Wednesday 26 February 2014

Titan Comics Graphic Novel Roundup: The Absence by Martin Stiff, It Came! by Dan Boultwood, and More (2013 / 2014)

I like to keep apprised of what my erstwhile compatriots at comics, magazine and books publisher Titan are up to, and fortunately they assist me in this eavesdropping endeavour by occasionally sending me stuff like this:

A load of hardback graphic novels from their Titan Comics line. Of course Titan have always published graphic novels – it's what the company's built on (along with the Forbidden Planet shops – well, some of them), and indeed overseeing the graphic novels published by Titan Books was my job when I worked there – but the Titan Comics line is a relatively new initiative (it launched last summer), a mixture of new material published as comic books through comic book stores and then collected as graphic novels, and classic comics brought back into print in graphic novel form.

Two of the books in this selection – Jack Katz's '70s underground comix classic The First Kingdom and the Dave Elliott-edited anthology Monster Massacre – have been out since September, so I shan't dally on them here except to note that the former is utterly barking – deranged, hyper-detailed art deployed in the service of a virtually unreadable fantasy/SF story – and the latter is for the most part utterly ordinary; the only standout for me was Dave Dorman's Hitch story "Monkey Business", a part-painted/part-scrawled mash-up of post-apocalyptic zombie/biker/Wizard of Oz weirdness.

The other three books are all due out within the next month, and for my money the pick of the bunch is Martin Stiff's The Absence – and not merely because Martin is a friend (and colleague; by day he's a talented book designer). As Martin notes in the endmatter, The Absence originally saw light as a six-issue self-published miniseries, which is how I encountered it (he sent me copies – one of them signed, no less); it's a dense, complicated, post-Second World War-set story about a disfigured exile who returns to the coastal English village that cast him out, done in a style that's like a cross between Eddie Campbell circa Bacchus and a 1990s Caliber comic. There's all manner of murky agendas at play, as well as a soupcon of the sinister and the supernatural plus a healthy dose of unnecessary swearing. A "Director's Commentary" is available at the FPI blog, but I wouldn't recommend reading much of it before reading the graphic novel (it's quite spoilery).

Dan Boultwood's It Came! and Stuart Jennett's Chronos Commandos: Dawn Patrol again respectively collect comics series, but in both cases the series were originally published by Titan last year. I must admit that Jennett's furious mix of war comic and dinosaur romp didn't do an awful lot for me, but I rather liked Boultwood's riff on '50s Brit sci-fi flicks. The constant comedy "by crikeys" and "bloody noras" become a bit wearisome, but there are some subtler touches – like the just-visible thread suspending the flying saucer – and Boultwood's monochrome animation-style artwork is easy on the eye. Nice bonus material too, especially the adverts and trailers before "our feature presentation".


  1. The Absence sounds pretty neat. I'll take a peek if I see it at the comics shop.