Filed under: Comic Reviews, Indie Comics | Tags: Adam Balson, Colin Bell, Garry McLaughlin, Gillian Hatcher, Glasgow Comic Con, Glasgow League of Writers, Gordon McClean, Gordon Robertson, Ian Buchanan, Ian Laurie, James Corcoran, James Fairlie, Jane Sayer, Jason Mathis, John Lees, Luke Halsall, Martin Newman, Thor Fjalaasson
We’re at the height of comic con season which, for small press, usually means new issues and collections being released here and there over the course of the con calendar. Later this week the Glasgow Comic Con kicks off, bringing high profile guests, more venue space and the Scottish Independent Comic Book Awards (or SICBAs for short) – however it’ll also see the launch of the very first anthology from the Glasgow League of Writers – simply titled GLoW 1.
I did a short feature on the Glasgow League of Writers a few months back, where we infiltrated one of their fortnightly meet ups to see what they got up to. Set up as a means for aspiring comic book writers to meet up, share their ideas and scripts and get honest feedback, the group has steadily grown its numbers over time. Among its ranks are some familiar faces, with creators like Gordon McLean (No More Heroes), John Lees (The Standard), Colin Bell (Jonbot Vs. Martha), Gordon Robertson (Arse Cancer) and Gillian Hatcher (Team Girl Comic) – it means that there’s plenty of talent to provide some words of wisdom about their experiences publishing their own work. Not only is it a great way to get feedback on your own work, there’s group work done too, resulting in outputs like their first anthology.
On picking a theme for the book, it’s clear they’ve tried not to stray too far from what they all most likely love to read themselves – superheroes. It’s usually a good place to start with small press, it’ll help bring an audience in because it’s not too far from what they might normally read, and it’s a chance to then show them that comics don’t all have to be done the same way. There’s always interesting new themes and stories that you won’t find in your monthly floppies bursting out of indie and small press. GLoW 1 is an excellent example of this – mainly staying away from the spandex and lycra on the whole, each tale finds a different way to interpret the idea of superheroes.
In Egg, Gordon Robertson takes the side of the X-Men and provides an interesting view point on Mutants. Using a classroom setting and the ever debated “Chicken or the egg?” question, the story does a really good job of making the reader think about where Mutants might have first come from. Artist Jason Mathis (School of the Damned), recently having completed a Masters of Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art, doesn’t put a panel wrong here, expertly showing off his storytelling techniques. For a story set mainly around one conversation in one location, Mathis uses all the right angles to keep the visuals as interesting as the dialogue.
Ian Buchanan deals with superhero mythology in Three Brothers, recounting the tale of three heroes and how they each got their names. It’s a bold move to tell a story like this that has big consequences on the characters in such a short space – no room for backstory or what the fallout might be, but it’s one that mostly works. I did feel that there was a slight lack of dialogue in this story, although as there is none at all throughout, I’m guessing it was something Ian was keen to achieve. There were moments though that I felt I should know what each character was saying or thinking, given the decisions they were having to make at the time. The aptly named Thor Fjalaasson provides art for this story, with lots of good examples of his detailed and stylish work – I really like his use of black with some panels engulfed in shadow and only the silhouettes of characters picked out by white light.
Next comes the oddball of the bunch both written and drawn by Jane Sayer – Retina Wrecker – she’s obviously thought long and hard about what would be the most bizarre superpower to be born with, and ended up with a characters who has two hot-shoe camera flashes for eyes. As you can imagine, going through life with such bright eyes can be a bit of a pain in the arse, and Jane’s tongue in cheek story definitely plays to this, with scenes of being ejected from cinemas and guiding planes astray. Just when you think things might start to get serious, Jane lays on another level of weird in a flash (sorry – couldn’t resist).
Gordon McLean brings back a character he first introduced in his No More Heroes book – Billy the janitor – for his strip called Super Tidy. Being just an ordinary janitor wouldn’t be enough be included in an anthology about superheroes, and that’s why Billy is actually a janitor to a secret hideout of superheroes. Just think – who does all the tidying up on the Justice League’s satellite base Watchtower after they’ve had a brawl with someone like Doomsday? Gordon answers this question with the same brand of witty humour he uses in No More Heroes, including some real belly laugh moments that include Billy answering some of the heroes’ fan mail and drawing a cock and balls on one of the villain’s Facebook walls. Although Gordon’s working with a different artist on this, Adam Balson, it’s just as professional looking as NMH – an incredible achievement given this is only Adam’s second comic strip.
The Awesome Doggy-Boy story was one of the strips I was most looking forward to since it was a collaboration of John Lees (The Standard) and Garry McLaughlin (Taking Flight) who are working on the graphic novel Black Leaf that’ll be coming out soon. The strip doesn’t disappoint either, easily the darkest of the collection, it still manages to throw a few laughs in too as a bored teenager decides to become a superhero, following all of his knowledge from the comics he reads. It’s a little bit like what if Kick-Ass was psychotic and took everything in comics too literal, and it works really well, throwing in plenty of in-jokes and references along the way. As always, Garry’s art helps make the strip so appealing, never going for the obvious angle or framing of the panel and trying something a little different from the norm.
Wrapping up the book is Luke Halsall and James Corcoran’s The Healer, taking us back to the Fifties and imagining a very different take on superheroes in the real world. What if superpowers did exist, but it wasn’t all about the ability to fly or shoot lasers from your eyes? Those miracle men side show acts in the the travel circus would be the real superheroes, claiming to cure all ailments and illnesses – which is exactly the story Luke tells here. Are they just conmen or is there more to it?
In-between each strip, we’re treated to a series of one page strips titled The Fabulous Funk Fact File, with each strip delivering a different, usually absurd, fact about the invented hero Arron Funk. James Fairlie is responsible for writing these bizarre shorts, ranging from orgasms to inventing the square, but also allows for showcasing more artists including Ian Laurie and Martin Newman.
Overall the anthology is a real success and I’m really pleased to see the final product from the group. Having seen the quality of some of the members’ individual creations it was no surprise that a product with all of them involved would have the same high standard attached. That said, I’m sure the group will already know where their weaknesses are and will already be discussing what’s going to make it into the next book.
You’ll be able to buy a copy of the anthology at their stall at the Glasgow Comic Con (30th June & 1st July) along with many of the individual creators’ titles.
You can also find out more about the Glasgow League of Writers at their blog.
Craig – @hastiecraig
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