comics, i would like to recommend these people's writing, neopulp

“Creating Myths, Acting Them Out with Toys” – An interview with Brandon Barker

WorCovers  Attention conservation notice: this guy makes crazy fun toys and comics. I talked to him about bespoke action figures, comics and the pros and cons of nostalgia. (2564 words)

Brandon Barker is the man behind Warlords of Wor, a series of handmade limited-run toys coming out of Barker’s own ManOrMonster? Studios. Warlords of Wor celebrates 1980s fantasy barbarian action figures (think He-Man) right down to their awkward bodybuilder physiques, furry underpants and goofy names.

Figures released so far include the claw-handed Clawbber (“Two-fisted General of Justice!”), the evil scientist-turned-swamp-monster Bog-Nar (“Mutant Muck Menace!”) and the skull-headed albino gorilla Beastor-9 (“Twisted Abomination of Science!”).

In addition to the action figures, Brandon has released 5 minicomics featuring stories about the characters in the toy line. They’re fun little reads, great examples of shortform genre comic writing that pack a lot of plot and character in between action scenes and still leave time for a bunch of playful riffs on childrens’ activity books and the crazy ads you used to see in 1970s comic books.

What makes Warlords of Wor different from other retronostalgic offerings out there is that, while it’s following in the tradition of the toys and comics I loved as a kid (and still love), it never crosses the line into simple pastiche, mere mashup or thinly veiled fan fiction. They’re a great example of using tropes to tell new stories instead of slavishly referencing and remixing characters and stories that are already out there.

L-R: Bog-Nar the Mutant Muck Menace; Clawbber, Two-Fisted General of Justice; Beastor-9, Twisted Abomination of Science
L-R: Bog-Nar the Mutant Muck Menace; Clawbber, Two-Fisted General of Justice; Beastor-9, Twisted Abomination of Science

A little while back I got to swap some emails with Brandon, talking to him about how he got started making his own toys, how he negotiates the pitfalls of nostalgia and how he comes up with such cool and kooky names.

To start with, how did you get into making your own action figures?

I got interested in model kits when I was young, and I’ve always drawn and created in other ways, so building and customizing toys is something that developed very early for me.

“…it just takes a little DIY, punk rock spirit.”

I think the first “custom” toys I made were cyborg army men.  I would take green army men, cut off arms or legs, and glue on pieces of chrome model kit sprues (the plastic “trees” that model kit parts were attached to).  I would also repaint action figures to give them new, mission-specific outfits like night ops, desert camouflage, or arctic gear.

As an adult I decided I wanted to create my own comics and toy lines, so I just started doing it. The materials and resources are out there… it just takes a little DIY, punk rock spirit.

Continue reading ““Creating Myths, Acting Them Out with Toys” – An interview with Brandon Barker”

comic reviews, comics, crappin' on about the inconsequential, Me and my opinions

Millireview: Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely – Pax Americana


I’ll let Mr Morrison be after this, I promise, but I just wanted to get a few things off my chest. This comic is so heavy with  references to 1986’s seminal game-changing Watchmen that it’s hard to see anything else in it, including plot or character. Basically you’ve got the superhero characters that DC Comics wouldn’t let Alan Moore use in Watchmen mimicking the plot of Watchmen by effectively taking the place of the characters Alan Moore ended up using instead, as though Moore had actually been allowed to use those proscribed characters in the first place. Which is neat in an easter-eggy kind of way except that 1) the comic they’re referencing is 28 years old and 2) Watchmen has loomed so large in contemporary superhero comics for so long that pretty much anything interesting that could have been said about it has already been said.

Outside the Watchmen references there’s not much else going on of interest: a lot of heavy-handed symbolism (a bazillion references to infinity and the number eight that include the layout of the comic itself), characters who know they’re in a comic (something  Morrison drops into almost everything he writes, but which he doesn’t actually ever do anything with), a staccato arrangement of scenes that resemble a narrative, and parallel monologues that vaguely resemble dialogue, overlaid with a brusque cynicism and casual approach to violence that comes across as just plain mean or cruel, especially for a writer who has in the past made arguments for superheroes as moral compasses and comics as living worlds.

Quitely’s art is lovely, as always, straddling the line between realism and cartoonishness in an eye-catching manner. The opening scene’s depiction of gobbets of blood and teeth pouring out of a man’s face after being shot in the head seemed a disappointing waste of his talents, though, and the intensely large number of panels per page (often choked with speech bubbles) used throughout the comic left me squinting more than gazing in delight at his work.

Not Recommended.

comic reviews, comics, i would like to recommend these people's writing, Me and my opinions

Zeptoreview: Carla Speed McNeil – Finder Library vol. 2


Carla Speed McNeil describes her work as “indigenous science fiction”, which I take to mean both “science fiction that looks at the place of indigeneity within a high-tech society” and “science fiction that considers people’s working and living relationship to their environment”. This volume collects four stories that were published over 15 issues of the monthly Finder comic, featuring concepts like virtual reality environments that exist inside a man’s head, college professors who are sentient feathered dinosaurs, and techno-weeds that grow into ever-broadcasting televisions. These high-sci-fi elements blend into plots that range from romcom to murder mystery. It’s a testament to McNeil’s storytelling that she pulls off both of these genres without breaking the boundaries of the world she’s created. Her art’s  masterful depiction of body language and facial expression adds convincing layers to her characters’ dialogue. There’s no ambiguity about what’s being said (or what’s going unsaid), even in panels with no dialogue. Finder is smart, insightful, playful, fun and sexy. If you’re not reading it, you damn well should be.

Highly Recommended.

Follow Carla Speed McNeil on Twitter or Tumblr. Read her comics for free on her site.  Buy her books from Dark Horse.

comic reviews, comics, Me and my opinions

This Week I Are Mostly Been Reading…

The Wicked + The Divine #3 by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

WicDivThis was The Wicked + The Divine’s make-or-break issue as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been reading Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s latest collaboration since issue #1 came out, but it’s never gotten its hooks into me. The idea of reincarnated popstar gods is a clever concept and the art is beautiful and bright, but there’s no-one in this story to like or invest in.

The protagonist is a surly teen about whom we’re told almost nothing and thus we have no real reason to care about her, and the supposedly glamourous popstar gods she loves and wants to be like come across as self-absorbed wankers. We’re not given or shown any reason to think they’re amazing, just the word of said surly teen protagonist. For a comic ostensibly about musicians, there’s precious little actual music – performed or otherwise – on its pages.

The pace at which the parallel mysteries of who these popstar gods are and who made the judge’s head explode in issue #1 are revealed is glacial. This may be intended to be mysterious and alluring, but it feels opaque and evasive. Even McKelvie’s art seems somehow static – merely a greatest hits of stock stances and facial expressions that have been seen many times before in places like the Phonogram comics and Young Avengers, which is often a risk that comic artists with signature styles face – artists with distinctive styles like John Byrne, Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis and Frank Quitely have also become kind of samey over the years.

I won’t be picking up issue #4 – this series has failed to deliver on the pre-release hype related to it being the first creator-owned collaboration between Gillen & McKelvie since the brilliant and vivacious Phonogram: The Singles Club, in comparison to which it comes across as woodenly pretentious.

Then again, maybe I’m just too old to get it.

Not Recommended.

Grab The Wicked + The Divine from your local comic store or digitally from Image Comics.

comics, i would like to recommend these people's writing, lines I wish I'd written, people who are nice enough to publish me, poetry

Published: The Moon is Not Talking to Us

I’ve got a poem in cordite 43.1, also known as PUMPKIN, which would make it their Halloween issue I guess. Which is nice.

According to the editorial, this issue of cordite explores “the quasi-transmedia intersection of the literal and the visual, and how the latter might interpret the former”. As you do.

In plain speak I’m pretty sure that means there’s 8 comics in there, each created in response to a poem of the comic artist’s choosing.

In my case the artist doing the choosing was Gregory Mackay, internationally lauded author of the delightful polylinguistically published Francis Bear comics (aka bande dessinee de la ours au Francis?). Greg took my poem about the indifference of the Moon and added a parallel layer of narrative about childhood deception that is quite lovely. Plus it has Lego in it. Space Lego.

Working with Greg was a great experience. He shared his drafts with me, inspiring a redraft of the original poem that I think made it much stronger. Greg was open to all of my questions and suggestions, even when they began to encroach on his own artistic territory, for which I am grateful.

You can see the finished comic here, or read the poem sans illustration here. I’d love to know what you think.

While you’re there you should check out the other comics as well, particularly

  • Bruce Mutard’s precise, detailed, far-ranging and breathtaking adaptation of A. Frances Johnson’s anti-drone warfare “Microaviary” suite
  • Marijka Gooding’s heavy inks and curvaceous linework accompanying Michael Farrel’s tweaky reality-TV-style “TV”
  • Bernard Caleo’s frenetic retelling of two encounters with Jack Hibberd, one literary, one literal
  • Mirranda Burton’s surreal depiction of a cat that’s also a window or a mirror stalking the streets of fitzroy to the tune of Kevin Pearson’s “His Quarter”

Profuse thanks once again to Greg for asking me to be involved in such a fun project. It’s a pleasure to share space with such a talented mob of poet-types and comic-sorts.

comics, i would like to recommend these people's writing, my talented friends, the writing process

“Making Deadlines is the Goddamn Job.”: Talking to Christian Read


Black City is Christian Read’s debut novel, an occult noir tale set in a city seething with magic, home to a modern melting-pot of mixed magical traditions that coexist alongside and underneath the ordinary everyday lives of “citizens”.

Christian’s published work to date has included the supernatural-wild-west graphic novel The Eldritch Kid: Whiskey and Hate and the slice-of-life supervillan comic series Unmasked. He’s had work featured in the comic anthologies Flinch, Character Sketches and Home Brew Vampire Bullets and has also written for US based Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars Tales.

Black City is the story of Lark, an ex-enforcer for a major magical institution who’s hired by his ex-girlfriend to investigate a magical massacre. His investigation uncovers a conspiracy that earns him the unwanted attention of some seriously out-of-his-league powers that he nonetheless has to face without the support of his usual network of friends and colleagues, his former employers or his fomer girlfriend.

Lark’s story is written in a raw, intense and urgent style, exploring his relationships with magic and its institutions, his thoughts about power and his suspicion of those who want to wield it. It’s also a great look at what happens to relationships – personal and professional – when people’s worldviews diverge.

Lark is a compelling antihero, at turns arrogant and selfish or sympathetic and altruistic without ever losing his essential cynicism and skepticism, which sit comfortably, though contradictory, alongside his magical beliefs and practices.

He’s a great protagonist, a self-centred man who acts unselfishly when it’s needed, a guy you can barrack for at the same time as shaking your head at and tut-tutting.

I swapped a few emails with Christian to find out more about his thoughts on magic, the publishing game and making the distinction between writing novels and writing comics.

Caveat: Christian is a friend of mine, so if that sort of thing seems relevant to you when reading this sort of review-slash-interview, consider yourself duly informed.

What’s your elevator pitch for Black City?

It’s an occult crime story involving the seedy underworld of the City, a place where Lodges and Covens practice lurid magic. When a battle between two cults releases something onto the streets, Lark, former informal policeman of these cults turned freelancer for scraps, is hired to sort out the mess.

What do you think of the elevator pitch concept in general?

Well, the term itself reeks of the usual desperation of Hollywood. But no one’s got time to hear you bark like a beast about your goddamned novel’s plot all day.

Continue reading ““Making Deadlines is the Goddamn Job.”: Talking to Christian Read”

comic reviews, comics, Me and my opinions, people who are nice enough to publish me

Review: The Deep: Here Be Dragons


I’ve started doing some comic reviews for the Australian Comics Journal, a blog dedicated – as you might expect from the title – to news and reviews about Australian comics. It’s nice to be among such esteemed company, and also nice to have a venue within which to wax lyrical about ozcomics, so thanks to Gary Chaloner, ACJ’s founder and manager, for the opportunity.

My first cab – or perhaps submarine is a better mixed metaphor – off the rank is a review of 2011’s The Deep: Here Be Dragons, a comic about a family of underwater scientists, which was released back in 2011. The Deep’s been in the ozcomics news of late thanks to the recent announcement of its being licenced as an animated television series, so the review is kind of timely, although the good timing is just a coincidence, I have to admit.

Short version: I didn’t like it very much. You can read why over at ACJ.