Sign of the Hammer!

Monday, 8 June 2020

Free Spencer Nero… In Every Pack!

In a time of global crises, political uncertainty and civil unrest, what everyone needs is a big man in a mask to punch things better! Which is why Filippo, Scott Twells and I present A Smidgen of Spencer: Dwarfs, Dames and Dopplegangers! Compiling stories from PARAGON #22-24 and PARAGON Annual 2019, this FREE digital comic features the Civil Centurion having issues with little men, girls and himself – in short, it’s ripe for psychoanalysis! Or you could just read it and laugh at the usual spate of mild perversion and boy’s own thrills!

Features a guest appearance by lettering pro Jim Campbell!

It's a Spencer Nero Club world!

A quick post to document another positive review for The Spencer Nero Club #1, this time from Howard Fuller of Howie's World of Comics. Howard is a recent convert to the small press, but gave us a five-star review, so he's clearly not lacking in taste. We've been down the tubes - now we're on top of the world! Thanks, Howard.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Thumping Hearts Hold the Ravens In: 'Spencer Nero Versus Britain' in PARAGON #25

‘Spencer Nero Versus Britain’ has its origin in two somewhat disparate individuals – Jason Cobley and Kate Bush. The former’s role is simple – I’d hoped to read some new adventures of his well-seasoned small-press hero, Winston Bulldog, but Jason was very busy with other commitments (a novel and paying work for Commando comic.) That being the case, I wondered if he’d mind me borrowing Bulldog to reunite him with Spencer Nero (they previously teamed up as part of The Paragon Paradox) for a special story to celebrate PARAGON’s ‘silver anniversary’ – issue #25. Jason graciously agreed. So what was the story to be?

I’d made notes on possible sequels to the Paragon Paradox a while back. One involved the cast all being turned into dogs (apart from Bulldog, obviously) and going on some cosmic hound-quest, which started me down the road of making the story canine-themed. At one point I had the idea that supernatural dog-beings were converging on Spencer because his body had been transformed into a tasty skeleton by an Aztec death-god – and they wanted the bones! I still like this idea – I intend to use it as a separate story – but I decided the dog-angle was a blind alley, as far as this crossover went. Instead, I decided to look at what really connected Nero and Bulldog – and the answer was obvious. Britain. Which is where Kate Bush comes in.

‘Oh England My Lionheart’ is a song in which Bush nostalgically contemplates a romanticised vision of her home country, complete with all manner of iconic British references. But what if these symbols were turned against the nation that had spawned them? What if all that was quintessentially British went bad? Nero and Bulldog were both defined, in different ways, by their nationality. How would they deal with its darker side?

This dark side was personified by Anthony Seyden, M.P. – a politician and psychic fugitive from Bulldog’s world. Seyden – ‘Tony Satan’ to his friends – was based visually on the wildly-ineffective ‘New Labour, New Danger’ campaign, staged by the Conservative Party in the run-up to the ’97 election. The image of Tony Blair with ‘demon eyes’ proved no deterrent to his landslide victory, but it provided a memorable image I was keen to appropriate. As a ‘prosecco nationalist’, Seyden’s politics lean in a different direction to Blair’s, but they both rejoice in the idea of British icons and like to associate with celebrities – though Seyden’s more likely to set fire to his.

Art on this was by Scott Twells, and lettering was by Filippo – we had recently completed ‘The Spencer Nero Club #1’, and with ‘…Versus Britain’, I felt we were firing on all cylinders as a three-man team. It almost goes without saying that they both did a remarkable job, but I’ll say it: they both did a remarkable job. This is the most visually-interesting Nero story ever. I was particularly fond of the way Scott extended Seyden's mouth so that neither it nor his eyes fit properly on his face. It just makes him that little bit more disquieting.

A few comments on the individual pages:

Page 1: We start with what I like to think of as a ‘John Smith’ page – in his 2000AD stories, the great writer made frequent use of these little ‘catalogue of horror’ sections, where he gave multiple snapshots of some unfolding atrocity. I don’t often get a chance to do these but thought it would be a good way to set the stage.

Page 2: This story follows immediately on from the leprechaun yarn – Spencer’s still got the slash-mark from the leprechaun blade on his jacket. I loved Scott’s bone Spitfires – the story is pre-WWII, but Spitfires did exist, and are a reference to the ‘black Spitfire’ that drops Kate Bush to her funeral barge in ‘Oh England…’ Originally there was a line that suggested Seyden’s weaponization of iconography included a predictive element – he could even corrupt things that would become iconic. I left it out for space reasons. Also of note here is Spencer’s use of the Janus mask as an energy-sheathed weapon, opening doors into his foes – this idea came about from an unfinished story in which Spencer tackles a mystical Chinese tong gang, resulting in the creation of a Peckham weasel-god. The weasel-god itself is occasionally alluded to in the strip as an ‘offscreen’ adventure.

Pages 3-4: Originally, Nero and Bulldog got in a fight with the ants, but I thought this version was more elegant – and it followed on from the idea in the leprechaun story that Spencer carries condiments. The downside is that it robs Bulldog of some action by making Spencer the one to deal with the transfigured businessman – this bothered me a bit, but I figured Bulldog got enough to do later to let it go.

Page 5: Seyden’s secret origin. The Dalmation is Gooch from the Paragon Paradox. I like Scott’s savage black cab – and you can’t beat a good mole joke. Note that the scientists are indeed a mole, a toad, and a vole (or water-rat) – the main characters from another iconic British tome, ‘The Wind in the Willows’.

Page 6-8: When people tell me I write weird stories, I never get it – doesn’t everyone think about wicket-based wicker-men in the shape of W.G. Grace? The implication is meant to be that there are darker and more sinister icons beneath the nation’s psychic surface. I’m particularly fond of Scott’s art on these pages – some grand-scale normalness (ok, madness then.) Seyden’s helpers were referred to in the script as ‘Chaos Cricketers’ – my instruction was to make them look as if Games Workshop had designed their uniform. The wicket-masks give them a slightly ‘Judge Death’ vibe.

Page 9-10: Scott added the idea that Bulldog would give a parting gesture. Scott also pointed out that I’d subconsciously stolen the ‘plink’ sound effect from Zenith – it’s the noise an Einstein-Rosen bridge makes in Phase III when they cross dimensions.

Page 11-12: I decided that Seyden should cycle through iconic British appearances to make the page more interesting for Scott to draw – note also yet another George Formby reference. Is this leading up to something?

Page 13: A version of this was the first page I wrote – it was going to feature alternating panels of Bulldog and Nero describing their respective Britains, with Bulldog seeing the positives and Nero the negatives. The joke was meant to be that their worlds were more similar than they realised, but they both saw Blighty through different lenses, and so couldn’t reconcile their mutual visions. In the end, it morphed into this. I did think about giving the King a stutter for historical accuracy, but it seemed a bit petty.

Page 14-15: It’s now become a tradition that Bulldog makes a profound statement on the last page of their crossovers. Note Seyden’s ambiguous ‘death’ – I wanted this story to give me a new Nero villain to play with. The intention was always to bring him back if Scott and I liked him.

We liked him.

And I hope you liked the story. Downthetubes seemed to – they declared it “utterly brilliant.” I’ll take that!

The Spencer Nero Club Goes Down the Tubes

"Excuse me, sir - do you think our story is ever-so-slightly bawdy?"

Earlier this year, myself, Scott Twells and Filippo Roncone released 'The Spencer Nero Club #1' - the spin-off adventures of Spencer Nero's fan-club. It has been well-received by those who've read it - maybe the most flattering comment was that it seemed like 'the Famous Five written by Alan Moore'. In this hugely insightful review by Peter Duncan from, he also sees a bit of an Enid Blyton influence, which I can't really deny - my favourite books as a younger child were those concerning the magic Faraway Tree, in which young people step into mystical lands. However, my Blytonisms have gone a bit 'seaside postcard' and fallen prey to a mildly perverse interpretation. I blame Moonface and his Slippery-Slip.

You can buy The Spencer Nero Club #1 here.

'Mind-bending'? I thought it was one of my saner outings...

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Comics Wot I Did In 2019: Part Two - Das Boot’s on the Other Foot

Concluding my commentary on stories from 2019, and providing previews of things to come this year in 2020.

Right – the leprechaun story in PARAGON #24 was mostly editor Davey Candlish’s fault (though I blame Jim Cameron too, for encouraging / provoking it, and coming up with the title, ‘Spencer Nero and the Leprechauns of Doom’!) Davey had posted the front cover of the novel 'The Little People' on Facebook – yep, it’s same John Christopher that wrote The Tripods - and immediately, it seemed a major omission that Spencer Nero had never gone up against Nazi leprechauns. Within minutes of realising this, I’d come up with the plot – frankly, the story pretty much wrote itself. In many ways, it is the archetypal Nero story – it features folklore, Roman mythology, Nazis, and a hefty dose of silliness and satire. All in five pages!

Sors – Roman luck god and instigator of the plot – was very much on my mind, as I’d been trying to write a 20-page Nero prequel comic, set prior to Spencer joining the Department of Contingency. The chief antagonist was going to be the aforementioned deity, who had cruelly inflicted good luck on Britain – something that turned out to be less fortunate than it appeared. I eventually shelved the idea, but still wanted to see Sors in print. Luck and leprechauns go together like bishops and being kicked up the arse, so he was a natural fit. The first Nero text tale left Sors washing dishes in the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane – he’s finally finished!

Meanwhile, Sister Von Zero was last seen in County Kerry, facing a beating from the similarly gender-swapped Veleda the druid(ess). I thought about reverting Sister Von Zero back to a man after “…the Trouble with Girls” but I realised that visually, she was much more interesting as a Nazi nun (and probably a lot easier for Scott to draw too.) (Veleda, on the other hand, probably will revert to her original female gender, as I think she worked better as a woman – maybe, like Patsy from AbFab, it’ll fall off after a few months.)

Art on this was by Scott Twells - I'm running out of superlatives for this chap's work, but as ever, he pulled off a blinder. So much character in his... characters! Lettering was by consummate pro, Jim Campbell, a real friend to the small press - it's always a pleasure to have his touch on my Nero. As it were.

A few brief notes:

Spencer’s bath-time rendition of ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’ continues the strip’s ongoing flirtation with George Formby. We’ve seen Oswald with one of Formby’s ukuleles (more of that this year) and a newspaper headline pertaining to a Nero / Formby team-up (a reference to a hitherto unpublished musical story, which needs a bit of revision before it appears.) More tangential Formby to follow…

Leprechauns aren’t the only supernatural beings compelled to count grains – vampires seem to have a similar affliction. It seems Spencer habitually carries granular items on his person to deal with said foes – but what else does he have in his jacket? All will be revealed in his next outing.

And speaking of which, it wasn’t planned at the time, but Sors’s mention of British Bulldogs oddly foreshadows the guest star of the very next Spencer Nero…

Yep, coming later this year in PARAGON – Spencer Nero Versus Britain, in which our hero teams up with Jason Cobley’s storied creation, Captain Winston Bulldog, for a 15-page fight against a nation gone bad! (Many thanks to Jason for his permission to bring Bulldog back to the series, after the pair first teamed up in The Paragon Paradox.)

But before that…

The Spencer Nero Club #1: Folklore and Fire! 28 pages of all-new 1930s fanboy antics, starring Oswald Gypsum and chums! Art by Scott Twells, cover colours, lettering and design by Filippo. More on this ‘un soon! 

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Comics Wot I Did In 2019: Part One - Club Sandwich

2019 was, as usual, a bit of a Spencer Nero year. Two stories emerged into the wild.
The first, ‘The Spencer Nero Club’ is probably the most significant, and one of my absolute favourite yarns. It was written some time ago – it was meant to follow on right after The Paragon Paradox crossover – but was delayed due to a change of artist. The talented Alex Mines was originally scheduled to pen this one, but paying work understandably took precedence, and eventually, the spectacular Scott Twells was drafted into duty. This, as it turned out, was a Very Good Thing, and led to Other Things – but more on those next year.

The Spencer Nero Club pulls a number of different threads together – it’s definitely one of my better bits of writing. The framing story concerns Spencer Nero’s fan club, led by Mr. Alabaster’s nephew, Oswald Gypsum. Oz (as he is henceforth to be known) features heavily in at least one unpublished script, and was a key part of the first Spencer Nero text story “…Chairman of the Board”, but had, until this point, only appeared briefly in a couple of very short strips “…Ruthless Rhymer” and “…Elephant in the Room” (plus a cameo in “…the Trouble With Girls”.) In “The Spencer Nero Club”, he really comes into his own – he very much seems to have supplanted William Kitt as the third main character of the series, after Spencer and Alabaster.

The story also introduces his school, Blackabbots – no prizes for guessing where that name comes from – and his chums, Tookey, Smallpiece, Venables and Botts. All these boys derive their names from the Palin / Jones comedy series, “Ripping Yarns”, specifically the episode ‘Tomkinson’s School Days’: the names are either mentioned in passing by the Headmaster or seen written on-screen.

As well as the story of the boys, “The Spencer Nero Club” is the one that gives Spencer the new regular ability to open Janus Arches as teleportation portals. It also deliberately sets a limit on the power – he can’t use it to go to other dimensions, or else the Roman god Terminus intervenes. This is due to the damage that Janus-kin – Spencer’s alternative selves – typically do to the multiverse. I know the idea of duplicate variations on the protagonist is a total cliché, but what the hell – it’s fun! Sometimes you’ve just got to go with it.

A few other observations:

Pages 1-4:

The images of Spencer are supposed to be a bit homoerotic! Everything on the shelves connects to a previous adventure – a Naztec statuette from the first Spencer Nero story, a feather from the Black Caladrius, the Ruthless Rhymer’s tongue - as does one of the newspaper headlines. The other, the ‘weasel’ one, may yet be explored. However, Von Zero’s swastika eye has never appeared before – the Fauna of Mirrors is from a Chinese tale about an invasion by mirrorworld demons who’d hitherto pretended to be our reflections!

In general, I really enjoyed crafting the (frequently bitchy) dialogue between the boys. Venables, the group’s mandatory arsehole, was the most fun to write. Note Tookey’s action figure – in the first Nero text story, it was implied these don’t sell too well, but that someone had recently bought one. Now we know who. Speaking of that story, Sors, Roman luck god and chief antagonist of said yarn, makes his first appearance in comic form. Look for his return…

Pages 5-7:

Welcome to Terminalis, a junkheap world of items that have reached their limit and can go no further. Stranded here are a variety of parallel universe Spencers: I thought the creepy mime, Spencer Pierrot, would prove my favourite, but Scott Twells’s excellent design for Spencer Pharoah made him the standout. Ironically, it’s Panzer Nero who has a life outside of this story – but more on that next year. Spencer Noveau is based around the Art Noveau movement – my instruction to Scott was to avoid straight lines and go for sweeping curves. He’s done a cracking job.

Pages 8-9:

Spencer’s murder of Panzer is a bit vicious – but you know what he’s like with Nazis. I don’t know if Scott did this deliberately – presumably not – but the way the blood drips down Spencer’s face after the Glasgow kiss from Terminus is in the same pattern as his Uncle Bonaventure’s ‘James Hetfield / My mate Graeme’ beard. If Spencer makes it into middle age – unlikely, I know – he might just have to grow such a facial adornment.

Back to Blackabbots for the final page, and we get a brief appearance of ‘orrible ‘eadmaster Ol’ Bergeron – modelled loosely on Richard Harris – whilst Oswald’s rebellious streak (and fetishisation of Nazi memorabilia) come to the fore. And at this point I started to think “You know what? The framing sequence was the best bit of the story – I could do more with these characters…” and cogs started turning in my brain.

To conclude, as well as Scott's typically brilliant art, it’s also worth mentioning the huge contribution of letterer Filippo to this story – he’s come on in leaps and bounds in terms of his (already perfectly good) lettering skills, and in this one he really lets rip and shows what he can do when you give him some sound effects to play with. Plus he was endlessly accommodating when it came to making changes. What a guy.

 'The Spencer Nero Club' appeared in PARAGON #23 - an extremely strong issue, if memory serves.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Spencer Nero and the Trouble with Blogs

The Ace of Cups. Art by Scott Twells, letters by Filippo.

Is it true? Am I down to only one blog post per year? Blimey! 2018 wasn’t a particularly productive year for me, from a comics-related perspective: indeed, by no standards was it an ordinary year, with too much else work-related going on, sapping time and energy for the creative process. However, a few stories managed to escape into the wild – a couple of Spencer Nero yarns and Something Else. Possibly. Here’s a few words on ‘em:

“I like men who have a future and women who have a past.”
-        - Oscar Wilde

In ‘Spencer Nero and the Trouble with Girls’, from PARAGON #22, an iconic British hero faces a gender-swap, and anyone who has concerns about this is accused of being a Nazi (in one case by an actual Nazi.) What, you may ask, could possibly have inspired this story? Who, I reply, knows? The mind of the small-press writer is sometimes best left unexplored. (As is the mind of his editor, who managed to schedule this story for September 2018, perfectly coinciding with a certain high-profile media event.)

But, this being a blog, we’d better at least have a gentle rummage.

The basic idea for this had been sitting around for a while – to gather up some of Spencer’s former female foes into a Sisterhood of Sirens, and derive some humour out of Spencer’s mistaken inability to take them seriously. (As a nod of the head to the original title for ‘The Pack’, and to suggest Spencer’s dismissive attitude, I’d considered calling it ‘A Few Bints and Spencer’, though I knew I’d never get away with it!) At one point, there was going to be an entire page of Spencer just laughing at the idea of women being a threat to him. In the end, the story went off in a different direction, as a comment on contemporary pop-culture, though Spencer’s off-hand sexism slipped through in a few panels. I’m not sure any of the characters come out of the story particularly well – as is my wont, everyone’s opinion and perspective, including my own, is thoroughly mocked.

It’s also a pretty continuity-heavy tale, featuring, as it does, the skull of Ekhidna from ‘Spencer Nero Goes South’ and ‘The Paragon Paradox’, Veleda the Druidess from ‘The Hour of the Heron’, Mrs. Simpson from ‘Spencer Nero and Mrs. Simpson’ and Dr. Von Zero from ‘The Island of the Naztecs’ and ‘The Hidden Olympics’. The story also features Spencer making greater use of the Janus Mask’s abilities, first unveiled in the aforementioned ‘Paragon Paradox’: technically, there should be a story in between, ‘The Spencer Nero Club’, which really flags this up properly, but I gather it’s still being drawn. Nonetheless, I like it when a series has been running long enough that you’re able to include various callbacks and links to previous continuity – hopefully this wasn’t too disorientating for any new readers.

Simpson attack! Art by Scott Twells, letters by Filippo.

However, the story is a tour de force for Mr. Scott Twells, a gentleman who, of late, has been saddled with the onerous chore of rendering umpteen of my scripts into a wholly undeserved and vivid life. Scott’s got it all, artistically-speaking – a unique and distinctive style, a stunning grasp of action sequences and the uncanny ability to capture characters’ mood, emotion and personality. I think this is probably his strongest Spencer Nero work to date – I particularly love the contrast between his finely-defined characters and his more impressionistic take on the Irish landscape of County Kerry.

You can pick up PARAGON #22 here:

A French ‘Phant! See?

‘Spencer Nero and the Elephant in the Room’ was written in a matter of hours to provide an elephant-themed story for this year’s Ganesh-centric PARAGON Winter Special. As stories go, there’s not much to it – editor Davey Candlish originally suggested Spencer and Oswald tangling with a haunted African tribal mask, but somehow I ended up thinking about fictional elephants from children’s books instead. A quick check, and yes – it turned out Babar was indeed from the 1930s, and therefore the best fit. Somehow, Scott Twells (there’s that man again) managed to use my pretty thin premise to conjure up some typically glorious art. I don’t know if tarot cards were involved. In retrospect, the title of this story bothers me – it needs to work on another level, as well as being literal, and it doesn’t. Unless the elephant in the room is the British class system, and Spencer’s subordinate status to Alabaster. All right, that’ll have to do.

Art by Scott Twells, letters by Filippo

 You can get your copy of annual here:

Rocket Man

Now, the third thing this year has, improbably enough, also featured Scott Twells, but I’m not sure if it’s been officially released. The Psychedelic Journal, to which I’ve contributed in the past, has done tales of Time Travel and the Wild West, but has subsequently moved on to the theme of Wizardry. As such, I concocted a story about a real-life sorcerer, the remarkable 1930s Thelemic sex-wizard and rocket engineer Jack Parsons. Now, I’ve seen the completed comic, but I haven’t seen it for sale on Comicsy, so I don’t know if 'Babalon Working' was fully unleashed to the general public. For the moment, here’s a random panel.

A bit phallic, innit? Art by Scott Twells, letters by Chris Mole

Happy new year!