Monday, 26 October 2015

Meeting the comic book writers and artists at MCM Comic Con London 2015

I have a secret fantasy of my own. To one day write graphic novels alongside my novels. So this was an opportunity to meet with people who were really doing it, talk to them about just how they got into the industry, how they work, and just what the industry is like.

Set out in long lines, it was a case of starting from one end and working my way down the aisles to the end, whilst all the time trying not to spend too much money! Again, there was a lot of Manga, which I have to admit isn't my thing. Hey, I loved Battle of the Planets, liked the first half of Akira (before it got weird and really crazy), and I've watched a fair bit of the demonic, over-sexualised output of films from the 90s, but it's never rung my bell. I suppose I'm a traditionalist - and always felt a bit awkward watching school girls in short skirts kill slavering demons.

Less hard to pass by without stopping to chat were the, as I would call them, 'traditional' British artists and writers, those with the rich darkly painted comic books and unerringly chilling and downtrodden themes. No men in tights and capes here. These are the books which question your opinion of corrupt society, history and the world around us.

The first I chatted to was Simon Birks, the writer of two comics he'd brought along with him - Sinners and Gone. As I discovered chatting to the different artists and writers, the comic book industry, just like the novel industry, is tough and not an easy place to carve out a career - or a decent living. People don't buy comics in the numbers they used to and a lot of the projects are part funded by Kickstarter out of necessity.

What also comes across chatting to these people is they all care hugely for what they do, and make sacrifices in aspects of their lives to keep producing work. This isn't a job - this is a calling. These people do it because they were born to.

Not read Simon's work yet, but his enthusiasm and inspiration was clear - looking forward to diving in very soon.

Next up was Eli Mamane, the creator of Squatters. With a big backdrop behind him, covered in endorsements and critical praise of his latest work, and a larger than life manner, Eli was a hurricane of passion and belief in the comics industry, having given up a career in the city to pursue his one and only love. He'd met and interviewed many of the comic-world's biggest stars, learned his trade under their guidance and advice, and you just know is going to be big.

I couldn't help but be drawn to Bruno Stahl's stall, courtesy of his amazing looking 'Inhuman Nature' comic and endorsement from one of the true comic book master's Pat Mills. However, I think I rather disappointed him and embarrassed by having no idea who Richard Corben, one of his biggest fans, was and shuffled off quickly, shame not intact, after buying his book!

A few chairs along I fell into conversation with the creators of the comic book series 'Moon'. Beautifully illustrated and inventively written, their enthusiasm was enough to make me buy the first two in the series, with a third waiting for me to order if it's to my taste.

Next along on my comic book adventure was Overdark Comics and Deathgift. This lusciously illustrated comic had been produced by two guys called Headkutter and Scott Duckett. The criminality in the industry is that all the months and months of hard graft, pressure, worry and creativity gets condensed down into sumptuously printed and presented comic that retails for just £3. No wonder a lot of these comic books are about finding justice. There's very little justice in the comic book world it seems.

Take for example Vincenzo Ferriero and his Magnum Opus 'Skies of Fire'. This utterly beguiling book took eight years to plan and world build, even before he began to actually start writing and illustrating the thing!

Born out of his childhood love of airships, zeppelins and fantastic flying machines, Vincenzo created an entire world which was then professionally and beautifully reproduced by a cartographer to hang on any fan's wall.

I cannot wait to start reading this. It looks absolutely incredible, and suspect I might be having one of those maps on my office wall very soon!

John Paul Bove and Conor Boyle, and their breath-taking 'Unearth' struck me as real professionals, both in what they had produced with this magnificent comic book and their long list of comic work experience, but also in their approach, their confidence and easy manner. It was fascinating to talk to them about script-writing and comic book creation, and look at the script which then become the visuals to Unearth, as well as the early drawings which ended up in this incredible looking comic.

Like many of the comic book creators, Robin Hoelzemann has a 'boring' full time job, so works evenings and weekends on her true passion - tell me about it! I asked her if she has told any of her work colleagues of the incredible stuff she produces (in the guise of 'Curia Regis'). She raised an eyebrow and said, 'I doubt they'd believe me if I did.'

And that's the thing about this independent comic industry, utterly brilliant spellbinding individuals producing work which mirrors them and surpasses belief. These people exist, live, breath and produce these magical worlds completely under the radar. They need to be drawn above it. It'll make a richer world for everyone.

Which brings me to the final comic book writer and illustrator I spoke to - Warwick Fraser-Coombe. Three years in the making, rEVENGER is a no-holds barred, visual and literary assault on the senses and everything wrong with society today.

Warwick is a illustrator who has won countless awards for his perfectly balanced and realised urban illustrative style, and who has produced something to rival the very best within the graphic novel arena ever. He's produced rEVENGER, which is a brutal new 'realising' of the vigilante super hero fighting against corporate and political greed within a red top reading dumbed down world. It's an eye-ball popping, mouth drying read! I read the entire thing in a single sitting, with sweating palms and a twist in my guts.

And that's exactly what comics should do - they should transport us to a world where we're thrilled and inspired and terrified and moved. And in fact that could be the tag line for MCM Comic Con as a whole. Because it does that to you, in Manga-coloured spades.

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