Sign of the Hammer!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Goodbye 1936: PARAGON #15 and PARAGON Annual 2014

Within the space of a fortnight, TWO (yes, TWO!) mighty PARAGON publications, masterminded by small-press guru Dave Candlish, have been published. As is customary, here’s a few words on this festive coupling, since I’ve had a hand in both.

Part 1: The King and I

PARAGON #15 features Spencer Nero (in what will be, if you include the one and two-page stories, his 10th outing!) taking on that historical threat to traditional British values, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, lover of the King! Yep, the 1936 setting proves fertile once more, as Spencer finds himself embroiled in the abdication crisis. The story is a sort-of sequel to ‘Spencer Nero and the White Spider’, in that it features the return and secret origin of Nazi soul-eater, Saturn Reisen, but it also nods its head in the direction of several past stories. I am pleased that the strip has now reached the point where I can start referencing and building on elements of continuity, whilst still hopefully delivering an accessible done-in-one story. I’m particularly happy this story ended up in the winter issue of PARAGON, as it is set in December ’36 (yep, Spencer’s moving into 1937 next year!) and has snow in it for at least three panels. Of course, the real king of the story is artist Stephen Prestwood, who puts his stamp firmly on Spencer, and delivers some striking two-fisted, square-jawed action. He even draws good giant maggots – which is just as well, since Spencer seems to have adopted one, and intends to name it Iapetus, after one of Saturn’s moons.

Of course, #15 also features some stellar work from my fellow small-pressers. On the artistic front alone, this must be one of the most varied and yet accomplished issues so far, featuring wildly contrasting but no less aesthetically stunning pages. It’d be hard to name a favourite – Chris Askham’s brilliantly atmospheric work on Mark Howard's ‘Jikan: Demeter’ is a definite highlight, well-suited to a  script that features a great central conceit, a great final page, and an excess of vampiric hissing. Elsewhere in the issue, the wonderful El Chivo turns in some superb, energetic, characterful work, every figure chock-full of vigor and personality, whilst the Davey Candlish / Tom  Newell combo works together to stylish and elegant effect, illustrating the intriguing ‘Bludd & Xandi’ (with Icarus Dangerous now finished, PARAGON is honour-bound to feature a winged protagonist in at least one of its stories!) And of course, there’s Jim Cameron’s cute-but-sometimes-sinister work in ‘The Biggest Stick’, with an HdE script that, were it squished down to four pages, would be more than worthy of appearing in 2000AD as a Future Shock. It’s not hard to see why no less an authority than John Freeman reckoned this was the finest issue to date.
Part 2: Annual General Beating

Meanwhile, over in the PARAGON Annual 2014, Spencer enters a new and unexplored medium – prose! Based around the theme of board games (though I wrote it without realising Davey would be including a Jikan board game in the annual!) ‘Spencer Nero and the Chairman of the Board’ introduces a new foe for the Civil Centurion – Sors, God of Luck. It also reintroduces Oswald Gypsum, Mr. Alabaster’s nephew, from the ‘Ruthless Rhymer’ story. The story sees Spencer playing live-action Monopoly – the game was, of course, launched in Britain in 1936 (there’s that year again!)

I must admit, I found it really hard to settle on a story for the prose tale. My first thoughts involved a tale called ‘Spencer Nero and the Purple Prose’, in which form and content would match, and in which Spencer would find an ancient tome that encouraged ever more flowery and pretentious speech. However, I shelved that idea and decided instead to write a prose adaptation of a comic script I was working on, ‘Spencer Nero and the Pack’ - until I decided that one really did work better as a script after all. The same thing happened with another half-finished script, in which Spencer falls in love (!) – though I’m not telling you with whom or with what! Finally, I settled on the ‘board game’ idea, because it seemed well-suited to appearing in an annual published at a time of year when so many of such games get an airing.

Unlike with #15, I’m not going to discuss the rest of the annual, ‘cos I reckon it’s best approached like a treasure trove or a well-wrapped Christmas present – half the fun is ripping off the layers of shiny paper and discovering for yourself what joys lie within! Davey Candlish is pursuing a very specific aesthetic with this one, paying loving homage to the annuals of his youth, and I feel he’s succeeded very well in recreating the vibe he’s after. All I will say is that the annual also features familiar dose of Spanish nonsense – much as no nativity scene is complete without a caganer! And with that, I shall see you in 1937 – or 2014, if you prefer.

Sors bless us, every one!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Spanish scares for Halloween - MARTILLO is out!

Just in time for Halloween – ‘Martillo: Devil-Smiter’ is finally out!

It is 1948, and General Franco’s fascist government rules Spain with an iron fist. Isolated from the rest of Europe, the country has become a breeding ground for supernatural wickedness – and that’s where Martillo comes in. A servant of the Saint of Labourers, Martillo wields a hammer and smites evil – HARD! In this 52-page comic, Martillo takes on pagan storm-gods, metal-obsessed spectres, sadistic thorn-monsters, gold-eating devil-weasels, hungry bogeymen and Pablo Picasso! But can even Martillo save a nation that still bears the psychic scars of the Civil War?
Featuring scenes of goat-defenestration and Cubism gone bad, this 52-page US-format beauty is written by myself and drawn / lettered by small-press superstar David Broughton (Zarjaz / Dogbreath / The Psychedelic Journal of Time-Travel) It also features a piece of interior guest-art by none other than Judge Dredd supremo Ben Willsher!

It can be obtained for the princely sum of £5 + P&P, from the lovely Comicsy.
Go buy it and experience some of this:

Saturday, 5 October 2013

If Only Man Could Moult

PARAGON #14 is out, roaming the streets like a lunatic, and telling wild and improbable tales of action-packed goodness! There are many great things therein, chief amongst which is the jumbo-sized conclusion to Dirk Van Dom and Stephen Prestwood’s wonderful ‘Icarus Dangerous’, which for my money has been the comic’s biggest draw since #7. (Appropriately, its run is bookended by remarkable covers, both courtesy of Matt Soffe.) We also have the start of Tom Proudfoot and George Coleman’s ‘The Major’, which looks gorgeous (in a deeply evil sort of way) and which gets a big thumbs up from me for its Edinburgh setting – as a patriotic Scotsman, I love anything that delves into the myths and legends and indeed entrails of our blood-soaked nation. We also have a dose of laser-whip-fuelled crocodilian lunacy in ‘Jikan’, courtesy of Mr. Van Dom and editor/artist/mastermind Davey Candlish, whose chameleonic art-skills have rendered this one in a Mignola-esque stylee.

For my part, I have contributed two tales, both of which, bizarrely enough, centre around our feathered friends. There’s a Spencer Nero short, ‘Spencer Nero and the Hour of the Heron’, in which our smug hero finds himself dealing with Dartmoor druids and their pagan Heron god, the eyeball-eating Old Nog. Davey Candlish draws this one in a style inspired by ‘Chew’ artist Rob Guillory. The main feature, however, is ‘Spencer Nero and the Locked Door’, in which Spencer’s curator chum William Kitt takes centre stage. Kitt has to deal with a rampaging threat connected with the appearance of a caladrius, the healing bird of ancient Rome. But where is Spencer while all this is going on? Art here is by James Corcoran, and 'tis a dark treat indeed.

At the time of writing, #14 is FREE for download here, so grab a copy – the early bird catches the worm, after all. It is a comic with many feathers in its cap, and we’re as proud as peacocks of it.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Our Friends in the North (and Spain.)

 ‘The Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel’ has been unearthed from down the back of the space-time sofa and unleashed upon an unsuspecting world – well, maybe not that unsuspecting, given that svengali, editor and all-round good egg Owen Watts has a bit of a track record when it comes to such peculiar pamphlets. The panel shown features my favourite line from ‘Stand and Relive Her’, the story I did with Bruno Stahl – it makes about as much sense out of context as it does in. (Letters by the fire-walking Dave Evans, aka Bolt-01.) The Journal has already garnered a couple of strong reviews - over on Everything Comes Back to 2000AD, self-reputed pasty-aficionado and demi-droid Pete Wells says of ‘Stand...’:

A fun, nostalgia ridden assassination of the fad-filled, Tory dominated 1980s. A clever little script that had me smiling throughout and glorious art make this another stand out tale.

Whilst in his review, blogger Steve Hargett says:

The 80s are back… Oh lummee!  Bold and colourful and poking very irreverent fun at the 80s.

Which is jolly nice of both these lovely chaps. Get your mitts on the Journal over here. There are some superb stories in it.

Meanwhile, in other unrelated news, ‘Martillo: Devil-Smiter’ is back on track. The final pieces are at last in place for this 52-page collection of fierce Spanish priest stories, created by myself and artist David Broughton. It won’t be too long before it manifests its ungodly presence in YOUR world. Brace yourselves!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Wild About Wotan

Brace yourself – Wotan’s on the warpath! Yep, ‘Wotan Walks in Weimar’, a PARAGON strip by myself and editor/artist Dave Candlish, is getting ready to strut its stuff on-stage and tinkle a few ivories. (I think the first episode is pencilled in for PARAGON #15, a couple of issues hence.) It’s actually a kind of historical-action-comedy-buddy strip, set in Germany, and starring the two gentlemen in this post here. As you can tell from the date on said post, it’s been in gestation quite a while – I’m hoping readers will find it worth the wait. Here’s a sneak preview of a future PARAGON cover for the series - Dave is drawing the strip in the ‘ligne claire’ style, pioneered by Tintin’s HergĂ©, so colourist supremo Jim Cameron has gone for deliberately flat colours to complement this.

I haven’t asked Dave, but I do wonder if he was inspired by the movie poster for Hammer’s fantastic ‘The Devil Rides Out’, one of my favourite films.  Or does that just come to mind because I happen to have said movie poster framed in my living room?

Monday, 29 July 2013

Nero @ #13, Part 2: Bon's Caught

 Welcome to the second part of a two-part blog posting about my recent work for PARAGON #13. This bit’s about ‘Spencer Nero Goes South’, which reveals the ‘secret origin’ of Spencer Nero – or at the very least, fills in a key piece of his past. (The previous part, about the Ruthless Rhymer, is here.)

This story serves as the conclusion to the ‘original’ quartet of Spencer Nero stories – that is, the last of the first four full-length story ideas I had when I originally came up with the series. (The one and two-pagers were all written much later.) I have a bit of an obsession with the South Pole, particularly the Terra Nova expedition, and knew from the off that I wanted to set a Spencer Nero story there. My first idea indeed involved Robert Falcon Scott’s party, specifically the ghost of Captain Lawrence Oates, and was going to be called ‘Spencer Nero and the Gallant Gentleman’ after John Charles Dollman’s haunting painting of Oates ‘stepping outside’. The problem, of course, was that I’d already done a story about Spencer encountering the ghost of a dead explorer in ‘Spencer Nero and the White Spider’, so that idea was reluctantly set aside. Likewise, fond as I am of H.P. Lovecraft, I had absolutely no intention of regurgitating the similarly polar ‘At the Mountains of Madness’.

But I did want to pay tribute to Ray Harryhausen, the special effects model-master who sadly passed away not long after the story came out. If there’s an influence present in ‘...Goes South’, then Harryhausen is it, particularly the similarly polar ‘Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger’. Ekhidna, for instance, is a fair amalgam of several of Harryhausen’s beautiful beasts (Medusa via the Kraken, principally – like a ‘Clash of the Titans’ greatest hits.) Plus – hydras, chimeras and great big pigs! What more do you want in a comic? (A decent script? Well, you’re not getting one of those, so just enjoy the beasts.) Let’s pick out a few comment-worthy moments to dwell on– though these are largely just an excuse to showcase the wonderful art of James Corcoran, making his hugely welcome return to the strip.

From the first panel, James shows us this is going to be something special, art-wise – I love the way the boat’s shadow, plus a few floating pieces of ice, create the image of the Janus Mask.
Here, Bonaventure Nero, Spencer’s uncle, makes his first flashback appearance – it won’t be his last. He and his nephew both derive their names from the actor Spencer Tracy – Bonaventure was Tracy’s middle name. Having Spencer brought up by an uncle whose subsequent fate he feels guilty for may be an unintentional nod to ‘Spider-Man’, although rather than breeding a sense of responsibility in Spencer, the exact opposite happens – it’s his cue to blame everything on someone else!
The Supra-Centurion’s been name-checked several times in the strip to date, but now we find out a little more about the Janus Cult’s master – it turns out he was a bloodthirsty lunatic who fantasised about slaying creatures that didn’t exist. This probably surprises no-one.
And speaking of creatures - I do like to see a great big pig in my comics. It is a motif of which I’m very fond. The idea of including frightening hogs in my scripts is a nod of the head to my favourite author, William Hope Hodgson, who seemed, as China Mieville put it, “to have had serious misgivings about pigs”. (Read ‘The House on the Borderland’ to see these misgivings in terrifying action.)

More fear with the exquisite Ekhidna – she’s a crowning triumph of James’s art. Going back to the Harryhausen connection, in one of his books, Harryhausen noted that his design for Medusa incorporated horrible features atop a beautiful bone structure – I wanted a bit of that for Ekhidna as well (it seems to have been made manifest in her cheekbones.) James has also given her an extra pair of arms, which just adds to the Dynamation potential of the character. Imagine seeing a stop-motion version of this creature crawling around the Antarctic! The ‘real’ Ekhidna is a genuine monster out of Greek mythology, who did indeed spawn a whole host of abominations – she certainly kept the Greek mythic heroes busy, as her multiple offspring bedevilled Hercules, Theseus, Bellerophon, Prometheus, Perseus, Jason and Odysseus. The father of most of these beasts was the monstrous Typhon –  for my version of Ekhidna, I’ve assumed she can give birth to creatures without needing a mate at all, but the results are less impressive than if they’re fathered by some unfortunate soul.

So, that was ‘Spencer Nero Goes South’ – probably my favourite episode of the strip to date, even if the script does turn into a big mad scramble to cram everything in at the end (let’s just call it an attempt to represent the chaos of battle.) Luckily for me, James’s art really sells the frenetic nature of the denouement, complimenting his cracking creature designs. Beautiful stuff.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Nero @ #13, Part 1: Slay ‘em with Graham

Welcome to the first part of a two-part blog-posting about my recent work for PARAGON #13. This bit’s all about ‘Spencer Nero and the Ruthless Rhymer.’

A few issues back, Dave Candlish included a ‘Rupert the Bear’-style rhyming tale in Paragon, based around the character of Battle Ganesh, and charmingly illustrated by Jim Cameron. I was impressed (not least by Candlish’s use of the phrase ‘macadamian lout’ – when’s that ever occurred in the English language before?) and wanted to do something similar with Spencer Nero. Now conveniently enough, it so happens that 1936, the year in which ‘Spencer Nero’ is presently set, marked the death of a man popularly known as Harry Graham (though his first name was, improbably enough, Jocelyn.) Graham is best remembered as a poet – specifically for his ‘ruthless rhymes’, spectacularly cruel but remarkably upbeat studies of such cheery subjects as infanticide, murder and accidental death, all treated with a comic touch. The general theme of Graham’s poems is the slaying of the stupid, irritating or merely hapless, often for the pettiest of reasons. For instance:

Or, more simply:
The combination of the mannered and the sadistic really appeals to me in Graham’s work (it reminds me a lot of the short-story writer Saki) and so I wanted to write a character who came from Harry Graham’s world, and could dispatch those I considered to be petty annoyances. Thus the Ruthless Rhymer was born (though his name also owes something to ‘The Riddling Reaver’ from Fighting Fantasy game books.) Sporting Rupert-style checked trousers and a can-do approach to slaughtering those who disrupt his life, I sent the Rhymer off on his misanthropic way.  But what really lifted the story was the artwork of Bhuna (Neil Roche to his chums), whom I believe Dave Candlish reckoned would be a good match for the  story on the basis of his similarly savage work on Dirk Van Dom’s equally mean-spirited ‘Buck Tucker’ character (currently appearing over in Vanguard.) As soon as Dave passed me Neil’s early designs for the main characters, I was blown away by how characterful and stylish they were – check out this one for the Rhymer himself:
The other ones are on Bhuna’s blog, over here. Suffice to say, I loved his art so much that it inspired me to write another, much-longer Rhymer-related script: that won’t be appearing any time soon, but rest assured, plans are afoot for the Ruthless Rhymer to make his unlikely return.

Next time on the blog, I’ll be talking about ‘Spencer Nero Goes South’, gallant gentlemen, Ray Harryhausen and Medusa’s cheekbones. See you then.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Psychedelic Stirs (or: I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want...)

As I have doubtless noted in the past, the catalyst for my attempts at this comic-writing lark was the demented vulpine mechanism known as Owen Watts, and his Dr. WTF?! anthology. Well, Dr. WTF?! has morphed into ThePsychedelic Journal of Time Travel, and with its second issue (not quite sure when it’s out – end of August?) I make my return to its welcoming bosom. This time, I’m teamed up with the stunningly talented Bruno Stahl, whose work has previously graced the pages of Zarjaz. Instead of presenting a preview panel, I’m showing off a beautifully painted pic of the main cast, which I believe Bruno did before sinking his talons into the story proper.
Crikey! The story is called ‘Stand and Relive Her’ (though in an early draft, it was called ‘The Lady’s Not Returning’) and I am saying virtually nothing about what happens. Well, except that to note that it was written well before a certain hugely divisive British public figure (not pictured above!) shuffled off this mortal coil – but it at times does look a little as if it was inspired by that very event. Just a case of fortuitous timing – well, fortuitous for the comic, not so fortuitous for said public figure.

Anyway, if you want to feast your eyes on more of Bruno’s gorgeous fully-painted output, pop over here.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Teenage Kicks - PARAGON hits #13!

Yup, PARAGON comic reaches its teens – a bloody impressive tally for a small-press publication, so major kudos to editorial mastermind Davey Candlish for reaching this milestone! As for whether the comic’ll start getting moody and moping about, angsting over girls, remains to be seen. But what is on display, appropriately enough, is a flashback tale featuring a teenaged Spencer Nero, in what amounts to an 8-page ’secret origin’, set at the South Pole. And yes, there’s a spot of girl trouble too, as an... err... older woman comes between Spencer and his uncle. An older woman of mythological proportions... with some rather angry offspring. If you want a better look at her, just check out James Corcoran’s remarkable full frontal reveal or Bhuna’s brilliant, sanity-blasting cover!

And speaking of the talented Bhuna, he also lends his artistic might to another 2-pager, ‘Spencer Nero and the Ruthless Rhymer’. Written, as the name suggests, in verse, this odd little tale celebrates my love of both Rupert the Bear and the utterly black-humoured poet Harry Graham. In it, Spencer takes on a very cross man whose violent means of dealing with pet peeves should in no way be interpreted as wish-fulfilment on the part of the equally grumpy author. Ahem.

I’ll do my usual self-indulgent digging into the entrails of both stories in due course, but first, grab yourself a copy of PARAGON #13 and hold it: hold it tight.  At twenty-eight pages, it’s five-fourteenths me, but don’t let that put you off. It has proper writers too, and all the artists are playing a blinder. If you need excitement and need it bad, PARAGON is here for you.

Monday, 25 March 2013

A Revelation and a Very Special Guest

Following on from my recent ‘covers’ post – here's a third one! Unveiled at last: the cover to the forthcoming ‘Martillo’ collection, with stellar art from the incomparable David Broughton. But there’s more! I can now exclusively reveal that the book will feature one or two pieces of interior guest-art by none other than...
(Drum-roll, please!)
...2000AD artist BEN WILLSHER!
Yup, I am absolutely gobsmacked and honoured to have the ‘Judge Dredd’ superstar contributing to our strange saga of the cross 1940s Spanish priest (and his sledgehammer.) More news on the ‘Martillo’ front soon, as David B. and I put the finishing touches to what looks set to be a 50-page volume of chaos, cassocks and Cubism!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Keep Me Covered (x 2)

Two separate stories of mine have garnered two different cover spots, it seems: always an absolute honour, I should add. The first fantastic frontispiece is for Paragon #13, showcasing an eighteen-year-old Spencer Nero’s flashback conflict with the sort of creature that would give Ray Harryhausen a profound dose of the heebie-jeebies. The intrepid and highly talented artist is Neil Roche, also known as Bhuna, and the creature in question is based on designs by James Corcoran, who draws the interior strip, ‘Spencer Nero Goes South’. Neil has also drawn a Nero two-pager, ‘Spencer Nero and the Ruthless Rhymer’, which follows in a Paragon tradition of rhyming stories. Not sure if that’s in #13 as well or being saved for a later issue, but having seen Neil’s completed art, I can confirm that it looks gorgeous – albeit in a deeply sinister way.

The other cover is for ‘The Zen Fusilier’, as mentioned in a previous posting, which has been chosen as the cover story for the forthcoming Massacre For Boys Picture Library. The art here is by David Frankum and is, frank(um)ly, jaw-dropping. As I commented to Massacre impresario Chris Denton, there’s a strong Brian Bolland vibe to David’s line-work on this awe-inspiring piece: precise, detailed and evocative. Unfortunately, it sounds like the Picture Library will be out later than the Massacre boys originally intended, but good things come to those wait, particularly in the small press.