As we take our first tentative steps out of an 18-month, enforced, break from comics conventions and marts, it’s fascinating to look back at how the Indie comics scene has found ways to survive, and in some cases thrive. The Kickstarter funding platform has provided a lifeline to creators and allowed a steady stream of new comics to come from the UK small press. Peter Duncan reports…
It seems likely that the major crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, will continue to be a major source of the funding for comics creators and, as on other such services there seems to be no letup in the number of new projects being announced.
Three examples came across my desk recently – and demonstrate the variety and ambition that alternative funding has allowed in the UK small-press comics scene.
Buzzard is a British superhero comic from writer Andrea Wolf and artist Ezequiel Assis. It’s a difficult title to pin down. Violent, at times unpleasant, it’s basically a comedic take on the costumed vigilante genre. With smart-ass dialogue and some less than likeable characters. The Kickstarter is for a third issue, with the first two available as extras and I was lucky enough to be allowed to read those.
Bravely, Andrea does not avoid issues like racism and homophobia, and his characters show attitudes that are, “difficult”. Indeed, I personally found a scene in the opening pages of the first issue a little challenging and wondered exactly what it was I was reading.
Your reaction this comic may depend on how you feel these issues and attitudes should be handled, hidden away and denied, or faced up to directly. What Andrea does that is very unusual, is present an anti-hero who is a real anti-hero. His enemies are Nazis, real Nazis, but some of his dialogue reveals attitudes, or at least figures of speech, that would cause many to distrust him and perhaps apply the sobriquet of Nazi to him. It a weird juxtaposition, made even more strange by the irreverent and comedic tone that is taken.
Buzzard is a superhero comic, where the characters speak like real people, well, they try to, and face real-world issues. It’s hero, a sort of cut-price Captain America, isn’t a smart, socially aware young man, he’s a dumb kid who hasn’t grown up and is patriotic in a visceral, ill-considered way.
It’s an interesting and slightly uncomfortable read. Technically speaking the script needs work. Andrea is badly in need of an editor in places. Some of the dialogue just does not hit the mark and can be a little clumsy in places, but, with practice, will improve.
The black and white artwork is more than adequate. In places very good, Andrea’s story is well told but like the dialogue there are one or two pages which don’t quite land. It has the look of the westernised manga artwork pioneered by Antarctic Press, and Ben Dunn’s Ninja High School, in particular, and is generally very attractive. (I did notice a nice little steal from Jim Steranko in one panel, although I wonder if it was a first or secondhand lift).
Buzzard isn’t perfect. It’s challenging in terms of the political issues Andrea has chosen to take on. I suspect he’ll succeed in upsetting people from almost all political stances, but it is a brave and overall funny attempt to take on the difficult subject of patriotism and on the evidence of issues one and two is improving issue on issue. Take a look, and see what you think.
Damsels from D.I.S.T.R.E.S.S, is a fantasy story from the team of Andrew Clemson and Mauricio Mora, that ploughs something of a similar, irreverent, furrow, but is ‘safer’, lacking the political aspects of Buzzard and is, overall, a more polished publication.
It tells the story of, Bec, an impossibly capable agent for a problem-solving agency that deals with missing princesses and voyeuristic evil wizards in a world of Dwarves, Gnomes and magic mirrors.
The tone is comedic and while the story set-up required for the first issue, limits the space for action scenes, they are handled with panache and style. There is the beginning of a rather promising back story and some skillful and effective dialogue that moves the story along nicely and builds the characters well. The art, again, comes from a manga or anime background but straddles the borderline between the Japanese and western cartoon-based, comic art quite neatly.
Damsel from D.I.S.T.R.E.S.S. has the atmosphere of a late-night game of Dungeons and Dragons, one where nobody is taking it that seriously. It’s billed as “D&D meets The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, and fits that description pretty well.
Overall an attractive, professional looking comic that reads like a buddy movie, one played mainly for laughs. The Kickstarter, which has been running for a couple of weeks and is for issues Two and Three, is well past its target, reflecting the attractive artwork and the popularity of the genre.
Light, enjoyable and great fun. Nothing hugely groundbreaking, but an excellent example of the particular genre it represents and the most professional of the comics on display here.
I’ll declare an interest with the third campaign I’m examining. Crackpot is the latest project from Alan Holloway and Ed Doyle, a writer/artist partnership who were introduced to each other, through Sector 13, the 2000AD fanzine I edit and who I regard as friends. The contributors include other people I regard as friends plus someone who has, in the past, made it clear that he has not appreciated my words or my opinions. It with that proviso that I embark on this review, trying hard not to let any of it influence my opinions.
Alan and Ed’s have an ongoing and successful project. Sentinel, a revival of ‘Picture Libraries’, format, single story comics covering many different genres that were once a huge part of the UK comics industry and live on in the Commando series from DC Thomson Media.
With Crackpot, they have targeted, the British kids humour comic for their particular form of celebration, and have produced a 32-page, US format anthology, featuring ten short strips.
Alan handles the majority of the writing, with the addition of a story from 2000AD‘s Michael Carroll, the most generous man in the Irish comic scene, and another written and drawn by Northern Irish author and artist, John Farrelly, that is, perhaps, the highlight of the issue.
John’s, “Buck’O’Neer, The Pirate”, deals with time-travelling, piratical, robots. He’s crammed a lot into just four pages and left us with an origin story for what could be a very entertaining series of stories. It’s particularly interesting for me to see his comedic take on a creature he tackled in more dramatic form in the excellent, “Flesh” story that appeared in Sector 13 a few years ago.
John’s artwork stands out here as it does in every anthology, he has appeared in. The only reason I can think of that he has not been snapped up for one of the UK pro comics is that his style falls somewhere between what Beano and The Phoenix are looking for. Hugely detailed, and with the addition of lots of subtle sight-gags, this strip would be highlight anywhere.
Elsewhere, working from Alan’s scripts, Morgan Gleave delivers some very distinctive, and classy looking art on, ‘”Kidd” and “Furrious Four”, the later clearly representing the author’s love of our feline friends.
His collaboration with Paul Spence, “Illegal Aliens”, is another highlight for me. I’m not sure it should work, arms really don’t bend like that, and the script does not make a huge amount of sense, but in the end it does.
Andrew Richmond and Dave Metcalf-Carr bring their talents to stories about a ‘Madd’ scientist, a footballer and some bloke dressed as a chicken all of which fit neatly into the concept behind the comic, while adding to the real mixture of art styles.
It is Steve Matt’s contribution, “Gamester:, that looks most like an old Whizzer and Chips or Whoopee! story. I do wonder if it might have been better to go the whole hog and publish it in black and white, as the colouring on the strip looks muted and dull in comparison with the rest of the book. A function, I am told by Alan, of it being one of the few strips drawn on paper rather than on computer.
Rounding out the artistic contributions is Alan’s usual partner, Ed Doyle, with two strips. I’ve previously seen, “Neil Lithic and Tim”, Alan’s fairly, blatant, take on Ka-Zar – caveman with sabre tooth tiger for a pet in a world of dinosaurs – but the strip looks more complete here, with some improvements to colouring.
Ed also supplies art on a rather effective little morality play, “Bear Minimum”, written by Michael Carroll.
Ed has a distinctive style, and in the past I’ve told him that I prefer his work in black and white, but for this project I think his colouring has improved, or at least suits the subject matter better.
Crackpot has a personality all its own, mainly that of its writer and editor, Alan Holloway. If I did have a reservation, it would be that its’ not quite clear who the audience for the comic is. Some of the strips seem like pure pastiches of classic British humour comics aimed at a younger audience, while others have a more knowing wink towards older fans.
But the variety brought by Ed, Morgan, Paul and the rest of the artists along with a little touch of real class by John Farrelly and Michael Carroll are enough for me to keep a good eye on this experiment and hope for more to come in the future.
• The Crackpot campaign is due to begin at the end of this month. Keep an eye on the Sentinel Facebook page for more details