PanelxPanel

July 6th, 2017

By everyone’s favourite Punisher expert and Garth Ennis scholar Maid of Nails aka Kelly Kanayama

For comics fans it can be discouraging to look out across the blasted wastes of The Discourse and see how much vitriol gets leveled against those who just want to try something different. Yet in this toxic landscape, there are still breaths of fresh air if you know where to search for them – such as the debut issue of Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s new comics criticism magazine PanelxPanel.

PanelxPanel combines analysis of soon-to-be-released comics by Otsmane-Elhaou with writings and interviews from critics and creators, all laid out in a pleasant color scheme. (I’m not using the word “pleasant” pejoratively here, by the way; it’s rare for comics criticism to make you feel more relaxed just from looking at the colors.) The aesthetic effect ties into Otsmane-Elhaou’s highly visual focus, which is oriented toward dissecting how the art of a particular comic creates its narrative, and which sets PanelxPanel apart from other, less visually focused comics criticism. Here, it’s all about panel layout, color choice, the placement of characters and objects in relation to one another: elements I know are extremely important in comics but which often have to be explained to me.

If all that sounds familiar, it’s because the magazine is an expansion of Otsmane-Elhaou’s Strip Panel Naked column for ComicsAlliance, where he did much the same thing in article format. Although this column-to-magazine expansion is what makes PanelxPanel stand out, it’s also where its shortcomings lie.

Going for a magazine format allows Otsmane-Elhaou to include input from other voices…

As (very kindly) discussed in Kieron Gillen‘s latest TinyLetter email:

Looking Glass Heights – an immersion

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If you enjoy the comic, please consider giving some time or money to Living Rent (Scotland’s Tenants Union) or another similar group closer to home –

thanks,

David

If you’ve not read Dan Cox and John Riordan’s Hitsville UK, you’re missing out. Like Daft Punk‘s ‘Get Lucky‘, it’s the sound of the summer.  Or like…. shit, it’s hard to pick just one song at this stage in this icy death machine of a year, so let’s split the difference and say that like ‘Lazarus‘ or ‘Adore‘ its deeper magics might just see you through the colder months too.

I picked up the first issue at Thought Bubble a couple of years back, and while it took my alcohol sodden brain a couple of readings to pick up the rhythm, the  way the first few pages alternated between rows of panels introducing new bands and those wherein the seedy, behind the scenes types (haunted producers, men who made their money in sewage who now fancy a slightly more alluring expression of power) laid out the groundwork for the plot, but when I’d locked into it I realised that I now had a whole host of new favourite characters to care about.

The rest soon followed, issues #2-4 taken in one rush, flashbacks to being a kid and finally getting your hands on the album after wearing out the single you bought from Our Price down the town centre.

There’s so much in there in this soapy story about a new British indie label – a polyphonic reaction against the Toryfied despair of life in the UK 2016, the alienated teenage appetite for destruction, some saggy dadrock longing, plus a smack to the chops to your actual modern day fascists – all adding up to a baffling but somehow familiar map of British pop, complete with itchy annotations about the seedier and more desperate events going on in the background to some of your favourite magic tunes.

There are jokes here that will become fixed points in your mental landscape (“And there’s just time to make the gig!”).  There are faces you’ll find yourself seeing in the mirror in your more wretched moments (Jack Spatz or Gwillum, depending on whether you tend to slick arrogance or despair).  There are beautiful concepts and glorious colours galore:

More than any other comic about bands or music, Hitsville UK mimics the thrill and excitement of its subject.  Somewhat perversely, this comes from its overwhelming commitment to the comic book form.  Where other comics about music feel like extrapolations of zine culture or traditional adventure stories themed around pop stars, Hitsville UK actually feels like music.  By revelling in the joys of putting weird looking characters into even weirder situations, trusting that they can keep a rush of daft words and pictures coming and that they can keep it relevant, Riordan and Cox capture something of the hyped up love buzz of being into music.  A mix of wanting to keep up with the story and wanting to feel part of the moment as it happens around you.

As such, I figured the best way to look into their dark hearts was by dusting off the old Smash Hits interview questions and seeing what the handsome boys (pictured below) made of them…

1. How well mannered are you?

John: I am incredibly mannered, in the stiff and awkward manner of a 19th century drawing room drama. This is to such an extent that at school my nickname was Captain Mannering. Dan has almost no manners as he was brought up in a seaside arcade.

2. Do you ever check your hair when passing a shop window?

Dan: I avoid all reflective surfaces. I fear the hollow eyed man who stares back at me. The bloated shadow cadaver who rots all clocks. The bastard with the seaweed tangle beard who has stolen all my clothes. The one who whispers ‘You will never be this beautiful again’.

Like Medusa it is only possible to look at John via a complex system of mirrors. I normally close my eyes when we’re together.