An Irish Year
Sometimes you get a feeling or a buzz from a comic or an event, something that can come from peers’ excitement, media hype or just at times a sensation that something special is happening.
There has been a steady but continuous development in Ireland when it comes to comics in recent times, and last year, I felt a buzz about it. It felt tangible but at the same time unpredicted and independent, just occurring.
For so long, I had to point northward to Garth Ennis, John McCrea and Will Simpson, all legends in their own right, when I wanted to talk about Irish comic professionals. Success seemed to elude creators in the Republic except for Killian Plunkett, of course, who has been a presence in the world of Star Wars comics since the early nineties. But I often wondered was he the success that proved the rule and also why we don’t see more of him here in Dublin? At cons? Have we forgotten he is one of our own?
Of course the 21st century has been the one in which Irish comics and creators seem to have come into their own, and when I walked into Forbidden Planet in Dublin just before Christmas and saw a whole wall, separate and in prime position, dedicated to home grown comics, I was impressed. It was about 24 linear feet, all facing forward and just looking awesome.
There were over fifty titles, from stunning looking graphic novels to neat and tidy A5 photocopied comics. Although these comics are indigenous, it seems the likes of Atomic Diner, O’Brien Press, and Muccu Press are all professional when it comes to their products.
I spoke to assistant manager Dave, who explained that this presentation was in no way at all vanity. ‘There is a loyal audience here,’ he proclaimed, and it has struck deep, with fellow staffer Stefano Pappalardo‘s artwork donning an exceptionally decent looking Zombies Hi, a definite favourite of mine. Zombies Hi’s interesting combination of prose and comics gives a real sense of place, which is important for me, I had caught up with Kevin Logue from Uproar Comics, previously who produce Zombies Hi:
‘The idea behind the mix of prose and comics is for a few reasons. The first being that when we started out we thought our audience would be mainly local, as it’s local set, so we knew that people that wouldn’t normally pick up comics would pick it up because its set in their home town. So including prose we were trying to cater to these readers. Also, it allows us create a bigger world, inspired by the likes of Watchmen. And also, a personal dislike of comics is sometimes you can read them in a few minutes so we wanted to give more bang for buck if you will.’
I had wondered what the plans were for Uproar, and Kevin has some serious ambition; he explained, ‘We are setting up Uproar Comics as a limited company. We already have distribution contracts with Easons and Waterstones, and are distributing to many smaller shops and cafes throughout Northern Ireland’, and of course there were his comics in Forbidden Planet in Dublin. But he has more ideas with Derry’s city of culture playing a part: ‘Our plan is to establish Uproar Comics as Derry’s if not Northern Ireland’s main dedicated comic publisher. In the pipeline we are to do seven comics about archaeology that will be used in the education system in 2012/13, and also comics for the city of culture’s “purposeful enquiry” project about the history of the town.’
On the shelves not too far from Zombies Hi I saw ‘Art Deco’, a Declan Shavley 80 page collection of art. These pieces come from his work on Eclectic Micks (sketches) and Comic Twart (sketches, layouts, etc.) which he launched at Boston Comic con. The Eclectic Micks are an interesting group of comic artists who have all found considerable success and have also just produced their second collection of art. I quickly look over some of their names. Their progress is impressive. If ever there was evidence that the comic art professional is alive and well in Ireland, it’s this group of creators, who all seem to have had a pretty good year.
Stephen Thompson has been working with some big names, with Magnus by Jim Shooter for Dark Horse and a great run of eight issues on Hellraiser for Boom by Clive Barker and Chris Monfett.
Len O’Grady, as well as being nominated for The 2011 Eagle Awards for best colourist, did the colours for a Jim Byrne written and drawn Star Trek story and is doing the art on the Dungeons & Dragons series The Legend of Drizzt: Neverwinter Tales. And I must check what he has done for Archaia, as his name is mentioned in a preview for The Secret History #17, Jean-Pierre Pécau massive story.
Nick Roche did the covers for Revenge Of The Decepticons, worked on the G.I. Joe Transformers crossover Infestation, and finished the year pencilling and doing the cover or one of them for issue 125 of Transformers, The Death of Optimus Prime.
Will Sliney has been working on Clone Wars, drawing the Falcon for the Haynes YT 1300 Manual, continuing his work on Farscape, and finished the year with the interior art of Images Pigs by Nathan Cosby and Ben McCool, while his Cu Chulain Story, Celtic Warrior got a lot of airtime on RTE.
Bob Byrne has continued to work for 2000AD writing and drawing three ‘Bob Byrne’s Twisted Tales’ while his ‘Learn Japanese in one Day’ with Dr Mokku is phenomenal: http://drmoku.com
I secretly wish that when I first walked into Phantasia, sometime in the dark past, that Dublin had artists like these guys; they are slick and funny and all seem very pleasant. Instead I walk from Forbidden Planet to Sub City and make it my business to catch up with Robert Curley. Rob, who owns Sub City (his brother Brian runs the Galway branch) is also the publisher behind Atomic Diner, and in fairness to him has ‘found’ a number of creators. I started off by asking him about this year:
‘It’s been a very good year with the release of League of Volunteers, Roisin Dubh and Jennifer Wilde and the great response we have gotten from people and reviews. LOV is close to selling out its third printing with sales of over twelve hundred copies which for an Irish comic is pretty impressive. I think 2011 has shown that with the right titles and creative teams there is a market here for indigenous titles. We’re not quite there yet but with more titles on the way and the trades still to come, hopefully with the right exposure we can take the next step to bringing comics to an even wider audience.’ explained Rob.
I wondered why this was happening and how this market had become so active.
Rob continued, ‘I think Irish people in general are heavy readers whether it be books, newspapers, magazines, or comics, we like to read and even more, we like a good story, and if you add in the subject matter of what we’re doing with the Irishness of it I think that appeals to people. We generally look to the outside world for our entertainment so I think people have found it genuinely refreshing to see our own culture and history being used in a creative way.’
I agree that League of Volunteers, Roisin Dubh and Jennifer Wilde are actually possibly three of my favourite comics of the year, with both League and Jennifer vying for my actual favourite, and that’s pretty good going, as I know I have read a lot of comics. But these comics, which feel very different with distinctive voices, have really appealed to me. What about sales, I queried?
‘The League has been the best seller and then Roisin and Jennifer not too far behind. That might change if we can reach a broader audience where tastes are slightly different. I think something like Jennifer Wilde has a real appeal for readers that don’t traditionally read comics, but it’s making them aware of it that’s the hard part. Still, the reception over the last year is well beyond what I could have imagined from people and the press as well as invites to do various talks and panels.’
I may not be alone in my spidey-sense feeling about the past year, and I ask Robert, if I am imagining it, or if the year felt different to him?
‘Yes it has, it definitely feels like something is happening and people are paying attention. Such positive feedback also gives you the confidence to continue with what you’re doing and hopefully things will keep on getting better. Also, it feels right for me. As much as I love the Freak Show characters and the whole 20th century that was dominated by American culture, it just feels more natural to do these characters and I find it very exciting to be creating something that is relevant to me and my own background.’
Atomic Diner has changed the type of comic that it is producing. Freak Show was obviously influenced or at least felt like it was by the Vertigo line, and I really enjoyed it, it was a good comic, but this current crop feel, for me, as a step up a gear.
Many of the comics available are now looking back at our own culture, and history as source for ideas and we have a heritage, a shared memory in a way, which allows many avenues of originality to be investigated and explored, and remained clean from derivation. I wondered why Rob had expanded his variety of titles away from Freak Show and what his next plans are.
‘Freak Show was me regurgitating what I had absorbed from American culture over the years and I still intend to return to those characters sometime in the future, but as I said the books I’m working on right now are what’s important to me. There was no great plan to move from the Americana of FS to books like LOV. It was a very natural process but one that quickly felt right. My expansion plan is to keep bringing out new titles as well as continue expanding on the characters to date. If everything goes according to plan, there should be three new titles next year, Noe The Savage Boy, The Crimson Blade and Tales Of The Fianna.’
There is no denying that Ireland is in the throes of one of the worst economic times, well in my lifetime. In the eighties, it was pretty rotten, we have forgotten, but it’s back there, although I do hope that real creativity and a search for escapism may assist both production and sales of comics. I felt that this element, the hard economics of comic sales, should not be ignored, and given that The Planet had such a strong section, which I assume they know is productive, I asked Rob where he sees new markets for sales expansion.
‘Over Christmas the sales of the comics skyrocketed which proved that there are still plenty of people here that we need to reach so the home front is very important. There has also been a great reaction from tourists, so expansion to other countries is important and may make the difference between it being a hobby and a viable career. I intend to approach Diamond Comics early in the year as well as other distributors and raise our profile by doing more conventions.
‘The sales have been strong from the point of view that Atomic Diner is a small self-publishing venture from Ireland. Again, I think people’s interest has been tapped by the subject matter, and not just Irish people—there has been plenty of interest from England, America, France, Germany and so on. The reason for this, I would like to think, is the book’s original ideas but also their execution. A big part of trying to get it right is having good creators on board.’
The gender imbalance in comics has been to the fore in 2011. It did not go unnoticed that the one voice to speak up about the lack of women attending KAPOW! was Irish comic writer Maura McHugh, who undoubtedly is one of my current favourites, and her blog was picked up by The Guardian. McHugh has been included in the forthcoming Womanthology from IDW and I think as co-writer on Jennifer Wilde and Rosin Dubh she has had a stunning debut year.
Atomic Diner has women creators on their books, and I understand another woman author is working on a project; what about the down flow, with Robert owning a shop, I hoped it might give him an insight into interest from women readers.
‘Both Roisin and Jennifer sell well to women. I imagine for a few different reasons. First off they are strong female characters in a way you don’t often see in comics. From my point of view coming up with female leads is no different from their male counterpart. They need to have more than a gimmick to get them through and there has to be a personality there a sense that these are real people with real lives and experiences. I think the best thing I could have done was bring Maura McHugh on board to write both these titles as she puts so much into what she is doing and has a wealth of information that would make your head spin.’
This all seems good to me, but I am allowed to notice that there is still a deficit, of sorts in comics by women, and this was even picked up earlier in the year by The Irish Times.
If buying comics and talking about them is the best way forward, then FP and Sub-City are definitely helping, and there has been a lot of activity online, for sure this year. Puredaft Delineavit The comics, doodles ‘n’ drawings of Deirdre de Barra, who produced Clueless, is a site which I might have missed if not for conversing with these comic book retailers.
Anois cúpla focail, as gaeilge, bhí roinnt rath an mblian seo do Hilary Lawlor, ealaíontóir agus scríbhneoir den scéal grinn Super Hilbo, a raibh in dhá eipeasóid i mbliana, sa Splunc, iris ghaeilge do theaghlaigh atá ag labhairt na teanga, nó ar a laghad ag iarraidh í a labhairt. (Now a few words, as gaeilge, there was some success this year for Hilary Lawlor, artist and writer of Super Hilbo strip, which had two episodes this year, in Splunc, an Irish magazine for families who speak the language, or on a least want to talk. (Tá brón orm, ach tá http://www.comhluadar.ie/ bristé)
While I was in Forbidden Planet, Dave urged me to pick up Ponder, a manga comic, but it appears that there may have been too much urgings going on, as they were actually sold out, I shall have to find this. There has been a manga presence in Ireland, and I wonder if the Zenpop Collective, founded by Ellen Woods, and featuring work by Daniel Janos, Jade Launders, Marianna Mooney, Hayley Mulcahy, Liam Naughton, Brian Naughton, Ruth Redmond Agatha Romanska, Rachael Sinnamon, and Anthea West will have a similar success this decade as The Eclectic Micks have. So far they are doing well.
I enjoyed Hayley Mulchay’s Vermillion; the pilot episode of Space Office Triggs, a science fictional detective story. Anthea West’s Desolate Ceremony, which has three issues online, a total of 45 pages, which is no mean feat, is also well worth looking for. Coffee Time 2 by Liam Naughton shows great promise, and I wonder if he spent more time, maybe cleaning or refining his artistic style, if it could go from pretty good to stunning as intrinsically its very stylish. I would really like to see more work by Jade Launders; the selection of art she has on her blog is pretty good. She has a very professional style, and I have only heard good things about The Whole World, a manga styled science fiction comic by Brian Naughton. Overall that’s pretty productive from this collective.
Of course, back on the shelves, it’s very difficult to miss some comics. Without doubt Brian Boru, written and drawn Damien Goodfellow, looks great. It somehow, for me at least, captures a Celtic style that we have been lacking; it tells the historical story really well, and there is a nice flow to the comic, and I felt like this was an artist who should also be drawing Slainé. I’m interested to see what else Damien has in the works. O’Brien Press has had a lot of comic publications this year, and creator Alan Nolan seems to have been the driver with Six Million Ways to Die (Murder Can be Fatal) and The Big Break Detectives Casebook coming out, and I see that there are two more titles due out next year. http://www.obrien.ie/
Another decent looking book is The Curse of Cromwell: The Siege. Now in fairness this came out in 2010 from Moccu Press, but the team of Dermot Poyntz and Lee Grace have had two more graphic novels published in 2011. War of the Two Kings tells the historical story of the war between James Stuart & William of Orange, including James’s 1689 landing at Kinsale, the subsequent Siege of Derry, the infamous Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and the Siege of Limerick. Plight of the Wild Geese continues in many ways this story as King James seeks help from France, and also it covers the Battle of Aughrim. Www.moccupress.com
I asked Rob Curley which creator had stood out for him this year. ‘Declan Shalvey comes to mind as he slowly takes over the world. I think Declan’s work has really evolved during the time I’ve known him and I imagine he will keep going on to bigger things. It’s great to see so many Irish artist do well on the international market. Stephen Mooney is also a solid artist and I’m looking forward to his upcoming self-published work.’
Shalvey has been the ongoing artist on Thunderbolts for Marvel since May, did an issue of Fear Itself The Worthy, The Crossbones Captain America stand alone, and finished up the year doing a couple of issues of Brian Woods’s Northlanders for Vertigo
Mooney has been illustrating Peter David prose while doing the cover for Teen Wolf and working on both Angel and Spike for IDW. His next project seemingly set in the Second World War, Half Past Danger looks really good.
We also spoke about Paddy Brown, who has been working on The Cattle Raid of Cooley, a work that he has been bringing out for a number of years, and which looks like it will soon come to its end. Four comics are now available from his website in this series, as is another comic, Ness, which is from a time before these events. http://paddybrown.co.uk/
While homemade and American comics are excellent, there is a large market quite close by, and I immediately thought of two Irish creators who also have had success with 2000 AD. The first, Michael Carroll, I caught up with and asked about how his year had been.
’2011 has been a pretty good year for me, comics-wise – the year opened with my first published Judge Dredd tales in 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine. I’ve been reading 2000 AD since issue #1 back in 1977, which means I’ve known Judge Dredd longer than I’ve known any real people,
not counting my family! The stories have been well-received, especially among the die-hard 2000 AD fans, who are notoriously hard to please. It certainly helps that I’ve been paired with some extremely good artists, two of whom – Bryan Talbot and John Higgins - have been top of my “would love to work with” list for decades.’
‘Not-quite-but-almost comics-related is my novel Razorjack: Double-Crossing, published in May by Com.x. It’s a spin-off from John Higgins’s modern classic graphic novel. It’s a full-on blood-’n'-guts
adventure with lots of guns, swords, violence and swearing. So it’s a far cry from my Quantum Prophecy series of superhero novels for the Young Adult market.’
Michael Carroll’s year has been indeed really quite stunning. With a total of 12 episodes of Judge Dredd for either 2000AD or The Judge Dredd Megazine, he is rapidly establishing himself. I was very impressed with his Caterpillars story, with pencils by legendary artist Bryan Talbot, and the inks and colours by Alwyn Talbot gave it a distinctively clean yet deep look. This story can be read online, and I think it really reflects the type of dystopia that is Mega-City. It’s an incredibly simple yet moving piece, and I have considered whether the ending is real or not.
You can read it here.
Arist Paul J Holden had artwork in eight episodes of Number Cruncher, a story written by Sy Spurrier in The Judge Dredd Megazine, while he was also Drawing the Terminator/Robocop crossover comic Kill Human, released by Dynamite, while the first issue of Strip Comic had Holden doing the cover.
Another creator connected to 2000AD is Richmond Clements, who has recently released his story Turning Tiger, a science fictional tale of a young girl connected to a robot fighting machine, in graphic novel format through Renegade. It was originally available online, but this production is really smart, and the art from Alex Moore is stunning. Richmond has continued his sterling work for Zarjaz and Dog Breath fanzines, which continue to impress.
And so, I think it’s been a pretty busy year, all things being told and I have yet to mention Iron Moon, or Slaughterman’s Creed, let alone the works of John McCrea, Garth Ennis or Rufus Dayglo but I may come back to those with longer pieces.
Yet what of this year? Well already I hear that Malachy Coney may have a project in the works.
Mal is the Manager of the Forbidden Planet in Belfast, and has had quite a selection of work already published. Space 1949, by Bob Curran looks stunningly good; he has the first six pages online at http://bogstandardcomix.blogspot.com/p/space-1949.html and I cannot wait to see what he does with this, while if Gary Reynolds’ Zvedza comes to fruition, or we get something else similar to Moments from Tommie Kelly, or I pick up Leane Hamiltons Finn and Fish, (which I have missed) and I still need to find Ponder, well its all potential great stuff to look forward to.
So, I hope you will agree that there is considerable reason to feel that 2011 was not a bad year for comics, and all in all, a pretty good one. Irish artists and writers are a growing force in comics, and not just writing and drawing for or influenced by American and UK titles, but carving out their own unique stories and spaces. 2012 promises an even stronger showing of Irish talent in the comics world.
Stephen Mooney – http://moondog-themoonblog.blogspot.com/
Half Past Danger – http://halfpastdanger.blogspot.com/
Will Sliney – http://sliney.blogspot.com/
Bob Byrne – http://clamnuts.com http://drmoku.com
Nick Roche – http://nickroche.blogspot.com/
Stephen Thompson http://stephenthompsonart.blogspot.com/
Richmond Clements http://richwriting.blogspot.com/
Maura McHugh http://splinister.com/
Alan Nolan – http://www.alannolan.ie/
Deirdre De Barra – http://www.puredaft-delineavit.blogspot.com/
Michael Carroll – http://www.michaelowencarroll.com/bib-comics.htm
Zenpop – http://zenpop.org
Jade Launders http://suwako.newgrounds.com/art/
Brian Naughton http://toomanylimbs.blogspot.com/
P.J. Holden http://www.pauljholden.com/
Deirdre De Barra http://www.puredaft-delineavit.blogspot.com/
Gary Reynolds – http://g-reyart.blogspot.com/