Gonzo Cosmic previews

I’m trying to get into the habit of using this blog again (I’ve been busy with Suddenly Something Really Interesting) so I’m going to start posting up some preview images of stuff I’m working on just now; primarily ‘Black Leaf’, the graphic novel I’m working on with John Lees, and ‘Gonzo Cosmic’, my first fully creator-owned series that I’m writing and drawing.

The first three pages of Gonzo are in the bag – page 1 and the pages 2 and 3 double page spread are below:

Page 1 of Gonzo Cosmic

Pages 2 and 3 of Gonzo Cosmic

I’m also working on a lovely new Cintiq 22HD, which is already transforming my work after only a few days. The first few pages were laid out digitally, and pencilled by hand, but the digital layout was messy and not exactly what I was looking for. For page 4, I’m dropping in perspective lines, using the path tool to set up other perspective grids, and layering varying degrees of detail over the rough thumbnail. Here’s a preview of that page:

Preview of Gonzo Cosmic Page 4

 

There’s obviously a lot of work still needing done here in terms of posing etc, but the basic layout is there. (Those perspective lines are for panel 4, and come from a tool Freddie Williams II created and distributed through his website.)

I’m considering trying to do final pencils digitally, if I can make it look natural enough, but if not, I’m going to do an almost-final layer that I can print in blueline and pencil by hand.

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The Knife – Shaking The Habitual

You know that feeling when you visit a brand new place for the first time? It’s mysterious, opaque, it’s very hard to differentiate one street from another, you don’t yet have place names or landmarks to help you. It can be disorientating and even, sometimes, a little scary.

Yet weirdly, after a few visits, the place changes. No longer undifferentiated, we can tell one part from another, streets become conduits that lead us where we need to go – in effect, we learn the language of the area.

It’s called psychogeography.

Listening to The Knife’s latest album, Shaking the Habitual, is a lot like this. It’s been a long wait for many people, and with that came a lot of expectation. Fans and critics were waiting to see how this duo would evolve – each of their previous albums being similar in some fundamental way because of The Knife themselves and yet also incredibly different too.

As a Silent Shout-era fan, I was totally surprised to hear Deep Cuts and their eponymous album, particularly because they were fairly “poppy” in comparison to the later album. Silent Shout came to my attention through Keiron Gillen’s comic Phonogram and I was hooked when I realised they had been influenced by Charles Burns’ Black Hole, another comic. Burns’ graphic novel is a dark and paranoid, psychedelic exploration of the American coming-of-age story, and The Knife captured the alienation, paranoia and weirdness in what was to be their most complete and most rewarding album.

The evolution and experimentation that lead to Silent Shout is amplified in surprising ways by Shaking the Habitual. On first listen, the album is completely disorientating – long-droning sounds and a 19-minute one-note song in the middle make it difficult on the ears and brain. Hearing Karin’s voice gives it some much-needed familiarity in the early songs, warmer than on Silent Shout, but rawer too, and the first two singles that open the album, A Tooth for an Eye and Full of Fire are fantastic, full of new organic-souding intruments and playful half and u-turns. The submerged politics of Silent Shout don’t become fully transparent here, but they’re definitely more upfront, dealing with gender politics and the battle between left and right during the utter economic global meltdown we’re in right now. It’s welcome – they suddenly feel muscular and confident in themselves as an entity. They’re not hiding in the shadows infiltrating the mainstream, they’re comfortable owning the space they’ve carved out for themselves.

This confidence leads to the more experimental nature of the music that follows – one minute sonic assaults are followed by strange blank canvases that are interspersed with moments of tunefulness, but on first listen, it’s hard to differentiate them. It’s like walking through a town shrouded in fog, where you might even recognise some of the signs if only you could see them.

If this sounds negative, it’s not. I welcomed the difference between this and Silent Shout – I’d have been disappointed if it was more of the same. I expect The Knife to be strange and surprising, so I enjoyed letting the album grow on me. It’s now this beautiful thing, where the slightly more traditional songs are more defined, but still part of this overall tapestry that takes the listener on a long, hard journey, but one that is always rewarding, and more so as you begin to recognise the route and landmarks.

I’d find it difficult to say this is my favourite album of the year so far (Light Asylum, whose frontwoman Shannon Funchess appears on Shaking the Habitual, might just take that, and I’m really looking forward to hearing Chvrches debut album when it finally appears) but I’ve got a feeling it’s going to outlast the others. I’ve found myself turning off Silent Shout halfway to go back to …Habitual, which is a good sign. And I’m finding that I’m giving more space to this than any other album I can think of over the last couple of years. When I listen to it, I tend to do it through headphones, getting lost in the detail, or lying on the bed with it turned up loud, drifting in and out of ordinary consciousness as I do so…

No More X-Men

Look, I know, I know. X-Friday was a wash-out. After I let it fall by the wayside, my mate Jules and I even talked about doing a kind of call-and-response thing where we would encourage each other to write about Nation X and onwards.
But it never happened.

I don’t know whether it was my increasing trepidation about Avengers vs X-Men or whether I just got bored with the idea of de-constructing a world that I was increasingly disassociating from, but it never happened.

Meanwhile, Avengers vs X-Men is still underway. Halfway through, it went from a really boring battle royale to a potentially interesting saga with the arrival of the Phoenix Five and Cyclops and Co establishing Pax Utopia – a paradise that is so close to my own ideas for Gonzo Cosmic that I felt rather uncomfortable reading it.

I started to get a good feeling – maybe the X-books were going in the right direction. Maybe the mutants were returning and we’d get the future promised by Morrison that I’ve been moaning about since I started this blog. Then there was the announcement about Marvel NOW and the ridiculous line-up of books they’ve got planned. All New X-Men with the really old team, Uncanny Avengers ffs… You know the drill, if it’s something that interests you. If not, why are you even reading this?!? 😛

Whatever, it fills me once again with real trepidation. Whatever folk say, I think the X-Universe is big enough to exist on its own, adjacent to and sometimes overlapping with but generally outside of the Marvel 616. And recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what the future of that universe might be…

Some people will have seen some recent images on my Facebook page, something called “X ≠Ω”, or “X is not Omega”.

These are drawings I’ve done of some significant ‘X’ characters as imagined being a few years older than they are now. It’s all part of this large tapestry I’ve dreamed up, a way of trying to re-imagine a future for the X-teams, one that doesn’t involve incessant crossover, but which can recreate a context that would not only involve some really interesting stuff in itself, but would also hopefully create a fertile soil for future creators to continue to write the X-books.

If you look back at my first post about the X-Men where I talk about picking up Claremont and Lee’s X-Men #1, you’ll know why I thought it was a great re-introduction. Although canon and continuity would potentially disagree, I look back and see that re-introduction of the mutants as making them all slightly older. Although there’s not much difference between the previous Uncanny run and this book, there’s a definite sense that everything’s grown up a little. I feel like that same happened in New X-Men – this was the X-guys in there 30s and 40s now, older, hairier and greyer around the temples, with more wrinkles.

Now, I know that it’s difficult in a Batman or Superman book to make your main character age significantly in continuity. It “spoils” the future for other creators and more importantly, for the fans. But the X-Men is an ensemble book, which is more about the context than any one individual team. This is proven by the main and varied main teams there’s been over the years. When the books struggled, it was often prudent to simply change the entire main team, keeping maybe one singular character like Wolvie to bridge the gap.

So while I understand that making any kind of leaps in age would make Marvel nervous, I posit that it’s something you could quite easily “get away with” with the readers – so long as those old favourites were still accessible in some form, and so long as the stories warranted it and were exciting and dangerous again, I think they’d forgive that. I would. Hence the idea.

Here it is then. (Disclaimer: much of the pre-Omega stuff is a void because while I would like to see Hope do her stuff and re-activate the mutants, I’m not sure it’s going to happen. So imagine if you will that this takes place not too long after AvX, and that the end of that saga is the one I “hope” for… It’ll be easier and less painful that way. But the story’s not dependant on it…)

Okay, the book launches with an indeterminate gap having taken place. This is not an “actual” timed chronological space – merely a very large gutter space and a significant “closure” for the reader. There will be no future “plugging the gap” storylines, nor any attempt to explain why things are now the way they are. We’re going to assume that the readership is smart enough to realise that we’ve taken some liberties, and will go with it.

I suppose it’s a little like the “five year” condensation in the DC New 52. But also not.

We’re just returning back to the X-teams after a brief sojourn, right? So there’s been no big events in between, but we have to catch up with old friends, and find out where they’re all at.

It kind of begins with Scott, as it should. After skating perilously close to become a mutant terrorist/fundamentalist religious nut, but having been proven right by the return of his race, Cyclops has decided that he no longer has the right to manage the X-Men. He has stepped down from active duty, and has taken a role as mutant ambassador at the UN. It’s a fraught relationship he has there, which makes him the same as every other representative. They’ll all got their hands dirty in one way or another, human or mutant, no matter the country. He’s there to ensure his people have their say, and also to try and help smooth over the inevitable transition from a human to a mutant way of life. He’s older now, pushing 50, and greying at the temples. World weary, but wise, he’s a perfect mix of Xavier and Magneto, distilled into something uniquely Summers.

As influential a leader as Cyclops was, his break away from the team has resulted in a rather large  amount of active members retiring. This has resulted in a lot of former X-Men taking up various roles and duties elsewhere in the world, some personal, some political etc. But in order to keep a watchful eye, they’re formed the Council of X, an advisory body of non-participatory ex-men who help the younger generation as they move up. Storm leads this body, and it doesn’t have a physical presence in the States, composed as it is from mutants who are now scattered across the US and wider.

Hope is now the incumbent headmistress at the Jean Grey school, now largely the only remaining X-Men facility still active.  She has tried hard to shake off the mantle of the Phoenix and make a place for herself that isn’t in the shadow of Marvel Girl, so she has cut and died her hair and tries resolutely to govern the school in her own manner, different from Jean, Xavier and Wolverine (who holds the title of headmaster, but is rarely seen these days…)

She is helped by a large staff team of mutants from the second and third waves of X-Men, including Kitty, Chamber, Rachel, and others. There is one active field team, led by Professor Ω, or Quentin Quire. Manifesting his own slice of the Phoenix Force, he has grown up to be a fierce young leader, still rebellious and experimental, but very gifted. Hope trusts him to do the right thing out in the field, which means that she trusts him to do his thing. She has no interest in telling him how to run his hand-picked Omega team.

Beyond that, the X-Men in their original sense is now a disaster relief and recovery squad, which also performs various acts of espionage, politicking etc as and when needed. Instead of existing as a solid team, response units are chosen from the entire roster of active volunteers, as required, based on their skill sets. Very often the work required isn’t offensive, but a mix of crowd management, trauma response and rescue/rebuilding. Hope has a very special team of mutants who help her decide who to choose – the Luck Police – Blindfold, Nate Grey and Domino. Blindfold and Nate Grey extrapolate possible scenarios, while Domino using her luck power to help pick the most likely one, and the team is chosen based on the outcome.

There are also active project teams on site at Westchester – these guys are the X-Club, which is no longer the elitist scientific cabal it once was, but is now a laboratory for exploring the future – scientifically, sociologically, politically, environmentally… Groups of mutants, teachers and students, work to build a brighter future, one where humankind peacefully integrated into mutantkind, and which is better for all forms of human.

Outside of the X-Teams, the world has changed. The re-emergence of the mutant populous has resulted in some tensions, but also an emergence of mutant popularity. There are mutant popstars, including one who rivals Dazzler’s former glory and has become the darling of the media. Rock bands, shock artists, reality stars – they’re all here, and they’re winning over the human populous.

The Hellfire Club has gone corporate – no longer engaging in its previous petty power plays, the newest owners have grown up to realise that all this fighting is costing money and hampering profits. They have instead opened the Pleasuredome, a palace of hedonistic delights, where you can go and legally experience anything you desire, as it all takes place in the mind and body chemistry.

Also, much to the chagrin of Cyclops and the Council, a new figure has emerged, a Mister Sinister type. He is interested in mutant husbandry – he purifies the gene pool by forming an elite of wealthy individuals who attend his sumptuous parties, and he introduces perfect breeding partners together. Although the X-men find his actions to be morally repugnant, he is committing no crime, and is therefore untouchable.

Emma has left the prison of the X-Men and works freelance for whoever will pay. She operated The Switchboard, a massive office tower in the heart of New York, along with the Cuckoos. On split shifts, the offices are filled day in day out by a willing, and handsomely paid, workforce, who offer up their brains. They sit at desks 9-5 or whatever, literally unplugging themselves while Frost and her girls turn them into a massive psychic battery. All the worlds secrets are open to The Switchboard, and while the authorities want her closed down, they have a hard job planning any offensive against her.

Henry McCoy has undergone another metamorphosis and hasn’t been seen for several years. Some say he hides in the basement of The Switchboard, helping Frost to keep the technology running. He sits alone in darkness, and no one knows what he has become, although some of Frost’s workers have reported hearing a massive slithering sound emerging from the dark when they go down to fix the generators.

Bobby has slowed right down… All the wisecracking and joking he used to cover up the ice at his heart has stopped, and he sits in the grounds of Westchester, completely frozen. The kids call it The Grotto, and although no one has spoken to him in a while, they are sure he stills breathes and thinks – just very slowly. It’s like he’s carefully trying to put something together, something that’s Not. Quite. Right.

Rogue has left active service and now runs a farm in the midwest, where she fosters mutant runaways and acts as a psychotherapist. She’s a hippy earth mother who’s left her fighting days behind her. Although she’s now happily single, she gets occasional visits from a certain Cajun who stops by some summers to help her plough her furrows.

Meanwhile, somewhere far from Westchester, two old men sit still, facing off against each other in an endless game of chess. Watched over by their nursemaid, Xavier and Erik are slipping into dementia, outdated and outmoded and obsolete, tired of the world they tried so hard to save only to have gained so little. New students to the Grey school are taken on a pilgrimage to their mansion, to visit with the old folks, who rarely acknowledge visitors, locked as they are in this game of chess, this one holdover from their lifelong battle. One can only wonder what’s happening in the minds of the world’s brightest man and the mutant who controls the electromagnetic spectrum, but then, one also wonders whether they’d even be able to tell us anymore.

There are many, many other examples of characters who’re a little bit older, and a little bit changed. Each of the propositions for the characters looks at who they’ve been for the last 10, 20, 30 years and extrapolates what I feel is a coherent future for them, albeit with some twists and turns along the way. The soil for the story is there, and I’ve got some ideas for individual plots. The way I see it is that doing this, you could spend 2 or 3 years at least just telling lovely individual stories that weave in and out of a couple of larger plots (and I’ve got a doozy for one of those…). We’d get this rich understanding of who the characters are, and the time shift would release us a little from the complex “ongoing” problem. Plus the new characters arcs lend themselves to plots, rather than vice versa. We would also get to allow some of the more interesting younger characters take the field and centre stage, as well as positing a new future that we can watch emerge. Let the Marvel Universe play catch up. Don’t age Cap America or Thor, there’s no need – they can still engage with an older Summers or Storm without any hitch – they’ve already done it, many many times over the decades. Cap hasn’t ages much in the time it’s taken for Jean to grow out of bobby socks, skintight jumpuits, massive hair, die, be reborn, die again, kill everyone, destroy the universe then repair it. You know? This is obvious! The X-books are far more malleable, and it doesn’t interfere with the 616 in any negative way.

So this is it. This is X≠Ω. This isn’t a new X-Men story so much as it’s a whole new instance of world building within the X-Universe. I think it’s fucking badass, and I’d really read it all. I’d also love the opportunity some day to sit down with the big mucka mucks at Marvel and explain to them why this would work. Hopefully one day I will… Comments much appreciated, especially from X fans 🙂

Soft From All The Blood by Scott Jones – Review

Full disclosure alert – I’ve known Scott by various pseudonyms since the days of the brilliant and now defunct (and sadly missed) Journalspace – a circular social blog site long before Facebook et al became so ubiquitous. Back then I knew him as The Landotter, and I discovered his blog – a great mix of gnostic freeform poetry, automatic sigil drawing and awesome magical chat – through a shared love of Grant Morrison and The Invisibles.

Now he’s grown up but still comes in many guises. Unwilling (or unable) to be fixed into one “personality”, instead he shuffles personae – and one of those personae is horror writer. He’s recently released his first short horror anthology through Martian Migraine Press. Here’s my review:

If Lovecraft had written of the steaming passion of the body, and had not reviled, but celebrated the horrors that lay within and without the twisted minds of man, he’d have approximated prose like this. Jones wears his influences on his sleeve, then flays them, fucks them, and turns them inside out. He’s not afraid to riff off those who came before, but in doing so, comes on like

early Barker, leading us down twisting and turning paths. We think we know the land we walk in his stories, but so often, he pulls the ground away from us, and we realise that we’re in another place, another story entirely.

Jones creates a vivid world where everything is made flesh of some kind: buses puke up their passengers in bulimic fits, machines wear skins of dust and burn black blood, fears become birds with wings of razor sharp steel, cutting their way into the minds of his protagonists and burning their way into ours. There’s an imagination here that rivals Lovecraft – demonic cities rise in maddening geometries, tentacles creep from oily lakes – but there’s something here at odds with the old master’s cold, alien detachment. Take this description of Carcosa, the demonic city from ‘coronation’:

“…rearing oddly angled obsidian spires and insane, arabesque towers of blood red stone… smoke from her eternally burning furnaces coiling skyward in thick ropes…”

This is oddly fleshy; not the long-sleeping cities of the Elder Gods, but fiery, pulsating heart of a live, active world where the Gods still partake of the flesh of their peoples. Those tentacles mentioned earlier – they do not have the sickly, green and grey hues of Cthulhu; rather they are “long thing pale shapes”, that grope for their prey. These are phallic, Freudian pseudopods, groping their way towards us from some nightmarish place – all terror and seduction in one.

Yet there’s more here than just a Lovecraftian libido – he crafts new ways of telling good old fashioned horror shorts, the best of which flip agonisingly everyday situations on their head. Like the Man with the Teeth, which puns on the kind of shorthand descriptions we use for people, and which finds its terror initially by toying with mankind’s innate fear of the dentist. By the

time you’ve read about teeth that scream louder than any dentist’s drill, you’ll be reaching for the floss and the mouthwash, I guarantee it.

It’s not long before we’re back in familiar territory though – ‘greetings from sunny R’lyeh’ returns to Lovecraft in a more direct way, but in a poptastic mash-up with Grant Morrison’s vision of the future in The Invisibles. A gigolo Dreamweaver finds his work, the creation of porn cultivated from his own dreams, is being intruded by visions of R’lyeh, known by legions of Lovecraft fans as the sunken prison city of Cthulthu. This neat trick lets us see the Mythos from a different angle, viewed by denizens of a future not far from the present day, but one in which 20th Century nostalgia has become a pose, and people dial up every mood through the use of drugs.

A fine conceit, and one which expands subtly on the original Mythos by giving us a wider context – does R’lyeh continue to rise and fall throughout the course of our civilisation? In a sense it makes Cthulhu scary again – no longer is he contained in dank and dusty Victorian halls at universities and the sole province of insane mapmakers and explorers. Now he reaches us through Ipod style apps and devices, the fibre optic connections becoming his own very tentacles. Jones later on apologies for this one, thinking it feels dated. I don’t think that’s a problem. It’s like a postcard of the future from even further into the future…

The great thing about these stories is they don’t outstay their welcome. All too often short prose doesn’t quite know when to stop, as if the author has an idea that couldn’t quite manage to run the length of a novel. While this can work in the right hands, to my mind it isn’t short prose in its purest form. Jones’ stories are just the right length – they suck you into their own little worlds, and leave you dangling there with no hope of rescue just as we’re getting comfortable.

As I alluded to earlier, Jones’ afterword slightly distances himself from these stories, as if he’s already outgrown them and moved on. In my opinion, this is a fantastic thing for a creator, and it leaves us with a brilliant coda – that there is better yet to come. If you like short horror along the lines of Lovecraft and Barker, you’ll love this collection. Jump on now before he’s huge.

Soft From All The Blood is available for Kindle and PC on Amazon. Head over to: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007KM9P8E/And

The Standard 3

Managed to do a great trade with John Lees at the Glasgow League of Writers group (http://glowriters.blogspot.co.uk) tonight – ‘Taking Flight’ arrived hot off the press from UKomics this morning, roughly about the same time as John’s stock of the third issue of The Standard dropped, so we swapped.

Just got home and read it, and thought I better get a post up here while it’s fresh.

I loved the Standard when I first caught it. I didn’t know John then; he kind of snuck up on the non-GLoW part of the comics scene in Glasgow with some incredible reviews, and on reading about it I knew I had to get it straight away. I wasn’t disappointed – the first issue occupied this strange beautiful place between the Silver and Dark ages of comics, walking that tightrope with some ease. After setting up the main story and introducing us to some fantastic characters, it ended on a bang, snatching the ground out from under us, and instantly setting its stall as a comic that would be dealing with the unexpected.

The art by Jon Rector (http://jonathanrector.tumblr.com/) was fantastic – dense inks that left enough room for the story to shine through, not dedicated to splashing black across every inch of panel. The art really acted in service to the story, as it should, and the colours and lettering were great too.

The second issue was announced by a beautifully atmospheric cover, and we moved into a different, darker phase of the story. This was becoming a nuanced piece about the difficulties of retiring as a superhero and handing over to younger people who might have a murkier sense of justice and responsibility than you. It also took sideways swipes at celebrity culture and corporate sponsorship, but we were aware by now that underneath all this fairly dazzling superhero stuff, some more repugnant was evolving.

The regular flashbacks revealed the life of the Standard and Fabu-lad, the kid he takes under his wing. That story is a re-telling of the Batman and Robin relationship, but instead of being bound together by the loss of their parents, this dynamic duo are more complex – original Standard Gilbert Graham isn’t the damaged playboy of Bruce Wayne, he’s a fairly solid, dependable chap – maybe even slightly boring. And Alex Thomas/Fabu-lad’s parents aren’t dead – they’re abusive, as revealed in a heart-breakingly poignant scene. That Graham adopts him and helps him transform into Fabu-lad is a twist on the later relationship that was played out in the Batman universe – that Bruce Wayne was a loner, who worked with Robin reluctantly. This issue harks back to a Golden Age when both were in it together, as much for the fun as for the justice.

Yet the introduction of more details about the missing girl in this story and the hinting at the villain, as well as detail on the “Rorschach” style superhero, The Corpse, lean this second issue towards a bleaker place, even if there is still humour.

By this time I was hooked, line and sinker; Jon’s art got better, even he was let down slightly by a different colourist who I felt didn’t quite capture the magic of the first issue, and John’s story was superbly written.

Now, it’s been a long time coming, but I’ve just sat and devoured issue 3. That tightrope between Silver and Dark Age is traversed again as Graham takes up the mantle of the Standard again, coming out of retirement to save the missing girl. The journey to find the villain is a fraught one – in a deft move, Lees darts around some potentially uncomfortable issues that could surround a killer who is child abductor, and in doing so creates a villain that is creepier than we could have ever imagined, and an enemy that makes Graham’s role as superhero look in peril. It also explains the intensely creepy cover, with the evil-looking little girl and her pet skunk…

The skunk relates to the villain in Graham’s flashbacks, The Skunk, a Silver Age villain if ever there was one – someone in it for the rush and the thrill of robbery and extortion, using his deadly pungent gases to commit his heinous crimes. This is intercut with the present day mission to reveal and defeat the kidnapper of the city’s kids. But nothing’s as cut and dry as it seems – even the end to The Skunk’s criminal escapades is dark and tragic, although we find out he turned it around in later years.

Lees uses an interesting device that I think is sometimes overused in comics – the pages of talking heads. However it works really well in this instance, as we see various witnesses and protagonists interviewed for a documentary on The Standard. None of this stuff feels forced or gimmicky; not only is the story strong enough to take the weight of these devices, but their sparing use, and the way in which they are skilfully inter cut acts a lever for the plot, moving it forward in ways that give us lots of character information and backstory without ever feeling expository.

Some of the atmosphere John builds feels straight out of Watchmen, and I’m not overplaying it when I say that this comic feels like it fits directly into a position after that book. It’s like John has recognised the inherent flaw in so much of what followed Alan Moore’s magnum opus – that superheroes just became gritty without any thought for the whys and wherefores – and has positioned his book to pick up some of the questions Moore was asking about his superheroes back then. This isn’t a book that fits into the Marvel/DC mould. It doesn’t feel like common modern deconstruction either.

It feels like a fresh reimagining of the world of comics directly after Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, exploring what it meant for the world to catch up with the heroes, what it meant to live in a world where villains became increasingly more psychotic and dangerous, not only to the public at large, but also to the heroes themselves. And also what happens to morality and responsibility when the glare of celebrity washes over them?

The Standard issue 3 doesn’t end on  a cliffhanger the way earlier issues did – in fact, you could say that the opening arc is now closed – but we’re left with subtler, sweeter questions that make me desperate to read more. These questions are now dependant on the very interesting characters that Lees has created – I want to know the story of these characters, not just the next part of the plot.

Also on the art, Rector’s digital work looks fantastic, particularly as the book progresses. And the new colourist, Mike Gagnon, issue 2’s flatter, just makes the work sing; his flat blocks are much more suited to the Standard’s time and epoch-hopping nature, and do great service to the rich blacks of the art. Kel Nuttall’s lettering is fantastic too.

A final note on this “comic age” thing I talked about earlier – in taking his lead from the type of work Alan Moore was doing with Watchmen, John has constructed a story and a book that skates casually through Silver and Dark age stuff, but the result is very much Renaissance. This doesn’t feel retro, or like a pastiche. It feels solid and consistent, and is even greater than the sum of its parts.

I can’t wait until all six issues are out and this is available to buy in trade format on some lush paper and with a nice hardback cover, but until that stage, you need to pick up this book.

And I got through this whole post without referring to “indie” once. The comic is that good. It would sit comfortably beside anything that mainstream publishers are putting out there right now, and frankly shits over most of Marvel and the DC New 52.

Head over to the website: http://thestandardcomic.com/

Forging a new future…

Okay, here’s an experiment. The comic book I’m writing just now, Gonzo Cosmic, is, as the name might suggest, a big old poppy cosmic superhero slugfest. Well, it will be. But see, this is kind of just a disguise for a comic that will try to tackle some really, really big themes. I aim to use critical thinking techniques, from the likes of Paulo Freire and such, to try and look at the status quo we have at present on Earth: poverty, inequality, labour, dispossession, oppression, repression, lack of solidarity, intolerance, bigotry, greed etc. Not much eh? Just the big things. But the Gonzo Cosmic vehicle allows me to potentially build a new world, one with all of these things, if not removed, then certainly levelled out somewhat, less polarised.

In order to do that, the main protagonist will act as an agitator, an agent of change, and will be someone who is not bound by typical superhero morality: having had a glimpse of something bigger than the world we know, he’ll do everything he can to protect it, including being viewed by some as an outright villain. He’ll pose some questions that will require humanity to engage in their own thinking processes in a critical way because, whether he achieves it or not, he intends to create a level playing field, where there are no hierarchies of wealth, opportunity etc.

Think of this: we’ve all read many sci-fi novels, short stories and comics, seen films etc, that posit utopian futures. Admittedly there are far less of them now (recuperation into the spectacle means we get to watch our own partly dystopian lives up on screen in a more extreme format, so that we don’t have to think about it. ‘We’ meaning humanity – partial dystopia for one is utter terror and horror for another…), but once was a time when we would read about bright, futuristic cities, wonderful advances in science and technology, and biology for that matter. Of a human race working largely together, and learning to find its way in perhaps a more crowded universe than we might have thought.

But I want to find the answer to the question: how did we get there? How did humanity go from the world we have now, with all the inequality that we have, to a more “utopian” egalitarian society (Utopia being unobtainable, of course…).

In order to achieve that, I’d like your help, if you please. I’d like to see your answers to some questions I’m going to pose below. As you do so, please take some time to have a think about them, then think about your thoughts, and what they might mean. Check over your answers and ask yourself why you’re answering that way – it might surprise you.

Anyway, the comic is a long way off yet (2013 so far) but anyway who contributes in this way will get a namecheck for helping me with my research. I’d also be grateful if you’d share this with anyone who you think might be interested. And on one final note, for anyone who actually knows me, please don’t be influenced by what you might think my political leanings are: this exercise is supposed to try and go beyond that. Here we go!

1. Can you briefly describe your ideal world? Feel free to be as imaginative as possible!

2. Can you see a solution to inequality of wealth, hierarchies of power etc?

3. If you had access to unlimited resources, how would you tackle:

i) The labour market, and the fact that some people work much harder than others for less pay.

ii) The fuel situation – with unlimited resources, how would you tackle the Peak Oil situation, or deal with sustainable energy?

iii) The possibility of climate change, and pollution across the world.

4. What would happen if someone came along and offered to change the world overnight into a better one – but on the condition that you accepted there may be some bloodshed, or that there would be a period of great upheaval? How would you guarantee the success of that plan, regardless of how they intended to achieve it? What conditions would you place on that individual?

5. How would you “police” a perfect society? How would you ensure that a minority of people who disagreed with the overall order “stayed in line”? Should you?

That’s it! You can either leave your answers in the comments box below, or email them to me at: laseragecomics@yahoo.co.uk. Looking forward to your replies!