Sign of the Hammer!

Monday, 31 December 2012

French Doors Opening

Just a quick preview for something coming up in 2013 (probably around May, I believe): 'The Zen Fusilier'. It's a 6-page story due to appear in 'Massacre For Boys Picture Library', a new anthology produced by the much-vaunted Massacre For Boys team of Chris and Steve Denton. (And yes, this page indeed appeared as a preview on their blog last year, but hey, as publication looms, there's no harm reappropriating it and parading it over here. Any excuse to show off John Caliber's remarkable art.)

The year is 1901, during a time of French Colonial power known popularly as the Belle Epoch, and our hero is the inscrutable Captain Appollinaire Sartre, Fusilier Marin and Gallic devotee of the Orient. Sartre is stationed in Hue, Vietnam, then part of French Indochina, and is accompanied by the redoubtable and yet perpetually anxious Ensign Chaput. As for who those tree-creepers are (and what, precisely, they have dangling from their nostrils) - well, I'm not giving everything away yet.

Art (and lettering) are, as noted, by the ridiculously talented John Caliber - having seen the whole thing, I can tell you that he's delivered an absolute blinder. Colourful, beautiful, terrifying - it's an absolute feast for the eyes.

But not, sadly, for the nose. Well, unless those things in the trees get their way.

Happy New Year! (Though it won't be a particularly pleasant one for most the people on that page.)

Friday, 30 November 2012

Running Rings

So, as work on Paragon #12 proceeds apace (see James Corcoran's gorgeous blog for some mind-blowing artistic previews of the forthcoming 'Spencer Nero Goes South'), time to document #11's episode, 'Spencer Nero and the Hidden Olympics', with pencils by Mike Kennedy, lovely inks by Davey Candlish, and lurid lettering by John Caliber.

Here's the thing. I decided to set the first Nero story in 1936 fairly arbitrarily - the 1930s is the natural epoch for pulp adventure, but I picked '36 on the basis that the sixth year of a decade showcases said decade's defining characteristics. (I had read somewhere that the 90s, for example, really became what we recognise as the 90s in 1996.) Fortunately, however, it turned out that 1936 was a pretty fertile year in terms of stories. Ascents of the Eiger, international turmoil, abdications (ssh! Keep reading your Paragons for that one) - and of course, the Berlin Olympics. (The story wasn't inspired by the London Olympics - it was written quite a bit before, but was fortuitiously published just after.)

Like many comic fans, I'm not much of a sports fan: I have neither interest, talent nor ability, and I'm not remotely competitive. (I'll watch the odd game of Highland League football and the odd game of darts - that's about it.) But what did interest me was the idea of using the '36 Olympics as the backdrop for a secret war of hex, counter-hex and mystical shenanigans with Spencer as the pawn. As such, it was a chance to make Mr. Alabaster more central to the series: this is by far and away the most on-panel time he gets in any Nero story, though he'll be allowed to narrate a short one sometime soon. So, let's pick out a few panels and explain the thinking:

Trackside: I originally planned to have Nero's trackside rival be Dr. Von Zero, and have Alabaster duel with his Nazi opposite, who was going to be a Mr. Marmor (Marble) from the Department of Möglichkeit (Possibility.) I changed my mind, letting Marmor vanish into the ether (maybe I will get him into print one day) and instead reshaped Von Zero into a behind-the-scenes manipulator, with a golem as his representative: Anton Klumpen, whose surname is German for 'lump'. As for Von Zero's unlikely survival - well, I don't know how clear I made it. When he discusses 'Atlantean throat techniques', my thinking was that he used his Thule Society talents to magically command the swordfish to cut him free, but frankly, it sounds like he did something obscene to it instead.

Lumps and Bumps: On page two, the guy next to Klumpen is US athlete Glenn Morris. Historically, this all-American, square-jawed young athlete won the Decathlon - he does in this version of reality too. I quite enjoyed bringing out Spencer's more bullying streak as he tries to psyche Klumpen out, a streak that will reach its apex in about two strips time. Though Spencer does much more terribly violent things in the first story, he seems a lot nicer in that one - by this story I had settled into writing him as a bit more of an arse (albeit a charismatic one.)

Runes vs. Tarot: I don't think I ever want characters to be firing lightning bolts at each other in the 'Spencer Nero' universe, or otherwise engaging in D&D-style magic. I'd prefer to give it some kind of grounding in real-world mythology or mysticism and have the effects generally be more subtle. (Subtle? 'Spencer Nero'?! I know, I know.) As such, the implication is that ceremony and specially-attuned artefacts are important. Davey Candlish astutely described the weird duel that dominates the story as oddly reminiscent of Bill & Ted vs. De Nomolos at the end of 'Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey'.

The Super, Soaraway Sun: I love this image of Mr. Alabaster as tarot card XIX: Endearing and eccentric. Elsewhere in the panel, Spencer is drinking ass's milk (in the script there's a little milk carton with a donkey on it, but there was no room in the panel.)
Rogue Discus: You know, I did stop and think "Is it too obvious to have Hitler K.O.-ed here? Should I use Himmler or some other senior Nazi, to give Spencer a more individual rivalry with a less 'A-List' fascist?" And then I thought "No. Sometimes the most obvious target is the most satisfying. You can't pass up the chance to demean the Fuhrer yet again."  (See Dr WTF?!2012.) I'm not sure I'll ever get bored of this pursuit.
Bashmite Ethan: Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I could never quite get this pun to completely work, largely because the first word doesn't mean anything. Trust me, there's a bit of paper somewhere with all sorts of variants written down - "Smazhmi Phasin", "Kikkmi Hedin" - that sort of thing. (Actually, Kikkmi Hedin's better, isn't it? Sounds like a 'Sinister / Dexter' character.) I think this came out of a running gag from when I was a student about a made-up British martial art called 'B'oot-in'.  It was a lot funnier after you'd been drinking White Lightning, I'll tell you that.

The Golem: I will freely admit there is nothing original in the whole 'change a letter on the golem's parchment' conclusion - this is very much taken from traditional Jewish tales. I don't think any of them change it with a javelin though.
Jesse Owens: African-American super-athlete Owens was, of course, the hero of the games, with gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump. He apparently didn't regard Hitler particularly badly - as he says at the end of the story, in Germany he could stay in the same hotel as a white man, and Hitler apparently waved hello to him, even if he didn't shake his hand (he only actually shook the hands of German victors anyway.) Indeed, US president FDR didn't even send Owens a congratulatory telegram for his astonishing performance, whereas Hitler sent a signed photo (!) In private, however, the Fuhrer was apparently as foul when speaking of black athletes as you might expect.

So that's the Hidden Olympics, after which Spencer does a runner... all the way to the South Pole. Thanks once more to my collaborators on this one: Mike has a distinctive style that combined with Dave's inks puts me in mind of the work of Alex Maleev. Gold medals all round, lads - and the wooden spoon for me for the 'Bashmite Ethan' bit.

Thursday, 4 October 2012


Work continues apace on the Martillo collection, in which the Saint of Labourers' most devout, hammer-wielding servant goes up against the forces of El Diablo in 1940s Europe. The second story, Martillo 3, is now completed, so here's some preview art. This one features two rather important historical personages of a Spanish nature - General Francisco Franco, the nation's one-time fascist ruler, and another gentleman of a rather more... artistic disposition. Once more, I hope you enjoy David Broughton's cracking linework!

Hammer to fall - Martillo on the rampage

A bad case of face pollution

"Art is a lie that makes us realise truth."
General Franco implores you to return soon!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Heading For A Funeral In Berlin?

Glad the Olympics are over? Well, tough, 'cos Paragon #11 is heading for the finish line all too soon, and within its pages Spencer Nero struts his stuff at the Games - Berlin '36-style, of course! But who's that in the crowd? Mr. Alabaster, squaring off against... the late Dr. Von Zero? Seems the nefarious Nazi's playing dirty on his home turf - are Spencer's chances for a gold scuppered from the off?

Yes, pretty much. But read it when it comes out anyway. You get to find out Mr. Alabaster's first name and what he's been doing at midnight up the Funkturm. Pencils by Mike Kennedy, inks by Nero's dear chum, Davey Candlish.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Dr. WTF?! 2012 - Page-By-Page Commentary

Over on his blog, Louis Carter has posted a wonderful entry that reveals the creative process behind his art for our Dr. WTF?! 2012 story. I know I'm biased, but his post makes for a bloody good read, and the more I find out about his approach, the more I am blown away by his attention to detail. Anyway, here's a bit about the genesis of the story from my perspective, and a similar page-by-page commentary.

From the outset, despite a creeping residual paranoia that someone out there would think I actually approved of his views, there was never any doubt in my head that this new Doctor would be a Nazi. As such, the story would be one of excess, with everything turned up to 11, featuring insanity on a grand scale. I later came up with the idea that the Doctor liked Nazism so much because it reminded him of Gallifrey - lots of middle-aged men dressing up in fancy costumes and issuing edicts. (Indeed, there was a line in the first draft of the script to that effect, but it got cut for space reasons, and 'cos editor Owen Watts rightly wanted to limit references to 'proper' Who continuity / chronology.) So, if my protagonist was a Nazi, who could his opponents be? There really wasn't much choice - I had to go for the dialectic opposite of Fascism, in the form of Communism. (I think I was also applying 'Battle' comic logic - when they ran 'Hellman of Hammer Force' and 'Death Squad', two strips with German protagonists, the characters generally ended up fighting the Russians, so that readers wouldn't get irate if they saw them triumphing over the British.) Anyway, here's how it all went:

Page 1:
Hauptmann Who is, in a very, very tangential way, kinda sorta based on a guy who taught me Film Studies at university. He wasn't a Nazi (as far as I am aware) but he did want to be seen as pretty rock 'n' roll, despite being a kind of authority-figure, and occupying a not-particularly-rock 'n'roll position in life. He wore a long black leather jacket, jeans (with turn-ups), DM boots and black t-shirts. The t-shirt here is one of many examples where Louis improved on my ideas - I originally wanted an umlaut over a question mark in blackletter font (as used by Motorhead for their logo.) Louis instead shifted it underneath, where it also serves the function of making the whole symbol look... well, slightly rude. I very specifically wanted the character to actually be named 'Who' in the story -A) in tribute to the Amicus Dr. Who movies B) in tribute to the William Hartnell story 'The War Machines' ("Doctor Who is required... bring him here.") and C) 'cos 'Who' is such an intrinsically funny sound.

 Jimi Von Hendricks, the Hauptmann's partner, went through a couple of script incarnations before I was happy with him. He was inspired by a mod for the game 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas'. The lead character in said game, CJ, is African-American, but apparently white bigots, keen to enjoy a spot of gang-banging, couldn't tolerate playing as a black man. Therefore, they created a modified version of the game for themselves, in which the main character was white, but everything else was the same. You have to laugh at these people, you really do. That was the original concept  for Jimi - that he literally WAS Jimi Hendrix, but made white by Nazi science, so that racists could enjoy rock 'n' roll without feeling like hypocrites. However, at some level, the idea of visiting such an injustice upon Jimi started to offend me, so instead I decided that the real Jimi's talent had been transplanted into the body of a no-hope, poodle-permed glam-rocker instead (and Jimi disposed of.) Louis took the transplant theme quite literally, hence the stitching on Jimi's forehead. Given rock 'n' roll's undeniably black origins, it seemed suitably ironic that bigots woud want to appropriate it.

I do not know (or can't remember) why I picked the asteroid belt to become Communist. I definitely wanted a celestial body to do so, showing Hauptmann Who found the ideology so insidious that it could literally infect inanimate objects on a massive scale. I discovered there were lots of different types of asteroid, of different chemical composition, and then it all made sense.

The phrase 'reich und roll' was stolen from the band Carnivore's song 'Jesus Hitler' (by the late Peter Steele of Type O Negative). It was about what might happen if Jesus and Hitler both got reincarnated in the same body. It was therefore the trigger for the 'Marley Luther Lenin' idea on Page 3. (More of that when we get there.)
Page 2:

"You are the Masteroid!" is almost my favourite line in the whole thing. As previous blog posts may have indicated, I am easily amused by my own wordplay.
Germania - Many will be aware that Hitler did plan to reconstruct Berlin as Welthauptstadt (World Capital) Germania, designed by architect Albert Speer. A few elements of this reconstruction project were successfully completed, but the fortunes of war pretty much put an end to it. Not here!
World War Minus One and the Forever-Fuhrer: Well, if you had time-travel, why not win wars before they start, therefore preventing them from ever happening, in some ridiculous temporal paradox? (So much for no triumphing over the British then.) Likewise, I could imagine that Hitler would have found some way to exist concurrently in multiple different forms, like some crazy eternal version of the triple-goddess Morrigan from Irish mythology. Of course, the Former-Fuhrer was just a baby, the Flux-Fuhrer was in disarray, and the Future-Fuhrer dead, so every incarnation epitomised a sense of helplessness. Some people don't like Hitler being used as a figure of fun, but personally, I think relentless mockery is probably the best way to demean his memory.
Page 3:

Marley Luther Lenin was originally just Martin Luther Lenin, on the fairly obvious basis that the ultimate enemy of Hauptmann Who would have to be both non-white, pro-equality, and a Communist. Bob Marley was added to the mix for yet another musical angle, to allow me to give the character dreadlocks with impunity, and to bang in some more excess.
"Never wear anything that panics the cat." - This is my favourite line in the story. I originally just wanted to have the Future-Fuhrer give some completely irrelevant fashion advice (I think he's gone senile), and then I stumbled upon this P.J. O'Rourke quote.

Einstein and Laika - Einstein was certainly no fan of Nazism or capitalism, and was accused of being a Communist on more than one occasion. He was definitely a socialist. As for why his head is floating in space, I am convinced this hails from one of my frequent influences, cartoonist Gary Larson, who once drew the crew of the Starship Enterprise trying to cope with the floating head of Zsa Zsa Gabor. As for the canine pilot, well, I like dogs, basically. I am full of nothing but total and utter contempt for those that took a lovely little dog like Laika and shot her into space to die. I'd shoot the bastards into space myself, given the chance. So here she is, salvaged from an alternate timeline and still loyal to a regime that is happy to sacrifice her yet again for their own ends. No matter who's in charge or what the ideology, dogs (and nature in general) always get the short straw (look at Hitler's dog Blondie) - but dogs love us irrespective.
"Now there's a novelty!" is one of comedian Eric Morecambe's less-prominent catchphrases, coined by writer Eddie Braben. I often feel the temptation to slip lines or paraphrased lines from 'Morecambe and Wise' into my scripts.

Page 4:

I sort of think of this as the 'Yellow Submarine' page. (It's Jimi's trousers that do it.) To my eyes it is probably Louis's greatest triumph in the whole story. I think the way he turns panels four and five into a beyond-the-panel-limits free-floating psychedelic experience is so much cleverer and more fitting than anything I'd have come up with. It expertly conveys the nature of existence before the regular rules of existence kicked in. The idea of time-travelling to the Big Bang (and calling it 'Event One') is a direct lift from Dr. Who - 'Castrovalva', one of my favourite Who stories.
"That didn't happen, Jimi!" - The odd things is, because he can time-travel and has created an alternate timeline, it may not have done. But he's probably just in denial.

Page 5:

Too much dialogue as I struggle to cram everything in. And another Motorhead reference! ('Eat the rich!') Well, Lemmy is known for collecting Nazi memorabilia.
The final panels. Yes, quite. I am only partially to be credited (or blamed) for these. Louis took something implicit (the homoerotic friction between the two leads, and the associations implicit in the phrase 'Give free vent to your love for me!') and, well, less ran with it, more hit Mach 3! Here is the script as was originally written (the dialogue is the same):

Hauptmann Who points commandingly at Jimi, who obliges by jamming on his guitar and singing of his devotion to the Hauptmann. Jimi should be throwing some kind of rock god shapes as he does so, while in the background the primal atom throbs away and the kaleidoscopic primordial void creates hallucinogenic patterns, like some atmospheric sound-to-light programme.

You will notice the lack of nudity, quasi-dimensional snogging, stereo-genitalia or singular spherical objects of a non-primal-atom nature. Basically, I wanted 'em to go out on a song, and use the famous Hendrix mondegreen in the process. A private rock'n'roll concert at the dawn of time - what could be more overblown? But Louis... naughty, naughty Louis wanted to show us what 'free vent' really means. As a result, both my Dr. WTF?! scripts now end with the main character about to indulge in acts of carnality. But let's be clear - this is the kind of collaboration I like. Er... not pre-historical misbehaviour, but where the artist takes the writer's script and gives free vent to his own ideas. I take it as a massive compliment that Louis felt the story was worth putting his own stamp on in such a way. Didn't stop my jaw dropping when I read the thing, mind!

And that's your lot. This was one of my favourite comic collaborations, because Louis brought so much to it, and gave it a colourful beauty greater than it probably deserves. A word (or several) also needs to be said for Owen Watts's lettering - I bloody love that man's sound effects! (Oh, and several more words need said for that man's remarkable skill in organising and putting together the whole smashing anthology!) Hope you enjoyed the story, or were at least suitably disturbed.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Martillo Goes Large!

When duende attack!
It's been quiet on the ol' blogging front, but that's in part 'cos I've been busy working on an extended project which will see me venturing into self-publishing for the first time. I've been both inspired and impressed by the great comics various fellow small-pressers are putting together - Lizzie and Conor Boyle's Disconnected Press, Davey Candlish's Paragon, Dirk Van Dom's cracking Vanguard and Owen Watts's Dr. WTF?! and Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel, to name but a few - and so intend to give it a go myself. The project is a collection of 'Martillo' stories - my 1940s Spanish exorcist character who first saw light in a four-pager in Temple APA #10. Myself and unstoppable artist David Broughton, Martillo's co-creator, are joining forces once more to put together a collection that will see over 40 pages of new Martillo strip material (most likely 6 new 7-8 page stories), in addition to the aforementioned four-pager as a prologue, and hopefully a few little prose stories as bonus excerpts from Martillo's case files. The aim (fingers crossed) is to have this come out early next year and to try and get it on sale at a few conventions as well as online.

Gallo investigates...

To set the scene: the year is 1948, and, nearly a decade after the Spanish Civil War, General Franco holds power. But there is still unrest in Madrid, city of Lucifer - unrest of the supernatural kind! Only one man is capable of dealing with this strange eruption of devilish danger - Martillo, ex-member of the Civil Guard, now ordained as Spain's least subtle priest. His mission - to crack some diabolic nuts with a literal sledgehammer, and woe betide those who get in his way!

For now, allow me to present a few preview images from the already-completed first proper story in the collection. We kick off with 'Que Viene El Coco' (or 'Here Comes the Bogeyman'), in which Martillo must deal with a ravenous threat to the city's youth, with the help of his sometime-foil, Detective Gallo of the Higher National Police Corps.
Hope you like 'em!

El Coco comes calling... be afraid!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Heavy Fluting

PARAGON #10 hits the ice (wrapped up in an astonishing cover by major talent Matt Soffe), and with it comes 'Spencer Nero and the White Spider'.  This strip is probably the point at which 'Spencer Nero' really starts to intersect with my personal obsessions in a major way. Ever since seeing the film 'Touching the Void' many years ago, I've developed a total fascination with human survival stories in icy climes. (A related obsession involves the South Pole - keep your eye on future issues of PARAGON for that one.) If you're not aware, 'Touching the Void' is the true story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who attempted to climb Peruvian mountain Siula Grande in the 80s and nearly paid for the attempt with their lives. Joe himself was inspired by the writing of Heinrich Harrer, whose book 'The White Spider' is regarded as a seminal mountaineering text. Harrer was part of the first team ever to successfully climb the dreaded North Face of the Eiger, but the most famous failed attempt on the Swiss peak was made in 1936 by a German climber called Toni Kurz and his team. Their doomed journey has been recounted several times on celluloid, documented by the aforementioned Joe Simpson in 'The Beckoning Silence', and dramatised in the movie 'North Face'. The tragedy of Toni Kurz is in just how much he went through and how horribly close he was to rescue.

Toni, however, did not reach the White Spider - a treacherous, arachnid-shaped ice-field that some reckon to be one of the most difficult parts of the Eiger to traverse. Literally-minded as I am, of course, my story involves Spencer Nero squaring off against an actual White Spider, animated by the spirits of the dead, in an effort to save the soul of Toni Kurz. As well as the Spider, the story introduces a new nemesis for Spencer in the form of Saturn Reisen, a soul-gorging mystic. There were two main inspirations for Reisen - one was the artist Goya's infamous painting 'Saturn Devouring His Son', which I'd seen in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, but had first encountered in one of my dad's books of fantasy-related artwork when I was a young lad. If you ever get the chance, you need to witness this masterpiece and Goya's other 'Black Paintings' first-hand - 'Saturn...' is both repulsive and utterly compelling. The other source was, oddly, the Ditko-era villainous cast of 'Amazing Spider-Man', many of whom seem to represent the dominating power of age and experience levied against the vigor of youth, embodied by Peter Parker. As a kind of avatar of the Roman god of old age, Saturn Reisen seemed like he might perform a similar function for Spencer Nero. We will undoubtedly see him again...

This is the first Spencer Nero strip drawn by the remarkable James Corcoran, but it certainly won't be the last. It's safe to say he's absolutely nailed it, amplifying the sinister side of the script and presenting a characterful take on Spencer, who runs the gamut in this strip from determined to smug, baffled to psychotic. I defy anyone to read this and not feel a bit cold - James has given this one a real sense of place, and draws some damn fine snow. Hope that doesn't seem like a back-handed compliment - he really has excelled with the chilly environment of this story. In fact, James is lined-up to draw an Antarctic adventure for Spencer too... hopefully we can talk him into doing another one set in sunnier climes as well sometime, so he doesn't feel typecast! Also on-board providing lettering for the strip is the multi-talented John Caliber, with whom I have a future project over at Massacre for Boys comic, for which John provides some particularly smashing artwork. More on that another time. For now, simply a recommendation that you get your hands on PARAGON #10 - at 52 pages, it's the biggest issue yet, packed full of high-quality adventurous yarns.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

May Triarchy

"April is the least-blogged month", as T.S. Elliot almost wrote in an early draft of 'The Wasteland'. Well, it was for me anyway. But now May is upon us, and no less than three separate new tales of mine are either already released or on the verge of being so.

The first, and in many ways the most personal to me, is a tale called 'Lay On, Macduff', appearing in Lizzie and Conor Boyle's new small-town themed anthology 'Disconnected'. This fine publication heralds the start of Lizzie and Conor's new publishing venture, Disconnected Press, and I was genuinely honoured to be approached for a script contribution for the first issue. As I type this, 'Disconnected' is making its debut at the Bristol Comic Expo 2012, complete with a cracking, somewhat Ben Templesmith-y cover by comics pro Matt Timson. (Coincidentally, I won his complete 'Impaler' series in one of the 2000AD forum short story competitions a while back - gorgeous stuff.) My artistic  partner for this is Gavin Mitchell, winner of the recent 2000AD pitch-fest, and a rare talent indeed. His work is hugely stylish and atmospheric: we can expect BIG things of this gentleman! Our story is set, as the title implies, in the north-east Scottish fishing town of Macduff, which is where my father and the Meldrum clan in general hail from. Macduff's most famous citizen is a man called Walford Bodie, the 'Electric Wizard of the North', an international stage-magician and hypnotist, who inspired Houdini and was even satirised by Charlie Chaplin. Without spoiling any plot details, Bodie is the star of 'Lay On, Macduff', and during this historical tale he becomes embroiled in eerie events in his home town.

The second tale is very different but also on sale in Bristol - it's my collaboration with Louis Carter for Dr WTF?! 2012. Yup, Nazi timelord Hauptmann Who stars in 'The Reich Stuff', a frankly ridiculous tale of the Infinite Reich, silicon-based communism and gestalt reincarnation, all wrapped up in a decidedly purple haze. I think this might be the oddest thing I've ever written - I'm certainly very happy with the result, in large part due to Louis's unbelievably superb art. His colours in particular were just glorious. Working with Louis was definitely a really great collaboration - as his various blog entries on the subject show, he put an enormous amount of thought into every artistic aspect of the strip, and constantly took my ideas and ran with them, coming up with his own psychedelic or Fortean twists, and at one stage making something implicit in the story decidedly explicit - let's just say that when I saw the last few panels, my jaw dropped. I'll do a full self-indulgent 'director's commentary' on the story, as I did for Dr WTF?! 2011 in due course.
The third tale - well, Paragon #10 looms, and that can only mean a healthy dose of Spencer Nero is imminent. In this one, he attempts to climb the dreaded north face of the Eiger, in a Heinrich Harrer-inspired yarn called 'Spencer Nero and the White Spider'. Art duties this time around go to James Corcoran, who has also blogged extensively on this strip. As is also the case with Louis and Gavin, I count myself really lucky to have been able to collaborate with such a talented artist as James - his work is just remarkable and, to my mind, has captured that tricky balance between ridiculous and sinister that I hoped Spencer Nero might achieve. Not a tale for arachnophobes, I'll say that much: something in James's style really gives things a Lovecraftian edge. More on this one when it's finally released.

Anyway, it's back to work. This collection of Martillo stories I'm intending on publishing won't write itself, y'know...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

You're the doc, Doc!

Dogbreath #25 comes barking onto the scene this month, pausing only to scratch itself and sniff another fanzine's rear, and within it is a 6-pager by myself and artist David Broughton, focused around 'Strontium Dog' villain Doc Death. Some of you may remember Doctor Lionel Death, who was the main antagonist in 'Bitch', the story that so memorably introduced Durham Red to the Strontium Dog universe. Whilst this errant S/D agent met his end at fangs of Miss Red, I always thought he was a fantastic character, with a distinctive, bug-eyed appearance, excellent taste in headgear, sparkling dialogue and a memorable trademark (he views torture as an art form.) I particularly enjoy writing well-spoken or verbose characters, so he seemed an obvious choice to frame a story around.

A quick re-read of 'Bitch' revealed one key piece of background information about Doc Death: he got his degree in torture from the University of Santiago in Chile. I certainly hadn't realised it at the time, but this was clearly a Wagner / Grant swipe at the Pinochet regime of the 1970s and 80s, whose torture-friendly dictator our beloved Maggie Thatcher was only to eager to cosy up to. As I explored this fragment of Doc's history, it eventually became clear what an odd little loophole this created in the Strontiverse. As Dogbreath's editors pointed out, if mutants could be routinely educated to degree standard in Chile, why didn't they all just move there, instead of off-world? It was decided that Doc (and his newly-invented tutor, Henry Hojeda ) had to be special cases. (Hojeda, incidentally, was very loosely patterned around Roald Dahl's sadistic, finger-lopping character 'Man From the South', played in the 'Tales of the Unexpected' tv series by Jose Ferrer.)
So having decided to bring Doc back to his alma mater, I had to come up with a problem for him to face. I liked the idea of having him torture someone who was conventionally impossible to actually torture - but who would this individual be? After a quick web-search to find things associated with Chile, I was left surprised (not for the first time) by my own ignorance: I hadn't realised that Easter Island was off the coast. It was at this point that the idea of bringing a Granulan into the strip (from the story 'Stone Killers') occurred. A silicon-based life-form who couldn't actually feel pain seemed the perfect nemesis, and if he happened to look like one of the iconic stone heads of Easter Island, so much the better.
And so the stage was set. The most enjoyable part of the scripting (apart from Doc's endlessly piquant dialogue) was trying to figure out the different torture methods Doc would try (and fail) to use against the Granulan, along with said Granulan's nonchalant (and frequently rather bitchy) retorts. Readers might wonder what aspect of Chilean life the Granulan was spying on and who he was working for: your guess is as good as mine. On the one hand, I figured that it didn't matter to Doc in the slightest - he was only interested in the torture process, not the actual information gained, so it wasn't actually important. On the other hand, in retrospect I think I could have tied it all together elegantly by suggesting he was trying to find information on Henry Hojeda.
Now for some words on the art. Having collaborated with David Broughton several times now, I've learned something: he is a master of detail, and remarkably talented at not only including every  precise reference that's in a script, but many more of his own, besides. For instance, the panel description for the Dean's office (page one, panel three) includes this:
Some manner of militaristic portrait hangs on the back wall, possibly one of Bernardo O’Higgins, one of the founders of Chile.
Well, do a quick web-search for Bernardo O'Higgins and look at the Dean's wall - that's O'Higgins, all right! Things like that may not be vital to the plot, but they really add to the flavour and atmosphere of a strip, even if only appreciated by a select few. More obviously crowd-pleasing were David's additions to the graduating year-group in panel one of the same page: a few very suspicious and familiar characters there! For my money, one of David's other great strengths is his amazing skill at drawing technology - I'd envisioned the Granulan kept prisoner by fairly basic manacles, but instead David amped up the tech factor and delivered a marvellous containment ring of cyber-circular majesty. Glorious!
'Blood From A Stone', then - one I really enjoyed writing and am largely happy with. I'd vainly like to think I managed some vague approximation of Wagner and Grant's infamous 'hard-edged lunacy' - ridiculous antics but with an edge. Either way, if you fancy a feast for the eyes, capped off with the ever stellar lettering work of the mighty Bolt-01, Dogbreath #25 is available at the FutureQuakePress shop: get 'em while they're hot (but not stone-baked.)

Friday, 2 March 2012

Review to a Kill (or two)

 First up - I expect many reading this have already seen Davey Candlish's 'Comic Heroes' cutting, in which Paragon #9 is reviewed and given a lovely 4.5/5 verdict. Well, as my blog title implies, beating my own drum is not an activity to which I'm a stranger, so here's the review again:

I do feel that reviewer Rob Power (now there's a wonderfully villainous name!) has completely nailed what Paragon is and should continue to be - a spectacle of madcap action, frenzied energy, and gripping narrative. Happy to see the comic getting this kind of well-deserved praise, and particularly great to have my own strip singled out as a highlight: Davey Candlish and I share the audacity plaudits with Mighty Matthew McLaughlin and the indomitable James Corcoran, the latter of whom will be lending his not-inconsiderable talents to my next Spencer Nero tale in Paragon #10. (Can't wait to see the end result.)

Next review is from David Hailwood over at Temple APA, regarding the Martillo strip on which I collaborated with David Broughton for that very same august publication. It reads:

  • Greg Meldrum and David Broughton. A well-polished and thoroughly enjoyable first contribution. The Martillo strip had great artwork; I especially liked the hard edged angular nature of the characters. Very amusing script as well; I enjoyed the complete lack of subtlety that Martillo displays when dealing with his exorcisms (when in doubt, bash it with a sledgehammer). Favourite line? ‘I shall require an open window. And this goat.’

Once again, jolly happy with that: plans to do more with the character are beginning to gather momentum. (If you don't have a copy of Temple #10, you can download it free HERE.)
And that's that. So, before my ego expands further... vamanos, dear reader. Vamanos!

Friday, 17 February 2012

¡ Vete Al Infierno !

Temple APA #10 is out (with a cracking cover from the mighty Malcolm Kirk), and within its varied virtual pages lurks an odd little story by myself and collaborator David Broughton (with lettery goodness fresh from the fragrant fingers of foxy Owen Watts.) As indicated previously, the story is the debut of a man called Martillo, a grim-faced Spanish priest with a skull-busting past and penchant for a very specific form of defenestration.
Download the pdf HERE, bask in David B.'s ridiculous talent, and then gasp in amazement when you realised he rustled up the art for this in less than a fortnight.
As for the origins of the story, well...  many years ago, I was introduced to the violent and often extremely funny films of Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia, whose work I loved, to the extent I'm frequently seen sporting an 'Accion Mutante' t-shirt in tribute to his first film. One particular highlight was 'El Dia De La Bestia' (The Day of the Beast), in which a Catholic priest struggles to avert what he believes will be the modern reincarnation of the Anti-Christ. To achieve this end, he begins sinning as vigorously as he can in the hope of being allowed into the Devil's confidence. The film ends with the surviving characters in Retiro Park, next to a famous statue of Lucifer. I was absolutely fascinated by the notion that Madrid had a statue of the Devil on public display, and when I finally paid the city a visit, I made a beeline for said monument.
Whilst Martillo himself has little in common with the  film's main character, aside from their mutual profession, the presence of that infernal statue was very much the inspiration for the strip. What a wicked place Madrid must be if it celebrated its sins so publically! Likewise, Martillo's unique approach to exorcism was derived from Spain's reputation, deserved or otherwise, for being every-so-slightly lacking in concern for animal welfare. Martillo, as you will have noticed, has no concern for anyone's individual welfare - an ends-justifies-the-means type, he is firmly in the mould of Doomlord from 'Eagle' in his approach to fighting evil.
Will he return? He may indeed. I certainly like the idea of digging into Spain's occult history and juxtaposing that with the state of the country under the Franco regime. A fertile setting indeed...
...for evil!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Sign of the Hammer

A little preview for something put together for Temple APA #10 - a four page strip from myself and the ever-wonderful artist David Broughton, with lettering by Owen Watts. The strip, 'Martillo', stars a Madrillian exorcist who is also a former member of the Guardia Civil, Spain's somewhat notorious military-status police force. This means his approach to the delicate matter of spiritual redemption is somewhat... blunter than one might usually expect.

And also more likely to involve creative use of a goat.

Peculiar fun then, from the only European capital city to host a public statue dedicated to the devil.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, Martillo is the one on the left.)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A Stay of Execution

Or at least, that's how Dustin Hoffman describes a good review. Yes, Paragon #9 gets reviewed over at the Forbidden Planet blog, and I'm pretty happy with the comments on 'Spencer Nero'. The review begins:

  • Really liking the cover this time round – good pulp hero feel, and very fitting, as it’s featuring the new strip in Paragon 9, the pulp adventure Spencer Nero. Something of a tongue in cheek Doc Savage style thing, following an old style adventurer, always ready with a quip to take on a thrilling adventure. He travels the world, sorting out all those who need sorting, with a nod, a wink, and a never ending stream of pulp hero clichés. But I like tongue in cheek pulp hero clichés.

    There’s two episodes here – Nazi Aztecs in the middle of the ocean first up and then a werehyaena in East Africa. Two artists as well, but I didn’t enjoy David Broughton’s necessarily cartoon-ish style for The Last Laugh anywhere near as much as Dave Candlish’s more stylised moments of the Island Of The Naztecs storyline. But the art serves the stories well, and it’s not a bad intro to a character all concerned may enjoy playing around with.

All told, a decent appraisal, and little to argue with. I'll be honest, I think the script suffers from my frequent crime of excessive dialogue, but though it was only recently published, it was actually written before my first Dogbreath story, during the submission of which I got invaluable advice from the editorial team on paring it all down.
The rest of the review is unfortunately not as enthusiastic about Paragon as a whole, but I do hope Dave C. won't be put off by that. From my perspective, Paragon gets better and better every issue, and, my own contributions aside, I think the run from #7 onwards has seen the comic at its strongest. Onwards and upwards!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Pictures At An Exhibition

Who are these chaps? Well, they're part of a special project Davey Candlish and I are working on, to be published at some future point in Paragon comic. What's the story? Can't say yet... strictly hush hush... suffice to say it has a historical setting, takes place in Europe, and is big on banter. But I can say that this strip marks the first time I've tried to write an extended episodic comic story, rather than a done-in-one. (I've made a conscious decision, for instance, that Spencer Nero stories will always be complete in any given issue, though they'll occasionally and briefly reference previous instalments.) It's definitely a different kind of challenge, making sure each episode has its own quota of action, comedy, plot movement and character development, while maintaining a consistent tone and flavour across the story.

So what can I tell you? Well...
  • One of these men is a perfectionist - the other thinks he is perfect.
  • One of these men is a heavy sleeper - the other is often up all night.
  • One of these men drives people up the wall - the other just drives women crazy.
  • One of these men does not wear socks - the other is wearing very well, thank you.
 And without both of these men... polite society may not survive.