Tag Archives: comics

On Finishing Things

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On Finishing Things

or, What I Think I Learned from Moving to a Different Country to Go To University

Be selfish. Because it won’t be enough to remember to take care of yourself. But also connect, to friends, to students, to colleagues, to staff, to people living around you. Be thankful for them, for their help, for their presence. Be thankful to your closest supporters, to your steam valves. Be kind. A little goes a long way, and you will feel much better for it.

Watch Liberal Arts, and prepare to scoff – but even so. Watch Whiplash and prepare to shudder – but even then. Watch Community, season one episode one, season five episodes one and two – watch it all, in fact. Watch Monsters University, despite it not being as good as Inc, and watch Inside Out [I’ll come back to emotions later, too]. Watch Dead Poets Society, if you feel you should, I suppose.

Learn to meditate, and breathe, and sleep. Learn to read as much as you want of anything you want, and that it’s ok to abandon it for a year if something else comes along. Learn to bingewatch with other people, and bingewatch alone. Learn to listen, but also to talk, and it doesn’t always have to be about that much.

Read Ali Smith’s Artful and Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know. Read William Letford’s Bevel and Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness. Read Vaughan and Staples’ Saga and Luiselli and McSweeney’s Sidewalks. Read Comme un Roman, by Daniel Pennac (or by Sarah Ardizzone), or maybe Journal d’un Corps (or Diary of a Body, by Alison Waters). It helps to know your limits, of the page, of the body, and others have explored those edges. Read Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, too, and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. Read Gillen and McKelvie’s The Wicked and the Divine and Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona.

Find something to become passionate about, and abolish the guilt from the pleasure. [Mine is Transformers, but you already knew that.] Be aware of what is flawed about your interests, do your best to come to terms with it and try changing it where possible. Learn from the mistakes it makes. This also applies to yourself.

Because what you must remember, what you need to make sure you never forget, is to have ambition (cue Atanas Valkov). To be curious (cue Melodysheep). To remember that emotions are allowed, they are natural, they are yours. Because being strong can be a weakness, and showing weakness can definitely be a strength. Accept both. Allow both. Get angry. Make it count (cue A Monster Calls).

You will cry. You will laugh. Sometimes there will be little difference between the two. You will feel lost as everyone is younger than you or looks trapped too early. You will meet people and they will leave, and you won’t. And then you will, too.

So take time to say goodbye. To say thank you. To say sorry.
And do it all with a smile, where you can.

NaPoWriMo 2015 Day 29 – Where

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Where have my robots gone?
Is there another shelf for them
or desk on which to lead
their silent plastic lives?
A room that is one
and two and four
and a space that is more than
what it seems, more
than what it sounds.

Where has my artwork gone?
The wordland, the doctor,
the space between will and power
and better angels still?
No room for one more
as the walls are
laid bare again –
to prosper perhaps beyond
the boxed papers whispered
by faceless passers by
and sudden saxophones.

Where have my covers gone?
Are there no more layers
for them to build upon truths
and cushion the inevitable fall?
There is room for more
than one person
more than one body
to lie away
from the streets
more than one spirit
to inhabit the shape
left behind by another.

Where have my words gone?
Were they lost
where I last saw
where I last heard

Where will my room
find its space
find its sound
find its place
once it’s gone?

NaPoWriMo 2015 Day 22 – Redacted

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redacted

[immense power

an actual author
is
a perfect death

control the reader
spread
power

How does it all fit in?

different perspectives
use
the lie the idea the
work

identity and visibility
not dissimilar

readers cannot
realise
status

of communication
(often relegated
omitted)]

NaPoWriMo 2015 Day 8 – (Alter)Ego

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You’re making me…
You wouldn’t like me when I’m…

..who am I kidding, liking is a given.
You’d like me when I’m angry
you’d like me when I’m hungry
you love me, really, in any way.
Not to be childish,
but I just woke up – what do you say?

Ignore that grey dude,
go for something fresh.
There’s a green, lean, lovin’
machine buried in here
and it’s about to burst out
into song – yeah, good at that too.

Never mind the gamma ray,
think more gabba gabba hey.
I got a whole lotta love
to share with you
and I’m not letting it drop
like a lead balloon.

I can feel it pumping
just for you – or you –
radiating from inside.
Come closer, there’s no danger.
Trust me: I’m a doctor.
Should I put it on a banner?

Nothing puny about this god
you can bow in adoration.
I’m a smash hit, babe,
a revelation – feel the funk.

Yeah, that’s right.
I’m the Incredible Hunk.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #12

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Synopsis
FINAL ISSUE

“And I awoke, and found me here…”

Wilson Taylor delivers the apocalypse the only way he knows how: at his son Tom’s expense. It’s the end of the world as we know it. But there’s no need to worry because it’s just a story. Isn’t it? Don’t miss the extra-sized conclusion to the fan-favorite Vertigo series!

Story
How do you write the ending to a story about stories ending the world? How do you wrap up meta-narratives, multiple plots, twisted storylines, intertextualities and gigantic apocalyptic schemes? According to Mike Carey and Peter Gross, you don’t. According to Tom Taylor, you let someone else do it for you. And the two, unsurprisingly, are the one and the same.
The third part of ‘Annals of Comparative Literature’ brings the arc, the Apocalypse chapter and the whole The Unwritten series to a close, and does so with a wonderful flourish of the pen (or other authorial tool) on the page (see previous bracket), and a refreshingly, candidly self-aware reflection on itself as a medium and a series. Characters live up to their descriptions, but not further, stories reach their conclusion, but not more than that, and most of all, the real puppeteers are exposed, reversed, unveiled and dragged down for one last time, in a surprisingly really quite moving sequence.
In the meantime, Carey also manages to voice several thoughts on the comics medium, its relationship to literature, the acceptance of it and experimental fiction in a wider literary canon. There are more quotations, explorations of dangling plots, voice shifts and some fantastic Pauly Bruckner contributions that definitely left me with a satisfied smirk on my face.

Art
Peter Gross, in his co-plotting guise, really sets his skills loose on the script, adapting, twisting and capturing the end of the world that was, what came before, what came between and what will come with the turn of the page. Visual references abound, to external contexts (the human evolution panel is fantastically apt and deployed) and to other moments in the series. I am curious as to whether another artist worked on finished in certain sections of the issue, as no one else is credited but there are some definite callbacks to the Ship That Sank Twice OGN finishes and some of the work by Vince Locke and Al Davison – regardless, the effect is stunning, and the care and detail going into Wilson Taylor in particular is especially moving, throughout the entire issue.
Of course, the visual pleasure of the book, as always, would not be possible without the fantastic chromatic work of Chris Chuckry, who performs double plus good in this super-sized issue. Working with such complex layouts and basic patterns as deployed by Gross’ linework cannot be easy, at all, but once again, for one last time, he delivers. Todd Klein’s lettering performance in this issue was stellar. There are some many fonts, so much personality imbued in each and every other scene, due to its framing, to its context, to its moment in the narrative timeline and the ‘real’ timeline, that only one of the masters of the craft could have tackled it so magnificently.
And finally, but in no means as the least deserving of credit, is the mind behind the hands behind the face of the series as a whole, Yuko Shimizu. I have spoken to several comics readers who have not yet been absorbed by The Unwritten, but they all know Shimizu’s fantastic covers, and we all agreed on the poignant, powerful, sad and beautifully composed final cover, with Tom fading into – or out of – a book (you decide after reading).

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
This is the actual end of the line, for a series that has followed me through the entirety of my higher education (sudden realisation, that). This is a final issue that manages to acknowledge what it is doing, that what it is doing is wonderfully original, is not afraid of saying so, and yet does not brag about it or inflate it to the point of exhaustion. This is an issue about the power of writing, of books, of comic books, the limits and constraints of canon, the loopholes that emerge from it. This is the story of characters trying to lose their author, in order for the story to continue its life. This is the story of a reader turned writer, unable to convince people and himself of a fictional reality, a world that never happened, never existed, and never will be – but who chooses to write it down anyway.

And in those words, in those images, lies the unspoken, unwritten power.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #12 is available in shops and digitally here.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #11

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Synopsis
The end is near, and the final battle is about to be fought – and Tom is back where he never wanted to belong. But if he’s going to die tomorrow, then tonight he’s got some unfinished business – with the most derivative boy wizard in all the worlds.

Story
Despite the lateness of this review, I find myself relieved by the fact that the final issue is still a little while away. It allows a re-reading of the eleventh chapter of the Apocalypse (The Unwritten), and time to think about where the story may end up, well, ending. And punches are definitely not pulled.
Writer Mike Carey takes the first part of this issue to focus, on a slightly slower pace, on the relationship between Tommy and Tom, between Count Ambrosio and possibly Pullman, between the major players of the stories so far, keeping true to the ‘Annuals of Comparative Literature’ arc title. But the main focus, across both parts of the plot, are the nature of evil, and its close connection to guilt. And unsurprisingly, though very craftily done, Pullman is right in the middle of it.
Definitely picking up from issue #10 in terms of story beats, emotional crafting and overall narrative weaving, the penultimate issue in the whole run of the series has some excruciatingly painful moments, reminiscent of the darkest children books, and some fantastic dialogue. And I have no idea where it will go in the finale, at all.

Art
Once more, artist Peter Gross has full responsibility for the basic visual rendition of the story in the book, and the job he does is magnificent. Character-wise, Ambrosio, Pullman and Madame Rausch are as terrifying as ever, and the Leviathan lurking in the background is a wonderful touch. But from a structural point of view, Gross shines even brighter – one long sequence in particular, featuring all the major characters is stunningly devised, and the panel borders blur even further when the Taylors are involved.
Chris Chuckry’s colours fully reflect the bleakness of the script, too, with only the first page showing some well-needed vibrancy, and an otherwise abundance of stone, grit, murky water and haunting reds to paint over the panels. And in the hungry eyes of the creepier Leviathan spawn. Deserves equal praise, of course, is letterer Todd Klein, populating the page, minds and panels with sounds, personal speech fonts, and an eery sense of words only just holding together
The cover, as always by the fantastic Yuko Shimizu, is terrifying, beautiful and really touching. Not only does it have the traditional Pietà structure, and bleak colours of the interiors, I dare you to look at it again once the story is over, and not feel a pang of pain at the death(s) in the book. Go on.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
Remember, if you can, all the worst moments from the best children books you have read. Condense them through the filter of a twisted horror writer with a literary vein. See them play out in front of your eyes, rather than just in your head. You’ll have a vague sense of what Carey and Gross have plotted and done in this issue. And remember that those are some of the best books because of those worst moments. And that is nothing, compared to where the story continues, and begins to end, in the painful aftermath of things being Unwritten.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #11 is available in shops and digitally here.

Comics Zen and The Art of Convention Going

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This weekend (14th-16th November) will be my sixth Thought Bubble Festival as a volunteer (redshirt – we proudly reclaimed the word from ill-fated Trekkies). I have been behind the scenes at two Lakes International Comic Art Festivals, two Auto Assemblies, moderated online communities, chaired panels, talks, conferences, am active in ‘public engagement’ (what universities call ‘getting out and talking to actual people for a change’) and attended multiple events of the comic book and media industry type as a punter. I enjoy what I do, and do it freely, in my spare time, passionately and mostly for free (and for the red t-shirt; there must be something in the dye).

I am also aware of a high number of convention etiquette posts from professionals, exhibitors, fellow fans, first-time goers and bored companions (partners, relatives, offspring, pets, stuffed cryptozoa). Personally, I think Dan Berry’s 2012 list is a great resource, along with Luke Surl’s illustrated version for exhibitors. There are plenty more out there, but some tend to be fairly condescending and patronising, even in their tongue-in-cheek style (or maybe because of it). So please take what I say here as tips and suggestions, rather than commandments or recommendations. As a volunteer, I have seen many a visitor storm off disgruntled because they were unable to get a sketch, a signature, a book, a handshake – and it’s not always the event’s fault.

Talk (if you can) – This can be really hard. Emotions run high when meeting your idols, and you might not be comfortable with crowds, small spaces, public speaking or eye contact. That is fine. Creators know that their fans come in all types of person and species, and everyone gets tired/stressed out/overwhelmed at times. If you need help, call upon a redshirt. We’re there to help.

Be Nice – Following from the previous point, if you can’t bring yourself to face someone or speak to them, be nice in any way possible. A quiet thank you, a timid smile, nods, adoration in your eyes. Let the exhibitors know you’re interested in their work if you are, don’t diss them if you’re not. Everyone there is passionate about comics; that’s a whole series of worlds in common. Be nice to other visitors. Be nice to exhibitors. Be nice to staff and volunteers. And be excellent to each other.

Look at Everything – Take it all in. The Big Names are not the only names, and they’re only big to the people who think they are. Make sure you take a stroll through the smaller tables. I have met some of my favourite people in the world by wandering around the halls closing off queues and bringing water or food to exhibitors.

Be a True Fan – So you have all the issues a writer has written, you’re on first-name basis with them, and you’ve seen them multiple times. Excellent! A lovely place to be in! But don’t overdo it. Some people have travelled very far to only attend an event for the day, have less money to spend, less time and may be extremely intimidated by everything going on. Give them their space and time. Don’t be greedy. And don’t for one second think there is such as thing as a fake-fan.

Be an Alien, or, Enjoyable Queueing – Yes, you will have to wait to meet some of the guests. Yes, it can take a while, and it will be boring after a bit. Solution? Use all of the tips above: talk to others in the queue; talk to exhibitors you are close to as you move closer to the aimed table; take in the convention area; plan the rest of your day; if you’re in a group, use supermarket tactics. And most of all..

Don’t Panic – Douglas Adams was bound to make it here at some point. Alas, you might not be able to get everything you wanted done. You might miss a panel. You might be too late for a sketch. The guests might be very tired, unable to make it at all or late. It happens, unfortunately (Kurt Vonnegut? Kurt Vonnegut: So It Goes). But go back to three points above, and look at everything else. You’ll find something you didn’t even know you were looking for.

There are a number of other really important points, such as keeping hydrated and nourished, respecting people’s boundaries, social norms, be mindful of children and event rules and regulations, including personal safety. Some of these are covered by common sense, others by explicit policies such as the SDCC and NYCC ones. All should be kept in mind at all times. My list is simply an addition to those guidelines.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #10

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Synopsis
In the first chapter of the final UNWRITTEN story art, “Annals of Comparative Literature,” Pullman has the maanim, and the end is as nigh as it’s ever going to get. But even magic trumpets have rules, and this one has a homing instinct – and there’s only one place in all the worlds of fiction where it can do its apocalyptic thing. Which just happens to be the one place Tom is afraid to go…

Story
After one issue setting the stage, in somewhat of a breather pause, The Unwritten starts hurtling towards its conclusion in ‘Annals of Comparative Literature’, exposing once again its core themes, as explicitly as possible. Bonds are tested, reality even more so, stories need their characters, and the parallels between all the plots take centre stage – only for everything to change once more.
Mike Carey returns to his earlier dabblings with literature, writing Tom and his cast through the end of last issue back into post-literary London, bringing back the Christopher Robin conundrum as a last resort for the main cast of Tom, Lizzie and Savoy to save the world before bedtime. But Pullman is also trying his best to end his own misery, and the world with it. And everyone encounters bigger obstacles, slithering in the dark, shaded backgrounds.
The issue is intentionally slower in pace, as it condenses the entire beginning of the final arc of the series (!), bringing back multiple threads and strands from The Unwritten and Apocalypse into two tight spots. And yet, the sense of impending doom, of spilt ink and blood to come, of betrayal and jeopardy and danger are so tense that not even gleeful vampires, boy wizards, nor swearing rabbits can help shift the sense of unease.

Art
Peter Gross bears the bulk of the linework this month, and he does a wondrous job of mirroring the script in the layouts and panel arrangements on the pag. Particularly worth highlighting is the Wilson/Pullman double page spread, showing just how similar the two characters might be after all, and how the situation is pretty much identical. Savoy reaching through panel borders, lines bending and adjusting to punches thrown, a sinister splash page and some great perspective are just examples of the storytelling at work here.
Of course though, the differences between the converging parallels of the story could not be as clearly marked if it were not for Chris Chuckry’s colours: the contrast is more obvious towards the end of the issue, but the shift in tones between one side of London and Pullman’s HQ (and more) are fantastically placed, as is the saturation chosen for the flashbacks. Additionally, we get to see some more of Todd Klein’s handiwork, from the crumbling title page to how some characters bend their own speech to his will and fonts, and more sound effects are materialised in the spaces between realities.
Yuko Shimizu brings another superb cover piece to the series, highlighting all the points made by co-plotters Gross and Carey about Tom’s identity and his father’s power over him on an ominously red background, grounded in ink and writing. The whirlwind of ghost pages justify Tom’s terrified expression, but it’s Wilson’s sombre concentrated face that is particularly unsettling.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
As the first issue of the final arc of the entire series, #10 is another wonderful piece of the puzzle, with some extremely dark and unsettling scenes and interactions, especially towards the latter part of the book. Gross and Chuckry’s visual work are phenomenally well executed on Carey’s script, and there is one page that still has me smirking, and another that shows off the creators’ twisted sense of cruelty towards their characters that bode well (?) for the full-on, impending Apocalypse.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #10 is now available in shops and digitally here.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #9

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Synopsis
The three immortals – Wilson, Rausch and Pullman – are moving toward their respective endgames. But when was the last time they were all in the same room together? Answer: half a century ago, in Oxford, England. And the reasons for what they’re doing now can be found in what they said to each other back then…

Story
The penultimate story arc of The Unwritten: Apocalypse ended in ‘Sang’ Part III (last issue) with multiple endings and dazzlingly knotted plots and threads, in what is increasingly becoming a game of triple crossing and multiple jeopardy – but issue #9 tries setting the record straight, for lack of a better word, as we see a story and read another.
Dropping the current Tom Taylor storyline for the issue, we move back to a younger Taylor/Tallis, as he conveniently joins the mythology enthusiasts of Oxford, the Inklings. Mike Carey is not a stranger to tinkering with literature, and that is pretty much the scope of the series, but this particular twist is especially juicy, adorning Taylor with even more power and resources than we had seen so far. And then Pullman shows up. Followed by Madame Rausch.
The interaction between the different characters, their voices included, is well crafted, both with the Inklings and the fearsome threesome, and the parallel scripts used to show the extent of the characters’ powers are a well-executed example of the possibilities of comics as a medium. Taylor’s voice, however, is the most intriguing aspect of the issue, showing him as a new writer, a naive perhaps, manipulator of stories – with one, significant change in his tone towards the end.

Art
The parallel scripts, of course, only work with the layouts and artwork of the co-plotter, Peter Gross. The pacing is really well done, and two pages in particular really stand out (including the final one). Additionally, Vince Locke’s finishes on the art really help in setting the time scale of the issue, and make the mythopoeic splash page look truly outstanding.
If possible, Chris Chuckry’s colours take that even further, contrasting the pub scenes with the ones showing Rausch, Pullman and Taylor in such a way that the latter are eerily appropriate to the events taking place. Todd Klein’s hand in the typewritten captions is subtle, but necessary to the duplicitous script, and there is one particularly well-placed sound effect that really jumps off the page.
As for the cover, as always by the excellent Yuko Shimizu, it serves as a very distinct reminder that yes, this is the book-shattering conclusion approaching, Tom is not the knight he could’ve been in ‘Sang’ – but there is something more in the image: what has Tom realised, that we haven’t yet?

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
With only three more issues to go, Inklings is a superb intake of breath before the plunge, delving back into the past and motives of the three key players, seemingly revealed at last. As the saying goes, though, the storyteller is not to be believed, only the story – and we’ve seen in this issue that we cannot trust those either; but thanks to the nature of the comics medium, we are able to view multiple sides of the same tale at once, however unreliable any of them may be. So follow the threads of what’s to come, but beware: there is no indication whether they’ll get you in or out of the labyrinth.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #9 is now available in shops and digitally here.