Broken Frontier http://www.brokenfrontier.com Exploring The Comics Universe Mon, 06 Apr 2020 17:09:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.4 53049596 Mimi and the Wolves Vol. 1 – Alabaster Pizzo’s Epic Fantasy is Replete with Foreshadowing, Foreboding and Exquisite Comics Craft http://www.brokenfrontier.com/mimi-wolves-vol-1-alabaster-pizzo-avery-hill-publishing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mimi-wolves-vol-1-alabaster-pizzo-avery-hill-publishing http://www.brokenfrontier.com/mimi-wolves-vol-1-alabaster-pizzo-avery-hill-publishing/#respond Mon, 06 Apr 2020 09:31:09 +0000 http://www.brokenfrontier.com/?p=91848 If you’re a regular on the indie comics circuit you may already have been aware of Alabaster Pizzo’s Mimi and the Wolves in its self-published incarnation. Beginning in 2013, Pizzo...

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If you’re a regular on the indie comics circuit you may already have been aware of Alabaster Pizzo’s Mimi and the Wolves in its self-published incarnation. Beginning in 2013, Pizzo had previously published the first three chapters as serialised comics. In recent years in the UK, Avery Hill Publishing acted as distro for them. and co-founder Ricky Miller stongly recommended them to me some time ago. Miller is, of course, the gent who first brought Tillie Walden to my attention long before AHP published her work, so I tend to listen to what he has to say about emerging talent…

That enthusiasm evolved into a fuller commitment last year when Avery Hill published the first volume of Mimi and the Wolves, collecting all the material so far into one handsome hardcover package. Proof again that the London-based publisher have the keenest eye in UK indie comics for up-and-coming artists, with their seasonal publishing schedules always among the most exciting of the year’s announcements.

Mimi and the Wolves takes place in a world where anthropomorphised animals exist side by side among more feral versions. Mimi lives within the boundaries of the Evergreen Woods with her companion Bobo. Since childhood she has had mysterious recurring dreams of demonic creatures and a god-like being but the meaning of these visions has eluded her. When Mimi strikes up an unlikely friendship with the wolves Ergot and Ivy – much to the dismay of the local townsfolk who do not trust the forest-dwelling predators – she begins to realise she may have a more mystical destiny.

What are her links to the goddess Venus that the wolves venerate? Who is the other figure who haunts her dreams and what is their role in events? Is her friendship with the wolves all that it seems? And is Mimi risking everything in her quest for self-discovery as she becomes almost indoctrinated into their world?

While Mimi’s story is the main thrust of Mimi and the Wolves the book has a huge, sprawling cast of supporting players including Mimi and Bobo’s friends in the local town and a wider group of lupine characters within the confines of the woods. Pizzo’s tale is full of narrative and visual contrasts. Mimi’s adventures are replete with foreboding and foreshadowing, employing overt symbolism and asking readers to piece together its sometimes oblique clues and teasers. The subplots revolving around the villagers, however, are far more down-to-earth and relatable, focusing on their connecred relationships or in the case of banjo-playing newcomer Kiko, on the past she has mysteriously and poignantly left behind.

This is echoed also in Pizzo’s art with its cute anthropomorphic characters nevertheless living in a world which can be unforgiveably brutal, and the incongruities between visuals and adult themes which serve to accentuate the humanity (ironically) of its animal characters. Pizzo combines traditional tightly-panelled layouts with more inventive compositions that place panels within or over each other. It’s a playfulness with multiple perspectives that gives a greater sense of both time and place. Dream sequences and flashbacks, in particular, have a considered design sensibility that emphasises the characters’ lack of control of their destinies in the face of the book’s supernatural elements.

This is the first volume of a story of undetermined length at this stage so it sets up a lot but, equally, resolves very little by this opening book’s end. But amongst all the tapering plotlines and intriguingly ambiguous motivations there’s also some beautiful craft in evidence here. Pizzo is a consummate visual storyteller, communicating so much about her characters and their world simply through their expressions and physical interactions. There’s a reason she was Broken Frontier Award-nominated for 2019. Check out this first volume of Mimi and the Wolves and find out exactly why for yourselves

Buy online here

Review by Andy Oliver

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Nothing to See Here – Howard Chackowicz’s Conundrum Press Collection of Cartoons Ranges from the Uncompromisingly Crude to the Surprisingly Profound http://www.brokenfrontier.com/howard-chackowicz-nothing-to-see-here-conundrum-press/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=howard-chackowicz-nothing-to-see-here-conundrum-press http://www.brokenfrontier.com/howard-chackowicz-nothing-to-see-here-conundrum-press/#respond Fri, 03 Apr 2020 20:36:34 +0000 http://www.brokenfrontier.com/?p=91836 Strictly speaking, Canadian indie artist Howard Chackowicz’s Nothing to See Here isn’t actually comics given that it’s a book of mostly single illustration cartoons. But this Conundrum Press collection of...

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Strictly speaking, Canadian indie artist Howard Chackowicz’s Nothing to See Here isn’t actually comics given that it’s a book of mostly single illustration cartoons. But this Conundrum Press collection of work, continuing in his Howie Action Comix style, still somehow imbues each of its individual images with a sense of narrative in and of themselves. Chackowicz’s approach ranges from the laugh out loud funny to deeply unsettling introspection, all coloured with a dark and often bleak wit.

There’s something absurd about describing punchlines to gag cartoons that readers can’t see in reviews, but it’s an unfortunate necessity in communicating a vision of the kind of material on show in Nothing to See Here. To give a brief flavour this Conundrum Press offering introduces us to such ideas as a vivisected monkey sympathetically chatting about mindfulness with his scientist tormentor; Marvel’s Man-Thing having an unlikely but unfulfilling spiritual awakening; a pen top breaking up with its pen partner; the weary exasperation of the Rock, Papers, Scissors trio; and Jack Shit railing against over-familiarity…

It’s this juxtaposition of the unlikely and the familiar that makes Nothing to See Here such an unlikely treat. It’s bizarre, disconcerting, warped even… and yet there are horribly recognisable truths at the core of much of what rests within these pages. It can indeed be enjoyed on a surface level as an exercise in comedic surrealism but there are also far deeper layers in which its insights into the human condition – our foibles, fears and aspirations – are observed in incongruous but strangely relatable ways.

Herein old adages get very literal interpretations and social commentary bitingly addresses issues of online over-reliance and political apologists. From the pop cultural (the unlikely consequences of Clark Kent switching to contact lenses) to the brutally slapstick (a remorseless variation on the “gotcher nose” joke) through to terrible but delightful puns (“the cowering inferno”), every page is presented with a raw immediacy that perfectly captures the moment of creative inspiration.

In Nothing to See Here, Howard Chackowicz provides work that is sometimes uncompromisingly crude and throwaway in conception, but at other times philosophical, symbolic and surprisingly profound. The perfect taster for the practice of this Harvey Award-nominated cartoonist.

Howard Chackowicz (W/A) • Conundrum Press, $18.00

Review by Andy Oliver

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Misty Presents the Jordi Badia Romero Collection – An Anthology of Classic Horror Thrills from the Pages of the Cult 1970s British Weekly for Girls http://www.brokenfrontier.com/misty-presents-jordi-badia-romero-collection-rebellion-treasury-britsih-comics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=misty-presents-jordi-badia-romero-collection-rebellion-treasury-britsih-comics http://www.brokenfrontier.com/misty-presents-jordi-badia-romero-collection-rebellion-treasury-britsih-comics/#respond Thu, 02 Apr 2020 09:33:31 +0000 http://www.brokenfrontier.com/?p=91744 Rebellion’s fourth collection of strips from the spooky late 1970s girls weekly comic Misty takes a slightly different approach than its predecessors. Rather than pairing a couple of collected serials,...

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Rebellion’s fourth collection of strips from the spooky late 1970s girls weekly comic Misty takes a slightly different approach than its predecessors. Rather than pairing a couple of collected serials, it instead focuses on the work of one artist whose signature style was so fitting to both the Gothic motifs of the comic and to its more human elements. Catalan creator Jordi Badia Romero was a prolific illustrator whose work spanned such supernatural anthologies as DC Thomson’s Spellbound and Warren’s Creepy in the States, alongside the Misty stories collected in this volume. One can only imagine the body of work that could have built up had he not died so young in 1984, still only in his forties.

Misty Presents the Jordi Badia Romero Collection compiles the many complete-in-one stories (think of them as the Misty equivalent of Tharg’s Future Shocks in 2000 AD) Romero illustrated through the comic’s history alongside one short-lived serial – Screaming Point! – that concluded in Misty’s final issue in January 1980. There are no writer credits for the work included here and, admittedly, it’s a variable procession of twist-in-the-tale horror thrillers featuring witches, werewolves, the occult and other eerie antagonists. But this volume is about the visual appeal Romero lends to each tale and a testament to his ability to bring to life even the most hackneyed shorts. There are some (relatively) more sophisticated offerings but a lot of the “done in one” strips, though fun in their own retro way, are largely forgettable in narrative terms.

Some of the stronger entries revolve around that old Misty staple of characters getting their gruesome comeuppances. ‘The Ever-Open Door’ takes us on a tourist trip to Kilstone Castle as an arrogant schoolgirl finds her family history echoing across the centuries with alarming consequences. ‘House of Snails’ has a gloriously EC feel to it as young Sally’s resentment of her father’s attempts to communicate with the gastropod world comes back to haunt her with slimy malevolence. And ‘The Power of Young Melissa’ is a darkly themed account of the perils of crossing someone with the power to bring people back to life.

There are also, however, a number of far less imaginative stories recycling vampire clichés (Dracula makes two appearances herein!), familiar werewolf lore, and even stories evoking Jack the Ripper. Some almost feel like disparate elements thrown together simply to give Romero something randomly cool to draw (check out the short ‘Madhouse’ for an example of that). Screaming Point!, too, is a weaker serial in the Misty pantheon. It follows orphan Lucy Slade who discovers her hangman Uncle Seth is in league with undertaker Jabez Kemp as they experiment to bring the dead back to life. Yet another Misty story to be set in Victorian London, its abrupt wrap-up and just a 7-part run would suggest it was hastily concluded when Misty was merged with sister comic Tammy in 1980.

But whatever weaknesses there are in the writing here can largely be forgotten because this book is a celebration of one man’s artistic vision rather than the complexities (or lack thereof) of its plotting. Printed on paper that best approximates the original newsprint format, it brings out Romero’s powerfully atmospheric use of light and shadow in the black and white pages. Indeed the occasional bursts of colour (Misty was mainly b&w outside of sections like the centre-pages and front and back covers) seem somewhat at odds here, diluting the potency of his brooding monochrome work.

Romero’s panel-to-panel storytelling eschews the ostentatious for a subtler sophistication; elaborately detailed single images, clever shifts in perspective and his ability to connect us to his characters on a primal emotional level through just one gasp of terror or a piercingly mysterious stare. It’s these qualities that elevate occasionally mediocre stories to creative heights they would never have attained.otherwise. Yet another beautifully presented volume from the Treasury of British Comics.

Jordi Badia Romero (W/A) • Rebellion/Treasury of British Comics, £19.99

Buy online here

Review by Andy Oliver

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The Blade of Arozone II and III – J. Edward Scott’s Storytelling Confidence Grows with Every Issue of His Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Saga http://www.brokenfrontier.com/j-edward-scott-blade-arozone-ii-iii/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=j-edward-scott-blade-arozone-ii-iii http://www.brokenfrontier.com/j-edward-scott-blade-arozone-ii-iii/#respond Wed, 01 Apr 2020 17:58:04 +0000 http://www.brokenfrontier.com/?p=91788 J. Edward Scott’s The Blade of Arozone takes a post-apocalyptic scenario, mixes it with sword and sorcery elements, and then adds a liberal helping of social commentary to the recipe,...

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J. Edward Scott’s The Blade of Arozone takes a post-apocalyptic scenario, mixes it with sword and sorcery elements, and then adds a liberal helping of social commentary to the recipe, giving us a minicomic series with a distinctively underground sensibility. I reviewed the first instalment in the series here last year at Broken Frontier, speaking of the promise of Scott’s intriguing narrative game plan for the book. Since then the artist has published another two issues, with a fourth in the works.

Back in the first The Blade of Arozone, a Tolkien-esque map  gave us an idea of Scott’s vision for the series. In that opener we were introduced to the Elders, an apparently enlightened but isolated group with elemental powers who are the last to remember mankind’s history before nuclear armageddon. When attacked by the forces of the Death Priests they were all but wiped out. This was despite the efforts of Lydunah, an unconventional young member of the enclave, who attempted to fight them off with the titular mystical blade she had found within the Elders’ vaults. With her people gone and the Death Priests’ nihilistic crusade to bring about a second apocalypse taking hold, Lydunah embarks on a quest to find out the truth behind the blade…

While that may sound like very standard fantasy fare what marks out The Blade of Arozone as different is twofold in realisation. Firstly it’s the very contemporary allegorical elements that Scott blends into his story. The Death Priests’ hatred for anything unlike them, for example, manifests itself in corrupted phrases and dialogue that echo certain hate movements in popular culture. Scott is careful though to not be overt or clumsily direct in his extended metaphor, allowing readers to interpret events from their own frames of reference.

Secondly, it’s the involved artwork, with its scratchy yet complex imagery and angular, often distorted characters. Scott’s world-building is embodied not just in his plotting but in the motifs that are embedded into the very fabric of his pages.  As the story has progressed so too has Scott’s visual storytelling, notably growing in confidence over the course of the series.

In these second and third issues we observe as Lydunah’s journey gives us insights into the tribes and structure of this world, as she learns more about the nature of her sword. There’s a lot set up in the third chapter and it will be interesting indeed to see where Scott intends to take these plot threads in the issues to come.

Follow J. Edward Scott on Twitter here and Instagram here. And visit his site and online store here.

Review by Andy Oliver

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*Major Spoiler Warning* – 2000 AD Promises a Shock Revelation in Today’s Issue of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic http://www.brokenfrontier.com/2000-ad-judge-dredd-rob-williams-simon-fraser/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2000-ad-judge-dredd-rob-williams-simon-fraser http://www.brokenfrontier.com/2000-ad-judge-dredd-rob-williams-simon-fraser/#respond Wed, 01 Apr 2020 00:01:48 +0000 http://www.brokenfrontier.com/?p=91771 *MAJOR SPOILER WARNING* – 2000 AD have a twist in the tale in today’s Prog so we’re not going to say too much in this introductory blurb and instead let...

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*MAJOR SPOILER WARNING* 2000 AD have a twist in the tale in today’s Prog so we’re not going to say too much in this introductory blurb and instead let the press release below speak for itself…

Death is the longest walk – but for Judge Barbara Hershey, it’s only the first step!

HERSHEY: DISEASE by Rob Williams (Suicide SquadUnfollow) and Simon Fraser (Nikolai DanteKingsman) begins in 2000 AD Prog 2175 and sees Judge Dredd’s long-time ally using the cover of her faked funeral to head out into the world and right the wrongs committed by Judge Smiley!

Readers were saddened last year when a microbial virus first forced Hershey to resign her position as Chief Judge of Mega-City One and then apparently took her life in John Wagner and Colin MacNeil’s Guatemala (2000 AD Progs 2150-2157). But all was not as it seemed – Judge Hershey was alive all along and she’s now on a mission of revenge that will take her far beyond the walls of Mega-City One!

Williams and Fraser have crafted a tense, moving new series that gives one of the Dredd world’s longest-standing characters a brand new lease of life – or is it merely borrowed time?

2000 AD Prog 2175 is out on 1 April 2020 and is available in print from some newsagents and comic book stores, as well as digitally from 2000 AD’s webshop and apps.

Created by John Wagner and Brian Bolland in 1980, Judge Barbara Hershey was one of Justice Department’s most respected and capable young officers before she became Chief Judge. But it was during the critically-acclaimed The Small House storyline (2000 AD Progs 2100-2109) that her bond with long-time colleague Judge Dredd was near fatally damaged, following the revelation that there was a vast clandestine operation at the heart of Justice Department run by Judge Smiley, a Machiavellian manipulator who had controlled world events for decades. During last year’s Guatemala storyline, and after Hershey’s apparent death, the new Chief Judge was seen talking to an anonymous voice by radio – the identity of that voice remained unknown … until now!

Editor of 2000 AD, Matt Smith, said: “When Hershey stood down as Chief Judge, Rob came to me with the idea of a solo series, with her repairing Smiley’s legacy in the wake of The Small House storyline. John said he had no plans for Hershey, and was happy for us to use her as we saw fit. When John wrote the first episode of Guatemala, he came up with a cover story that would take Hershey out of the game, with no one but Logan, Dredd and a select few others knowing the truth – and Rob worked his scripts in tandem with that. Hershey is still dying – she’s taking medication to stave off whatever microbe she’s been infected with – but she’s going out with the intention of righting wrongs that were done on her watch. Rob and Si’s series is a redemptive, violent, propulsive new arc for Hershey, with lots more surprises still in store.”

Co-creator of Judge Hershey, John Wagner, said: “When discussing the new series with Matt Smith and how it might fit in with Guatemala, I suggested Hershey’s death could just be a subterfuge – I had no plans for Hershey and am happy to see others take her in new directions, so there’s a little clue in Guatemala, that I don’t think anyone spotted, that things were not as they seemed! And who doesn’t love a good old story of revenge?”

Rob Williams said: ”The idea for the series came off the back of The Small House. I felt the “I no longer recognise your authority” line had been building for years, and was organic and justified, but it also didn’t really let Hershey tell her side of things. I felt we’d undersold her a bit. And even in the scene that followed it that John wrote, when Hershey and Dredd meet on their bikes – that we play on in Hershey episode one – that was still written from Dredd’s point of view. I felt, after how long she’d been in the strip, she deserved a version that told her side of the story. A Long Walk for someone who’s deserved a journey that isn’t just going into The Cursed Earth. A Long Walk for someone burnt out and dying, who is asking herself the question – my life’s run its purpose. So, what’s left? Can she find that?

“Simon and I have worked together a bunch of times and he’s a good friend. I thought he’d be great for this. He said he wanted to draw her looking her age. Which was tonally exactly the themes of the story needed.

“John agreeing we could tell this story, and to fit it in around Hershey’s ‘death’ in his story was important. Ultimately, she’s his character. Boorman’s Point Blank was one of the big inspirations behind this series. A revenge thriller, with Hershey as this unstoppable, grim force. There’s a school of reading Point Blank as how Lee Marvin’s character dies in the opening scene, and everything that follows is his fantasy just before he dies. Maybe this is Hershey’s fantasy just as she dies. Or maybe not…”

Simon Fraser said: “The planning process was, and I’m paraphrasing, “Hey Si , you want to do a hard as nails revenge thriller, kind of like Point Blank , but with Judge Hershey?” My reply, also paraphrasing, was ” Yes!” or maybe “**** Yes!”, which is my usual response when Rob suggests things.

“I was looking for a story to stretch my new digital drawing tools. Lots of world building , which I love, but not much dialog … which I also love. I’m also very happy to be drawing a lady of advancing years being very angry and violent.

“Hershey has been the good and dutiful public servant for a long time, she’s taken a lot of crap, stoically and responsibly, now let’s see how she chooses to close her account! I know that people get upset because we’re bringing a character ‘back from the dead’, but I think we’re giving an amazing woman the ending she deserves.”

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Action 2020 Special – The Notorious 1970s British Comic They Tried to Ban Returns in an All-New 21st Century Incarnation http://www.brokenfrontier.com/action-2020-special-rebellion-kids-rule-ok-hook-jaw-dredger-hellman/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=action-2020-special-rebellion-kids-rule-ok-hook-jaw-dredger-hellman http://www.brokenfrontier.com/action-2020-special-rebellion-kids-rule-ok-hook-jaw-dredger-hellman/#respond Tue, 31 Mar 2020 20:07:04 +0000 http://www.brokenfrontier.com/?p=91741 The 1970s weekly Action has become something of a legend in the history of UK comics. The brainchild of Pat Mills, that most pivotal of figures in the British industry,...

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The 1970s weekly Action has become something of a legend in the history of UK comics. The brainchild of Pat Mills, that most pivotal of figures in the British industry, it debuted in 1976 as a multi-genre anthology with a number of strips that had familiar starting points for their premises but put their own distinctive spin on them.

While short-lived in terms of publication, Action gains its notoriety from its reputation for strips with a level of violence unseen before at the time. Indeed, it became a target for the British media with tabloid newspapers denouncing it and the right-wing social campaigner Mary Whitehouse casting her censorious eye in its direction. It even found itself the subject of a BBC magazine programme feature and interview.

In late 1976 Action suddenly disappeared from newsagent shelves. When it returned a few weeks later it was a tepid re-imagination of its former defiant self. While it limped on for another year its audience deserted this new incarnation and, as was the habit of the time, it was merged with Battle, another IPC weekly of the era.

With 2000 AD publisher Rebellion now having the rights to a huge back catalogue of classic British comics and characters it was only a matter of time before they turned their attention to revamping some of the Action properties. As with their previous Specials like Scream! and Misty, Tammy and Jinty, Cor!! and Buster, and The Vigilant, their recently published Action 2020 Special combines old and new while still looking to capture the core essence of the original.

Five strips feature in these pages, with one of Action’s most infamous stories grabbing the lead. Kids Rule OK takes place in a world where a plague has swept the globe killing all the adults and leaving only children behind. In the ‘70s a cover for the feature (below left) became one of the most criticised aspects of the comic’s original run and Kids Rule OK was quickly wrapped up not long after it began with a rather lacklustre ending.

Here writer Ram V takes us back to that world of warring young people in a story that is slight in characterisation but has an emotional immediacy that impacts the reader on a far more visceral level. There’s a fitting blend of nihilism and hope here. Henrik Sahlström’s stark visuals capture the eerie reality of a new, emerging society clumsily rebuilding itself with its own rituals and conventions amongst the chaos and uncertainty.

The standout story of the issue is the return of Hellman of Hammer Force. In a comic that seems determined to attempt to recreate the notoriety of its predecessor with a pantomime of violence it’s ironic indeed that Garth Ennis – a writer known for the gratuitous excesses in his work – provides the most nuanced and understated piece in the issue.

United with original Hellman artist Mike Dorey, Ennis gives us a very human story of the conflicted tank commander who hates the Nazi but loves his country. Events are portrayed through the varying viewpoints of a trio of kids attempting to escape the Russian advance with Hellman’s aid. It underlines the horrible realities of war with a subtle touch. Dorey’s visual characterisation adds extra layers of empathy, and in many ways it serves as a coda to the original series.

An all-new strip Hell Machine written by Henry Flint with art by Flint and Jake Lynch, gets a comparatively long page count. Its protagonist Tase lives in a dystopian future where existence is effectively taxed and a mysterious syndicate brutally oppresses its citizens. In a tale of rebellion and betrayal – a kind of Kafkaesque struggle against an undefined opponent but with dismemberment and plenty of flying body parts thrown in – Tase finds herself forced into the terrifying Hell Machine, a labyrinthine ordeal of death traps and huge scale butchery.

In terms of the carnage vibe that the Action 2020 Special is trying to evoke it’s a fitting entry but there’s far, far too much thrown into these 15 pages in terms of premise, characters, back story and intriguing sci-fi concepts with little room for Flint’s tale to breathe. Visually, Flint and Lynch give us a world that is frighteningly realised in its casual disregard for humanity but there’s enough narrative material crammed into this short to run across an entire 2000 AD-length serial and it feels like a missed opportunity as a result.

Two old Action faves round out the Special. “Quint Amory” (if you’ve been following these Specials for any length of time you’ll quickly work out who is the writer behind this latest pseudonym) and artist Dan Lish reintroduce perhaps the most well remembered Action character, the killer shark Hook Jaw. This silent tale is moodily illustrated by Lish, feeling intensely claustrophobic despite being set on the vast expanses of the ocean, but essentially it exists as a build-up to a fan-pleasing punchline. It’s admittedly a cracking one and 2000 AD fans of old will love the surprise but while technically inventive it’s the least substantial offering here.

The final returnee is ruthless secret agent Dredger, a kind of Callan-with-gore feature. Writer Zina Hutton covers a lot of ground in just six pages but does so with narrative economy as Dredger is sent to San Sebastian to stop a former agent suspected of planning an act of biological terrorism. Staz Johnson emphasises the bloodshed and explicit injury to dramatic effect (which presumably was an editorial mandate for the book) in a standard tale of double cross that would still make an effective “pilot” for a new series.

As ever, old time readers will doubtless enjoy revisiting these characters but, again, the ultimate question here is who is the target audience? Dredger works as a standalone entry into the character’s world but the others, particularly Hook Jaw, are relying on the foreknowledge of the informed to be at their most effective. There’s just not enough in the way of context or wider explanation of the premise of the strips.

Where last year’s Tammy and Jinty Special, for example, was entirely accessible to new readers with stories that could all be the opening episodes of ongoing serials, Action 2020 is a more patchwork affair. It’s still an inarguably fun exercise in nostalgia for those who remember the comic from its first incarnation but there’s also a feeling that it’s trying a little too hard to be outrageous in delivery; a greater balance of violence and defiant social commentary would have echoed its predecessor far more effectively. It also seems a shame not to see Pat Mills attached to the project in any way.

That said, it’s impossible not to feel a debt of gratitude to Rebellion for continuing to take this back catalogue of classic characters to new audiences through both the Treasury of British Comics reprints and these reboots. After all, it’s something we could have only dreamed of ten years ago and 2020 promises far more in the way of explorations of that treasure trove of comics concepts.

Ram V, Garth Ennis, Henry Flint, Quint Amity, Zina Hutton (W), Henrik Sahlström, Mike Dorey, Jake Lynch, Dan Lish, Staz Johnson (A), Jim Boswell, John Charles (C), Petitcreme, Rob Steen, Simon Bowland, Agent PC (L) • Rebellion, £4.99

Review by Andy Oliver

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Nothing – Gareth A Hopkins Uses His Abstract Method to Highlight the Power of Empathy http://www.brokenfrontier.com/nowhere-gareth-hopkins-abstract-comics-explosive-sweet-freezer-razors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nowhere-gareth-hopkins-abstract-comics-explosive-sweet-freezer-razors http://www.brokenfrontier.com/nowhere-gareth-hopkins-abstract-comics-explosive-sweet-freezer-razors/#respond Mon, 30 Mar 2020 08:51:54 +0000 http://www.brokenfrontier.com/?p=91650 If you spend much time around the dark entries and shadowy corners that attract your average small-press aficionado, you’ll have heard the name of Gareth A Hopkins murmured often in...

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Nothing by Gareth A Hopkins

If you spend much time around the dark entries and shadowy corners that attract your average small-press aficionado, you’ll have heard the name of Gareth A Hopkins murmured often in recent years. He should be on a lot more people’s lips. 

Nothing by Gareth A Hopkins

His prolific output and the development of his singular approach to abstract comics have created quite a stir among those who know. Petrichor (published by Good Comics and available – along with some other fine work – as a free download at the time of writing) was by some distance my favourite comic of 2019. It’s a stunning meditation on time, memory, grief and love that highlights his unique method: a forceful and intricate graphic style, studded with fragmented but often piercing insights.

Nothing is the fourth of seven self-contained chapters that will form a larger sequence entitled Explosive Sweet Freezer Razors. It moves his parameters slightly by shifting from his more usual introspective focus to a catalogue of little reflections from the minds of named individuals. 

Against a series of swirling, dynamic pages, the bulk of the text comprises 66 numbered sections, many as short as a single sentence. Each of them presents a simple action or a thought from a character’s consciousness: the sort of invasive little brainworms that can pop up at any time of the day or night – some mundane, some profound and some heartbreaking.

The general tone is one of ennui, regret and isolation, but the book also glistens with nuggets of humour; Phil’s concern about the possible role of MS Word if computers take over the world made me chuckle out loud, while Fatima’s conclusion on ‘promote your art here’ Twitter threads will prompt a knowing nod. Then, for its closing section, the book shifts to a more direct, declarative style, in a series of dazzling double-page spreads that puts Hopkins’ iterative process front and centre.

Nothing by Gareth A HopkinsNothing by Gareth A Hopkins

Produced in broader strokes than some of Hopkins’ previous work, the pages of Nothing – mostly monochrome, but often glinting with vivid flashes of colour – generally follow the frame-to-frame structure of ‘regular’ narrative comics. However, his use of abstraction rings the doorbell of that bit of your brain that looks for structure and recognition and then runs away. Instead, the work takes your eyes on a bit of a mystery tour, providing a strong ambient counterpoint to the more literal text.

Nothing is a little gem of a comic that runs on that most precious of commodities: empathy. Hopkins gives us the voices of Carla, Charlie, Alice and the rest, but what we really hear is something altogether more universal about being a human right now. We are them and they are us.

Nothing is available on ComiXology and the Comichaus app and marketplace, or contact Gareth directly for a PDF.

For more on the work of Gareth A Hopkins visit his site here and his online store here. You can follow him on Twitter here and on Instagram here.

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Gosh! Comics and Broken Frontier Online Drink and Draw, March 26, 2020 – Sample Last Night’s Fun with Our D&D Art Gallery Here! http://www.brokenfrontier.com/drink-draw-elderly-thundercats-gosh-gareth-brookes-jenny-robins/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drink-draw-elderly-thundercats-gosh-gareth-brookes-jenny-robins http://www.brokenfrontier.com/drink-draw-elderly-thundercats-gosh-gareth-brookes-jenny-robins/#respond Fri, 27 Mar 2020 16:34:27 +0000 http://www.brokenfrontier.com/?p=91680 Last night’s edition of the Gosh! Comics and Broken Frontier Drink and Draw was a frantic but hugely rewarding affair as we moved the fun online for the first time...

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Last night’s edition of the Gosh! Comics and Broken Frontier Drink and Draw was a frantic but hugely rewarding affair as we moved the fun online for the first time and took to Twitter and Instagram to keep our D&D community connected while our “real world” venue is unavailable. Co-hosted by Broken Frontier’s Andy Oliver and Gosh’s Will Humberstone, and run from both the Gosh! Comics Twitter account and the Broken Frontier Twitter account, we kept to our usual format of three themed drawing rounds. Prompts were chosen as ever by our guest artists who this time numbered our Will Humberstone himself, Jenny Robins and Gareth Brookes. Even esteemed actor and comedian Sir Lenny Henry joined in with a tweet in our direction!

While you can catch up with participants’ posted art on Twitter under the #GoshBFDD hashtag we thought it would be fun to publish a few pieces here for those who missed out on last night’s magic. Keep watching the Gosh and BF social media accounts for updates about future editions.

Round 1: Will Humberstone – ‘There’s a Monster Under My Bed’

Will Humberstone‘s original prompt

The winner by Georgia Zachari

Joe Stone

Ria Grix 

Ed Stockham

Mark Stafford

Round 2: Jenny Robins – ‘What Birds Are Really Thinking’

Jenny Robins‘s original prompt

The winner by Rebecca K. Jones

Olivia Sualdea

Rebecca Burke

Holly Raidl

J. Edward Scott

Round 3: Gareth Brookes – Elderly Thundercats

Gareth Brookes‘s original prompt

The winner by Ria Grix

Peter Morey

Joe Stone

Jenny Robins

Olivia Sualdea

Please check out the Gosh! Comics online store for lots of comics goodness you can order!

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Retroflect: The Golem – The Strange Tale of the Bronze Age Series that Spawned an Editorial Apology from Marvel http://www.brokenfrontier.com/golem-strange-tales-marvel-comics-len-wein-john-buscema/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=golem-strange-tales-marvel-comics-len-wein-john-buscema http://www.brokenfrontier.com/golem-strange-tales-marvel-comics-len-wein-john-buscema/#respond Thu, 26 Mar 2020 09:00:49 +0000 http://www.brokenfrontier.com/?p=91586 Retroflect has a long history at Broken Frontier, having been both a series of blogs and an ongoing column here in the past. Today we return to this irregular feature...

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Retroflect has a long history at Broken Frontier, having been both a series of blogs and an ongoing column here in the past. Today we return to this irregular feature for looking at pre-millennium comics, from celebrated classics to obscure and largely forgotten titles. Today’s subject is The Golem, a character with one of the shortest runs of the Bronze Age and a strip so lacking in direction that Marvel even made a letters page apology for it! Forty-year old spoilers will follow…

The 1970s were a transitional period at Marvel as the vision of a handful of creators became a legacy for others to embrace. It was also a time when the Marvel Universe expanded beyond its foundation of mostly super-hero comics and the line began to explore other genres, with science fiction and particularly horror books becoming a growing staple.

While many of the supernatural books operated largely within their own sub-universe, rarely interacting with the super-hero books, there were also those that had their feet in both worlds. And then there were the curiosities, the concepts that were thrown out there to cash in on the 1970s horror boom but never found an audience or even a consistent direction. Perhaps the oddest of these was the short-lived The Golem series (subtitled ‘The Thing that Walks Like a Man!’) which managed just three issues of stories, a hasty tie-up in another comic and the perhaps unprecedented step of an editorial apology in a letters page for how poor the run had been…

In 1973 Marvel revived its Strange Tales anthology series after five years, this time as a showcase series for new characters. Its first five issues featured Brother Voodoo, a lead who would hardly set the sales figures alight but would go on to a certain cult appeal in later years. The second character to get the spotlight was the Golem, a creature from Jewish folklore whose most well-known incarnation as 16th century protector of the oppressed Jewish population of Prague had already been alluded to in the pages of Incredible Hulk #134 in 1970.

That version of the myth saw the rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel creating the imposing form of the Golem from clay and in the Marvel Universe it is cast as a benevolent entity that, after defending the Jewish community of Prague, then roamed the world righting injustices. It finally ended up in the Sahara where it allowed itself to be consumed by the sands of the desert and remained inert for centuries.

Its entry into the MU-proper in Strange Tales #174 comes via that old storytelling fallback of an archeological dig. Writer Len Wein gives us an in-built supporting cast of dig leader and academic Professor Abraham Adamson, his niece and nephew Jason and Rebecca, and Rebecca’s fiancé and Prof Adamson’s archaeologist colleague Wayne Logan. The quartet’s mission to unearth the Golem from its purported resting place is successful but it’s one that ends in disaster when a group of soldiers, deserting from a local conflict, descend on their camp.

While Adamson and company treat them with welcoming kindness the soldiers, led by the pragmatic but unpleasant Colonel Omar see them only as a resource to be exploited. When Professor Adamson attempts to stop their plunder he is gunned down and the younger members of the group taken as hostages by the soldiers who flee the remote encampment. With his dying breaths Adamson begins the ritual that will bring the Golem to life. It’s a successful rite that results in the silent stone giant relentlessly hunting down the killers and freeing their victims. In the aftermath Jason, Rebecca and Logan believe there’s a familiar twinkle in the creature’s eyes…

Despite its stranger set-up this is in many ways a very traditional Marvel origin story, with heroism emerging from tragedy and self-sacrifice in the time-honoured way. The question of whether the Golem is somehow Professor Adamson in a new form, or if it’s simply his lifeforce that animates it, is never resolved to any definite degree but there were undoubtedly story possibilities there that would have been intriguing to explore. Sadly, from the outset, the strip is in difficulties. The second part comes a whole four months after the first story was published, after #175 ends up as a fill-in reprinting Lee/Kirby/Ditko monster tales from the early ‘60s (Strange Tales had a bimonthly schedule).

With its momentum already broken, a shuffled creative team for the Golem after just one issue would never have boded well. Visually, John Buscema and Jim Mooney gave the first story an added air of authenticity with solid action sequences and expressive visual characterisation that added vital layers to the cast’s otherwise perfunctory roles in the narrative. Strange Tales #176 brings writer Mike Friedrich and artist Tony DeZuniga (inked by Steve Austin in #177) for a two-parter that pits the Golem, and what is now effectively its own Scooby Gang, against the sorcerer Kaballa. Having discovered the Golem is active once more, he wants its power for himself and sends his servile elemental spirits to attack our heroes to just that end.

Kaballa is a generic, cackling, evil wizard type and while these two instalments manoeuvre the Golem into what one presumes would have been a position more central in the wider Marvel Universe (it ends up transported to an American university campus by the group in #177), the antagonist himself is there as mystical colouring. A new supporting character, the sympathetic academic Saudia Yamal plus the disreputable Professor Yeates, who fears the reality of the Golem will discredit him in educational circles, provide some human interest distraction in #177. But the major revelation is that the Golem takes its strength from its connection to its erstwhile family, again hinting that some echo of Professor Adamson at the very least lives within it.

And, having seen off Kaballa’s forces again, essentially via the power of love, the Golem series ends abruptly after just three issues. In an example of the kind of honesty that would be occasionally seen on letters pages of the time but seems inconceivable now there’s a full-on apology at the end of Strange Tales #177 for the strip. This admission attempts to explain just why it had been a publishing mistake and was being discontinued. Describing it as a good idea that didn’t work out, it’s remarkably candid, speaking of a loss of morale and motivation creatively, and a lack of direction. There’s even an acknowledgement that the story ends with many unresolved elements. As apologetic as it all is, one can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for readers of the time who had shelled out the cover price only to be told by the people behind what they’d just read how bad it actually was!

In fairness The Golem, though unremarkable in the Marvel pantheon, was perfectly readable, escapist fare (although not without some character portrayals that were at best “of their time”). What probably made it a difficult prospect in the long-term was a protagonist who essentially wasn’t; a title character who had little agency of his own and whose adventures were directed by those around him. While Steve Gerber would be able to pull that off in the pages of Man-Thing with a central character who almost shambled unawares through his own narrative, it was clear no one involved with The Golem had that much commitment or interest in the character to achieve anything similar. And with four writers involved in as many issues no one seems to be able to decide if the Golem is sentient or not (on one occasion it speaks and on another appears capable of at least rudimentary thought but this is never followed through and it remains mostly silent).

This wasn’t quite the end of the story though. Strange Tales would go on to continue the chronicles of Adam Warlock but the Golem would get one final 1970s outing. Marvel Two-In-One – the team-up book featuring the Fantastic Four’s the Thing as lead character – would serve a frequent role as a venue for wrapping up plotlines of otherwise cancelled series and in #11 Roy Thomas and Bill Mantlo fashioned a plot for Bob Brown and Jack Abel to illustrate that provided at least some sense of closure, even if it was nine months after the character’s last appearance.

MTIO #11 is notable for finally bringing Kaballa into direct conflict with the Golem and crew in one final attempt to attain its power. Kaballa manages to gain control of the Golem and send it on a rampage, which coincidentally leads it into the path of the vacationing Thing. It’s a typical team-up comic contrived meeting and, once again, the Golem’s power is boosted by the presence of Jason, Rebecca and Wayne at the crucial moment when Kaballa makes his final, doomed powerplay. The wizard would go on to become part of The Conspiracy and a foe of monster-hunter Ulysses Bloodstone in Rampaging Hulk while the Golem, left inert at issue’s end, would disappear into obscurity for three decades. In the mid-2000s it would appear very briefly as part of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos, a short-lived series built entirely around a pun and in a best forgotten role. The Golem supporting cast have, to the best of my knowledge, never been referred to again.

The Marvel horror/supernatural/monster books threw a lot of concepts out there at the time (Brother Voodoo, the Scarecrow, Modred the Mystic, Gabriel the Devil-Hunter, It the Living Colossus and so on) that had only very limited publication histories but none of them was quite so curious in execution as the Golem’s short-lived time as a headlining character. Those wanting the full story can check out the recent Marvel Horror Omnibus which also includes that fateful letters page announcement. A bizarre epitaph for an unlikely run.

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“My Admiration for Scientists Comes Across in the Strips, Even the Ones Where I’m Teasing Them” – Tom Gauld Talks ‘Department of Mind-Blowing Theories’ http://www.brokenfrontier.com/tom-gauld-drawn-quarterly-canongate-department-mind-blowing-theories/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tom-gauld-drawn-quarterly-canongate-department-mind-blowing-theories http://www.brokenfrontier.com/tom-gauld-drawn-quarterly-canongate-department-mind-blowing-theories/#respond Wed, 25 Mar 2020 16:56:16 +0000 http://www.brokenfrontier.com/?p=91601 In a world struggling not just with a pandemic but a general aversion towards the cultivation of a scientific temperament, the presence of a new book by Tom Gauld seems...

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In a world struggling not just with a pandemic but a general aversion towards the cultivation of a scientific temperament, the presence of a new book by Tom Gauld seems particularly satisfying. The Scottish cartoonist has long brought his fiercely intelligent humour to bear upon topics like religion and literature, and now turns his skewering gaze upon science and scientists.

Gauld’s Department of Mind-Blowing Theories is a collection of single-panel cartoons originally created for New Scientist magazine, hence the laboratory settings and nods to Charles Darwin. It isn’t always an easy read, given the allusions and layers of meaning, but it is also what fans familiar with his earlier work have come to expect. In this, he manages to evoke the spirit of Gary Larson who, with his legendary strip The Far Side, has long walked the tightrope of making something seem simultaneously sombre and hilarious.

Photo credit: Joe Gordon

Self-quarantined on opposite sides of the planet, we conducted an interview Gauld via email. Here are his responses:

BROKEN FRONTIER: The blurb for your book refers to how it is funny enough to engage any layperson, but that isn’t strictly true. Do you feel as if you have to consciously dumb things down given the times we live in, where intelligence is almost perceived as a threat, at least in North America?

TOM GAULD: I find that to make almost all my cartoons, I have to make a judgement about the audience’s knowledge of a subject, in order to play with, or subvert their knowledge and expectations. With the science cartoons I use myself as a kind of base-level because I’m somebody who is fascinated by, but almost completely uneducated in, science. In fact with all my work I’m aiming to make something that would interest me (if I wasn’t the one making it) in the hope that I’m a reasonably normal person so there will be lots of others a bit like me.

In the end though, you can’t please everyone, and I’d rather make the occasional weird cartoon that leaves people a bit confused, than consciously dumb them down. The sort of readers that I’m quite happy to lose are the ones who feel personally affronted by a joke that they don’t get.

BF: A video on YouTube features you talking about drawing as language. Given that Department of Mind-Blowing Theories focuses largely on scientists, I was wondering if any of them have shared how they perceive cartoons, and if their views coincide with your own in any way?

GAULD: I was quite worried when I started making these cartoons for New Scientist, that I’d enrage the scientists with my simpleton ways and they’d chase me out of Sciencetown with pitchforks and flaming torches (like a Gary Larson cartoon). But I was completely wrong and they have been very welcoming, I think partly because my admiration for scientists comes across in the strips, even the ones where I’m teasing them.

I did one cartoon about the LHC at Cern in which I made two typos and an error. What I loved about the reaction from many of the scientists was that they politely corrected me, but also offered other suggestions, facts and stories about Cern, and annotated versions of the cartoon with a geeky enthusiasm. The version in the book is a corrected, peer-reviewed version of the cartoon.

Nothing makes me happier than scientists getting in touch to ask to show one of my silly jokes in their erudite lecture or PhD.

BF: One of your strips features Facebook users debunking Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (“LOL! Totally Fake”). It’s funny, but also worrying true. Have you ever been trolled online for work you have done, by people who just didn’t get it?

GAULD: I have one particular cartoon which was originally done for the Guardian called “our blessed homeland” that seems to be a magnet for a number of different types of angry people online.

It gets dumb grammar pedants saying that I have used “their” incorrectly (I haven’t). It gets people commenting “so you’re saying that the US and North Korea are exactly the same” (I don’t think it says that). And it got posted on a white-nationalist message board where they ranted about it for pages and pages and called me and the academic who posted it ‘cat ladies’.

I think there’s probably a Godwin’s Law sort of rule for the number of comments that need to appear below a cartoon before a bloke posts “don’t get it”. That same bloke would probably also be furious that I mentioned Godwin’s Law here without explaining what it is and might even spend more time commenting on this than it would take to google Godwin’s law.

BF: You have mentioned Chris Ware as one of your ‘cartooning heroes’ in the past. Is that an indication of what you look for when you pick up the work of, say, a lesser-known cartoonist?

GAULD: Not really, Chris Ware has always inspired me, but he’s a one-off doing very much his own thing. I think a book like Rusty Brown would have been a complete disaster in anyone else’s hands. Though now I write that, I suppose that is partly what I’m looking for: work that very much feels like it could only have come from that one person. I’m thinking now of Edward Steed and Liana Finck who both make work that fits in the ‘New Yorker Cartoon’ box, but do it totally in their own way, which I love.

BF: Would you agree or disagree that the use of ‘white space’ is underrated in a panel? I ask because so much of your work involves the interplay of witty dialogue with very little action.

GAULD: For me, one of the most interesting parts of making comics is the way you can play with timing, guiding the reader’s eyes over text and image to make things happen in their brain in a certain order and rhythm. White spaces, pauses and repetitions are all things I like to put into the cartoons: I’d actually like to use more of them in my two weekly cartoons, but the space I get on the page is, in both cases, quite small. I think that, done right, less is more, but there comes a point when you have too much white space or pausing and then less is just less.

BF: You wrote a dissertation on the work of Ben Katchor, who was once described as the creator of the “last great American comic strip.” Do you believe that particular medium is past its prime when newspapers themselves appear to be dying?

GAULD: What I like about newspaper comic strips is that they sneak into the consciousness of people who might otherwise never read comics. And even the comic fans who are reading the newspaper are in a different mind-set than when they sit down to specifically read a whole comic. When I make the cartoons, I am thinking about how they will sit on the page next to all the non-comics content. In a way, my comics do a similar thing on Instagram and Twitter, popping up in a feed full of other things, but I still love seeing my work printed on paper in a newspaper or magazine.

I suppose with fewer newspapers, commissioning fewer strips reduces the likelihood of a great one coming along. But art is more complicated than a calculation like that, so who knows? Maybe something amazing will appear next week.

Tom Gauld’s Department of Mind-Blowing Theories is published by Drawn & Quarterly in North America and Canongate in the the UK in April.

Interview by Lindsay Pereira

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