Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Rob Clough has written a review of both issues of my comic Dump over at High-Low.

Have a read here.

"David Robertson is the sort of cartoonist who came around to cartooning with little natural skill but a great deal of desire. His Dump is a gathering ground for short stories he's published in various places, along with several collaborations he's done with other artists. As a writer, he's introspective and fascinated by process and first principles. For example, in his Star Wars pastiche "One Day At Space Wizard Central", he's less interested in the pageantry of their world and more interested in how racism might crop up given that humans die so much quicker than other beings in their order, and how it might be a waste of time to train them. What I like best about it is that there's no particular resolution. "It's Delhi Belly!" is an account of a man who realizes that he has Crohn's Disease and the complications that arise from that. "Sunday" is an hourly comics exercise, where one does a page of autobiographical diary comics once an hour for a whole day. What was interesting about this attempt was how he was able to capture fairly complicated dialogue and get across a sense of what life was like with his wife and two children. "Ps & Qs" cleverly imagines captions for the models at drawing classes. "Berserkotron" and "Dump" continue to follow a character from an older comic as he finds new employment at a factory job that is enormously tedious. There's also a strip about a man being distracted by public bathroom noises as he's deciding whether or not to kill himself and some sillier strips.

Robertson's visual style is bland to the point of distraction, especially in his autobio stories. "Dump" at least has some interesting character design in the face of its protagonist Bert, who has pointy, clown-like hair and a pear-shaped face. "Dump" is by far the most entertaining of the comics in either issue of Dump the series; it's more imaginative and has a livelier look on a panel-to-panel basis. His "History of E-Mail and the Internet" is little more than illustrated text, with words crowding out images in many of the panels. Ironically, the sloppiness of his 24 hour comic "Everything" gives it a bit of visual flavor. The panels are frequently poorly-drawn and wobbly, and the actual drawings are simplistic and functional at best, but that earnestness that Robertson displays in most of his work really comes to the fore here. It's a history of his entire working life, his ambitions, his failures, his dreams and then finally the way he sort of wound up where he was as both artist and critic. Robertson's voice tends to be careful and measured in a way that sometimes spills over into dullness, but there's an enthusiasm in this strip that's palpable without being twee or overstated. Robertson's analytic nature, which is an asset as a journalist and critic, can sometimes stifle the energy of his comics work. What's clear is that this is a long game for him, as he's interested in experimenting, getting better in public and simply getting work out there. Finding a style, a voice and becoming more technically proficient will all come in time as long as he continues to work. "Dump" is still his most promising work, as it matches that flatness of tone with strange goings-on to create a deadpan atmosphere."

Friday, July 25, 2014


I visited the Comics Unmasked exhibition running at The British Library recently.

Please go here to The Comics Grid and see what I wrote about it.

"This exhibition is incredibly well thought out. It was designed to appeal to afficionados and those with more of a passing interest. The wording throughout reflect this, starting with the title. Superheroes must be contended with, and so masks are mentioned. But they are “Unmasked” – cleverly having the superhero cake, and refusing to eat it.
The emphasis is on British comics, and comics with a rebellious, political or somehow “edgy” aspect. Many of the comics still pack a punch, despite decades having gone by. For example, Andy Capp’s vision of domestic abuse with the line “Look at it this way, hon, I’m a man of few pleasures, and one of them ‘appens to be knockin yer about.” “I was a Jap Slave” from a 1950s Adventure Comics annual was very powerful, especially in that context. I read the first two pages and wanted to read more.
There were more widely known names being confirmed as part of the UK comics tradition, including Grayson Perry and Raymond Briggs. There are many comics affiliated items here too: a quite eerie ventriloquist’s dummy of Ally Sloper, loaned by Roger Sabin. I don’t know how he sleeps with that thing in the house. It was good to see Oor Wullie mentioned as “a gentle dreamer and local hero in Dundee, his dialogue in strong Scots”.
Black Holes by Dave McKean was a sudden departure from the mass produced nature of the other comics. Four paintings in a frame with syringes, and writing on the glass, giving a 3D effect. Loaned by the artist, this was definitely an art piece.
V For Vendetta has a notable presence in the exhibit. A wise decision, as it has the recognisability of the mask having reached out to the general public through its appropriation by protest groups such as Occupy. It’s also a very highly regarded book in itself. There was a page of script and corresponding original art page, as well as about 18 masked mannequins. An atmospheric soundtrack played on a loop with chanting, what sounded liked sound effects from the 1970s Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie, police sirens, Alan Moore’s voice with echo on, and more. Too much more. It became distracting to me as I tried to take in the work surrounding it.
There was a table for drawing (I couldn’t resist doodling a Fred Egg Comics logo), a large video screen, showing artists drawing and a wall of process work.
Sex comics are in their own slightly sectioned off area, illuminated by red light. Aubrey Beardsley’s exquisite art had a big influence on Lost Girls, and they were placed together here. I couldn’t help but find Oliver Frey’s Rogue from Him International slightly jarring. I hadn’t seen any of this work before, and primarily associate Frey with Dan Dare. The work leads up to a sort of crisis point around 1973 and the Oz schoolkids issue, with its Rupert the Bear/Robert Crumb mash-up comic (which still makes an impact decades later). After, the exhibition moves to the 1980s and proactive benefit comics such as Strip Aids and Knockabout Comics Anthology 4 – “the obscene issue”. Then it came up to date with work by Hunt Emerson, Sacha Mardou, and others.
The exhibition didn’t ignore superheroes completely of course, as they are a significant part of British comic history. But the ambivalent attitude to superheroes was attested to once again with the quote at the introduction the their dedicated section; Jodorowsky stating “Kill superheroes! Tell your own dreams!” British heroes included Dick Turpin, Dan Dare, Judge Dredd, Slaine, Halo Jones, Tank Girl Zenith, New Statesmen and more. Then it was British creators’ contributions to US comics, under the title “Born in the USA?”;  Pencil and blue pencil art by Frank Quietly for All-Star Superman 1, with interesting notes showing some of the artist’s thinking. Superman’s expression is mirroring his thoughts: “Oh hi, come in”, and his eyebrows are doodled, presumably ahead of the drawing being done.
By an original page and copy of the script was a caption stating “Watchmen is one of the most important graphic novels in any genre.” These words have again been chosen very carefully. I can imagine some people twisting themselves in knots trying to unpack that sentence.
From Arkham Asylum, there was a sheet of paper by Grant Morrison of ideas for each page of the comic, ranging from one to five words for each page. The Joker mask by Dave McKean was also on display.
There was a Sandman script – on loan from Gaiman, which looked brand new. Either it was printed off just prior to handing to the library, or he looks after them extremely well. There was not one bend on those pages. Interestingly, Gaiman had made a mock-up of the whole issue for artist Jill Thompson. It resembled a very rough scribbled minicomic.
She Lives by Woodrow Phoenix is a massive comic with square metre pages of original art. I had a unique experience viewing it. One page has 8×8 panels and I thought “They’re too small” – somewhat like Joe Matt’s Peepshow. But this is a one off art project, not meant for reproduction! These panels will never be shrunk from the size they are – roughly 2.5 to 3 inches – Bigger than your average panel in a comic book page. What an impressive object She Lives is.
Other artworks in this section were Gloaming by Keaton Henson with its related scary house installation, and a digital section with Skint! by Metaphrog, the silent webcomic of John Allan. There was also a backdrop of Gorillaz videos on 2 big screens with no comment.
There are certainly favourite comics I may have hoped to see represented which weren’t, but that’s to be expected. It couldn’t have everything. What I got was a lot of very interesting and stimulating work. I learned a lot seeing this exhibition. I would sum it up by saying it was a very worthwhile, loving and knowledgeable tribute to comics."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


After having given their biggest characters to Fox and Sony in order to avoid going out of business altogether, Marvel Comics made enough money from their share of the success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer’s X-Men films to firstly stay alive and then later start up their own movie studio. Against the odds, they somehow had a huge mainstream hit with the character Iron Man, and struck gold with the Avengers movie. Now though, Marvel have pretty much ran out of already popular and famous characters. They are aware of this, and quite cleverly, if cynically, factored it in to the first trailer for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy...

“Who are you?” 
“Star Lord” 

Then a roll call of the characters as Peter Serafinowicz is told who they are.

I remember Rocket Raccoon from The Hulk’s 20th anniversary issue, so that’s 1982. He was a bit of a joke character really, with his name a play on the Beatles song. Hulk even complained about him on the cover...

A bit later, there was a lovely looking 4 issue series drawn by Mike Mignola, prior to Hellboy...

Gamora was a terrific character from Jim Starlin’s Warlock series in the mid 70s...

Groot was another one who guest starred in Hulk; in the 1976 Annual drawn by Sal Buscema, to be exact. Groot was originally drawn by Jack Kirby in the old Marvel monster comics. This story had a bunch of old weirdos reappear so the Hulk could smash them to bits one after another. Quite literally in Groot’s case…

Starlord was a good comic by Chris Claremont and John Byrne in the late 70s. Some visceral violent action, shades of Star Wars – “a sith lord” even turns up...

A bit later I bought black and white Star Lord comics aimed at a slighly older audience, with Carmine Infantino drawing a sexy lady called Caryth. Here is her emotional (and topless) death scene...

Star Lord’s costume is completely different in the trailer, I observe.
And wait, why is Star Lord in this film ? Why are any of these people in this movie?
Because I read Guardians of the Galaxy too, and none of these jokers were in there.

The Guardians of the Galaxy were first featured in Marvel Premiere 18 in 1969. I was lucky enough to pick it up in the late 80s for 10p in a second hand bookshop.

It had intriguing concepts . The characters were from different planets in the solar system and so their bodies had grown differently due to their native atmospheric conditions. As well as being a good sci-fi idea, this also gave scope for the characters being distrustful of other “races”.
Then there was poor old (very old) Vance Astro, who had set off on a thousand year space mission in hibernation to the nearest star system, only to find humanity had developed faster than light travel and arrived there hundreds of years before him. They still gave him a hero’s welcome, but he was tortured by the events. And the Badoon were scary villains (I thought the Judoon from Doctor Who owed something to them).

Beautifully drawn by Gene Colan, as you can see above.

I recall the Guardians reappearing to guest in Avengers comics with a few more characters added. 

At some point Marvel must have completely rebooted the Guardians of the Galaxy comic, ditching the original characters, and the movie is based on that.

I feel like I turned up for a Temptations concert and nobody’s left in the band.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


This is the seventh in a series of guest posts I'm running over the summer. I asked folk to write on any topic at any length - as long as it's comics related. Next up is Gary Smith...

I imagine that most comic fans will have an opinion about John Byrne, but the nature of this view will probably be heavily influenced by when readers were first exposed to his work. For fans who were first exposed to his work in the 1970s, he will perhaps be  best remembered as the young hot shot artist who cut his teeth on Iron Fist and helped take the X-Men to new heights of popularity. For fans who began reading in the 80s he may be forever linked with the Fantastic Four or his revamp of the Superman franchise. For fans in the 1990s it will perhaps be his run on She-Hulk or the launch of his Next Men title. Despite this huge catalogue of well received work in the comics industry, it's likely that fans introduced to John Byrne after the year 2000 will associate him less with his creative output and more with the forthright views he expresses through his website and forum, regularly giving his honest opinion on characters, creators and developments within the world of comics. From the controversy that surrounded his comments on Jessica Alba's casting as Sue Storm to the coining of the term Byrne-stealing (essentially arguing that reading a book and putting it back on the stands without purchasing it amounted to theft), in recent years there have been no shortage of newsworthy quotes arising from Byrne's use of social media.

My thoughts drifted to John Byrne after reading the recent Marvel title, All New X-Factor issue 7. In it, two characters have a discussion about whether a creator should be separated from their work, and whether it is justifiable to read a book - and therefore implicitly support - an author that may have questionable views. The character of Quicksilver is outraged that his team-mate, Danger, is reading a novel by Scott Dakei, a prominent anti mutant campaigner. Danger, for her part, argues that the content of the novel have nothing to do with this issue, and that the author's personal politics do not factor into the novel at all. This debate struck a chord with me because while John Byrne is perhaps the most prominent example, comic fans now enjoy a level of unprecedented access to creators, engaging with them in a way that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago.

1960s Marvel was built on the illusion that it was one big, happy community. Creators were given nicknames, letters pages were answered in a more informal manner; even caption boxes and editors' notes were written in a jocular style. Yet for all this informality, fans at the time were unlikely to know where the creators stood on popular issues (aside from generic representations of the national mood, such as the fear of communism). As the new wave of Marvel writers emerged in the 1970s, including Steve Gerber and Steve Englehart, it was apparent that many of them were politically to the left of their older colleagues, but unless a reader ventured into the world of the fan press it is unlikely that they would have been able to definitively pinpoint their views. 

In the modern comic community, with the majority of creators having a presence on Facebook and Twitter, as well as their own Blogs or web sites, it's relatively easy for fans to work out just where their favourite creators stand on certain issues. Countless creators are only too keen to tweet their thoughts on every conceivable subject, from the serious to the mundane. The question is whether any thoughts so expressed should have an impact on the way that their work is perceived.

In a perfect world the answer would be no. As long as the offensive opinions aren't reflected in their work then there should be no reason not to buy it, and readers should be able to enjoy the work on its own merits. In practice, though, this can sometimes be harder to do. Personally, I have been somewhat surprised by the number of people I have recently seen on Facebook vowing to remove from their friend list anyone that they know to have voted for UKIP in the recent elections. To many people, casting a vote in this way, despite being people exercising their democratic right to vote for a party of their choosing, appears to be so horrific that it outweighs every favourable quality those individuals may possess.

Alongside John Byrne, Dave Sim is another creator who became as famous for his outspoken views as he was for his creative output - perhaps even more so. His essays in each issue of Cerebus highlighted his views on a variety of subjects, with many relating to his views on woman. Courting much controversy, Cerebus, and much of Sim's work, is viewed by many as a platform for him to express his worldview. That raises an interesting point. Sim is undoubtedly a talented creator, yet many readers left Cerebus before the end of its run, growing weary of the increasingly specific direction that Sim's views were taking the title down. Let's imagine that Sim stuns the comic world by agreeing to work on a mainstream superhero - say, Green Arrow. Should it matter that he has strong opinions that may be objectionable to some? If someone admires him as a creator but despises his politics, is there any reason for them to boycott a run that is unlikely to feature as distinct an authorial voice?

There are no easy answers to this topic and I can fully understand why some readers may be so put off by a creator's behaviour that they may boycott their work, but what advantage is gained in doing so? If the creator hasn't advocated anything illegal or morally dubious, is this still enough to transform the way their work is perceived?

For me, much of it comes down to admiration. I want the creators that I admire to also be people that I can admire, ones that share my views and act in a way that I think is appropriate. Sadly, this isn't always the case, but as I grow older I'm increasingly accepting of the fact that life is made up of all sorts of people, with a huge variety of views. If a creator produces fantastic work then perhaps that is enough. If they're also what I would consider a 'decent' person, then that's even better. Or if I really want to preserve my enjoyment of my favourite creators perhaps I should refrain from social media and recapture some of that mystique that creators had to earlier generations of fans. Sometimes, it must be said, ignorance really is bliss.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


I visited DC Thomson's Kingsway offices today.

As the weather was beautiful and sunny again, I thought I would take some photos of the pictures of Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan and Oor Wullie that now adorn two sides of the building. Hopefully you'll get a sense of the scale of them, and how fun they are.

Here we are approaching the building on the Mid Craigie Road (misspelt Mid Craige Road on the street sign)...

Here's Oor Wullie at the front of the building. His bucket can fly in this depiction and is smashing its way out the window...

And here's a closer photo of Dennis and Dan...

The characters are all reading the local papers put out by DC Thomson.

Mid Craigie is also where I went to primary school. The building was just across from the DC Thomson offices, but is long gone now. The school gates remain though...

To finish off, here's the street adjacent to the school gates...

Sunday, July 06, 2014


This is the sixth in a series of guest posts I'm running over the summer. I asked folk to write on any topic at any length - as long as it's comics related. Next up is Stuart Mudie...

They like their comics here in France. Pretty much any reasonably-sized bookshop is sure to have a dedicated section of graphic novels and other comic books, and in the larger establishments you will often find people sprawled on the floor reading their favourite tomes from cover to cover. I have never understood quite why this is tolerated, but I imagine it has something to do with the national respect for what the French call "the ninth art".

Where does this respect for comics come from? It is certainly widespread; I can't think of any French homes I have visited where the owners do not have their BD (short for "bande dessinée") on display in their bookcase alongside the most serious of novels. My daughter owns a comic book version of Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables", and even I have added a few comics to my library since I've lived here.

I suspect it may be at least partly related to national pride. Comics is something "la Francophonie" (because any consideration of "French" comics should really include the French-speaking part of Belgium as well) is very good at. Asterix, Tintin, Lucky Luke and many more have all achieved international renown, and the comic book festival organized in the little town of Angoulême each year is very much the Cannes of comics.

There is also the fact that, in the UK for instance, people who do not regularly read comics tend to see them as somehow "childish", whereas this is most definitely not the case in France. At least two of the French comics I own are political satires criticising the government of Nicolas Sarkozy. Reading a comic in public in France is no different from reading a novel - both are treated with the same level of seriousness. It is the content that matters, not the form.

I have a good example of this. A friend of mine works at LaRevue Dessinée, a new quarterly publication that aims to be a news magazine in comic book form. I was given a copy of the first edition as a birthday present last year, and I can confirm that after reading a couple of articles, you soon forget you're reading a comic and just focus on being educated or entertained by the information therein. Can you imagine such a publication existing in the UK?