The three comics I’m reviewing this month bring me to within a year of now (the reading pile is getting smaller by the month!) and came respectively from Thought Bubble 2013, my local comic shop Excelsior in Bristol and as a Kickstarter reward in the early months of 2014.
Zarjaz #19 (Futurequake Press) Edited by Richmond Clements & Bolt-01
Another issue of the superlative small press fanzine from the tail-end of 2013 brought from the perennially glorious editors Richmond & Dave “Bolt-01” Evans. As always it takes the form of an anthology like its inspiration. All stories within are black & white and are lettered ably by the aforementioned Bolt. The quality is never less than decent and you’re guaranteed a solid read whenever you pick Zarjaz up. Their nineteenth is no exception.
Cover – Simon Fraser
Their usual wraparound is by bonafide droid and personal favourite Simon Fraser – here getting a rare opportunity to draw Hammerstein. As you’d expect for Fraser- it is a masterpiece in motion and framing but here seems a trifle over-shadowed – the details on Hammerstein himself and a retreating robot in the rear being difficult to make out. Online it appears much lighter so seems more likely a print issue than being intentional. A grand cover either way.
ABC Warriors Hammerstein – It’s All in the Programming (Steve Denton & Crow)
I’d seen the art for this years ago on Deviantart and the NZ-based illustrator (and purported staffer at the prestigious Weta Digital) Crow had me amazed with his scruffy-yet-kinetic style which put me in mind of Steve Parkhouse. It’s a strong start to the issue although the story by the multi-talented Steven Denton is a fairly standard “why we fight” wartime contemplative narrative over battle-scenes type of thing.
Tales of Mega-City One – Baby Jays (Alistair McLean, Richard Swabey & David Broughton)
Easily the highlight of the issue for me – “Baby Jays” is one long story split over several parts within the issue. I’m in two minds over whether the method works in a single issue – if the short breaks hurt or enhance it but the story is strong nonetheless – working in a few effective Dredd tropes and some clever continuity nods that fix it in the here-and-now. The solidity of the story is matched by the unmistakable hand of David Broughton – a Zarjaz regular and one of the most consistent (and enviably fast) artists in the UK small press. One particular action sequence in the last part is excellently composed. A Zarjaz classic.
Unfortunately, there was no credit box affixed to this story – but the final biographies page in the issue showed those listed above to be the creators. As such I’m not sure whether Broughton lettered it or Bolt – possibly the former. The SFX are brilliantly placed and work really well.
Tales of Mega-City One – A Hanging Door (Shaun Avery & Nathan Webb)
A silent tale with a twist that’s dark and effective. It’s not entirely clear why the central judge isn’t Dredd but rather the new Rico but it’s good to see him making an appearance in the fanzine. The art by Webb is nice in shadowy black and white if a little inconsistent.
Judge Dredd – Collector’s Market (Lee Robson & Stephen Downey)
A gruesome tale of collectors-gone-too-far that’s surely more than a sly wink to us NERDS. Possibly the strongest illustration in the issue from the formidable Stephen Downey of Jennifer Wilde fame – all tasty washes of tone and nicely physical brushes. There’s not a weak panel here. For the small press this is truly superlative stuff.
The Balls Brothers – Big in the 90’s (David Withers & Jerome Canty)
A bit of a shock to see the surprise return of The Balls Brothers in fanzine form. The story is lacking a certain satirical edge I think and could have been a great deal smarter – but then this is the Balls Brothers and their strength (!) is in hitting stuff. Hitting stuff hard. Which they do. Canty is entirely new to me and does a brilliant job here – everything has a great weight and physicality to it which works really well. Oddly enough he’s weakest with the Brothers themselves who seem a bit wonky. I really wouldn’t mind seeing more of this.
Dept of Monsterology #1-4 (Renegade Entertainment) By Gordon Rennie & PJ Holden
Renegade Arts’ first monthly comic – the limited ‘Dept of Monsterology‘ – is a brilliant and engaging mix between BPRD and Rennie’s earlier Caballistics Inc for 2000AD. Following two different teams “Challenger” and “Carnacki” who, for these four issues, are on two seperate adventures. There’s a wealth of interesting characters and Rennie, who is an old hand at this sort of thing, juggles them all with a breathless efficiency and pitch-perfect pacing.
I dig large and varied casts and Dept of Monsterology has a very solid one – with acres of room for expansion and explanation. There is a whimper of doubt though – Caballistics was never really wrapped up and the fear is, on finishing the fourth book, that all the questions raised may never be answered. At the time of writing Renegade is still going strong and Dept was very well received so hopefully we’ll get more looks into this intriguing new world.
PJ Holden’s art is excellently balanced and an ideal mix between heavy-detail and convincing energy. He seems almost entirely adept at nearly any situation – from talking heads, complication action pages to big splash reveals. Holden is one of modern comics great all-rounders and having seen his style develop from his début over a decade ago in 2000AD (also written by Rennie) to now he just seems to be growing in confidence with every panel. WHERE WILL IT END? WILL HE CONSUME THE EARTH?
The colouring by small press lord Steven Denton is grand throughout – particularly his amazing deep teals under China and wonderfully subdued palettes I LOVE A SUBDUED PALETTE, DAMMIT. The underwater stuff in the first issue is perhaps a little dark – and on my copy at least the first issue’s cover is actually near invisibly murky (perhaps why they reprinted PJ’s pencils for it in the back of the third issue?). Letterking Jim Campbell’s work is peerless throughout – there really isn’t a finer letterer and I’ve long been an admirer of his painstakingly integrated SFX.
So a solidly worthwhile series that easily lives up to its hype – and encourages more in fact. There’s a handsome softcover of it out now but I was proud to support Renegade by having it ordered into me local comic shop as the issues were coming out (Excelsior! folks) Now deeply anticipating further adventures in this universe!
Kristo (Self Published) Sam Roads/Alex Sheikman
Having supported the Kickstarter I received a handsome copy of Kristo in March of last year. I’m not overly familiar with the the Count of Monte Cristo but what’s being told here essentially is a classic revenge story that is briskly paced and transplanted into an interesting setting. On first glance it appears quite straightforward but with some extremely smart reality-bothery and some worthwhile points made on the ethics of political imprisoning both made at the end Kristo goes quite quickly from being simply an intriguing idea that’s been well executed into a genuinely very engaging book.
The line art and colours are difficult to speak about separately as the tone of the book is helped so much by Kris Carter‘s extraordinary palettes – not to diminish Sheikman’s art which is strong for the most part but a different colourist may have altered the feel almost entirely. The lettering (and overall design presumably) is the work of the author and is solidly consistent.
Kristo is a very tidy package and a self-published effort that seems both fresh and assured. Sam Roads is definitely a creator to keep an eye on – I’ve just this past weekend picked up his next effort Silicon Hearts with artist Kat Nicholson and I look forward to reading it!
• Zarjaz (Futurequake Press): www.futurequake.co.uk
• Dept of Monsterology (Renegade Arts): www.renegadeartsentertainment.com/dept-of-monsterology
• Briar: facebook.com/KristoGraphicNovel
Owen Watts is a small press editor, artist and colourist. He currently co-edits The Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel - a twice-yearly small press anthology featuring over 15 different emerging creators every issue. He has recently helped colour Ben Dickson & Gavin Mitchell's Santa Claus vs. The Nazis for Aces Weekly which is due out as a single volume with Borderline Press later in 2014. He also runs the 2000 AD forum art competition, reviews small press comics and becomes a hippo every second Thursday.