3 pages
Devi by Siddharth Kotian (script), Mukesh Singh (art), Nanjan J (colours), Ravikiran BS & Nilesh S Mahadik (letters), 7 pages

Virgin’s sampler is made up of short extracts from already published comics. This does no favours to Ramayan 3392 AD and Devi in particular. Both are fantasy epics rooted in Indian myth, and it is hard to get a feel for the writing from gobbets that were never intended to stand alone. The art on both is lush and highly rendered. Abishek Singh’s work on Ramayan 3392 AD is somewhat reminiscent of Clint Langley’s artwork for Sláine in 2000AD, and while Mukesh Singh’s art on Devi has that 1990s Image finish I always moan about, he also has some figure work here that reminds me of Alan Davis. So, I’m not sold yet, but I’d certainly like to take a look at longer samples of these.

The Sadhu on the other hand, which appears to be a modern-day super hero story based on Indian mysticism, is a definite no. Even in five pages, the script feels clunky, and the art is poorly composed and blandly finished.

The one I’m tempted to go out and buy immediately (budget permitting) is Walk In, a tale of a Mancunian drifter becoming involved with mysterious and supernatural goings-on. Jeff Parker’s amusing script and Asish Padlekar’s bright, open and attractive artwork shine even in a 3-page extract.

Comics Festival, covers by Darwyn Cooke and Bryan Lee O’Malley, Legion of Evil Press and Toronto Comic Arts Festival, 2007
Contains 28 pages of comic strips by Darwyn Cooke, Doug Wright, Kean Soo, Eric Kim, John Martz, Jim Zubkavitch, Brian McLachlan, Michael Cho, J Bone, Chip Zdarsky, Zach Worton, Hope Larson, Steve Manale, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Rob Coughler, Ramón Pérez, Ray Fawkes, Cameron Stewart, Richard Stevens 3, Steve Rolston, Ryan North, Jim Munroe, Salgood Sam and Howie Shia

Unusually, this comic is not promoting a particular publication or publisher, but rather the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, to be held in August. I’m unlikely to be attending, being on the wrong side of the Atlantic, but I did greatly enjoy this packed anthology of short strips by Canadian creators. Not all of these relate to any commercially available products, but of those that do, I am tempted to look out for Chip Zdarsky’s Monster Cops (the Universal Studios monsters in a police comedy) and The Apocalipstix by Ray Fawkes and Cameron Stewart (which seems like a less anarchic Tank Girl).

Owly, cover by Andy Runton, Top Shelf Publications, 2007
Owly “Helping Hands” by Andy Runton, 26 pages
Korgi “Sprout’s Lost Cookie” by Christian Slade, 6 pages

On this example, Owly seems to be a comic purely for children rather than for all ages. The artwork is lovely and expressive, but relentlessly cheerful. The gimmick of this series is that all dialogue is expressed in pictograms rather than words. I would recommend that any adult intending to sit down and read this with a child goes through it first to work out what the pictograms all mean – I found some of them rather hard!

I didn’t care for the Korgi back up strip. The story wasn’t very clear, and I’d hate to have to try to explain to a child what happened at the end (was the dog a pyrokinetic?). The art is rather crude, too – although Slade has a good handle on the Corgi dog, his human figurework seems disjointed, and the onmipresent hatching messy and overbearing. It doesn’t help that the cookie of the title looks more like an egg in some panels. The biographical notes say that Slade is a former Disney animator, so presumably these are deliberate stylistic choices, an attempt to draw the way a child might, but no more appealing for that.

The Train Was Bang On Time by Eddie Campbell, from a film script by C Gaby Mitchell, 29 pages of strip, First Second Books, 2007

This extract from Eddie Campbell’s forthcoming book The Black Diamond Detective Agency was the big disappointment of the day, given that I have enjoyed a lot of Eddie Campbell’s work in the past. I’m sure that it suffers from being detached from the book as a whole, but I found this a very jerky, disjointed read. It feels like it has been imperfectly adapted from the original film script: long pages of silent montage are interleaved with pages overloaded with info-dump dialogue, like these panels.

Perhaps it would have been better if Campbell had worked from a synopsis rather than a script? The opening pages, which use un-cinematic techniques such as cutaway drawings and third-person narration, are easily the most effective here.

I don’t know if I’ll end up buying enough for the publishers, distributors and retailers to get back their money from the freebies, but I did find some new strips I might have missed otherwise. To that extent, job done.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Virgin,

Mr S Kotian is doing a great job. devi in mind blowing. Seen his work previously too. Waiting for more exciting stories. We would love to meet you some day.