Travelling Man's Blog

The Glass Is Half Full: Small Press Land by Travelling Man

I’m Al Ewing, and a while back I promised Travelling Man I’d do some reviews for them. These reviews, for obvious reasons, will be entirely positive. And that’s okay, because there’s always something positive to talk about in comics. The glass of Comics is always half full.

For example, there’s the Small Press.

I don’t know what things are like across the pond, but in the UK the Small Press is the lifeblood of comics, and the petri dish for the new. It’s where all the most interesting and exciting work is happening, a hothouse of energy and passion that proves that comics don’t need giant entertainment corporations to micromanage them or famous TV screenwriters to grace them with their presence. All comics need is paper, ink and imagination – and even the first two, not so much. (There’ll be another time to talk about webcomics.)

Recently I got an email from Rol Hirst, whose comics I read as a kid – I remember devouring The Jock with great fondness – asking if I wanted to take a look at his newest venture. Too Much Sex And Violence is a tag-team effort, split between eight artists – a nifty solution to one of the basic problems of the Small Press, which is that it’s a lot easier to write for nowt than it is to draw, and artists aren’t always in a position to commit to a giant page count. It works well here because of the nature of the story – a multiple-character piece set in a creepy English village where strange (and violent and sexy) things can happen, in the style of The League Of Gentlemen or Psychoville. We’re introduced to various characters – a particular favourite of mine, for some reason, was the vampiric DJ who gets his morning listeners to send their blood in to the radio station in the manner of Simon Bates receiving Our Tune letters – and the basics of the plot are set in motion, with various murders and unpleasantnesses being committed and a new copper walking into town to come face to face with it all. It’s a solid read, and I’m looking forward to more.

Art comes in all flavours, from the stark noir tones of Adrian Bamforth to the clear-line style of Rob Wells, also including such Small Press luminaries as Andrew Cheverton, Paul Rainey (of whom more later), Nigel Lowrey (ditto), Kelvin Green, Martin Eden and what’s apparently the first work from Mark Renhard. (Design, lettering and assorted other stuff by Dave Metcalfe-Carr.) Everybody aquits themselves well, but if I had to pick a favourite it’d probably be Lowrey’s depiction of the postie’s wonderfully goofy porn fantasies, which he unwittingly broadcasts to the neighbourhood telepath – beautifully overdone stuff.

If you can’t find it at your local comic shop, it’s available here.

Now, because of TMSAV‘s nature as a team effort, I’m in the happy position of being able to seque into other Small Press offerings I’ve enjoyed.

For example, while we’re discussing Paul Rainey, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his 13-part series, No Time Like The Present – an examination of time travel and, well, time – everything from how the mortifying embarassments of youth fade into insignificance with the onset of old age to what happens in a culture where future history can be accessed on the internet with the same ease as the past. It’s a staggering work of SF – of fiction, full stop – and deserves a place on everyone’s shelf. Again, check your local comics shop, or order online.

What else, while we’re here in Small Press Land? The genius of Ben Clark? How about also-genius Steve Tillotson? I should really mention Futurequake as well. In fact, next time you’re in your local shop, check for a Small Press shelf and see what you can find there. Next time you’re at a convention, have one less pint at the overpriced hotel bar and blow the savings on photocopied mystery. You might find a writer or an artist you’ll be following for life. You might find the comic you always wanted to read but didn’t think existed.

And if you don’t, you can always make it yourself.

The Glass Is Half Full: I Used To Be A Werewolf But There’s No Stopping Us Nowoooo by Travelling Man

Hello. I’m Al Ewing and Travelling Man asked me to review comics regularly-ish. These reviews will all be positive, because there are enough good comics that I can talk about at least one of them a week. The Glass Of Comics, in other words, Is Half Full.

This week, it’s back to the Gnu 52, DC’s elk-inspired reboot-type thing, for a brief look at another #1: the oddly-titled Justice League Dark.

When I recommended this title to my friends in the pub earlier – I may have been drinking – they asked me if there was a corresponding title called Justice League Milk. It’s nothing to do with chocolate, I told them. There will be no Limited Edition Justice League Orange (although if DC wants to have Larfleeze start one up, I’m happy to be proved wrong).

A more appropriate title for this might be Justice League Vertigo – or maybe not, since this comic conjures memories of the days before Vertigo existed, when a clutch of writers intoxicated by the medium’s hidden potential pushed the envelopes of code-approved comics until someone noticed and stuck a ‘mature readers’ label on it all. Alan Moore‘s early Swamp Thing comes to mind – likewise Grant Morrison‘s metafictional and magic-realist explorations in Animal Man and Doom Patrol. Even Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman started off in the main DC continuity, albeit with the ‘mature readers’ sticker prophesying the coming of the Vertigo banner. Peter Milligan was there too, digging into themes of mental turmoil and the American national mindset with his reworking of Shade, The Changing Man. 

And now, with Justice League Dark, Milligan’s back in familiar and very welcome territory. Shade is back, and much as I remember him – there’s a scene early on with long-suffering love interest Kathy which I won’t spoil, but which should tell new readers everything they need to know about the character, and about the comic. In addition, we have Zatanna acting very similar to the last time I saw her in Seven Soldiers – (although it might just be the gorgeous Ryan Sook cover that brings up that particular association) – and we have appearances from Deadman, Madame Xanadu and what looks like Ultimate John Constantine. I’ll be impressed if Milligan manages to successfully cross Hellblazer over with this book without sparking fan fury, but at the moment the two books, and the two Constantines, seem separate enough for the purists to breathe relieved sighs.

The Enchantress is providing the main threat, lurking horrifically in an old house right out of one of Milligan’s other great and fondly-remembered Vertigo comics, Enigma, and secreting herself away from prying eyes in the manner of Envelope Girl. And it wouldn’t be a pre-Vertigo era mature-readers-in-training comic without the regular non-dark Justice League turning up and looking like big stupid action figures in the face of a threat they can’t even understand, much less handle.

So all in all, it’s a familiar trip down memory lane for me – that strange crackle I remember from when I was a kid, before mature readers comics were for mature readers, when the world of tights and fights had strange corners filled with slippery questions of identity and old, rotten teeth. At the same time, it’s new enough to be more exciting than quite a few of DC’s new titles. Am I breaking the all-positivity format when I say that I’d much, much rather read about this League than the ‘real’ one?

I’ve not mentioned the art, and I should, because it’s terrific. Mikel Janin – for it is he – is someone I haven’t come across before, but I’ll be keeping an eye on him from here on. He’s a little bit Frank Quitely, a little bit Leigh Gallagher – there’s a pinch of Bryan Talbot in there too if I squint. I’ll be looking forward to seeing where he goes from here.

Justice League Dark – I’ll get used to the title – is heartily recommended. I just hope the misfit kids of today get a similar buzz from the delicious curiosity of it all.

The Glass Is Half Full: My Comic, ‘Tis Of Thee by Travelling Man

My name is Al Ewing, I write comics and I’m writing a series of increasingly regular reviews and musings for the Travelling Man website. For obvious reasons, everything reviewed thusly will be reviewed positively, because there are enough good comics out there for me to be unfailingly nice (and enough great critics out there that the bad comics don’t get away with it).

The Glass Of Comics, in other words, Is Half Full.

So! I’ve put this off long enough. Let’s talk about 2000AD – the UK comic that exploded onto the scene in 1977, kickstarting the careers of dozens of top-flight writers and artists, and is still going strong today. I started reading it when I was nine, and – barring a couple of hiccups – I’ve read it ever since. Around ten years ago, I sent them in a five-page horror story. Now I make my entire living from writing of one sort or another. 2000AD has been very good to me.

So excuse me if I get a little evangelical.

Now, there are lots of good reasons for not reading 2000AD. You may, for example, be unable to read, although if you’re reading this I’ll assume that’s not the case. You might dislike the medium of comics in general, although again, if you’re here reading this that’s probably not true. Or, possibly, you might have sustained a terrible head injury that’s destroyed certain parts of your brain with the result that every time you enjoy something you violently defecate all over yourself, your immediate surroundings, and the cat.

These are all excellent reasons not to read 2000AD. However, if you can read, if you like reading comics and if you like enjoying things, you really should try it.

For a start – it’s a deal, it’s a steal, it’s the sale of the century et cetera. If you’re in the UK – or on the internet – it’s cheaper than just about any American comic, and you get more and bigger pages of story. And the savings don’t end there! Because individual  episodes are usually around five pages long, there’s literally no room for padding. So you get more story per page compared with your favourite American comic too.

Which all means nothing if the stories aren’t up to scratch – but the quality has been on a consistent high since at least… well, the year 2000 AD. (At this point, the name of the comic is a trusted brand of excellence rather than a far-off future date. It’s an idiosyncracy fans happily turn a blind eye to, like the regular insistences by alien editor Tharg that I – and everyone else who ever worked at 2000AD, including Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Jock, Duncan Fegredo and Chris Weston, to name a few – am in fact a robot.)

Case in point – the current run of Low Life, a strip set in the world of Judge Dredd and dealing with Justice Department’s undercover agents. Rob Williams, on script duties, is busy crafting one of the greatest stories of his career, bringing new depth to his great comedic creation Dirty Frank as the undercover Judge explores the underbelly of a future Tokyo in search of a missing fellow officer. I hope Rob will forgive me for saying that – while I love all his work – Low Life is, in my opinion, his best. Every panel – every line of dialogue – is packed with intelligence, life, heart and soul, and any fans of his, or of good writing in general, need to be reading it.

Matt Brooker – alias D’Israeli – is on art chores, and as usual his elegant, emotive, perfectly composed clear-line style knocks every page out of the park. I don’t know why the Big Two aren’t fighting each other in some kind of Octagon for his services, but their loss is 2000AD‘s gain. Words can’t describe how good his art is, so let’s pay a quick visit to his blog, where you’ll find many posts dedicated to his painstaking process – this one is a nice introduction to the kind of beautiful vistas on display in the strip.

That’s one story, out of five. In addition, in the latest crop of stories – the first prog of which, 1750, is available digitally from the 2000AD website, and 1751 & 1752 at the better newsagents, or (cough) at your local Travelling Man – you have top cop and future film sensation Judge Dredd, at the seasoned hands of creator John Wagner and Henry Flint; stiff upper-lipped paranormal investigator Ampney Crucis, by Ian Edgington and Simon Davis; the unfolding mystery of Angel Zero, by Kek-W and John Burns; and the mind-exploding, reality-warping strangeness and charm of Indigo Prime – yes, it’s back at long last – by John Smith and Edmund Bagwell.

And, sooner or later, I’ll be back in the prog myself. But I’m not just shouting 2000AD to the rooftops because I’m in it – I’m promoting it because I love it, because it does astonishing things that other comics can’t, because it fosters incredible talents that other publishers won’t, because week in, week out, after thirty-five years, it’s still the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic.

Bar none.

Try it.

The Glass Is Half Full: There’s No Stopping Us Now Now by Travelling Man

My name is Al Ewing and recently Travelling Man asked me to do a series of as-weekly-as-possible reviews. Less weekly lately, because I’ve been out of the country, finishing my next novel, Pax Omega, as well as writing the Judge Dredd Christmas episodes and the final part of my upcoming Jennifer Blood run – issue #4, written by Garth Ennis, is out today. Actually, I’m writing this during a brief break from these very deadlines.

Anyway, for various obvious reasons, these reviews are all going to be positive. The Glass Of Comics Is  Half Full.

This hastily-written column is one of probably four briefly detailing my picks out of the New 52, which is DC’s new reboot-flavoured thing, as I got a brief peek at the first wave of them. There’s a lot to like – Stormwatch and Batgirl are highly readable, the cliffhanger in Detective is pretty audacious, Swamp Thing is extremely pretty with another fun cliffhanger and I’m interested to see where Batwing goes. But for the purposes of this, I’m just going to pick two things to talk about.

One is Action Comics, which lives up to its name. Script by Grant Morrison, art by Rags Morales and Rick Bryant. It’s big, fun, energetic stuff, starting at square one with Superman getting into some good old-fashioned class warfare. It’s a little unfair to the regular Superman comic to wish for this to be the new status quo, but I like this brash commie and frankly, I want more of his fat-cat-intimidating ways. I also like the fact that in his secret identity as Clark Kent, he looks like Harry Potter.

The most fascinating read of the thirteen, though, is probably Animal Man, written by Jeff Lemire and with art by Travel Foreman and Dan Green. And it’s Foreman who sucked me in at first, with his arresting art – all clean lines and open spaces in the suburban home of the Bakers, then grotesque tangles of nerve endings and capilliaries as things get weird and disquieting. Strange angles. Scribbled shadows. I find myself poring over each page, examining the art in a way I usually don’t. The final page – an incredibly disturbing image and yet another great cliffhanger – is presented in an understated way that makes it even more grotesque. I don’t know if I’ll sleep tonight. (I’m not sleeping tonight. I have work.)

Even Cliff’s mullet has an otherworldly beauty. There’s a quote for the trade.

Not to ignore Lemire’s contribution – he writes the Buddy Baker and family we know, but older, more settled somehow. (All the better to pull the rug out, presumably – there’s a lot of bleak foreshadowing going on here.) He brings everything in gradually, giving us just enough for a first issue – we get the home life, the superhero hobby, the creeping horror underneath, and by the last page we’re hooked. It’s got that pre-Vertigo superhorror vibe, which is a vibe I’m very partial to. Looking forward to more.

Later in the week – once I’ve shifted some of these deadlines – I’ll probably talk about the opposite of a #1 issue, which is a #1750 issue. Or prog.


My name is Al Ewing, I write comics and I was recently asked to write some reviews for the Travelling Man site. Hello.

For various obvious reasons, every single one of these reviews is going to be positive.

And that’s fine, because 1) we’re in a new age of exciting criticism and loads of great people are being really critical elsewhere, in a good way, giving comics the kind of intelligent working-over it probably needs, or deserves, or deserves to need, or something. Keeping people like me on our toes, basically. So it’s not like the negative aspects of comics, or the comics industry, aren’t being covered.

And 2) many, many comics are very, very good. Certainly enough for me to cover one every week.

The glass of comics is half full.

Let’s start – briefly and shamelessly – with my first love, 2000AD, which is fresh off the newsagent or comic shop shelf every week. 2000AD can also be found in digital form on the 2000AD website, which can be found by typing 2000AD into any competent browser, so there’s really no excuse not to at least try it, or re-try it, especially if you’re a comics fan from the UK. It’s very good at the moment, and has been for a very long time, but I’ll talk properly about that when I’m not in it, otherwise it’s like I’m taking advantage.

2000AD is so ubiquitous a brand when it comes to UK talent that it’s almost easier to list British writers who didn’t get their start working for them than the ones who did, which allows me to segue nicely onto Kieron Gillen, who has three books out this week. They’re all very good. Generation Hope #10 – art by Tim Seeley – is probably my favourite of the three. It’s an integral part of a big X-crossover involving Cyclops and Wolverine finally thrashing out their differences – emphasis on the thrashing – completely naked and hairy in an inflatable paddling pool filled with Durex Play. It’s called Jism.

No, wait, that’s the slashfic version. It’s actually about Cyclops and Wolverine having an extremely clothed disagreement in a completely appropriate setting, and it’s called Schism, and I’m enjoying it quite a lot.

The point is that the crossover can be read perfectly well without reading this issue, and this issue makes perfect sense without the crossover. And if you’ve read the crossover – including a big climactic event which this issue revolves around and which probably prompts the coming ruckus between Slim and Jim – it doesn’t spoil this issue one bit.

Which is how it should be done.

Last month, this comic used mutants as an analogue to a real-world issue; gay teen suicide. (Among other things, it actively referenced the It Gets Better Project – and please check out that link – started by columnist Dan Savage. I’m also a fan of his weekly podcast and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone, particularly anyone struggling with their sexuality, their kinks, or both. You’re not alone, there’s nothing wrong with you and it does, indeed, get better.)

This month, we’re back with more fictional issues, i.e. the treatment of mutants. Except last month was about the treatment of mutants as well, on a surface level, so now I’m seeing analogues everywhere. The bit where Idie, early on, argues in favour of governments having the right to deploy Sentinels against dangerous mutants, without having a full understanding what Sentinels are capable of, reminded me of some of the talk lately about water cannon. (Of course, this issue was likely written months ago. And yet, there it is.)

And – again – that’s how it should be. Comics should reflect the world, or at least something other than themselves, and this – more than any other x-book, more than any other Marvel book – feels like it needs to do that, to live. It’s diverse, it’s young, it’s fresh, it’s clever. It talks the best talk, it walks the best walk. It’s worth your money and your time. Most of all, it’s worth your support.

Buy it.

Next week, I’m in France and away from my standing order, so I might take the opportunity to talk about Largo Winch, eighties chic and sexy Europeans. We shall see.


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