Violent! suffers from many of the problems with anthology titles in general, and serial anthologies in particular: competing styles and tones get in the way of establishing a consistent identity; individual creators switch their fickle imaginations to pastures new (one strip here, "The Flatworm", features the debut of its fifth artist in just six appearances); plus, it's all too easy to lose track of the various plotlines during the six-month gap between issues.
Which is a pity, because there's much to admire here. Darren Douglas' "Space Dude" may have lifted its central conceit out of Galaxy Quest, but his writing is lively and his artwork top-rate (imagine Flesh Gordon drawn by Ian Gibson). Eales' supervillain drama "The Flatworm" may have recruited James Kircough, but he'll need to work harder on getting each episode to stand on its own two feet; this one feels like the opening minutes of an old Mission: Impossible episode, the slightly tedious bit where Jim Phelps used to throw cast photos onto his coffee table. I also can't say I'm a big fan of Eales' collaboration with Mike Sivier and Stephen Prestwood, "Hard-Boiled Hitler", which seems intended as a satirical spin on the absurdist racism of the unlamented Valiant strip "Captain Hurricance" but strikes me as a one-trick pony past its welcome. Which brings us to "A Little Knowledge", a six-page introduction to an organisation similar to that in Poltergeist: The Legacy, written by Eales and drawn by Caroline Parkinson; it's light, but keeps the reader's attention and may well pan out into an interesting series.
So there you have it: a curate's egg, none of it less than competent and some parts highly memorable (I'd be surprised - and disapponted - if we don't see a "Space Dude" compilation at some point). Considering the output of Jay Eales and Selina Lock's Factor Fiction imprint, that's arguably no mean achievement.
A5, 32pp; £2.00 (plus £0.50 postage) from Selina Lock, 38 Clarkes Road, Wigston, LE18 2BE. Check out http://www.factorfictionpress.co.uk/index.html for full details of their entire line.
In televised auditions to form a new four-strong superhero team, comic reading geek Dylan Wilson and hundreds of brave contestants re-enact past battles of the Cosmic Crusaders against the Duke of Hell, Michaeal Spearate and The-Girl-With-Blanked-Out-Eyes. With phone lines open to vote, Dylan is convinced that university student, Hannah Watts, will see him differently as a superhero. But Hannah has changed, this sexy, beautiful girl no longer hidden behind a shrewish and caustic exterior of left-wing radicalism. As Dylan's mother observes, "That girl's been fucked; fucked good, by the looks of things."
Yes, the student's new, well-earned sophistication is the product of an intimate liaison Dylan is not the only male caught in Hannah Watts' orbit. No, there's Jinkerman, the seemingly-flush, gold card-carrying leader of the Refounded Communists; there's George Bridger, the intelligent working class lad aligned with right-wing fanatics, the Social Order Movement (he'd been warned about going on a liberal Humanities course); and there's Dylan's professor father, David, who had always felt the urge to go from long-term pedagogic grooming in one-to-one seminars with Hannah, to quick fuck in the lift.
Daytime suds froth aplenty in this, the second of Mike Weller's Slow Science Fictions, which, typical of the creator's prose stories, is caught in a captivating tantalization of recycled anticipation. But is it about harnessing a particular political philosophy to pander to gregariousness? About how we're victims of our own needs, and in the absence of social rewards, our culture of instant gratification demands that we go elsewhere, adopt other 'beliefs'? Even a neo-Nazi white boy on his own at university finds black and Asian friends during the first few weeks of term. What does it all mean? You decide!
Caroline Parkinson caught up with Andy Luke and myself at Caption with a portfolio of her work for various anthologies, plus a handful of self-published samplers culled from those guest spots. They included The King and the Sky, a mini-fantasy which took third prize in Brazil's International Comic Contest, and Chess for Witches, adapted from a short story by Matthew Saunders, which appeared in both Hot Off the Press #1 and The Girly Comic.
The strips' brevity (4pp and 1pp, respectively) doesn't allow much room for characterisation, but they are eminently successful as calling cards for an artist we'll certainly be hearing a great deal more about as soon as more small press publishers are able to take full advantage of her skills with colour and tone (you can see an example of her b&w work in Violent #11). I'll definitely be looking out for her new work at Caption in August.
A5, 3pp; £1.00
A5, 6pp; £1.50
Both are viewable at http://bluecatclub.comicgenesis.com/ or e-mail caroline[at]carolineparkinson.co.uk.
Despite being conceived as a "gap comic" project to drag himself out of a creative slough in early 2006 prior to a full-on assault upon Tongue of the Dead #2, David Baillie's Mindy / Pool is no throwaway mini-comic.
Rather, it offers two charming vignettes, "Pool" (a 14pp comedy sketch set in a public swimming pool) and "Mindy" (a wry 13pp dig at celebrity culture hinged upon a case of mistaken identity), both of which exhibit a melancholy humanity with a deftness of touch barely hinted at by its deliberately simplistic graphic style.
A6, 32pp; £1.00; downloadble from http://www.davidbaillie.net/ or email hello[at]davidbaillie.net.
I missed out on the Eagle-nominated original run of this "supersoap", so it's a great compliment to Martin Eden's storytelling that he manages both to bring the reader back up to speed and to re-establish the main (surviving) characters in just 30 pages.
Initially planned as a complementary brace of season-openers, Eden ended up conflating both ideas into a fast-forward summary of Kelly's attempts to resurrect the O Men following the cataclysmic events which closed issue #1.26 two years ago.
Eden's a stronger writer than he is an artist, but he keeps the action flowing and the pages turning, no easy task when you regularly have to cram more than a half-dozen protagonists into frame (this may account for the couple of odd tributes to Kirby's Fantastic Four heyday at the halfway point).
Comics International has apparently dubbed this relaunch "triumphant", and whilst I wouldn't go quite that far, it's certainly a refreshingly assured series and one which I full intend to keep a closer eye in the future.
A5, 33pp; £2.00 from Ominous Comics, 11a Gatesone Road, London, SE19 3AT (make cheques payable to "Martin Eden); or e-mail martrpeden[at]yahoo.co.uk.
"It's kind of a portrait of the global landscape as it reaches a crisis level of homogeneity as filtered through the experience of two women," says Loserdom interviewee and Fugazi singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto of the short film 'Chain'. Loserdom could be said to mine similar territory: the socio-political concerns of its creators Anto and Eugene and their laments for places where "character and soul no longer remain" are subtly woven with disarming sincerity through their own comics and writings and, by proxy, through the symbiotic work of contributors chosen to maintain this weave. There's a commitment here; charged, one feels, with a rectitude that won't be shackled by the ever-narrowing parameters imposed by law.
Amongst the material presented this issue is the enchanting The Story Of Loserdom, a potted history ten years in the making of the zine's development from ragged freesheet to desktop-published booklet. In Anto's Places That Were But Aren't Anymore, clubs, squats and cafes are recalled from the pre-apartment swank era, and specific spliff-friendly atmospheres, piss-poor pints, atrocious toilets and gigs by bands with unlikely names Bilge Pump, Holochrist et al are yearned-for with equal degree of rose-tint. Integration sees Eugene lost in translation as he forlornly latches onto the odd English phrase overheard in the conversations of fellow passengers in this lulling, lyrical description of train journeys in Amsterdam. (His is the bike with two locks at the station.) And Anto's cycle-log charts the ups and downs of a trip from west to east of Ireland a thoroughly enjoyable read despite the dirty headwinds, the stop-start drizzle and frequently banjaxed bikes. ("I managed to straighten Peadair's derailleur to some extent, but it will need a slight bit of work tomorrow with tools that I forgot to bring ")
Also on offer: a roundtable discussion with Irish band The Redneck Manifesto, recollections of a sweaty year-and-a-half spent in New Orleans ("A person delivering food for a living on a pushbike can save up enough to buy a house and still be an alcoholic"), the vented spleen of a teen in-the-thick-of-it, thoughtful slice-of-life and satirical comics, and zine reviews of titles diverse enough to introduce audiences to a Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group, the Dublin Bicycle Messenger Association, and to issues related to anti-civilisation, green anarchism and anarcho-primitivism. A holistic balance, then, that's good-natured, personal and quietly constructive, Loserdom is a zine with infectious warmth and sensibly worked conscience.
Provided a perfect-bound, glossy treatment by publishers, Scar Comics, Falling Sky is a bold choice for their first graphic novel release. Relentlessly downbeat and humourless, its inherent cynicism makes few concessions to comforting entertainment, and with a resourcefully crafted but functional artwork photo-sourced and treated with a simplifying outline, a murky two-tone and chalk/charcoal effect it could scarcely be considered a safe-bet, commercially. However, once one settles to the inappropriately other-worldliness of glowing figures and white blood, it is difficult to resist the impetus of this well-crafted story.
When first-time kidnapper Rijuta loses her accomplices to an SAS hit-squad bent on the extermination of kidnap victim and banker, Charles Pearson, she learns that he is a man with knowledge of a covert government operation triggered by an impending apocalypse. An asteroid twenty-five miles in diameter hurtles toward earth and only the world's elite has been surreptitiously allocated safe-passage to underground shelters. With twenty-eight hours to impact, Rijuta turns bodyguard as Pearson dodges bullets in a last-ditch attempt to deliver both to safety.
Essentially an alchemy of conspiracy and cataclysm, Falling Sky is a taut action-chiller told with no-nonsense lucidity and deliberate pacing, which employs a time-lock narrative device to suspenseful consequence. Though its central characters are betrayed by a plot-driven focus Rijuta, particularly, is underdeveloped and under-explained and a false note is struck by an unconvincing sub-plot involving Pearson's malicious business rival, the persuasive, conscientious crafting effectiveness of creator Benjamin Dickson demands that one is captured by this refreshingly quip-free and, ultimately, disquieting read.