November 20th, 2015
I might have come away from the Thought Bubble comics convention with a terrible hangover and an overwhelming desire to have a proper rummage through the back issue bins, but I can’t say that I came back short of good zines, great comics and better memories.
Here are five of the most exciting books I picked up last weekend…
1. Jonathan Chandler – Another Blue World (Breakdown Press, 2015)
At last Saturday’s SILENCE! x Breakdown Press interview panel, Jonathan Chandler was discussed as an artist who had staked out territory similar to that which Brian Chippendale had occupied but who had got there before it became a trendy holiday destination for art house cartoonists.
I’m not familiar enough with the man’s work to debate these claims, but reading Another Blue World what struck me was how important Chandler’s elusive sense of space is to communicating this particular set of hostile environments:
It’s not so much that Chandler is limiting what the reader can see to a few tufts of grass or a short stretch of water around his characters that makes his work stand out, more that he seemingly feels no pressure to fill up blank space on the page.
In a Brian Chippendale comic we might find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by the amount of detail, struggling to distinguish signal from noise whether we’re faced with the tiny cramped panels of Maggots or the wider canvases of If’n Oof or Ninja. In Prison Pit we are confronted blocky horror after blocky horror, but we know that this grim escalation will follow proceed through the sort of absurd escalations that are Johnny Ryan’s speciality.
Reading Chandler’s work, meanwhile, we are confronted with an eerie silence. All around us, we find unreadable white space, all of it primed with danger. Forms approach, assaults are perpetrated, sex is weaponised, but we can never be sure whether things are going to get worse or just sort of hang there:
I might crave for something beyond this harsh replication of animalistic imperatives, but there’s no denying that Another Blue World makes them painfully vivid.
January 5th, 2013
Windowpane #1, by Joe Kessler
There’s a point early on in this comic where you realise that you’re not so much watching characters describe a landscape as watching the landscape try work out how to describe itself. This might seem counter-intuitive but from the end of the first story onward the pattern repeats itself – Joe Kessler’s garish, pastel-hued compositions either break down into their constituent lines after exhaustive exploration or sit there seemingly unaffected by the words and actions that have passed through them.
The best example of the latter category involves a wet-dream about a pig in a dress, whose fall through the night sky is contrasted against an unflinching cityscape with a moment-by-moment precision that does far better justice to the pithy punchline than this description:
In the former category, the Invisible Cities-derived third strip is as close to definitive as Windowpane gets. The way it links its characters shared status as splashes of ink and colour on the page with their philosophising about the interconnected nature of reality — “…a cluster of atoms resembles a cluster of galaxies.”/”Well they’re both clusters” – might seem trite in isolation, but the surrounding stories make these philosophical observations feel more like a little bit of texture on a varied landscape.
All of this might sound a bit chilly and distant, but Kessler’s human figures are depicted with a deceptive sort of ease, as a series of curving lines whose relationships to each other is nevertheless very carefully observed and delineated:
Still, in keeping with Kessler’s paradoxical thematic schemata it’s the backgrounds that are the focus here, existing as they do on the precise point where detail blurs into abstraction. The interaction between text and territory here has a sly kinshsip with Dylan Horrocks writing on maps and comics, and perhaps also with Kevin Huizenga’s conception of the comics page as a place for exploration and discovery, but Kessler’s backgrounds have a forcefulness to them that resists his characters attempts at attaching meaning as much as it encourages them.
This is tricky relationship is most clearly explored in the final two strips. In the penultimate entry, words shrink on the page as Kessler depicts his precarious human figures parachuting in to kindle-worthy hillscape:
Thought and language here is reduced to a form of quaint annotation that is far less effective than the blocky symbols that line these panels in terms of providing a guide to this hazardous landscape.
The final story focuses on a burned lover who – uh, *SPOILERS* – tries to find solace in the freak resemblance between a man and a decapitated bull. It plays out like a sneaky assurance that the process of muck sitting up and looking itself and trying to figure itself out isn’t totally meaningless, but it’s the sort of assurance that’s both underlined and undermined by the fact that, unlike any given sunset, you know this resemblance was put there to be noticed.
November 29th, 2012
The Beast Must Die: So frazzled, bedraggled and maybe even bedazzled we all arrived safely back from this year’s Thought Bubble 2012 comics festival in Leeds, which once again proved itself to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience for everyone. It gets the tone just right – an even balance between mainstream and fringe, with the small press rubbing shoulders with industry pros. Girls, boys, seasoned fans, neophytes, kids, pensioners, cosplayers and the just plain weird, the TB crowd is diverse, good natured and one of the best aspects of the whole affair.
Attending something like Thought Bubble also reminds you first and foremost why you love the artform, a welcome shot of 4-colour adrenaline to enliven even the most message board weary fan.
The Mindless Ones were there in pretty full effect, with Andrew Hickey, Gary Lactus and myself joined by Legendary Weapons Bobsy & Illogical Volume, as well as Mindless Cadet, Mister Attack and the living juggernaut that is Plok. We were positioned on the right hand side of the newly christened New Dock Hall. Andrew was selling his arsenal of wonderful music and comics books, as well as a new volume of his short stories. Lactus had the collected full colour beauty of The Amusing Bros and Andrew & Steven in Knights Of The Realm, and I was touting Cindy & Biscuit, including the brand new 56 page issue no.3. Mr Attack had his comic Everyone’s Felt Like This Once for sale, and Bobsy brought along a free comic featuring both the current PM and Lord Horror no less. Together we formed like Bruticus and set about ensnaring the public.
On a personal level I don’t think I could have had a better time of it. The reception that Cindy & Biscuit received was heartening, and I sold almost everything I took with me. What was especially gratifying was the breadth of customers I had – I sold a lot to kids this year, which was ace. It’s great to think of them reading mys stuff at home, and I just hope they were all appropriately thrilled, amused or spooked by Cindy & Biscuit. Lots of nice people said lots of nice things about it too, from comics pro’s to fans who bought earlier issues the previous year. All in all I was pretty damn chuffed.
It was great chatting to friend of SILENCE!, Al Ewing, whose gift to us was surely the best comic con exclusive that has ever been. He and his lovely friends were all most accommodating to our frazzled selves in the hotel bar on Sunday evening. It was as nice to see Kieron Gillen as ever, and I enjoyed talking to ace 2000AD scribe Rob Williams about Low Life. I was too nervous to speak to John Wagner, and certainly too nervous to ask him to say ‘I AM THE LAW’ in his stentorian Hibernian brogue. We happened to be on the table next to British comics catalyst Paul Gravett, along with comics artist and scholar John Miers and his lovely partner Megan, who co-runs the Comica Festival with Paul. Paul was his usual enthusiastic self, and did the circuits with his usual charm and aplomb. John and Megan were also excellent company, and truly sympathetic hangover buddies on Sunday. John’s comics are here and info about Comica is here.
Add to that the thrills of our ongoing experiment in listener alienation with our SILENCE! Thought Bubble special, the epic drinkery at the post TB Saturday night bash at the Leeds Corn Exchange, and you have a pretty full weekend. As I stated earlier, the atmosphere at Thought Bubble is open, friendly and enthusiastic. I can’t rate it high enough, and will certainly back next year.
But really, I hear you pretty much scream, FOR THE LOVE OF AQUAMAN, WHAT ABOUT THE COMICS???????!