As Cool as ICE: My Thoughts on The International Comic Expo 2017

Ever since I first opened the pages of Moore and Gibbons’ classic Watchmen and fell headfirst into the intoxicatingly creative anarchically unique world of comic books I’ve been fortunate enough to attend countless cons. But for some reason known only to the pop-cultural gods, I’d never made it to the gloriously geeky extravaganza known as the International Comic Expo. However that all changed on Saturday 9th September when I made my way into Birmingham for ICE 2017.

I rolled into the convention rooms with a smile on my face and my big hat atop my head; wasting no time I zoomed down the isles to where the rows upon rows of indie creators were sitting behind tables selling their passionately crafted wares. The first talented individual whose work caught my eye was Dublin-based writer and artist Anthea West. I picked up a copy of her spine-chilling and perfectly paced horror anthology Sleep Tight, as well as a beautifully rendered print. Take it from me, if Anthea’s creations are anything to go by, Ireland’s independent comics scene is strong indeed.

I then turned the corner and had the pleasure of meeting Steve Poulacheris, co-creator of the wonderfully psychedelic Vanilla Magazine. I was drawn over to the table by the magazine’s main feature, an interview with iconic writer and Northampton’s foremost magician Alan Moore. But after a quick glance through it’s pages, I realised that was just one of the many jewels to be found in Vanilla.

 I snatched up my copy and spent the following afternoon relishing every page. It was bursting at the margins with exquisitely crafted comic strips, articles, interviews and artwork; all of which was produced by Steve, his co-creator Andy Williams (who I met and chatted with later that day) and their talented band of counter-cultural cohorts. A great mag that would leave anyone with a penchant for psychedelia hungry for more.

 

From there I made my way over to the signing table of Freddie E Williams II, the internationally acclaimed comic artist who has illustrated such titles as He-Man/Thundercats, Legendary Star-Lord and my personal favourite miniseries of 2016, Batman/TMNT.

Meeting Freddie was a true thrill, above the hubbub of the con we talked about the Turtles and some of their best incarnations as he signed my copies of Batman/TMNT. I tried not to geek-out too badly whilst telling him how much his work inspires me and he was even kind enough to give me an incredible print of Leo, Raph, Mikey and Donnie fending off the Foot Clan.

Oh yeah, and we also discussed another outlandishly cool thing that I look forward to telling you all more about in the very near future.

 

Another highlight of the event was checking out The Geek Syndicate’s panel featuring the co-creator of The Walking Dead and current Comic Book Laureate Charlie Adlard, co-founder of Time Bomb Comics and veteran writer Steve Tanner, emerging indie talent Jane Straw and author and artist of Elsie Harris Picture Palace, Jessica Martin. Barry and Dave filled the room with their trademark blend of nerdy knowledge and unbridled hilarity as they and their guests presented a S.W.O.T (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) Analysis of the British comic book scene.

They covered countless topics over the course of their talk, from the ghettoisation of comic shops and the lack of mainstream advertising, to the reasons why the UK is yet to embrace this particular art form in the same way that Europe has. They then asked why the powers-that-be in comic publishing and retail don’t stock titles by genre and how much easier life would be if they did. But the funniest moment of the talk came when Charlie Adlard went into a rib-tickling rant about Hollywood stripping our favourite superheroes of all their tongue-in-cheek charm and turning them into stone-faced sticks-in-the-mud.

This marvellous convention also gave me the chance to catch up with and meet some mates including artist, writer and renowned hat-grabber Al ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Davison who made my mom’s day with a fantastical watercolour. I finally got the chance to meet The PxD himself, Pete Davis and chat about his amazing artwork on The Axeman Cometh. I also swung by my ol’ pal Stu Perrins’ table to see what was new in his extraordinary imagination,  and of course, I couldn’t help but check in with the ever-energetic reporter Olly MacNamee. After Olly and I refuelled with some snacks, he introduced me to Joel Meadows of Tripwire Magazine. I’ve admired Tripwire’s array of creative content for years and it was great to meet and glean some inspiration from one of the brains behind the remarkable mag.

I could write all day about the fun I had that fine Saturday in Birmingham, but I’ll sum it up with a simple statement…

There ain’t many comic cons as cool as ICE.

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Moore Monsters

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post, I’ve been collaborating with my mate and sickeningly talented illustrator, Nathan Moore perfecting our debut comic strip ‘The Minor Disasters Department.’ As well as working away on a couple of new projects that I’m excited for you to see when they are unveiled very soon. But in the mean time, dear reader, I thought you might like to check out this quirky little poem packed with in-jokes that I wrote about the aforementioned Mr Moore.   

Nathan Moore does often draw

At a desk in his humble abode

He’s drawn his idols’ faces,

Far-out fantasy places

And a portrait of old Mr Toad.

Mr Moore doesn’t play,

He crafts a sketch every day

And it’s true drawing monsters

Really is his forte.

He draws some to summon laughter

And others to terrify

But his favourites are the ones

That start off as penii

He doodles demons by day

And scribbles werewolves by night

He even based one monster

On a Quorn chicken bite.

He sketches vampires at work

And ghouls at home

He probably even draws his monsters

On the porcelain throne.

From a quickly etched creature

To an alien illustration

Mr Moore has a monster

For every occasion.

With such a fast output

And such dedication

Is there anything else

We could ask of dear Nathan?

Except for

A few Moore

Monsters.

Big Announcement: Tamworth Literary Festival – Geek Fest

Ah, dear reader, I’ve been waiting to tell you about this for a while and it gives me a stupendous amount of pleasure to finally announce that myself and the extremely talented artist and writer Nathan Moore will be among the guests at The Tamworth Literary Festival’s Geek Fest on the 9th of August 2017.

Now that I’ve got that cool bit of news out in the open, allow me to tell you a bit more about this exciting new event and how my name found its way onto the bill. A few months ago myself and my aforementioned extremely talented mate Nathan Moore started working on a number of different collaborative projects including a comic strip about a duo of inept deities.

A couple of weeks after, I received a phone call from the good folk at The Tamworth Lit Fest (a fast-emerging literary organisation who are doing big things on the creative scene in my neck of the woods) and they kindly invited Nathan and I to debut our comic The Minor Disasters Department at their Mini Comic Con. We will also be selling some limited edition print runs of my prose stories that have been wonderfully illustrated by Nathan’s own hand, so we’ll have something for everyone.

Geek Fest is an exciting new free event that will be taking place at Ankerside Shopping Centre in Tamworth on Wednesday the 9th of August. It will be packed with all the thrills and spills of your favourite comic con on an intimate scale with some of the best local comic book writers, artists, TV and movie actors there on the day. No ticket required, just turn up and have fun!

Guests include internationally acclaimed artist and writer, Al ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Davison. Al has collaborated with some of the greatest writers in the comic book industry including Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey and his work has appeared in award-winning titles such as Hellblazer and The Unwritten for DC/Vertigo. He is also  the author and illustrator of the groundbreaking graphic novel autobiographies The Spiral Cage and Muscle Memory.

Tamworth-based author Simon Goodwin of Papercraft Heroes will be chatting and selling his latest Papercraft creations.

Actor Martin Ballantyne who has appeared in the Harry Potter Franchise and Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster The Dark Knight will be showcasing his awesome movie memorabilia collection.

Local actress Margaret Jackman of Game of Thrones fame will be at the signing table, discussing her role in the smash-hit TV show, and that’s not all the GoT goodness you can expect from Geek Fest. The Tamworth Lit Fest will also be revealing an unmissable Game of Thrones exclusive…

Want to find out more? Get you’re butt down to Ankerside on Wednesday the 9th of August.

 

Like The Tamworth Lit Fest on Facebook

Follow The Tamworth Litfest on Twitter: @TamworthLitFest

For more info email: tamlitfest@gmail.com or call: 07562653565

 

 

Skulduggery Pleasant, (My Grandad) and Me

Allow me to tell you a story; a true story about my Grandad, Skulduggery Pleasant and how those two incredible entities combined to have a profound impact on my life.

Before I delve too deeply into my love of Derek Landy’s dead famous bestselling series of books, I must first fill you in on the kind, hilarious clever wizard of a man who I had the honour of calling my Grandad.

Pete Bastow was so much more than a grandfather to me he was also a wise and supportive father who was always there when I needed him and a mad best mate who taught me to find humour in every aspect of life.

I am blessed to have thousands of amazing memories of him tucked snuggly away in the treasure-trove of my mind, but out of all those reminiscences the ones that remain most vivid are the countless hours we spent reading.

I’ve always loved stories and the intoxicating joy of immersing myself within their worlds, but as much as I adore books, the act of reading has proven consistently difficult for me. As regular readers of this blog will know, I have a condition called Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy which affects all four of my limbs and means I am a fulltime wheelchair user. One of the most unfortunate side effects of my disability ensures that I am a painfully slow reader, which for someone with my voracious appetite for fiction is most uncool. So unlike most Grandads, mine didn’t stop reading to me as soon as I was out of nappies, he continued every evening and weekend until reading became one of our things, along with quoting movies, watching sitcoms and taking the Mickey out of life in general.

Now the background to this yarn has been sufficiently filled in, let me take you back to what would become a very memorable day in 2007. I was rolling past my local branch of Waterstones when I was stopped in my tracks by the display in the shop’s window, a poster that read Skulduggery Pleasant: The new novel by Derek Landy accompanied by an enticingly placed stack of hardbacks.

I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but come on, have you seen it? The now iconic image of the skeleton detective in his exquisitely tailored suit and fedora with a magical flame emanating from the fingers of his gloved hand, I was hooked before I’d even finish the blurb.

I took the tome back to my own partner in crime and the very next day my granddad and I ventured into the Skulduggery Pleasant universe for the first time. We loved it. This new title was laugh-out-loud funny, relentlessly fast-paced and delightfully violent with some of the best dialogue I’d come across in any work of fiction. Derek Landy’s gorgeously sharp prose not only introduced me to his quirky, crazy and truly original cast of characters, but it also made me discover YA literature as a medium which in turn inspired me to become a writer.

Over the next 7 years and 12 books (if you include two spin-offs and a World Book Day short story) Mr Pleasant, his fiery young protégé Valkyrie Cain and their badass band of associates became like old friends to us. We’d read about their latest adventures over cups of tea on lazy Saturday mornings, or with an ice-lolly on the back yard on bright summer days. We’d howl at the exploits of Scapegrace and Thrasher as my ol’ man slurped back his red wine and we’d spill biscuit crumbs between the pages, as we hurried towards the next mind-melting plot twist.

We finished book 9 Skulduggery Pleasant: The Dying of the Light in mid-2014 and as the cover slammed shut, an era ended.

I’d grown from a geeky 10-year-old with an overflowing imagination to a still geeky windswept and interesting 18-year-old with blazing creative ambitions. Just a few months later my mad wizard of a Grandfather had left this mortal coil and those memories of Skulduggery and crew became more poignant than ever.

Then came the recent release of Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection and the subsequent Molotov cocktail of emotions that exploded within me. In one way I was ecstatic at the prospect of re-entering the realm of magic, mayhem and mischief that had inspired me so much and in another way I was heartbroken that my Grandad, Dad and bestest mate wouldn’t be here to narrate this new edition to the series and share in its thrills and twists.

But as it reads on Resurrection’s cover, ‘You can’t keep a dead man down.’ And if magic exists which if Derek’s musings are to be believed, it most certainly does, then I’m sure my ol’ man will be reading it alongside me from behind this earthly veil.

Thanks for the memories, Derek.

Love and miss you every day, Grandad.

 

A Comic Book Review: The Axeman Cometh by Darrell Smith & The PXD

The Axeman Cometh is a Southern Gothic Noir comic book by writer Darrell Smith and illustrator the PXD. The story chronicles the journey of Robert Flint, a private investigator who is hired by the influential southern debutant Virginia Westmire to track down the man who murdered her family.

When the comic opens Flint’s been on a quest to catch the Axeman for months, has followed his blood-soaked trail to Jacksonville Mississippi and as Flint begins to recount the chain of events that led him to this point the reader is treated to an exhilarating tale of mystery and horror.

Smith’s precise and sharp writing approach makes for a pacy read; while his easy-flowing conversational style transports us back to 1920s America, his exquisite plotting allows him to subtly drop in clues and plot twists right under the readers nose. The tale has a thread of intrigue running straight through it which is only enhanced by the PXD’s beautifully rendered illustrations.

The artist’s work on this title is nothing short of breath-taking, his depictions of the characters and settings have a cinematic flare that puts the reader in mind of a Hitchcock thriller but it is the attention to detail in every page that gives the project it’s visual depth. Expertly concealed within the backgrounds of each panel is an individual shout out to everyone who backed the book’s creation on Kickstarter. Some are understated, some are humorous and others are gorgeously innovative.

From a visual perspective hats must also be tipped to Rob Jones of Madius Comics whose clear and skill full lettering aided the narrative’s smooth flow. A considerable creative salute is also in order for the story’s colourist Saad Azim whose addition of a vivid and unique palette works on multiple levels.

The Axeman Cometh is a darkly powerful Southern American yarn full of inventive techniques; it shall doubtlessly prove to be a refreshing addition to the independent comics industry and will keep you guessing ‘til the very end.

 

A Few Words for Manchester

In the wake of the evil attack in Manchester on Monday the 22nd of May 2017, the whole nation stands together in shock, heartbreak and solidarity for the victims and their families. There are no words that can truly sum up the senseless barbarism that caused this tragedy or do justice to the bravery of the people affected by it. But as I am a writer,  language is the only currency with which I can pay my respects to all those lost and suffering: allow me to share with you these few words.

Only light can conquer darkness

Only courage can transcend fear

Only unity can heal division

Only love can vanquish hatred.

Manchester, we love you.

The Blog Post of Awesomeness

Greetings dear reader, ‘tis I, your humble blog-keeper and hat-sporting wordsmith back once again to inject a long-overdue dose of Random Lunacy into your consciousness. It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything on this here blog because I’ve been on what I like to call a creative excursion.

The last few weeks have seen me fly into an almost constant state of artistic alchemy, exploring ideas, genres and mediums that have interested and enthralled me for a long time.

I’ve been working like a madman on several bits and pieces including an incredibly exciting, top-secret project that is shaping up to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever produced, if I do say so myself.

I can’t wait to tell you more about it in due course but for now, allow me to share with you another fine project that I’ve been a part of during my creative excursion…

 

The Vault of Awesomeness podcast is the latest brainchild of Y.A. author Ben Davis.

Ben is the vastly talented and hilarious writer of The Private Blog of Joe Cowley series and the stand-alone novels Danny Dread and My Embarrassing Dad’s Gone Viral. He is also the Lead Writer at the Polesworth branch of Writing West Midlands’ Spark Young Writers Group, the very same branch where the Assistant Writer is some fellow named George Bastow. I’ve been co-running our Spark Young Writers’ group alongside the aforementioned Mr Davis since September and it’s fair to say that our creative minds operate on the same frequency, so when he asked me to be the first guest on The Vault of Awesomeness, my answer was a swift and definite “Yeah alright, then.”

I’d be lying if I told you interviews and public speaking were inside my natural habitat, but with a concept that was pitched to me as ‘the reverse of Room 101’ how could it be anything less than… well, awesome.

In the course of our interview Ben and I slid from the deep to the downright daft as we discussed such diverse topics as disability inclusion and black pudding.

If you’ve ever wanted to hear about how I started writing, became truly inspired by the work of Darren Shan or just listen to two yampy Midlands lads messing about, this is the show for you.

The Vault of Awesomeness: Episode 1