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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Why you need to read: Seeds by Ross Mackintosh

Caught up in the hype of the Avengers movie and the DC New 52, it's easy to forget that comic books are first and foremost about people. They are about how we react to situations, how we relate to each other and how we deal with tragedy. It is for this reason that I have taken the time to sit here and write a review of Ross Mackintosh's brilliant book Seeds published by Com.X.

I had picked up this book in shops a couple of times and put it back, mainly because it was all black and white and mostly line drawings. It lacked the same pizazz and sparkle of my usual sci-fi and superhero fare. I bought a copy from the Com.X stand at the Melksham Comic-Con 2012, as I had a friendly chat with Eddie Deighton of Com.X and I always like to support UK creators and publishers. I was foolish to have waited so long to buy this book.

To summarise, Seeds is a story about Ross (Mackintosh) coming to terms with his Dad's diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer which has spread to his lungs, and has not long left to live. This is obviously a very personal and sensitive subject for Ross and for many of his readers but Mackintosh handles it with such charm, grace and humour that to describe it as bitter-sweet does not begin to cover it. Indeed, it is difficult for me to put into words how this book made me feel as my father has also recently been diagnosed with very serious cancer. At times it was difficult for me to see the pages through the tears, but I did not and could not put down the book until I had reached the final page.

The key to the level of intimacy that you feel with Ross and with his family throughout the book is the “snapshot” images. As everyone knows when tragedy presents itself, we remember the stupidest and tiniest of details and Mackintosh is well aware of this. Clever touches like a hand pumping some sanitiser from a dispenser – signifying a hospital visit to anyone who's had to visit loved ones; a panel showing Ross' feet next to his dad's, his dad in socks and Ross in shoes signifying the young and the old and the bond between father and son; the disappearance of the line of the mouth when an awkward silence passes over; it is these little panels which really tug at the heartstrings.

It is the mark of a great comic book storyteller that the art does not get in the way of the story. Whilst at first glance the artwork seems to be basic, the nuances of facial expression and body posture communicate more than full-colour photo-realistic artwork ever could. It is very fitting for the book to be drawn this way as anything else would seem gaudy and insensitive. Mackintosh is obviously aware that other people will be experiencing similar situations and his understated approach to the artwork and the writing has such a strong feeling of truth to it that the reader will find themselves feeling like they have lost a friend by the end of the book.

That said, this book will help many men, women, fathers, sons, daughters, wives, mothers and husbands to come to terms with their own situations. The foreword from two doctors states exactly that; “Seeing how Ross felt about his father's death will help others in the same situation.” 'Nuff Said.

Monday, 28 May 2012

A fitting introduction.

I am afraid to admit that this was my first comic book convention. But what better way to pop my comic-con cherry, than by going to my local Melksham Comic-Con 2012. I honestly had little idea of what to expect and I was expecting the worst. That's sounds awful, sorry. What I mean is I expected a room full of clique-y people sneering at my lack of knowledge of Doctor Who, or the fact that I have no idea what the whole DC New 52 is all about (I know, you'll probably stop reading this now.) Luckily and perhaps surprisingly, these topics never came up in conversation; suprising because everybody was chatty.

It was a very relaxed and jovial atmosphere. All the exhibitors and guests were more than happy to spend a few minutes chatting about what they do and it was clear to see that everybody was very comfortable in the close environment, which I believe was a testament to the organisation and the staff at the event (all wearing very professional “staff” t-shirts and inexplicably wearing nametags emblazoned “Hello my name is Brian”).

As well as the main hall in which the various stalls were selling everything from Sony Playstation 3, to marshmallow daleks, there was a neat little side room set-up for the various panels and guest talks of the day. Alas, I missed the first, but was so glad I didn't miss the second. Sonia Leong's “What is Manga?” talk and demo was an absolute whirlwind of one crazy artist, very opinionated and very successful, running through the basics and intricacies of a misunderstood art-form, which I had previously dismissed as “not for me.” Shame on me. I can honestly say that due to Sonia Leong, I now desperately want to buy a manga book about wine tasting, something I had no idea I would ever be saying.

Next up was the delight that was Paul Cornell. This highly successful writer of comic books is the most affable, likeable and self-deprecating man. His honesty about how he got into comic book writing (basically Grant Morrison called him and asked him to write a comic book after seeing an episode of Doctor Who he had written) gave an insight into the amount of sheer luck that it takes to make it big in the comic book industry. It was an odd talk because even though Cornell pulled no punches when saying it was near impossible to get your comic book published by the big companies, he also instilled a sense of hope in describing publishing your own comic book as a “noble” endeavour (which is not as sarcastic as it sounds). He definitely inspired me to get on and write that one good idea I had for that comic book that one time...

I had the pleasure, during the course of the day, of chatting to both Nich Angell and John Lock, two independent comic book creators with very exciting and innovative ideas. So, when they stepped up for the next panel of the day, I had an idea of what to expect and was not disappointed – rather than just a shameless plug of their own comic books (which, of course, at times it was), it was more like watching a couple of friends talk about things they love doing. Seeing two creators talk about the thing they love doing, while they are doing it, was inspirational. They should definitely be booked for next year, if only to check out how they have progressed.

The final panel was thoroughly entertaining. Three delightful Star Wars actors relating anecdotes of their days on set on Star Wars and a myriad of other films seemed like a very fitting end to the day. At times it was like listening to your grandparents relate old stories of their life, instilling that fascination of a past which we would have loved to be a part of. The whole room was laughing at times and there was great feeling in the room as everyone was grateful to be there. Hats off to the staff of Brians that were very witty and professional during all the panels and did an excellent job of keeping the conversation alive and flowing!

It's going to be a hard act to top next year. But I have a feeling they'll manage it! Did I mention the free goodie bags – FREE GOODIE BAGS! Next year is a must.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

You project yourself
Without knowing it
You reach out and
I grab at you
But you escape my
Grasp like smoke through
My fingers
I can no more hold
Onto you
Touch you
Than I can touch
The air.

Friday, 27 April 2012

The Demise of the Thought Bubble

Many people would argue that we are currently living a renaissance for the comic book as there are more interesting, exciting and innovative comic books on the market today then there ever has been. This is mainly due to fans becoming creators and, as with film, when this becomes the case more mature, ground-breaking and barrier-smashing work is produced. But at what price?

As with all progress, there has been a casualty. There has been something which has disappeared from my most loved of mediums. The thought bubble. What has happened to this delightful convention?

Perversely, it seems that when comic book readers started to sit up and take notice of the writers over the artists, that the thought bubble began to fade from the public comic book consciousness. The chief champions and agents of this change, in my opinion, were Alan Moore and Frank Miller. They did not kill the thought bubble but rather forced its evolution into the narrative box. The thought bubble became less about what the character was thinking at that stage and more like a diary entry – the “handwritten” narrative boxes of Miller's Batman :Year one being such an example. The boxes seem to be afterthoughts rather than the character's real-time thoughts. Now, it is without doubt that Miller and Moore are among the best writers of comic books and this could be due in part to their reluctance to use the thought bubble. But it is also indicative of a watershed within the comic book form. Thought bubbles seem frivolous and comedic and the use of a narrative box with it's sharp edges, is more mature and dignified. But could this mean we are in danger of taking our loved art-form too seriously?

Whilst this evolution from bubble to box undoubtedly proved popular with the older audience, it seems a shame that this evolution lead to an eradication of the thought bubble. One of the most disturbing side effects of this eradication seems to be less text and more artwork in comic books. Which, contrary to the origin of the demise of the thought bubble, is leading to a re-emergence of the importance of the artist. This in itself is not a bad thing, the artwork in comic books today is stunning. However, it has led to comic books that read more like story boards for film productions, rather than a stand alone medium. (Also meaning that the comic book you wait for all month is finished in about ten minutes, rather than a satisfying twenty minutes.)

It could be argued that the thought bubble disappeared as it no longer resonates with a more mature and sophisticated readership. It lays bare too much; the educated reader likes to draw his own conclusions. This results in more close-up panels of character's faces while we try to fathom out what they are thinking, rather than actually reading their thoughts. However, is this just writer's being lazy, leaving the reader to pick up the slack? Wouldn't it be better to actually read the words of the your favourite character's thoughts, to step inside their mind?

I miss this insight into the thinkings of my favourite characters and I miss the aesthetic pleasure of the thought bubble. It simply looks like a comic book. And this draws me back to this question that keeps playing on my mind: if our comic books are losing what makes them comic books and becoming more like films – then what is the point of the comic book? What place does the comic book have in the future of our media saturated world? Will they all become just trailers for upcoming films? Prequels to TV series? Storyboards?

Bring back the thought bubble!

Saturday, 31 March 2012


Tight people,
packed into their
tight lives,
wearing their
tight clothes,
flaunting their
tight bodies,
flashing their
tight glances,
smiling with their
tight teeth.

So tight, so neat,
Bursting at the seams.


Emotions run high
and fast
as twilight approaches.

The bed becomes
hot and flustered
as twilight approaches.

The ethereal becomes visceral
under the full moon,
as twilight approaches.

The beautiful becomes guttural
in the silence,
as twilight approaches.