Sunday, 6 November 2011

New articles and new friends.

Recently my involvement with pop-culture site Comicbooked (see right for link) kicked up a gear. As well as an article celebrating the birthday of Steve Ditko, I submitted an extended interview with Frank Quitely which was part of a visit to Hope Street Studios in Glasgow. Both can be viewed here: -

http://www.comicbooked.com/studio-sessions-frank-quitely/

http://www.comicbooked.com/happy-birthday-steve-ditko/

The studio visit, and Quitely's generosity, was a highlight of the year for me. The Glasgow artist is a personal hero of mine so it was a very big deal, and I came away inspired in the work I'm doing inside and outside comics.




Now working in a bookshop in Carlisle, I've made some new friends and helped man a graphic novel and manga evening in-store, which was a lot of fun and opened my eyes to the desire for more of these events in the North. Over 200 attendees proves that, even in such a rural area, there are people out there who respond to comics and need to see more events like this staged.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Who On Earth Was Thaddeus Mist?



I'm delighted to announce more details for the next big comic project I'm working on for Accent UK.

At the funeral of a mysterious and enigmatic gentleman, newly-wed Zelda Mist mourns for the husband she never knew, for Thaddeus Mist kept a life-time of secrets. In her grief she approaches each funeral guest to discover details of the strange life he lived.
As they each tell the tale of Thaddeus Mist their flawed memories and individual imaginations shape their stories into mundane fictions and fantastical truths. These accounts disgust, scare, entertain, and inspire her in equal measure, but it falls to Mrs. Mist to decided which version of her husband lived. So...Who On Earth Was Thaddeus Mist?

Who On Earth Was Thaddeus Mist? will be a multi-creator graphic novel written and drawn by the freshest new talent in UK and US comic books.


I'm excited about this even though I've been working on it for a long time now (work began roughly April/May). It's a strange little beast, part regular anthology, part concept album. More details will surface (such as the artists working on the book) as and when through either myself or Accent UK, but I can reveal which writers I've been working with. It's quite a list.

I'm humbled to be working with Dave West (Eagle award winning writer of Whatever Happened To The World's Fastest Man?),
Marleen Lowe (also an eagle-award winner, Marleen will be illustrating her own contribution), novelist Max Deacon, Ben Dickson (writer of Falling Sky and Children Of The Moon, Andrew Cheverton (writer and co-creator of the West series), Jim Schwitzer and Mark Douglas (8AM anthology, Zombies 2, and Tales From The Parent's Basement alumni). The mega-talented Mal Earl (who provided the teaser image above) is on conceptual designing duties.

Stay tuned for more such as breakdowns of the editing process (which has been a very different experience for me), concept art, and news!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Interview in Comic Buyer's Guide.

I've been out of the loop for a while finishing the masters and moving location, but jumping back into work and art this week. There is a LOT to do...

Charging into my stack of comics that have been waiting 6 months to be read, I was really pleased to see the interview with Brent Frankenhoff from Comic Buyer's Guide appear in their issue 1681! It's an honor to be featured in such an important magazine in the world of comics, so huge thanks go to Brent and CBG in general.





And now to tackle those projects...

Monday, 4 July 2011

They're digging in the wrong place...

I recently landed a gig as writer for the website Comic Booked http://www.comicbooked.com/

I'm very excited and overwhelmed by the welcome and the size of the community they seem to have. I was selected to join their team in order to contribute articles and reviews on the strength of a piece I wrote especially for them. The subject was the impact of Raiders of the Lost Ark: one of my favourite films. Here it is.


We open on the exotic squawk of the South American jungle in 1936, treated to a character introduction so economical it doesn’t require words. The ten minutes that follow give us one of the most entertaining and iconic action set piece of all time, burning Raiders Of The Lost Ark into the public consciousness and onto the landscape of cinema forever. It has influenced generations of filmmakers and inspired legions of ten-year-olds to buy a fedora. Its impact has been colossal, and still felt in most modern blockbusters. But what was the magic ingredient that makes us remember Henry Jones Jr. and forget the rest? There have been many pretenders, but what was so special about Raiders Of The Lost Ark?



Conceived for release in 1981 by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg while on vacation in Hawaii following the Star Wars explosion, Raiders of The Lost Ark was intended as pure entertainment: a Saturday matinee pulp from the 1930’s, a classic ‘roller-coaster’ story structure lent the muscular stunts and sharp editing of an emerging 1980’s kind of film. Raiders of The Lost Ark, along with others, helped shape this identifiably 80’s new breed. It came to define not a film but a popcorn movie, a blockbuster with all the connotations the word implies: action, suspense, romance and mystery. It also made a steamer-boatload of money. Unfortunately, this treasure hunt seems to be the driving force behind many of the imitators that have followed. It opened the flood-gates for many success stories, but became responsible for an unfortunate (at least in this reviewers eyes) and uninspiring trend.
Raiders has had a hand in shaping literature (Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code), video games (Drake’s Fortune), and, of course, graphic novels (Hellboy, Fear Agent). Many of the best examples can be found in genre mash-ups, loving homage’s, and creative re-imaginings (Peter Jackson’s King Kong.) Shot for shot, Indy’s character introduction is filmed using the language of comic books - all whip-pans, close-up revolvers poised to shoot, and traitors fleeing at the crack of a whip. It is strangely cyclical that Lucas, inspired by the pulp comics of his youth, produced a film that had an effect on the media form it made homage to.
John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher Hallowe’en, although not the first of its kind, spawned decades of flicks which lacked the film’s uniquely suspenseful and ominous tone. Similarly, the action-adventure films that have followed Raiders have been lazy, adopting the easiest, most thoughtless elements of what made it great. The list of films that have drank too greedily from its Holy Grail are endless – Tomb Raider, Pirates Of The Caribbean, National Treasure, Prince of Persia, as well as most superhero films of the last two decades. Raiders’ power can be felt everywhere, most notably in the new trailer for Marvel’s Captain America, full of evil Nazis and period derring-do.
But Indiana Jones and his debut are cut from a different cloth entirely. He is a hero defined by his intellect and resourcefulness not by his combat skills, as his shooting of the Arab swordsman will attest (in itself an improvisation following Harrison Ford’s encounter with suspect Egyptian food). He is made charming not through his violence, but with the knowledge that he is always one step behind his opponent, never quite hitting the mark of proficient action hero. It helps that Ford delivers the whole thing with an ironic shrug as a reminder that the whole thing isn’t to be taken too seriously (another misstep of those Hollywood beefcakes that have followed him through the cinematic desert). The brain and the heart are missing. We need look no further than The Lord Of The Rings trilogy to see that talent, not property, are behind successful modern blockbusters.
What endures, and marks Raiders out as the yardstick by which all other blockbusters are measured, is the gleeful verve in which the story is told. The story itself is deceptively simple -effectively ‘Nazis have Ark, Indy has ark’ - but the structure is watertight. The Pirate’s Of The Caribbean scriptwriters, who openly admit to lifting from Raiders, would learn much from this uncomplicated plot. Suspense and atmosphere are integral (legendary composer John Williams, cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, and production designer Norman Reynolds are largely responsible for Raider’s earthy, timeless hue). Suspense: that vital element now reserved only for the genre of horror cinema. A knuckle-fest for the ADD generation this is not. That is not to say the pace of the film isn’t relentless (it is edited within an inch of its life), but unlike many modern blockbusters the action scenes carry an emotional heft and the slower scenes become more enticing once you know the film inside out. Belloc’s café speech, the inept government lackeys, Jones’s history with Abner Ravenwood – all enrich the universe created. Huge admiration must go to scriptwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who laces scenes of extended action with wit and intelligence.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is not a flawless film. Marion Ravenwood (however great) is treated as just one of the boys, and her romantic interactions with Indy are hesitantly sketched. Under intense scrutiny the film also proves morally problematic. Indy kills henchmen left and right for merely taking part in an archaeological dig and the Nazis rack up a zero body-count for the whole running time. But otherwise, Jones (unlike Inglorious Basterd’s murderous manifesto) remains defensive not offensive, his goal being to prevent the Nazis using the ark to enslave the earth.
Although criticism has been levelled at the lack of emotional complexity, or the revenge fantasy of a Jewish American boy recapturing his adolescence by reigning ‘the wrath of god’ down upon the Nazis, they miss why Spielberg made it and why his audience adore it. Schindler’s List is Spielberg’s mature response to the holocaust – Raiders is his childhood response. Indiana Jones isn’t beloved by so many for its nuanced character portraits and mythology. It is at its heart a story of good versus evil, and the set pieces have made it legendary. That Raiders managed all of this whilst remaining effortlessly cool and, ultimately, iconic, seems to me the reason why others have since attempted to climb the same peak and failed. The boulder. The basket chase. The vine swing. The snake pit. Many of these happen in the first ten minutes. The man’s silhouette is iconic. Ford’s character has become a by-word for adventure with a capital A.
Perhaps that is the missing ingredient, the buried artifact the popcorn movie just cannot excavate. Studios are spending a fortune trying to artificially reconstruct a quality that came easily to friends Lucas and Spielberg in the early 80’s. Whisper it, ‘fun.’ However effortless Raiders of the Lost Ark looks, the secret is not to be found in the iconography of the film. This is thoughtfully crafted and intelligent mainstream filmmaking. And intelligently made popcorn movies are something we, as a modern audience, are sorely lacking.

Stay tuned for more on my work with comic booked.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Capes



Been doing some commissions recently to make ends meet. This is one of them. Intended as a poster for a superhero themed event, the text and information/pricing etc. is to feature on the cape. Fun to do.

A friend from work is teaching me to color my stuff this week so many frustrating hours and fried attempts are sure to follow...

Friday, 20 May 2011

Fly on, Kypto



Molly died today. We grew up in Smallville, Cumbria together for 18 years.

She was my tour guide on jungle expeditions, my alien companion in shuttle runs to Jupiter, my wrestling opponent on hunting voyages to dinosaur island, my trusty steed during highway robberies. We had our bad days. She got fleas, I got head lice. She got abandoned at the kennels on holidays abroad, I had to rid her of ticks. She got clipped, I got dumped.

I was not there at the end, because I went off to college for solo adventures. Now she's on one of her own.

Like all the best bandit teams, I'm not sure either of us realized how important those capers were.

RIP Molly, my Krypto.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

'They're coming to get you, Barbara!'



Been working on my strip for Zombies 2 for Accent UK this week. I've never illustrated my own writing before so I'm treating it like a grand experiment. Wish me luck! It could all turn out horribly wrong...

Monday, 16 May 2011

Going Orbital!



Space, and all that implies, seems to be the focus of this month...

I took my final masters class last week, leaving the huge empty space that is the summer holidays to finish my dissertation. I'm excited, because I'm having fun writing it.

This week also saw the Neil Gaiman Doctor Who episode, which was suitably thrilling...okay so it was one of the best episodes I've ever seen. Just brilliant writing. I also met up with Idris at Bristol comic expo, where the police box was just parked in the lobby of the hotel. As you do.

Although I only stayed for the first day, I had long chats with Andy Bloor, Tony Hitchman, Ben Dickson and Andrew Cheverton about various schemes and plots we plan to enact together. It was a lot of fun. The real joy of the day was discovering Orbital, a comic drawn by French creator Serge Pelle.



After chatting to him for a while (via his translator, the awesome Guillaume Rater), I bought volume one of the series, and got a sketch inside! The quality and production of these European comics is astounding, and I look forward to collecting more in the future.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Re-fuel



'Why is it that whenever I go home I know exactly what to do?'

I read this line in a recent issue of New York Five and couldn't get it out of my head for an hour. Recently I had been working pretty hard on just paying the bills, taking on a paid commission, which meant that my writing took a dive. Work on comics was slowing down and Easter break hit my classes at college for two weeks. In light of this I decided to take a week off and go home to my parent's house, mainly to rest. It was a good decision and, although I missed people, I got the time-out that was needed.

I've had a few fun ideas for short stories in the past weeks (not like me at all), so I read Kiss, Kiss by Roahl Dahl to remind myself how funny, scary and wonderful his stories were and inspire some of my own. After finishing The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie - which was fantastic for very different reasons - it was nice to read something shorter. After visiting a great bookshop in Carlisle I decided it was time to delve back into children's fiction again, so I bought Momo by Michael Ende (I adored the Neverending Story) and Holes by Louis Sachar which, unbelievably, I've never got round to reading.

I picked up far too many comic books from Imagination Station, and may review the more interesting ones at a later date.

I also went to Motor-Cross with my mother. Anyone who knows the first thing about me knows I didn't attend for the sport but because I wanted to take photos and find myself fascinated by the excitement of it all...that and I secretly want to be Evel Knievel...



I'm now excited about getting back to work, about creating more things, about seeing people I've missed....and I guess that was what I was missing before I left. Excitement.

Summer is my favourite time of the year. This year it hit Oxford early, and I can't wait to get back.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Saving Cinema's and other reviews

This week I found out that the cinema in my hometown is closing down after over one hundred years of showing movies to the public. I got very angry about this and wrote an article that can be found here http://talesfromtheparentsbasement.com/reviews/?p=635

In other news I have two new reviews up at Tales from the Parent's Basement.The Hellboy review is here http://talesfromtheparentsbasement.com/reviews/?p=617 and the Kull review is here http://talesfromtheparentsbasement.com/reviews/?p=628

Now to sleep.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Re-writes and Red Shoes



Been busy with novel re-reads today, in preparation for re-writing this month. It has been fun to revisit those characters and throw everything around, killing my darlings to make way for something (hopefully) better. Going to watch the Red Shoes tonight and finish Trainspotting which I have been reading to inspire a very different kind of project that will surface in the future.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

If I could be anything in the world that flew/ I would be a bat and come swooping after you



Sketching Lou Reed and listening to Transformer. Finished my major writing earlier so it's nice to do something a little less cognitive. Plan on writing some brand-spanking new comic reviews for Tales From The Parent's Basement later, then rocking out with Donkey Kong and friends from work. All in all, an exemplary evening.

Friday, 14 January 2011

And tonight I wanna break my chains/Somebody break my heart/Somebody shake my brains



Been sketching Mister Miracle because I'm so into my Forth World collection right now. Never been a huge Kirby fan before, tended to find John Buscema's Silver Surfer heavier on elegance and melancholy, which is just how I like my surfer. But my girlfriend, Louise, bought me the first omnibus collection for christmas and it's just astounding. I'm glad I waited until I was old enough to appreciate it.

As I was sketching Springsteen was playing in the background, and he suggested the title lyric. I've found myself listening to him a lot lately, specifically the 1978 album Darkness On The Edge of Town (underrated after the success of Born To Run). I like its bleaker edge, and the expression of yearning to break out of whatever trap you find yourself in. Springsteen and Scott Free are singing messages into my ear. I feel hopeful and truly inspired, for the first time in ages. Bring on Darkseid, I'll whoop his big grey ass.

Thursday, 13 January 2011


"Some guys they just give up living,
and start dying little by little, piece by piece.
Some guys come home from work and wash up
and go racing in the street."

Monday, 10 January 2011

Basement Updates!!

Wow. 2011 has been a busy one so far. Things are moving along nicely on 'Maker & I'. I received the first colored pages back from Matt Soffe and I have to say that man is a little bit of a genius...I love what he's pulling out of the bag and so glad he's on board with myself and Dan. Totally stoked for this book. Find Matt Soffe and Dan Duncan's sites on the right.

Also, I've become friends with the chaps at Tales From The Parent's Basement, as you probably guessed because I never shut up about them. The more I work with those guys on various things the more I want to hit a convention with them and get into misadventures. I recently told Ryan that I imagine their podcasts being somewhat like Lord of the Flies (from what I have gathered I think Cally would be the one beaten to death with a Gonch shell, and that makes me sad :(

They're awesome guys so please check out their site! Our bromance continues in my preview of Oni Press comic 'The Sixth Gun', as well as the article 'planet nerd' that was previously posted here... http://talesfromtheparentsbasement.com/reviews/?p=609

Saturday, 8 January 2011

PLANET NERD. POPULATION: SPOILERS

“You churn around in the drawer and pull out what catches your eye, bits and pieces drawn from movies and history and your own fancy, and make something new, something no one has ever seen or imagined before.”
-Michael Chabon, Manhood for Amateurs

Despite my fearlessness in childhood, it had taken three months to pluck up the courage to enter the first comic store I ever saw. I was ten years old.
A small place in the most notorious part of Carlisle, the Imagination Station was painted black and blood red, with a black chain-link grill perpetually covering the windows in an effort to deter thieves. What the criminals of the blue-collar backstreets of the North of England would want with Silver Age comic books – predominantly featuring men in spandex - is a question that would always confuse me. It looked more like an S&M palace than a comic store, and as mum drove our busted up old mini metro past I would stare, through fear and curiosity, out the window, only to be haunted by it as I followed mum through the bright lights of the department store in the city centre. Weeks later, I deemed myself brave enough to approach.

You could never see much through the metal grill encasing the comic store’s forbidden pleasures. Its appearance seemed as concerned with scaring people off as inviting in trade. Nestled amongst the pop culture memorabilia were model kits of Leather-face, Pinhead and company, characters with names which only added to my feeling of apprehension that I was fascinated by a culture that would send me tumbling down a fetish rabbit-hole. At the front of the window stood a resin maquette of an Alien creature designed by H R Giger. I was completely mesmerized by this statue. It summed up everything that drew me into the orbit of the place. It also scared the shit out of me. Like Imagination Station itself, it was macabre and gruesome, frightening in its promise of a world not for the squeamish, like sneaking downstairs to watch a horror movie mum had banned me from watching. At the same time there was something dynamic and exciting about that eighteen inch maquette. I guess I was fascinated by comics because they were a bastard art-form, at once freed and shackled by the tag that they were not, and never would be, mentioned in the same breath as fine art. Perhaps that is why those in the know defend their title so fiercely. It was like being there when Ziggy played the last show at the Hammersmith Apollo; in on The Comedian’s joke when Watchmen hit the stands. It was theirs and theirs alone, defiantly impenetrable, and a punk-rock fuck you to those that didn’t understand it.

Times change. It is a universal fact that the term ‘geek’ as it was used in the 1980’s, as a tag to categorize an individual in possession of a niche popular culture obsession, is now totally obsolete. I am a twenty three year old male from the UK and, as far as I understand it, hail from the LAST true generation of geek, born as I was in 1987. I grew up with Nintendo, Alan Moore and Star Wars already established as calling cards into a certain sphere of existence. I did not inherit a defensive attitude to that which I loved probably because it was handed down to me, rather than forged. I was granted ten minutes (ten WHOLE minutes!) to play Donkey Kong on my cousin’s SNES. I was in the playground when the Pokémon craze landed itself on BBC News. For my generation, we carried no nostalgia for a time when humming Zelda’s theme on an imaginary Ocarina had the power of a secret handshake. There was no golden-days romance because we were born with them behind us. I suppose it is easy for me to say it is snobbish and lazy to wear your geek credentials as the badge of a martyr, because for children of my age those barriers had all but been erased.



Great works, and indeed the nerd virus itself, can strike at any moment in our lives. My mother consumed Six Feet Under, the fantastic HBO show, at a rate of knots. My father has a room dedicated to Mongolian culture, movies, and art. I disagree that being an obsessive nerd is an issue of demographic or age, as if memorizing the dialogue from Jason and The Argonauts filled the air-time that girls would take up (I responded to Y: The Last Man - a text I religiously followed through university – precisely because I was interested in girls). Being a geek now, more than ever, is used to quantify the mode of consumption rather than the content. For me, saying you loved a band before they were famous is self-congratulatory when, in fact, we should be proud of that band for winning over new fans. Instead of telling someone you ‘liked them before they were big’, try asking them what their favourite tracks are. No lasting piece of art can sustain itself without consumption, without disagreement or debate. It doesn’t matter if it’s a national phenomenon or a specialist convention with two attendees, popular culture creates connections between people who share similar interests. Once it ceases to do that, and warring tribes fight over possession, it is rendered useless.

What concerns me more is the generation following mine. There was a certain amount of scrappiness to the Star Wars trilogy, a vagueness that allowed those viewing the universe to populate it with their own imaginations. That was something I found liberating. The director of Empire Strikes Back Irvine Kirshner died last month, his death bringing with it fond memories of hurling myself through a snow day to escape the metallic stamp of AT-AT walkers. Anything that even remotely looked like a sword was swung around to the sound of blowing air through your cheeks. My worry is that technology has removed the option of audience engagement. CGI, however wonderful, cannot replace that intangible charm of seeing Harryhausen’s fingernails in the clay. That is not nostalgia speaking, but a hunger for less sanitized, adult-approved and quality controlled worlds that children are given. We shouldn’t be patronizing by having fluffy creatures tell fart-gags in a vacuous animated film, nor should we be designating a ‘child-friendly’ line of comics. We need to create a universe as vast and detailed as Tolkien’s or Lucas’s in which they can get lost. Thank god, then, for Pixar and Phillip Pullman. We are starved for good stories, deluding ourselves that we can fill that void with visual stimulation which, as satisfying as it can be in the moment, does not make us fall in love.
To me, Denny O’Neill and Neal Adam’s run on Green Lantern had as much to say about the human condition as the Shakespeare we trudged through on endless school afternoons. Watchmen was my Ulysses; intoxicating but incomprehensible at fourteen, life-affirming on the journey through college. The reason these movies, video-games, comics and (insert any pop culture you were ever passionate about here) were so obsessively loved is that we built our hearts around them. Stories are something we have always and will always need. That is how new generations of film-makers, writers and musicians become inspired.



The key to the underground has been handed to the surface dwellers and the blame and thanks for that largely falls to the internet. After all, you can read the synopsis for every movie, every T.V. show, every book you desire. This has removed a certain facility of our brains designed for coming to our own conclusions about what we consume. As a writer, I also worry that this removes the ability to re-interpret and re-mould those inspirations into new art. But I look to optimism. The blame for a barren culture falls to those who create, and those who consume. Simply, if we stop watching terrible movies they will cease to be made. I firmly believe that the imaginative space of children only shrinks if they stop being imaginative. In the same way, it may be a point that the internet makes it harder than ever for struggling artists to be heard. Interesting thought, but that forces young artists to be better, to work harder, to stand out from the crowd. Edgar Wright created Scott Pilgrim, a movie about being a kung-fu nerd. Final Fantasy has written an album about love through the eyes of a gamer. The lead singer of My Chemical Romance has a book inspired by his love of the X-Men. It is wonderful that any kid with a Mac and editing software can make a film. Now if that kid were only talented enough, he or she could conquer the world.

There will forever be niche interests. Just as Shaun of The Dead becomes required viewing for Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, forever moving out of obscurity, so a small comics label from Sao Paolo quietly creates a masterpiece in the making. The joy of the nerd comes from the knowledge that there will always be someone out there carving away at their hobbies and looking to get out of the basement.
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