Archived posts: Comics



So, we just picked up and devoured the latest volume of Saga, the fantastic comic series from writer Brian K. Vaughan and illustrator Fiona Staples.

Described (loosely) as a cross between Star Wars and Game of Thrones, Saga follows the lives of Alana and Marko, star crossed lovers from two warring races in a galaxy far far away.




They just want to be left alone to raise their daughter – but since she’s the first child to be born to parents from both races, and considered an abomination, the authorities are determined to stop them by any means necessary.

Along with them for the ride are a host of fantastical (but always entirely credible) characters: bounty hunters, robots with TVs for heads, and Lying Cat, a huge feline that only speaks when it knows someone is lying.




The artwork by Staples is luxurious, visceral and beautiful. And Vaughan imbues all his characters with wit, reason and emotion, so that no matter how alien the setting, we still believe in them.


If you haven’t come across it before, you should absolutely check it out. First published at the beginning of 2012, it’s now well into its stride, and the latest volume (#6) collects together issues 31 to 36 of the comic.

Comics Unmasked at the British Library


We nipped along to the British Library yesterday to check out their new show, Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK, the largest ever comics exhibition in this country.

The show is a thematic retrospective of the British comics industry, with a particular focus on the way comics from the UK have sought to subvert expected norms.

There’s a wealth of great stuff on show, including a fair few samples of original artwork, such as this piece from Jamie Hewlett’s Tank Girl:


Hewlett also designed the show’s key marketing image, a caped crusader called Lawless Nelly :


The show is divided into six main areas: Mischief and Mayhem; To See Ourselves; Politics; Hero with 1000 Faces; Sex and Sexuality; and Breakdowns. We weren’t entirely convinced the thematic groupings were necessary, and a chronological format might have worked just as well, if not better.

We did particularly like seeing a lot of the old strips from 2000AD though. Given how well Marvel and DC are doing by converting their back catalogue into films and TV shows, it’s odd that more of 2000AD’s rich cast of characters hasn’t had the same treatment.

This is a page from writer Grant Morrison and artist Steve Yeowell’s fantastic Zenith story, about a Generation X superhero (which is hopefully being republished in its entirety this October, after years of legal wranglings over who owns the rights to the character).


Of course, 2000AD’s key character was Judge Dredd, the fascist law enforcer who readers were invited to both love and loathe:


The show features excerpts from the brilliant America strip from the Judge Dredd ‘Megazine’ (above, and below), written by John Wagner and drawn by Colin MacNeil.


Also on show is John Smith and Steve Dillon’s Tyranny Rex, seen here hanging out with a very Princely character:



It’s really impressive to see the vast array of British talent, and to note that most of them have also gone on to become pivotal to the international comics scene, none more so than Alan Moore, whose V for Vendetta runs like a thread through the exhibition, particularly in the form of the V masks that have been adopted globally by the Occupy movement.


The other big talent running through the show is Dave McKean, who worked as the Artistic Director of the exhibition. There’s a fine selection of his work on display, including props and original artwork from his book The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch, written by Neil Gaiman.


Overall it’s a fascinating show. Perhaps a little bit dry, as exhibitions at the British Library can sometimes be. The lighting is set quite low, presumably to protect some of the older items from damage, but as a result you find yourself squinting to read some of the captions, and some of the comics themselves, which is a drag.

If you’ve got an iPad though, you can download the Sequential app, which contains a free companion piece to the show, Comics Unmasked – The Digital Anthology, which actually lets you feel much closer to the comics (though only selected excerpts are included). The anthology is available to download for free until the exhibition ends, on August 19.

Dickens Dark London

You’d be hard pressed not to have noticed it, but this year is the 200 year anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birthday. The Museum of London is hosting a major exhibition about his life, and to coincide with that, they’ve created a rather delicious iPhone & iPad app called Dickens Dark London.

The app is an interactive graphic novel, illustrated by the frankly brilliant David Foldvari, and based on Dickens’ Sketches by Boz. It will run to five issues (just the first one is available so far), each one centred on a different location. As well as Foldvari’s stunning images, the app includes excerpts from the sketches, read in gravelly tones by the actor Mark Strong; as well as a map that shows story locations on a map from 1862, which overlays the standard Google Maps.

The first issue (available free) is set in Covent Garden’s Seven Dials – here are a few of the pages:

Simply stunning.

The Lengths

It’s a dog’s life.

Eddie is an art-school drop out from Barking who likes sports, visual art and loafing by the river. He’s sort of seeing someone, but he also does a bit of rent on the side… though he hasn’t told his boyfriend Dan that just yet. Oh, and he’s also got a crush on Nelson, who’s tall, muscular, hung, and can fulfil your wildest fantasties.

Welcome to The Lengths.

Drawn in stark monochrome, The Lengths is the brilliant new comic series written and illustrated by Howard Hardiman. Set in a contemporary London where men are dogs, literally and metaphorically, it revolves around Eddie, a young gay guy who’s trying to have a successful relationship while working as a rent boy.

The illustrations are powerful yet sensitive, with a real eye for physical form, but fortunately without ever becoming simply pornographic, despite the subject matter. The characters might all have the heads of dogs, but they feel like people you know all too well.

The comic is four issues in so far (you can buy all four as a bundle for just £10), and Issue 5 is on its way mighty soon.

Can’t wait.

Joe McLaren on Whizzer and Chips

~ While Alistair is away cycling the length of Great Britain, we’ve invited twenty disgustingly talented people to each write a post for our blog. Today’s post is from the wonderful illustrator Joe McLaren (who also writes a rather fantastic blog of his own). ~

We were a Beano household when I was a child. I’ve no idea why exactly, but it would have seemed unthinkable to have taken The Dandy instead- like changing political allegiance, or your religion. We read and relished the Beano week in, week out, my brother and I. We were paid up members of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club, and a trip to my uncle’s was a chance to pore over his huge collection of decades’ worth of old issues.

Occasionally though, a copy of Whizzer and Chips would find its way into the house; my mum worked in Dillons the Newsagents, and she saved the odd unsold copy from the bins for us. It seemed a bit more exciting than the Beano: more disreputable, a little cruder. Also, it took far longer to read. The pictures were tiny, and every spare corner of its cheap newsprint pages were crammed with frantic action.

Favourite strips included Norman Mansbridge’s Fuss Pot (“the fussiest girl of the lot”), Terry Bave’s Oddball, about a sentient rubber ball from space who would assist its owner Nobby by turning into a rubber version of any object at will, and Colin Whittock’s seminal Lazy Bones, the picaresque chronicle of young narcoleptic Benny Bones and his eternal quest for a bit of shut-eye.

The artwork bristles with vigour, and as a whole owes a bit more to American stuff like the Disney comics of the ‘60s than the slightly more sedate Beano or Dandy (Leo Baxendale’s willfully chaotic Bash Street Kids notwithstanding). The cheapness of the paper, the sparing use of colour ink and the always wonky printing gave Whizzer and Chips the feeling of a scurrilous chapbook or incendiary revolutionary pamphlet.

Unlike American superhero comics, this part of British comic heritage is vastly under-appreciated. A look at the children’s comic section at the newsagent tells you how much we’ve lost – the Beano and the Dandy hang on, but everything else is a franchised magazine spin-off of a TV programme, with a free toy. Whizzer and Chips perished in 1990. Some of its characters found homes in Buster, which itself ceased publication in 2000.

For the price of a Dora the Explorer comic or Ben 10 fortnightly magazine you can buy a young relative a bundle of old Whizzer and Chips from eBay or a couple of annuals from a charity shop – they’ll still be chuckling weeks later. Decades later, in my case.


~ Alistair is raising money for Cancer Research UK during his ride – please wander over to his Just Giving page and donate a little cash. ~

Small Publishers Fair

The annual Small Publishers Fair is on this Friday and Saturday (12 and 13 November) with a feast of independent contemporary artists, poets, writers and book designers showing their wares; including the very wonderful Tom Gauld (above). On Saturday there’s also a series of free talks and readings. Brilliant.

The fair takes place at Conway Hall in Holborn, from 11am to 7pm each day.


We trundled over to Great Eastern Street yesterday to have a chat to the folks at Nobrow about a rather exciting project we’re working on (more on that mighty soon), and to check out their lovely shop, which opened in the summer.

Nobrow has fingers in various tasty pies: there’s Nobrow Press, the small independent publishing company which specialises in low edition illustrated books; Nobrow Small Press which creates extremely limited edition screenprinted books; a magazine (called Nobrow, naturally enough); and now the shop, which stocks all their publications, as well as a range of delicious silk-screened prints.

We particularly like Jack Teagle’s Jeff: Job Hunter, the story of a man who’s forced to retrieve the skull of the half-man half-beast from the dungeon of terror, just so that he can claim his job-seeker’s allowance.

Lovely stuff.

Brian Bolland

We nipped along to Central Saint Martins yesterday to catch a free lunchtime talk by the utterly wonderful Brian Bolland, one of the finest comic book artists in the world, and officially a Very Nice Guy. He created the sublime The Killing Joke (above, written by Alan Moore, the guy behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta and a host of other classics), as well as being one of the principal artists on 2000AD, particularly on Judge Dredd, and doing extensive work for DC on Animal Man, Wonder Woman, The Green Lantern and The Invisibles.

Bolland was talking about work from right across his career, and showed early draft work as well as finished pieces. He did a postgrad graphics course at Central Saint Martins in 1974, having previously studied at Leicester School of Art and Norwich School of Art; and had spent his early career working out of his room at 110 Southampton Row, just yards from where the talk was taking place.

He’s best known for his beautifully controlled pen and ink work, though he now works entirely in Photoshop, using a Wacom tablet and pen. Check out his site for some really in-depth (and entertaining) step by step tutorials showing his working process, as well as a huge gallery of work.

Bolland stressed the importance of life drawing, having spent at least one day a week on it at college. It was sobering to hear the silence when he asked who in the room (which largely consisted of illustration students) was doing life drawing.

You can see more of his work in the book The Art of Brian Bolland. Lovely stuff.

Gorillaz Plastic Beach preview


We're just listening to the new Gorillaz  Plastic Beach
album in the studio (it's being previewed on the Guardian's site, and comes out on 8 March). As expected, the album's a delicious fusion of styles and artists, including collaborations with Snoop Dogg, Kano, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Gruff Rhys, De La Soul, Mark E Smith, Lou Reed, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. Not a bad crowd to make some tunes with.

Incredibly, it's ten years since Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett launched 2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russell on the world, with the Tomorrow Comes Today EP. Back then the world's first virtual band sounded like an amusing side project, a way for Albarn to flex his musical muscles without having to engage with the usual PR circus that accompanied every new Blur* album, and for Hewlett to stretch his legs away from the comic page (where he was best known for his Tank Girl strip).


But blimey, Gorillaz developed into so much more than that, producing two truly fantastic albums, Gorillaz
and Demon Days, some killer videos, some pioneering 'live' shows; and in the process picked up the Designer of the Year award for Hewlett in 2006. All the while, they manage to appeal to both kids and adults, which is a damn fine trick. 

Frankly it's just great to watch two extraordinary talents at the top of their game.

UPDATE: Check out their fantastic Stylo promo, which just launched. 

* Their new concert DVD No Distance Left To Run
is out now by the way.

Characters for an Epic Tale


Tom Gauld has just released his Characters for an Epic Tale as a rather lovely letterpress print, signed and numbered in an edition of 150. Grab it from his site for £75.