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I’d probably have a whole other list if I did this next month, but I thought it’d be fun to rattle through my five favourite podcasts right now, off the top of my head. I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, so there’s an absolute heap of deserving stuff I’m not mentioning, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. And one other thing: these aren’t exactly recommendations. I’m entirely ignoring the question of whether these particular podcasts might appeal to anyone other than me. They appeal to me enormously, for sometimes personal or idiosyncratic reasons, and that’s all it takes to get them on this list … you have been warned …

In no particular order:

Revolutions – a great history podcast that’s working it’s way through a load of the world’s most significant revolutions, one per season. The British Civil War and American Revolution have been covered, now we’re deep into the big daddy of revolutions: the French. Each episode is reasonably short, the tone is accessible and very appealing. Full of fascinating details and wry humour. Great.

Let’s Talk Comics – there’s no particular shortage of interview podcasts relating to comics out there, and I listen to several, at least now and again. This one is frequent, well-produced and delivers pretty meaty interviews with a pretty wide range of people involved in the mainstream comics industry: artists, writers, publishers etc etc. Tends to take a life-story approach, and it’s always interesting to hear how people first got started in the medium, as both reader and professional creators.

Hello Internet – some folks will just not like this one, I suspect. It’s a fine example of the ‘two guys talking’ podcasting school. No specific theme, though many recurring topics, so its appeal depends entirely on how interesting or engaging you find the two guys and the subjects they choose to talk about. Me, I’m interested and engaged. These guys make their livings from their YouTube channels (in fact, they’re both quite famous YouTubers), and I find stuff relating to that fascinating when it comes up. One of them also has a highly distinctive and structured view of the world and of life that you may or may not always agree with (or even find palatable) but it makes for entertaining, thought-provoking and often amusing listening at times.

Wait, What? – my favourite comics-related podcast. I like it so much I pay for it, via Patreon! Another entry in the ‘two guys talking’ category, this time talking very specifically about comics. All sorts of comics. It’s sometimes meandering, sometimes tangential, sometimes doing a deep-dive into stuff I know very little about, but for whatever reason I always enjoy it.

TetZoo – and here we are at the quirkily unique end of the podcasting spectrum. What’s podcasting for if it can’t produce the kind of audio you just would never, ever hear anywhere else? This is a scientific podcast with a focus on tetrapod (i.e. anything with four limbs) zoology. I’ve got a lot of zoology in my educational background, so I can follow most of what’s going on, but fair warning: quite a bit of jargon is involved. However, because this is podcasting rather than radio, there’s also a lot of silly humour, cryptozoology, sf movie talk, running jokes, vaguely disorganised unprofessionalism. I really like it. Once again, it’s ‘two guys talking’, and it’s very like eavesdropping on them just having a rambling chat in the pub.

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The Free is not the only book I’ve got out this autumn, you know. Oh, no. The Free‘s just my October book; my September book (i.e. this very month!) is a handsome collected edition of the comic I wrote earlier this year: Rogue Trooper: Last Man Standing.

I’m quite proud of it, to be honest. Future war, lone warrior, talking gun, conspiracies and chaos. How can that not sound like fun to any right-thinking reader?

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You can get it in paper-and-ink form or e-form alike, and if you’re tempted but need a little help taking that all important next step of ordering the thing, here’s a nice succinct five star review from bigcomicpage.com to do the helping.

Here it is on Wordery, look (I know the cover’s different, but that’s it, honestly). I really am being helpful today. I might need to go have a little lie down.

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Time to get back to the blogging business, I think. And here’s some trailers to grease the rusty wheels.

Hellblazer was one of the more important comics of the 1980s, for my money. It was one of the key foundation stones of DC’s Vertigo imprint, which punched way above its weight in terms of profile and significance in the industry as a whole. And it was a bit of a flagship for the transformative ‘British invasion’ of the US comics scene.

It had a damp squib of a Keanu Reeves film adaptation, under the title of its lead character Constantine, a while back (which I confess I always thought was sort of not totally terrible as a movie, just not very good as a Hellblazer movie). Now it’s coming to TV – again as Constantine. The first trailer, a few weeks back, didn’t really do much for me but now there’s trailer v2.0 and it’s looking better, if you ask me. I might actually be able to get on board with this …

And talking about things that were important in their time, they don’t come much more important for me personally than Mad Max. The first two films – let us not speak of the third, which was a sad misfire if you ask me – made a big impression on young me when I saw them, videotaped of course. A new outing for the franchise has been floating on the horizon for years, tantalisingly never quite coming to fruition. Well, now it’s actually going to happen, in the shape of Mad Max: Fury Road and here’s what it’s going to look like:

More promising than I feared, even if not quite everything I would have hoped. Looks to be plugging right into the vibe of Mad Max 2, and doing it with a certain style – the visuals and the music are on the moody money, I’d say. Plenty of tone and ‘voice’ in there. The actual action that dominates the trailer looks a bit less moody and a bit more in-your-face, though – I kind of hope the final movie isn’t just wall to wall chasing and driving and mayhem (fun, and indeed essential, as all that is), and retains something of the bleak tone hinted at in the trailer. But hey: it’s Mad Max, it’s Tom Hardy and it looks interesting. That’s enough to put a smile on my face.

Truly, and I mean this without a trace of irony or sarcasm or exaggeration, we live in an age of total, unremitting sf, fantasy and horror saturation. We – those of us who always liked this stuff – are not so much inheriting the media world as consuming it, monopolising it.

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Here’s some stuff I’ve harvested from around the web of late:

The Nerdist Podcast put out a couple of interesting/fun interviews that caught my ear: Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, talking about the comics and the movies; David J. Peterson, language guy, talking about inventing languages (including for Game of Thrones) and various real-language stuff.

Rio 2 has been all over cinema screens around the world lately. Here’s the real parrot it’s based on, Spix’s macaw:

Very pretty, no? Really quite beautiful in fact, if you ask me. But not as widespread as Rio 2, that parrot. In fact, it’s extinct in the wild as far as anyone can tell. Has been for some time. Good job, humanity. (And yes, I know the whole extinct in the wild thing is kind of a central plot point in the movies, but I still find the whole ‘let’s make fun movies and a bajillion dollars based on this’ thing a bit weird, even if it’s sort of well-intentioned.)

Amazon took over Comixology, the biggest purveyor of digital comics, to absolutely nobody’s surprise. I can’t begin to tell you how despondent the big river’s acquisition avalanche makes me. They’re a fine and clever company, I know; I use their excellent services now and again. But it’s in precisely no-one‘s long-term interest (except their own, of course) the way they’re hoovering up competitors and add-ons that incrementally turn them into a leviathan of truly leviathanic proportions. If you want to buy books online, take a look at Wordery. Good prices, good service, free delivery worldwide.

Talking of comics, I thought I’d take a moment to point out my favourite comic produced by IDW Publishing, the good folks who put out the Rogue Trooper comic what I have been writting. Locke & Key is an inspired, beautifully crafted and beautifully illustrated dark fantasy/horror comic from Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Complex and intriguing, it’s loaded with terrific character writing, clever world-building and eye-popping set-piece action. Give it a try (at Wordery, of course).

And here’s one of my favourite blogs, which I don’t believe I’ve mentioned here before: Abandoned Scotland. An exploration of ruined, forgotten, derelict Scotland that’s kind of hynoptically fascinating if you ask me. Stuff that’s hidden in plain sight, overlooked and disregarded, comes alive when you pay close attention to it. Investigate it. The most grungy and crumbly places and buildings become kind of beautiful. The Abandoned Scotland YouTube channel is a goldmine of strange discoveries. Don’t suppose this is exactly how the Scottish Tourist Board wants the world to see Scotland, but as a resident it’s all simultaneously familiar and surprising. Great stuff.

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Rogue Trooper #2, written by some bloke called Brian Ruckley, will be in your local comic shop and available for digital reading at comixology.com tomorrow. Huzzah! (You can even read the first few pages of it for free in a preview, here for example).

To celebrate, I’m giving away signed copies of Rogue Trooper #1 over on the Winterbirth fan page on Facebook. If you’d like to be in with a chance of getting your hands on one, all you need to do is head over to the Winterbirth page, go to the post that starts SIGNED COMIC GIVEAWAY and follow the entirely idiot-proof instructions.

If there are more entrants than available copies, I’ll pick a winner next Monday.

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… kind of fun. First time I’d been to one of these ‘pop culture’ shows that are sprouting up all over the place now, mixing celebs from film/TV/Sports with bits of toys, comics, all sorts of odds and ends. First time Newcastle had had one too, I think, and the level of interest seemed to have caught the organisers a bit by surprise, so there were biiig queues (at least on the Saturday, I gather it was all more or less under control by the time Sunday came around).

Anyway, I had a good time. Was great to meet Alberto Ponticelli in the flesh and spend a pleasant few hours hanging out with him. Talked to a few folks about Rogue Trooper, signed a lot of copies of the first issue. Got my own, unique copy as a souvenir, signed by me, Alberto and Courtney, the very nice lady from the convention crew who patiently sat with us for the whole day:

All the usual sort of stuff was going on …

… but a few personal highlights/impressions:

  • seeing a Rorschach cosplayer wandering around all day holding a can of baked beans (you’d have to have read Watchmen to get that …)
  • having lunch in the secret guests’ facilities while sitting next to Frank Bruno (you’d have to be a Brit of a certain age, or a serious boxing fan, to get that), and realising he really is as big as he always looked, and he really does have the deeeepest voice ever heard on the surface of the planet
  • watching (and filming, but that didn’t work) Alberto do a Rogue Trooper sketch in three minutes flat – which he then gave to me, because he’s nice like that:

  • being Judged (inexplicably, I was released without charge) …

  • realising I have never, not once in my life, been as much of a fan of any piece of entertainment, or brand, or celebrity, as many of the attendees were. Not being sure whether that was a good thing or bad; but knowing I didn’t regret it for one second.
  • coming out of the ‘celeb’ toilets just as Teal’c from Stargate SG-1 was going in, and thinking ‘Huh. Isn’t it funny how life turns out?’
  • being generally very struck by how extremely pleasant and patient and accommodating all the celebs were in dealing with their fans, no matter how big or small their celebritude was (and then overhearing one of them – who shall remain nameless – at the train station after the show telling someone it had been a ‘terrible, terrible madhouse’, and feeling some sympathy. Can’t be that easy, doing what they do at these shows and smiling, being utterly professional, all the way through it.)
  • giving Alberto a sustained and detailed introduction to the correct use of the word ‘Cheers’ in colloquial English (I think he got the hang of it, since he’s using it in his e-mails to me now …)

But you know what the best bit of the whole day was? It was the most striking, most obvious example of something that happened several times: people deriving enormous pleasure from their experience of being at the show. And even though this instance only involved me somewhat indirectly, it was immensely enjoyable to sit there and watch it happen.

A guy came wandering past, saw me and Alberto sitting there and came over to see what was what. He was after a copy of Rogue Trooper, but then he discovered Alberto’s small portfolio of original art pages for sale, and I could see his eyes lighting up in something approaching disbelief. To cut a long story short, this guy eventually (after queueing at a cash machine for about half an hour, spending another fifteen minutes trying to decide) bought a page of original Ponticelli comic art, and he was as happy as a happy person could be.

He said something along the lines of ‘You’ve made my day, I never in my life thought I’d own something like this’, and he absolutely meant it, and he was absolutely delighted. It was great. And it was kind of the point of the whole show, really. Whyever they came, whoever they wanted to see, I guess pretty much everyone who was there was just looking for that moment when they’d think to themselves ‘This is awesome. I never imagined …’

And although, on some really quite profound level I don’t get, can’t share in and indeed find a little dispiriting this whole celebrity culture, this idolisation of actors and characters and shows and films and fictions, this longing to be part of something, there’s no denying the happiness that was abroad in Newcastle on Saturday. And there’s no denying it was infectious.

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I’ve got a post up at SF Signal, about the experience of switching (temporarily! – I do still have a new novel coming out this October, after all!) from prose to comics writing: What Happens When A Novelist Tries To Write A Comic?. Do go check it out if you’re interested.

Enough about what I think about things, though. It occurred to me I’ve got a chance here to do something I’ve not done in a looong time, so for nostalgic reasons as much as anything, here comes … A Review Round-Up!

What some folks have made of Rogue Trooper #1:

‘Rogue Trooper is off to a killer start and I can’t wait for more.’ IGN

‘This comic nails the atmosphere of the world and the voice of the title character.’ Adventures in Poor Taste

‘Checks all the first issue boxes while still giving you a great story.’ Comic Book Therapy

‘We have a winner here.’ Comic Bastards

‘This is an impressive opening issue for the series.’ Unleash the Fanboy

‘Well worth adding to your pull list. Final score: 8 out of 10.’ Rhymes With Geek

‘A great piece of apocalyptic pulp.’ Flickering Myth

All of which is very nice. If you haven’t already, there’s still time to pick up the first issue at your local comic shop ( if you have one), or at comixology if you don’t (where I’ve just noticed, in the course of finding that link, that it appears to be piling up 5 star reviews, which is also very nice).

Thanks to anyone and everyone who’s said nice things about this first issue, wherever they’ve said them.

Now I must go and do some preparation for my first trip to a convention in a while: Me and the Rogue Trooper artist, Alberto Ponticelli, will be at Newcastle Film and Comic Con tomorrow, Saturday 8th March, where I believe we may both be doing such things as signing stuff and talking about stuff. If by any chance you’re there, do say hello. Neither me nor Alberto will bite. Probably.

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There’s no shortage of things different about writing a comic compared to writing a novel. Heaps of them. One is that Wednesday suddenly becomes the most important day of the week. Comics fans already know this, of course. For everyone else, I should perhaps explain that Wednesday is … New Comics Day!

Yes, by ancient and noble tradition, comics show up in shops and online in highly regimented fashion, every Wednesday. This particular Wednesday is the one on which my first attempt at writing a comic reaches places the public can get it. Rogue Trooper #1 has been released into the wild.

Available now (today!) in your local comic shop, online at Comixology and probably elsewhere in the digital universe (but when I buy digital comics, I get them from comixology, so to be honest I don’t really know how it works elsewhere).

I may only be a novice at this comics writing thing but Alberto Ponticelli and Steve Downer, the artist and colourist, know exactly what they’re doing in this medium, and they’ve created a very good-looking book imho. Can’t beat having experienced collaborators to keep you afloat as you learn to swim.

You’d be doing me a solid (is that what the kids say nowadays? Or was that years ago?) if you gave Rogue Trooper #1 a try …

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Newcastle Film and Comic Con runs Sat 8th and Sun 9th March. I’ll be there on the Saturday, in my capacity as writer of Rogue Trooper – issue #1 of which will, I think, be out in the world (in comic shops and digital sales-places) this very Wednesday. I believe signing and panelling may be involved during my day-trip to Newcastle, so do say hello if you happen to be there.

A probably rather greater incentive to say hello is that my rather talented collaborator on the comic, the artist Alberto Ponticelli, will be at the con on both days, signing Rogue Trooper #1. He’s created a rather splendid variant cover for the first issue, specifically for this and other Showmasters shows in the UK. Obviously, since he’s the interior artist, of all the covers so far done for the series, this is the one that most closely replicates the look and vibe of what lurks within.

Got to say, I’m kind of looking forward to the show. Partly because it’s my first chance to actually meet Alberto in the flesh; partly because I’ve never previously been – in any capacity – to one of these big ‘pop culture’ conventions that have kind of taken off around the world in the last few years. I’m curious, you know? I’ll take my camera, report back here on my impressions.

Incidentally, you can get a sneak peek at Rogue Trooper #1 – the first seven pages – over at comicbookresources right now.

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My podcast listening is spiralling out of control. I spend so much time with stuff plugged into my ears I’m worried it might just kind of merge with my flesh and become a permanent fixture. It occurred to me the other day that if I added together all the time I spend reading, watching TV/film and internetting, it would fall some way short of the time I spend with someone podcasting into my ear. Thus, podcasts have officially become my primary source of entertainment and information. Weird.

As some might remember, I’m mystified why everyone in the world isn’t similarly addicted, and every so often do my best here to provide gateway drugs for those who haven’t yet acquired the podcast habit.

As I’m about to become a published comics writer (next week, I believe!), I thought it was about time I spread some love around one of my favourite categories of listening: comics podcasts! (And by ‘comics’, I mean word and pictures combining to tell stories, obviously; not people telling jokes and being funny).

I listen to too much comics stuff to get into it all here, so I offer just a sample: seven of the podcasts I regularly consume. With my ears.

ifanboy. Gets listed first because it was the first I really latched on to, years ago. Every week, like clockwork, there’s a ‘Pick of the Week’ episode in which the three hosts talk about a selection of the week’s new comics, answer reader questions etc. It’s tight, structured, pacy, with fairly high production values. Pretty polished as podcasts go, and I do appreciate a bit of polish now and again. Tends to be focused on the biggest publishers and relatively ‘mainstream’ comics, but the hosts have pretty diverse tastes and open minds so all kinds of stuff turns up over time.

House to Astonish. A British podcast (Scottish, in fact!) Yay, go us! Anyway, I like the Britishness of it, which heavily colours the tone and references and humour even though the subject matter is American comics. Another very structured offering, with a consistent format covering comics-related news, discussion of forthcoming comics, reviews of current comics etc. Accessible and fun, imho.

Wait, What?. Now we’re getting into the slightly more deep cut, idiosyncratic realm of comics podcasting, and with it possibly my favourite on this list. Every fortnight (approximately, theoretically), Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillan deliver 2hrs+ of digressive, detailed comics-related talk that covers a very wide territory: superheroes, small press, manga, movies, beards, waffles, the weather … and so on. There are occasional rants and conspiracy theories about what’s going on in the industry or inside creator’s heads, nostalgic love-ins for old comics, technical snafus, all sorts of stuff. As with many of the best podcasts, the magic ingredient is the natural chemistry between the hosts which – again, as with many of the best podcasts – you only really come to fully appreciate and recognise after you’ve listened to a few episodes.

11 O’clock Comics. This one took me longer than most to get my head around, get onto the right wavelength etc. Four guys talking about comics and comics-related stuff for at least two hours once a week, every week. They drink, the conversation wanders around, they sometimes stray into rather NSFW territory. The range of comics discussed is pretty enormous, and quite a bit of what gets talked about doesn’t particularly interest me, but it’s talked about with such enthusiasm I stay thoroughly engaged. These guys read a lot of comics, like a lot of comics and like each other, and it shows.

Let’s Talk Comics. (That link is a horrendously slow loader, by the way, but it’ll get there in the end if you give it time – or you could just google the name or whatever). A newish kid on the podcasting block, and I’m already utterly hooked. Unlike the previous listings, this is an interview show, but it’s the kind of interview show you can absolutely only get in podcasts: extended, detailed, conversational. Some of the biggest names in the US comics industry (mostly writers and artists) talk at length and frankly about how they got into the business, how they do what they do, why they do what they do. It’s fascinating, and illuminating. Mostly has the form of what I’d call ‘narrative interview’, in that the talk is largely structured around the progress of the interviewee’s career.

Stuff Said. Another interview show. Another fascinating listen. The discussions tend to be a little bit more wide-ranging, a little less ‘narrative’ driven. Sometimes gets into such minute detail about aspects of the comics-making craft, the history of the industry, the thinking of the interviewee that I wonder if I must be far more of a comics nerd than I realised to enjoy it as much as I do. The truth is, though – and this is kind of the key to my whole podcast addiction – I find it endlessly interesting and enjoyable to listen to articulate people talk in detail about a subject, almost any subject, they care about and know inside out.

Decompressed. An irregular podcast that’s another interview show, but this time it’s a comics writer (Kieron Gillen) interviewing other comics professionals – often writers, occasionally artists – and most of the episodes focus on a single issue of a comic, trying to unpick what’s being done, and why, from a craft point of view. Always interesting to hear two professionals talking about what they do, don’t you think? Well, I suppose it depends on the professionals, but in this case lots of interesting stuff comes up.

Conclusion from all this? I listen to too many podcasts. There’s no getting away from it. It’s possible I need help.

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