Thursday 24 July 2014

Notes from the Small Press 17: The Battle of Lewes Comic by Peter Cole and Annabel Cole, 2014

If Lewes, the East Sussex town in which I live and work, has a thriving small press comics scene – or any small press comics scene at all for that matter – I must admit it's rather passed me by in the six years since I moved down here from London. That's not to say such a thing doesn't exist; I just haven't seen any evidence of it on sale in any of Lewes' shops. Or should I say almost any evidence; because there is this:

The Battle of Lewes: Showdown at the Windmill, a sixteen-page minicomic written, drawn and published by Peter Cole and coloured by his nonagenarian mother Annabel (Peter is colour blind)... although I'm not sure one man and his mum really constitutes a scene as such. But anyway, initially serialized in local newspaper the Sussex Express, The Battle of Lewes was put together by Peter and his mater as part of the celebrations for the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes, which took place on 14 May, 1264 – the battle that is, not the celebrations, which have been taking place all this year – and led to the establishment of Britain's first representative parliament. Quite an important event in our island's history, then, as I only learned for the first time when I was reading a flyer for the Medieval Mayhem Festival which took place at the site of the Battle of Lewes, Landport Bottom, at the start of May.

Narrated in flashback by John Bevis, the man who during the battle captured King Henry III's brother Richard – the Earl of Cornwall, German King and "King of the Romans" – the comic is packed with incident and detail in regard to how events unfolded, from troop movements prior to the conflict to the taunts thrown at Richard as he took shelter in the eponymous windmill ("Are you a king or a miller?") to the gory aftermath of the battle. It's a remarkable and seemingly remarkably accurate document; a little wordy in places – one or two of the word balloons have to be seen to be believed – but necessarily so given the limited space, and Peter's charmingly outsider-ish artwork is very much in keeping with the small press comics sensibility – unintentionally, I suspect; according to this Sussex Express article he was inspired by the Eagle, not the small press scene.

Peter's amateur approach to comics storytelling – not a criticism, by the way; for me his non-professional style is why his comic works – also, I think, betrays his inexperience with the medium. Because splendid though The Battle of Lewes is, Peter's true vocation isn't as a comics creator but as a creator of plastic figurines. Under the company name Replicants and working out of a Lewes shop basement Peter makes unpainted limited edition historical and military figures, with lines devoted to the American Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Wild West and more besides. There's a gallery of some of the figures painted by collectors at the Replicants site, and there's an interview with Peter at Lewes Arts, in which he explains a bit more about what he does.

As for The Battle of Lewes comic, I got my copy from Lewes Tourist Information a month or two back, and apparently copies were also available in the Lewes Castle Museum shop and a few other Lewes emporiums, but I'm afraid I haven't done a recce to see if there are any left. Anyone who knows if it can still be had, leave a comment.

Since I'm on the subject of Lewes, I think I'll showcase a signed book bought in a Lewes bookshop next.

Previous Notes from the Small Press:

Notes from the Small Press 1: Fast Fiction Presents the Elephant of Surprise

Notes from the Small Press 2: Monitor's Human Reward by Chris Reynolds

Notes from the Small Press 3: Small Pets

Notes from the Small Press 4: Anais in Paris by Mardou

Notes from the Small Press 5: The Curiously Parochial Comics of John Bagnall

Notes from the Small Press 6: Ed Pinsent's Illegal Batman and Jeffrey Brown's Wolverine: Dying Time

Notes from the Small Press 7: The Comix Reader #1

Notes from the Small Press 8: A Help! Shark Comics Gallery

Notes from the Small Press 9: Some Gristavision Comics by Merv Grist

Notes from the Small Press 10: Some Sav Sadness Comics by Bob Lynch

Notes from the Small Press 11: a Review of Illegal Batman in the Moon

Notes from the Small Press 12: The Sky in Stereo by Mardou

Notes from the Small Press 13: First by Tom Gauld and Simone Lia

Notes from the Small Press 14: Planet 4, a Monitor Story by Chris Reynolds

Notes from the Small Press 15: Spandex #7 by Martin Eden

Notes from the Small Press 16: Sky in Stereo #2 by Mardou

Tuesday 22 July 2014

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice by Mike Carey, Peter Gross et al (Vertigo, 2013): Signed Graphic Novel

I noted towards the end of Friday's review of Lucifer – an obscure 1990 three-issue comics miniseries by Eddie Campbell, Phil Elliott and Paul Grist – that there was a rather better-known comic titled Lucifer which ran from the late-1990s until the mid-2000s and had its origins in a character created by Neil Gaiman – who, not entirely coincidentally, I'd been blogging about earlier that week (and the week before). Published by DC Comics/Vertigo, this more famous Lucifer was written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Peter Gross (for the most part; Scott Hampton, Chris Weston, Dean Ormston and inker Ryan Kelly also pitched in), and it remains, I think, my favourite among all the comics series that I've ever read (which is quite a lot), an extended metaphysical meditation on the tensions between free will and predestination, between fathers and sons, and between sons and siblings, with a memorably towering shit – the Devil, essentially – as its leading man. (Evidently I have a thing for towering shits; my second-favourite comics series is Matt Wagner's Grendel, while my favourite novel series is Patricia Highsmith's Ripliad, closely followed by Richard Stark's Parker series.) 

Lucifer came to an end in August 2006, but Carey and Gross teamed up again for another Vertigo series in 2009, The Unwritten – since retitled as it heads into its final furlong as The Unwritten: Apocalypse – which is an exploration of the power of stories and how they can shape the world – or even undo it if the final apocalyptic volume is anything to go by – starring one Tom Taylor, who as a boy was the inspiration for his father Wilson's Harry Potter-like series of novels. For me The Unwritten hasn't quite scaled Lucifer's lofty heights – possibly because its lead isn't a towering shit (although he can be a bit of a sod at times) – but I do enjoy it, and last year it reached a kind of creative crescendo in the form of this:

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice, a standalone hardcover graphic novel written by Carey with layouts by Gross and finishes and colours by – deep breath – Kurt Higgins, Al Davison, Russ Braun, Shawn McManus, Dean Ormston, Gary Erskine, Zelda Devon, Chris Chuckry, Eva de la Cruz and Jeanne McGee (cover by regular series cover artist Yuko Shimizu). It tells two stories: the fictional-fictional origin of young Tommy Taylor, the boy wizard, and how he inherited his power; and the merely fictional origin of the flesh-and-blood Tom Taylor, and the bizarre and heartless methods Wilson Taylor employed to turn his son into almost a weapon of words. It's engrossing and visually appealing and rather a lovely thing to behold altogether. (That's foil blocking there on the cover. Mmm... foil...)

I bought my copy in my local comic shop, Dave's Comics in Brighton, who must have had a signing for the book at some point, because Mike Carey has scrawled his signature on the front free endpaper:

Which makes this a nice addition to my bijou collection of signed graphic novels – see also, among others, the signed copies of Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson's Astro City: Confession and Eddie Campbell's How to Be an Artist from earlier in this run of comics-related posts. And I'll be showcasing some more signed novels – this time of the non-graphic variety, of which I have a collection which is far from bijou – very soon, after one last comics-related post.