SMASHback #1: The Tower

April 3rd, 2016

Back in February, I appeared on a panel at the London Graphic Novel Network’s S.M.A.S.H. event. There were a lot of great speakers at those events (including our own Maid of Nails, friend of the website Kieron Gillen, America’s next top comics critic J.A. Micheline, Mazin off the Kraken podcast, and Jam Trap poet Chrissy Williams), staggered across three panels focusing on MEANING, ART and REPRESENTATION in comics.

The plan was to write series of posts inspired by these talks, but then this happened.

Trying to appear big and clever on the internet has never felt less important to me than it did in the aftermath. 

Anyway, I spoke on the art panel at S.M.A.S.H. and as a comics critic in the company of artists/editors, I figured I would be the least qualified person to talk about the subject so I did what I always do: I overcompensated. Only Mister Attack will ever see the first draft of my introductory talk, the charmingly titled “COMICS ARTISTS ARE WASTING THEIR LIVES”. In the end, I settled for a slightly less arsey approach that focused on different modes of reading, and how we might want to develop our understanding of our own biases so we can better make them fight to prove which opinions are best.

You can listen to what I actually said and the subsequent panel debate here (headphones recommended, audio’s a but quiet!), read the version of this pitch I submitted here, or if you fancy getting the right mix of depth and brevity you can now read the text I brought with me on the day below.

None of these versions are quite the same. None of them quite get across what I thought I was trying to say. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Taste the glory!

Interview with The Beast

March 27th, 2016

Our very own Dan White (aka The Beast Must Die) has been interviewed by Matt Colegate for The Comics Journal!  Colegate talks to The Most Handsome Mindless* about Terminus, Insomnia, Cindy and Biscuit, writing for this site, and the development of his art style, and it’s all well worth a read if you like what’s best in life.

A teasing excerpt:

When did you start noticing that your style was developing? Was it an incidental discovery or was it something you were working towards?

There’s a hodgepodge of influences that I can see in everything I do, but it’s nice that a style has formed. When I’m doing a brush stroke I’ll be thinking  “the way I’ve drawn those bushes is really Bill Watterson.” The style also came out of admitting that I didn’t have to do figurative art work. I could still tell stories that I liked by using cartoons. I should say that the biggest influence in my life is Chuck Jones. Seeing the Warner Bros. cartoons broke me forever.

So you were quite strict about wanting to be a cartoonist?

I just admitted, y’know, “You’re not going to be Simon Bisley and you’re not going to be able to draw Batman”. Nor would I want to. My uncle was an illustrator and I used to look at his work and the looseness of the brush work used to really appeal to me. When I realized I could tell the stories that I wanted by cartooning, and not being a slave to anatomy and photo-referencing, that was really liberating and I think the style developed there. It was quite organic.

A lot of your work – Terminus for example, which you did weekly for Mindless Ones – consists of single panel pieces. What is it that appeals about that format?

The one panel strip is traditionally used for political cartoons or simple visual gags, but I wanted to explore what you could do. They were like haiku experiments in paring down the text. Doing it on a weekly basis was great – doing anything on a weekly basis is great because it’s a way to refine your style – and I noticed that I was getting much better at paring the words down. I wanted to do something that wasn’t necessarily funny. What about if you had a one-panel comic that just disturbed you, or made you feel a bit sad? Somebody on the internet said “It’s like a fortune cookie that you open up and inside there’s an obituary.” That was the perfect description of what I was trying to do. He didn’t mean it as a compliment but I put it on the back of the first collection anyway. It was about trying to capture something and suggest a whole world in a panel. There was a nerdy element also, because I got to tell a science fiction or horror story simply. Horror is a thing that comes up again and again in my work and Terminus was a good way to flex some of those muscles.

If you’ll forgive me for sliding straight into huckster mode – this is the internet in 2016, after all – I’ll just right ahead and say that if the interview put you in the mood to read/buy Dan’s comics, we can help you out with that!

I mean just look at this sequence, from the most recent Cindy and Biscuit book:

SERIOUSLY – BUY DAN’S COMICS!**

***

Footnotes:

*Aside from Gary Lactus, who is of course the face of bad backs, and also – in his ridiculous stage name of “Fraser Geesin” – Jack of All Polymaths.

**Unless you’re broke, obviously. We don’t actually want to bankrupt you or anything. Or at least, The Beast Must Die doesn’t…

LIFE TURDS have prevented me from finishing my long promised post on Julia Scheele‘s comics, so here’s a quick ramble about the dick-slap aesthetics of Nemesis the Warlock and Marshal Law that I stole from my own twitter account…

Matt Maxwell once asked me if I had any thoughts on NEMESIS THE WARLOCK.  I do, and they’re all blurred by time & distance but here we go!

In Alec – how to be an artist, Eddie Campbell described Mills & O’Neilll’s NEMESIS as “the wicked satire of a rejected Catholic upbringing”. I wouldn’t presume to be able to improve on that description, but it does point towards what’s so good about *O’Neill’s* NEMESIS.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of good artists have drawn NEMESIS (including Bryan Talbot, for fuck’s sake!) but O’Neill made it look *naughty*. This is what separates his baroque atrocities from similar dystopias (Warhammer 40K, etc): the heavy metal fanfare never obscures the man.

Less is not more – MORE IS MORE!

For London <-|-> From Hell

November 12th, 2015

The following post was written as a response to The London Graphic Novel Network’s discussion of From Hell

Here’s Graphic Novel Network/Kraken bod Joel‘s final flourish, just so you have some idea what I’m arguing against:

when I read [Moore's] stuff I get the feeling is that nothing has been lead to chance and everything is designed for very definite and exact reasons you know? If other comics are a little jelly and playful and “make your own mind up!” – Alan Moore in a labyrinth of cold hard steel: arranged in such a way that the only possible stance you’ll allowed is that of a mouse – desperately trying to find its way to the piece of cheese at the end.

And here’s my response:

Joel, the way you describe Alan Moore’s work there makes it sound hugely unappealing. I don’t think your account of how his art works is fundamentally untrue, mind, but it makes his work sound awful, tyrannical even – “Imagine being held in the iron grip of The World’s Mightiest Beard… FOREVER!”

*shudders* 

And yet… the sense of total control is undeniably part of Moore’s appeal, always has been. It’s there in the famous grids of repeating imagery in Watchmen, in From Hell’s attempts to draw together an occult history of murder, in Promethea’s attempt to overlay scientific theories on Judeo-Christian creation myths. It’s even in the carefully synthesised pulp that fuels relatively Thrill Powered works like V for Vendetta and Halo Jones and (why not?!) Crossed 100
 
It’s also the aspect that can curdle his attempts at humour, the thing that sometimes makes his self-consciously light and playful comics feel like anything but, the… oh shit, is this why he always crams those bloody songs into his comics? Is it the final test of his mastery, the compunction to try and make you hear music in a comic? Will he manage it one day?

Maybe. Or maybe he just read too much Pynchon and smoked a little too much Tolkien before going to bed last night.

“Modern life is rubbish, here’s an 8,000 page novel about my garden.”

Brett Ewins RIP

February 19th, 2015

With the very sad recent news that Brett Ewins passed away at the too-young age of 59, gone to join Thrax, Mad Tommy and the rest of Bad.Co, the Mindless Ones would like to honour the man through his art.

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SARAH HORROCKS – BRUISE (self-published, 2014)

From the cool blue risotone colour to the grey static hiss of the prose, Bruise is heavy on the cyberpunk stylings:

The comic itself follows up on that initial promise, coming on almost like a young William Gibson who’s got too lost in the poetry of his own thoughts to ever force them to fit a form as traditionally satisfying as a “novel”. Actually, scrap that “almost” and focus on the real novelty here, achieved through jagged collage of familiar tropes. Include the squinting cool of the front cover and the miraculous map of the back (as you must) in the run time and you’ve got one hell of a joyride here:

16 pages of bad road

Frank Quitely, Grant Morrison and Nathan Fairbairn – Multiversity: Pax Americana #1

It’s here that our story begins:  in pieces.  Many, many authors have shot at this target and missed, preferring not to recognize that in truth this is what we really know, and what we really believe, about the forces that create and shape our lives — preferring not to see that what science and philosophy describe is the branch from which our lives’ dramas depend, and not just convenient intellectual set-dressing for them.

We should remember that murder mysteries are always just local expressions, of a grander philosophical struggle — someone is killing capes, and who’s next?  Well, after the scientists the answer is, we are:  as the stunning profusion of interlinked symbols that fills Pax Americana’s pages ceaselessly intimates to us the unavoidability of that final, bitter realization of entropy.  War, and death, and chaos…

…Or, what is perhaps worse:  not chaos, at all, but order.

An implacable order, that we can’t resist.  A pattern we’re trapped in, that we can’t see.

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There comes a point in every Mindless gathering where the correct amount of alcohol has finally been consumed for the conversation to turn to Final Crisis, with a special focus on the hastily squandered horror of the fifth issue.  Thankfully, we’ve started to bring friends along to help identify the reason for this boozy recurrence:

Yes, that’s right – the crushing banality of the morning aftermath is rank rotten enough to haunt its own bacchanalian origins, and when it does so it wears Darkseid’s face.  Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The spirit of this wretched, queasy moment inevitably seeps into the comics I buy at Thought Bubble when I try to read them on the train home.  This petty, remorse-tinged meanness tried to curdle my appreciation of the Decadence comics I brought home with me last year, but it struggled to find shelter in their sparsely populated mindscapes. The darkness found a more suitable hiding place in Spandex, Martin Eden’s LGBT-friendly, Brighton based superhero strip.

Like his previous serial adventure The O-Men, Spandex mixes everyday drama and garish unreality with ease. Brother Bobsy mentioned Paul Grist as an obvious reference point when he discussed the collected Spandex on SILENCE! and there’s definitely something to that: like Jack Staff or Mud Man, Spandex is humorous without ever seeming parodic, and it manages to generate a sense of low-budget romance from its seaside drama.  The debt to the X-Men is also undeniable, both in Eden’s commitment to chronicling the adventures of a group of emotionally combustible super-friends, and in his clean, brightly coloured artwork:

I’ve done a pretty decent job of burying my teenage X-Men fandom underneath piles of Eddie Campbell comics…