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25 November 2015

Episode 60 - Thought Bubble 2015

It's that time of year again - we mingled and marvelled at the UK's premier comic festival Thought Bubble, and we fill you all in on what you missed!

Plus reviews; including the new Vertigo Revolution with Art Ops #1, Clean Room #1, Slash and Burn #1, Survivor's Club #1, The Twilight Children #1, and Unfollow #1.  We also cast our net wider to other publishers with The Goddamned #1, James Bond #1, and Papergirls #2.

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21 October 2015

Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

 Fun Home is the somewhat depressing memoir-cum-analysis of cartoonist Alison Bechdel's childhood and teenage life, linking her own discovery of her sexual identity with the death of her father and the subsequent revelations of his sexuality.

Contradiction and ignorance lie at the heart of this story.  Bechdel's childhood is portrayed as the product of a cold and loveless marriage, where the children are treated more as school pupils and free labour than beloved offspring.  Yet Bechdel and her siblings for the most part come across as happy and content with their lives - at least until the confusion of puberty and sex rears its head in the later years. 

The narrative revolves around the death of Bechdel's father - hit by a truck whilst crossing the road from a house he was renovating - which she adamantly maintains throughout the story was an un-confessed suicide driven by his secret homosexuality (or bisexuality - he never articulates any specifics) in their local small-town community.  Bechdel continuously questions whether coincidences are in fact omens or whether she find patterns in her father's struggles and her own coming out - yet rarely seriously considers her father's death to be a genuine accident.  This attempt to place meaning on events and people within her life is a constant thread throughout the book.

Perhaps we should shy away from trying to analyse her thoughts too much - in several scenes she is dismissive of her English Literature teachers and fellow students attempting to impose meaning on classic books that are of their own invention, never considering that the author's works could be taken at face value. 

The constant use of a narrative voice, rather than relying on world balloons, emphasises the reminiscence of autobiography and critical analysis of her relationships.  This is compounded by the inclusion of excerpts from her childhood diary at points (including them as drawn reproductions of the original entries), which makes for an odd echo chamber as she ponders now her pondering of then.

Her narrative choice to reveal the death of her father at the beginning of the story certainly helps the introspective nature of the story, rather than leaving it as a cheap shock to conclude the comic.  Indeed, the story itself if more about the search for answers than a straightforward autobiographical tale.  Chronologically things jump from Bechdel's young childhood, to her coming out at college, back again, and all points in between.  In doing so it feels like a much more realistic recollection of her life - when we think back to our childhood there are moments that jump from our memory, but rarely are these recalled is strictly chronological order.  It is a technique that can come off as trying to be clever, but in Fun Home it feels natural and essential to the flow of the story.

Artistically Bechdel's thin wiry line drawings recall illustrations from children's story books, adding to the feel of the comic as a memory from her (and our) youth.  Her lack of depth and shade to most panels forces the characters to the foreground and makes you pay attention to every panel - as if she is determined not be analysed for subtle nods and winks, bur rather present heart-on-sleeve honesty (which she laments the absence of in her family home).  Her style is more akin to a newspaper comic strip (Peanuts springs to mind, especially with her character's hair) and so feels somewhat out of place in a longer form story such as the graphic novel.  This contributes to the alienation Bechdel experiences throughout her childhood and college life.

Having never personally experienced the questions or secrets of my sexuality that Bechdel and her father did I'm not best placed to say whether Fun Home will find its way into the pantheon of reassuring and educating gay literature that she finds comfort in whist at college.  What I can say however is that Fun Home is a touching, complex, tale of personal secrets and awkward family relationships that enthrals, and at times saddens, the reader whilst disarming them with simple but charming and direct artwork.   

18 October 2015

Episode 59 - Dream Team

In Episode 59 we play God (or publisher at least) and dream up our ideal creative teams on various titles from Marvel, DC, Image, Valiant, and more!

Plus reviews of Batman Annual 4, Sandman Overture 6, Black Paths, They are Not Like Us 8, and Inhumans: Attilan Rising!

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6 September 2015

Episode 58 - Bumper Reviews!

After a summer break we catch up with a ton of reviews, as well as overviews of our favourite current titles!

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20 June 2015

Review - Sub-Mariner: The Depths

One big trick I think Marvel is constantly guilty of missing is that they’ve created this huge and popular universe, filled with vibrant characters and a rich history, yet they only really use it to tell superhero stories.  Sub Mariner: The Depths, originally published in five parts under the Marvel Knights banner in 2009, is a rare exception. This claustrophobic psychological thriller, written by Peter Milligan with art by Esad Ribic, is loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness (which also served as the basis for the film Apocalypse Now), and is one of Marvel’s best comics in recent years.  The tale is a fantastic little examination of what it must be like to live in the Marvel universe, however unlike Kurt Busiek’s Marvels which tackled the same issue, The Depths is more about what we don’t see than what we do.

Set in an art deco Marvel universe before the advent of the super-heroes, Dr Randolph Stein - scientist and ‘professional cynic’ – is hired by the United States government to lead an expedition to establish whether Atlantis, and its protector Namor The Sub-Mariner, is truth or myth.  Stein and his crew launch into the depths in pursuit of Captain Marlowe, a deep sea explorer who has returned to the Marianas Trench following his previous expedition where Marlowe’s crew and wife were mysteriously killed.  As Stein gets closer to Marlowe, and closer to answering the questions about the myth of Atlantis, he borders on the edge of a psychological breakdown in the confines of the submarine and the blackness of the ocean.  As the expedition gets deeper the body count starts to pile up, along with accusations and denials of mysterious sights.

Does Atlantis exist? Is Namor real? I don’t wish to spoil the ending, but the key and the success of the story is ultimately the answers to these questions are irrelevant.  It is the fear of the unknown, the myths, the stories, the rumours that pass from sailor to sailor, which drive the terror of the story.  The possibility that Namor may be real goes against the grain of Stein’s mantra of science and logic, forcing him to tackle his greatest fear – that he may just be wrong for once. Milligan makes full use of this doubt and confusion, the reader questioning as much as the characters as to whether sightings of mysterious sea dwelling creatures are evidence of Namor being real, or just the visions and hallucinations of men pushed to the limit in the most extreme of circumstances.  Cleverly Milligan keeps the action and perspective on the inside of submarines and underwater bases for most of the story.  The deep depths outside are as unknown to the reader as they are to the crew on board, only adding to the sense of claustrophobia and pressure. There are some nice little references in places giving a nod to the ideas and inspirations behind the story; for example the first page opens with a quote from Herman Melville, who’s Captain Ahab pursued the white whale with the same crazed intensity Stein falls into as his pursuit advances, also Marlowe’s submarine is called Plato, name checking the Greek philosopher who questioned the nature of truth.

The lush painted artwork of Ribic is a revelation, using the light and shadow of the dark cramped submarine to express the psychological torment of the characters.  Yet he brings the visibility and brightness up by washing the pages in pastel greens, blues and yellows.  Ribic’s depiction of Namor is truly terrifying, bringing the character back to his original roots as a monster of the deep and protector of Atlantis, rather than the very human looking superhero/villain of more modern portrayals.  The storytelling and page layout is second to none; despite the tricky situation of cramped physical locations and numerous characters he makes scenes perfectly clear and easy to follow (aided superbly by letterer Cory Petit).  Ribic embraces the emptiness of the deep and the few times we do see outside the submarine his less is more approach ties in with the narrative approach completely

It may be ironic that for such a great Marvel comic, there is hardly a recognisable Marvel character in its pages, yet Sub-Mariner: The Depths is a perfect reminder of the power behind the myths and legends Marvel has created over the years.  Milligan and Ribic have created an engaging and engrossing comic the stands up with the very best Marvel have to offer.

17 June 2015

Episode 56 - Ching! Ching! Comic Sales Update

Its our annual analysis of comic book sales!  Probably more fun that it sounds!  Who's top dog?  How is the health of the industry?  These questions and more answered by amateurs!

Plus reviews of loads of Star Wars comics, some Secret Wars comics, plus Bizarro, Material, Optic Nerve, Fight Club 2 and Airboy!

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The following stats and graphs were used when discussing this episode - cast your eyes over them and it might, just might, make our comments make more sense!  All stats from

Publisher Apr-15 Oct-14 Apr-14 Oct-13
Marvel 41.15% 36.35% 41.15% 33.63%
DC 27.24% 31.00% 27.24% 33.15%
Image 10.31% 12.28% 10.31% 10.85%
Dark Horse 5.18% 3.25% 5.18% 4.70%
IDW 4.24% 3.94% 4.24% 4.96%
Marvel 39.27% 34.82% 39.27% 30.47%
DC 23.65% 27.53% 23.65% 31.02%
Image 9.34% 9.77% 9.34% 9.26%
Dark Horse 5.54% 4.74% 5.54% 5.36%
IDW 5.10% 5.18% 5.10% 6.27%
Total Top 300 $33,720,000 $31,940,000 $27,960,000 $28,950,000
Trades $9,010,000 $8,820,000 $7,580,000 $8,330,000
Total $42,730,000 $40,760,000 $35,540,000 $37,280,000
Publisher Apr-13 Apr-10 Apr-05 Apr-00
Marvel 41.78% 45.02% 35.62% 27.08%
DC 27.72% 32.69% 31.65% 37.36%
Image 9.87% 4.26% 3.40% 13.31%
Dark Horse 4.09% 3.82% 6.03% 5.21%
IDW 5.59% 3.41% 0.74% 0.00%
Marvel 37.95% 39.35% 34.69% 21.60%
DC 25.98% 30.39% 33.86% 34.74%
Image 9.04% 3.96% 4.52% 11.61%
Dark Horse 4.35% 4.88% 8.16% 6.49%
IDW 7.54% 3.92% 1.27% 0.00%
Total Top 300 $24,280,000 $19,310,000 $17,240,000 $15,420,000
Trades $8,770,000 $5,540,000 $4,020,000 $960,000
Total $33,050,000 $24,850,000 $21,260,000 $16,380,000

14 June 2015

Homage to Catalonia - Comic Shops of Barcelona

Barcelona! City of that song, that team, and that cathedral!  But who knew it was also a comics hot spot?  Not me, until I was lucky enough to visit the sun drenched coastal second city of Spain on holiday.  Googling, as I always do in a new city, local comic shops I was staggered as the map pulled up at least 20 comic shops in the Catalan capital!  Unfortunately I had insufficient time (and energy, in the sweltering heat) to visit them all, but I managed to call into a handful so I thought I'd give you my thoughts on them should any of you be fortunate enough to find yourselves there one day.......  (I'll mention briefly what I bought there, but I'll do a separate blog at some point on the comics themselves.  Also, numbers in brackets are footnoted at the bottom of the blog)


Ronda De Santoni, 9 

The blink and you'll miss it exterior betrays a large and very well stocked comic shop.  My eye was immediately caught by the original David Rubin artwork from Aururo West on the walls,but soon towards the large three room, well lit and well stocked shop.  It was like someone had taken London's Gosh! Comics and said "yeah, lets see if we can fit a load more stuff in!"  The range of comics was fantastic, from all the top French comics, to great US and UK independent stuff, and a boat load of things I didn't recognise.  There was some Marvel and DC (1) but it was very much in the minority.

The one thing that struck me was the amount of US and UK 'indie' comics translated into Spanish; all the big names like Clowes, Bagge, the Hernandez brothers, etc - but I also spotted a load of Nobrow stuff and Nao of Brown (2).  I consider myself schooled on my belief these were small parochial concerns!

The middle room was also packed with comics - including some manga I think - but I didn't get much of a look (there was just so much to look at as it was!)  In the smaller room at the back they had more comics, a reasonable sized 'sale' section, as well as t-shirts and fairly sizeable boardgames collection.  

From here I picked up Moebius' Arzach - which given it's mostly wordless (3), didn't make any difference being the Spanish version!  I asked for a recommendation of good Spanish comic and was directed towards Los Surcos Del Azar by Paco Roca, which is a beautiful looking Word War 2 story.  Though it's a lengthy book, so translating it as I read may be a mammoth task!


Riera Alta, 9

Walking just round the corner from Universal I cam across Newton.  It turns out that they're sister shops.  Whereas Universal carries the new and 'in print' material like most book shops would, Newton is the older stuff; back issues we tend to call it, 'collectors' is how they seem to see it on the continent (which sounds better to be fair!)  There was, as you may expect, some old early prints of classic European comics like Tintin and so on.  One of the collections to jump out was a collection of all the Spanish reprints of Metal Hurlant - which seemed a snip at €250.  However I was surprised at the amount of old Spanish language super-hero stuff.  Clearly Marvel and DC have had sizeable presence in Spain for a while - they even appear to have caught the Liefeld bug in the 90s!!

To be honest it was nice sight to see these older comics in a shop - something that has disappeared, certainly in the UK, over the past few years. It did feel like I was stepping back into my childhood somewhat.  Though the comics seemed to be treated with a bit more reverence than the 'back issue bins' of old.

From Newton I picked up Dayak by Adamov, which appears to be a Spanish translation of a French (let be polite and say) homage to The Incal.  I also found and gladly bought a Spanish collected edition of Kane by Paul Grist, which was the most excited I've been in a comic shop for some time - back in the 90s Paul used to self-publish Kane and would post out each new issue to my grateful hands - and here it was, in Barcelona, in Spanish!  Congratulations Paul!


Via Laietana, 29

Continuara was located on one of the main roads in the shipping area, and possibly for that reason it was the busiest shop I went to.  It was a nice well lit place that had a more haphazard feel than the other shops, with comics covering every wall, in boxes down the side and in the middle of the store, and stacks of comics on any available floor space!  There was a large main room which had new books along with a large collection of Euopean comics.  Most books were stored in boxes in alphabetical order by their 'creator' - however I did find this somewhat confusing as it wasn't clear where you might find something by multiple creators, i.e. do I look for the writer or the artist?  Do they have copies of the same comics under both names?

Downstairs had even more of a stack-em-high feel, which towers of Spanish language Marvel and DC comics, as well as a reasonable manga collection.  There were also some toys mixed in with all that as well.

I picked up a bunch of Milo Manara comics that were on sale, whose gorgeously drawn saucy sex stories don't really need much in the way of translation!  I was hoping to pick up Torpedo by Spanish writer Enrique Abuli, but in the box under his name they only had a comic called 13 Relatos Negros.  I picked this up and it seems to be a collection of short stories with scratchy black and white from Oswal.  Although when I left the shop I noticed some Tropedo on display in the window, which seemed to confirm my thoughts on the confusing ordering of stock.

Arkham Comics

c/Xulcà, 16

Arkham Comics is a pretty small shop, but certanly used the best of the limited space with a large collection of comics.  There was a mix of European comics, Spanish Marvel and DC stuff, and a small amount of English language comics and books as well.  I didn't spot any manga, but there were lots of stacked shelves I didn't get chance to look at.  Tucked away in the corner there were also some toys and collectibles. 

Arkham was the most enjoyable comics experience I had in Barcelona.  Upon requesting recommendations for good Spanish comics, the owner (who's name I unfortunately didn't get) spent the next half hour showing me book after book of comics he thought I might enjoy.  He had a real enthusiasm and not only gave me an overview of comics in Spain he also knew many American and British creators to use as hander comparisons to their Spanish counterparts.  I liked it so much I even paid a second visit a couple of days later.

From Akrham I bought El Folies Bergère, a story of French soldiers in the trenches of the First World War written by Zidrou and art by Francis Porcel.  Art wise it very much reminded me of Charlie Adlard's White Death - another First World War story.  I also got a stunning looking Spanish take on Beowulf by Santiago García with art by the previously mentioned David Rubín.  The foreign language not being too much of a problem here as I am already familiar with the story - as I'm sure many of you are!  Another purchase was English Is Not Easy by Luci Gutiérrez, an adult humorous guide to the complexities of the English language (although pod co-host Lee disputed it was a comic - a discussion for another day!)


Carrer de la Iluna, 10

Fatbottom was certainly the oddest comic shop I visited in Barcelona - and not just because of the name!  Whilst there was a reasonable amount of comics from recognised publishers (including a lot of independent American and British titles) the majority of the comics appeared to be small press and self published comics and zines.  There was stuff seemingly from around the world (languages not being my forte I can't be much more specific than that!), including English comics that were probably limited to 50 copies printed at home and stapled together, somehow finding their way over to Barcelona.  Many comic shops I've been to may have a shelf or two for these home-brew publications, but this was a whole shop of them - brilliant!

I picked up Ikea Dream Makers by Christian Robles, a Spanish comic which appears to be about some odd looking people who live above an Ikea store.  The artwork reminded me of the recent Nobrow comic Vacancy by Jen Lee (4).  I also got a crazy looking anthology, Argh! #7.  With both Spanish and English language strips it is very much a modern take on the US classic underground anthology Raw.

(1)  I'm assuming most people reading this blog are readers of Marvel and DC, and this would be the 'familiar' stuff for them so I mention this for info and comparison on US and UK shops.  I may be wrong in my assumption, and indeed I hope I am!

(2) Yes, yes, it won the Jury prize an Angouleme - but I still think of it as this lovely little British book!

(3) Though to be fair, I think most people buy Moebius comics for the art rather than the story don't they?

(4) Reviewed on episode 55 of the podcast no less.