July 28, 2017

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Kickstarter Interview (Corsair by Nick Gonzo, Magician's House, Alexa Renée and Rob Jones)

Nick Gonzo makes up one quarter of the indie comics powerhouse publisher that is Madius Comics. As both the writer and artist on the fan-favourite 50Signal and the wonderfully weird Pictures of Spiderman, Gonzo has made a name for himself in the British indie comics scene. Gonzo's new project, Corsair, features artwork by Magician's House, colours by Alexa Renée and letters by his Madius compatriot Rob Jones.

Nick Gonzo sat down with me to discuss what sparked his obsession with comics, the horror influences he draws from and why he's taking a unique approach to launching his new series. The fundraising has already started and runs until Friday 25th August, so hurry on over and donate before it's too late.

WARNING: This article contains explicit images

Mark Dickson: What's your quick pitch for Corsair if people haven't heard of it before?

Nick Gonzo: Corsair is a sort of a mashup between a horror story and a detective story. It is a police procedural that happens to be about ghosts and folklore in England. Somebody described it as "Planetary but in England" if you're a fan of Warren Ellis, but I see it as an incredibly English version of Swamp Thing.

It's hard to explain, but it's a book about a guy investigating the weird folk tales of England and putting them in a contrasting state to the new and modern England. The entire central theme is about order versus disorder and the people caught in between. Disorder being the natural  England, Pagan England, and the so-called "order" being the modern Christian England. It's about the two identities that England has and how they don't sit next to each other very comfortably.

I did have something along those lines as a question. If you had to choose a genre for Corsair, would you call it a detective story or a horror story?

Gonzo: I would call it a horror story. The detective work is a framework for the horror. There are many great horror stories about cops in the same way that the horror series Condemned for the Playstation was all technically about cops - in all actuality it's a horror story. You know, the story of Silent Hill is not a love story because he loves his dead wife - it's a horror story because he goes to Silent Hill and it's full of crazy shit.

The fact that Corsair is an agent for The Order, which investigates and solves strange happenings, it's still a horror story because the things that he's investigating are horrifying. The first one is kind of a haunted house tale, but it's my version of a haunted house tale.

Your protagonist is very blunt, he's very gruff. He's very much a "guy's guy".

Gonzo: I wouldn't say so. He's a typical Yorkshire man, he's...when you say "guy's guy" I always get a misogynist in my head.

Somebody said that Corsair has a very Constantine-y vibe and in my head the character of Constantine and the character of Blythe Corsair are not congruous. In my head it's more like, if you've seen Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, there's a character called Mike Ehrmantraut in that and I've just realised how much they connect in my head. 

Corsair has been around the block; he's seen everything and he's not necessarily shocked by anything anymore - he knows what the rules are to life. There's a scene in the first issue where he goes into a guy's bedroom and sees the guy's got a pair of handcuffs chained to his headboard and rather than comment on it, he's just like "That's just what the guy gets up to". 

I think that's one of things that I want to explore with the character of Blythe Corsair, because the idea is that he's old, he's not short-tempered, but he has very little interest in being pissed around. He doesn't want to play politics in The Order and his superior officer is regularly seen playing golf and working his way up the political ladder. Corsair would rather be out there doing what he's there for rather than try to get his name on the wall.

In the same way that the old fashioned detective is only interested in the true nature of the law, the badge or whatever it represents, Corsair is out there to do the best at his job that he can do and has no time for this brown-nosing around it. Calling him a man's man is reductive to his character, but he is the typical elderly Yorkshire-man who's happy for the world to keep going, but he just wants to keep his place in it.

So you've said that in the first issue, it's got a lot to do with a haunted house and that feels very much like classic horror. Do you have any classic horror influences that you're drawing from?

Gonzo: The thing is that the actual stories in it are very much drawn from folktales. One of my favourite things in life is that if you go on holiday in England and you go in the local gift shop, the local corner shop, they will have these small books that will tell you about the folk tales of that area. Go into a Waterstones in Leeds or Wakefield or Barnsley and you'll have books like "Murder in Leeds" or "Black Barnsley" , which is one that I own, that will tell you everything. 

I was on holiday in South Wales and they had one that was telling me all about the ancient folk tales of the Pembrook area and that kind of thing is where my inspiration for it comes from. The story's all about the folk tales of England, but I wanted to frame it in a very classic horror way and there's nothing more classic to me than a haunted house story.

To go onto the art, there's one splash page just after Corsair picks up the artefact that sets this story off. What were your notes to artist Stefani (a.k.a Magician's House) for that page and how much of it did you paint out for her?

Gonzo: The actual description of it is about 200 words. I had this 70s European comic book thing going on in my head, something like Mobius would draw, with a woman up-top, sort of like a genie, spectral god figure, and all of these other things going on. I wanted the sense of something that was very overwhelming, but we were also chucking in a lot of elements that will be developed, not just throughout this one episode, but throughout the whole arc that I have planned out.

I had this 200 word description and I did this shitty sketch for Stefani in, I don't think it was Paint, but it was Google Docs. I wrote it on a Surface Pro tablet and luckily I had the pen handy to draw this thing. I sent it across to Stefani and I got a message back from her saying "You're a lunatic".

She's not the sort of person who puts up with shit; you send her a script and she'll send you back a page. So I sent her this picture and she was like "I can see why you picked me to do the art for this". She actually ended up rearranging it, but she did an incredible job. It did end up being the focal point for the story for me - as soon as I saw that page, I thought "I know how to write this".

The script wasn't finished when Stefani started drawing it. I'd sent over a very detailed synopsis of the episode and lot of other episodes as well, but I was maybe sending her a a page a day of the script. She was probably on page 6 or 7, because that splash page is probably page 6 or 7, and seeing that image changed how I wrote the rest of the issue. 

I saw it and thought "This is the aesthetic I'm working with now".

So you've said that she took what you gave her as guidance and then went in her own direction with it. Did that apply to the rest of the book as whole? How much guidance did you give her?

Gonzo: You don't need to give Stefani much guidance. 

She's an incredible artist and she's also a staunch professional. She works incredibly quickly and incredibly well. She likes to be told what people look like in comparison to other people. She asked who Corsair looked like and I said "like Johnny Cash" and she then she comes up with a character design. There's a whole cast of actors ready for these people.

There are some moments where it's clear that she's very much an American, whereas this is an incredibly English book. At one point I wrote a scene that said "a factory on a canal" and she sent me back a picture of the Oscorp Factory from Spider-Man with giant pylons, huge oil derricks and I ended up having to send her photos of a typical Yorkshire textile mill; little brick built, long building, everything a bit run down. I really wish I could have implemented her drawing because the original piece was one of the most astounding pieces of art, but just utterly out of context for crappy middle England. 

If that's what factories look like in America, it's truly the land of the future.

So you've said that you see this in arcs and episodes. Do you call an episode one single story and that's like a few issues? How do you break the story down?

Gonzo: The whole idea is to Kickstarter all of it. I don't want to go through it issue by issue because I think that people who see an issue #2 are like "Well I've not read the first one, so I'm not going to back that". 

Working in indie comics, it's likely that you're never going to see people again. You'll see someone at a convention and they'll buy an issue #1 and they'll never come back and buy issue #2. I've bought so many issue #1s in my time and never seen the person again or ever looked them up. Sometime I'll look through my indie comic collection and then go and look the person up and find out there never was an issue #2, but sometimes I'll go back and buy issue #2 years later.

What I wanted to do with this is to create it so you could buy each issue and gain more from owning issue #1, but you could still read issue #2 and go "that's a good tale". If you watch an episode of the TV show Bones, even if you've never seen it before you can watch an episode and get it - you can look at that creepy guy and go "He's the murderer". However, if you watch a whole series of Bones, you get the fact that David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel totally have a thing. 

It's the same with Corsair. I wanted each episode to be a self-contained story. There will be characters and elements of it that will come back and if you've read all of it you'll be like "Oh shit - I get that". 

Each one is going to be of varying length and that's something you can get from self publishing: you're not bound by a set limit. If I want one issue to be 28 pages and the next one to be 50, then I can do that. Each issue is going to be their own individual length and, at the end of the day, each one is going to be their own individual story.

Do you see Corsair and The Order as the constant thing throughout all of it?

Gonzo: Yes - he's the investigating officer in all of this. Some of the episodes take place outside of his relationship with The Order, but it's all a continuing story. I've currently got six issues planned in my head.

The character of Corsair was actually invented by Rob [Jones]. Rob wanted to bring me on to do a co-writing thing with him and I ended up writing a script. The way that he writes with Mike Sambrook on things like Griff Gristle is that one of them will write a story and the other will go though and add bits and so on and so forth and it's very much a collaborative thing.

I'm way too much of a control freak for that to ever work.

I remember giving him my synopsis and Rob started writing in stuff and I was like "NOOOOOO. THAT JUST WON'T DO. THAT WON'T DO AT ALL". I wanted things a certain way and he wanted things another way, so we agreed to swap over after about six issues and he can explore the younger years of Corsair. 

It's funny because we originally thought of him as this gruff character, but when Rob came back to the idea after a long time away, he wanted him to be this optimistic, young guy. I thought that having this guy, not as an angry loner, but as a friendly older man, worked a lot more for his character and the themes that I wanted to explore. I think that's the reason for this division between the two of us and why he gave me the character first.

The nature of the way that his character has developed over the years gives us the opportunity to do both.

When I was reading it, because it felt like a horror film, I could almost hear the soundtrack underneath it. If you had to choose an artist to do the soundtrack for the Corsair movie, who would you choose?

Gonzo: I love soundtracks; I have quite the collection. I've thought about this.

If you look at the video on the Kickstarter trailer, it has some music on it that's specifically written for Corsair. My friend is in a band called Dogwood Flowers and he made a soundtrack specifically for the trailer.

In that vein, I think the band Xiu Xiu, who did a soundtrack for Twin Peaks as part of a retrospective celebration of David Lynch, something like that or the soundtrack to the original Silent Hill. It needs to be bleak, but also a great cacophony of noise when it needs to be; possibly with a mandolin involved.

There's the one question that I do normally ask, but I don't know if I've already asked you before. What was the first comic that you properly got into and why?

Gonzo: Probably 2000AD, but I have a humorous anecdote for you that popped up today.

I just bought Lead Poisoning, which is the pencil art of Geof Darrow. He's one of the first artists I really got into because there's a bookshop in Wakefield called Ottakar's that I used to go to. It was around the time of my parent's divorce, but I would go and take my paper round money, go to the graphic novel section, which was about half a shelf in the sci-fi and fantasy section, and pick a little graphic novel up. 

They'd have like Volume 10 of Y: The Last Man or Sandman on the shelf. All of the comics that I'd read had before that point were single collections and didn't need to be read in series, so when I started reading the last volume of Sandman I was like: "I entirely don't understand this".

They also had this copy of Hard Boiled by Frank Miller and Geof Darrow. Geof Darrow is an amazing artist - he did all of the concept work for The Matrix - and his artwork is obscenely detailed. Hard Boiled is a story of a detective who keeps investigating crimes and dying and regenerating over and over again because he's a robot character. It's insanely violent, like insanely violent.

Someone crashes their car into the supermarket and thousands of people die and there's guts flying everywhere. At one point, some guy crashes a car into the main character and he goes through a wall and starts crashing into this competitive sex event - there was like a wrestling ring full of people going at it and people walking around with chainsaws cutting people up.

How old were you at the time?

Gonzo: About 12 or 13. I was way too young for it and I would go up to it like it was pornography, look at a page, close it and then look around like "Is anyone looking at me?". Then I would open it up and look at it and then close it again. It was like people sneaking a peak at boobs in National Geographic at the dentist, but with horrific violence. I always used to look at stuff that horrified me like "that's disgusting" and then look at it over and over again.

I ended up buying it so that I could be disgusted in the privacy of my own home instead.

I also remember that I started trying to draw like Geof Darrow because I thought that if I stuck enough detail in it, I thought that it might distract people from the fact that I don't know how to draw things like a face.

That's one of my first memories of comic books. It wasn't my first book but it's a very strong memory that I still hold with me today.

Corsair is on Kickstarter until August 25th. Give Nick Gonzo all of your hard-earned money and you won't regret it for one second.

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Make sure to read all of the Terms and Conditions (Weekend Pattering for July 28th, 2017)

Previously on Panel Patter

Capsule Review

I can't tell if R. Sikoryak is a great cartoonist or a great remixer.  Terms and Conditions really isn't a book that you read as much as it's a book that you experience.  Taking the text of Apple's terms and conditions, Sikoryak puts it in the word bubbles, thought balloons and caption boxes of his redrawn iconic comic pages and comic strips.  On one hand, it's an enchanting juxtaposition of legal jargon and these silly, self-important and self-dramatic pages.  But on the other hand, Sikoryak's redrawn comics serve as an examination of the effect of the art of artists from Todd McFarlane to John Romita Sr. to R. Crumb and even to Lynn Johnson.  Each page is instantly identifiable and Sikoryak's imitation is spot on.  Moving beyond the kitsch aspect of this combination of words and pictures, the narrative meaninglessness of the words makes you focus in a way that makes you question what is the art doing and why did Sikoryak pick these pages?  It's a wonderful book that makes you really look at the drawing and engage with all of these different styles and artists.

July 25, 2017

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #37 (Weirdy by AP Quach)

See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as these, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

Words have power - that’s an undeniable aspect of any language. Media usually strips away words to create the impression of its absence, to allow you to see remains when one of the most basic components of life is taken away. Weirdy continues along that trend and removes the words to highlight the strength and the power of what remains: the art.

July 24, 2017

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Shifting One Degree with Jason's On The Camino


As part of his mid-life crisis, Norwegian cartoonist Jason walked in the footsteps of history. After his 50th birthday, he began a 500-mile pilgrimage by walking The Camino de Santiago, a series of trails throughout Europe that all lead to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northeastern Spain. When asked why he’s walking the Camino, Jason answers “It was either this or buying a Porsche!” It’s half a joke but Jason is obviously looking for something on this journey; enlightenment, spirituality, answers or maybe even just the right questions to ask.

If you broke down the book panel-for-panel it would be:
  1. Jason begins walking
  2. Jason has an awkward interaction with others on the trail.
  3. Jason finds a hostel to stay at for the night
  4. Jason tries to have a meaningful encounter with his environment.
  5. Goto 1.

That’s a very simplistic view of On the Camino but it’s not that far from the truth. Compared to past books like I Killed Adolf Hitler, The Werewolves of Montpellier (reviewed for Popdose a long time ago here) or The Last Musketeer, books that went off in peculiar flights of fancy, Jason’s new book seems almost mundane. Yes, his characters are still very human-like cats and dogs but his story is much more grounded and smaller than most of his previous stories have been. Where in those stories, Jason likes to find his weirdness in the ways he juxtaposes fantasy and reality. In On The Camino, he’s finding the strangeness in the way that he’s removed himself from his own normal, everyday reality in an effort to find something.

The question of what he’s hoping to find hangs in the background of his story. Even Jason doesn’t seem to know what he wants from this journey other than that he wants something. Anything. He expects some kind of change even if he doesn’t know what that change is going to be. “It was either this or buying a Porsche,” a joke he many times on this walk, is filled with half-truths and half-lies. Having turned 50 years old, Jason wants to find some new meaning or truth that he feels has eluded him for the first five decades of his life.

Jason’s recounting of this trip is fairly regulated and staid. Told in unshifting 4-panel pages, his pilgrimage is a series of days and encounters that lack any kind of general or specific revelation. Even in Jason’s art, there’s no sense of the grandiose vistas or grueling days on the trail. There’s only the sense of the walk and the people on page after page. Even at stops where Jason visits churches and cathedrals, he goes through the motions of the experiences. At some of these, his emotional state seems open to having what could be called a spiritual experience but that only lasts within the moments of the physical experience and the next day is just another quest to find something again.

Often on this journey, Jason wonders if this pilgrimage is going to change him in some way. Even toward the end of the book, he struggles with what this whole thing was for. In the last encounter Jason shows with someone else, a police officer who patrols the trail, Jason admits that he’s not too sure what he gained from the journey. “But I don’t know if it has changed my life. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen on the Camino, like Martin Sheen in that movie?” The Camino cop responds, “Nobody walks the Camino and changes 180 degrees. You talked to a nun. You started conversations. Isn’t that one degree, at least? One degree is still a change.”

And this book is a testament to that one-degree change. It’s Jason’s first autobiographical work and it asks questions that his other books barely contemplated. While his comics have always tried to put order to a crazy world, this book tries to find optimism internally to the cartoonist himself. As he’s questioning his perceived lack of change, it’s evident in just how this comic stands amid his vast catalog. With the path that he was on, On The Camino isn’t something that he would have written and drawn in the past. It’s a degree of navel-gazing that was completely missing from his storytelling and this book demonstrates the awareness of that even while the cartoonist may not be completely aware of or even finished with an even one-degree transformation.

July 21, 2017

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So whatcha doin' tonight? (Weekend Pattering for July 21st, 2017)

Really?  Any plans?  Anything going on this weekend?  Or tonight specifically?

Me?  I'm probably hitting Valerian with my son.

So with Rob at Comicon, James getting back from assignments overseas, Mark probably reading more Zelda and me actually avoiding doing any real writing, we're going to keep this one short, sweet and to the SDCC point today.

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover of the Next Week

I've read a handful of the Henry & Glenn comics and, while I've passed on some of the other collections of this, I really hope that I remembered to order this new collection from my LCS.  According to the Microcosm website, Rob Halford is even writing an introduction to the book.  

And if reading about the love of Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig wasn't enough, you can also add color to that love with the Henry & Glenn Adult Activity and Coloring Book.

This and That

** Rob's at San Diego Comicon this week. You can follow their adventure on the Panel Patter Twitter feed but here's their first day or two at the con.

Current Mood

July 19, 2017

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San Diego Comic-Con: Ten Comics Types to See

In an ideal world, this would be full of color, plentry of links, and so on. And longer.

But I am writing this at 4:15am on about 90 minutes of sleep at the airport, so....not so much.

For the first time, a member of the Panel Patter team, yours truly, will be at Comic-Con. Plenty of attention will go to the media areas, but what about comics? Is Comic-Con a good place for fans of images on paper or screen?

I'll know more in about 15 hours. But a few weeks of scanning the lists snd talking to publishers and creators has convinced me there's plenty of comics to be had, and some that are really exciting to me!

Here's a small sample as I wait to board. Please excuse typos. I am sleep deprived!

Hometown Oni Press will have their booth, along with creators including Colleen Coover (Small Favors), Zander Cannon (Kaijumax), and Bryan Lee O'Malley (Scott Pilgrim) among others, plus book specials.

European Comics is a combination of several presses across the Atlantic Ocean who are bringing their comics to the English market in translation. Scott and I are big fans of European comics and I can't wait to see what they have to offer.

Action Lab/Danger Zone has a booth, as do several of their creators. Associated people to see include Jamal Igle (Molly Danger), Damon Clark (The Circle), Dave Dwonch (Infinite 7), David Pepose (Spencer and Locke), and more.

Kel McDonald (Misfits of Avalon), Jen Vaughn (Cartozia Tales), and Rachel Dukes (Frankie Comics) are all Panel Pals and can be found in the booths. Make sure you see all three of them!

First Second is one of my favorite publishers. Two highlights from their stable of creators this year include proud papa Box Brown (Tetris) and the amazingly talented Tillie Walden (On a Sunbeam). If you want all ages comics, look no further.

Fantagraphics is at the show, of course, with 2017 debut books from Noah Van Sciver and others. Signings include the Hernandez Brothers (Love and Rockets) and Liz Suburbia (Sacred Heart).

No one talks enough about the quality of Bongo Comics, which is a shame. Love the Simpsons, Futurama, and Spongebob? Please go try their comics. Now. Guarantee you will dig them.

Northwest Press and Prism team up to provide premiere queer content to SDCC. You'll find Tony Breed (Muddlers Beat), Dylan Edwards (Valley of the Silk Sky) and others, along with great comics by top talents in the LGBT community.

Mini-Comic, zine scene, and outsider types need to go to Silver Sprocket, who are appropriately enough, located near Fanta. Lots of new comics from them to be had, from a publisher of Liz Prince among others.

Let's close this list with Fanfare. A small publisher with amazing taste, they are how I got into the late  Jiro Taniguchi, aka one of the five best Japanese creators I've read. (He also bore a strong resemblance to my father, which is kinda cool. I think it was the moustache.) If you have never read Taniguchi, you simply must. Stephen will hook you up, and make sure he knows I sent you.

Okay, almost time to board. Sorry there isn't more, but here's a great starting point. Watch Panel Patter's Twitter for more, as I use it to highlight comics at the show.

And if you are at SDCC, please try to find me and say Hi!

July 18, 2017

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #36 (The Power of the Dark Crystal by Simon Spurrier, Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews)

See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as these, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

When existing franchises spin-off into other media, it’s often very difficult to translate the nuance that made the source material have such sustainability. Couple that with new creators at the helm and it becomes a balancing act between maintaining the spirit of the original without becoming an unrelenting slave to it.

The Dark Crystal was a fantasy movie that was released in 1982 - written and directed by the one and only Jim Henson - to moderate success. However, in the years since, it has attained something of a cult status, with the novelisation providing an even greater lore that whet the audiences appetites for more. The planned sequel, The Power of the Dark Crystal, meandered in production limbo for upwards of twelve years. With the original movie's 25th anniversary landing this year,  Archaia took the script and.gave the fans everything that they could have possibly dreamed of.

Coming into this franchise as a complete newbie, I was astounded at how resolutely this book stands alone. The history of the world remains critical, but Spurrier immediately lets readers know that there’s still so much more to unfold in this world; it manages to retain the lore that will please long-term fans while also providing a very clear path in for new readers.

Spurrier is a writer that is generally known for his freneticism. Often, that applies to the speech patterns of characters like Doctor Nemesis, but that can also apply to the barrelling nature of his plots. What makes The Power of the Dark Crystal stand apart from his existing body of work is the sudden replacement of that quick-witted patter with a very different, but still engrossing, kind of rhythm.

Spurrier’s repetition of certain phrases in the caption boxes that frame the issue push the tone of its narrative into a very specific direction. It creates the impression that this is a story being read from a musty tome, plucked from the highest shelf by some robed tutor to a gathered group of children. Small storytelling decisions lead to a greater narrative and this is a comic that absolutely understands that.

While this is a comic that is entrenched in the lore of its predecessor, the team add to the world, taking the mysterious girl made of fire from the sequel's concept art and making this universe feel expansive and well-worn. The race of fire-folk are stunning, thanks to the splendid art from Kelly and Nichole Matthews. From the first appearance of the ambassador, whenever the creatures are on panel they consume it; the dynamism of the flame jumps from panel to panel, guiding the eye and making the page feel truly alive.

This reaches its peak in the one-page origin story of this race that is absolutely consumed by an intensity of colour. The oranges, reds and whites blend together to create the sense of an inferno, but the retention of the earthy browns remind us that within all of this supposedly destructive flame, there is the story of a dying race desperately struggling to survive.

However, while there is a tragic undercurrent driving the main plot forwards, there are moments of genuine amusement that keep the tone from becoming overbearing. The ambassador of the Fire Kingdom has a weakness that no-one could have anticipated: wood. This discovery pushes the narrative forwards while also providing moments of levity in what could otherwise be a weighty story.

One of the signs of a good artist is knowing where to position the so-called “panel camera”. The art team of Matthews and Matthews begin the story with an expansive shot of the palace, providing a global context, before zooming in for an intimate view of the effects that the events of this world have on the little people. It’s a combination that works extraordinarily well at setting up both the world and the human cost of this civilisation.

This is a creative team in perfect synchronisation, weaving a story that manages to feel grandiose in its setting and style of storytelling, while not losing sight of the intimacy and innocence that makes worlds like these pop. They’ve taken an existing story and truly made it their own. Existing fans of the franchise will get the sequel that they always dreamed of, but new converts like myself have the chance to ignite their passion.

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mcdickson101@gmail.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.

July 17, 2017

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A Study in Legends #6 (Phantom Hourglass by Akira Himekawa)

See all past instances of this column here

With the new release, Breath of the Wild, receiving all manner of accolade from the most unexpected of sources, The Legend of Zelda franchise has been revitalised and has never been more in vogue.

For the few who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up in the 90s saturated in video games, The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that is steeped in complex continuity, interweaving between worlds and throughout time. What remains constant, however, is a protagonist named Link that strives to save the titular heroine, Zelda.

Back in 1998, a staggering 19 years ago for those of you who want a reminder of your age, Nintendo commissioned the legendary manga duo Akira Himekawa (with pen names A. Honda and S. Nagano) to adapt their most popular game to date, Ocarina of Time, into a serialised manga. As is discussed in the afterword to the first collected volume, Akira Himekawa jumped at the chance to work on a game that they themselves were hotly anticipating.

Akira Himekawa would soon go on to adapt eight of the games in turn, putting their own little spin on each independent universe, which were released to wild acclaim in Japan and even found some success overseas. Fortunately for those of us who were unlucky enough not to have access to the material at the time of its initial release, Viz Media have been gradually re-releasing collected versions of the material in so-called “Legendary Editions”.

These editions include a limited portion of coloured pages at the beginning of each volume, while also bundling in supplementary material such as accompanying magazine interviews and bonus stories that hint at a world even broader than that seen in the games themselves. This column will cover each of these five collected “Legendary” volumes, analysing their commitment to the original source material and whether or not they can be judged on their own merits.

NOTE: All images in this article should be read from right to left, in the original manga style

Previous "Legendary Edition" volumes have followed one overall story; even though they sometimes contained two separate adventures; this third entry into the series contains two distinct stories. Although they are from the same video game era, they each require their own analysis; if you haven't read the first half yet, you can find that here.

With each successive Zelda manga that I consume, the traits that correlate with a successful adaptation have begun to coalesce. One key quality that continues to rank highest is originality. Himekawa know that direct adaptations are unnecessary, as you can simply play the original game and consume it in its intended format. The most outstanding story so far, A Link to the Past, stood out because it was unafraid to use the foundation of the game’s plot as a springboard for something far greater. Unfortunately, Phantom Hourglass is the series' first major misstep, reaching in so many directions that it never quite attains any.
Each of the previous entries into this column have identified what makes each of the individual stories unique; whether this means a new version of Link, unique perspective on the timeline or another component, there has always been something to point to and say why each was worthy of the adaptation. It’s difficult to say why Akira Himekawa decided to put the effort into adapting this game. Phantom Hourglass is the direct sequel to the hit game The Wind Waker, making the slight step down from Gamecube to the Nintendo DS in 2007. It follows a Link that travels the seas with his pirate companion Tetra (this generation’s version of Princess Zelda), but is swept up into yet another adventure with the cowardly sailor, Linebeck, and the amnesiac fairy, Ciela.

It was a game that relied heavily on the fans of its successor to make the transition between consoles for the continuing story. Its release was met with the now customary success, but is definitely one of the more forgettable in the franchise. One of the main criticisms for the game was its very casual nature; it lacked the bite and the excitement that had previously made the franchise so popular.
This lack of enthusiasm translates immediately into the tone of this story; there is no agency or buoyancy to the story motivating you forwards to the next page. Disregarding the need for an impactful plot, as The Minish Cap was able to do very successfully, it still never manages to be a fun adventure. The only reason driving this adaptation appears to have been a need to capture Link's recent recreational sailing without a consideration as to the need to tell this story.

However, there are a few moments when you begin to get a hint at what Himekawa were reaching for with this half of the volume. Link will occasionally emote to the panel-camera in a fun, fourth-wall breaking way. Due to the inherent cartoonish exaggeration of the cell-shaded aesthetic, it feels like a natural leap for Himekawa to make and the humour lands very neatly. Unfortunately, it doesn’t permeate through enough of the story and only makes you resent the moments where its presence cannot be felt. There is still an inherent magnification of emotion that you would expect from something with this aesthetic, but it never quite feels like enough.

On that same vein, Link's role in Phantom Hourglass is very difficult to pinpoint. Without the strong narrative cohesion that slots the rest of the games into something resembling a timeline, he serves as any other plug and play protagonist in a fantasy story. Even his relationship with Tetra suffers in the adaptation, with Himekawa turning her solely into an overbearing captain, removing any of the nuance to their interactions.
One character that does well in the conversion is Link’s companion, Ciela. She takes the role that was unfortunately discarded by Himekawa in their adaptation of the fairy Navi in Ocarina of Time, serving as Link’s moral compass - his partner in everything but name - and introduces a strong sense of comradery to the adventure. She epitomises why this role is important for this franchise: when the blandness of the protagonist permeates, the companion brings back the conversation.

A brand new character for this instalment that gets significantly fleshed out, as Himekawa are wont to do, is the reluctant scoundrel with a heart-of-gold pirate, Linebeck. Although his primarily function in the plot is the Han Soloiest, the backstory that we see for the first time in this manga gives him an intensely tragic backstory, shining a greater light onto his initial cowardice and ultimately making him a more engaging character. As much as Himekawa do great work with this adaptation, it feels as though the foundational game on which their story was based didn’t provide them with enough material to put their own unique spin on. It is unlikely that you will come away from this feeling cheated, as there is some genuine enjoyment to be gained from this story, but it’s difficult to not feel slightly cheated when each entry preceding it has felt worthwhile. You should buy this volume for the more engaging adaptation of The Minish Cap that fills the first half, allowing you to enjoy this story for what it is: a slightly predictable nautical adventure with unfulfilled potential.

July 14, 2017

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Testing 1, 2 3 (Weekend Pattering for July 14th, 2017)

Let's see if I can remember how to do this...

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover of the Next Week 

I have no idea what this Antarctic Press comic by David Hutchison actually is but if it's anything like the cover, I want to read it for any number of reasons, the least of which is seeing Kellyanne Conway showing up more in that ridiculous outfit in a Mad Max wasteland.  
The Great Emancipator, Time Lincoln, faces an all-new threat to existence - from within his homeland! Just when he thought it was safe to go back in time, he discovers part of reality has been replaced by Alternate Reality, where what was once fact is now a matter of alternate choice. Now the Travelers Team must defeat the mastermind, Final Trump, before he blows... the cosmic budget on a wall to keep his Alt-Reality safe!
I wonder if Honest Abe grunts as articulately as Tom Hardy does?


** Interview: Raina Telgemeier on ‘Drama’ (Good Comics For Kids)-- Brigid Alverson talks to one of the best-selling cartoonists working right now.
I feel like my response is just the general observation that a lot of people have had, that we apply heteronormative romance to babies. We pair up toddlers and say things like “They are going to get married someday,” and that’s unfair if we can’t also say the same for gay children. Sexuality is a part of your identity that doesn’t necessarily apply to what you are doing with other people when you are eight or nine years old, but it’s still a part of you. The identity and the actions are not necessarily one and the same, and if a chaste heterosexual kiss had happened in Drama no one would have batted an eye, but because it was two boys, suddenly I was “pushing my liberal agenda on people.” I don’t even have an agenda. My agenda is love and friendship. People will make of it what they will and I can’t let that sway the things I believe and the things I write about.

** BAM Interview: Marjorie Liu on Writing Comics, the Eisners, and Monstress (Books-A-Million)-- This interview with Marjorie Liu just reminds me that I've barely read any Monstress, something that I need to correct while it's still summer.  When asked about why she likes fantasy as a storytelling genre, Liu answers;
Fantasy is a great estrangement from very difficult ideas. For example, Maus is non-fiction, but by having cats and mice as the main actors, it adds just enough fantasy that those who might otherwise avoid a memoir about the holocaust could find themselves reading — and benefiting greatly — from it. And it’s not just readers who benefit from this estrangement, either. As a writer, there are some ideas that are still too difficult for me to approach directly. Creatively, I need to take a circuitous path to them, and fantasy is one way of doing that.

This and That

** The Complete Strange Growths: 1991-1997 (The Comics Journal)-- Rob Kirby reviews the new collection of Jenny Zervakis' comics from the 1990s.  
Strange Growths has been credited as a groundbreaking comics zine for its quietude, and focus on the quotidian—or, as Tom Hart’s back cover blurb aptly states, “on thought and mood.” It’s easy to see why John P. has acknowledged Zervakis as a major influence on his work, and fitting that he has published this collection. Zervakis’ comics record her experiences, memories and contemplations of the moment with an aesthetic that is personable yet detached, intelligent but fun-loving, and observant of small details while never losing focus on their larger significance, and never sinking into preciousness or sentimentality.

** Marvel Legacy’s latest variants- 60’s T-Shirt Art! (The Beat)-- Man, I couldn't care any less about Legacy.  That is, I couldn't care less until Marvel announced these variants.  And I don't even want the comics, I just want these t-shirts!!!
Continuing its celebration of the vast and expansive history of the Marvel Universe, Marvel is excited to announce the release of 1960’s T-SHIRT VARIANT COVERS for select Legacy titles this fall. A blast from Marvel’s past, these images feature your favorite heroes as they appeared in original 1960’s art from Marvel legends Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

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