Wednesday, 1 April 2020



Hello

Once upon a time this would of course be New Comics Day 
&
WILL be again one day
In the meantime...

Hope your as anxiety free as one can be in this new reality.

Everyone here is doing fine and we are all in touch,
 healthy and keeping our social distance from the world.

The Comics Industry?

Hmm that's a different matter all together.

There is A LOT of moving pieces in the industry at the moment from publishers to distributors 
and its impossible to predict what the outcome will be.

The big not great news came out that Diamond have decided to withhold payment to Comic
and Game suppliers.
In case you didn't know Diamond have a sister company Alliance that distributes Board games and collectible card games such as Magic the Gathering.
This is not a great situation what with Marvel and DC accounting for 80% of all new comics sold.
You can read about over at the very level headed ICv2 site
https://icv2.com/articles/news/view/45534/diamond-alliance-suspend-regular-payments

Where this all lands is anyone's guess but we have seen similar turmoil in the industry and survived it.

For fans who were collecting in the 90's this is familiar ground with the 'Distributor Wars' between Capital City
Heroes World and Diamond-who eventually emerged victorious.

Here is a brief timeline of those events from the fantastic https://www.comichron.com/comicstimeline.html

April 5, 1980: Capital City Distribution incorporates in Madison, Wis.

Feb. 1, 1982: Steve Geppi founds Diamond Comic Distributors. 

1984: Capital City Distribution begins publishing indexed preorder figures in its Internal Correspondence newsletter. Diamond Comic Distributors would follow much later, in its Diamond Dialogue magazine.

1987: DC comics stops sending subscription copies Second Class, so it stops printing circulation figures.

1988: Diamond purchases Bud Plant Inc., a major West Coast distributor, giving it a national reach for the first time.

Sept. 18, 1992: Diamond announces the acquisition of Titan Distributors, the United Kingdom's largest comics distributor.

May 29, 1994: After Marvel breaks ties with regional distributor Comics Unlimited following that distributor's public criticism of Marvel's mail order "Marvel Mart" circular, Diamond acquires the assets and liabilities of Comics Unlimited.

Aug. 1, 1995: Marvel begins exclusively distributing comics to comics shops through its own distributor, Heroes World Distribution.

July 1996: Diamond Comic Distributors absorbs Capital City Distribution. Its reports now covered most of the non-Marvel comics shop sales.

April 1997: Marvel folded Heroes World and returned its sales to Diamond. Diamond's sales reports thereafter covered most of the comics ordered by comics shops.


We really are just spectators as these ancient Kaiju bloody the waters.

We are probably a good while off from regular shipments
 of new comics into the UK I'm afraid to say-
but we will keep you posted.


Stay safe
Stephen
&
The Dave's Family
xxx

Sunday, 29 March 2020


Sunday 29th March

Hello

Well that was week one of the lock-down out of the way.

I hope that between the uncertainty and anxiety you
 dived into some exquisite sequential treasures.

Wednesday felt very odd 
without shelves of fresh comic temptations
 but this is but a wee pause.

In the meantime why not check this out

Diamond contacted us this morning with FREE links to the complete Previews magazines that
I'm allowed to share with you all.
So take a peak into the future for product that was scheduled to ship in June.
In all likelihood I would imagine these titles will be pushed forward into the year to ship August or September.

https://joom.ag/q8WC  Previews (US Edition)
https://joom.ag/T8WC  Previews (UK Pages)

If you would like to add any of these title to your standing order
drop me a line at

orders@davescomics.co.uk

Keep Safexxx


Stephen






Monday, 23 March 2020

Monday 23rd 2020
COMIC DELIVERY UPDATE

Hello everyone

We had hoped to provide a standing order service on Thursday but that will no longer be possible.

All non essential shops are now shut for at least 3 weeks so we won't be reopening until the middle of April at the very earliest I'm afraid to say.

Let me assure you that your subscription will be saved for you regardless of the length of this grotty situation.
All our orders are confirmed and we have just placed our comic orders for titles shipping in May but we fully expect publishers to cancel release dates.

The immediate future looks a little rough for comics as the supply chain of Canadian printers to road haulage to Distribution centers to Air Freight has been disrupted. 
Diamond UK is the last link in this chain and they no longer have Air Freight available to them.

So that’s where the industry is as I’m writing.
It will bounce back it just may be a slightly different shape.


 So I guess we all have a bit of time on our hands.
I'll be keeping you updated with any news regarding Diamond etc & you can write to us at orders@davescomics.co.uk or Twitter or on Instagram.
We have had people asking about mail order but without new product to ship out its not really an option.
We have some ideas to float and as soon as they are a little more solid I'll let you all know.

My promise to you wonderful standing order customers
 is that when we can reopen safely 
your comics will be waiting for you
with a healthy layer of discount sprinkled on top.

Please stay safe 
&
We hope to see you all very soon

Stephen and The Dave’s Family

Friday, 20 March 2020

Please read x




20th March 2020
Hello beloved comic connoisseurs!
Strange Days indeed!
These are super unsettling times for you & your families us & our loved ones and we have been mindful of how best to provide a service to you while conscientiously ‘doing the right thing’.
In my opinion and in my heart ‘doing the right thing’ is all about dissuading people from leaving their homes at this unprecedented moment in time.
Yesterday the Government announced the closing of schools from Friday and helped make the following decision a little easier to make.

We are going to TEMPORARILY close both of our shops on Sydney Street to the general public from 6pm this Friday 20th March through until the Friday 3rd of April
As a courtesy to all who miss our social media postings 
We will have a limited opening in Dave's #3  Sydney Street tomorrow Saturday 21st  10 am - 4 pm 
#5 Sydney Street will be closed to the public 
but Standing Order customers will still be able to pick up their comics.
Just pop into #3 (please respect social distancing etiquette) and we will open up #5 for you.

Did I mention TEMPORARILY?
As in for a LITTLE BIT

As in NOT PERMANENTLY

As in BRIEF HIATUS

As in WE OWN ONE OF OUR BUILDINGS WE ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE, EVEN IF YOU SECRETLY WANTED US TO!

COMICS WILL BE AVAILABLE TO PURCHASE DURING THIS TIME IN A MYRIAD OF WAYS
  We will cover that separately down below**
I mean we LOVE THEM and YOU that’s never going change but Diamond UK is having its own set of problems to navigate.
That means the next New Comic delivery will be delayed but more on that later.

LET’S ALL TAKE A LONG, DEEP BREATH AND CHILL OUT!

That’s how we all feel and trust me we’ve consulted with the best!
That’s you, our wonderful thoughtful courteous customers and our fantastic staff.

If we open our front doors at 9.30 Saturday morning, we will be undoubtedly be visited by some who will respect social distancing and be exemplary in behaviour and manner.
But we will also be visited by A LOT of young families, groups of kids, exotic tourists, the curious and the like who may not have your health or your loved ones guiding their behaviour.

WE ARE NOT JUST PART OF THE PROBLEM, WE ARE THE PROBLEM!

We have spent Four Decades trying to tempt you incredible people in to browse, touch and fall in love with this medium or buy a toy or a game or a whatever, and we Thank you thank you thank you for it and if I could I would elbow bump the lot of you!
But now is the time NOT to visit us (temporarily) for a bit.

FLATTEN THAT CURVE TOGETHER!

We all have a collection of rapidly increasing images and stories of PANIC! buying and unfortunate examples of undisciplined civic acts, whether in the Supermarkets or on the streets.
Which is why we are responsibly sitting this out until people CHILL OUT and acclimatize to this (temporary) new world.

FINANCIAL SELF-INFLICTED FLESH WOUND!
Yes, it will hurt us a bit, but we’ve saved our pennies for unpredictable rainy days and this certainly fits the bill.

*SO THAT’S ALL NOBLE, BUT WHEN IS NEW COMIC DAY AND HOW DO I GET THEM?

Diamond Comic Distributors in the UK have had to make alternative arrangements in the air freighting of goods into the UK because of the ever tightening restrictions currently being enforced.
The latest news from Diamond came last evening 18th March and I’ve included part of it below
Dear Retailers,
Our shipment for new product due for release on Wednesday 25th March is now likely to arrive two days later than our normal shipment would have, this will undoubtably have a knock on effect as to when we can get this product shipped and into your hands. We have spoken to our shippers and delivery agents/couriers who are all prepared and ready to make the same pre-booked deliveries on the earliest day possible next week, all being well we can confirm this day to you before the end of this week.

I guess MAYBE THURSDAY 26TH OF FRIDAY 27TH but MAYBE NOT.
When we have a confirmed fixed date, we will update on DAVESCOMICS.CO.UK and all the social media.
We will be VERY accommodating to your needs regarding the collection of Standing Orders on the designated day of release.
More details to follow.
We have always offered a mail order service, so if you want to go down that route just drop us a line. If you want to pay in advance to speed up the checkout process, we can do that too.
If you are currently not a Standing Order customer, please email us at orders@davescomics.co.uk with your comic requirements from the week’s shipment and we will prepare your order.

DON’T WORRY I’VE ALMOST FINISHED

So in closing
I’m SO SORRY if this seems totally selfish & ludicrous & unfair.
It’s going to certainly be an inconvenience to anyone coming to the front doors and seeing them shuttered come Saturday morning, for sure.
But I hope if that’s you
And you read this after that wasted trip
You understand that’s it’s because we really do care about you and everyone in this city more than we care about profits.
(Although don’t get me wrong we LOVE profit too!)
And what’s the point of being an INDEPENDENT
 If we can’t just once in a while
 Silence the sound of the till
And listen to our dumb deep hearts
&
‘Do the right thing’

‘Nuff said
xxx


Disclaimer!
We are in no way casting shade on any part of the retail community who, lacking our privileged position as freeholders or financial position, HAVE to stay open during these fairly grotty times.
We love you all xxx
Stephen and the Dave’s family
David’s Books & Comics Ltd
20th March 2020

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

THE GOLDEN AGE by Roxanne Moreil & Cyril Pedrosa

“You can’t change the natural order of the world.”

It’s rare for a book to be truly for all ages, striking a balance between making the characters and plot for younger readers to relate to, but also edifying for older readers and for any action sequences to feel dramatic without being explicit. The Golden Age: Book One (First Second) achieves this balancing act along with glorious levels of comics artwork. Set in a fictional version of the medieval era, The Golden Age refers to a Utopian society of fairness and equality that was long ago replaced by a more familiar system of class structure and subjugation. When the young Princess Tilda is on the verge of inheriting her late father’s kingdom, she is usurped and banished with just two allies for company. Whilst in the forest, Tilda is struck by a vision of herself dressed as warrior – she decides it’s her destiny to reclaim the throne and free the populace from oppression.

But what version of leadership would that entail? This is the theme that drives the book alongside the moments of danger and intrigue – Tilda’s ideas of simply ruling better are challenged, testing the loyalty of one of her companions which reflects the concerns of the reader. This is where the book differs from the archetypal fairy story, in it's posing of philosophical questions.


Although The Golden Age is writer Roxanne Moreil’s first graphic novel, she comes from a background that is steeped in the French comics scene as a bookseller and as part of comics collective in publishing. The art by Cyril Pedrosa is stunning. The detailed linework feels as if it has been etched into stone tablets but the extraordinary colour palette is used not only to fill the space, but also of the linework itself, sometimes giving it the apearanc of coloured thread in a tapestry. The opening pages following characters talking in a forest is ablaze in reds and oranges making it feel as though we’ve joined a world on fire. Pedrosa has worked for Disney in the past and there’s a beautifully flowing expressiveness to his characters that brings to mind old Disney cartoons of The Sword In The Stone and Jungle Book era.


That’s not to say the book feels like a storyboard for a movie. The use of panel sizes and framing are exemplary and the frequent double page spreads (suitably displayed in the large hardcover format) of characters travelling through the land give the story an epic sense of scale. They’re also brilliantly employed to heighten the wordless denouement, leaving a suitably dramatic cliff-hanger for the second and final volume. If it’s as good as this one, the series deserves to be hailed a modern classic. 




Wednesday, 11 March 2020

DEAD EYES by Gerry Duggan & John McCrea

“I got pajama-piercing bullets!”

Modern day Robin Hood’s are a great theme for the action genre addressing the frustrations of the wealth divide while having the all fun of a villain. Dead Eyes (Image) was one such righteous renegade who, we are told, was labelled as a masked criminal during a spree of robberies in the 1990’s. Then he disappeared, seemingly after one last job where he stole millions of dollars from a mob boss. Except he wasn’t responsible on that occasion and had actually given it all up to look after his wheelchair-bound girlfriend. Now he’s forced out of retirement due to a moment of moral obligation and, more importantly, he’s not earning enough in his regular job to cover the mounting medical bills. Both reasons feel real and relevant enough to ground the story as well as affording the central character just enough sympathy as he punches shoots his way through anyone that gets in his way.



Artist John McCrea worked on Garth Ennis’s Hitman series in the 90’s, and he brings a loose kinetic style which captures the pace and action. The simple but effective design for Dead Eyes will surely have TV and movie commissioning editors sniffing round for their next project. Although the book is essentially serious, Gerry Duggan was a writer for Marvel’s Deadpool and when Dead Eyes pulls on the mask, his dialogue is shot-through with the same humour – minus the nihilistic craziness. However, Duggan doesn’t lose sight of the moral argument here: Who are the villains: Dead Eyes’ victims? Dead Eyes himself for choosing violence? The Hospital company for overcharging its patients?


There are only four issues in this opening collection, but it has dramatic punch, humour and heart.


Wednesday, 4 March 2020

SECOND COMING by Mark Russell & Richard Pace


The main headline here is that this is the series that DC succumbed to pressure to cancel before the first issue was released. Ironically, the DC imprint Vertigo was eventually closed and Second Coming (Ahoy Comics) found a new publisher.

The story that religious campaigners took issue with involves a very human God – with volatile temper and ego – who feels that while he knows how to use his own power, his son Jesus wastes his by rejecting it for his belief in non-interventionist peace and forgiveness. Initially reluctant to send Jesus to Earth again for his education (given how things turned out the last time, some 2000 years ago) God spots the activities of Earth’s mightiest hero Sunstar and asks him to allow Jesus to move in with him so that he can teach him to make use of his power.



This conceit has mismatched couple comedy written all over it but writer Mark Russell doesn’t indulge in it too much beyond an early outing when Jesus accompanies Sunstar on a raid of a villain’s lair. While this is a humorous book, Russell has plenty of serious points to make in his exploration of religion and the responsibility of power. As we’ve seen from other examples over the years (Garth Ennis has been there with The Pro and Preacher), normalising superheroes or grounding religious deities can be comical and thought-provoking. With Second Coming, Russell has mixed the two which adds depth to the idea of mythology and parables and how they can be misinterpreted and manipulated to suit our own purposes or teach us universal truths about life.


Artistically the book is excellent. For the sections involving just God or Jesus, we have Richard Pace’s sketchy-looking artwork ably capturing both a tone for both human forms and flashbacks of religious events. With the sections involving Sunstar, superhero comic regular Leonard Kirk finishes Pace’s art to give it that recognisable superhero comic look. At once it captures the way two worlds are colliding, but ones which seem to belong together.


For all the complaints DC received about the idea behind Second Coming, the final product is refreshingly clean-cut, wrapping insightful philosophical debate with a delicate mix of absurd humour and drama.

SNUG by Catana Chetwynd

There is a long tradition of short one-to-three panel comics about the nuances of love and relationships, such as the Love Is… series created by Kim Casali inspired by the love notes she used to leave for her future husband. They tended to feature serious observations about what makes love work along with a drawing of a cute couple always shown in the nude bizarrely (well it was the 1960’s). Snug (Andrews McMeel Publishing) collecting work from Catana Chetwynd’s popular webcomic as well as 50 percent new material, beautifully follows this tradition in its own way. Instead of the lessons, we get recreations of cute moments between her and her boyfriend John.




Chetwynd’s self-taught artwork is confident and appealing with cute exaggerated renditions of herself and her boyfriend (forget Baby Yoda, here we have Baby Admiral Ackbar) which is the secret to the how affecting they are.

Whether or not you’re in a position to recognise the feelings and your own variations of those moments, it’s difficult not to feel inspired to give in to any goofy romantic notions you have. Maybe they all point to one important lesson: it doesn’t matter how love is expressed or experienced as long as it is. Fight complacency folks!


Wednesday, 26 February 2020

THE PLAIN JANES by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg


Teenage life graphic novels have been a growing genre recently so it’s nice to see Plain Janes (Little Brown) make a reappearance after the first two graphic novels were released in 2007 and 2008. This compendium includes both stories, plus a third previously unpublished. The book starts in the most dramatic way. Jane Beckles is walking through her home city when a bomb explodes leaving her pulling herself off the ground near an unconscious man laying with his pad on which the words ‘Art Saves’ is written. It’s a beautifully elegant way of capturing the theme of the book.

Jane’s parents relocate the family to the suburbs where she feels out of place and alone until she meets a group of loners (if that isn’t an oxymoron) who barely even talk to each other. Jane talks them into secretly decorating the town with art and from there they form friendships.


While keeping the pace quick and the tone quite light, writer Cecil Castellicci manages to cover not only the changing dynamic between friends over the years – including arguments, romances, and problems with adults – but also touches on modern anxieties of big issues such as terrorism, all while providing an inspiring meditation on the importance and benefits of art. At one point Jane says: “I’m constantly reminded that the world can be a dangerous place and that things can change in an instant.” But what comes through is that change can be neither wholly positive or negative but merely bring new opportunities and challenges. 

Recent teenage graphic novels have often exhibited a slightly more cartoony style of art that reflects the influence of Manga and animation. Jim Rugg’s more grounded artwork feels entirely appropriate here, showing that just because teenage emotions can be volatile, it doesn’t mean that they’re always expressed that way. It’s interesting to see how his style has developed in the interim years of the original novels to softer, more confident line-work.

Fans of the original books may be a little narked to have to buy them again to get the new story, but the price presents excellent value for money and there’s the nice touch of having each story in a different monochrome. For the target audience this is a great way to read the read the series because for a character-led tale, the longer you spend with the characters, the more attached you become to them.



Incidentally, Jim Rugg hosts an excellent You Tube channel entitled Cartoonist Kayfabe which explores the minutiae of the comics world which can often be heard playing in our shop.


Wednesday, 19 February 2020

BAD ISLAND by Stanley Donwood


Recalling how Earth looks like a marble from space, Bad Island (Hamish Hamilton) begins with a ball divided into three parts, recognisable as sea, earth and sky. Over eighty images, artist Stanley Donwood chronicles the evolution of a world, from the swirling lines of sea, the rising of land and the eventual formation of life. The stark monochromatic art resembling lino-cut prints are simple and emotive capturing the violence and harshness of nature, leading to the destruction mankind brings upon itself and the world. The book is called Bad Island for a reason; it feels like a restless dark spiral, punctuated with periods of equilibrium and symbiosis. On closer inspection, we find the presence of black shadow forms with tiny white eyes which are present in the early stages and in the end of days. Do they represent dark spirits, or the original sin that will always be the root of our undoing? Or maybe they are a reminder that all things will come to an end carrying us towards the cycle which returns the world to the state it was initially found in.

Having produced all the artwork for Radiohead’s albums, Stanley Donwood is adept at producing unsettling images and this book feels like an expression of frustration mankind’s natural instincts to destroy. While animals and birds feature, humans do not except for their buildings, bombs, war planes and industrial smoke filling the skies. There are however, two illustrations which feature the back of a naked bald-headed man as if he is spying on events, once on village huts, but also earlier due the Jurassic era. Is the Donwood inserting himself into proceedings as the chronicler?


Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg

Desolate moorlands have such a strong association with the works of Bronte sisters so it’s fitting that Glass Town (Jonathan Cape), a biography of sorts, should begin with Charlotte Bronte out alone amongst them. Charlotte is approached by a gentleman she appears to know who wants her to talk about her past, and so begins her recollections of childhood when she and her siblings – Branwell, Emily and Anne – created a fictional world; The Glass Town Confederacy. It soon becomes apparent that the man she is talking to is actually a character from this long-neglected world, and so we are introduced to a major theme of the book, about how the attention and affection put into creating a fictional world can impede on reality. Charlotte Bronte recalls how she succumbed to what she called “scribblemania” and began to lose sight of what was important around her and the characters from the world began to bleed into her real life. For her, the fairy tale-like world they created is actually something to be cautious of and avoided.


There are three narratives at work in the story: the present, involving the conversation between the older Charlotte Bronte and the character she created; the past, showing the Bronte siblings creating the world and the affect it has on their relationships with each other; also the fictional world of Glass Town, which focuses on a compelling tug-of-love story between five characters which manages to escalate to the point of war. This is the area where author-illustrator Isabel Greenberg had to employ some creative licence, not because there is so little that exists from the Bronte siblings work on Green Town, but because there is so much. Greenberg has spoken of (in an interview with The Guardian here) "Tolkien levels" to the quality and scale of world-building, which she had to shape into something a little more straightforward for the purpose the book. 


The artwork is charming and evocative – rough, child-like drawings in pencil and charcoal, in what Greenberg has referred to as a scratchy finish. The small hands and feet draw attention to heads and therefore expressions, and the overall affect makes them look like cardboard characters in a Victorian toy theatre; as if they were actually all part of a fiction created by children. The backgrounds have the impression of wood cut prints and the colouring contrasts the brightness of the fictional world with a more monochromatic depiction of reality.  


Incidentally, Jonathan Cape have done a great job with the production of the book; an appropriately sized hardcover with a red ribbon page marker and gold embossed lettering for the title to accompany the bold cover illustration. 


Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Pass Me By: Gone Fishin'


On first glance, Pass Me By Book One: Gone Fishin’ (Renegade Arts Entertainment) appears to be a quietly affecting account of an old guy in a small northern Canadian town coming to terms with the early stages of dementia. Ed goes fishing with his lifelong friend – which we know through flashbacks and their shared recollections – hangs out in diners, talks about his daughter, struggles with shopping and remembering where he parked his car, and almost gets into a fight in a bar when he becomes confused during a game of pool.

There’s no dramatic resolution to the story, because there doesn’t really seem to be a dramatic narrative drive to resolve. But there is more going on here. This is only book one in a planned five book series and the blurb on the back of the book describes it as a coming of age story about understanding queer identity; this, despite there being no mention of homosexuality in the story except for when Ed loses his temper with a Sheriff who has been waffling on, just at the moment when he makes a disparaging passing comment about a gay couple. There are also hints of something more within the panels: a lipstick falls out of Ed’s old biker jacket; there are marks on the wall of missing framed photos amongst the ones of his wife and daughter and fishing with his friend; and the kitchen table is littered with notes which look like messages of love.


Pass Me By has been brought about through Kickstarter funding. Illustrated by Kyle Simmers and co-written by Simmers and Ryan Danny Owen, the pace is slow and measured, focusing on detail, like the drawing on a cigarette and a character retelling a seemingly unimportant piece of gossip. The style is ever-so-slightly cartoony – the characters have little white circles for eyes – and nicely expressive, and coloured with different shades of two colours; pink and turquoise, with the pink acting a signifying colour, drawing attention to items and potential themes. 

A book that feels very much like its protagonist, surrounded with an air of mystery and depth.




The Girl From The Other Side volume 7

There's always that dilemma with reading a graphic novel, particularly if it's one that has less text; often they can be devoured in one long sitting, but does that dilute the experience? Should you savour that first reading by restricting your reading time with them? In the case of The Girl From The Other Side (Seven Seas Entertainment), the artwork demands closer inspection, whether you whizz through the story and return afterwards, or you take your time with each page.

A mixture of blocks of black, but also fine delicate line-work, there's something both timeless and ancient about artist Nagabe’s work – like Victorian photographs of a medieval fairy tale. The Outsiders in the story are cursed with the appearance of blackness that has twisted their shape to varying degrees so that they resemble skeletal goats, or deer as if they were slowly transforming into barren winter trees. The affect is not quite scary, but certainly unsettling.


There is a dream-like quality to both story and art. In this most recent volume, Shiva, the sought-after little girl who is in the care of an Outsider known as Teacher, runs from pursuers in a nightshirt looking like Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo. In the way that dreams veer between the enchanting and disturbing, crows watch events and speak to each other like the chorus in a play, but they have also sharpened their beaks to resemble teeth.


As is sometimes the case with translated work, the dialogue can be a little stilted (in one panel a soldier cries mid-battle; “The monster is unmistakably trying to kill me!”), but on the whole it adds to feeling of other-worldliness that lingers long after reading and invites a return to its pages. 


Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Year of the Rabbit

Maybe you have only the vaguest awareness of the events in Cambodia from 1975 when an uprising by the collective known as the Khmer Rouge seized power from the Government, if only for the name of its leader Pol Pot, a name that became infamous among ruthless dictators in history. Essentially, the regime set about evacuating all major cities and instigated a brutal version of Communism that resulted in the deaths of some two million of its own people, making it one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century.

Although Year of the Rabbit (Drawn & Quarterly) keeps the reader aware of the political context, the book is more concerned with the civilians-eye view of events, and the general populace were told very little about what was happening to them. Author and illustrator Tian Veasna was born three days after the Khmer Rogue took control. The book tells his father’s story as he desperately tries to look after his extended family while they are stripped of possessions and shipped out to work in rural villages which were nothing more than labour camps. He learns to lie about his previous life (the educated were ‘removed’ and never seen again) and walk a narrow tightrope of not offending the guards or infringing the strict laws of behaviour where even the most minor misdemeanour was punished with death. Children were separated from parents and taught to spy on them and people were kept on the verge of starvation, working on the land to grow food that they weren’t allowed to eat.
With delicate, loose line-work, Veasna captures a feeling of immediacy, as if the sketches are being drawn at the time, like a diary. The style also reflects the constant state of uncertainty the characters are living with - the book is filled with frightened eyes and sweaty, nervous expressions. There is little attempt to heighten tension with dramatic devices but there is no need to do so as it would only add melodrama to such a naturalistic style of storytelling. 

Year of the Rabbit is a perfect example of how the graphic novel can be an important way of telling such a horrific true story; an easily digestible format, which still manages to lose none of the power to appal or act as a testament to human resilience. 




The Runaway Princess

A new graphic novel imprint from a major publisher is something to be celebrated – comics and graphic novels certainly need the investment and promotion. The Runaway Princess marks the first release from Random House Graphic which will focus on books for kids and younger teens.

It’s worth pointing out that despite the title and the slightly fearful look of the central character on the cover of the book, the story and mood within its pages is entirely fun and offbeat – the princess is running towards adventure rather than away from something fearful. She soon meets a small group of boys who remain her friends throughout the book. The fairy-tale world is full of impossibilities (mermaids in bubbles, floating baths, little pumpkin people) and the three stories have an air of aimless whimsy told in child-like art like a far-flung offshoot from the Dungeon series by the great Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar. The colouring is almost neon in its vividness which heightens a sense of the alien to the familiar shapes of castles, giants and fish floating through the air.


Importantly, the characters are all charming. Princess Robin is eternally curious and good-natured – I particularly loved how, even when she is kidnapped, she helps her kidnappers write ransom notes and convinces them to put on a musical show for the people that turn up with the ransom so that they will feel that they have got value for money.
 
The format is quite short and chunky, which may be a challenge for little fingers, but there are some nice pages of interactivity such as mazes, spot-the-character-in-a-crowd, or even a request to the reader to close the book and shake it! 

There have been plenty of studies about the benefits of reading with with regards to social and cognitive development, whether thru traditional novels or sequential art. The key is in recognising the variety within the medium, from story genre to art style, which is why it's so important when a publisher like Random House enters the market because the more books on the market, the more chance people have of finding something that their kids will love. 

You can check out an interview with the creator Johan Troianowski on The Beat here.




Wednesday, 22 January 2020

The Wolf Of Baghdad


Carol Isaacs is a musician and illustrator who, under the name The Surreal McCoy, has contributed to The New Yorker, The Spectator and Private Eye. Although she was born and raised in England, her family originated from Iraq but fled during the pogrom in the 1940’s. In a few years almost the entire population of 150,000 Jews had either perished or fled the city of Baghdad. The Wolf Of Baghdad (Myriad) is a graphic memoir in which Isaacs, as the central character, dreams about life in the era. 

In the opening, musical notes drift through the London sky until we find the author in her living room looking troubled. She retrieves a box of photographs which then litter the page as the musical notes did – a lovely touch to convey a sense that they are having the same influence on her as the music does. 

The pages of wordless story then start to become punctuated with drawings of photos of faces accompanied by quotes about life in the old days. As the protagonist lays on the sofa and drifts off to sleep, she is led on journey back to Baghdad where she watches ghostly forms enjoy a life of peaceful integration and cultural cohesion. While the pages of sequential art are wordless, the pages of real-life quotes illuminate and compliment the images. Then, feeling as if it was down to nothing more than a random change in public opinion, we see the rise in Nazi propaganda and the attitude towards the Jewish community turns against them.



There is a lot to cover in the book – to convey the life before the pogrom so that the reader can appreciate the loss, but also keeping it brief to maintain the dreamlike quality – and Isaacs manages the pacing really well. The personal testaments ground the work amongst the figures of the past who, unnervingly are depicted as ghosts so that the spectre of death lingers throughout the book. The linework is simple with a na├»ve style that brings to mind Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis except warmer and less abstract. The artwork is also coloured nicely, starting with a greyscale in the opening pages and then, like the movie Wizard of Oz, becomes coloured as we discover the new world. As events turn for the worse, the pages around the panels become black and the images are washed in watery blues.

The title of the graphic novel comes from the belief amongst Baghdad Jews the wolf kept away spirits and demons – Isaacs does not overplay the sickening irony that it turned out to be real people that were capable of inflicting true horror.

Carol Isaacs has been touring with a live show of The Wolf of Baghdad involving a live band and projections from the book - details can be found on her blog.