Archive for Small Press

‘Legends’, an anthology by IndieManga

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2010 by comicmole

‘Legends’ by IndieManga, 130 pages, A5, black and white with colour covers, £6


“What discerning eyes have you,

to notice here our humble book,

now there’s just one thing to do,

open it and have a look!” – Legends

And thus begins my adventure into Legends, the newest anthology from the comic circle IndieManga.  This book contains five short comics revolving around the central theme of exploring fantastical tales, and in some cases their ties to the real world.

Every member of IndieManga is featured here: Kate Holden, who was one of the winners of this year’s Manga Jiman competition, Anna Fitzpatrick, who writes and draws Between Worlds, Sally Jane Thompson, who created Little Thoughts, Rebecca McCarthy, who’s writing also appeared in IndieManga’s first anthology ‘Origins’, and this time they introduce a new member in the form of Sarah Burgess, who also writes and draws the webcomic Far-Out-Mantic.

Below I’m going to give an example of a page from each comic in the anthology to show their different art styles, and also say a little about what I took away from the story in each short as well.  First up is the 23-page Lucky, by Sarah Burgess:

Lucky is about a lowly squire who loses his pride and joy – his silver-haired horse – to some otherworldly thieves.

The story overall is well-paced, carrying the reader through the fantastical events with ease.  The ending could possibly have used an extra page, just to slow it down and give it more impact, though it closes out with an interesting resonance to the real world.  Similarly to her webcomic, Far-Out-Mantic, Sarah’s art for Lucky has a sketchy, emotions-first-accuracy-second, kind of feel to it.  This means elements like her characters’ expressions and the organic flow of a lot of the pages, are practically perfect.  However, some parts come across as rushed or even just anatomically wrong, which jerks the reader out of the story a little.

But what will bring you back in though is the hand-written text.  Hand-drawn speech bubbles settle comfortably into the layout of each page, and parts where the text breaks free and takes your eyes all around the page as you read are really quite special.

Sharing Lucky’s page count of 23 is the next comic – Vitality, written by Rebecca McCarthy and drawn by Anna Fitzpatrick:

Apothecary shop assistant Bryther had been drinking a vitality elixir to keep herself going thorugh a day’s work, but when the shop gets demolished one day she gets a lesson in how much of a good thing might be too much.

Unfortunately I didn’t quite ‘get’ this story.  It felt very much like it was trying to say something, but I’m still not entirely sure what that thing was.  The plot begins in quite a slice-of-life way, focusing on the main character and her shop, but then introduces a lot of characters and big world events in quick succession.  The reader does not really have enough time to digest all of this information before being taken back to a focus on the main character again for the ending.  It seems like this story either needed to be much longer, with time given to introduce world events and the significance of these characters within them, or more stripped-down and simplified to fit into a shorter page count.

Art-wise, this comic has a painterly feel brought about by a use of flowing organic shapes to portray real human anatomy, rather than reducing the forms down to a more graphical style.  Backgrounds are present and correct, and range from a riot of sketchy detail that can be hard to follow, to some wonderfully balanced and atmospheric scenes.  It seems like some of the pages were a labour of love for the artist, and some were more rushed through.   As a lover of small press endevours, I feel that the atmosphere brought out by the tighter, more considered, pages in Vitality makes this comic worth reading.  However a more mainstream audience would probably expect the entire comic to be presented at this standard.

The impact of popular fantasy stories is considered in the next comic from the Legends anthology: A Walk – or a contemplation on fairy tales, viewpoints, creativity and growing up, by Sally Jane Thompson:

A Walk is 11 pages long.  The story follows a young girl, who at the beginning is being read to before bed.  As she hears the tale being read to her, a beanstalk begins to grow out of the book, and take her on a journey where she encounters lots of the stories and artistic styles that inspire her as she grows up.

These inspirations range from simple fairy tales to sparkly romance, into realism, and even some tinges of menace.  As she interacts with each scene the girl visibly grows up, and at the end of the comic she clicks the lid back onto her pen as an adult artist.

This comic is obviously a very personal one that portrays several stories that have been inspirations or influences on the creator’s own development as an author and artist, perhaps also as a person.

Many different artistic styles and drawing media are used throughout this comic.  The girl herself is always drawn with Sally’s trademark brushpen strokes, which both links her character to Sally as a person and brings all of the disparate art styles used in the comic together as one piece.  As she takes her walk we pass panels drawn in a shojo (girl’s) manga style, simplified cartoons, patterns inspired by art nouveau, use of natural media, ink and screentones.  Its a completely wordless comic, but you won’t miss the words at all.

Also making quite a sparing use of text is the next Legends entry: the 15 page 5 Finger Discount, by Anna Fitzpatrick:

In 5 Finger Discount, when a girl tries to steal a transformation potion from an old witch, an amazing transformations occurs…that could get her into a lot of trouble.

Stand out characters here are the old witch and the horrible blob monster you can see on the page above.  They’re gloriously grotesque!  The entire comic is of course drawn in Anna’s signature painterly style, but compared to Vitality, which she also drew, the screentones used here are of a larger scale (meaning that the dots are larger and further apart than the screentones used for Vitality).  This means that some of the forms of the characters and backgrounds are a little bit less solid and more confusing to the eye, but it also gives the comic a lighter, more airy feel than Vitality, and thus its own personality.

The digital text used for the lettering in 5 Finger Discount is certainly very readable (which should be the first priority), but its also a little jarring over such natural-feeling artwork as Anna’s.  On the other hand, the hand-written sound effects used here (such as the ‘wugableeugh!’ in the page above) are a real high point of the comic – perfectly legible throughout, balanced very nicely with the artwork on each page that they are used on, and suiting the unique personality of the story extremely well.

Showing yet another side to the personality of IndieManga as a group is the final entry in the Legends anthology, the 17 page Adventure, by Kate Holden:

At a foreboding castle in the desolate mountains, a group of three adventures goes toe-to-toe with an ancient foe and his army of automaton minions.

…did I mention the foe had epic flares?

The story and chracters in Kate Holden’s Adventure are pretty simple and archetypal: plucky heroine, brutish warrior, semi-naked elf…but the injection of Kate’s own personality makes it into a fun quirky parody piece.  Her villain here is a good example: you can tell that he’s an epic foe right out of a fantasy story or RPG, but he also has a bit of a shonen (boy’s) fighting manga look to him.  On top of this he wears a superhero-style mask, but forgoes the cape-and-tights for 60s style flares instead.

You might think that all of these influences would make for a bit of a muddled comic, but nothing could be further from the truth – its a very streamlined reading experience.  The only thing holding it back is that, though the experience is fun, it is perhaps not quite hilarious enough as a parody comic to surmount the use of the very stereotypical characters and setting.

But setting aside,a high point to look out for throughout Adventure is the creator’s proficient use of solid blacks and whites in her artwork, giving a punchy, eye-catching finish.  The only hiccup in the art is that, with such a structured style, it seems like buildings and interiors in the backgounds would need to be drawn with straighter, more confident, lines in order to make the best use of accurate perspective and have more impact alongside the characters.

Presentation:

Legends is a tidy and good-looking little book.  Its perfect bound with black and white interior pages and full colour covers.  The covers have a matte finish which gives a high quality look and feel to the book.  A unifying, tongue-in-cheek, graphic design style throughout the book really brings the creators’ different styles together and makes this anthology into one cohesive volume.

The price was a bit hard to find as it wasn’t printed in big friendly numbers on the front cover like you get with a lot of comics.  This may have been a conscious decision not to mar the cover design, and the price was mentioned in the blurb on the back, but something a little easier to spot would have been helpful.

If you enjoy UK manga, or dare I say it even small press comics in general, then I think you will find ‘Legends’ by IndieManga to be a rewarding pickup.  As their name suggests, the group is inspired by manga, but certainly not a slave to stereotypical ‘manga’ art tropes.  Barring some confusing sketchy pages pulling the reader a little out of the experience, overall I was struck by the unique personal creativity on show here – something that is hard to find in the mainstream, and I’m sure one of the reasons why us avid readers love the small press so much.

More books are available, including their first anthology ‘Origins’, on the IndieManga website.

Sarah Burgess has an ongoing webcomic, ‘Far-Out-Mantic’, and more of her work can be found on her portfolio website.

Kate Holden’s ongoing webcomic is Fan Dan Go, and she also has a portfolio website.

Sarah Jane Thompson also has a portfolio up online, plus an art blog.

Rebecca McCarthy has a website/blog.

Anna Fitzpatrick regularly updates her webcomic Between Worlds, as well as keeping a portfolio site and an art blog.

A review copy of this comic was provided.

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Urban Beasts by Daniel Hartwell, Anna Rubins and Karen Rubins

Posted in New Comic, Review with tags , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2009 by comicmole

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“We’re all animals underneath” states the back cover of issue 1 of ‘Urban Beasts’, and within this comic, people very much are.  The comic is available to buy in print from ITCH Publishing’s online shop now.

We are introduced to Caipora, a Brazilian shaman who has the ability to use totems (magical charms that she wears on her person) to see the animal aspects of the people around her: moths fluttering around a club at night, cats primping in a coffee shop, or pigeons in the crowd.  She is called to action when a clash over animal rights threatens to cause trouble in her adopted home town of Oxford.

This 23-page issue is an introduction to the world of the series and its main character, Caipora, as well as an interesting secondary character who may well require her help.  Its an atmospheric start which has a firm grounding in the reality of modern-day Oxford, with a patina of fantasy laid over the top in the form of the way Caipora sees the world.

The highlight of the writing so far is the little touches of humour in the details, like an emo moth who sometimes burns himself, or the cats stating that if the people intruding into their territory don’t leave they’ll have to ignore them quite devastatingly.  Its not all fluffy humour though; the pages covering the reasons behind the animal rights clash make me wonder whether the series will have political overtones, or whether that aspect will become a backdrop to a more character-driven story in the end.

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With such a range of animal-based characters to portray, artist Karen Rubins has certainly taken on a challenge with this series.  The artwork overall is proficient and it shows that Karen is not afraid to tackle many different subjects (such as action poses or scenes with large crowds).  In particular, she has given the animal characters a unique look which is very memorable.  However, the human characters need to be drawn more consistenly and figure proportions need tightening up for a more professional feel to the artwork.

A big plus point with the art is the Oxford backdrops – I used to live in Oxford and immediately recognised a lot of buildings seen in the comic, which shows they have been well referenced.

Overall I very much enjoyed this offering.  Its a promising introductory chapter and I eagerly await the rest of the series.

Bristol International Comic Expo 2009: Highlights

Posted in Event with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2009 by comicmole

Mole note: this post covers my personal highlights from the 2009 Bristol Expo – for general impressions of the event please see my previous post.

Small press comics heaven, one of the SP Expo rooms at Bristol:

smallPressRoomPhoto

The best thing about the Bristol Expo for me was the chance to walk around many rooms filled with comic creators and buy issues directly from the people who designed and made them.  Being able to meet an artist who’s work you really like and say to them ‘great work, please keep it up!’ is a fantastic feeling that you just can’t get by ordering comics over the internet.

Personally, I also like to ask the creators that I meet if they will sign the comic I’m buying from them, as a kind of memento of meeting them at that time.  Side note: this is why I don’t usually request a signature on a comic I’m ordering over the net, unless its extremely unlikely that I will ever get the chance to meet the creator(s) in person.  If a comic arrives signed then there’s no point in me taking it along to meet the creator(s) and get it signed, therefore the signature means much less to me (do others feel like this or am I just a tad weird?…)

Anyway, as well as the general greatness of actually being there, here are some specific highlights of the event:

  • Going to the SelfMadeHero Manga Shakespeare table  (pictured below) and picking up an advance copy of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, illustrated by Emma Vieceli.  Also, telling them how much I was looking forward to their verions of ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘The Merchant ofVenice’ (illustrated by Nana Li and Faye Yong respectively).  I got a free poster for that – motto: it can pay to tell publishers if you are eagerly awaiting their books ^_~

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  • Getting the new ‘Cupcake of Doom’ t-shirt from Genki Gear (very apt as I’m trying to lose weight…)

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  • Chatting with Sally and Azure at the IndieManga table and getting very excited about their upcoming release Between Worlds by Anna Fitzpatrick (which is debuting in just a couple of weeks at the May MCM London Expo).  The bookmarks I got from them give a glimpse of the fantastic art in ‘Between Worlds’, which is being printed in full colour.

betweenWorldsBookmarks

  • Getting to meet and shake the hand of Paul Gravett, author of ‘Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics’ amongst many other books about comics , and say how much I enjoyed his work.  Once again, you don’t get to do these kinds of things over the internet ^_^

OK, highlights end there!  Next time I’ll be back with more comic reviews (and belive me I’m not short on material for those now ^_~ ).

Bristol International Comic Expo 2009: General Impressions

Posted in Event with tags , , , , , on May 13, 2009 by comicmole

(My Bristol write-up was getting a bit long, so I’ve split it in two: General Impressions here and Highlights to follow)

Last weekend myself and my other Bumblemoo compatriots Wren and Banemoo went along to the Bristol International Comic Expo.  It was a first for me and Banemoo, although Wren had been once before.  Seeing as I was introduced to comics through manga, and have since gained a love of small press work and non-manga comics too, I saw Bristol as a good opportunity to pick up some exciting new books to read and get out of my comfort zone of sailor suited high school girls and mechs (hmm…sailor suited mechs? anyway…)

The Expo was held in two hotels this year: the Ramada Plaza held the main event and the Mercure held the Small Press Expo.  Luckily both hotels were only 2 minutes walk from each other and a 5 minute walk from the train station, making the event very easy to find.

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When we got there we had a choice of two free comics to collect – I chose this little number with the Simon Bisley cover:

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But free comics aside, our general impression of the Expo was more one of a series of fantastic dealers’ rooms to look around, rather than somewhere we might have wanted to spend two whole days.  There weren’t many panels we were particularly interested in –  we don’t really keep abreast of industry affairs and we’re not ‘inside’ enough to know which creators are which in the flesh, and who would be the most interesting to listen to.  However, taking another look at the website after we got back home, I think I would pay more attention to the panel lineup if I was going to visit again and try to attend at least a couple of them.  It might actually be more fun to attend as a creator, so time could be spent meeting and socialising with other creators in a more relaxed way.

As someone who didn’t know what any of the more famous comic creators looked like, I found it quite difficult to navigate around the different artists offering sketches.  It was quite crowded in the Ramada where the main event was held (an atmosphere not helped by a lack of opening windows or adequate air conditioning), so most of the bigger name artists’ tables were obscured by a cluster of people queuing for sketches or signatures, and more people trying to squeeze past.  The only artist we knew that we wanted to search for, to perhaps request a sketch, was Simon Bisley.  However we couldn’t find either him or a table with his name on it so we gave up in the end.

Even though we didn’t end up participating in any ‘special’ con activities like panels or signings, we still had a great time and came away with some really unique purchases!  I would still recommend going to the Bristol Expo to anyone who enjoys UK small press comics (and assorted mainstream publishers, and related paraphanalia), as you just won’t find the same kind of collection of niche and hard-to-get items this side of the internet.  And unlike the internet, where you would have to order and pay shipping from many individual websites, everything at Bristol is under one roof (well two rooves, but who’s counting?)

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Away from the more crowded hallways, foraging through the work of a lot of the indie publishers in the dealers’ rooms was a fascinating experience; there were so many different styles of art on show, from heavily inked horror through wordy thought-provoking comics to lighthearted bits of fluff.  Most artists and publishers were very happy for people to flip through a copy of their comic and most were unobtrusively friendly and helpful.  However, to those pushy sellers who would repetedly take me through a comic’s extra features and tell me I’d get a free sketch if I’d just buy it, please try to cool off a bit or I’ll be too busy trying to get away from you to notice how good your comic is.

One thing I did notice, which might spark some discussion if people don’t agree with me, was that quite a few of the indie and small press comics seemed a little bland and archetypal.  Things like anthologies of ‘Zombies’ or ‘Werewolves’ or ‘The Girly Comic’.  Seeing titles like this immediately puts me off the comic.  Even if it turns out to be an amazing anthology of varied work, I wouldn’t know as the title would have made me think it was boring and mainstream, like being spoon fed some kind of single flavour food that the sellers know that fans will buy, similarly to Hollywood churning out blockbuster sequel after blockbuster sequel.  What was interesting to me about this was that it was the indie publishers who seemed to be doing it most, and I would have thought they would be the ones being more experimental.

…and if they are in fact being quite experimental, as my brief perusal of ‘The Girly Comic’ website seems to hint at (one of the shorts in issue one covers what you might do if you had your own gimp?), then maybe they could try using a name that doesn’t make it sound like their comic was written for male geeks to buy in order to ‘get their girlfriend into comics’ Cosmo-style.

(Disclaimer: I’m more making a general point about bland derivative works rather than saying ‘The Girly Comic’ in particular should change its name, in fact the more I peruse the website the more I want to read an issue of ‘The Girly Comic’…although I’m still kind of hoping it will turn out to be a joke name and actually be full of robot stories ^_~ )

Robot love aside, next up will be my personal highlights of the Bristol Expo, so please stick around for that ^_^