Hello! You find me still plundering through my enormous backlog of small press marvels – the first two titles here are from the Melksham Comic Con 2014 and the last is the first of my teetering pile of titles from Thought Bubble 2014.
This year’s Thought Bubble was an absolute triumph – and hopefully I’ll cover that before the sun expands, contracts and ultimately expires rendering life in our solar system null and void.
ON WITH THE COMICS!
I’d been a fan of the spindly-legged figures of Dean Beattie for quite a while before I actually chatted to him and got Random Trials at Melksham. It’d been funded on Indiegogo the year before and it’s the tale of Charles Cooper, a cowboy-booted middle-age layabout who finds himself suddenly and mysteriously endowed with superhuman abilities. In most self-published “written by the artist” type endeavours there is an element of “indulgent style-over-substance” and any storytelling is abandoned but Random Trials manages to balance out Beattie’s unique visuals with a compellingly bonkers plot that left me hungry for more. It’s “modern Britain” chariactures are a bit broad but the pace is brisk enough to steamroller over any doubts that this may generate and Beattie’s glorious art is consistently edible – conjuring a brilliantly vital animated feel.
Three glorious pin ups by Richard Williams, Olli Hihnala and Nathan Stell are fine additions too. The third issue was released at this year’s Thought Bubble Festival (we ran a Sneak Peek here) and the second (reviewed by Tony Esmond here on downthetubes) is burning a hole in my to-read pile so thankfully this wasn’t the last we saw of Charles Cooper…
• You can get Random Trials 1-3 from Dean’s BigCartel store
The Red Mask From Mars #1 (Raw Edge Comics)
By Vincent Hunt, Daniel Chant & Shaun Dobie
Vince Hunt (of the Awesome Comics Podcast) is becoming somewhat of a one-man small press dynamo of late. I first encountered him at the Bristol convention in 2014 – and then later in the year bought the first issue of his Red Mask From Mars comic. It’s a bright action tale of a crack astronaut with an alien affixed to his face – and the first issue is mainly concerned with plunging the reader straight into the action – barely pausing to explain whys, wherefores or whomhowevers. It reminded me quite strongly of Dani Abram’s Razarhawk in its breathless enthusiasm and contextlessness. Similarly I found myself wondering how helpful a “crib sheet” would’ve been to separate the incidental characters from the important ones.
There are several pages within dedicated to talking heads all re-stating an established point which could’ve been used to give a bit more meat to the central team. Despite this though I found myself reaching the final page and being entirely up for more adventures in this bold new Red Mask universe.
Hunt’s sense of design is excellent – and his lettering game throughout is seriously strong. His artwork, a robust cartoony style is deceptively readable and works well in the context of the universe. An early splash page is genuinely brilliant and he’s at his best with the slew of characterful faces or getting lost in details. It’s quite an appealing mix of the simplified and the involved. The colouring by Shaun Dobie seems a trifle dated – his constant use of a very sharply defined and tiny “backlight” on most figures gives the distracting appearance of a layer having slipped somewhere and the real-life clouds and photo textures utilised in some large “blank” areas jarr heavily against the artwork. These aren’t book-destroying errors though and mostly the two sit together well enough and the overall look of Red Mask is chunky and fun.
The Red Mask From Mars is another fine addition to the canon of small press original titles – produced with passion by some of the finest new creators KNOWN TO MAN. I definitely think this is one to watch.
I bought Si Gurr’s experimental 10-pager partially because I greatly admire him as an artist but mostly because he was giving away giant custard creams with it. Sadly with my boundless appetite the oversized biscuit was gone in moments and remains but a sweet memory as I thumb through the comic a year later. This existential nugget of pure comics joy is the result of an all-nighter held by the artist for a lark in the early months of 2014. It’s a bizarrely enchanting endeavour and his rough expressive lines with minimal shading sweep you into his freezing shed alongside him on that long dark February night as he ruminates on what exactly he’s doing.
It’s quite an act to make what is essentially a drawing excerise actually readable but the likeable Gurr manages it ably. I would have bought it even without the offer of an oversized biscuit!
• You can invest in a fine Si Gurr print from his BigCartel or just watch him come out with amazing stuff in real time over on Twitter (biscuits not guaranteed). His 2016 “That’s No Moon” Lunar Calendar will delight many fans awaiting a certain upcoming film…