Review: Troubled Waters #1

Originally posted on Irish Comic News (11/Nov/2016)

Troubled Waters

Troubled Waters
Written by Keith Kennedy
Art by Keith Kennedy

Rat in the Grain
Written by Niall Best
Art by Keith Kennedy.

The first of the two stories is Troubled Waters which has Kennedy handling the art and script. The story tells the tale of St. Finbarre and the dragon Lua. A young man appears at the hermitage seeking St. Finbarre’s help defending a settlement under attack from Lua.

A flashback sequence informs the reader why it would be St. Finbarre that the young man seeks as St. Finbarre and Lua have history. The art style is changed to incorporate the use of greys to distinguish the flashback from the main narrative. It’s a choice that worked well for me considering it is a black and whites strip. It really emphasised that it was a flashback.

The rest of the story concerns itself with St. Finbarre and his attempts to defned the beseiged settlement. The art serves the story well overall. There are only two small things that I would quibble over that took away a little from the reading.

The first was the changing of the art style slightly within the main story. It meant that I had to pause on the first few panels to check if I was still reading the main story or another flashback. But this could purely be a personal thing and not a problem for others. That said I did really like the pages with the heavy use of blacks.

The second was the choice of one panel and how the art was presented within it. It was the last panel on a page and the art was perpendicular to all the other art on the page. It took away from the flow of the page which had me wondering why that choice was made for that panel.

The second story is Rat in the Grain. This story has Niall Best taking over the writing duties with Kennedy providing the art. This strip is a ‘slice of life’ story which while being short did bring a smile to my face due to some of the characters in the story. It gives the reader a brief glimpse into the life of Sandy as he is attempting to make a decision about her life in Cork. It was mainly the supporting characters that had me enjoying the story due to some of the funny stuff that they say/do over the course of the story. Kennedy does a good job with art with nothing that I could point to that took away from the story.

Two quite different stories based in Cork each with their own charm.

The comic retails at €5. Kennedy plans to have it available through Waterstones, Vibes and Scribes, Other Realms and other stores in the Cork area.

Kennedy has a Facebook page, so if people outside of Cork want get a copy it’s probably the best place to make contact with him.

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Review: Ruaille Buaille 2

Originally posted on Irish Comic News (22/Nov/2016)

Ruaille Buaille

Edited by: Aidan Courtney.

Stories by: PJ Holden, Scott Ferguson, Mike Lynch, Rebecca Nalty, Maeve Clancy, Alan Nolan, Ciara Murphy, Triona Farrell, Alan Ryan, Philip Barret and Katie Fleming.

Ruaille Buaille is the first comic published by Coimici Gael (or by anyone else for that matter) that I’ve read that is entirely in Irish. The art provided by Alan Ryan for the cover is great and I couldn’t wait to crack open the comic and dive right in. Even with my limited Irish vocabulary. It’s just such a bright and fun looking cover. How could you not have a gander at the stories contained within?

First story is ‘Nicól Óg’ by Philip Barrett. Nicól óg is excited about the upcoming release of the game Space Bear but is convinced that it will be sold out before she can get a copy. She tries various things to get the money for the game. The strip ultimately reads as a message on the power of imagination. It’s a wonderfully drawn strip that really helps the reader along if their Irish isn’t the greatest, like myself!

Next up is  ‘An Chomharsa Nua’. It’s written and drawn by Clara Murphy with colours provided by Triona Farrell. The strip is about a young girl and appearance of a girl who is her new neighbour. The art and colours look great and do a great job of telling the story as the story contains very little text. A sweet story about interacting with someone who is different to ourselves. Do we allow our nervousness about the differences separate us or do we push past it?

‘Yó-Yó, Yó-Yóin agus an tUamhach Reoite’ is a PJ Holden story, which Holden handles art duties for with Scott Ferguson providing the script. Yó-Yó and his son, Yó-Yóin, are visiting the history museum to see the Frozen Man. They have only begun to admire the Frozen Man when the villain Professor Time appears with his own plans for the Frozen Man. The strip is a really fun superhero story with a nice twist at the end.

‘Cois Canála’ is a strip written and illustrated by Katie Fleming. The strip is about three dog, (Síofra, Saoirse and Siúcra) and what happens when they spend some time near a canal. It’s really nicely drawn/coloured and gives a nice sense of each of the dogs personalities, particularly the hyper/cheerful Siúcra.

The cover artist, Alan Ryan, tells the next story titled ‘An Gallán’. Two young hikers are out walking one day when they happen upon a Leprechaun who tricks them into taking possession of a small glowing orb. When the hikers reach the summit of the hill it quickly becomes obvious what the Leprechaun was up to. I very much liked the art and bright colours of the strip as well as the funny resolution to the story itself.

‘An Mhaighean Mhara’ is story by Triona Farrell about a young girl who is staying in a small cottage by the coast. Late one evening she sneaks out of the cottage for a walk only to happen upon mermaid. The young girl discovers that the mermaid is trapped in a small pool and cut off from the sea. A charming modern fairy-tale.

‘Brám Beag’ by Alan Nolan is great fun and reminds a little of the ‘No. 13’ from the Beano. Young monsters/ horror characters done in a comedy cartoon, something that really worked for me (both as a youngster and now). Nolans art is really well suited to this type of strip.

‘Lá Spóirt’ written by Mike Lynch and art by Rebecca Nalty. It’s sports day at a school for the supernatural. As you can imagine, there is plenty of opportunity of comedy with this story and Lynch doesn’t disappoint. Naltys art does well in emphasising the funnier moments of the story.

Maeve Clancy writes and does art for the final strip in the book, ‘Saoirse agus Sparán na Caillí Mairbhe’. Saoirse is walking along the beach when she happens upon a Witches Purse. She makes a wish and is transported beneath the sea to explore the sea-life (which the comic also invites the reader to do also with a challenge as part of the strip).

For my first time reading a Coimicí Gael comic, I was very impressed. The standard of the art and variety of the art styles was great to see. It also was great to be able to read through it and not be totally lost as to what was happening in the stories if you don’t have a lot of Irish, like myself. It’s also great to see how the standard of the Irish comic output is consistently getting higher and higher.

To get a copy of Ruaille Buaille check out the list of places selling the comic on the Coimicí Gael Facebook page.

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Review: Sons of Anarchy Redwood Original #5

Originally posted on Irish Comic News (19/Jan/2017)

Sons of Anarchy Redwood Original

Written by Ollie Masters.
Line Art by Eoin Marron.
Colour Art by Adam Metcalfe.
Letters by Ed Dukeshire.
Cover by Brahm Revel.

Sons of Anarchy Redwood Original follows the story of Jax Teller, a teenager just out of high school. The series follows him as he decides to prospect the Sons of Anarchy, a club that counted his deceased father and his stepfather as members.

I’ve not read the preceding four issues so I’ll be working out the story purely based on issue 5.

The Sons of Anarchy have a problem with an unknown gunman whom I gather has possibly stolen drugs or guns from the Sons of Anarchy. The Sons of Anarchy are trying to figure out how to resolve the problem without losing face amongst the biker community. Meanwhile, Jax is a guest of Opie and his father while he works on a way to get back into Clays good books.

As someone who has watched the TV show I found the comic to be quite close to the spirit of the show. It’s interesting to read about characters you’re familiar with from the show in a story set before the time of the show itself.

But the biggest thing that put this issue on my ‘must-buy’ list was that this issue was the US comic debut of Irish comic artist Eoin Marron. I’d see various pieces of his work shared via his Twitter account but I hadn’t read a 22-page comic produced by him so I just had to check this out.

Marron and Metcalfe work well together and produce a comic that looks great and has good readability. I really enjoyed re-reading the comic just to look over it from an art, layout and panel point-of-view.

The art is well placed with regard to the dialogue in that the dialogue doesn’t look like it was crammed in. Equally with panels where there is a lot in the background, the line art and colours make sure that what is important in the panel isn’t obscured. It was also nice that the center of the comic has two entirely wordless pages, thus requiring the art to do all the story.

It’s great to see an Irish getting their work into the US comics and displaying a really good understanding of putting a comic together. It’ll be interesting to see how Marron develops his art as he gets more comics under his belt. It was an great start and I look forward to  reading more comics by Marron.

In closing,  you’re a fan of the show then I’d really recommend it as it adds to the Sons of Anarchy world.

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Review: Specimen

Originally posted on Irish Comic News (7/Feb/2017)

Specimen: A Comics Lab Anthology.

Specimen is the second anthology from the Comics Lab. For those unfamiliar with the Comics Lab, it’s “an informal meet-up whose aim is to explore sequential story-telling, to generate platforms for comics made by its members and to stimulate a vibrant comics community in Dublin and Ireland. Founded by Sarah BowieDebbie Jenkinson and Paddy Lynch in May 2015.” (from the introduction of Specimen).

The anthology was designed by Dearbhla Kelly (who was also the project manager of the anthology). I like the choice of ‘Specimen’ as the theme of the anthology. The book itself is a specimen of the Irish comic scene, featuring thirty two contributors in total. You could also consider each story is a specimen of how to tell a story in comic format, be it abstract, comedic, sci-fi, dark humour etc. It’s also great to see some familiar name from the small-press mixed in with some new names.  Anthologies willing to give an opportunity to a creator to get their first strips out there can only help grow the Irish comic scene.

The first story is “Marianne North’s Last Discovery” by Olly Blake. The story follow the titular artist as she sails up a great river into the jungle in search of a flower she wished to capture in a painting. The strip itself had a Matt Kindt kinda vibe to it, both in terms of the art style and how the story unfolds. As someone who greatly enjoys the work of Kindt this meant the anthology was off to a flying start.

“True Love” is a bitter sweet story written by Jared Williamson and illustrated by Ashwin Chacko. It’s a well written story and I liked Chackos artwork, particularly an unusual detail on the faces of the characters. One thing that I felt could have done will a bit more polish was the lettering. Some of the lettering had one sentence with a nice bit of spacing between words and the following sentence looked like it was just rammed in. It meant that some words actually read a single word. It didn’t diminish the strip, just something for the letter to watch out for in future strips.

Barry Keegan provides the next strip, “Specimen”. A somewhat humorous short about what might end up in fast food. The strip is entirely wordless so the reader has to rely on the art to follow the story. Keegan does a good job leading the reader through the panels with each panel having enough visual information in it to keep the reader informed.

Another strip titled “Specimen” follows. This one is written by (yes, ICNs very own!) David Ferguson and illustrated by Brian Burke. The strip is a sci-fi story of the last human survivor who is taken aboard an alien ship. The crew of the alien ship are attempting to save the human race which is why they’ve taken the human onto their ship. Burke does a good job with the art, though I would have liked some solid blacks in the first panel to make the space ships really pop. It was great to see Ferguson get his first strip out into the world. A really fun strip by Ferguson and Burke. Worth it for the last panel!

“For love of the game” is written by Aaron Fever, illustrated by Katie Fleming and lettered by Zakk Saam. The strip is the story of the two worlds of professional footballer Jose Hernandez. The first page is of the dying minutes  of the last match of the season and immediately after. The following pages is what happens after Hernandez leaves the stadium. I loved how this comic was put together. Each page of the pages could be two individual strips so the transition of the story from the first to the second page is even more pronounced. It was a really good idea by the creative team. Equally having the first page really busy compared to the second. The strip sneaked up on me. I read it a couple of times but it didn’t click immediately how the two pages were being used. But when the penny dropped did I have a big smile on my face.

Anthea West provides the next strip to be titled “Specimen”. This strip sees West provide one of her creepy/spooky stories. I’m always impressed with how well she does these types of stories since I’m generally reading more fun/light stuff for here, like Fate for example. Honestly, how can someone creep you out with a story of a kid reflecting of the replacing of carpet with floorboards?? Read the strip and find out!

Claire Duggan provides the next offering with her “Propagate” strip. It’s a wordless sci-fi story. I don’t think I’ve seen Duggan do a comic strip before but this strip is beautifully illustrated. Some great choices of panels that tells a love story. I very much hope we’ll be seeing more artwork from Duggan soon.

“Mysteries of My Life no.17“ is written and illustrated by one of the Comics Lab founders, Debbie Jenkinson. It’s a funny strip based on a random assortment of items stolen from her home when she was a small child. When you see the items and how it’s actually made into a punchline you should get a good laugh out of it. If not, then the thieves probably stole your funny bone in addition to the items of the Jenkinson Heist!

Conor Tulloch writes and illustrates the strip “Accession”. An interesting short about a scientist and what happens when the specimen gets out of control. I liked the idea in the story and the artwork too. It’s quite close to the type of stories that can work well as a Future Shock in 2000AD.

“The Hunt” is written and illustrated by Karen Harte. This is another strip that doesn’t end how you expect when you start it. And it’s all the better a strip for it. The artwork really works for this strip. The story is a fun one so it’s only right to have a fun and energetic art style to amplify the fun sensibility of the story.

David Butler writes and illustrates (and over-shares!) in “Vasectomy Operation”. I honestly expected to spend my time reading with my legs crossed. It’s a credit to Butlers dialogue that I actually spent the time laughing at how the story unfolded. Make no mistake, it’s still a story about getting the snip. But thankfully with Butlers jovial dialogue, it’s a lot less painful than you would have expected.

Julie Nick gives us a preview of “Fighting Time” from Julie Nick’s Pulp Stories. A woman faces off against a mysterious group who have taken control of a train and loaded it up with explosives. It’s an action packed preview that will have you wanting to find out how the story plays out.

“Marbhlight” by Bebhinn McInerney and Dearbhla Kelly follows the story of a young woman who cycles into the local town to pick up some groceries. As she shops she catches bits of conversation about  some tragic happening about a young boy. The dialogue and art really draws the reader in. The story leaves the reader with more questions than answers, but in the way a good puzzle piques your curiosity.

Clare Foley writes and illustrates “Contaminant”, a sci-fi short that follows two stories. I very much enjoyed this as I didn’t see the ending coming. Another good example of pulling in the reader by not revealing anything about how the two stories relate to each other. The reader just has to read on if they want an answer.

“Trails” written and illustrated by Dermot Hegarty was a trickier story to wrap my head around. It seems to be a story about spending so much time with our faces in a smartphone on various apps. At least that’s the sensation that the heavy use of birds-eye views of the character(s) gave me. I almost felt like I was looking down into my smartphone. It’s a somewhat ambiguous strip (especially due to it having no captions or dialogue), but that only lead to me reading it again and again to try figure it out.

John Corrigan writes and illustrates “The Pacifist”, a strip which tells the story of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. He was a pacifist that lived around the time of the Easter Rising. Knowing nothing about the man I found this strip to be quite interesting. It gives a good sense of the man and might lead some readers searching out more information on the man. It’s a good example of how a comic can be used to tell people about historical people or events.

“A Tear In Jean” is written and illustrated by Leeann Hamilton. It’s a silent strip with some excellent illustration by Hamilton. It sees an astronaut meet an archer in an opening in a forest. The astronaut is clearly searching for something and seeks assistance from the archer. The ending suggests that the strip could possibly be part of a larger story. I hope that this is the case as I’m curious about the complete story of the astronaut and archer. And the art’s nice to look at.

“Specimen” by Katherine Foyle is set in a park where a mother with a stroller and a young son meet a friend of the mother. The story is one of those moments that many kids have while their parent is chatting to a friend. The kid starts to take notice of whats around them. Which leads them to having a “did I really just see that happen?” moment. The art suits the story and I liked how there are no borders on each of the panels. The art just seems to end. Almost like it was a series of photographs on a page.

Next up we have the horror short, “Drip”, written by John Ward and illustrated by Kurt Krol. Alice is home minding her younger brother while her parents are out for the night. Considering that it’s only a two page short, the comic does a pretty job of building up some tension.

Katie Fleming writes and illustrates “Places”. A short that brings the reader through various places as seen by the sleeping person in the first panel. Places that seem ordinary, to more exotic places and even to some fantastical places. The story is almost totally wordless so the art has to convey he sense of the various places. Which it does rather well. Also, I want a comic about the second place in the sequence of places!

“A Specimen of Womanimal” by All Things Thom is a funny and odd comic. It’s another new name discovered in this anthology and I’ll be taking a look at more of his stuff as I enjoyed the strange sense of humour displayed in this comic.

“Shush” by Marianna Mooney moves into a darker looking comic story. The artwork really gives this story a claustrophobic feel, which is somewhat amplified by the use of a single sound effect throughout the strip.

Olly Cunningham delivers his usual dark and cynical sense of humour in “Two for Joy”.  The comic is well done and you could actually follow the story by the art alone. That said, the dialogue does give the personality to the characters in the strip.

The penultimate strip is a sample of the “Retired” story from Project Crossroads. It’s written by Adlai McCook, illustrated by Sean Hogan and lettered by Kerrie Smith. The strip gives you a sense of the story about “Britain’s Man in Black”. It’s a well put together strip which should have readers checking out the Project Crossroads, if they haven’t already.

The final strip is “Free Wine” written and illustrated by Jaime Lalor. It’s fun strip about a couple at an art show. This was another new name to myself, and must say I really enjoy this story. The art, character design and joke just worked for me.

The anthology really does highlight a great selection of comic creators that out there in the Irish comic scene. It’s great to see something such as the Comics Lab helping to grow the scene and help new voices find a place to start out.

There’s a great variety to the types of stories and the styles of art. It just goes to show that there are many different ways to tell a story in comic format.

The anthology comes in at 52 pages, which considering it is sells for €4 (including postage), makes it a bargain for anyone interested in checking out some Irish made comics.

You can find the Comics Lab on Facebook or  Twitter.

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Review: Epilogue

Originally posted on Irish Comic News (21/Feb/2017)

Review: Epilogue – a ghost story.

Written, illustrated and coloured by Stuart McCune.

Epilogue is the latest comic from McCune which he produced as a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign (Epilogue being his fifth campaign in the space of about 12 months).  I like that Kickstarter is giving comic creators the opportunity to get their comics out into the world, especially with creators like McCune who get a new comic out every couple of months.

The Kickstarter pitch for Epilogue was: “Epilogue is a stand alone graphic novella. It is a ghost story like no other and will certainly remain with you. In tone it is equal parts Poe, Conrad, and Fitzgerald. The plot revolves around four people who return to a house on a deserted island and then things get… well you’ll just have to read it to find out.”

Even if I hadn’t previously backed McCune’s other campaigns, that pitch would have piqued my interest. A ghost story set on a deserted island? That’s the sort of story that could easily appear in the reading pile. That it was produced by an Irish comic creator made it a certainty in this case.

The story is narrated by one of the four characters which builds on the story that is experienced by the characters.  Some of the narration had a lyrical quality to it which I enjoyed greatly. It added another dimension to the comic that the reader could enjoy.

The art is really interesting. At times it has a dream-like quality to it and at some points moves almost into the abstract. And even in the more straight-forward panels, there are designs layered on top of the art that look like glyphs of some sort. The use of colours is well used to set the tone of the various scenes throughout the comic. I liked how some of the panels had no black lines and are composed by colour alone. There’s also a nice effect at one point in the story where the page layout changes to amplify that moment in the story.

Epilogue is an interesting ghost story that is a welcome addition to McCune’s ever growing comic catalogue. If you want to read an engaging ghost story with a distinctive visual style, this may be the comic for you.

You can buy Epilogue on Bigcartel.

To keep up with McCunes comic output, you can find him on Twitter.

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Review: James Bond – Black Box #1

Originally posted on Irish Comic News (24/Mar/2017)

James Bond 007 – Black Box

Written by Benjamin Percy.
Line art by Rapha Lobosco.
Colour art Chris O’Halloran.
Letters by Simon Bowland.

James Bond is a character that I’ve been a fan of for almost as long as I’ve enjoyed comics, but this is actually my first James Bond comic to read.

But as much as I like Mr Bond, it was the contributions from Rapha Lobosco and Chris O’Halloran that really sold this title for me. If anyone has read ‘Dreamweaver’ drawn by Lobosco (and written by Hugo Boylan) from the Black, White and Grey collection then they probably had the same reaction as myself when Lobosco announced he would be providing the line art for this comic. For any of you wondering, I thought it was a perfect fit. ‘Dreamweaver’ looked just like what I imagined a Bond comic would look like.

Black Box is a strong opening issue that wastes no time setting the mood and tone of the story. The opening scene written by Benjamin Percy is the type of scene that would be quite familiar to Bond movie fans. In a very short time the scene is full of the action and excitement that we come to expect from a Bond story. The story does a great job of giving you just enough that you want to see what the issue will reveal.

This issue is Lobosco’s debut with an American publisher and it couldn’t have been a better title to make it with. His previous work showed he could draw the type of characters needed for a Bond comic. Because this is a Bond comic, the action sequences can run for panels (or even pages) without dialogue or captions. This means that the artist has to move the story along through visuals entirely. No small task for any artist. Lobosco gets the job done in style (much like Mr Bond!). There’s some nice use of different camera angles in the chase sequence to give it a good sense of speed and danger.

Joining Lobosco on this title is another familiar name to many of you, Chris O’Halloran. To my recollection, this is the first time I’ve seen O’Halloran colour Loboscos artwork. Not that you’d guess that with how well the line and colour art work together. There are three locations in the issue, the alpine region of the opening scene, MI6 headquarters and Tokyo. Each of the locations look quite distinct from the other in terms of colour. In the alpine sequence, I really liked the use of orange filling the background of a panel to amplify the action in it. It really draws the eye and makes those panels stand out from the others on the page. I have to say I loved the colours in the Tokyo pages. The colour choices instantly made me think of Tokyo before reading any text on the page. Strong colours that gave a sense of being bombarded by neon-signs.

I thorougly enjoyed this comic, both as a Bond fan and as someone checking out artwork by two artists from the Irish comic scene. I can’t wait to see how this story develops. I’m also quite excited to see how the art by Lobosco and O’Halloran evolves over the course of the series.

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