Behold! January’s Quietus Comics Round Up Column

Reggie Chamberlain-King, Mat Colegate, and Aug Stone discuss the comics kicking off their New Year

Tharg’s nips, it’s cold! Wrap up warm, dearest reader, I am concerned for your well-being. Are you eating right? Soup is good this time of year, isn’t it? Shall we make a soup? Shall we make a soup out of recent comics releases? Shall we stir the comics releases together in the big tureen we call Behold!? Shall I come round to your house and sit by your bedside spooning the lovely soup into your weak, willing mouth? I shall. I shall do all these things. Why? Because 2013 is the Year of the Superior Dude and this is how us Superior Dudes do roll. Happy New Year, gracious citizen! Open wide, here comes the aeroplane! Neeeeeeeowww!

Brandon Graham – Multiple Warheads

(pub. Image)

We’re going to kick off this month with a couple of floppy releases. I mean comics of the comes-out-every-month, 20-odd-pages, good-for-rolling-up-and-swatting-little-sisters-with variety. Why, what did you think I meant? Seriously, I’m struggling for a real world application for ‘floppy releases’. Answers at the bottom of the page please. Now to more urgent questions. Is Brandon Graham able to join the ranks of the above mentioned Superior Dudes? Does he cut the mustard with his moxy? Would you let him be the Tango to your Cash, or is he Diet Clear? I would argue yes. Evidence can be found in each issue of his four part (up to issue three as of time of writing) sci-fi surrealist masterwork Multiple Warheads, which seems to emerge each month like the living dream of a futuristic Incan Shaman: radiating and gloriously untethered.

Graham’s artwork hits the exact sweet spot where Moebius-esque Euro comic design cleanliness meets Manga frenetics, but it’s the book’s sense of humour (all those puns!), sweetness and sheer heart that make the bundle swing. The story is loose – a futuristic road trip is about the size of it – but this looseness gives it an adaptability that allows Graham to indulge in some of the most convincing sci-fi world building extant. Every aspect of his settings seems completely thought out. Totally daffy yet weirdly convincing, right down the water the characters drink (which is often haunted), to the cigarettes they smoke (which occasionally burst into song).

The two main characters consist of an ex organ smuggler who sewed a wolf’s penis onto her boyfriend for a birthday present and the boyfriend himself who has started to have realistic dreams of the wolf’s former life. Together they travel the highways and byways of their futuristic world stopping only to get into scrapes, eat sugary food and have sex. Lots and lots of sex. In short it’s a comic about two people having good healthy fun and a total world away from a lot of the angsty drivel that plugs the holes in the racks. It’s strange and possibly a bit of a worry that a good natured, uncynical book aimed at adult readers feels like such a departure from the norm. I mean, there’s nothing I like better than a good round of teeth gritted, smacky, spine snapping from my weekly shop, but there’s surely room for a bit more stuff like this? More sweetly pervy, bubble gum kineticism, say I! Mat Colegate

Grant Morrison and Darrick Robertson – Happy!

(pub. Image)

And now for the disappointment, because I love Grant Morrison’s comics but don’t know why this is happening and wish it would stop. Grant Morrison wrote The Invisibles. The Invisibles is one of the few works of art that I can genuinely, hand-on-Batman-logo, say changed my life. It is why I am writing these words to you now and one of the main reasons why this medium continues to be so important to me. I know this is the case for a lot of other people as well. Some prefer his other works, his magnificent Doom Patrol run, for example, or his heart breaking, peerless All Star Superman, which gave fans a reason to really fall in love with the Man of Steel again, to the extent that after reading it I felt like tying my coat arms round my neck and running about in the garden yelling ‘SUPERMAAAAN!’ That important. That good. But this is not. At all. This reads for all the world like a Hollywood pitch of the type that Morrison’s auld mucker Mark Millar (Wanted, Kick-Ass etc) has been making such a killing out of for so long now. It’s impossible not to hear the screenwriter’s nasally voice as he pitches it to a cabal of modern art collecting, pet torturing Hollywood types from across a shadowy table:

‘Y’see, the main character is this hitman…’

‘Could this hitman be…down on his luck?’

‘That’s good, we’ll use that. He’s having this breakdown, y’see and what happens is, yeah, he’s really violent, doing all this killing and swearing and that but…get this…he’s being spoken to by a cartoon horse! I know! Random, right?’

‘Can we make the cartoon horse fly?’


I guess what I’m driving at with all this flibber flabber is that this comic reads as cynical and that’s not a word I’ve ever associated with Grant Morrison, even when he organised a convention dedicated to himself in Las Vegas. (He did that. He actually did that.) The weirdness in this comic is homeopathic, it’s boiled down and injected into the plot so as to disturb as little as possible. Where Morrison’s usual fare bubbles with wit and invention, this meekly sloshes about like rain water in an ash tray. Upsetting nothing, disturbing no one, going about its violent, sweary, weary business. I have nothing against the idea of Morrison clambering aboard the Hollywood treadmill, but I was hoping that it would be a case of Hollywood becoming more Morrison, rather than Morrison becoming more Hollywood. Go and read his Batman Incorporated instead, or wait until Happy! comes out in your local cinema and fall asleep in the foyer with your trousers round your ankles. It’s the only language these animals understand. Mat Colegate

David Wojnarowicz and James Romberger – 7 Miles a Second

(pub. Fantagraphics)

David Wojnarowicz was a New York based artist and writer who died an AIDS-related death in 1992. Amongst the work he left behind is this graphic memoir, originally published by Vertigo in ’96. It’s enjoyed a steadily increasing critical reputation, with people such as Jim Jarmusch and master artist Jim Steranko singing its praises. So it’s great to see it here; nicely bound and reprinted in a hardcover, oversize format. This is a book that deserves to be seen big. The sloshy physicality of Romberger’s line is a perfect match for the understated psychedelia of Marguerite Van Cook’s colours, both of them bringing Wojnarowicz’s words to twitching, quaking life. Less a story and more a series of warped tableaux focussing on different aspects of Wojnarowicz’s time in New York, from hustling as a teenager to his later period spent living with the disease, this is far from conventional memoir. The frequent dream sequences give the book the atmosphere of a carnival-esque horror movie, all sudden braying laughter, bursts of TV static and bodies lunging through the air. Wojnarowicz was fearless about his artistry and aware that the mere facts of a life are barely a percent of the whole, preferring to reveal the truth through dreams, violent fantasy and allusion. 7 Miles a Second is a shocking book, but for all the right reasons. Mat Colegate

Josh Simmons – Flayed Corpse

(order from Oily Comics)

I talk about Josh Simmons A LOT. I have bothered my friends on every social networking site available. I have foisted links on them, ambushed them in public forums, begged them to just Read. His. Books! And yet they have not…my own friends…my own…former friends… And so I turn to you, young dreamer, and urge you to let this man’s nightmares into your life. Josh Simmons is among the finest writers of horror fiction in the world today, in any medium. His steady tick-tock pacing, ability to twist grotesque shocks out of everyday insanity and crow black humour have, in my opinion, put him up there with Thomas Ligotti and the foremost writers of contemporary horror. This short (9 pages), brutish, almost unbearably smart comic, revolving simply around a horribly mutilated corpse on a slab and the conversation of a bunch of shadowy men stood by it, is gross, morbid and compelling. I don’t want to reveal too much, but suffice to say this is one Necro little funnybook. Grab it, and pick up his Fantagraphics collection The Furry Trap while you’re at it. Your nightmares will be as nectar to me. Mat Colegate

Jonny Ryan – Prison Pit Book 4

(pub. Fantagraphics)

Yay! New Prison Pit! The reason for such unfettered delight is obvious to anyone who’s even glanced at Jonny Ryan’s horrible masterwork. Every second spent reading ‘Prison Pit’ is a joy. A violent, scatological, faecal matter, blood and pus smeared hoot. Main character lands on planet, meets variety of stomach churning monsters and dispatches them in hilariously brutal and unpleasant manners. That’s pretty much it. When said aggressors are not tearing each other apart they are usually fucking each other, messily mutating, or merely standing around swearing in inventive ways. Your prospective enjoyment can be judged upon how amusing you find the concept of a main character called Cannibal Fuckface. You like the name? Come inside, you will love this book. There’s something brilliantly subversive about ‘Prison Pit’. The constant mutations and meldings of the characters, who will often simply melt into each other to form hideous gelatinous hybrids, has a kind of gleefully perverse sexuality to it. Protagonists grow new sexual organs, change gender and kill and shag each other with glorious abandon. It’s very hard not to get swept up in the ridiculousness of it all, especially if you grew up on a diet of the kind of violent horror and fantasy comics that Ryan is riffing on and subverting, comics not usually known for their progressive (if that’s the right word) sexual content. Ryan has hinted at a definite arc for ‘Prison Pit’, so it’s not going to go on forever even if it feels like it could (and should), but your friends will actually think you are a cooler person for owning this, so I’d get on it now if I were you. Good job. Mat Colegate

Grant Morrison, Anne Caulfield, and Ian Gibson – Steed And Mrs. Peel

(pub. BOOM! Studios)

Huge kudos to BOOM! Studios for reprinting Grant Morrison and Ian Gibson’s early 90s Avengers (the TV show) mini-series! As a huge fan of both, this is pretty great. Morrison, as you know he would, captures everything about what made the 60s show so wonderful. ‘The Golden Game’ is an alternate version of Tara King’s first episode proper, ‘Game’ (1968), completely reimagined with Mrs. Peel coming back once Miss King has been kidnapped. We’re treated, in true Avengers fashion, to a sinister gaming society, undertakers on tandem bikes, the cool banter between our heroes, and an eccentric plot that unfolds by means of clues and riddles. This could easily have been a television episode. ‘The Golden Game’ is now in four, as opposed to its initial three, issues with Anne Caulfield’s two-parter, ‘Deadly Rainbow’, also drawn by Gibson, rounding out the book. ‘Deadly Rainbow’ is a bit more fantastical than either Morrison’s story or the TV show itself though it nicely picks up from Mrs. Peel’s departing shot in ‘The Forget-Me-Knot’. Her husband, Peter, is featured for the first time ever, now returned from a three year adventure in the Amazon. But their attempts to relive their honeymoon are thwarted by Mr. Peel’s connections to the South American Leopard People having followed them to the small seaside village of Pringle-On-Sea. Gibson’s art, capturing Steed consistently but not always Emma, nevertheless works perfectly, highlighting the fantasy element of the whole thing. Mark Waid has been continuing the title but it’s a shame that his initial run isn’t capturing the spirit of the original, though not for lack of trying. He’s brought back The Hellfire Club and his emphasis on breakfasts is a nice touch. But the scenario of a post-nuclear assault goes too far. As does both the flirting and degree of emotion shown between our title characters. Its essential British-ness seems to be missing. Aug Stone

Bryan Talbot – Grandville Bête Noire

(pub. Dark Horse Books)

The ‘Grandville’ saga is AWESOME. I picked up Bête Noire over the holidays and immediately ordered the other (preceding) two books of the series after finishing it. A political thriller pulsing with romance and humour, this is a huge steampunk vision populated by anthropomorphic animals. As elegant as the story, Talbot’s art is full of impressive detail – presenting a vivid picture of life in this grand alternate history where Britain lost the Napoleonic War and has only recently been given its independence. Centerstage is Detective-Inspector LeBrock, a strong, intelligent, though not quite sophisticated badger, and his ultra-British (bowler hat, monocle, lots of ‘I say’, ‘bally’, and ‘who/what/where the deuce…’) sidekick, Roderick Ratzi, you guessed it, a rat. Heading back to Paris to solve another fiendish murder, they become embroiled, as is their wont, in a nefarious plot, this time involving both the art and scientific communities. As per usual in ‘Grandville’, Talbot tackles big business and the power elite versus the people and the socialist state, mirroring in Bête Noire‘s Bohemian Paris how the CIA funded the rise of abstract art, being a form of expression that could not be politicized. Besides the seriousness of the very real issues dealt with, there’s lots of fun here too. Plays on animal names (the main villain is Baron Krapaud, constructing Toad Hall after himself, and an abstract artist rooster is given the appellation ‘Jackson Pollo’, to name but two), early on we see a drunk Paddington Bear wandering the streets, the Tintin references continue with Nistair, the ‘doughface’ butler (humans are still considered a much lower species, seen in this book campaigning for equal rights), and Quimby Quayle from R & D gives LeBrock a Bond-style pipe bomb to field test. The three Grandville books are, simply put, excellent. Aug Stone

Philippe Riche – The Alliance Of The Curious

(pub. Humanoids)

In artwork that switches between the heat-hazed beige of a sweltering Paris and the grey recesses of ancient, trans-generational, memories, The Alliance Of The Curious offers action and intrigue. Two young, down-on-their-luck, antiques dealers, looking for anything to sell, happen upon a skull buried in a box of old photographs. Consulting with a more experienced dealer, with whom they’ll shortly form ‘The Alliance’, the skull is revealed to be that of a Neanderthal man. Its rightful owner, distraught after the death of his mother, is now living below a bridge in a tramp encampment. Meanwhile, three nymphs – hellbent on sex, drugs, and violence – are out to kill all of them, knowing as they do what the skull might prove for ‘the very history of humanity’. Minor characters also play pivotal roles such as those of The Order Of Saint Louis, an organization dedicated to seeing that the fortune of the kings of France goes to its rightful heir, and the tramp ‘Charles de Gaulle’ who disburses memories as well as a toxic concoction. Aug Stone

Mo Ali and Valia Kapadai –Dreamcatcher – A Fairytale

(order from Valium Comics)

I have mentioned before the artwork of Ms. Valia Kapadai, whose watercoloured work has appeared in several releases from Markosia press, Insomnia, as well as in various anthologies and self-published odds and ends. The Greek artist draws like a dream and colours like a dream, abilities that make her more than perfectly suited for this wisp of a story, a story that comes and goes as quickly and as logically as a dream. One of my favourite artists up-coming, she gives swirling, wonderful life to the streets of Bristol, where, I can assure you, there is none.

Like Alasdair Gray’s early and beloved The Star, a heavenly body falls to Earth, with consequences. In this case, writer, Mo Ali, makes the star a nightmare that must be stopped. As with Gray, the text becomes submissive to the artwork and the artwork grows as nightmarish as it must along the way, in this brief, but charming fairytale. Reggie Chamberlain-King

Cy Dethan and Graeme Howard – Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours

(pub. Markosia)

In 2009, Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth became an unexpected small press success. It was a lurid piece of work in which a swearing, punching, scraping near-vagabond, named Vince Morley, is confronted with some harsh truths: he has a brain tumour, he may also be schizophrenic, and there is definitely a Hellish parallel reality of unspeakably evil entities that he can access by passing through any worldly portal, like a gate or a door or a turnstile. He has responsibilities too in this weird world of modern Noir and stray Clive Barker thoughts: he becomes custodian to a homeless girl with mental health issues and defender of the poor souls who find themselves, for reasons unknown, sucked into Cancertown. It was a dark and sometimes difficult-to-follow journey, but so too is mental and terminal illness, and none of the three can be certain to end happily or to anyone’s satisfaction. The team responsible went on to the equally extreme Slaughterman’s Creed, while writer, Cy Dethan, continued to the psychological thriller White Knuckle and artist, Stephen Downey, was picked up by the Torchwood comic and worked on the literary detective series, Jennifer Wilde.

Dethan has returned to Cancertown now, as he had always intended: it was a more maddened and maddening story than first intimated. Graeme Howard has been brought on as artist and expands upon the grim world imagined by Downey (and by several of the sick characters within); it is red and hazy and angry and populated now by more Hellraiser-style creatures. The supernatural tumour that brings this nightmarish battlefield to reality continues to grow, but is Cancertown a place or is it a state of mind? Reggie Chamberlain-King

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