Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Convention Report: Thought Bubble 2014

Wow - pretty hard to believe that we almost skipped this one when it turned out that the Indifference Engine sequel wouldn't launch in time. Missing this year's Thought Bubble would have been a serious mistake on basically every level.

Right from the first hour, it was clear that there was a real energy to the convention this time, and the fact that we didn't have a new book to launch actually ended up giving us a lot more freedom to explore the three venues than we've had in recent years. When I started out doing UK cons, I was a blur throughout the whole weekend. As time went on and my catalogue of books stacked up, I found my horizons gradually drawing in to the point where I've barely been able to leave the table. Nic and I were determined not to let that happen this year, so we organised a tag team system that let us both prowl the floors in a flurry of catching up with old friends and furiously networking new ones. It looks like that's the format we're going to be pursuing from now on.

A major highlight this year was getting to watch Ollie Masters doing his first signing for his new Vertigo series, The Kitchen. Ollie's an old friend from the Insomnia days, and he posed for Stephen Downey as the body-double for the "Mr. Green" character in Slaughterman's Creed, so I've been enjoying watching his dazed, increasingly bewildered expression at being so violently catapulted into the spotlight. I scored a copy of The Kitchen #1 from him on the Saturday, and I have to say it takes me right back to the first days of Vertigo, when they were exploding out in all directions, creatively. Ollie's really onto something strong with this book and the fact that Vertigo saw that so clearly has actually ratcheted up my respect for them several notches as a publisher.

I picked up my copy of Cross from Lizzie and Conor Boyle at the Disconnected Press stand. This book was an amazing experience to work on, and Matt Timson's art on our story, Pulling the Plug, is breathtaking on the page. I grabbed a few extra copies to put on our table as well, because full-blooded satire is thin on the ground these days and that's actually a legitimate cause for concern.

Book sales in general were flat-out fucking scary from the start. We blew through our entire Cancertown vol. 2 and Harlan Falk stacks well before kick-out time on Saturday and, despite having brought literally double what we'd expected to need, we ran out of Cancertown vol. 1 the next day. More than anything, though, this year's Thought Bubble was about plugging back into the community and remembering why I signed up in the first place.

With that in mind, here's a partial run-down of the people who made it worth showing up, with immense apologies up-front to those I've inevitably missed:

Laurence Campbell: for continually proving that it's possible to be a major talent with mainstream recognition while remaining one of the nicest, most genuine people in the business.

Harry Markos: immortal, unstoppable - the indie publishing world's true Man of Steel.

Steve Tanner: indie Godfather of the UK scene and arguably the most energetic organism I know.

Sara Dunkerton: for this amazing cyberpunk/MULP commission...

Jennie Gyllblad: super-talented artist and probably the best dressed human ever.

Yomi Ayeni: amazing ideas man, writer and deliverer of the "double-fisting" joke that almost caused a catastrophic tea spillage.

Brett Uren: because catching up with the man behind Torsobear would have been worth the trip on its own.

Richmond Clements: a weapons-grade wit and among the most mercilessly hilarious people I've met.

P. M. Buchan: for making me look like the sane one with the family-friendly portfolio.

Valia Kapadai, Pavlos Pavlidis and Andreas Michaelides: three immensely talented storytellers I'm genuinely honoured to know.

Tim Pilcher: for tirelessly staffing the Humanoids stand all weekend and skilfully convincing Nic to let me buy her that glorious Barbarella hardback for our anniversary next month.

Eoin McAuley from Lightning Strike: for stopping by and getting me hyped up about potential projects.

Ben Read and Christian Wildgoose: because that new Porcelain teaser is a thing of heartbreaking beauty.

Nic Papaconstantinou: effortlessly likeable raconteur and self-confessed Ron Jeremy of comic book podcasting.

Jane from We Have Issues: whose last name has never been revealed to me, but who said very nice things about the Cancertown books.

Conor Boyle - getting another mention here for teaching me a trick that totally works to completely remove Snow's fuck-awful 1993 track "Informer" (I'll spare you the link) from my head.

Andy Bloor: for putting up with one of my more adrenal talk-bombs and still having the wherewithal to sell me a copy of his excellent Midnight Man (sadly, missed Mo Ali on the Saturday).

Roy Stewart: a man of few words and unbelievably expressive artwork. More from him as projects develop.

That Guy I Met Last Year: who came back to the table while I was away this time with a reminder that I'd promised an eventual Cancertown 3.

The entire crew of the now-traditional Post-Bubble Decompression Session, which this year consisted of Nic Wilkinson, Conor and Lizzie Boyle, Row Bird, Will Pickering, Valia Kapadai, Pavlos Pavlidis, Andreas Michaelides, and that guy named Duncan.

Wrapping it all up, I think it's done me a lot of good to reconnect. A few interesting possible projects cropped up, and I'll be talking more about those if, as and when they develop. For now, I've got a metric shit-tonne of following up to do, so I'd better get into it. Onward!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Get Cross!

A while back, I was approached by Disconnected Press about an anthology of satirical short comic stories they were putting together. I sat and thought about it for a while, and before long realised that there were things that I was angry enough to write about. Now that anthology, featuring three pages of heartfelt venom from legitimate artistic phenomenon Matt Timson and myself, is up on Kickstarter under the title "Cross".

The official page for the project does a superb job of explaining the concept and reasoning behind the book, and with a contributors list that includes Mary Talbot, Rob Williams and PJ Holden, it's definitely worth taking a look at.

Cross is Disconnected's most ambitious project to date, and serves as a timely reminder that satire still has purpose in a world where the predators it targets have forgotten that they ever used to fear it. Check out the page here.

Monday, 22 September 2014

How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Comics

I've been flat-out on non-comics work for the last month or so, but I'm breaking radio silence for a moment to bring you this important message...

I've met Dani Abram precisely one time for a grand total of less than sixty seconds (just after a talk by David Hine in Bristol), and my primary recollections of that sub-minute encounter are an impressive flurry of energy, an explosion of red hair and being introduced to a nearby, unsuspecting innocent as "Cy Dethan - Argh!"

For the benefit of anyone who doesn't know her name already, Dani's a dangerously talented artist and animator whose professional work you've very probably seen in The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists (or The Pirates! Band of Misfits if you're in the US), where she did lip sync animation. She's also the artist of Razarhawk and has worked on The Pride Adventures, Bayou Arcana and a bunch of other cool stuff - including her own webcomic, Worry Wart, which is the reason I've gathered you all here today.

Dani was down to two copies of the collected Worry Wart on her Comicsy shop when I managed to score mine, selling through her entire inventory in a week. If you're the least bit plugged in, that ought to tell you something. Worry Wart isn't the most expensive book I've bought this year, nor is it the most aggressively promoted.

It is, however, almost certainly the most important.

Dani was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder in 2009, working her way through a range of treatments and coping mechanisms and coming out stronger for the struggle. Worry Wart is less a roadmap of the journey she took than a series of snapshots of some of the landmarks, crossroads and dark, blind alleys she negotiated along the way. The book ranges from the fearlessly personal to the supremely practical. It's inspiring, eye-opening and, in places, legitimately heart-breaking.

Structurally, the book is sort of an illustrated diary, with text passages running alongside the artwork. Dani's art has the kind of raw emotional content that only a skilled cartoonist can manage, but there's nothing cynical or manipulative in the way it's delivered - just a painful honesty that drives the whole book.

Listen - I don't write a lot of reviews on this blog, so when I post one it's because I feel strongly about it. Worry Wart is important, so just fucking buy the thing, okay?

You can find Dani on Twitter and Facebook, and buy from her directly at her Comicsy shop.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Villain's Journey

Rounding off this series of Torsobear posts, here's an overview of the evolutionary process Peter Mason took our protagonist through as we kicked ideas back and forth between us.

Pete's initial take on Snaplok was pretty cutesy, but you can already see most of the character's key points in place. His horizontally hinged mouth, robotic appendages and peg leg are all there. However, I felt pretty strongly that he needed to have more weight and danger to him, as befits an 80s action figure.

With the main shape of Snaplok nailed down, Pete and I talked over some costume options. As Snaplok had traded in his old villain persona for the life of a private investigator, Pete was experimenting with a crumpled suit. It looked cool, but with only eight pages we needed to get as much information about the type of character he was across visually. Something wasn't quite "there" yet.

We shaved Snaplok's head to give him more of an aggressive look. Pete continued to experiment with the mechanism of his jaws, and we talked over some ideas about what we would see when he opened him. I wanted it to be visually interesting, but not too horrific to be believable as a toy. From this stage on, I was confident we had a legitimate badass on our hands.

At this point, we dropped the suit entirely in favour of more dynamic attire that emphasised Snaplok's tech-villain origins and brutish posture. At the same time, Pete tightened up the details of Snaplok's detachable limbs and gave him a heavier boot on his right foot.  We showed the concept to Torsobear editor Brett Uren for approval, and at his suggestion Pete reworked Snaplok's joints to make sure the toy as a whole looked solid and functional.

With the details all in place, Pete selected a suitably bold colour scheme and the job was essentially done! Brett has already floated the idea of more Torsobear comics featuring characters from the first volume, so watch this space for possible news about the further adventures of Toyburg's resident trapper and snapper...

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Big Sleepover

Thanks to Toymaster Brett Uren's seemingly limitless drive and the considerable enthusiasm of the Kickstarter community, the Torsobear: Yarns from Toyburg anthology, featuring a contribution from Pete Mason, Nic Wilkinson and myself, is officially a THING, finishing its Kickstarter at 107% funded.

If you're waiting for your stuff and want to catch up on any of the extra "behind-the-scenes" info, listen to Brett talking about the project or find out more about the creative teams (and lots of other Toyburg goodness) then visit the Torsobear blog.

Extract from page 3 of "Some Assembly Required" by Cy Dethan and Peter Mason. Letters by Nic Wilkinson
I'm already getting psyched up to see the completed book in print, especially having seen some of the incredible work in progress on the other stories. One of the reasons I enjoy getting involved with anthologies in the first place is the chance they offer to meet new creators, and the various glimpses I've had of the other contributed stories have been particularly eye-opening. There's an enormous range of approaches and styles on display. Basically, it's just going to be a really cool book - and probably the closest thing you'll see to an all-ages story from me any time soon.

I've said before how the blazingly original combination of film noir tropes and picture-book aesthetics of Brett's original story was like nothing I had ever read, and was one of those lightning bolt, brick-to-the-forehead moments, so I've already got a couple of follow-up pitches building to blast Brett with if the opportunity arises for a second volume.

What nobody really tells you about being involved in a Kickstarter is that it's a huge creative job in itself. It's not a little thing on the side that you can wind up, set off and collect the money it comes back with. It's absolutely shattering. Also, there is maths.

The support we received from the comics community and beyond was incredible. Support doesn't only come in the form of pledges, although that's all Kickstarter counts in its terrifying "all-or-nothing" approach. What was surprising and humbling was the sheer number of people who wanted to help the project by spreading the word. Whether by sharing social media posts, encouraging other people to pledge, covering our project on blogs and podcasts, promoting it to societies and groups or offering advice and encouragement, many of you worked as hard as if you were on the project itself!

Snaplok, Rocko and the gang thank you all!

If you do have a Kickstarter project that is in its last week (be it comic, game or any other area of geek culture), then Geek Syndicate have a "Last Days of Kickstarter" feature that it is well worth contacting them about to get the word out as you make that final push. Also, Brett Uren has written an upcoming piece for them on the things he learned from Kickstarter that you might want to read if you are thinking of starting up your own project. That should be up on the GS site soon.

Now we are off for a very big sleep!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Nic's Sticky Notes: Nursery Crimes

Living with a writer is a wonderful, exciting and sometimes terrifying thing.  Sometimes they leap into the room, eyes ablaze, wreathed in lightning, babbling about a new story idea like a thing possessed.

This is how I first heard about Torsobear: Yarns From Toyburg and became the letterer of the story by Cy Dethan and Peter Mason.

Some Assembly Required
Torsobear: Yarns From Toyburg
Story: Cy Dethan, Art: Peter Mason, Letters: Nic Wilkinson

I was able to pick out the words “best plot bible I've ever seen”, “80s action figure villain” and a good number of “FUCK, YEAHs” from amongst the frenzy and fist punching and in no time I was reading the script for Some Assembly Required. On page one, I was captivated; by page 3 I was in tears; by the end of 8 short pages I’d been so emotionally shaken up and down that I felt like I’d been through The Playtime!

I had to letter it!

If you talk to a letterer, and don’t get scared off by their mad rantings about their arcane obsessions with crossbars and ligatures and bleeds, they will tell you that, sometimes, when you read a script certain things pull themselves visually out of the text on the screen or page and hang there in the air before you going “Do me like this!”

The words “Mr Robones' top-shelf Trapper and Snapper” almost bit my hands off on page one. They certainly took my breath away! Now all that remained was to inveigle my way onto the book with The Toymaster, Brett Uren, and get my sticky fonts all over it!

The original art by Saoirse Louise Towler‎
that was the reward for the backer who took
us over the 50% funded point
There has been such a lot of scope to be playful and experimental with the lettering due to the nature of the story, the script and the art that I’ve been able to come up with some entirely new ways of doing things that have opened up a whole new set of spatial and temporal techniques to add to my magic bag of visual silent sound tricks.

Peter Mason’s art has been a joy to letter, as it always is. Being, as I am, mainly a product of the 80s working on this story - actually I can’t say “working” as it’s waaaaaay too much for that - has been like a trip to Neverland. When I saw his first character sketches of Snaplok, and then the full pages, come in I could not suppress a gleefully feral whoop – straight from the heart of my 10-year-old self.

All of this was before I’d even seen any of the amazing work for the book from the other teams in so many different styles that all work so well together.  The whole is a thing of beauty and I’m incredibly proud to be involved with such brilliant and passionate people.

The book is to be self-published and distributed via a Kickstarter campaign. As well as the usual rewards for backers we also have rewards for those kind souls who may not want the book, but who are helping us to spread the word. We are grateful for any help in spreading the word, and of course, for any hard earned buttons you may be able to spare for us.

What is Torsobear?

Plushie Detective Ruxby made by
Lee-Anne Godby of The Goblin Co Op
available at higher reward levels.
Teddy Ruxpin via True Detective. Inspired by the original short story featured in Glenn Møane and Magnus Aspli’s Outré anthology, Yarns from Toyburg continues to follow rookie detective Ruxby Bear and his wooden partner officer Hazbrow, as they investigate further and fall deeper into the intrigue surrounding a number of dismembered teddies. Other stories follow the exploits of cheery Toyburg’s broken citizens in the same destructive vein.

Why should we pick this up?
‘The best contribution to Outré #2 by far (in both art and writing) has to be Torsobear by Brett Uren… It is beautiful, stunning, and haunting. And I wanted more.’ – Max Delgado, Unleash The Fanboy

‘It reads like Raymond Chandler meets Teddy Ruxpin with a generous dose of Robert Crumb and we’d love to see a full series of it.’ – Pipedream Comics

‘The art style and color choices made it feel like a more disturbing and adult Hanna Barbera piece, and the blend of issues such as racism, crises of faith, and horrific crimes with a world of toys resonated with me.’ – Jodi Scaife, Fanboy Comics

Who Is Involved In Torsobear: Yarns From Toyburg?

Cover by Hal Laren

The Toymasters

Editors – Brett Uren & Glenn Møane

The Toyburg Terrors

– Brett Uren, Glenn Møane, Cy Dethan, Brockton McKinney, Janos Honkonen, Frank Martin, Kieran Squires, Grainne McEntee & Jake Young

Artists – Brett Uren, Pete Rogers, Carlos Zamudio, Matt Rooke, Saoirse Towler, Joel Cotejar, Randy Haldeman, Harold Saxon, Jon Scrivens, Faye Harmon & Brian Traynor

Letterers – Brett Uren, Nic WIlkinson, Mick Schubert, Shawn Aldridge, Kieran Squires & Jon Scrivens

If you are a reviewer, podcaster, blogger or journalist please get in touch through the contact page if you would like more information, previews or to talk to Brett and Glenn or any of the team about the project.

Keep track of the campaign and the book’s production at http://torsobear.com 

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