Hello! Here I tackle three books I bought from Lakes International Comic Art Festival‘s first event last year – a tremendously well put-together and enjoyable art-focussed festival set in the picturesque town of Kendal in the Lake District. I heartily recommend it – and this year looks almost painfully brilliant. Painful because I can’t attend mainly and I’m desperate to sample the special Viz-themed beer!
Disconnected Volume 3 (Disconnected Press) edited by Lizzie & Conor Boyle
“Disconnected” is easily the most handsome of all of the small press anthologies currently running – the paper stock is thick, there’s a lovely spine and the artwork within and on the cover is always stunningly gorgeous. Also it’s entirely lettered by premiere wordwizard Jim Campbell – who has few typographic equals and ties a strong calligraphic continuity throughout which is something few anthologies manage to do, including my own! The brief is “life in small towns” and the results are largely always sinister and affecting. Seek out the first two as well – these are all worth owning.
This stunningly designed piece of genius from artlord Kev Levell is possibly their finest to date (and it has stiff competition there) – its composition is flawless and its details hugely absorbing. What you’re looking at here is a classic iconic small press cover. It likely flies off the convention tables on this alone – !
Also: Top marks to Mr Levell for crowbarring Black Sabbath Vol.4 into the design even though the story didn’t feature it. There doesn’t need to be a reason for metal!
THE PLACE THE BIG BOYS GO… (Owen Michael Johnson & Verity Glass)
Both creators of this story were exhibiting at Lakes International (indeed Johnson was one of the organizers) and had I read it there and then I probably would have enthused to them in person over it – as this is one of the strongest pieces of small press work I’ve seen in a while. The story is one of sudden childhood friendship that is brief and intense – the pacing is incredible and it leaves you with a lingering feeling of discomfort. Disconnected is at its best with these kind of stories and there is usually more than one story an issue that leaves this lasting feeling of unease with you. This is helped equally I think by the lusciously dense art of Verity Glass – like evil Pixar concept art – the thick digital paints and well-thought out colours are hugely engrossing. I think I was too intimated by her style to even talk to her at Lakes – I flicked through her portfolio and ran away, basically. Scarily good art.
THE LIGHT OF CALM SPRINGS (Jordan Sam Adams & Lyndon White)
This is the closest to an extended ‘Tharg’s Terror Tales’ (self-contained horrory future shocks from 2000 AD) than I’ve seen before in Disconnected Press. Right up my street really – down-at-heel paranormal investigator Jackson Blake takes on his most serious case and although the ending suffers a bit from “…and we’ll be back next time hopefully” syndrome it is refreshingly straightforward and manages some creepy moments as the plot unfolds. The art by Lyndon White helps pull it away from the norm – with a dark and textured modern indie graphic novel look that is involving and atmospheric. A strong player here and a classic bit of ‘thology reading.
WRITER’S RETREAT (Mike Garley & Peter Mason)
Probably the weakest in the issue for me – after the clear storytelling of Calm Springs the lightness of touch here left me head-scratching, not helped by a hugely unclear finale. This tale of a writer’s self-imposed Dorsettian exile has a certain brooding menace and the digitally saturated atmospheric art of Peter Mason is pleasant enough but it felt it had either lost a page somewhere or needed another page of clarification. The final panel just leaves you confused. WHERE AM I? WHOSE HAT AM I WEARING?!
SERPENT’S EGG (Max Deacon & Aaron Moran)
On the other hand Serpent’s Egg is very clear about what it is – a classic tale of sinister rural paganism with dark modern edges. As a consequence you’re in no doubt as to where its going but the journey is compelling and the finale beautifully helpless in that Wickerman-type fashion. The art by Moran is a real mixed bag however, the composition is largely good and the pallid washed-out pencil style is nice but the superimposed photographs of faces are awkward and stick out like a sore thumb and it really does ruin the atmos.
TEN DAYS (Liz & Conor Boyle)
There’s a saying (there isn’t but there should be) in the small press “never second-guess the Boyles” – here I was expected something either maudlin or darkly comic from the pair but here we actually have something uplifting. The tale of a disaffected murderer’s daughter and her budding friendship with a retired astronaut has a strong and heartwarming ending – that makes it sound far more “lifetime movie” than it actually is on page I assure you. I was hugely taken with it, probably largely because it subverted my expectations so marvellously. Conor’s minimalistic black and white art is solid throughout and the story is a very strong closer to a truly fantastic and rewardingly consistent anthology. More of this sort of thing.
Fight the Power! (New Internationalist) Ben Dickson, Sean Michael Wilson,
Hunt Emerson, John Spelling, Adam Pasion & Polyp
This handsome graphic history of protest in the English-speaking world was one of my favourite purchases from the festival. Writers Benjamin Dickson and Sean Michael Wilson take us through over a dozen notable protests in chronological order through the form of a nicely lucid half illustrated essay/half comic style. The stories are more than simply dry statements of historical fact as each has an emotive core – for at the heart of protest is hope: hope for change – people pushed beyond their limits until they are forced into action – and to end the book with the brilliantly poignant “rights won” text about the results of these protests is an excellent conclusion.
The main art draw here is underground comix king and unparalleled cartoon genius Hunt Emerson whose stories are vibrantly and compellingly constructed – he and Dickson’s piece on the Suffragettes particularly is a work of singularly moving brilliance. Also illustrating tales is the enigmatic John Spelling whose shifting style changes every story between soft greytones, stark monochrome and a very edible busy Crumblike style to tell the final tale of the recent Occupy movement. The rest of the stories (including a framing intro and outro) are drawn by Adam Pasion in a consistent but moderately stiff and awkward fashion that fails to match the dynamism of Emerson and the solid design of Spelling. However the three are tied together admirably by some excellent lettering by Dickson and no story seems truly incongruous within the book as a whole.
It would have been nicer to see more political cartoonery from Polyp (perhaps one on each divider between stories) and there’s a few cock-ups on the contents page which left my head spinning briefly about who drew what but “Fight the Power” is an informative and expressive document that speaks of positive change through action. Dickson speaks in the Author’s Notes about wanting to redress the negative view of protesters seen in the media and as a book this will hopefully go some way towards educating people on the power of protest and the real value of social action.
The Nieuport Gathering (Lannoo) Ivan Petrus
I had the pleasure of selling next to author Ivan Petrus at Lakes – and saw him drawing beautiful painted sketches in the front of the gorgeous hardback of The Nieuport Gathering – so I decided to buy one. It’s a partially fictionalised tale of three allied soldiers meeting in the Belgian city of Nieuport (or Nieuwpoort) and tells their stories and experiences. It’s a well balanced story that unfolds engagingly and also features a rewarding appendix detailing the lives of the real soldiers – the reality in which it’s rooted and the coastal Belgian setting makes it a uniquely engaging World War One story.
It’s told in largely-greytone pencil-and-paint (with some added digital effects) and is mildly cartoony in style. Petrus’ strength clearly lies in atmospherics and scenery as his figurework is moderately awkward and the faces of his characters can be a bit samey. His use of “silence” is very effective during certain bttle scenes – with little to no sound effects present it makes them seem haunting and immediate. Particularly the scene where the three soldiers meet which is tremendously filmic and works brilliantly. The lettering is a big problem however – done in what looks like a supplied-with-Windows font, clunkily left-aligned throughout and always in these ragged-edged and distracting rectangular boxes it feels horribly out of place. In certain dramatic scenes this harshly static and unimaginative lettering really kills the mood.
That aside the Nieuport Gathering is a strong and interesting graphic tale of WW1 and at the end of the appendix there is a heartbreaking paragraph that I’ll not soon forget relating a symbolic lost manuscript in the story to the loss of creatives in the trenches:
“The lives of thousands of writers, composers, artists, architects, painters, poets and sculptors were extinguished shortly after coming to adulthood, preventing them from producing their masterpieces and making their names known to the world (…) 1914-1918 was a great slaughter of human life. Of human talent. Of humanity.”
Finally, I just want to give a pre-emptive shout out for next weekend’s Melksham Comic Con – it was easily my favourite con last year being both incredibly well organised, absurdly small press focussed and it managed to attract enthusiastic and excited punters by the barrel-load despite its rural locale.
Guests include illustrator Andrew Wildman, colourist and writer John Paul-Bove, Marineman’s Ian Churchill, Manga illustrator Sonia Leong, Death Sentence’s MontyNero and Mike Dowling, Ressurection Man co-creator Andy Lanning, Tank Girl king Rufus Dayglo, grinning comics veteran Mike Collins, Marvel UK’s Lee Townsend and the art powerhouse that is Gary Erskine.
A particular highlight for me this year is the debut of the print edition of Dani Abram‘s (Razarhawk) intensely personal therapeutic biography comic “Worry Wart” about her struggle with generalised anxiety disorder – her frank openness on the subject has been quite inspiring to me over the last few years and she’s also participating in a panel about Comic Books and Mental Health on the Saturday which is a tremendously positive thing.
Other Small press highlights include the one-and-only Afterlife Inc king Jon Lock who’ll be debuting the second “Heavenly Chord” book (my review of book one can be seen here) and will be doing a SOLO panel about it on the first day. Our tableneighbours from 2013 Aaron “Smurf” Murphy and Joseph J Morgan will be back flogging rabbit and cowboy related works with enormous skill. Octopus-limbed writing king Mike Garley will presumably have a stock of his awesome self-created stuff and is doing a few panels about creator-owned comics and children’s comics (the latter with fellow Pheonix contributor and prolific chibi producer Jess Bradley). Disconnected Press will be there flaunging (launching & flogging IT’S A WORD NOW) the second issue of their zombie alien pig epic Sentient Zombie Space Pigs for a swinelicious £1.
• Lakes International Comic Art Festival: www.comicartfestival.com
• Disconnected Press: http://disconnectedpress.wordpress.com
• New Internationalist: http://newint.org/books/politics/fight-the-power
• Ivan Petrus: www.ivanpetrus.com
• Melksham Comic Con: http://melkshamcomiccon.com
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.