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

Review: The Deep: Here Be Dragons

TrainingAFish

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.

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

Review: Blue

It’s not really news to anyone that Pat Grant’s graphic novel Blue is a good’un – he’s had great press both here in Australia and overseas. That said, I have a review of Blue that I originally wrote for The Monthly, which they passed on, and then Australian Book Review and the Age passed too (mainly cos they already had reviews lined up).  Seemed a shame to just leave it to moulder on the hard-drive, so here, in a slightly more formal register than I generally use on this blog, are my thoughts on this pretty speccie comic book.

And even though they didn’t take it, profuse thanks must go to John van Tiggelen at The Monthly for his excellent editorial feedback while I was writing this review.

A man reminisces about the day he and two of his high school friends went in search of a dead body on the local train line. As he tells his story he looks back at the history of his home town, lamenting its change for the worse. He attributes these changes to the arrival of a blue-skinned race of alien migrants.

Australian comic artist Pat Grant’s debut graphic novel Blue tells two stories: one about the social anxiety of adolescence, the other an exploration of racism in the face of migration.

The story’s setting on the northern coast of NSW, its focus on surfing culture, and its use of strine and slang make it distinctively Australian. Smaller details reinforce this, like sausage rolls with sauce, “We Grew Here, You Flew Here” stickers and Daily Telegraph posters.

Grant’s use of a minimal palette (black and white with shades of blue and grey) is striking, as is his lush, deft and fluid line work. His characters, both human and alien, are elastic creatures with rubber-band limbs and squashy bodies, reminiscent of 1930s cartoon characters.

Grant confidently explores the possibilities of layout in comics. Some pages are blank except for a few centred panels zeroing in on details from the landscape. Others are busy grids, each panel containing elements that can be read separately or as part of a larger picture or sequence of events. Others still are dense double-page panoramas illustrating the coastal environment that characters pass through.

Blue presents racism as an understandable response to social change. As a social commentary, despite its playfulness and humour, it never satirises the racism of its protagonists. Though aggressive and ill-educated, they are funny and likable.

The objects of their racism are less sympathetic: a mere source of confusion and resentment. There are a few moments, however, in which the aliens are convincingly humanised. These moments make Blue feel more like devil’s advocacy than a racist tract.

Some might want Grant to come out more strongly against racism, but not every book that deals with the subject has to denounce it. It’s true that Blue could be used as a pro-racist text if someone was so inclined, but it’s also a thought-provoking look from a less common angle at a significant issue in contemporary Australian society, using a relatively uncommon artform.

Grant’s illustrations have a stunning complexity and depth of meaning, and while his ability as a writer may not be as strong as his considerable illustrative powers, he is certainly a good yarn-spinner. His dialogue is a delight.

Blue is a beautiful, thought-provoking debut from an undeniable new talent, recommended for anyone interested in the graphic novel form.

Blue is available from Giramondo in Australia, Top Shelf in the US and Canada, and in full online at www.boltonblue.com.

comic reviews, comics, i would like to recommend these people's writing, i'm on the radio!

Review: Feynman

Yesterday arvo I was once again upon the airwaves having a nice old chinwag about comics with the delovely Lorin Ford (no relation) and alicia sometimes (also no relation). The topic on our lips this time around was Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick’s comic biography of US physicist and pop cultural icon Richard Feynman, fittingly titled Feynman.

And here’s what we said:

Once again, on listening back I realised that I had begged one of Lorin’s insightful questions, namely whether the biography tended to lionise Feynman or display him in a more critical warts-and-all light. To which I should have responded by pointing out that since the book is told in Feynman’s own words, excerpted from his own memoirs and lectures, and since Feynman could fairly be said to have had a reasonable ego on him, the book isn’t what you’d call harsh in its criticism of things like his involvement in developing the atomic bomb, or his reputation as a womaniser, or his arrogance in general, but neither does it completely sweep such things under the table. Feynman was certainly a man who could admit his own mistakes,which he did in his own writing, and that aspect of his personality is reflected in Feynman. It’s certainly not a hagiography, then, but it’s definitely a celebration of his life and achievements.

As I said in the review, with Feynman Ottoviani and Myrick have put together a very good and beautiful-to-look-at Richard Feynman primer that, while not necessarily bringing anything new to the table, still offers a great introduction to the man.

Feynman is another amazing addition to the ever-growing stable of amazing comics coming out of the First Second imprint, which is fast becoming my favourite graphic novel imprint for its willingness to publish such a wide range of stories that that demonstrate the infinite potential of the comic form.

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

Sara Pichelli has a blog!

The amazing Sara Pichelli, current artist on Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, has a blog that is full of her gorgeous art, including black and white pages, cover roughs and behind-the-scenes of looks at her drawing processes too.

She regularly features concept sketches and videos of her work in progress using Photoshop. Here’s a look at how she created a sketch of Hellboy.

Vodpod videos no longer available.(Posted with vodpod)

I’ve loved Pichelli’s work since she came onto UC:SM with issue #15, which, despite only having one picture of Spider-Man in the whole issue, was a breathtaking thing to behold.

Now that I’ve trawled her blog I’m going to be tracking down her earlier work as well. I think I just became a Pichelli completist. Which, let’s face it, there are worse things to turn into.

So go. Look. Be bewitched like me. You’re welcome.

comic reviews, comics, i would like to recommend these people's writing, i'm on the radio!

Review: Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth

Axe Cop Bad Guy Earth issues 1-3

Yesterday I was on RRR’s Aural Text in my role as their occasional comic reviewer, saying nice things to the delightful alicia sometimes about Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth, Dark Horse Comics’ three-issue series starring the eponymous cop-with-an-axe who became internet famous little more than a year ago as the star of a webcomic writen by 5-year-old Malachai Nicolle and drawn by his 29-year-old brother Ethan.

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth is an uncensored tour of a young boy’s frenetic imagination, ably complemented by his big brother’s intricate, deft and goofy illustration style, which effortlessly draws readers in and brings them along on the perpetually-stake-escalating journey.

Hard to pick a favourite moment in this comic, but if forced I’d capitulate and kind of cheat and say it was a toss-up between the battle between the vikings from the Planet of the Vikings and the baseball players from Planet Baseball (spoiler: the Vikings win, thanks to Axe Cop smuggling them a box of exploding baseballs), and the climactic battle where Axe Cop and his buddies, all smooshed together into one giant monster with all of their faces, fight the evil versions of themselves also all smooshed together into a giant monster with all of their faces.

When Composite Axe Cop Sockarang Yo-Yo Man Uni-Man Bear Cop Wexter Ralph Wrinkles Sockarang's Mom Monster fights Composite Robot Snow Dinosaur Bootarang Chainsaw Cop Beardroid Shield Wolf Bad Angel Robot Satan Monster only one can survive!

As I say in the review, this comic is fun. Big, dumb fun. Have a listen, and check out the previews at Dark Horse Comics, or head over to http://axecop.com to experience Mr. Cop’s webcomic for yourself, the place where it all began.

comic reviews, comics, crappin' on about the inconsequential, new ways to procrastinate, the writing process

Editing The Demon

There’s this character in the comics called The Demon, a sort of horror-themed superhero. He was invented in the ’70s as a kind of witchity version of The Hulk – by day he’s occult specialist Jason Blood, but whenever he chants the magical rhyme given to him by Merlin, he changes into a demon called Etrigan.

He’s fun in a grim-yet-goofy sort of way, and he’s visually quite arresting, all red tunic and golden skin as he bounces across the page laughing maniacally and speaking exclusively in rhyme.

A couple of years ago they released a comic series called The Brave and the Bold that featured mix-and-match adventures between pairs of superheroes chosen for their dissimilarity. Issue 32, written by J Michael Straczynski (who some of you might know as the driving force behind that old cult scifi TV show Bablyon 5) and drawn by the striking Jesus Saiz, featured the pairing of The Demon with Aquaman as they fought against Cthulu (although they never actually say it’s Cthulu, but that’s as good a name as any for the giant octopus-headed monster they fight) and his armies of the dead.

It’s great high-concept stuff, well written and beautifully drawn, one of my favourites of the series, but one thing has always bugged me about it. Straczynski has written The Demon’s dialogue in the obligatory rhyming couplets, but to be frank the poetry is a bit wonky.

Continue reading “Editing The Demon”