Some of the best comics of 2017

Well, damp sack of Krampus, 2017 has sucked, huh? But it turns out that in between the crying and general existential dread, comics creators have still found time to pen responses to the rising ambient horror, or delightful escapes from it. 

We've been on hiatus for a while, and there's no best-of podcast this year. But apparently Roger wrote his 2017 list anyway. Muscle memory or something, we don't know.

Anyway, here's a quick roundup of the books we really, really liked, out of the reading we did get round to in 2017

Pantheon - Hamish Steele

Mythopoeia with the mind of a smutty schoolboy. Calling this an irreverent retelling of Egyptian myth doesn't quite cut it. This book is a big daft delight. 

The art style is this brash, side-on valley-of-the-kings-papyrus pastiche, via Saturday morning cartoons (leading to an amazing visual gag), and it covers the (mis)adventures of the ancient pantheon. From Atum wanking the world into being to the rise of man. 

It helps that the source material really is that weird - this is a well-researched piece, and also the funniest thing I have read in years. Pantheon has pitch-perfect comic timing and a real ear for change-of-register gags. 

Livestock - Hannah Berry

You know how we mentioned that the world is like a special recursive trash fire somehow made of other trash fires? This is a response. An indignant howl at the sickness of where we might be headed and the injustices of quite how.

A government department just let slip that they quietly legalised human cloning in a PFI blunder, and are now trying to clear up their mess. The public of course are more interested in the antics of suspiciously squeaky-clean, childlike, and on-message pop star Clementine Darling. 

Livestock really lets its world emerge, without ever feeling quite hectoring or overly on-the-nose. It's interspersed with social media splashes and tabloid fragments, and it opens deep in its own celeb-culture narrative, letting the reader slowly realize (and  want to scream at its characters for not caring about) what's going on. It's brilliantly constructed.

Hannah Berry's visual style here is soft, really letting the faux-cheery plastic monstrosity of it all unwind as you read. It's things astonishingly loudly unsaid, around completely plausible cynicism. It's media manipulation, energy companies lionized like sports teams, people like fungible meat. Read it with a stiff drink, but read it. 

Something City - Ellice Weaver

Beautiful life-vignettes in a colourful pseudo-pace. Ten intertwined stories in a strange city. We reviewed it here, and enjoyed it tremendously.

In particular, Weaver's visual style here feels really fresh. Layered-up screen prints give a feels that's both blocky/architectural and loose and casual. Again, check out the review for a bit more.

The Backstagers - James Tynion (writer), Rian Sygh (artist)

Actually lovely. You entirely can do sincere charm while winking to the reader a little and this does that. Who'd look backstage at a high school drama club? Surely the techies and prop makers couldn't be up to anything as interesting as the actors

Yeah, so, obviously there's an interdimensional portal to a world of confusing wonder and mild peril that must be kept at bay by endearing misfits. And such endearing misfits. Did I mention lovely? Backstagers is warm and kind, and kinda queer and inclusive. It's got a cartoony feel occasionally breaking into intricacy, and really good use of light. We did a podcast on what feels like a new wave of sincerity and this was front and centre in my picks.

Spinning - Tillie Walden

Tillie Walden excels at filling little spatial scenes with emotion and felt life. Her figure skating memoir is no different. Changing high schools, the pressure of competition, coming out and finding first loves, it's all there with her charged use of light and shade, and the movement of space around her.

Godshaper - Simon Spurrier (writer), Jonas Goonface (artist)

It's a neo-dustbowl bluesman future future. Technology doesn't work, and money doesn't exist, but everybody has their own personal god. Or almost everybody. Also, the colours are gorgeous. 

Spurrier has a history of bloody nailing high concept and this is no exception. 

It's the story of Ennay, a "godshaper" - a pariah with no god of his own, but the ability to shape the gods of others, and Bud, a god (fittingly) without a person. Also: a kind of weird fantasy skiffle/blues/something alt music genre, mobsters, pansexual nomads, and beautifully, gloriously weird visuals. A little bit like Carnivàle but funny and not relentlessly depressing. 

Things everybody else thinks are great but we haven't read yet 

Well, if anyone wants to buy us presents...

What? Of course it's just Zainab's list.

Still good!

The series we already loved and have carried on loving this year:

Other lists

Don't just take our word for it. Look:

So, yeah, 2017 had some comics, huh. What did we miss? Can haz comments? 

Something City - Ellice Weaver

Ellice Weaver's Something City sets ten powerful character vignettes in a strange, colourful, segmented non-place. One of the most immediately striking things about it, though, is the layout design. From its city-plan view to the landscape orientation, there's a focus on space and place.

Something City explores connection/disconnection by proximity. There's quiet withering in the suburbs, ostracism and irony, alienation by technology - all the Vermillion Sands stuff, but without quite the lackadaisical beach-surreal tone.

It's pretty great.

It's fitting that a book that imagines a city should feel so architectural. The cover and chapter-dividing pages suggest some uncanny version of a coffee-table book about fifties suburbia. They're top-down isometric, but wilfully non precise. There's shades of Where's Wally - pages crammed with people and in a colour palette that's both unified and mucking about with background salience. The eye doesn't slide off it exactly. It's too Matisse-y posed-naïve for that. But it's crowded, somewhere between joyous and visually uncomfortable.

The isometric view persists, dividing the book into chapters. Each community segment is distinct, with its own feel and colours. And from them we pull to the lives inside, also landscape oriented, the length of the reading line across the page inviting a bit more visual consideration of the whole thing than a vertical flick-down for dialogue.

The city plan frames the book as spatial, and the page structure pulls us back to that, suggesting through arrangement and juxtaposition. We're invited to read the pages as rooms, but also as moments within them. It's sequential through dialogue, but the mood is often simultaneous, a stretched instant in a place.

Meanwhile, the line style sits in uneasy truce with the layout. It's painty, coloured like screen print, with almost a paper cut-out feel, and no edging. The only hard lines are the gutters, or the edges and corners of homes, streets, and furniture. The hard-edged architectural is jostled in with more loosely shaped bodies, and dogs and burgers and plants. Occasional text boxes butt in, sometimes speech, sometimes narration. It's gloriously messy, and the figures are expressive. 

Detail, too:

That panel's doing a lot of work. I love the speech bubble, partly outside the scene, almost a caption, but trailing weakly down. The character talking, weakly, to her feet?

This is all used to tell ten little personal stories (intertwined, of course) against the constraints of space and community.  Each of them is set in a different part of town, whizzing us through the Amish Community (looser, gentler lines) where a girl flees for modernity in a cobbled-together David Bowie costume; the doctor reluctantly trying nudism in the Free Body Culture Club; some pure Black Mirror techno-social satire in the Old Networth Square tech enclave; a downtown binge; and looped through it all, the thread of Jo Walker, what she did, the consequences and the town's reactions. 

There's a little of Adamtine there, in its treatment of justice by public opinion, anger, ostracism, and the range of survivors' emotions. Something City isn't a horror book, but it does engage with how a community reacts to what it sees as justice not being done, and how both a victim and the person responsible for a tragic act (in this case of culpable negligence) might feel and struggle to live. 

Juxtaposition and disconnection again. People don't fit in their suburban bubbles (it's a little like Transmetropolitan's "reservations", far less lurid), and struggle to connect with those around them. Jo unwittingly moves to the same town as the victim of a savage dog attack she was equally unintentionally responsible for. A new age guru co-opts Dr Jenn's rejection as enlightenment, and the penultimate story (spoiler below) features one of the most brutal, aching-or-maybe-joyous micro relationship slices I think I've ever seen:

I suppose you could see what you want in there, and it's on me that I see visceral tragedy over beauty. But it's down to Something City that the range is there to offer that tension. Damn, I'm a sucker for a salient ambiguity.

Something City is out in May, published by Avery Hill.

Ellice Weaver makes comics, zines, and paintings. There's a great interview with her on Broken Frontier, here.


Note: The lovely folks at Avery Hill sent us a digital copy to review. Nowt else changed hands, and as with all review submissions, we only cover it if we like it. 

The Gods of The Wicked and the Divine - part 2

By now, all 13 of the gods of the latest recurrence have been revealed (yes, we'll get to that), as well as a few extras from past cycles. So we're overdue for an update.

Spoilers? Damn straight, spoilers.

We covered previously revealed gods: Lucifer, Baal, Woden, Amaterasu, Sakhmet, Morrigan, Baphomet, Minerva, Innana, Tara, Ananke, and Susanoo (1923) in an earlier post

This is loosely based on WicDiv #1-28 and the 1831 stand-alone story Modern Romance (eighteen-thirty-oneshot?).

So, who's who who's new?


The dancefloor that walks like a man. Bacchus to the Romans, he's easy to think of as a jolly, tubby party god. Dionysus is god of wine and grape harvest, drama, ritual madness, and springtime fertility. But WicDiv didn't pick comedy Bacchus. This is a younger, leaner Dionysus, something more like the ephebic trickster of Greek drama.

His emblem is a grape bunch of little pills, and he looks like an archetypal raver kiddie. Gillen, naturally, points us to Spaced.

Cults of Dionysus have appeared on and off at least as far back as the pre-Greek Minoan period (about 2000 bc), and his worship has a consistent element of mystery and the ecstatic.

Dionysiac mysteries (the practice of his cults) blended dance, frenzy, drugs, booze and trance states in their worship. There was an outsider element, too - sexual and social transgression, and a hint of danger.

In Euripides' The Bacchae, Dionysus (a young god, with human relatives) is decried by Pentheus, ruler of Thebes - and his cousin - as both a fraud and a public menace.  His response doesn't do much to address the latter: he initiates the women of the town into the ranks of his most hardcore followers, the Maenads, and in their frenzy they tear Pentheus apart with their bare hands. Imagine cleaning up after that party.

In WicDiv, Dionysus is a good guy(ish) with something moving under the surface. Laura calls him "the best of them" and he does not leap to agree. Self-proclaimed as a lover not a fighter, he tries to keep his hivemind safe in #21's face-off at Valhalla. But he mucks in with Amaterasu's cult and Woden's experiments, and it's worth remembering he's a god with strong underworld associations. Mythically, one who visits the underworld, and one of few that have brought souls back.  

So far, The Wicked and the Divine has shown us a Dionysus with an undercurrent of danger, rather than full-blown bloody bacchanal. He pops his signature Thyrsus staff as neon nunchaku at Valhalla, but we don't see it elsewhere.

In Greek tragedy, the Dionysiac is often set in opposition to the Apolline. That is to say - kind of - chaos vs order. They're different takes on the ideal of kouros - smokin' hot muscle twinks, basically; one side all Preppy College Boy, the other all Scuzzy Sk8r Boi. Apollo is prophecy, fate, and structure. Dionysus is more free-for-all: emotive and chaotic. The impulses frequently clash in Greek literature, and it's picked up in Hegel and Nietzsche's respective takes on tragic theory.

Interesting then, that Gillen and McKelvie's Dionysus, while emotive and ecstatic, feels far less chaotic, even explicitly choosing study over anarchy in #26

Also conspicuously absent: relentless penises. 

Dionysus is a dick god. Not like Woden. Like, he's just all about the dicks. They're his symbol, and they're everywhere in his representations. Some of his followers would wear giant strap-ons in religious ceremonies and processions. Bring that one back, I say - really spice up the church fete. 

Urdr & The Norns


Like Baphomet and Lucifer, The Norns are in the not-quite-gods camp. Imagine the Greco-Roman fates, but Norse. They're three (usually) powerful giants who sit at the foot of the world-tree Yggdrasil, keeping it watered from the well of Uror.

Seen as law makers and arbiters of fate, one reading which might be particularly interesting for WicDiv is that they set the length (as well as course) of mortal lives. 

In this recurrence, their symbol is Yggdrasil, and it's deliciously fitting  that Urdr should be Cassandra. Prophetic gods are a nice echo for her name, as is their journalistic investigation of the pantheon. 

Unlike Amaterasu, Lucifer, and especially Woden, Cass attempts to keep her name, rather than leaning on "Urdr". She's cast by the others as the token grown-up, and is, frankly, done with their nonsense. She gest some of the very finest "what is this fresh crap" reaction beats:

There's a lot of really interesting identity stuff cohered around Cassandra/Urdr. It's dissected brief in her fight with Woden over his cheap crack about their apotheosis and previous identities, versus her transition. Her discomfort at having to perform the role of Urdr is palpable, as is her discomfort at the crowds just not getting it.

A skeptic become a god, with the name of a disbelieved prophet, disbelieved in turn when she tries to tell the world there are no gods and there is no prophecy. Tough gig.

In the Snorri Sturluson version of Norse myth (a 13th century monastic compilation of the old tales) there are many Norns, drawn from many races. In particular, from men, dwarves, and elves. This may give us the visual touchstone for Verdani and Skuld - one willowy, one shorter and broader.  

She was the last good to be "found" by Ananke, or at least so we thought until we met...


Issue 11: exploded head on the cover, 12 gods revealed, "It's going to be ok" on the flyleaf. Boom. Laura is Persephone. Persephone is dead. Grab a pomegranate and strap in.

Persephone's pretty well known as a concept: a stolen celestial daughter, spending half (sometimes a third of) her year in the underworld, her absence/return signifying the transition of winter into spring. 

She's also deeply entangled with one of classical Greek religion's oldest mystery cults, and has back-story continuity arguments that make Madelyne Pryor look like some weaksauce Spot's First Walk intelligibility. 

Persephone was a daughter of Demeter, goddess of harvest and agriculture. She was abducted by Hades, ruler of the underworld. In searching for her, Demeter created a great drought and famine, pressuring Zeus to intercede, and leading to hades granting Persephone's return. As ever with these wily deific bastards, there was a catch. 

Persephone didn't read the fine print before snacking down on a juicy pomegranate, and having eaten the food of the underworld, she was bound to remain there. In this case, for one month for each seed eaten (4 or 6, depending on who you believe). 

So far, so harvest myth. But it does get wibbly. 

Four months of Persephone in Hell just about gets you the drought of a Greek summer. But her return rites are celebrated at the beginning of spring, as part of a rebirth/fertility cycle. The Eleusinian cult probably grafted together Persephone with earlier Minoan harvest goddesses, Demeter with ur mother figures. Other mystic takes on Persephone mix in the nature goddess Kore, so it gets kinda mangled.

Above ground, Persephone is all vegetation and plenty, and a bit better know. But her role in the underworld shouldn't be downplayed. She ain't sitting around down there.

As queen of the underworld, Persephone is probably fused with the older, weirder figure of Despoina. Think: birth, death, and a whole load of must-be-appeased nature worship. In her cult it was forbidden for the uninitiated to speak her name, a tradition that clung to the chthonic Persephone. She presides over the dead, and in the tradition of Orpheus, metes out judgement. 

WicDiv picks this up heavily, in particular associating her with the idea of "the destroyer", which is one possible etymology of her name. Her nascent cult, too, won't name her. She likes it. She has root and vine powers, is potentially stronger than the other gods, can drag people down to the underworld, and shows this dual aspect with her flashes of skulls-for-pupils.

In #11 she apparently dies. In #18, she's back. In a basement dive bar, of course. We later find out that she spend months hanging out in the underworld with Baphomet. Moping, fucking, planning. 

A lot gets hinted at. Ananke expected her back, but no so soon, and her status is debated by the remains of the pantheon. In a millennia-spanning set of ninety year cycles of renewal, it seems unlikely that a Persephone figure - heretofore hidden - has no significant role to play. 

Nergal (Baphomet)

We spilled some ink last time on godhood as identity performance in WicDiv, and shit just got recursive. Baphomet comes from recent-ish demonology, and only get the goaty horn business in the 1800s. There's something fishy about him as one of the WicDiv gods (we covered this in part 1) and he certainly seems twitchy.

In the underground with Persephone, Baphomet tells us his origin story as... Nergal? 

No, me either, a bad rendition in the Hellboy movie notwithstanding. 

He's... Baphomet with lion bits? Certainly explains the teeth. Except emblematically it should probably be a fighting cock, and - look the whole thing's a joke about nobody knowing who Nergal is, and Baphomet still having to LARP as a god, even post ascension to actual godhood.

But that doesn't mean it isn't interesting. 

Nergal is a Sumerian/Mesopotamian figure, and so could go back a couple thousand years BC. There's a nice irony there with Baphomet being a relatively modern invention. There are plague associations, and he's depicted variously as a lion or a chicken. In this case, a string of "raging cock" jokes seem appropriate.

Nergal's a sun god (with war aspects) who became an underworld god, perhaps via a sunset association. This makes him a fire god of the underworld, and you can picture the character as written scrabbling around for a fit before coming up with Baphomet, probably via early Christian mystics and demonology.

The figure was co-opted there as a demon, perhaps by 18th century occultist. 


Hades (1831)

On the one hand (ahem) it's a two-page appearance in a one-shot side story. On the other, it is a new god, so here's the quick version.

Hades is king of the underworld in Greek mythology, and here represented as John Keats, the original teen emo poet.

In his writers notes, Kieron Gillen hangs this off Keats' poem This Living Hand:

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed — see here it is—
I hold it towards you.

That's pretty on-brand for Keats. Check out Ode to a Nightingale one of his better-known bits of gothing about.

It's easy to mock Keats for what feels like melodrama, and if I had another couple hundred words to spare, I would. But his work is also gorgeously sensual, with a real ear for rhythm and cadence. The morbidity is fascinated, dream-like. Through all of its florid verbal garishness, there's something to Keats that I resent myself for responding to.

We don't get much of him in the 1831 special. As with his factual counterpart, Hades here dies in Rome. Keats of tuberculosis, Hades, of Ananke sticking a knife in his heart.

Mythically, Hades was both the god and the realm. The land of the dead and its ruler. Not a satanic figure, and not presiding over a hell, per-se. Hades officiated more than he tormented, and was never quite a tempter or a figure of evil. As a Death figure he is implacable, and like Persephone it could be taboo to name him. 

In The Wicked and the Divine Hades' main role is to get his hand cut off, which is then used by Lucifer to create a necromantic golem on the shores of Lake Geneva. We have very little sense of him, but it may be salient that at least some of Hades is potentially still out there, and in a universe that contains an unexpected return of Persephone.

...and bonus Pink Woden?

Totes the monster from the 1831 story, right? (The eighteen-thirty-onester). Well, maybe. What could you make from the hand of Hades, a squeeze of Morrigan and Lucifer, and a heaping tablespoon of Woden?

"Pink Woden" is briefly glimpsed in #14, as part of the remix issue's original art parenthesis. Woden is talking to someone, and with what could even be earnestness or affection. A Valkyrie he actually likes? Someone to monologue to? Or something more complex entirely?

Now, a couple of the other gods have multiple aspects, some maybe everyone's favourite neon MRA dickhead is only part - or rather half - of the story. If Nergal can call himself Baphomet, and given Ananke explicitly calls Green Wooden "the pet of a god" in #14, well, might we not wonder about Huginn and Muninn (Knowlwedge and Memory, Odin's raven spies/pets)? Or Geri and Freki (similar, more bitey, wolves), if thought and memory have a bit too much finesse for the character as seen?

Some fan theories say Pink Woden is Laura's sister. I could buy that for the emotional punch, but it would lack the mythic heft. I absolutely cannot buy that the 1831 monster is a thread that won't be picked up again, either. Throw in the colours, and my money's on the monster.

But I wouldn't bet against wolves or ravens. If we fancy getting proper twitchy, well, there's Baphomet's "idea golems", introduced just before we find out about Woden's dead mother, and as he talk about reverse-engineering the other gods' powers. Pink Woden, in the tiny glimpse we have, is not unlike one of the Valkyries, and dead-mum simulacrum would be weirdly on-brand for both Woden as presented, and a comic that's so knowingly post-Buffy.

If it is the eighteen-thirty-onester (not sorry), there's a lot of quite exciting fanwank on the table. The best way to ensure Lucifer would do a thing was pretty much to warn him not to, and then give him the bits, so we can be pretty sure than Ananke was at least basically cool with the monster's creation. We know she's lonely, we know she talked to Robert Graves, and we know she's writing to someone at the end of #28. Someone colour coded with pink sparkles, perhaps?

Enough speculation. Whaddya reckon - mummy, monster, magic raven?

Jonathan Cape *didn't* send us their entire 2016 catalogue gift-wrapped in fivers, and what happened next may surprise you…

For the last few years The Guardian has done a "best of the year" comics roundup. It's pretty good. Lots of sites do it. We do one too - it's practically a Christmas tradition.

Just as much of a tradition, however, is pointing and laughing at The Guardian's for being:

  1. basically just whatever Jonathan Cape published that year
  2. a little bit nose-in-the-air Worthy/joyless

This year's did not disappoint:

When I began writing about graphic novels a decade ago, I remember worrying slightly about the supply line: would I really be able to find a good one to review every month?

[but...] if there isn’t something to suit everyone on the bulging list that follows, I’ll eat my copy of Persepolis.

Uh huh...

Anchoring your readers on Persepolis, saying "Graphic Novels", authorizing yourself with the decade thing, and worrying that (in 2006, FFS) there weren't enough? There's a klaxon or two sounding there, a grasp for validity.

The list that follows is - of course - mostly from Serious Publisher Jonathan Cape.

But is our scepticism really fair? We did a budget data journalism to find out.

I say "data journalism" - it's more "twenty minutes of titting about in Excel". For the record, my analytical methodology was: quickly, with a glass of Valpolicella.

The spreadsheet's here, if you want it. You don't.

What comics get coverage?

Let's start with that publisher representation that's so easy to mock. Is it really all from Mr Cape's Emporium Of Authorised Tomes?

Best of year, by publisher (ahem)

Not all, no, but heavily. 


That distribution does make it look a little shabby, but I'm actually open to the idea that Jonathan cape might publish a disproportionate chunk of a year's comics worth reading. They have some amazing creators.

The omissions are where it starts to fall down. Over those last five years of roundups, the Guardian's best-of has:

  • been ~45% Jonathan Cape
  • strongly leaned to black & white solo cartoonist books
  • suggested two webcomics, in print collection
  • never, ever, featured a book from Image
  • or Vertigo
  • or Dark Horse
  • or NoBrow
  • or Avery Hill
  • or First Second
  • or Myriad
  • or Cinebook
  • or 2000 AD
  • or ever even bothered to fucking mention manga

And then there's this:


(my hasty categorizations, "collection" should probably have been "print anthology". Blame the Valpolicella)

Again, in fairness, the monthly floppies may not be the most consistent home of quality. Comics culture is pretty toxic, and riddled with store-level gatekeeping. The distribution model is broken as all hell. But there's still some quality stuff hitting the shelves every month. Trees, Squirrel Girl, Harrow County, Paper Girls, Southern Bastards, After Death, no? That's just off the top of my head from this year.

Fine, sneer at the singles market. Could they not have grabbed a trade paperback from Foyles?

Incomplete is not the same as incorrect, but I guess I just find it a bit sad and lazy.

Perhaps they're cleaving to a very particular definition of Graphic Novel? We'll come to that, especially as you do get the odd collection when the authors are big-ticket worthy (Spiegelman, Pekar), or the publisher is Drawn & Quarterly.

Another rough breakdown:


Not a problem, per se, but also not really representative of the work being done at large.

What causes what? Well, if you're 45% Jonathan Cape, and have never even picked up a Marvel, DC, or Image book, that's probably about the expected distribution. Serious comics are the work of the lone auteur genius, after all...

Either Jonny C's PR department is relating publically harder than anyone ever did publically relate, or there's a filter operating here that's excluding a fuck of a lot of stuff. 

Let's put this "Graphic Novels" bollocks to bed

Here, just read this, it puts it better than I will:

The Term 'Graphic Novel' Has Had A Good Run. We Don't Need It Anymore

Or take a pull quote:

it's a perfect time to retire terms like "graphic novel" and "sequential art," which piggyback on the language of other, wholly separate mediums. What's more, both terms have their roots in the need to dissemble and justify, thus both exude a sense of desperation, a gnawing hunger to be accepted.

Of course, papers have readers, and The Guardian's may not be ready yet for the C word. The gnawing hunger may be theirs. After all, surely dinner party ridicule will befall anyone seen advocating a book with pictures that doesn't also have the raw worthiness of being about a middle-aged man doing middle-aged man anxiety in fidgety black and white. From Jonathan Cape.

At the end of the day, The Graun's list is probably harmless, and I'd rather live in a world where Alison Bechdel gets heat and shelter. But I'd like it even more if that world had comics coverage that didn't feel lazily snooty and suspiciously narrow.

But Roger, aren't these books actually good?

Yep, absolutely. They're great. So are the reviews. It's good work about good work.

It's just not as broad as it could be. There's wonderful stuff that doesn't make it through. For example, Aama gets a mention in 2013, and it's fantastic (our review). So they're clearly not closed to Sci Fi, but then why not Trilium, or Space Dumplins, or any number of things. 

SupermutantKate Beaton's there, and so is Jillian Tamaki, so we're not averse to levity with depth. But then, where are the rest of the amazing webcomics?

The art, too. So much amazing visual work never gets a mention.

Here's Slate's list for 2016. Some of the stuff is even the same, but it doesn't look like it needs a Booker Prize before its daddy will love it.

Given their stable of creators, no, Jonathan Cape's dominance of the Guardian list isn't surprising. But 45% twitches an eyebrow, and the omissions kick off a pronounced nervous shudder. 

The kind reading is that rather than snobbery or churnalism, they're playing it safe for an assumed audience. That's a missed opportunity, and it's pretty patronising. Your Guardian-reading geek friend deserves better Christmas presents.

If, unkindly, they actually are lazily reading only what they're sent, then, oh, I don't know, can we have some range and get Zainab Akhtar to do it instead? Please?


Cowboys and Insects - David Hine & Shaky Kane

Now, I can't promise that if you watched King of the Hill after dropping acid it would look exactly like Cowboys and Insects. But those already familiar with Shaky Kane's style and the amped-up pulp vibe he created with David Hine in The Bulletproof Coffin would likely find the experience quite familiar.

Cowboys and insects -  cattle drive

With its giant bugs, bright colours, ranch hands with rifles, and a sickly uncoiling of fifties American paranoia, Cowboys and Insects is a lurid thing that takes us to a pretty severe place.

Childhood wonder to lynch mob in twenty pages, each step feeling natural and normal, and not worthy of moral scrutiny. 

Cowboys and insects - cover closeup

First published digitally in 2013, when it wasn't a given that white America would plump for fascism in a fit of butthurt cultural pique, Cowboys and Insects seems oddly prescient now.

Much of its effect, I think comes not from being on-the-nose preachy, but rather from running full-tilt at the joyous daftness of the premise and letting that carry it through.


(The spoiler-averse may wish to stop here; also folks who don't like gross stuff with insects)

Cowboys and Insects blends a frog-boil to the monstrous with a red herring around just what the monster is. Giant bugs are a B-movie staple, and so is the idea that the real monster is man. But the book does a sensational job of splashing around in the weirdness of gargantuan beetles while also selling us on a world where they're quite, quite normal.

It's full-on Uncanny. Something like a housefly, turkey-sized, gracing a roast dinner platter, nuclear family all gung-ho to tuck in. Mom in  meat-packing plant, tossing slime-slick larvae off a conveyor belt, squealing sound effect at the bottom of the panel, half-cocked job-well-done smile on her face at the top:

Cowboys and insects - Mom

A cattle drive of giant ants down a fifties street of cadillac tailfins.

All through, it's sold by Chip's voice. We're watching through his eyes, but we can't escape our own. It's normal. It's fantastical. It's just a memory from highschool of the first girl he had a crush on. It's a gut-churning hate crime, perpetrated without pause or conscience. 

This kind of voice-of-the-child deal can be easily overused. Much of the power of Barefoot Gen lies in showing us something that attempts to be a normal childhood while the world around it counts down to eight fifteen. It could be clumsy. It isn't, and part of what does that work is the visual style - breezy and casual in just the right places - part of it is how well realized the childhood voice is. 

The styles are very different, but the same applies here. Art and voice, selling this vibrant pulp adventure adolescence.

Cowboys and insects - DinnerChip moves to a new town with his folks. Bug Town, Colorado - a ranching monoculture for the fifties economic boom. He finds a new school meets people, enjoys the scents and sights of a giant stag beetle rodeo. It's golden-age teen memory stuff, all worked through with these perfect vignettes in flat simple colours that make this sci-fi scenario seem like workaday picket fence stuff.

We're told this as memory, coming of age style, just a little Stand By Me:

This was to be the year when I lost my innocence. The year I became if not a man then the person who would become the man.

Cowboys and insects - ChipThe definite article feels salient there. "The man". Performance of duty and enforcement of white bread normalcy become key, but we're walked through it with this tone that never slips - Chip's conviction that this is the world, that daddy knows best, and that this is all part and parcel of growing up into a right thinking adult.

"It's not always easy to choose between right and wrong" he remembers thinking, sat in his bedroom, sad and anguished about a girl he's fallen for, choosing a path that ends with her being eaten alive by burrowing beetles. 

Again, it feels natural. We move through this experience with him, exploring this strange world as he does. The strangeness of it is never far away - there's hardly a panel without some kind of giant insect detail or oddity. It's remarkable to us, but only remarkable to Chip as a new experience in a familiar world. There's some wonderful cake-and-eat it there with breaking the suspension of disbelief. Chip's excitement at getting to dissect a giant bug, the oddly human-seeming Insectum Erectus, lets us feel the strangeness without coming up for air. 

At his new school, busily dissecting bugs and learning about their place in modern agribusiness, Chip meets Cindy Krupski. Her family are shown more pale, dressed severely, and often in black. It's not subtle othering, but played against the cartoon colouring it's a great sell for their terrible secret:

Cowboys and insects - Vegetarian

Cindy doesn't fit in. Chip is infatuated. Cindy certainly doesn't want to dissect a novel species of insect that's shown visibly afraid, walking upright, and - entirely unremarked - wearing a loincloth.

Chip doesn't get it. 

Chip asks his dad for advice. 

Chip has the narrative framed for him in terms that echo miscegenation. 

dadThe Krupskis are the only dissenting voice in Chip's world, and their behaviour is so strongly framed as deviant, as a danger, that as readers we're not incredulous for a moment that Chip might not pause to interrogate his circumstances. We're watching what inculcation into systemic and structural prejudice feels like from the inside, and by the end I felt almost nauseously complicit.

What an ending, too. Things escalate pretty fast, as Chip confides in his father that the Krupskis are sheltering the escaped bug, and the town isn't happy.

The Knights of the Head are a legendary brotherhood of men who stalk the night, seeking out those who transgress the boundaries between man and insect.

Yes, they wear masks made from hollowed-out insect heads. Yes, they have robes like klansmen. Yes, it goes very, very badly.

Cowboys and insects - Lynch mob

That panel. The simple geometrics and the limp dangling. The loincloth. It doesn't even stop there.

As we reach the conclusion, there's a slight shift in Chip's voice, something febrile and excited by the moment, with a storyteller's feel ("But the knights weren't finished with the Krupskis, not by a long shot..."), moving to a factual acceptance. By the end, they're "the wretched Krupskis", and Chip has pulled forward to being the adult narrator more cleanly: "...I've become something of an expert on the Necrophorous Vespillo over the years".

His childhood excitement is still there, as he related the lifecycle of the burrowing beetles, but it's distant, more future factual.

It's interlaced, too with a new panel structure, big bordering gutters against black, tall vertical panels where the book's tended to the horizontally sequential. It suggests a series of snapshots, memories perhaps, but more fractured: 

Cowboys and insects - final page

What's remembered is monstrous, the beetles are finally horror movie schlock. The vertical feel is almost like drowning - insects and their sounds rising from the bottom of the panels to horrified faces compressed at the tops. 

Imagine that - alive for a month or more under the ground, with insect larvae growing inside you.

His tone doesn't judge. Is it horrified, or just showing his amateur-entomologist glee? It doesn't commit.

Why would it - this is his normal now. It's "They way we raise 'em here in Colorado", and nobody in the town bats an eyelid. Chip's a grown man, and only remembers when he catches a flash of something, perhaps on TV, and for all the thin whisper of guilt on the page before, it's still a memory of the first girl he kissed.

The iconography cribs from southern racism, but the book offers a highly transferrable view inside the machineries of group supremacy, identity policing, and structural power.

This doesn't feel like a period where we have to look far for the horrific becoming ideologically mundane. It's not a great world to be any kind of Other in, and the scope for that getting better seems scant. In playing so neatly with normalization, and with what does and does not seem extraordinary, in rendering it all in this kitschy/pulpy growing-up caper, the print edition of Cowboys and Insects feels timely and urgent.


(We briefly interviewed David Hine about the book at Thought Bubble, and it's on the podcast)

Look at all this amazing queer stuff!

Queer comics (and the whole super-set of LGBTQ goodness) are a perennial topic for us, not least because I won't shut up about them, and we've done an annual round-up episode on the podcast for the last couple of years:

So I was on the lookout for queer content at Thought Bubble this year, and delightfully, just so many of the books at the show seemed to be somewhere in the LGBTQ ballpark.



Tab Kimpton (of Discord Comics) put together a "Thought Bubble Rainbow Road" this year, highlighting LGBTQ comics, creators and merch. Chatting to him (more of that on the podcast), he put the proportion somewhere a nose over eleven percent.

I didn't scratch the surface of that, but here's a quick round-up of what I found.

I've pulled out three things I thought were cool and that I'd not heard about before the festival. So this isn't so much a best-of as a big ol' serendipitous grab bag, but I reckon that highlights the ambient quality. 

Laid - Cicy Reay

laidanthemThis was literally the last thing I bought at the show. Three quid on impulse, and my way out the door. Damn, I lucked out. 

"We lived pretty close to each other" begins the body of the story, terrace and park spliced across tall panels "except his street was much nicer than mine". It could almost be a Beautiful Thing rerun, all hesitant teens and loaded friendship. Except we've just seen six pages of avuncular (and really professionally fastidious) sex work. Oh, and a nasty car accident. 

Connection but distance is the thing here. That's called out pretty strongly in the client relationships, and mirrored in the way the panel focus zooms in on details at points, pulling away to backgrounds at others. But it's the nameless protagonist's relationship with Sam - more than a client, perhaps, but held at a distance still - that makes up the body of the emotional heft.

I'm not his boyfriend. I'm there for - well, for business. But I cared about him.

They fuck, they talk, they laugh at the shipping forecast. They have a just-missed moment of emotional connection that deftly ducks the temptation for cheap happy endings. 

It's 24 pages of A5, and crazy-dense with little personal moments. All blue-on-white like a linocut printer lost a fight with an ancient gestetner machine. It's a style that works wonderfully with the tight panel grid layout, mostly 3x4 with occasional breakout pages. 

It's sex work in close-packed terraced houses, and so much less grim (or patronizing) than that could sound. 

If I had to nitpick, well, does anyone actually use KY Jelly any more?

Meh. ID Glide probably lacks the brand recognition, and in any case this gives us one of my favourite pages:

Laid - 3 panels

It's all about the angles and simple geometrics. Lube logo mirroring landscape and rumpled bedsheet. The textures all echo the body hair of the previous page. It's a blend of posed mundanity, and pushing the reader into the protagonist's gaze. A gaze that's here fixating on detail, ambiguously just before or just after the conclusion of a sex scene that's both plausibly tender and completely transactional. 

Like I say, it's dense. And it's delightful. 

It's from Black Lodge Press, and was new for November - so not yet available on their site when I wrote this. Hopefully it will be. If you enjoyed The Lengths (and you should) then you might trace some associations through to Laid - it's a neat little human thing that just happens to involve fucking for cash.

Get Your Man - Kami D (via Dragonhoard)

As a differnt end of at least some spectrum, Get Your Man is a goofy universe-hopping sex comedy that doesn't dodge the squishy bits. It embraces the squishy bits. Heck, it's a clear 40% squishy bits.

This made photographing some highlights tricky, even with my cavalier attitude to "NSFW" content. Even the cute little doggie get's a full-page butt shot:


What? Yes, of course I bought it when I saw the line "You're a corgi werewolf, Charles!" But(t?) also because the folks at Dragonhoard (the publisher/distributer) were utterly lovely. We talk to them on the upcoming podcast, so I won't dwell on that here, but just lovely.

 It's a story about versions of Charles and Francis, usually a couple, across various manga-inflected universes and genres. So it breezes through sci-fi, vampires, contemporary romance, and of course coffee-shop chibi antics. It is relentlessly tongue in cheek, in both ways you might care to read that.

getyourmanpolicetapeThe stories vary between vignettes and gag strips in places, and a couple of longer pieces in the middle. There's a robo-mountie finding love (and elaborate upgrades) after being decommissioned, and a sweet, colourful/cartoony piece about versions of the same characters first getting together in the near present day. There's awkwardness in a coffee shop - it's cute. Then there's fucking, because that's the deal here.

It's reasonably body diverse, mind, and feels often emotionally real as opposed to a purely sleazy gaze. There's a levity and joyousness that carries through the whole thing, even into the downstairs funtime interludes. It helps that the stories often end with a big dumb joke. 

I'm a sucker for a non sound effect

Look, what it comes down to is, would you like to read a comic featuring a robotic mountie who ejeculates maple syrup?

Ok, great. You can buy it here.

The Foldings - Faye Simms

In the pre T'Bubz roundup, I called The Foldings "charming as balls", and I stand by that. It's just come off the back of a successful kickstarter, and the print edition includes a bonus prose story foregrounding some of the other characters.

Just look at this adorable shtick:


 I'm loving that huge cascading vertical panel. It's got a couple of those, and it uses them well. As you'd hope for a comic set in a flying city full of magic, really.

One of the (few, come at me) things I like about the Harry Potter books is the gleeful little bits of imaginative engineering. The weird sweets and critters and plants, and little disorienting details. The Foldings opens on that, with a market stall selling fabric that eats dust, and warming top hats with built-in chimneys. I'm a sucker for that stuff, as is Jasper, the character who's introduced all kid-in-a-sweet-shop, handling it all.

foldingsfallJasper's immune to magic, which gives us the body of the plot driver, and no end of a headache top his partner Micah, who is - obviously - a Mighty Wizard. It's a short story, really, a little thing of twenty pages or so. Jasper falls off a building, Micah catches him. There's adorable smooching and a pun.

In the course of this, though, it does a lot. It's got that feel of the city being a character, introduced in a few great panels looking out over it. Buildings are stacked onto each other like you showed the Ewoks the Winchester Mystery House and then asked them to build an aerial Venice. 

Kids jump of buildings for kicks, knowing the air will catch them, magic has an amped-up Kirby Krackle, and the light plays over all of it. It's got this slightly cel shaded feel in places, with thick line work, and great use of colour for the light.

Oh, and it is Just. So. Sweet.

There's a bit more online, and the print edition is chock full of concept art. I'm really hoping we get further volumes of The Foldings in future. 

...and more

Damn, I've missed so much here, including the fantastic looking Queer: A Graphic History from Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele.

TB haulI also picked up:

We'll probably cover these and a few more on the podcast.

So yeah, look at all this great queer stuff! 



Thought Bubble 2016 - our hot picks and odd excitements

Here at Consequential dot net, Thought Bubble is our absolute favourite festival occurring between Halloween and the Beaujolais Nouveau.

Seriously though, it's  probably the best comics event in the UK, and it's a great time to:

  1. discover some amazing new comics.
  2. dance like several hundred people are watching, but are all just too lovely and welcoming to even form an opinion about that thing you're doing with your hands.

We love the ol' T'Bubz, and here's a selection of things we're looking out for, including some old favourites and interesting debuts.

The Nameless City - Faith Erin Hicks & Jordie Bellaire

  • Our annual shout-out to Improper BooksMulp 03, cover
    We love these folks. You know we love these folks. This year, they're back with more Mulp (Think: Indiana Jones in a mouse-based future after the demise of man), and a preview of the new volume of Porcelain, their gothic fairytale about haunted china automata, and the hideous consequences of misusing haunted china automata. Find them, buy their books. 
  • Transrealities - Abigail Brady & Steven Horry 
    transrealitiesAbigail and Steve were showing around some previews of Transrealities at last year's show, and this year they're launching. They describe it as "Gender, time-travel, punching nightmares in the face", and we like the sound of that.
    Last we saw, it's universe-hopping superhero action with a lot of emotional heft, and the art is lovely. 
  • Laudanum - Horrere Comics
    Macabre Victoriana? Where do we sign? A short family tale about demonic possession, in fidgety-creepy black and white inks, from the Horrere anthology stable. It's a festival one-shot, and a steal at two quid.
  • Limbo & Dark Souls - Caspar Wijngaard & Dan Watters
    limbo1Another little fan-wobble from us. We talked about Limbo pretty much all year. It's the eighties-pop-noir-neon-voodoo-swamp comic the world deserves. Myth and memory, light and colour, lizard on a stick.
    They're also working on Dark Souls for Titan, and are just lovely chaps.
  • Baggywrinkles - Lucy Bellwood
    Great at boats. Baggywrinkles does maritime history with just the most affectionate and approachable style. History of scurvy, knots and sailors' tattoos, Admiral Capybara Nelson, nautical terms that sound dirty but probably aren't - all informed by sailing modern tall ships, and lashings of enthusiasm. 
  • Where is Momentum - Richard Amos
    Last year we enjoyed Richard's short piece How We Grow Old, a set of vignettes on ageing.
    This year he has a brief graphic novel about anxiety. It's an interesting combination of quite sparse and oddly warm in style, and as people who are - by and large - anxious all the time we'll probably be grabbing a copy.
  • Cowboys and Insects - David Hine & Shaky Kane
    cowboysandinsectsSo what if, right, all-American 1950s suburbia were full of giant atomic monster bugs, and you set a Daniel Clowes story in it. Kind of.
    Really, you want more than the creeping horror of the uncanny in the 'burbs, with giant insects? What's wrong with you?
    Also, check out the funky-lurid style.
  • The Return of the Honey Buzzard - Aimée de Jongh 
    honeybuzzardA dejected bookshop owner, guilt and memory, taut sketchwork. Recently launched, this is de Jongh's debut graphic novel, with what looks like a superficial air of breezy cartoonishness that breaks into something more acute as it navigates past trauma. Super promising. 
  • The Changes - Tom Eglington
    Eglington's an illustrator with a solid 2000AD pedigree, and a flourish for the sickly/intricate biological. The Changes is a new piece about technology gone awry that looks like it'll give him plenty of space to exercise that. Preview images look like a fun blend of black and white linework with slimy organic curves, with splashes of invasive colour.
  • The Nameless City - Faith Erin Hicks & Jordie Bellaire
    namelesscitystreetDamn this looks good. Floating World with a splash of watercolour Tintin, and a premise from China Mieville. Only less wretched than the "It's X meets Y" pattern makes everything sound.
    Two kids negotiate a serially-invaded city, sprawling, mashing up cultures, given a new name by each occupying force. Did I mention it's beautiful, too?
  • For the Love of God, Marie! - Jade Sarson
    sarson-ftlogm_9Nascent sexuality from the 60s to the 90s, with an innocence and lightness of touch that have this already on many people's lists for pick of 2016. A slight manga influence, with a great colour palette.
  • The Foldings - Faye Simms
    Historically, we've... not been kind to steampunk, let's say. But this looks derpy-delightful. A sort of morning cartoon vibe in a city of implausible aeronautics. And the one guy whose immunity to magic makes him unable to fly. Charming as balls.
  • The Potato Hater - Pete Hindle
    Apparently it's a humorous history of potatoes. No, we have no idea either, but let's be honest - that sounds pretty great. And his zine about expensive jumpers was cool.  

There's a also going to be a ton of great guests (we'll try and stop Dave licking Mike Mignola), and this would run crazy-long if we picked out everyone we liked who's exhibiting.

But you can find a pretty thorough list of book debuts on the Thought Bubble site.

We'll be podcasting from the con, and if you see us tottering about and looking confused, do say hi!

2015 comics competition pitches

2015 was a pretty good year for comics, but not so good it couldn't be improved. That's why, for our end of year competition, we asked y'all to gild that lily like motherfuckers. CompetionImage2

It seemed like a good idea at the time: you'd pitch us comics, we'd talk about our favourites, and we'd send one of you the real, actual comics we liked the most from 2015. We figured it would be easy; we'd get about five submissions, right?

Ha ha. Nope.

Boom. 101 hot steaming pitches.

Clarrie “The Clarrie we talk about when we talk about Clarrie” Maguire

Title: Catching Gnats Genre: Comedy Drama Length: ongoing Pitch: Bored teens work in Torquay during the summer holidays to pay for their surfing dreams and/or cider and weed.

Title: The Lady With The Braid Genre: Black Comedy Length: ongoing Pitch: 1980. Two newly qualified Northern Irish nurses share a London flat. After an eventful weekend involving an abusive boyfriend and an unrelated home invasion, they become serial killers.

Title: Hillside Genre: Teen horror Length: miniseries Pitch: It's in the woods, and it *will* fuck you.

Title: Vanilla Extract Genre: heist romp Length: ongoing Pitch: Lesbian crimers in the 24th century! Neon colours! Feminist ideals! The comic for ladies to read after Bitch Planet in order that they not kill themselves!

Title: Breaking Free Genre: non-fiction Length: graphic novel Pitch: Non-fiction exploration/history of left wing activism in eighties and early nineties UK, both in reality and pop culture. Interspersed with chapters from that mental Tintin bootleg 'Breaking Free' that used to be passed out where Tintin and Captain Haddock end up leading a people's revolution.

Title: Dinosaur Planet Genre: sf adventure comedy Length: graphic novel Pitch: All ages licensed comic of MJ Hibbett's concept album 'Dinosaur Planet'. Bright colours. Mad art.

Title: Jakey Work Genre: supernatural light drama Length: ? Pitch: A low key supernatural drama about an ageing Cunning Man in rural England between the wars.

Title: A Book Of Days Genre: fantasy/magical realism Length: graphic novel Pitch: During a year with the worst harvest in living memory a widowed farmer in eighteenth century England cares for, and eventually marries, an amnesiac stranger who has been rescued from near drowning in a pond on his land. (SPOILER: she gives birth to summer in the end and dies because she was mythological all along, that was why there wasn't really a summer the year before - when she had no memory - and the harvest was so bad FUCK YOU THIS IS SOME LYRICAL BITTERSWEET SHIT)

Title: Batter bread, orange shit, and sweet potato cock Genre: diary comic (fictionalised memoir?) Length: graphic novel Pitch: Cooking, self worth and women's relationship with the media are explored in this story of a fat woman from an eighteen year old with an eating disorder to a thirty year old HAES activist who will fucking cut you.

Title: 5pm - 10pm inclusive Genre: horror Length: one shot Pitch: A kind of rotting Ewok looking monster kills a dude. No dialogue. Told entirely through full page panels of the back of his house, including three windows, as viewed through the back door of the house opposite.

Title: Daisy Dick Lew Genre: fantasy Length: ongoing Pitch: A kid moves to a village in rural Wales. All manner of mythic shennanegoats are going down. The weird old dude running the corner shop post-office and his housebound altzeimery mum are Mordred and Morgause/Morgan,trapped together by obligation and immortality. Two of the dickheadiest kids in his year at school might be Arthur and Merlin reborn. His mum is being an arse, and frankly puberty was already quite stressful.

Title: Night Visitor Genre: horror Length: one shot Pitch: An increasingly housebound pensioner who has lived their life under the shadow of a draining supernatural entity discovers that they have a terminal illness and resolves to take a final revenge on it.

Title: Dogwet Genre: fantasy Length: graphic novel Pitch: in a fantasy world inhabited by huge, unknowing, lovecraftian creatures, a derelict fisherman and a mute child scrape out survival in a cave in a cliff-face.

Title: But I'm All Right Now Genre: non-fiction Length: graphic novel Pitch: at last, a non-shit biography of Hattie Jacques.

Title: The Alphabet Game Genre: mystery Length: ongoing Pitch: Lesley Mison solves crime while managing schizophrenia.

Title: Take A Penny Genre: memoir Length: graphic novel Pitch: A comic about the years I worked full time in a Bristol corner shop under a manager who wrote Buddhist poetry about giving 110% and got dumped by his girlfriend on Mount Fuji after proposing.

Title: Information Dance Genre: drama Length: graphic novel Pitch: An action adventure comic from the point of view of a bee.

Title: Nearer and nearer crept the ghastly thing Genre: fantasy horror Length: series arc in an ongoing Pitch: London 1954. Reality fractured in 1944. In 1947, the effects were contained within a slowly expanding but largely stable area in central London and all sentient supernatural creatures were given automatic amnesty and citizenship. Patricia Dartnell works as a home visitor for the recently overhauled welfare system, children have started to go missing and she wants to know why.

Title: Sheep, Sheep, Crocodile Genre: horror Length: ongoing Pitch: It's the sixties, and everyone's involved in drugs and cults and psychedelic esoterica. But is this druggy cult about to go really bad? Well, you read the genre description.

Title: Mrs Locke Genre: crime Length: ongoing Pitch: 1920: The young 'widow' Locke - formerly one of the first female detective constables in England* - has a gift for private investigation, and a complicated series of mutual debts to the government that requires her silence regarding the famous, and still living, father of her in fact entirely illegitimate child.

Title: Ghost-Fuck Genre: porn Length: ongoing Pitch: People fuck, or are fucked by, ghosts.

Title: Young Fibonacci Genre: adventure Length: ongoing Pitch: Tesla and Lovecraft better look out! In this exciting steam punk adventure, it's Fibonacci who's reimagined as a rough and tumble adventurer fighting largely spiral based crime in twelfth century Italy.

Title: Sonic OC Genre: drama Length: ongoing Pitch: Dave Sonic, an unemployed bricklayer from Chorlton, inherits a house in glamorous Orange County California. With wacky results.

Title: Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Genre: drama Length: miniseries Pitch: Dave Arise is an inner city cop in a far future New York where anything can happen! Also there are mech suits.

Title: Cakes And Ale Genre: drama Length: graphic novel Pitch: Samantha's grandfather, Dave Cakes, is about to lose his beloved pub and she must step in to help. Also, she is a teenage girl who is coming to terms with her bittersweet lesbian crush over the course of a summer so rogger loves it and says that I am the best and I have won and gives me all the prizes.

Title: Deadpan Genre: crime Length: ongoing Pitch: A meek criminal autopsy specialist tries to solve crime and keep their sanity while living with their abusive grandmother and developmentally disabled brother. Gripping if depressing.

Title: The Winter Gardens Genre: drama Length: graphic novel Pitch: A former cook, butler and maid in a disbanded wealthy household run a guest house in an English seaside town in the immediate aftermath of the first world war.

Title: Run, Lizzie Biscuit, Run Right Now Genre: adventure Length: ongoing Pitch: Lizzie Biscuit has a problem. She doesn't know what it is, but the people pursuing her certainly seem to have a grasp on it.

Title: Hog Genre: non-fiction Length: graphic novel Pitch: biography of Sequoyah the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary.

Title: Chicken, Two Ways. Genre: comedy Length: graphic novel Pitch: A broad adaption of La Cage Aux Folles set in Hastings. Laurence 'Larry' Bald is trying to arrange a meal between his fiancee's Tory politician parents and his adoptive parents Rob and Andy Moriarty-Bald, who are about to retire from running their bar restaurant The Bird In Hand. Unknown to Laurence, before his birth the bar catered to a *very* different scene and was central to a messy political sex scandal. A docu-drama of which is being filmed there this very weekend. LAFFS AND IMPORTANT LESSONS ABOUT FAMILY/PARENTING ENSUE.

Title: Bleed Genre: drama, suspense Length: graphic novel Pitch: Following a messy divorce and back in the town where he went to university, Chris White hooks back up with the remains of his old gaming group. But is one of them really a killer? Or are his suspicions a reaction to being back in a social circle that insularity and geek social fallacies has stagnated into something unhealthy over the last twenty years?

Title: Yan Tan Tethera Genre: folklore, history, anthology Length: ongoing but composed of one shots and mini-series Pitch: Folk tales and weird history from the North of England. 'we're flittin', the Barghest, 'my own sel', Jinny Greenteeth, the Pendle witches etc.

Title: Ii Genre: drama, light supernatural adventure Length: ongoing Pitch: There is a secret society of thousands, perpetuated by intermarriage and careful training. Dedicated to the protection and assistance of The Chosen One. Last month, she told them to get fucked. What happens when your messiah resigns? When your life, the lives of your ancestors for a thousand years, no longer has purpose? Ii explores this. "Imagine Buffy, I Claudius and Anthony Burgess had a baby" said Pretend Comics Forum.

Title: This Truth Came Borne Genre: horror Length: graphic novel Pitch: An elderly couple are trapped in their house by silent creatures made of bone.

Title: Maputo Genre: SF Length: ongoing Pitch: A woman and her granddaughter travel post-industrial flooded future Medway by boat, trading and interacting with the inhabitants. Maputo is the name of the boat.

Title: Basjo Pangles Genre: all ages adventure Length: ongoing Pitch: Basjo Pangles is a brightly coloured cartoon bear. Davies is a highly strung owl who owns a pneumatic drill. They are highwaymen in an adventure filled green wood.

Title: Nightbus Genre: light comedy drama Length: series of one shots in an ongoing. Pitch: In a pub in a village, Karen and the rest of the regulars drink with her best friend Nightbus. They do a meat raffle, have a band in, raise money for charity, go on a booze cruise, one regular buys a motorbike. That kind of thing. Basically kind of a low key English 'Cheers' but one of the characters (Nightbus) is a storybook giant and they never acknowledge this. Watercolour art. THIS IS NOT ONE OF THE JOKE ENTRIES. I HAVE WRTTEN SO MANY SCRIPTS FOR THIS.

Title: Kancho Genre: supernatural Length: graphic novel Pitch: 1948. A young Japanese widow prepares to remarry and move to the US, with her young son. He begins to act out, but is it the normal stresses of a small child adjusting to change or is it spirit possession?

Title: It Turns Out That I Can Only Write Folk Horror? Genre: Folk Horror Length: ongoing Pitch: A woman decides to combine a fun writing exercise with some mild cyber-bullying only to discover that about ninety percent of her ideas are some variation of the kind of 'Children Of The Stones' stuff that ITV used to do a lot of in the late seventies.

Title: Batman Genre: Batman Length: ongoing Pitch: Batman.

Title: Heartbeat, But With Vampires. Genre: Adventure, Horror, Scenic Views Of The North York Moors, Manga Length: ongoing Pitch: Oh no! Wicksy has got bitten by Dracula, and now it's up to Mr Derek and Alkie Selwyn Froggitt to stop him from spreading his corruption through the Yorkshire countryside of 1965-ish like an unstoppable late Victorian metaphor for venereal disease.

Title: Ultimate Call The Midwife Genre: action adventure Length: ongoing Pitch: The characters from popular BBC program for nans 'Call the midwife' are given a updated, continuity free, reboot in this accessible jumping on point for new readers.

Title: The Saga Of The Victors Genre: horror Length: mini-series Pitch: Literally just a photocopy of Skywald 's 'The Saga Of The Victims' with Richard Wilson's head stuck over all the faces.

Title: Mabigdogian Genre: fantasy Length: ongoing Pitch: The Mabinogion, but with big dogs.

Title: Sail Away, my darling doll. Genre: poem, drama, Length: short Pitch: Drawn in the style of willow pattern plate. The women of a small sailing village in C18 live their everyday lives in the absence of men.

Title: Captain Space Genre: sf low key adventure light drama Length: graphic novel Pitch: Captain Space, an Ovaltine era style intergalactic adventurer secretly crash lands in the woods behind a realistically written Essex council estate in 1991 and moves into an empty house. He has an alien dog, and a robot butler and robot aunt. He also almost certainly has some degree of combat based PTSD, a possibility which he is unaware/unwilling to entertain. Drawn in the style of Herge.

Title: Riddles Wisely Expounded Genre: myth, fantasy, folklore, anthology Length: one shots and mini-series within an ongoing Pitch: Adaptions of stories from the Child Ballads.

Title: Gandaberunda Genre: drama Length: graphic novel Pitch: A wealthy Bengali tea farming family in Northern India struggle with the differences between the UK influenced culture of the elder generation and the US focussed aspirations of the young. Both seeing the other as polluted by colonialism and themselves as the 'real' India.

Title: Skull Balloon Genre: anthology Length: short Pitch: One page dialogue free stories in a six by six grid.

Title: You'll Never Believe Number 14 Genre: disaster, sf Length: graphic novel Pitch: End of the world narrative shown through clickbait listicles.

Title: Withered Heart Genre: horror Length: graphic novel Pitch: A loose adaption of 'The Residence at Whitminster' by M.R. James. Dr Oldys and his young wife move into a house with a dark past and a fly infestation.

Title: Uranium Rock Genre: comedy drama Length: ongoing Pitch: In the mid-fifties, with the sexual revolution still a glimmer in society's eye and the threat of nuclear war seeming very real indeed, a group of teens cope with life by planning and executing flying saucer hoaxes in the New Mexico desert and doing some half-hearted prospecting.

Title: Tired Genre: tired Length: ongoing Pitch: so fucking tired

Title: Excerpt from A Teenage Opera Genre: comedy drama Length: ongoing Pitch: Join Dave Opera as he starts at a new school in a new town. Where his mum is the headteacher!

Title: Steam Genre: superhero Length: ongoing Pitch: A young thief in a youth detention centre discovers that he can transform into a cloud of vapour at will and decides to use his powers to become a hero.

Title: Home Virtues Genre: non-fiction, porn, comedy Length: graphic novel Pitch: History of that weird period in the 1860s where the letters page of 'Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine' (of Mrs Beeton fame) was almost exclusively a hang out for hairy palmed BDSM enthusiasts.

Title: Dr Orangutang Genre: children's Length: graphic novel Pitch: Victorian London. Dr Orangutang is a medical doctor, who is an orangutang. He's got a little top hat and mutton chops and that. It's very adorable.

Title: The Kitten's Tea And Croquet Party Genre: non-fiction Length: graphic novel Pitch: Biography of Walter Potter, and history of the Walter Potter museum.

Title: Mulch Genre: superhero Length: ongoing Pitch: When Kayleigh Tenson was eleven, she was a bystander during a battle between magical superheroes and supervillians. She was killed, which was sad. But she got better, which was rad. Nine years later she finds out that if she can magically rot things, and furthermore if she doesn't do it every day she'll die again. Which is very much a mixed bag.

Title: Hammer And Sickle Genre: action adventure Length: ongoing Pitch: Lenin hunts vampires.

Title: Adam Genre: supernatural drama Length: graphic novel Pitch: A young boy living with his mentally ill mother in the fens during the late forties begins to worry that he may be the antichrist.

Title: Kit Kat Ate A Rat Genre: crime, adventure Length: ongoing Pitch: Two bored dancing girls in twenties London become an unlikely crimefighting duo after foiling a blackmailer who threatened their peers.

Title: Hunter’s Chicken Genre: folktale, Length: graphic novel Pitch: Art is photos of Fuzzy Felt collages. A motherless boy whose father has gone to market prevents various supernatural creatures from invading the house and doing him various harms.

Title: Cold Cream Genre: comedy drama, horror Length: graphic novel Pitch: The adventures of Montague Ince, Victorian actor and necrophilliac.


‘The Boy With The Arachnid Heart’. It’s the heart-warming tale of a young lad, Keith, who discovers that he has poisonous spiders instead of blood. Whenever he is hurt small but ferocious spiders rush from the wound and attack everything in his immediate vicinity. Death is not certain from their bite but profound suffering is. Keith is profoundly arachnophobic. A sinister government agency wants to turn him into an assassin but Keith is more concerned with whether or not girls will be repulsed by his gruesome, spidery blood and the worry that his semen might actually just be spiders eggs as well.

‘Death and Other Small Disappointments’. A woman’s organs become self-aware and have to solve the mystery of why they all feel so awful all the time. It turn’s out that their host is drinking herself to death. Her organs must decide whether or not they want to try and save her because if they do they themselves will cease to be self-aware and effectively die. Do they want to live in the crumbling body of a dying woman or die in the body of a woman who might just live.

‘The Lear Effect’. The world is falling apart because God has become senile and divided his creation up among the archangels Gabriel and Michael, and the devil Lucifer. As they vie for control reality itself begins to fall apart causing people to be confronted by the gods of alien races on the other side of the universe. A scientist and a priest must team up to try and stop the world ending by creating the world’s first laboratory grown deity.

Innesbrook and Outen An off-beat supernatural detective story. A husband and wife team solve crimes with the help of their unusual psychic powers. Innesbrook can psychometrically get information about objects used in crimes but only by cramming them into his anus. Outen meanwhile can gather information about a victim's past but only by defecating in the cadaver's mouth. They fight against both the forces of crime and the outraged relatives of murder victims.


Title: Nic Cage is Superman! Main Character: Nic Cage. Pitch: Nic Cage *actually is* Superman.

Dave will love it.

Title: Flavious the baer! Main Character: Flavious. Pitch: It writes itself.


Fool House A depressing, refusing-to-come-of-age story about a manchild who won some comics in a populer and intelligent podcast bingo competition and the half-arsed depths he will sink to in order to win again. Self published via photocopying on the office printer when no-one's watching.

Warren Ellis' Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 in KRAMPUSSY Uncle Warren downs a bottle of cooking sherry and pens this IP crossover when Her Majesty's Secret Service sends their foulest agent up against the sinister foreign seasonal avatar who threatens the UK's peace of mind. Bond triumphs in a 300 page long sequence of lovemaking techniques that are legally not allowed to be depicted in the UK.

Rogger's Laminated Typography Manual this isn't actually a comic but the kerning is amazing and it's wipe clean.


Shatner Portly ageing emoter William Shatner is losing his faculties and believes he's character's he's played in the past. Hilarity ensues, but tinged by the sadness of seeing someone succumb to dementia. So it's not all that fun then.

Goat-goat A goat with the power to transform into a goat. Slitty eyed arsehole.

Hungover-girl Perplexed by the world, a woman wanders through town, diligently using pedestrian crossings even though the road is closed to cars.

Alpaca a reflective, existential comic. An Alpaca stands in a field, chewing

Daily Mail Man Runs around with his pants on his head, shouting racist epithets at the gays, leering at twelve year old girls.

Corbyn a genial Bernard Cribbens impersonator becomes leader of the Oppposition. Hijinks ensue!

Tony philanthropic millionaire keeps getting mistaken for a blood thirsty warmomgering grasping arsehole

Toto small dog from Kansas starts wildly successful soft rock band fond of terrible metaphors

Rogger: [censored]

"I'm Dave": Like "I'm Dave Gorman", except Dave (any) goes round finding people called Dave. There are many.

Piano Man: A gin-based accident sees Billy Joel combined with his piano. He fights crime


Title: Hester! Main character: Hester! Pitch: It's about Hester.


Walking Styx On or about December 1910, whatever might have once passed for a god or meaningful cosmology of any kind went out for a smoke, hasn't been seen since. While this was undeniably important, and a good many people, both living and dead cared a great deal, Alfred Wainwright and Nikolaus Pevsner thought it sounded like a nice chance to get out in the fresh air. Now they lead a series of coach and walking tours around a derelict afterlife. Like Dante's Inferno via One Foot In the Grave, and with a good deal more bickering about Edmund Burke than you'd expect from either.

Bloomsbury Jam London, 1938. The Bloomsbury Set play roller derby against the Mitford Sisters and chums. It's violent, lurid, a wee bit dykey, and historically spurious at best, but is their end of season grudge match just a toff dust-up on wheels, or is something more sinister being decided about the future of the British political establishment?

Dreadnaught In 1910 a bunch of posh pricks in just *incredibly* racist fancy dress managed to trick their way aboard the HMS Dreadnaught, pride of the Royal Navy. This much is established historical fact. Less well known is the fact that they promptly nicked it and took to the high seas. So what exactly did happen? And just what might you get up to if your crew included a shapeshifting socialite, an ambiguously psychic Freudian analyst, a painter/philosopher/incompetent wizard, an author haunted by spectral raves who sing perfect songs of the future in deeply imperfect ancient greek, and an annoying little man possessed by the budget-trickster-god genius loci of a minor public school.

Hungry like the Woolf No, don't worry - even I have standards.


It's a Sad Comic that alternates between scenes of the bittersweet childhood and comic-yet-melancholy old age of a sarcastic former caped vigilante from the British midlands, where it gradually becomes clear that it's taking place in a virtual reality sustained by malfunctioning supercomputers on a dying Earth billions of years in the future.

The plot is, I don't know, some sort of ironic time loop probably.

I think that covers about everything.


Title: Being Kieron Gillen Genre: Kieron Gillen Length: 3x6 Pitch: Kieron Gillen writes a comic about a comic book writer who is a thinly disguised avatar for Kieron Gillen who is writing a comic about a comic book writer who writes really really terrible puns. (just kidding Kieron, love you really)

Title: Rob Liefeld's Feet Genre: Body horror Length: Ongoing Pitch: All the feet Rob Liefeld has obscured/hidden/just plain failed to draw in every comic he's ever done since, like, 1980-whatever.

Title: Captain DC Genre: Superhero or something I guess Length: Too long Pitch: Like Captain Marvel but with totally tone deaf gender politics, maybe she gets her superpowers whenever she's on her period or something? That would be totally empowering for women, right? Also tits.

Title: The Disruptive Adventures of Valley Techbro Boy Genre: Hacker News Length: Until this fucking bubble bursts; with any luck some time early next year Pitch: It's Like Uber But For Comics. Uber the horrible company, I know Uber is already a comic.

Title: Sexy Smiley's People: The Comic Book Genre: Espionage, Ben Whishaw Length: About 4 minutes and then Rogger loses interest and feels a bit dirty Pitch: That TV series as a comic book. Special wipe-clean print-stock.

Title: Being Chip Zdarsky Genre(s): Sex, Horror, Horrible sex, Canada Length: Too long Pitch: No oh god no oh Christ please just make it stop

Title: Netflix and Kill Genre: Slasher, revenge fantasy Length: 6 issues Pitch: Jobless millenials run out of things to watch on Netflix and go on a killing spree, murdering the baby-boomers who fucked everything up for them. Published on Tumblr or Snapchat or something I guess.

Title: Netflix and Quill Genre: Media commentary Length: 6 issues Pitch: Everyone's favourite Elizabethan playwright Billy Shakesbro offers his views and hot-takes on the latest shows on the streaming internet video service

Title: Netflix and Gil Genre: Crime/detective procedural Length: 6 issues Pitch: The revolution will not be televised, but it will be streamed right to your front room when Gil Scott-Heron and his trusty sidekick Netflix get on the streets to... look, this seemed like a good idea when I started ok

Title: Netflix and Krill Genre: Fish somehow Length: 6 issues Pitch: It's about some tiny sea creatures who watch things on a streaming video service maybe? I'll be honest I haven't thought this one through

Title: Grant Morrison's Adventure Time Genre: Fucked-up acid trip Length: 1 issue, or the whole of time and space Pitch: Honestly not that different from a normal issue of Adventure Time tbh except maybe with more murder and drugs and fucking

Title: Warren Ellis and the Mysterious Neurological Event Genre: Autobio Length: Ongoing Pitch: In which everything is FINE and NOTHING BAD HAPPENS and Weird Uncle Warren gets to write more comics and not die or anything, OKAY?

Thought Bubble 2015 - what we're excited about

Thought Bubble! It's Brit-nerd new year! Or something! 9781473326965_MULP_02_CoverLook, it's a big old mess of just all the comics and the comics people, and the fun and the dancing, and probably too much beer, and the podcasting, and the new things, and the cosplay and the shiny, and yeah. It's pretty great.

It's also a cracking time to stumble on new stuff. But we try to go prepared. We're like the boy scouts of spending far too much money on comics, with a throbbing hangover.

Last year, we had a few bits of advice on how to get the best out of comics shows, and this year we've picked out some things we might just consider buying.

So here's a few titles and publishers you should check out at T'Bubz


Improper books are back

9781473320277_BoneChina_CoverOf course they are. We love those folks. Porcelain is the proverbial's peripherals - a crisp, slightly gothic tale of an orphan girl taken in by the Porcelain Maker, a crafter of pristine, eerie automata. Naturally, there are twists and intrigues, as the nature of the porcelain becomes more clear.

They also now publish Mulp, a noir-inflected archaeological rodent mystery.

Together, Mulp and Porcelain were some of our favourite books at the festival last year, and this year Improper are back with the second volume of each. No more intro - just go and buy them, ok?

Shiny new things

We also had a quick flip through the frankly mammoth list of books making their debut at TBF15, and picked ten or so titles that look just totes wizard.

  • FossilsOfBeautifulSoulsKingpin Books Portuguese publisher Kingpin was one of our interviews last year, and we loved their anthology Crumbs - their first book in English. This year they've got 4 new English translations, and they look super promising. These include: The Fossils of Beautiful Souls: a twisted 15th century historical; The Waltz: a coastal village folk horror; and Solomon, a splash of urban mysticism with a wonderful sense of light and dark.
  • I Love This Part The childhood friendship of two young girls, told across imagined landscapes and snaps of pop culture. It has this amazing economy of line, and restrained expressions of painted colour. Wow.
  • Diner Devotional A twelve page fold-out of linocut sketches of American diners. No, really. What? We like design, and chiaroscuro fifties consumer kitsch is fucking catnip.
  • Drugs and Wires Cyberpunk, but not shit. Drugs and Wires is all misery and things and people that don't quite work. Now you can pick it up on a special legacy-tech portable data store: gunked-up tree bits.
  • frogmanFrogman Trilogy He's a frog. He's a superhero. He's an absolute idiot. It's three stories about a foul-mouthed frog, making just the worst job of being a hero.
  • Golden Cannibal Girl Douglas noble does these itchy, allusive webcomics, intense vignettes, and Strip For Me, a series of shorts. This is the latest.
  • How We Grow Old It's hard to tell if Richard Amos' set of short stories on ageing will be sweet or crushingly sad, but the style is quiet and gorgeous. We'll be surprised if he has to carry many of these home.
  • Bao and Pom There's a girl and a maybe-anthropomorphic red panda? It's possibly cute? Look, we're new to charming, but this might be it.
  • KlaxonKlaxon A trio of deadbeats face off against their evil landlord, and it looks great. Not strictly new, but recent and interesting. Nice use of colour, too.
  • Shadow Constabulary A nutter with a cricket bat tries to fix Britain by beating the crap out of suburbia. This could be horribly on the nose, or feel like Chubz via Marshal Law, or be just the best loud daft thing. Maybe all three.
  • The Adventures of Dragon Mouse Something sweet to finish - a mouse who dreams of being a dragon, and tries to solve this problem using ingenuity and household craft materials. It looks just a bit lovely.

Now, the Thought Bubble website isn't exactly the most usable information experience you can have on that thar interwub, so we've like as not missed some fine publications.

But what? What have we missed? WHAT EXCITES YOU?

The Ditch - Kristian Carstensen

The Ditch - Kristian CarstensenIt's not often we get to showcase something brand new here, so we were delighted when Kristian sent us The Ditch. It's a prison zombie horror vignette, wonderfully dynamic, quite gory, and his first comic.

This 12-page short opens with Sal - not a particularly nice man - stuck in solitary confinement, having just smoked his last cigarette, noise all around, something ominous clamouring to get in.

That's a classic pressure/isolation horror opener, and from here we pull back to find out quite how Sal got there. Spoilers: it's a blend of a) zombies, and b) being just a total dick.

Kristian's a professional animator, so it's not surprising that the comic has a wonderful sense of flow an motion. Which is what you want for a story about the hungry dead biting chunks outta folk.

You can read the whole thing here:

The Ditch - Kristian Carsetnsen, PDF

Or check out more artwork and sketches on his site.

We know Kristian from a combination of early Consequential pub meets, and the Cambridge tech sector being something of a richly linked network. So when he sent the PDF over, Roger asked him a few questions:

The Ditch is an extremely polished first work, and I was quite curious about whether this was something he'd always had as an ambition and been working towards.

It seems comics have indeed always been a passion, and from early on:

I grew up with access to tons of comics. My dad had a near complete collection of Asterix & Obelix and Lucky Luke and as soon as I could get a library card I'd be carrying mountains of random comics home from the local library. Getting my hands on a lot of age inappropriate stuff in the process, (hello Morbus Gravis) It did expose me to a lot of different styles and stories though.

From lugging home his childhood bodyweight in occasionally-racy bande dessinée, it seems comics were nearly a career:

I pretty much wanted to be doing it as a career ever since I can remember, and I even visited an artist collective back in Denmark when I was like 13 or so to find out more about it. Unfortunately what I found out was that, at that point, there were like 3 or 4 people in the entire country that were able to actually live of it. Probably fewer now. So I put that idea aside and focused on animation instead which was another passion of mine.

More specific visual influences for The Ditch are drawn from prison movies - Kristian mentioned The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, as well as a general fascination with work from Mike Mignola, Guy Davis, Max Fiumara and James Harren.

There's a playful note to The Ditch, too, in amidst the gore. A prison work gang beat a guard to death with a shovel, in what's already a slightly coy reversal of zombie tropes, and when the iconic hand pops up from its shallow grave, Sal just stamps it back down:

The Ditck p5 - Kristian Carstensen Later, that same hand rises again, shown against forking lightning, and we just know this doesn't end well. Similarly, the rise of the undead is intercut with little panels of characters chewing chicken legs, and some no less bloody prison violence.

It's a well constructed thing that I reckon richly deserves more eyes on it.

So, you can read the whole story here: The Ditch, PDF

Glacial Period - Nicolas de Crécy

Have you ever wanted to read At The Mountains of Madness, but with Baroque portraiture instead of shoggoths? How about a meditation on semiotics, historiography, and context, through the eyes (and nose) of a talking dog named after the Hulk? You have? Then golly does Nicolas de Crécy have a treat for you.


Glacial Period is de Crécy's 2005 collaboration with the Louvre, and forms part of a set of 6 or so graphic novels exploring parts of the collection. It takes his feeling that the Louvre could be overwhelming and extrudes that experience to a problem of future archaeology: faced with  interpreting something so unimaginably vast and eclectic, all chains of context lost, would a team of future experts fare any better than a contemporary five year old?

The human characters do not fare so well at all. They bicker and squabble. They make amusing mistakes. The talking dog ("with a drop of pig genes...") follows his nose and seems to learn something.


The contrivance here is that Hulk's nose is so well-tuned that he can sniff out and distinguish historical epochs and fine chemical details. He is so stagily, pompously proud of this talent that it disappears into his character work, ceasing pretty promptly to feel like an expositional convenience.

And yes, the most human character is the talking dog named after "a god whom we'd concluded had been one of yours". "Yours" here referring to the museum exhibits, three thousand years of culture compressed into "past", as casually as we might say "ancient Greece". Don't worry - it's not that on-the-nose or hectoring about historical literacy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Glacial Period has a lot going on, and some of it quite clever, but it's relentlessly warm and enthusiastic.

IMG_4913We as readers know this is a comic, we know we're looking at a talking dog, and we know what's really going on when they think of the Hulk as an old god. It's a cute early joke that invites us in on the ironic advantage the book depends on. But it is never mean. The entire premise is not that these people are idiots, simply that they are fascinatingly, absurdly wrong, and how could they not be. The next nod, two pages over (shown here), is a piece of football memorabilia parsed as a devotional icon.

Not so very wrong, depending on your perspective, but also not presented with a 'make u think' smugness.

Instead, Glacial Period shows us a team of what may be experts, trekking across a lost, ice-bound continent thousands of years hence after an ecological collapse. Europe is forgotten, contextual links have barely survived. Records are sparse. They are looking for "the Metropolis", with a party of squabbling egoists and a set of maps that have all the cartographical confidence of the fly leaf of Lord of the Rings. Are they a credibly scientific expedition, or an analogue for the gentleman explorer/plunderer/collector dilettantes who built collections like the British Museum?


At its centre, Glacial Period has these five astounding pages. Our explorers try to reconstruct the history of Paris by considering the Louvre collection as though it were a single narrative account. They arrive at a kind of cartoonish lakeshore fleshpot with predatory cherubs. It is daft and glorious.

It is also a visual carnival. Three hundred years of painting, collided style-regardless and credulous like stock footage in an Adam Curtis documentary. It even has that same breathless, childlike "and then this happened" pseudo narrative that gorgeously elides its own nonsense.

De Crécy really gets to stretch his legs here, too. The whole book is movingly gorgeous, but these pages are something else. Structurally, they're the punchline/payoff to the ostensible premise of the book, the collection closeups and comic misunderstanding we've been promised. We get early and pre renaissance devotional pieces, still life, baroque dynamism, a coy rococo buttock, Bosch and Delacroix, and a little dab of Monet.

This faux-historical gloss is mirrored later by the paintings' own experience as they come to life and tell their story. This is softer, more ordered as narrative, and resting on impressionism. There are little bites taken out of a lot of styles in this book, and even within the period of the narrative, it meanders between watercolour, fidgety linework, and something bolder like gouache. It's fitting that in a piece that has the front to use big-ticket Masterpieces as throwaway panels, so many of its original panels should be arrestingly beautiful.


There's a tendentious reading there that I can't quite make stick: that the sections outside the gallery more strongly replicate for the reader the experience of viewing visual art (in a gallery) than the exhibition pieces themselves.

Running with that briefly, you could hold up the foregrounding of the paper stock and brushstrokes, the shifting overtly-painted styles, next to the incredibly casual use of renaissance paintings, and the way in the second half the massed artefacts become indistinct.

I'm not wholly sure you can sell that. It's hard for most bets not to be off once Hulk encounters the museum pieces talking. But I do think it's at least in part about how we read and experience museums and art. Worthiness isn't privileged, and there's a kind of set of wry jokes here about curation and experience.

Hulk's nose gives him a chronology, but it doesn't stop him making mistakes. Joseph seeks a narrative from the images, collaging a comic on the fly. We the readers may or may not know that the art styles he chooses don't go in that order, but the very fact that the joke doesn't depend on that knowledge means we don't get to be smug if we have it, or get to take that much comfort in context.

Nobody gets to be right except the exhibits themselves, and they aren't wholly reliable narrators. The only fact-checking is the reader's (arbitrary) level of knowledge. It's a wonderful model of coming to a vast collection and negotiating how and how much to trust the interpretation on offer.

Indeed, Glacial Period shows us two ways of reading museums, almost two experiences of curation. It's not quite this clean; the book doesn't harangue us about how to experience art. But it does face off a more proscriptive, historicist approach with something looser, more serendipitous and imaginative.


It's a trip to a museum, after all, howbeit a weird one. The premise aggressively strips back and context or expertise the characters might arrive with, so they're left with only their inclinations and approaches. Gregor has consistently been dogmatic and patriarchic. Paul has fared a little better but constantly asserts his credentials as historian while knowing little of history. The others have been more open. Joseph tells the centrepiece story, but tweaks it on the fly - there's a joy and eagerness in his attempt to interpret. Juliette balances hypotheses, and Hulk for all his precociousness asks more often than he asserts. The collection quite literally comes to life before him, and he teases out the history of the place by conversing with the artefacts.

As the book ends, Gregor is a puddle on the floor, and Paul watches quietly dumbfounded as Hulk, Juliette, and Joseph gallop off on the back of an aggressively postmodern collage in the rough form of Anubis, "a new work freed from its jewelry box."

I guess the moral of the story is that if you approach museums with flexibility, openness, and a sense of wonder, you get to ride out into a bold new life on a transcendental post-structuralist magic art dog, whereas if you're all po-faced and strict about it you get eaten by an angry beef monster?

I don't know - it goes off the rails pretty hard at the end there, but I defy you not to love it for that.


I've taken a pretty strong position here on what it's doing, but there's a lot more in Glacial Period. It's a history of the Louvre, an examination of how art means, and an amazing sketchbook. It's big and weird and utterly, utterly beautiful.

The Gods of The Wicked and the Divine and Performative Identity

One of the big themes of The Wicked and the Divine at this point is performative identity. The gods are a big part of this - they are the person they were before they joined the pantheon, a pop star, and an existing god. What that means though is not clear - and many of the gods take on more than one form.



Our most recent podcast talks about WicDiv, and in what's a bit of a mammoth post, we've looked at the gods' background, who they are, who they were, what they do, and some of what it might mean.

Dave gets his myth on, and Roger talks performance...

(This post covers roughly issues #1-7. The rest of the gods are covered in part 2 here.)

It’s worth noting that there are no fixed versions of any of these gods - it is the nature of mythology to be mercurial (ho-ho!). In reading about mythology, it is useful to think of gods not as a fixed point or a character. Gods and stories move from one region to another, take on new character as stories are retold, embellished or deliberately changed. For example, Woden is a later form of the Teutonic war god Wotan, eventually becoming the familiar Odin of Norse mythology. One version does not replace another though - geography and means of communication in early cultures mean that there’s not much by way of canon. Woden and Odin are not exactly distinct, they are points on a scale.

The myths that we understand today have come from oral sources, and only certain versions have been written down. Different mythologies are better-known than others. Roman and Greek mythologies are comparatively well-recorded, for example, whereas Norse and Irish myths come from only a few written sources. Conquering cultures add their own spin - much of Norse myth comes from a book called the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson was written from a Christian perspective, and deliberately mocks the beliefs of earlier generations - almost certainly showing off the author’s devotion to the new religion of his land.

What this is then, is a brief series of notes on each of the gods revealed so far, an explanation of the texts and traditions they’re derived from where appropriate, and an attempt to reconcile that with The Wicked and the Divine. Bear in mind as well that the nature of the comic allows for swathes of this to be altered or ignored - it is hardly a straight-up take on the classic myths. This guide goes as far as Issue 6, so potential spoilers up to that point. It doesn’t cover anything beyond that, so there’s nothing for the final god, even though he’s out in the wild now. This guide also focuses on the comic alone - no interviews or text notes have been taken into account. Old school. Shall we?

The Gods


The Wicked and the Divine - Ananke

Ananke comes from Greek mythology and pre-dates the gods in the same way as the titans do - she is a force outside of gods and mortals, and her name means “force, constraint or necessity. She is sometimes depicted as the mother of the fates, and she is often depicted as holding a spindle, with which she weaves the fate of all beings. In The Wicked and the Divine, she is the only member of the pantheon that doesn’t have a pop star aspect, and she is always (so far) depicted as being both old and the same person. Given the focus on identity and performance for all other characters, this seems worth considering. She is almost certainly playing at least one role that is not currently obvious.


The Wicked and the Divine - Lucifer

Lucifer isn’t usually thought of as a god in the strictest sense - those pesky monotheistic religions really do like to stick with just the one - but he definitely has the characteristics of one. The usual symbols associated with Lucifer are fire, snakes, goats, horns in general - the usual horrow show. The Wicked and the Divine emphasises Lucifer’s angelic origins, with the white suit, and the occasional feather motifs. Dark stripes and eyes that flare red when she uses her powers are the only outwardly “satanic” traits - this Lucifer seems to be primarily in it for the spirit of rebellion and the opportunities for temptation. Baphomet seems to fill the role of the Halloween horror satan in The Wicked and the Divine’s pantheon.

If this is what Lucifer is in The Wicked and the Divine, then she represents rejection of authority (though curiously not Ananke’s - she seems to be faintly awed by her), open rebellion and temptation. She flaunts authority at every turn, often in an aggressively sexual way. That seems to cover that.

The name on her gravestone is Eleanor Rigby, but this is likely just to hide the grave site from fans, although going by the shortened “Luci” could be a Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds reference. These aren’t her parents’ bands - they seem to prefer “some awful Britpop covers band”, so it seems to be another small act of rebellion. The main touchstone for her appearance is “Thin White Duke”-era David Bowie.


The Wicked and the Divine - Baal

Baal can refer to a number of gods from the Middle East that are roughly contemporary to the Old Testament - Baal (meaning “Lord”) in most cases refers to the god of the Canaanite tribes around Carthange (known as Baal-Hamon), and the Baal-Hadad version that appears in The Wicked and the Divine is the god of the Phoenicians - a people who are believed to have originated from the Canaanites. This is the first hint of how The Wicked and the Divine is handling how different interpretations of the same god are represented in the pantheon - Baal is aware of his nature, and each time he incarnates he may be a different aspect of the same god.

Baal-Hadad is a lightning and rain god, representing fertility. His Wicked and the Divine incarnation is broadly modeled on Kanye West, is furiously egotistical, and is playing up to his designation as “lord of all”.

It is believed that the term Beelzebub is derived from Baal-Zabab, or “Lord of the Flies” and that the Israelites justified the destruction of the Canaanites by labeling them as satan-worshippers. They are referred to as having been wiped out in the Old Testament. Baal represents some of the more interesting possibilities for the Wicked and the Divine to play with how the gods manifest - what defines the versions that appear as a unique aspect in different Recurrences, how they are defined as separate, what humans factors play a part in that. Unless it was a throwaway line, in which case I’ve gone off on one for no good reason. Carry on.


The Wicked and the Divine - Woden

Woden is a Teutonic / Norse god that is a derivation somewhere along the line between Wotan, the Teutonic god of War and the more familiar Odin of Norse mythology. His name means “Fury”, and he is still a god of war, but also one of divine inspiration, particularly associated with poetry. Later versions of the god were associated with knowledge and self-sacrifice, and with number symbolism focused on repeating threes and nines.

It’s unclear if he is distinct from those other gods, but a picture of Mary Shelley looking like a more traditional Odin, with an eyepatch and ravens, which are more associated with the later, specifically Norse version of the god. Mary Shelley definitely inspired some poets, so I would guess they’re the same god, and Woden supplies items to the other gods to enhance their abilities. Woden was a name also used by the Norse, so there's probably no Baal-style split here.

The closest musical reference for Woden visually is Daft Punk. Currently we know nothing of who he was before he became a god.


The Wicked and the Divine - Amaterasu

Shinto is a Japanese religion that predates Buddhism, and was incorporated into Shinto Buddhism when the practice of the newer religion became more common in Japan. Amaterasu is one of the main family of gods, representing the sun - she literally brings light to the world by shining from heaven.

In The Wicked and the Divine, this is reflected in a very optimistic nature. Pre-godly incarnation she was Hazel Greenaway, a teen from Exeter, and she specifically states that she no longer feels that she is this person. This is not necessarily reflected in her actions though - she has a naivety that the other gods don’t that isn’t really in character with the goddess Amaterasu, who is generally wise. In terms of her appearance, Kate Bush is probably the closest touchstone, but she incorporates elements of other musicians too.


The Wicked and the Divine - Susanoo

Susanoo is Amaterasu’s brother, and the Shinto god of storms. In myth, he frequently antagonises his sister (if throwing a flayed horse at her stuff falls into that category) usually when he is bored. In a core Shinto myth this drives Amaterasu into a cave, thus blocking out the sun. Despite being impetuous and often antagonistic, he is not usually thought of as evil.

He is yet to appear in the modern recurrence, but is briefly shown at the start of the story in the 1920s.


The Wicked and the Divine - Sakhmet

Again, Sakhmet is a pantheon member that could easily be another god - Bast. The two gods were equivalent in different parts of ancient Egypt, but when the upper and lower Egyptian cultures unified, Sakhmet was the version that was preeminent in the resulting culture, with a cult based in Memphis (the Egyptian one, not the American one, but let’s expect a joke about this at some point).

She is a warrior goddess, who has the aspect of a lioness. She is also the god of menstruation. Her cult was all-female, with daily attendance by her priestesses required to keep her wrath at bay.

The modern-day recurrence version of Sakhmet is heavily influenced by Rihanna in appearance, and is far more animalistic than any of the other gods.

The Morrigan

The Wicked and the Divine - The Morrigan

Well, this one’s fun. The Morrigan is 3 goddesses in one, and with Irish mythology being quite fractured and unreliably-sourced, it’s tricky to dig into the details. They all share the same body, and while this can be true in the source myth, it’s not always the case. She is a shapeshifter, most commonly taking the form of crows, but also an eel and a cow. Her name means “Great Queen” or “Phantom Queen” depending on how you stress the “O”. I told you studying mythology was fun, didn’t I? The Morrigan is not generally portrayed as a chthonic deity (crows being notoriously poor at flying in soil), but she is in The Wicked and the Divine. It might mean something, it might be a good excuse to do a really cool 2-page design that’s mostly black.

The black-haired form is referred to here as Morrigan, but in terms of the myths she more closely resembles Badb (meaning “crow”), who is sometimes considered the primary (and sometimes sole) form of The Morrigan. The Morrigan is always associated with crows, as they were the primary battlefield scavengers. It is this form (more or less - it’s always fun working from fractured sources) that features in the main surviving Irish myth, the Táin Bó Cuailnge. Here she antagonises the hero Cú Chulainn, contributing to his death in battle. This form represents war and death, and while she is primarily a war goddess, she is also associated with death premonitions and death itself (as distinct from people lining up to murder each other).

The red-haired form is called Badb, but more closely resembles Macha, probably Macha red-mane (there are a lot of Macha’s in Irish myth, it gets confusing). This form is probably based on a warlike queen of Ireland who gradually became part of mythology. This form is broadly associated with war, and is the most hot-headed of the three forms.

The third, shaven-headed form is Anu or Anand, who goes by her English name of Gentle Annie (assuming this isn’t Victorian folklorists trying to tie everything into some sort of ur-myth, which they were all over). Anu is not often part of The Morrigan, but it is not unheard of. Anu is not well-represented in surviving Irish texts, but she is generally thought of as a benign mother presence, often symbolising land and sovereignty, which are also symbolised by cattle. This is why the Ulster Cycle of myths is a series of fights over increasingly impressive cows.

Fun fact - there are hills in Munster named after her breasts. In fact the naming of places in ancient Ireland is pretty vulgar for the most part - look it up, it’s a fun afternoon. Start with Fual Meadbha.

I’ll be honest, I struggle to compare these three to existing pop stars, mostly because those people rarely threaten to murder you while screaming about the capacity of their genitals. Maybe Barry Manilow. Gentle Annie definitely has more than a smack of UK comics history about her, with hints of Tank Girl and something Grant Morrison-y in her dialogue. She’s bald, so… Sinead O’Connor? This is what happens when you spend your youth reading about Irish myths, your cultural touchstones drift. I’m sticking with my Tank Girl / Crazy Jane theory.

The Morrigan and Baphomet seem to stay away from the rest of the gods, living in an Underground station while the rest live in Woden’s Valhalla.


The Wicked and the Divine - Baphomet

Baphomet, like Lucifer, doesn’t quite fit the mould of what we think of as a god - he doesn’t really belong to any religion (unless you’re Aleister Crowley), and he’s never really had worshippers as far as anyone can tell. There is some reference to him as being the god of the Templars, but this is not well supported, and could just as easily be a useful lie from the church of the time to disown the crazy blood-covered people who came stumbling out of the desert years after being sent over. If this is the case then it’s possible that his name was originally a corruption of Mohammed.

References to Baphomet come and go throughout history - in the 19th century he acquired the goat-headed symbolism, equating him with satan worship, and the cult of Thelema (Crowley and chums) adopted him as their own - he was also adopted by the Church of Satan, which is where most contemporary symbolism around Baphomet arises from. 

The primary pop reference for Baphomet seems to be Ian Astbury of The Cult, but I don’t remember him having the ol’ washboard abs. Baphomet seems shallower than most of the gods, and this may be related to the fact that he is poorly-understood and has had his symbolism changed quite substantially (broadly invented, really) in the last century. If the gods are affected by human understanding and perception, this would make a certain amount of sense. Of course, he may just have manifested in a daft bastard and stayed that way, although the grinning child star in the opening scenes of the first issue also seems to be Baphomet, and shows the same wilfully destructive nature. This version would predate the Church of Satan, and so I would expect there to be differences between the two versions were this the case.

Baphomet also seems to act as Kieron Gillen’s mouthpiece to an extent - some of jokes seem to be reflexively mocking some of the recurring tropes in Gillen’s work. And then there’s the puns. And “none more goth”.


The Wicked and the Divine - Minerva

Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts, as well as sometimes being a goddess of war (she is the equivalent of Athena in the Greek pantheon). Roman gods frequently had hyperlocalised aspects too, with different towns having their own version of the god. Whether this plays into Minerva’s aspect in The Wicked and the Divine is yet to be seen. She’s not played much of a role so far though, so it’s very hard to tell what her personality is or how her behaviour reflects the god she is. She’s only 12 years old, which seems deeply unfair, but we already saw that the pantheon can be incredibly young in the opening scenes in the 20s.

The militaristic jacket could refer to a whole raft of pop stars, with The Beatles and My Chemical Romance being two obvious ones. Neither of those is a 12-year-old though.


The Wicked and the Divine - InnanaInnana is the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility and war, and the chief goddess of the Sumerian pantheon. She started as a heavenly spirit, but via a descent into the underworld and experiences symbolic death and rebirth. In some versions of the story, she is forced to exchange places with her lover or husband in order to return, in some she becomes ruler of the underworld, and casts him into it when he takes on other lovers. In most versions she is vengeful on lovers that wrong her.

Innana in The Wicked and the Divine is just Prince. I mean, look at him. Prince. Princey Prince Prince. Which is pretty perfect as a god(dess) of love and fertility. As is the actual Purple Rain that goes with the first appearance of Innana. Of the gods we’ve seen so far, Innana seems to cling to his past more than the rest, and is far more kind than most, and interested in people (or at least Laura, who he was at least familiar with before manifesting as a god.


The Wicked and the Divine - Tara

We have yet to see Tara in The Wicked and the Divine, but her posters appear everywhere, and the other characters refer to her as being annoying. She is a Tibetan Buddhist deity - “She who delivers”, “star”, and the essence of feminine compassion. She takes 21 different forms, each associated with a different colour, posture, and temperament - this seems to equate to Lady Gaga-esque costume changes in The Wicked and the Divine, but it’s yet to be seen. Certainly the only image of her that we’ve seen so far is very colourful - blue, which is one of Tara’s furious forms. Green and white forms are loving.

(This post covers roughly issues #1-7. The rest of the gods are covered in part 2 here.)

Performed Identity in The Wicked and the Divine

Or: Roger wanks on a bit about gods.


The gods in WicDiv are pop stars, but the nature of the medium makes it impossible for us to hear them sing. What, then, do they do, and what are they? When they perform miracles - or their heads explode - the pages fill with halftones, and the medium rushes in. They are gods in a story, performers, and neither we nor they get to forget that. The book is so coyly, posedly, not “about the music” that this sharply underscores the gods’ function as a different kind of performer. They’re the pure froth of pop, performing the identity of the star.

Each of these gods have multi-part identities. There’s the mythological god they represent, the human they were, and the pop star they act as. So far, most of the other characters with speaking parts have something similar going on, too. We meet Laura as she’s dressing up, and the fandom she enacts involves shifting her appearance for each of the gods. She explicitly dresses as Amaterasu, she nods to Lucifer’s outfit for her prison visit, goes all goth gothy goth goth for the Morrigan, and well, I've got nothing on the dungarees; art student for the gallery, maybe. She glosses over her family life, the ordinary teenager she was, by showing it to us through the ironic detachment of the narrator/protagonist she’s busy being.

Teenage scream

Her narrator voice itself is not uncomplicated. It has distance and perspective, sometimes in the moment, sometimes relating a story from the past. It has flashes of self-awareness, (“fail girl”, “desperation”, the family argument she breezily voices over) but they serve the pose. There are at least three bits of identity here, too. Laura plays a lot of roles, then. But they’re more tentative and experimental than the performances of the gods.

She occupies a mid point along WicDiv's sliding scale of identity performance. The gods sit at the high-end, an iconic expression of teenage theatrical self-creation. At the other and we have every other teenager, and the teenagers the gods were before. In between: Laura. She wants what they have, to an extent, and in a slightly try-hard way. Heck, she’s trying amazingly hard to be an iconic teenager. Failing her A-levels is “a statement of intent”. The posed cool at Valhalla is achingly fragile, and of course she knows that, it’s the joke. Dressing as Amaterasu, she literally (cos)plays in a toilet while the gods gig in stadiums.



Laura’s not quite our everyman, her status as probably-narrator complicates that. She’s finding her feet playing a role, performing bits of what the gods do, bits of something else. Interestingly (and I’ll love seeing where this goes) she’s got a lot more agency than the gods do. Narrating alone gives her some of that, setting the terms on which we can engage with the story. But she’s got a bit more freedom in it too. There are plenty of performers, but not that many actors - the gods largely react, or inspire, or follow their stories.

Cassandra looks initially to have a simpler identity. Superficially more of an adult, she’s cast as the sceptic. But the background in comparative mythology and her disappointment at what she feels the gods are not suggests a kind of fandom and infatuation. She plays, too, with being the mythic Cassandra. It’s not overdone, but the gods are dismissive of her, and she’s clearly had to fight for her voice.

Then of course, there’s the pointed, casual, almost unforeshadowed trans reveal. It’s an odd beat. It feels initially on the nose, but then conspicuous for being throwaway. It would have been easy to use a trans character as a cipher for the identity concepts, to dwell on an early life spent obliged to perform a wrong identity, perhaps. This would play to the book’s analysis of teen experience, and maybe it does suggest that a little. From what we see of Luci's past as “Ms Rigby”, from Cassandra’s faint dismissal of Amaterasu as a provincial girl, from the snatches of Laura’s life, and her wishing for godhood, cosplaying in front of a toilet, we get a strong waft of that feeling of (musical?) subculture as teenage escape.

But it still feels like more of a character moment for Lucifer. It’s a moment of casual cruelty, tossed out as a barb. The apology for outing is itself an outing, and a much more conspicuous one than anything before. The “lord of the pit”, bloodied, the hurt child showing through, is maybe trying to prove she’s still got it? It’s a moment between her and Cassandra, and the narrative broadly shrugs it off. The nonchalance feels progressive, but there’s also a playfulness. A nod and a wink that says, here, have this one, we've got identity tropes to burn. The book is more interested in the performed, multi-part identity of every teenager, and the caricature expressed by the gods, than in cruelly fetishizing one transition.

The gods, then, are a bit of an expression of the teenage experience, of wanting to be special and lifted out of your life. In A Game of You, Neil Gaiman has The Cuckoo talk, almost direct to the reader, about childhood fantasy:


She breaks it out along questionably gender-essentialist lines as agency fantasy for boys, identity for girls: “Their parents are not their parents. Their lives are not their lives.” Let’s ditch the genitals and generalise – the gods of WicDiv are a kind of synthesis. Being plucked from (miserable) childhood obscurity and told by a terrifying caricature grandma that you’re a god? It’s the height of identity and agency fantasy; it’s what(ever) happened to the teenage dream.

But it’s not the end-point, and the teaser for the book clearly set out the premise “just because you’re immortal doesn't mean you're going to live forever”.  Amaterasu clarifies “You spend your entire life wishing you were special and then find out you are. Nothing is without a price.”

Clearly, the book is at least in part about haggling over that price. Faustus and the Vengaboys tell us that on the flyleaf. But there’s a degree of haggling over “special”, too.

Prison rulesThere’s a great blog post called How an Algorithm Feels From The Inside (and this related piece) that has a lot to say about the cognitive fluency of categories, and by implication the persistence of pathological essentialism. Which is to say “are they really gods?” may just be another “but is it art?”, and broadly not helpful in the face of duck typing. But in a piece that tosses around specific niche versions of Baal - versions in which Baal himself is invested - I’m not so sure. Mythopoetically, Lucifer and Baphomet are younger than the others as gods/whatever, and have a touch more naïve brattishness. If these are Gaimanesque gods as empowered by human belief, then their role as inspiration becomes kind of oddly recursive, and whether they are “really” gods is relatively important. The presence of Lucifer amidst a pantheon drawn extensively from polytheistic faiths would invite us to ask questions about the presence or absence of monotheism’s beardy sky-ghost, whichever way you slice it. The extent to which they’re “gods”, what that even means, and their relationship to their own and each other’s mythology is very much front and centre, so maybe we’re interrogating the category.

They’re tightly bound by rules, “don’t really do anything useful”, and quite apart from the fact that they've only got two years to live, seem at least partly shackled to a narrative imperative they can make jokes about but not fight.

Great headLucifer chuckles about what a story it would be if Innana were the killer, that “genre tropes dictate” it was likely Amaterasu, or the “twist” if it were her herself. But for all this, she still ends up enacting a little bit of the Lucifer story – favoured, rebelling, punished. She spends a chunk of the story in a prison cell for transgression, and yet still sees Ananke as caring for her, giving “the best advice”. Sakhmet plays at cat, and the laser pointer is a delight. Laura points at the theatricality of the “play” between Baphomet and the Morrigan. It’s part the self-destructive myth of the pop star, and part the story of the god, rolling out regardless. No wonder Luci is quite so pissed off.

WicDiv is a long way from being finished, but it’s already got a lot to say about how we create and perform identities, and about what that performance enforces. It’s full of little jokes and tragic ironies, and it’s a delight for inviting us to play guessing games. I’ve not even touched on the micro narratives it packs into the gods’ icons, and what roles the gods might play in determining the iconic character of their eras. There are shivers of this in issue six, and teasers about “missing pantheons”. There’s a rich seam of glib comparisons to Phonogram to mine, too, and some less fatuous notes about perspectives on youth experience, growing up, and constraints of agency, especially relative to Young Avengers. We might return to that as WicDiv unfolds.

(If you like a bit of people close-reading themselves as they go, Kieron Gillen often posts writer’s notes on his blog They’ll tell you more than I could about what’s going on, and with a good deal less hand waving.)

Thought Bubble 2014 - Roger's comics haul

This weekend, as has probably be annoyingly obvious from our Twitter account, we went to Thought Bubble. It was aces. If you spent the weekend hiding under a rock, or just muted the hashtag because you didn't want to hear about my hangover, Thought Bubble is a fantastic comics con in Leeds. It's been growing like crazy, and is now a brain-buggeringly vast opportunity to discover new comics, talk to comics creators, and make a right old tit of yourself on a dancefloor.

Roger's Thought Bubble swag

Here's a quick run-down on what we bought, what we liked, what we missed, and possibly some other things as well.

I bought a lot less this time than last year, and looking at my bank balance I wasn't sure how; until I clocked that I'd likely drunk the difference. Taking that indictment as a segue: the on-site bar this year was a splendid addition. Having some sit-down breakout space with beer and great coffee made it much easier to crash for a bit. And let's face it, that's pretty essential at a hectic con, even without the Thought Bubble Sunday Hangover.

Ilkley Brewery supplied the beer at the con and party bars, and this was a damn fine call. If you see their stuff, check out the Mary Jane (big hoppy zing), and the Westwood Stout (white chocolate funtime).

There were also some comics. Probably.


Specifically, there were far too many cool looking things for me to get around, but here's what I picked up:

  • Atomic Sheep - Sally Jane Thompson Canadian high school coming of age tales - art clubs, homesickness, discomfort, and great line work.
  • Horizon: The Falling - Andrew Wildman Robots! Anxiety! Escape fantasies! Great pencils! A young girl falls into what might be a dream world, maybe, if her dreams were funky robotic.
  • Orbital, vols 1-3 - Sylvain Runberg & Serge Pellé More great Sci fi from Cinebook. Diplomacy, drama, and a hugely realised universe.
  • Mulp - Matt Gibbs & Sara Dunkerton Indiana Jones with mice, and a gorgeous colour palette. But after all the humans are dead. Yeah - just buy it.
  • Aama, vol 2 - Frederik Peeters Volume two. I loved volume one, and this is the next one.
  • Porcelain: Bone China (sampler) - Benjamin Read (writer) & Chris Wildgoose (artist) The teaser for the follow up to Porcelain, a kind of twisted fairytale fantasy of bone china automata and bleak secrets. Look out for our interview with the creators on the next podcast.
  • The Wicked and the Divine, vol 1 - Kieron Gillen (writer) & Jamie McKelvie (artist) Every ninety years, Tumblr is incarnated as... #WicDiv #Inevitable

Then there's a bunch of stuff I didn't quite get around to buying, but wish I had. So this is basically the big old list of apologies for not doing a capitalism at funky creators:

Thought Bubble "Best thing I've read all year" panel


Part of the reason I didn't pick so much stuff up this year was not - in fact - the bar. I didn't make it there until the Sunday. No, Saturday was in the main swallowed by a really good panels line-up. The regular "Best thing I've read all year" session was what it always is - a neat piece of quick-fire curation to kick off the show.

The two Images panels (writers and artists) had interesting stuff on process. In particular, a blend of artists who've worked primarily with one, or with multiple authors. This let them talk about collaboration styles, and different approaches to interpreting scripts. It was a lot less of an Image leg-frotting love-in than last year, and so bubbled along with more sincerity and fluency.

Thought Bubble diversity panelThe session on diversity at the end of the day will have made for a pretty decent introduction to the topic. Amusingly (if sadly) they kicked off by apologising for a relative lack of diversity - they were a couple of folks down  due to travel and/or personal issues. It's hard to criticise that, and actually I've not that often seen a diversity discussion that is at once so superficially culturally homogenous and so aware of the privileges and issues that brings.

I say "introduction" because it did feel like we started quite basic, and the discussion took a while to warm up. For a minute there I was worried we were in for an hour of bourgeois hand-wringing. But it perked up hard towards the end. In particular, there was some strong stuff on physical access, and what events like this and other comics cons can do to be more inclusive. Discussion touched on representation and conservatism vs risk taking in the retail chain, too, and that could easily have occupied a full session.

I wanted to cheer a bit when Howard Hardiman emphasised the point that it falls on all of us to educate ourselves about diversity, and not just shrug, muttering that we've done our bit, and offload the work onto marginalized groups themselves.


The mid-con party is one of the TB highlights. I've heard it referred to quite often as Nerd Prom. Fair. But Clarrie nails it:

It's a big, fun, inclusive thing, and this year it was a big, fun inclusive thing with actual drinkable beer. (And no cloakroom, and toilets that would make the architects of the Guantanamo interrogation regime raise an eyebrow, muttering "Hang on a minute, mate". But that one's on Leeds town hall)

It turns out that if you have Paprika playing as the visual background to a dance set, no music on earth is so compelling that everyone won't just stop and gape in horror at the rapey butterfly scene.

Good times. Weird Times.

At this point, the Safe Space Disco is basically my favourite club night. Good work, Thought Bubble. Good fucking work.

If you want to hear a bit more, check out our hasty mid-con podcast.

There's a neat short write up here, from Liz, who we were mooching around with.

We also did a few interviews with creators and publishers, so look out for that on the site soon.

Dave, there, having a lovely time.

Wytches #1 - Scott Snyder & Jock

Wytches 1 - coverThe first issue of Wytches is a striking thing. Part of what I'm thinking of as a current strain of graphic-design-influenced comics, it uses layout and a rich play of digital colouring and texture to create something really quite unusual. It's also heavily infused with a kind of Southern Gothic creepiness, the vibe of small communities and close-pressing forests that is absolutely my narrative catnip.

The cover and initial pages look a bit Dave McKean does the Blair Witch Project, but orders of magnitude better than that sounds. It's actually pretty unsettling from the off - a dark, surreally shaded woodland, an eye through a knothole, then a mouth - teeth bared, screaming from inside the trunk of a tree. It's all overlaid with a kind of matrix pattern of dots; not grandma's golden age halftones - though the nod is unmistakable - but something more digital, pixel-ish, or like the surface of a touchscreen. Inky colour splashes sit over that, pulling the eye, suggesting light in places, mood and motion in others.

Then a small boy smashes his mother's face with a rock.

"Pledged is pledged" he says, looking back, sad-defiant. His mother has been pledged to "them", and clearly they are terrible, and there are rules.

It's not nice, and then we jump to the present, and a self-consciously dorky dad comforting a teenage daughter with a story about hippogriffs. Specifically, about killing hippogriffs by planting dynamite "in their butts".


The entire colour tone shifts. The digital artefacts are there, and the funky panel composition, but the borders are stronger, the colour splashes absent. It's lighter across the board. This is Sail's first day at a new school. She's moved with her family, to get away from something, and of course the entire school knows. Yellow school bus, awkward glances, first friendships,  questions in class, "So, did you kill that girl or not?"

Wytches packs a lot of jumps and gear changes into one issue, and it would be exhausting if it weren't so well done. The cute deer that wanders into the house, then dies keening, retching blood?

Disgusting. Fantastic.

Wytches 1 - deer

The wailing noise follows on from Sail's flashback to the horrible thing she's running from, straight over the page, from eerie jump scare to jump disgust.

Then we slow down. Sail's dad puts her to bed with comforting words. parents talk. The story begins to decompress a little, just in time to make us aware that there's something uncanny outside in the darkness.

Snyder's a horror/gothic veteran, of course, and Severed garnered praise for tone and atmosphere. In the back matter of Wytches, he talks about the inspiration - walks in the woods as a child, mistaking gnarled trees for something unnatural. It's a good read itself, and he's packed the ambience into issue one.

That first issue is all we've got to go on, but from it, Wytches is going to be excellent. It's delightfully unsettling, the design is beautiful, and the colouring really makes it all hang together.

Wytches 1 - tree


This One Summer - Jillian & Mariko Tamaki

Did you ever have a place you always went to on family holidays? Passing landmarks and well-worn jokes in an over-hot car on the way, running down to a beach, making a campfire like you always did, seeing those friends you somehow never wrote to in the autumn?

No, nor did I. Or at least, never quite. But it’s a powerful image. That familiar childhood holiday; lazy, comfortable little memories repeating in rose-tint, until this one summer.

This One Summer - gummy

I love that cadence. The tone of the title hits it spot on, and it’s carried through on the voice of the book – This One Summer, when…

When what, exactly? The lazy version would be “when childhood ended”, and plenty of coming-of-age reminiscence tales give us that. But This One Summer ducks the temptation, playing out instead the little heartaches and explorations of its childhood scenes against a more conventional drama. The big stuff, the sex and death stuff, happens around the protagonists, and we see it largely as they do, like some half-expected storm over the beach.

A snatch of the jacket blurb talks about This One Summer having "raised the bar for young adult comics". I haven't read enough others to know if that's true, but it's certainly a fine book. There are shades here of To The Lighthouse, sketched into the lives of contemporary teenagers. It's close and intimate, fraught by degrees, and full of all those little secret tensions of childhood's drama.

This One Summer - smashIn This One Summer Rose's family have come, once again, to Awago Beach. She meets up, once again, with Windy and her mother. They pass the days, but things are fraught. Rose's family are forever on the edge of an argument; tension is vivid. Her parents' desire to have another child hangs over them, half negotiated. Rose's mother is on edge; something has happened. At the denouement we learn that last year's holiday is where she miscarried. Her emotional trajectory runs in parallel to Rose's, but more reserved and somehow further out.

Rose escapes the tension in part by renting horror movies from the teenage clerks at the convenience store. Moody and introverted, she fixates on Duncan ("the Dud"), who comes to play out his own symmetrical drama. Where her mother's inability to have another child, and her parents' stilted, fraught processing of the trauma of the miscarriage jars at the family from one side, the unwanted pregnancy of Duncan's girlfriend intrudes from another. Rose's parents can't find the words to talk to each other. Duncan won't talk to Jenny. Rose watches it all with something like voyeurism diluted through bewilderment.

This One Summer - cheatingShe convinces herself that Jenny might be cheating, must be culpable, must be shamed. She dips a toe into the full grubbily-internalized revulsion of patriarchy, trying to convince herself that Duncan might not be an utter shit. It's a brilliant portrayal of adolescent obsession, and Windy, just enough her junior to meet it all with bafflement, and shrugging off gender norming so casually, makes a splendid contrast medium.

This One Summer - slutI'm not going to concentrate on it, but the play of gendered socialization across adolescence is one of the book's quieter but more interesting themes. There's an almost surreal feeling to Windy and Rose fantasizing about how big their breasts will be, an oddness they half acknowledge, jiggling and laughing at "bazooms" and "sexy ta-tas". On the other side, that in Awago "all the girls here are sluts" is a frequent casual assertion from Rose, and it's not her being rebuffed by either Windy or her mother for this that makes it look silly. Oh, they're right to call her on it, and Windy in particular has a spectacular scene doing so. But more acutely it's the way this assertion creeps in from nowhere, looks fragile and perfunctory, that makes the point. Rose's slut shaming is nonsensical, out of context, a kind of social judgement version of an infant parading around in ill-fitting adult clothing. Her reaction to being called on it is commensurately bratty, first an angry "OK, Mom. Guess I'd better not say SLUT in front of you, or you'll be all offended", then a painful attempt to brazen it out with "...kidding?".

This One Summer - sexist

That's a fine one-two punch in the dialogue. The "all" skewers her misunderstanding and her age, then the "Kidding?" is powerfully referential. It's just what she's earlier castigated Windy for doing. It's a specific childishness she has beef with, and resorting to it is a painful low point. The panel is brutal. Windy just walks away.

This dynamic between Rose and Windy as they negotiate incipient adolescence  is the soul of the book, and its idiom is pitch perfect.

One of its gorgeous subtle devices is the contrast, (not only of dialogue, but of readiness of self expression) between Rose and Windy, and those around them. It's set out on a spectrum, shifting almost linearly with age. They're frothy, tempestuous, dancing, jumping, rowing briefly and suddenly, subsiding fast. All that high-amplitude early adolescent emotion that's yet to be hidden behind learned reticence. Jenny, Sarah, "The Dud", and the older teens sit further along, more muted, bottling it up, not talking, exploding hard. Rose's parents are quieter still, draw more conventionally from suburban tragedy. It's all tiny details and inflections, talking but not talking, and big lingering trauma.

There is, of course, a cantankerous granny who has passed out the other side of all this, wryly affecting cranky and getting to the point.

This One Summer - timeIt's tempting to suggest that the message in This One Summer is that it won't be ok when you're older: that everything's still huge and complicated and overwhelming. But that does feel a little simplistic, and Rose's family do find a kind of resolution. Her mother dives into the ocean she's been terrified of, to save Jenny from drowning. What would be heavy symbolism is then nuanced neatly, as Rose and Windy's mothers finally talk it all out while the household sleeps.

They find a kind of peace at the end of it all, or at least begin to. The teenagers, perhaps not so much. It's more muted, less certain. And Rose and Windy seem to snap back to form as they prepare for the end of the holiday, but Rose is not quite the same.

It makes a kind of linear sense, then, that the conclusion is time passing in the empty cottage, "tick tick tick tick." and Rose's coda "Boobs would be cool."

She's learned a little, but time is passing, and incipient sexuality overshadows more and more. The family leaves Awago somewhat reconciled, more warm and in familiar patterns, but the ticking clock in the empty room teases us with next summer, and the summer after, with "massive boobs" and whatever may happen.

This One Summer - tick tick tick

This One Summer is written by Markio Tamaki, and drawn by Jillian Tamaki. It made a huge splash at TCAF, it's getting great press, and you should probably buy it.

Pregnant Butch - A.K. Summers

With a title like Pregnant Butch, you can probably guess that this is a memoir taking a decidedly non-majority perspective on a pretty common event. Now, I haven't looked up the proportion of the population that will at some point vent live young from their undercarriage, but it's going to be high. High enough, in fact, to lead to one of the most interesting aspects of Pregnant Butch - a world in which everyone has a very solid expectation of what the protagonist's experiences should be; a world that has to be lived in by that protagonist - regardless of how little she agrees that this is what her experiences manifestly are.

Pregnant Butch - suspenders

Consequentially, each aspect of the experience (pregnant, and butch, if you like) become a kind of contrast medium that lets a reader inspect what's odd about the other. This is a book about cultural (and medical) attitudes to motherhood, about butch identity and female masculinity, about queer experience in a heteronormative domain, and about the isolation of feeling personally at odds with all of those things while in a situation the world demands that you find wonderful.

Yeah. There's a lot in here.

The subtitle of Pregnant Butch is "Nine long months spent in drag", a phrase that manages to capture a lot of what I just wrote in a wry little smirk. The "long" there does some gentle sacred-cow tipping, shot through with a sense of weary frustration, and the casting of maternity as drag backs it all up while pointing to gender as theatre. If I were being an utter prick, I'd suggest you didn't need to read the book after grokking the title. But you do - it's rich and funny, and chock fucking full of feels. Plus, it has a lot to say about the way we construct identity, and is about as non-mawkish a pregnancy memoir as you could conceivably hope for.Pregnant Butch - cover

In fact, Pregnant Butch begins profoundly unsentimentally, with a journey on the subway where a newly-pregnant Teek (Summers' nickname) complains of being routinely mistaken for "just another fat guy" before breaking into the realisation that she could finally have an excuse to wear suspenders. The book's first emotional hook is not the sacred miracle of the womb, but the crushing disappointment of looking like a clown in an outfit you've always dreamed of being able to pull off.

From there it pulls to back-story, framing it as a Tintin reference (Teek is frequently drawn as Tintin), deliberately tongue in cheek and playful with gender. We move to college and more knowing mockery of a younger self, before hitting the near past and the experience of feeling shamed by looking old. Awareness of age is framed as a catalyst to initially wanting a child, and the first crisis in a series that structure the book.

Age, however, is a minor theme, and clears the decks quickly for the more significant crisis: the fear of how pregnancy's seemingly mandatory femininity will interact with butch's female masculinity. Will butchness preclude fertility, and will maternity efface butch?

Pregnant Butch - shoesThis is the key crisis that Pregnant Butch attempts to work out, and its answer is - unsurprisingly - complicated. It settles on the notion that pregnancy stretched Teek's butch identity almost to breaking, and it returned as a more elastic female masculinity.

This idea of female masculinity is one of the more interesting things the book explores, and one I knew the least about.

I do have a slight reservation, though, around some of its handling of gender identity. There's a section that talks about the disappearance of butch lesbians, positing that the butch identity has been superseded by FTM trans, and a diminishment of the concept of socially constructed gender in favour of something more biologically deterministic. It's gentle, and it's caveated, but it also feels like a wonky conflation. I'm no expert, but I'd struggle to locate trans as a kind of butch apotheosis, or as making butch obsolete.

Of course, Summers isn't quite saying that - it's all folded up into a rumination on her own gender identity, prompted by finding out the sex of the baby. It just feels like something potentially huge gets elided into a couple of panels, a problematic simplification. I'd actually quite like to have read more about this line of thinking, and the experiences that led to it. Without showing the working, I'm left looking very sceptically at the whistle-stop conclusion.

Again though, it's scrutinising Teek's female masculinity that brings this about, and it is interesting. There, she's asking herself "how can unaltered butchness compete with such intensity", as she considers a kind of hormonally supercharged pantomime version of trans masculinity. She's chipping away at the idea that as a butch her masculinity may somehow lack authenticity, a situation that being a pregnant butch throws into sharper crisis.

Pregnant Butch - shelvesThis crisis feeling pervades a good deal of the story, often hinging on the assertion "to be butch is to do it yourself". This forms the springboard for a rejection of medicalised birth in favour of "natural" midwifery, for DIY home insemination, for Teeks' ballsy world-weariness and eye-rolling at much of the trappings of commercial maternity, and for the sense of emasculation as the physical constraints of pregnancy render her less able to in fact do things herself.

It's in this way that a weekend putting up shelves comes to figure for an inflection point in capability, moving from climbing ladders to a blithe indifference at not being able to as pregnancy progresses. This transition from defiance to an exasperated (qualified) acceptance is basically the story of the pregnancy. So much so that in one of its crescendo moments, a rare pair of whole page spreads is spent with Teek visualising her Tintin self has she looks down an enormous telescope at her pregnant self, a bulbous astronaut untethered in space, and announcing:

Pregnant Butch - eternal woman

Well, I quit.

There's no use denying it. I am Eternal Woman.

...I am not myself. I am not the Incredible Hulk. I am tears and I am snot. I am anemic and I am purple veins. I am boobies.

I am done.

You could see the telescope as phallic, paired to the more masculine self, the space suit as a kind of profoundly fragile womb analogy. But although this is a kind of turning point in accepting that adrift-in-space feeling, it's not the end, and Teek does not abandon the self-reliance.

The actual process of labour is painted as just as much a psychological struggle as  physical one. Teek returns to the image of breaking waves she'd earlier dismissed in a prenatal class, and from there to childhood fear of swimming and the high dive, compiling impossible things.  She calls the crisis out most clearly as a tension between agency and passivity: "Why does it need me to let it happen".

vOf course, that's not the end. One of the most endearing traits of Pregnant Butch is the playful tone Summers brings to memoir's refusal to be neat. She won't offer us a pat ending, a flourish on those neat little beats and epigrams, not if it didn't happen that way. Instead, she'll wink to us over the details, or use this continuation after an implicit point of finish as a lovely little imperfect cadence.

The best of these has her approaching labour as the New York power cuts hit, wryly talking to the reader about how this would be a really bad time to have the baby. Narrative cliche demands that this be the time, but Summers won't offer us cliche. Instead we cut to her slumped on a couch, page composition echoing the bathtub panel, grumpily wondering whether this pregnancy is going to go on forever.

Pregnant Butch - forever?This gives a wonderful sense of "More? Really? You have to be kidding" to the subsequent pages that tell the story of her labour.

It's cannily done, and brings a wonderful sense of emotional immediacy.

I loved Pregnant Butch for that, for bringing me right up to empathy with something I can't really hope to ever quite understand on a personal level. It's warm, intimate, and and funny, and I think I learned a lot.


Uzumaki (collected edition) - Junji Ito

Uzumaki (spiral) was on our reading list for the horror comics podcast, and for a putative future edition on Manga. It's a collection of short but connected horror stories by Junji Ito, centring on the town of Kurouzu-cho, which has been "contaminated with spirals". Uzumaki - cover

It's been available in English, on and off, since 2001, and I remember leafing through the early Viz Media editions back when I was shifting comics and manga for a loose approximation of a living. The 2013 "3-in-1 Deluxe Edition" collects all the stories for the first time, and is a genuinely handsome piece of publishing.

That cover and binding are where the nice things about Uzumaki start and stop. This is a creepingly unpleasant book - a taut and unsettling one-volume lesson in how comparatively simple words and pictures can be deployed to make you want to sleep with the lights on.

Uzumaki is seen largely through the eyes of Kirie Goshima and Shuichi Saito, a kind of schoolgirl everyman, and her increasingly reclusive boyfriend. They see the spiral infestation wind its way through Kurouzu-cho, consuming and distorting their friends, families, and eventually the entire town.

It's a quiet thing as it starts, and Kirie's gentle, almost wide-eyed observation makes the reading experience oddly immediate. Indeed, the gentler first two chapters that introduce her and Shuichi are some of the most effective. It begins with the uncanny in a fraught suburbia, coiling through body horror, the supernatural, and gradually unwinding to something of a far larger scope as the book progresses. At its liveliest, it's caper-like, intriguing rather than frightening, as though Haruki Murakami found himself drafted in to write episodes of Round the Twist. At its gentlest, you're afraid to turn the page.

Uzumaki - earsThe first story begins by making Kurouzu-cho gently oppressive. The opening pages are simple, with Kirie telling us about her school, and encountering a small whirlwind on the way to meet Shuichi from the station. She finds Shuichi's father staring, entranced by a spiralling snail shell, the single-panel view of it drawn more vividly and in tighter detail than any other so far. It's an odd interlude that establishes the motif, and unnerves just slightly.

All the while,  Kurouzu-cho presses down. The shading for the sky seems low and close, and the sea around it too dense. Shuichi points to this explicitly as he explains his growing unease in the town. All the while, Kirie maintains her light, almost naive narrative voice. It has that "and then this happened" note of childish, unaffected description. We're reading the "what I did on my holidays" piece from a horror movie suburbia.

That quality of unselfconsciously introducing the next thing that happened lets Uzumski sneak the gently creepy (and downright horrible) under our noses without much cue that it's coming. Shuichi's father, for instance, becomes increasingly erratic. It's described mildly, in conversation and glimpses, concerning rather than frightening - the old man is clearly becoming odd and detached.

Then we turn the page.

Jump scares are tricky in comics; you can't control reading behaviour, after all. But well-deployed full-page surprises can work, and Uzumaki uses them sparingly to great effect. The first isn't really a scare, but it prefigures this story's grotesque climax. It's just Shuichi's father in his study, surrounded by his collection of spiral objects.

But it's such a break from the panel flow. The borders are thicker, the detail, like the snail shell, is rendered more meticulously, and it introduces the aggressive crosshatching that gives Uzumaki so much of its atmosphere. At its most severe, the clean outline is replaced entirely by dense, curved hatching that builds shapes and figures from itchy layers of semicircles.

Uzumaki - Suichi's fatherThe first time it's used for a character is also the first hint of anything fully supernatural in  Kurouzu-cho, and next to the previous pages' relatively Manga-conventional, simply lined character design, it's a shock.

The pure density of the pen strokes makes Shuichi's father somehow monstrous, and the close focus on his eyeballs, as he rotates them in a spiral, is unpleasantly physically intimate.

In a few pages time, his spiral obsession has distorted him physically. Almost choking, he unfurls a huge, grotesque, tongue, coiled into a spiral. The dense hatching draws in again, and the focus is tight on his face. Looking away is not an option.

Then this:

Uzumaki - Suichi's father

It's not nice.

It continues not to be nice. In later stories, school children slowly turn into snails, a girl's hair forms spiral shapes and takes on a life of its own. A boy given to jumping out and surprising people is killed in a car crash, and the suspension spring reanimates his body. It would be daft if the visual intensity didn't carry it, and if Kirie weren't narrating.

Her tone, and the casual acceptance of the townspeople that the weird is ambient are what really sell the uncanny. An enclosure is hastily built in the school grounds for the transformed snail children, for instance, and the residents of Kurouzu-cho take the eventual destruction of the town remarkably in their stride. The extremes ruffle their feathers, but are quickly forgotten in place of little sketches of mundane life amid the horror, and later debris.

Uzumaki - babiesSo when - in perhaps the most disturbing story - strange mosquito parasites possess patients at a maternity ward, driving expectant mothers to stalk the hospital halls, harvesting blood with hand drills, part of the horror is how calmly it's shrugged off. They attack at night, leaving nurses mystified in the morning. Only Kirie seems to notice. Matter of fact, Kirie ends the tale with: "I've no idea what happened there after that. I wasn't about to go back and find out."

When Kurouzu-cho itself assumes a final spiral form, its residents congealed into a homogeneous twist of just-aware flesh, the moment has this same almost nonchalance of tone. Ito sets an adventure mystery in the ruins. There's a kind of sleight of hand to around the body horror. It's a feint, and the scares come from the increasingly erratic behaviour of the outsiders who have become trapped there. The fervor one of them brings to describing his desire to eat the snail children raw is as unsettling as the doctor in the maternity ward, as he stitches the parasite mushroom child back into its cadaver-mother.

I wish I were making that up.

Uzumaki - snailsI'm not. Uzumaki gets weird fast and stays there. Although its strongest theme is distortion into the spiral (of body, of community, of sanity) it employs a range of techniques to unsettle. Bodily distortion is perhaps the most common theme, and the sheer lack of distortion around these intense squeals of the grotesque is its contrast medium. The townsfolk look on, Kirie describes in her flat, accepting tone, something unfathomable happens, and life continues. Why don't they run? Why aren't they screaming? At risk of mild fatuousness: why don't I close the book?

In the end, they can't. As the spiral structure is completed, it drags not just the geography of the town, but the flow of time around its whirlpool. At the centre of the spiral, after we've been given few answers, time stands still. This lap of the cycle is completed when Kirie and Suichi join hands, their bodies twisting together, in the spiral cavern beneath the dragonfly pond.

Uzumaki teases us a little at the end. It evades answers neatly - after all, what explanation could be satisfactory for what we've seen? In the end, the only thing that can tie any of it together is the distorting pull of the spiral.

Should you buy it? Probably, for all that it's a genuinely uncomfortable read. There's some nightmare fuel in the mix there, for sure, and since part of what makes it so interesting is the breadth of techniques it uses to unsettle, you may not get away lightly.

Will O' the Wisp - Tom Hammock & Megan Hutchinson

Will O' the Wisp is the tale of Aurora Grimeon, a recently-orphaned girl sent to live in a swamp. It's a Southern Gothic occult mystery, and a fine one. Will 'O the Wisp

Aurora's parents die suddenly. They made pasta sauce with poisonous mushrooms, and the narrative takes a Roald Dahl-ish relish in this piece of high grotesque adult folly. After being callously handed through a similarly gleeful macabre sketch of child protection services, Aurora is packed off to Ossuary Isle to live with her grandfather Silver in a swamp thick with gravestones and Hoodoo folklore.

If you're not hooked already, I'm worried about you.

My partner picked out Will O' the Wisp from a display table at Dave's Comics in Brighton,where it caught his eye by being a genuinely gorgeous piece of publishing design. It's a neat little hardback with a diary clasp, a high quality finish, and these beautiful marbled endpapers.

You can see a few of the early pages on Comics Alliance, which is enough to give you a feel for the style, and the article calls out some of the cultural touchstones. There's Gaiman, and Burton, and  world of spooky synthetic folklore in the mix. Locke and Key, as they say, has some significant narrative and tonal similarities, although both are drawing from a wide pool of tropes. There are echoes of some of the short stories in Hellboy, too. The Baba Yaga stuff that starts in Wake the Devil, perhaps, although I don't have a copy to hand.

Will 'O the WispBut I also think there's more than a little Lemony Snicket, and from Gaiman in particular, that feeling of childhood's relation to the adult world that a friend of mine described as something like "living in a land under an occupying force whose rules you can't quite understand". There's a whole thesis on children's literature there that I've not read enough to unpack, but it resonates massively, particularly with something like The Ocean at the End of the Laneor early Harry Potter, I guess.

In Aurora's world, those rules are a blend of the intractable adult mores that she can only somewhat scratch at, and the practical rules of Hoodoo that influence the life of the isle.

The Hoodoo tradition in the book ranges from casual custom to full-blooded religion. Silver observes details, in part to fit in. From time to time he'll correct wearily with scientific detail, but his heart isn't in sneering. This fits rather neatly with his early description as "the nicest sinister man I ever met". Others take the Hoodoo details as simple factual truth. There are things you must do and not do, there is bad luck to be risked, and the dead to anger. Mama Nonnie, the "local Hoodoo woman" introduces Aurora to the tradition more fully, and as they become friends, Aurora comes to occupy a kind of empirical/mystical middle ground. It's reasonably standard child protagonist stuff that her disruptive enquiring streak and cavalier attitude to received boundaries lets her investigate the mystery of the piece. But to do so she combines Mama Nonnie's wisdom with Silver's gentleman-scientist arcana, and the more workaday Hoodoo and swamp folklore of the people she befriends.

Will 'O the WispPausing to be critical, we might suggest that structurally this is the story of a little privileged urban white girl learning and appropriating African-American folk spirituality to eventually triumph and save a comically backward rural community. That reading is available, but I'd argue it's a stretch. Will O' the Wisp's Hoodoo trappings are sketched out as pretty inclusive. I just can't see it in the tone, either, and Aurora's experience of both Hoodoo and the life of the isle are far more participatory and warm. You could also argue that the book's message is that not heeding your elders and religion will get you killed, but I don't quite buy that either. Ultimately, if anything - if - she is assimilated by the swamp, synthesising its magic and her grandfather's rather arcane "science" into something that gives her more belonging and understanding than before.

Ossuary Isle  is exactly what the name implies, and Aurora's story is of exploring it, mythically and geographically. Doing so, she is fascinated by the will o' the wisps that burn around it. Physically, these are pockets of marsh gas that have caught light. Mythically, they are little pieces of hell, carried with him by a man it rejected as too evil. As people begin disappearing and charred corpses are found, it becomes clear that the flickering lights are more than just marsh gas, and something powerful and sinister has returned.

Will 'O the WispIt's charming in places (Missy the pet raccoon is a particular delight, as is the exploration of Hoodoo), moving to the sinister and the acutely sad. People die, and for its nominal "young adult" label, Will O' the Wisp does not pull its punches over this. The death of Aurora's fledgeling sweetheart is particularly cruel.

Will 'O the WispVisually, Will O' the Wisp is as splendid inside as out. There are shades of a gentler, more cartoonish version of Kevin O'Neill's work on League of Extraordinary Gentlemenbut that's not quite it. It's scratchy in places, and the figures are gaunt, partially distorted, playing neatly into the Gothic vibe. It bolts the "Southern" onto that "Gothic" with the closeness of it, the way it has the swamp press in with panel composition. With a writer from the film industry, and an artist with a production design background, it would be lazy to call Will O' the Wisp filmic or cinematic, but there are places where that applies. Will 'O the WispThe whole thing has a wonderful sense of light; vital as fire becomes a recurring trope. Shafts of daylight nudge their way through the swamp foliage, mist drifts across the pages, trees press in close. Then suddenly, occasionally, it expands to give us a whole page, like a suddenly-discovered clearing.

Will O' the Wisp has one of the tightest matches of art and tone I've seen in a while. Right now, Gillen and McKelvie are doing it better, but that's not playing fair. Change maybe, pulls some of this off too. Although there the real fireworks are the colouring.

Particularly to savour are the visual tone shifts with the recollection of Silver's childhood, the discovery of the deserted paddle steamer, the ongoing eerie play of blue marsh fire, and Mama Nonnie's vision journey into hell.

Will O' the Wisp is subtitled "An Aurora Grimeon Story", and the creators have said they'd like to do more. I'm so up for that. Ossuary Isle and the mysteries of the swamp are a rich setting, and exploring it is great fun. This is a prime slice of curl-up-on-the-sofa reading, and I'd strongly suggest you pick up a copy and do just that.

Lighter than My Shadow - Katie Green

Lighter than My Shadow  was one of my picks in our 2013 year-in-review podcast. It's the best Sad Comics I've read in a while, and definitely one of the better comics I read last year. It's acute and painful, and sometimes hopeful, and it's beautifully produced and drawn.

Lighter Than My Shadow - Katie GreenYou need to be having a good day to get through it, and even then the odds are fair that it'll make you cry.

Lighter than My Shadow is a a life story in the mould of something like Fun Home or Blankets. It owes a debt to both, and if you want to picture it easily, you could do worse than mentally crash the two together, with a focus on Bechdel's early memories of compulsion disorders. In this case, it's Katie growing up with and slowly working through an eating disorder, sexual abuse, and the resulting trauma. But while that gives you a small measure of tone and theme, it really doesn't go close to either the intensity or the artwork.

The book doesn't take the heavy-handed line that Katie drew herself well again, although it does use a version of that image. Instead, the act of drawing - to recover, to internalise, and to externalise - is one of the refrains it works through its story. Lighter than My Shadow is keenly aware of its status as a world on paper, and uses a movement between paper tones, the tearing of edges, and the degradation of its line to move readers through its emotional and psychological states.

Detail from, Lighter Than My Shadow - Katie GreenWe begin with clean, simple lines, and tight regimented gutters. They're torn paper edges, but there's a formalism to the arrangement. Colour is carried by the paper tone, and is initially stable and constant. But it doesn't take long (as Katie begins to experience the first difficulties in her relationship with food) for three structuring motifs to appear. The panel arrangement can be disrupted by tears: swathes of the pages that seem ripped through into others, revealing scenes in a different colour palette. The colours often code for era, signifying memories, and the tears can be sharp, often unwanted recollections.

Other times they are jolts of mood, and the most stark shifts of colour are two brief sections,one entirely white, one black.

The sheared pages are introduced along with the black cloud - a kind of messy scribble that begins small, and at its most powerful, replaces the gutter and panel structure entirely. It's an externalisation of Katie's illness, but it's also an incredibly precarious visual metaphor, running a phenomenal risk of cliché. What saves it is the intensity and versatility.

Lighter Than My Shadow - Katie GreenIt moves around Katie, figuring for food, mood, traumatic memory, even inspiration. In phases, she visually pulls it into her pencil, externalising it again the same way. At its most savage, it surrounds her, replacing the paper reality with scratchy inkwork, and holding her suspended.

You could argue, I think, that the comics structure of regimented panels and clear, factual representation is a kind of control mechanism, not unlike the young Katie's compulsive behaviours. The torn edges and dependency of the colour palette on the underlying paper tone then begin to look like little nods and winks about the fragility of this structuring of the world.

There are scenes where imagined paper cut-out monsters creep in from the gutters, and this is not unlike the ripping of the pages pushing us between eras of memory. In turn, Katie herself can disrupt the world-on-paper by drawing on it. This third device is introduced early and used more sparingly. It's the one distortion of the world that she can control, and the only thing apart from the rips and the ink cloud that can disrupt the panel structure. When it's used, clearer lines on flatter backgrounds flow out from her pen in gentle curves. The newly-drawn worlds obscure the panels as the cloud can, often in a meandering swirl that picks up the recurring garden-path image.

These structures come together to tell us a wonderfully, painfully, non-simplified recovery story. A young girl struggles with eating, builds compulsions to control her life, and develops anorexia. Her recovery is slow, incredibly difficult, and littered with anxieties and relapses. She meets an alternative therapist who seems at first to give her confidence, betraying it as he sexually assaults her. This is not easy reading, and it continues not to be as the trauma of the assault drives further relapse and a suicide attempt.

As she approaches this crisis, we move from the most tightly regimented page of the book - a simple, deliberate, 3x4 grid - to a page that's tearing, not into a new image, but into blank white:

Lighter Than My Shadow - Katie Green

It gives completely:

Lighter Than My Shadow - Katie Green

Then, gradually, she is able to draw:

Lighter Than My Shadow - Katie Green

It doesn't end there, nor does Katie give us a neat, symmetrical moment of realisation and healing. The final quarter or so of the book is a slow but less brittle recovery. She finds both art and ways to manage her illness, but never lets us forget that the paper can change colour, or be scribbled over or torn.

It's beautifully done, and having been through just a little of what she describes, it's immediate and powerful.

What really gets me about Lighter than My Shadow, though, is the way Katie Green suddenly uses whole pages and double page spreads. The assault scene uses the claustrophobic press of the ink cloud obscuring the page to convey a helplessness that's pretty unpleasant to read:

Assault scene, Lighter Than My Shadow - Katie Green

The text bubbles here feel desperate, and the view point forces a reader into an uncomfortably voyeuristic position. You don't want to be looking at this. The cloud recedes slightly as the scene expands, but it follows her and grows as she flees. Another spread uses the torn paper to show the cloud remaining, hovering over her, as time passes. Later, remembering, this is mirrored as an intrusion of those memories:

Colour changing spread from Lighter Than My Shadow - Katie Green

Lighter than My Shadow isn't perfect. The first half moves a little slowly, and is arguably over long, while the ending is a little compressed, for instance. But what I love about this book is the way it captures particular - often painful - little moments. Those sweeping spreads of Katie's distorted body vision are only part of it. There are quieter, smaller panels that are doing just as much work: a glance at a mirror, the flash of a painfully gaunt collarbone.

It's not always easy to read, and it's by no means a manual for recovery. But it is ultimately hopeful, and it's a beautiful book.


(The NHS provides some resources on eating disorders here, if you're interested and/or affected by any of this.)

Change - Ales Kot

Change. How to sum up Change? How about this: Los Angeles will fall, the next Atlantis in a cyclic history, claimed as a great old one rises? Kind of, but that's a bit too phone-it-in Lovecraft. A lone astronaut returns to Earth, dreaming of  what he left behind? Technically true, but that sounds like po-faced Oscar-bait sci-fi, and in any case implies too much sense being made. Crazed cultists pursue a screenwriter whose scripts predict the endtimes, and a lost, broken man remembers a past, and the girl he couldn't save? Closer, but too portentous, and lacking the crucial caveat: "but not shit". Change - don't worry about the alligatorNone of that, though, really does justice to quite how chaotic Change is, and none of it touches on the humourThis is a book where the apocalypse is averted with what ambiguously might be a Cthulhu fart joke. This, moments after an aerial surveillance drone achieves sentience, only to crash into a falling space shuttle. It's a book that sticks a playful couple of fingers up at Harry Potter by having a character who looks like a junkie Daniel Radcliffe thwart the Voldemort-alike talking  tumour on the back of his head by shoving a foetid sock in its mouth.

There's some grimy darkness in Change, and some big emotional punches, and some utterly beautiful artwork and colouring; but there's a lot of fun, too. And not a lot of sense. Or maybe loads - it's hard to tell.

This is a Weird Book. Let's look at that a bit.

Change opens with a really lovely little fake out that - at risk of over-reading - sets a playful tone for the whole of the book. It's a funky meta joke about the book's own textuality, and I am absolutely going to spoil it for you, right now. The first two pages are dreadful - absolutely fucking awful. Cringe-making, self-involved over-hip tech punk claptrap that go as far as the simile "Her face was beautiful like drone video footage from Afghanistan", all smeared over scratchily fashionable line work that's probably better than what it's parodying. That's just page one.

Change - first page

Overleaf, it dives into lurid mythos-noir-something excesses around a kind of ectopic monster pregnancy, and then your eyes flick over to page three. Colours change, the line settles down, the view pulls out, and we're reading from a script. This is not Change, it's a screenplay written within Change that playfully foreshadows it, and we jump right into an argument about whether it's shit.

That opening is also a great primer to how Change is going to code things with visual style, especially colour. Sloane Leong is smacking it out of the park here, and there are places where the narrative complexity and chaos would actually feel like bad writing if she weren't. Fast cuts between periods and contexts are made explicit with palette. Saturation rises and falls with the fragility of causality. Simplistically - when it looks super weird, it's super weird with a purpose. But more than that, the colouring really captures the mood.

There's a page towards the end, a final character moment with light washing in through a window from a newly-saved world, that, well, just take a look.

From the establishing joke, it ducks in and out of action, mystic horror, trauma recovery narrative, and borderline-psychedelic nonsense. Screenwriter Sonia Bjornquist and W-2 the rapper and would-be producer she's writing for find themselves on the run from murderous cultists. This (initially) main plot is inter-cut with ambiguous reminiscences from another character - another writer - approaching the narrative on a different trajectory. There's something about trajectories here as a running theme, in fact. Past stories approach convergence in the present, the astronaut approaches the earth, the old one rises. Threads head towards each other form back and front, colliding in a denouement around "Doublehead" - the almost smugly literal central figure. Also, an  emotionally broken screenwriter with a deranged apocalypse cultist growing as a tumour on the back of his head.

As W-2 and Bjornquist move through a superficially conventional thriller plot, Doublehead drifts through the margins of their story, intersecting at brief moments explicitly as himself, and more solidly as Mr Fissure, the antagonist popping out of the back of his skull. I almost can't believe I just typed that, but it's cool, because the book is in on the joke. It plays with its tropes and conventions, and makes reality malleable to the point of triviality. Certainty and simple causal effects just break down the closer we get to the climax - most visibly where W-2 is faced by an alligator on a beach in a tuxedo, and casually told just not to think about it.

Change - the, ahem, climax

It is shortly after this point that the surveillance  drone - which has been zipping about overhead throughout the book - is finally called out by the narrative voice. We're told what it would think, but that it cannot, because "After all, it is a done". Until it can. In poised defiance of the text, the drone achieves self-awareness. Then, suddenly, characters in panels that are spatially and temporally far separated in the narrative - but proximate on the page - seem to talk to each other. The astronaut seems to speak to Doublehead.

Casually, cruelly, and with the same perverse glee as Douglas Adams' plummeting humpback whale, the drone crashes while yelping a delighted "WHEEEEE!!".

Here, too, we've ditched most of the ostensible main plot. The cultists, the chases, W-2 and Bjornquist have basically evaporated. The real story, the one that has been arcing inwards on its symmetrical trajectory with the spacecraft, takes over. Through the chaos the mechanics are well-oiled, for sure. The drone hits the craft. The craft falls. Falling, it scrapes the malign tumour from Doublehead's back - a ludicrous, delicious, loaded coincidence that finally ties off the parallels with his memories and those of the astronaut. The astronaut may be his father, the astronaut may be a version of him; their memories may be identical or merely structurally intertwined. Either way, with the visible totem of his role in the apocalypse gone, Doublehead now has no possible way to avoid dealing with the past he's been trying to write himself out of.

Change's unstable realities coalesce in the belly of the monster. But, again: not shit. It's a weird blend of touching and sinister, as Doublehead more or less forgives himself. Everyone we've met so far would rather fight/instigate and apocalypse than deal with their personal problems, and wedged in the grotesquely, evocatively coloured tract of the great old one, he finally has no choice.

Change - birth motifs

There's a running birth/death association motif, made visual with a repeating birth canal-like, emerging into the light image. We see it again, finally, as the great old one vomits/farts/sneezes him back into the ocean and sinks back into the waves. Reality solidifies. The chaos recedes, and each of our almost protagonists has their own quite little coda.

And that's largely what Change is up to. The apocalypse, and arguably even the idea of linear storytelling, is  a backing track for the emotional beats. Doublehead's "I couldn't save you" refrain is mixed in as the inevitable, cyclic apocalypse that structures the ostensible surface plot, itself repeating the theme. The first time we hear it out loud, "I couldn't save you", it's from a middle aged man, dressed like a boy, clutching an antique telephone. We don't yet know who he is, but something here is iconographically up with time,  and the words resonate back through the immediate past where nobody could quite save anybody.

I won't claim Change isn't confusing. Its cavalier attitude to its own causality, and the sheer volume of stuff Kot is throwing at us make it downright disorienting. It's not perfect, and there are places where you could argue this goes too far; W-2's hallucinatory timeline jump, for instance. It's neither a comfortable nor a straightforward initial read, and I'll admit there were places where I had no fucking clue what was going on at first. But I do think it's worth it.

It pays off hard if you let it. Just don't worry about why the alligator is wearing a tux.

Change - recollections