There are some real characters out there in the back of beyond over the pond, and as Hugo is finding out, much like I did, there’s more than a few which are best avoided!
- Jonathan on Hugo Tate.
Ellipsis #1 (£4-99, Solipsistic Pop Books) by Tom Humberstone.
First of six, self-contained yet interconnected stories, and every one of our copies comes signed by Tom Humberstone himself. Honestly? He has the best signature ever.
It’s set in an airport, that bizarre nexus heaving with humanity from all corners of the globe, where you wait and watch and wait some more before boarding a plane and emerging somewhere else altogether. I’ve always considered that an act of magic: you don’t do anything but sit on your arse, yet somehow you materialise in a radically new reality, pregnant with adventure, where both the temperature and light can be startling.
To some, airports can be sterile limbos of tedious, time-consuming impatience, frustration or monotony, but to this young woman, our first-person narrator, they are the epitome of potential, however fleeting or illusory, and she relishes the diversity of her fellow travellers.
“I usually dislike people… (I’m a teenager) (it’s expected of me, right?) … but here… I genuinely… unconditionally… love everyone. Her. Them. Him. Her. Him. Even the gap year students I spend half my time trying to avoid so I don’t have to endure another boring game of travelling one-up-manship…”
Haha, how true!
Instead of folding her arms and frowning at the clock, our narrator spends her time speculating, exercising her imagination on the past, present and future of all who surround her, extrapolating stories from their body language. She should probably be a writer.
From the instigator and editor of Britain’s best anthologies, SOLIPSISTIC POP, this is unsurprisingly a thing of brilliance and black-and-white beauty. Tom Humberstone’s expressions are a joy and Jamie McKelvie is right: “Every lushly inked panel is worth lingering over, the art carrying as much meaning as the narration”. The tones are particularly well placed, especially the aerial shot looking down on the plane, and its tempo matches the experience it describes to perfection. Moreover, he’s transported himself – and so us – into the spiritual shoes of this young lady so thoroughly, so convincingly and so surprisingly, that I can’t believe she doesn’t exist. Well, she does exist as of now – in my mind, and forever.
Hugo Tate (£14-99, Blank Slate) by Nick Abadzis…
It’s always a pleasure to see a work really evolve and blossom into something special over a period of time, and that is most certainly the case here with this long-awaited collection of material, first serialised in Deadline magazine way, way back between 1988 and 1993. And I really do mean evolve because as Garth Ennis rather fondly states Hugo began life as quite literally, “a funny little stick man”. And yet, you can quite clearly see it has a certain something, as did the editorial team back then including Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins, who presumably gave Nick free licence to do what he wanted going forward.
The pull quote on the front cover from The Comics Journal simply states “Britain’s LOVE AND ROCKETS” and that is actually an excellent analogy in a few different ways, but certainly including the sense that here is something where you get to see the very humble beginnings, almost the roughs and ideas buzzing round inside the creator’s head before they find the particular path they want to take us on with their cast of characters.
Once we move past the proto-Hugo therefore, what we get is essentially two longer-form stories, the first set in a rather bleak and cheerless part of London, where our barely out of his teens protagonist oscillates between his grimy local boozer and then feeling generally downtrodden and unfocused. He’s no great idea what he’s going to do with his life, though his writing shows some promise, and is most definitely an outlet for his frustrations, but still he’s stuck in a deepening rut of his own devising and he knows it. The one potential chance of escape, albeit temporarily even, is to visit his sister and her Wall Street wealthy husband in the Big Apple, which is where our second tale begins.
But even there, despite the distractions of a whole new cast of kookie characters to entertain / irritate him, he’s finding the self same mental demons cropping up again to haunt him. The solution? Road trip! But on taking up an old punk rocker’s offer to help deliver a classic Cadillac to California, he’s about to embark on a somewhat wilder ride than he anticipated…
I loved this work, I really did (as I also did Nick’s classic all-ages tearjerker LAIKA). It probably didn’t do any harm that Hugo’s journey into the seedy underbelly of America jangled more than a few chords with my own mis-spent time in small-town Alabama. There are some real characters out there in the back of beyond over the pond, and as Hugo finds out, much like I did, there’s more than a few which are definitely best avoided! Will Hugo make it to California intact?! Anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction which wanders a little on the dark side will really enjoy HUGO TATE, and I’m certain this edition is going to win Nick legions of new fans which might, if we’re lucky, persuade him to reprise the character as he tantalising hints at in his own afterword, as I for one would love to know what Hugo is up to now!
Flossbook: The Story Of A Social Network (£2-99,self-published) by Tanya Meditzky & David O’Connell.
Crazy as a coconut is Tanya Meditzky, and we sure do love her for it. If you’ve yet to wade in the shallow end of sanity that is the occasional MILKKITTEN, do dip your toe in now.
Here she’s been joined by David O’Connel whose clean and crisp cartooning can’t help but make you smile: best bafflement in the business, the business here being a Facebook for flossers. It’s a parody of the recent film, I presume; I’ve not seen it yet howled with laughter at this. Reminded me of Matt Feazel at his finest.
Two university room mates – one as dim as a dodo – are inspired by their shared obsession with dental hygiene to create an online questionnaire, cleverly pandering to people’s self-obsessed love of sharing their own views, even if it’s about the favourite flavour of floss. When they realise they’ve rivals it turns into a race, and then an investor turns up to take them global.
“The guy’s a jerk!”
“He’s popular. I like him.”
“Just because he’s popular?”
“Yes. That’s how it works.”
Cue deception, misdirection and backstabbing.
“I was your only friend – how could you do this to me?!”
“I do not understand “friendship”, only “reciprocal manipulation”.
The fall-out of the fall-out is the most intense litigation known to man, the outcome of which hangs on legal precision and the devil in the details:
“My client would like to express that your client is a steaming sack of shitty shit.”
“My client would like to express that back to your client with knobs on.”
Gum Girl: The Tentacles Of Doom! (£6-99, Walker) by Andi Watson.
Welcome back to Calamity Primary, a stone’s throw from Fiasco shopping centre and opposite a fire station which is perpetually on fire. Mount Misfortune is forever on the horizon just over the River Jinx. It’s exactly that sort of an on-the-edge town: Catastrophe’s just waiting to happen.
GUM GIRL: CATASTOPHE CALLING went down a storm with our younger customers. It was as pretty in pink as our bubble-blowing protagonist. Grace Gibson, you see, is both a costumed crime fighter and pupil at Calamity Primary School where her dad’s the headmaster. Alas, it’s been built right on top of the Misadventure fault line and hit by yet another earthquake just as it’s due a visit from the School Health Board. The pupils hurry and scurry and clean where they can, but something’s not right. The surly School Health Board seems far from kosher, suspiciously well suited and booted. But the real aftershock is an attack by the devilish Dust Bunny, a whirlwind of waste determined to sully the school’s reputation for hygiene! Why would he do that? Why?!
We may find out later, but right now it’s good Grace to the rescue and you know what they say? Girls, they wanna have pun!
“I’m here to clean up crime and polish off the bad guys.”
“You’ve never faced a foe like me… I fight dirty.”
“You need to work on your aim, Dusty Bunny.”
“I don’t need a direct hit with my Scum Bag.”
Oh, this is both clever and ever so cool! Andi Watson is a national treasure – by which I don’t mean ancient and ailing but vibrant and vital to the comicbook medium. He is bursting with brilliance and an infectious enthusiasm which radiates from each gorgeously coloured page. Gum Girl’s lateral thinking when dealing with Octopus Prime, that Dust Bunny’s grime and Sick old St. Nick is just genius. Fancy fashioning a gumbrella!
He also keeps it familiar with poor Grace Gibson slogging through household chores just to earn some pocket money. Washing the dishes, cleaning the car… but there’s no way at all she will tidy her room, is there? Haha, you’ll see. Loved her headmaster dad constantly head-counting during the school field trip to the local aquarium – even when attacked by sharks!
Mothers, fathers, uncle and aunts, please make sure you also check out Andi’s other Walker Books. Some things that GLISTER are most definitely gold! In the meantime, this girl’s like the gum that keeps on giving: you don’t have to swallow it, just enjoy the fruity flavour.
It’s… alimentary, my dear Watson.
Disrepute s/c (£8-00, Graphic Medicine) by Thom Ferrier -
There can’t be that many GPs making comics in their spare time, I imagine. Thom Ferrier (not his real name, sensible man!) is one, however; a Doctor who has chosen comic strips as his venting / making sense mechanism. Perhaps it’s because I have been a bit ill recently but I found this book to be an interesting insight into the mindset of a guy who sits behind a desk and is required to deal with pretty much every kind of person imaginable. Sort of like retail… except for the years of grueling training, 48-hour shifts in A&E, blood and guts, death and grief, life-and-death decisions resting solely on your judgment… you get the idea.
There’s no real narrative or story arc here, the book really does come across as a doodlepad outlet for an often overworked but pretty astute mind. There are themes common to so many “slice of life” comics here: self-doubt, regret, annoyance with one’s fellow man, but always framed against this backdrop of “I’ve been trained for and entrusted with the task of keeping people alive”. Not all of the strips relate directly to medicine but those that do are my favourite; they feel natural and honest and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for more of them in the future. Perhaps not the most beautiful or uplifting book I have read recently but certainly one of the more interesting.
Monocyte h/c (£37-99, IDW) by menton3, Kasra Ghanbari & many, many more.
Part art book, part… oh, let’s be honest, it’s just one great big art book interspersed with arbitrary twilight twaddle and neo-gothic gobbledegook. Interesting word, ‘gobbledegook’ – one of the best in the English language used to describe the worst.
“Thou will know me. Death. I am Azrael, made manifest through broken purpose. The outcome of men conspiring against a necessary end. Fools turning empathy and hubris into covenant. Long has this melancholy endured. Buoyancy forming thoughts ripened to whispers becoming vice. Idleness made kindle. And to what end?”
To what end indeed?
There’s some sort of war afoot between two immortal factions, meaning few truly feel death’s sting. They are the Antedeluvians and the Olignostics, slicing and dicing each other in some sort of hellish, olive-tinged wasteland using bones plucked from their own rib-cages and hurled like javelins. I think ‘monocyte’ might be a pun. It’s actually a relatively large phagocytic white blood cell, but there’s a chap here with only one eye and in this land of the blind he’s probably king. That’s what it says on the cover, anyway.
The great Barron Storey – perched atop the tree of influence from whose branches hang Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean, David Mack et al – has been roped in to contribute a short story of his own and, however opaque, it is infinitely much lucid than the rest of this posturing pantomime. Typically he’s gone completely his own way with an expressionistic account of an afternoon down the local methedrine factory where a woman and boy bond over Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America’ and a love of popsicles. It also references The Lord’s Prayer and Mighty Mouse whilst employing the Francis Bacon method of anger management by spraying it across the page. I thought it was fab.
The rest of the book makes no pretentions to story. Instead it’s a collection of artwork as stunning as that which went before (story artists include George Pratt, Ben Templesmith, Christopher Mitten and menton3) from the likes of Bill Sienkiewicz, Phil Hale, Ashley Wood and, of course, menton3. There’s even a couple of magnificent metal sculptures featuring the helmets so prevalent here.
Lenore vol 4: Swirlies h/c Colour Edition (£12-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge.
“Whatever” is the lamest excuse for a sentence of all time. It doesn’t even contain a verb. If anyone utters, mutters or huffs that word in your vicinity then walk away immediately and never interact with the vacuous parrot again. There’s no point: they have no capacity for expression. It’s not a refusal; it’s not declining to think or reason; it’s just masking an inability to articulate a cogent response by mimicking something they heard in an atrocious American mooovie. “Whatev’s”, on the other hand – in response to personal discomfort or discombobulation – seems perfectly stoical to me…
There’s a lot of personal discomfort in Roman Dirge’s LENORE. Something’s always getting poked, prodded or impaled, and it’s usually cute and fluffy. It kind of comes with the territory when the main protagonist is a ten-year-old dead girl who woke up halfway through her embalming process, and half the humour comes with the pervading shrug – the “whatev’s” in question, voice or unvoiced – with which each atrocity is greeted.
For this new series Dirge has switched shores to British publishers Titan and been given much better quality paper and a colouring budget. Works well, too, with a beautiful dawn ushering in the opening origin story and a Japanese sunset greeting the warriors charging up the mountain to do battle with the Samurai Sloth. Lightning reflexes? He’s a sloth! That one was positively Tom Gauld!
The Beatles In Comic Strips h/c (£25-00, Skira) by Enzo Gentile, Fabio Schiavo…
I think we got a copy of this in more out of curiosity than anything, and curious it is indeed. It certainly isn’t comics; what it is, rather, is a hagiography of sorts collating many of the various appearances the Beatles and thinly disguised parodies thereof have made in comics, even if it’s just a single panel background appearance such as in ALICE IN SUNDERLAND or even an oblique title reference as in the case of Sgt. Rock and The Howling Commandos! There’s a fair amount of European stuff which, given that the two editors are Italian, isn’t perhaps too surprising, though the most amusing references for me are where they’ve cropped up in various DC and Marvel publications. Beatles fans will certainly enjoy this, but I can’t really imagine anyone else being too interested. It does also, in my humble opinion, completely miss the best Beatles appearance ever in comics which is John Lennon as the godhead in the first issue of THE INVISIBLES which I like so much I’ve just popped it on that product page for your delectation. Psychedelic heaven.
Superman Action Comics vol 1: Superman And The Men Of Steel h/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Rags Morales, Andy Kubert…
I think the majority of people, if asked which of the New 52 writer / character they were pairings they were most excited about reading, would have plumped for Morrison / Superman, myself included of course. I was intrigued to see what Grant would do within the inevitable constraints that were going to get placed upon him, presuming that DC would require something a little more conventional than his previous take on ‘ole Big Blue, the masterpiece that is ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. This is something rather different though, which to my mind certainly succeeds in distinguishing itself in some ways, and probably also in the sense that it could be considered a typical Superman comic, and not just a Morrison comic. Did it satisfy me though? Well, mostly. I can’t imagine I’ll necessarily read it again, whereas I’m pretty certain I will return to ALL-STAR SUPERMAN from time to time, but one would be being rather churlish not to easily consider this amongst the better books to come out of DC’s non-reboot.
What I certainly liked was the different take on the character. Much like Geoff John’s excellent SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE VOL 1 (vol 2 out very shortly caped-caper lovers!) we see Clark as a raw young man newly arrived in Metropolis and determined to make his mark, even if it involves leaving a few on the bad guys. Whilst he’s not exactly straying into psychopathic vigilante territory, it’s a welcome, more realistic approach to the character and this slightly brash confidence Superman exudes certainly helps give the character a more contemporary feel and less of the mild-mannered dinosaur we’ve come to expect. Therefore it all seems fresh, immediately providing an interesting hook for long-time readers but without alienating them.
The plotlines, involving inevitably Luthor concocting nefarious plans, are typically slick and sophisticated, though occasionally there’s a sense of various storylines of yesteryear, something which seems particularly hard for writers to avoid with Supes I’ve found for whatever reason. Enjoyable though, and I can well imagine new readers will find it an excellent jumping on point for a character which Morrison has managed to make relevant and contemporary at a single stroke. Quality art from Rags Morales and Andy Kubert too. Neither are huge personal favourites, but they certainly make this younger, fresher Superman feel vibrant and full of youthful vigour, and rarely has the demure Clark looked so weedy, nerdy, and generally un-super-ish!
I must also mention the various back-up strips also collected here: aside from the Steel one which was neither here nor there, the others feature a youthful Mr. and Mrs. Kent, both already passed away in the main story, and various goings-on whilst Clark was a teenager in Smallville. I really enjoyed these and hopefully DC will keep the feature running for a bit longer this time.
Hawkeye #1 (£2-25, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & David Aja.
Far closer in style and tone to Miller and Mazzucchelli’s DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN or Brubaker, Rucka and Lark’s GOTHAM CENTRAL than anything previously associated with the perpetually impetuous marksman, this isn’t, I warn you, a superhero comic, but a street-level, sideways glance at small-time crime no less crippling for those victims of the callous greed of rapacious landlords everywhere.
By his own admission Clint Barton can be more than a little juvenile. The man with the hair-trigger temper and a mouth to match it has a long history of actions both ill-considered and ill-advised, often rendering the knee in the jerk quite redundant. But for all his sins, this totally blonde bowman and relative outsider has a heart of gold and a social conscience to boot. So when those who have taken him in – the neighbours he shares communal barbeques with on hot summer nights on the roof of their tenement building – fall under threat of mass eviction, Clint can’t help but act on impulse, and you just it’s going to go horribly, horribly wrong.
It’s another first-person narrative and all the better for it. It dashes frantically, nay recklessly, backwards and forwards in time with little-to-no hand-holding, as Clint watches yet another badly laid plan precipitate a cycle of ill-aimed, flailing thuggery. At its centre lies the plight of a battered mongrel which Barton fed pizza to in order to win the dog over.
“What kinda man throws a dog into traffic – seriously, I ask you – traffic right now – rain – cabs – nobody watching out for sideways demon pizza mutts – c’mon, Clint – c’mon – nobody – nobody watching out – Can’t watch oh God…”
Now, there is a natural affinity if ever I read one.
Buy Hawkeye #1 the old-fashioned way by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, phoning 0115 9508045 or bursting backwards through a twelfth-storey plate glass window.
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy
Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.
I should add that NEW X-MEN: ULTIMATE COLLECTION BOOK 2 is already in stock and has been for years. We thought the others had gone out of print for good. Phew!
Have a huge archive of HUGO TATE material for feast your eyes on!
Lastly, THIS WAS THE BREAKING NEWS THAT BROKE MY MENTIONS ON TWITTER LAST FRIDAY. Absolutely flooded, and I thank you for it.