I think it's safe to say that this year - like 2011 - was a pretty mixed bag, but more of a balance between the good and bad. I avoided the mistake of making a list of things I wanted to do this year way back in January, seeing as it never worked out last year (looking back at the "what I'd like to do in 2011" post from last year, I realised I achieved literally nothing on that list. Go me).
Like last year, I came up against the whole "maybe I should pack in this writing lark" thing more than a few times, but, like last year, I was forced to face up to the economic realities of the UK and the mess the current
I realise I used that same image on the Obligatory 2011 Review blog post from, er, last year, but it still perfectly sums up my feelings on the current political climate. Having grown up through the 80's, under a Thatcher and then Major led government, I'm seeing that, really, the Conservative's haven't changed in the time they've been in opposition; they still have the same bullshit rhetoric about "free market competition", single parent families, Europe and benefits. And, having lived through all that before, having pretty much been blamed for society's ills because I was part of a single parent family, having been raised on a council estate without a silver spoon in my mouth and having realised the truth about the myth of "social mobility" quite early on, I can truthfully say I will never vote for them. But then, life wasn't really much better under the previous Labour government, so I'm left wondering what the point of it all is, really.
But, of course, not being obscenely wealthy or part of the "squeezed middle", my opinions and feelings on the political make up of the state of the UK are of no interest to anyone, so I'd probably be better off just putting my head down and writing, really.
[I know I should probably say something here about the Olympics, which I suspect, pretty much everyone else doing a blog post like this will mention, but, other than the truly stunning opening ceremony, my prediction that the games would in no way impact me or my life, or indeed any part of the country outside of London was proved true (we're still waiting to see some of that "economic benefit" that were promised up here in the north east). Although, I think I have to give special mention to the closing ceremony, a horribly conservative focus grouped pile of shite that, actually, made me think the whole thing was done to appease the Tories and their rich friends (celebrating the newspapers? Really?). It almost cancelled out the majesty of Danny Boyle's opening.]
Although I took a chance on submitting some prose work (and, as of writing this, I haven't heard anything back, but I still don't want to say anything about it just in case), the vast majority of my "writing year" has, again, focused around comics. My name has popped up in the credits pages of a fair few anthologies this year, the first of which was Stacey Whittle's Into The Woods.
That rather gorgeous cover is by Andy Bloor, with colours by Steven Howard.
My contribution to it was an adaption of the Northumbrian folk tale, The Lang Pack (with Simon Wyatt on art and Fillip Roncone on letters). At the risk of getting yelled at by Stacey, I'll put my hands up here and admit that the strip didn't work out in the way I wanted it to, but it did afford me the opportunity to try adapting an existing story into a comic strip, which was a bit of a challenge, and it made me, again, appreciate the value of seeing a script actually drawn up and lettered, so I could see what worked and what didn't.
Into The Woods is still available to buy from Aye Saw Comics' Big Cartel Shop, priced at a paltry £5 (+ p&p).
One pretty big achievement (well, to me, anyway) was the fact that I somehow managed to land a piece in every issue of Zarjaz and Dogbreath released this year.
So that was three issues of Zarjaz...
And two issues of Dogbreath...
I can honestly say that I was delighted and surprised by the quality of the artwork that came in for each of those strips. Steven Denton perfectly caught the Spaghetti Western atmosphere I tried to get across in the script for Dogbreath #26; Kev Levell caught the old school feel of Ron Smith Dredd for Zarjaz #15 and Dunk Nimmo, once again, simply proved why he's one of the best artists working in the small press today. Simon Bennett-Hayes, David Broughton and Jaye Franklin both blew me away, too, with some truly stellar work from them. And, of course, special thanks have to go to Bolt-01 for lettering duties on all of those strips, and many more besides.
With Zarjaz 15, myself and Jaye Franklin managed to produce the first (and so far, only) Devlin Waugh strip to feature in Zarjaz, which was a pretty awesome achievement. And then the legendary Colin MacNeil went and provided the Devlin Waugh related cover to that very issue, which just knocked me for six. I managed to get my copy of Judge Dredd: America signed by Colin at Thought Bubble (and narrowly missed John Wagner), but bottled out of asking him to sign my comp of that Zarjaz, too...
Over the course of the year, I've come to learn and appreciate that writing for Zarjaz and Dogbreath is a way to stretch myself as a writer, by playing with existing characters and sticking to the "rules" that come with them. Each strip comes with their own set of unique characteristics and language that goes beyond just knowing the minutiae of continuity. It's a hell of a lot trickier than it sounds, really, but, to me, writing isn't much fun without those kinds of challenges.
All of those issues of Zarjaz and Dogbreath (as well as several more back issues) are available from the FutureQuake Shop and the new FQ Comicsy shop, priced £3.00 (+ P&P). So go and check 'em out and find out why they truly are the galaxy's greatest fanzines.
Of course, it would be remiss of me to mention my other contribution to Zarjaz this year, in the form of Judge Dredd: The Right To Arm Bears, with Bryan Coyle. This ran as a completely "free-to-air" six page strip on the net, something which Zarjaz has never done before (yes, they've run free comic strips that have appeared in old issues on the blog, but they've never ran an original piece created specifically for that purpose).
You can read the full strip here, for free:
If you prefer, you can download a PDF or a CBR file of the story for reading on tablets/e-readers. I've also added a "re-bloggable" version of this to my Tumblr blog. You can also get the raw JPEG files over at Bryan's blog.
The story was written specifically for Bryan (anyone who knows him will know of his love for a certain killer polar bear who graced the pages of 2000AD years ago), and I think everyone can agree, his work on it is nothing short of amazing. Personally, I was pretty blown away by the positive reaction we had to it; the story seemed to go down really well with the people who read it, which was pretty great.
At the time of writing, though, I was seeing a lot of "controversies" in the comics world sparking into life and I was noticing how a lot of comics seemed to be pushing ever further into the grim and gritty, so, in a way, this became my reaction to that - which, God, sounds really pretentious and wanky, but the strip was designed to something silly and light - or as silly and light as a killer polar bear on a ridiculously bloody rampage can get, anyway - and an attempt to hark back to those old times when comics were, y'know, fun. When Bryan suggested doing the art in a Carlos Ezquerra style, I realised I'd have to step up to try and do my best Wagner/Grant impression with the dialogue, although I think Bryan succeeded more on his end than I did on mine. But, hey, it was a lot of fun to write and, more importantly, the comic's free. So, go read it.
2013 should see more from me in the pages of Zarjaz, including this:
2012 also saw me return to the pages of FutureQuake with a story that had been waiting a long time to see print, Call Of Nature. It took a while for the script to reach the top of the FutureQuake subs pile, before it went through two different artists - the second of whom, Jason Smith, stepped in and produced some pages that genuinely made me laugh. And, I'll admit, it felt great to be back in FutureQuake again; there's a reason it's got the kind of reputation it has, and I'm proud I managed to be a small part of it again.
That issue, 21, to be exact, is available from the FutureQuake shop, priced £3.50 (+ P&P) and has a cover by Gibson Quarter:
Again, a piece by me popped up in the pages of Accent UK's long awaited Zombies 2, and saw me finally work with the always awesome Valia Kapadai. With the strip came the return of the robot P.I. Hammett (who first appeared in AUK's Robots) in a pretty unique tale of the undead called Dead Harvest, which, yes, was a story about robot zombies. And if that doesn't want to make you rush out and grab a copy of the book, I don't know what will.
I've had a pretty great relationship with AUK over the years, I have to say. They gave me and Bryan a chance to refine our working relationship and provided us with a platform to get our work seen by a wider audience (it's been surprising how many people have referenced our work for them in the interviews we've been doing for Babble), so it was pretty gutting to hear that they're putting their anthologies on hold after next years Victoriana. That said, given the massive list of creators involved in the forthcoming book, I'm sure they'll end it on a high.
For now, though, Zombies 2 is available to buy from Forbidden Planet, Forbidden Planet International and directly from Accent UK. Or, if you prefer, see if you can order a copy through your local comics emporium with the code MAR120709.
Me and Valia should be back together for Victoriana, with a piece called The Eyes Of The Ripper. For now, here's a wee peek at the cover:
Early this year, I promised myself I wasn't going to do any cons, but I somehow ended up attending two. While Thought Bubble was the usual high quality event that the UK comics scene has come to know and love, I think I was the only person who didn't enjoy it - not because of the con itself, I have to say. I just wasn't in the right frame of mind to get into the swing of it. It was partly to do with being on the PR roundabout for Babble and partly because of other things that were going on around me at the time. I kind of regret not trying to put all that to one side and just forcing myself to enjoy the day, but that's human nature for you.
But I did enjoy my brief time at the Canny Comic Con in Newcastle. Although I was down as a guest, I ended up refusing a table (because I didn't have anything to sell) and wandered the floor as a punter. It was great to see the enthusiasm and passion on display from creators around the region; there really was a sense of closeness and community amongst them that doesn't always come across with people at the larger cons. Hopefully, that transferred to the other punters walking around, and some have been inspired to pick up their pencils and pens and start making their own comics. Although Canny Comic Con is still a very small event, I think - I hope - it's going to grow and grow if it continues, and I sincerely hope I can be a part of it in some way.
Of course, no "end of year blog post" would be complete without mentioning Babble...
This year saw the completion of the book, and our brand new cover (see above, if you haven't seen it everywhere all ready). I remember when Bryan turned in the final pages and I, literally, sat back in my chair, my breath taken by the way he nailed the final scene so perfectly.
But once the art was in the bag and the lettering was completed, it was time for us to start the PR trail and talk about Babble and everything around it (yes, including the whole Insomnia thing). It's been a strange experience, talking about something that doesn't actually physically exist, and having to remember to self censor in case of spoilers (and trying not to come across like a pretentious dick - I have to give special mention to Bryan for helping me avoid that particular pitfall).
The whole thing forced me to look more closely at my own work, views and practices, which has been...interesting. I've tried to be honest in my approach to it all, but I've worried about how I came off. Should I have been more bombastic? Should I have deliberately slagged off other creators and their work to get Babble noticed? Should I have gone with my original plan of offering interviewers free hugs? I don't know, really. I think I made the right decision, but... I guess time - and sales - will tell.
The reviews have been largely positive, too, which was surprising, I'll be honest. I guess it's because we were pretty much confined to a bubble with these characters and this story while it was in production; after a while, you begin to lose your sense of objectivity toward everything to do with it and you become really unsure about what other people will think when you finally emerge with the finished product. While you may think it's a work of genius that'll rival the greatest literature the world has produced, as soon as you step out of that creative bubble, you may well be in for a nasty surprise when everyone tells you the horrible truth that it's crap. Thankfully, the reaction to Babble has been pretty amazing so far, and it's left me keeping my fingers crossed that people will like it when they can finally buy it.
It's been an experience seeing the comics world from the other side of the table, as it were. The guys at Com.X have been great, answering questions about the "Direct Market" and how everything works, but I've never been able to shake the feeling that the whole way the market works is completely flawed (seriously, try explaining to people that, even though the book is complete and ready to ship, they still have to wait three months to get their hands on a copy). Of course the whole Direct Market is geared toward selling Marvel and DC comics - they dominate the market, so they can pretty much dictate how the market works - which makes it more...interesting [read: frustrating] trying to get a book not featuring Spider-Man or Batman noticed by comic fans. That said, with this being a full blown graphic novel, it's available via Amazon and other book stores, so we're not just concentrating on getting it into comic shops.
I'm not going to lie: I was disappointed that the book was pushed back to January 2013, even though I know it made more sense to do that and avoid the Christmas rush, but the fact that it's getting a simultaneous digital release makes up for that. And because it's going digital, we can, potentially, open the market for Babble even more. Now, if we can just convince people to take a punt on buying it, we'll be laughing...
For now, though, Babble is available to pre-order through these fine on-line retailers:
|Buy from Amazon UK||Buy from Amazon US|
|Buy from Forbidden Planet||Buy from Things From Another World|
Away from comics, though, things were...strange, I think is the best way to describe it. There's a lot of stuff that I don't want to go into here, but I found myself falling into daily routines, including posting something every day to my Tumblr blog, which then became a challenge to myself to keep it going and literally post something every day for the year. And, as sad as it sounds, I think I did it (I've got a hunch there's at least two days missing). It's one of those things that means nothing to anyone but me, but I proved to myself that I can actually set myself routines and challenges and stick to them... Yeah, OK, so I tried to do a similar thing here on the blog and post something new every week, but I only managed five posts in a row before admitting defeat. Those people who blog daily? My hat goes off to you.
God, this post is rambling on far too much, so I'll finish on, probably the tune that's come to be my theme tune for 2012 over the last few months, Weekender by Flowered Up. I've always had a soft spot for the tune, but it wasn't until I finally managed to track down a copy of it that I became entranced with the pure majesty of it (and disappointed with what else I heard of Flowered Up, compared to it). It's become a record that's helped me through some long nights and provided me with just the right kind of pick-me-up when I needed it. So, here it is in all it's twelve and a half minute glory:
As for 2013... Well, the most important thing is to get Babble out there and make sure everyone else knows it's out there, and available to buy. After that, I don't know. I've got some more small press work that's set to appear, but... Well, I've got some ideas about what I want to do, both in terms of writing and other, more personal stuff, but whether I'll be able to do it, I don't know. The only thing I am sure of is that I need to change some things in my life - which is a good, if cryptic, way to end this post, I think.
So, come on 2013, let's see what you've got in store...