Peeps at foreign comics 3: Novel Lynx

Right then.

I mentioned Novel Lynx before, when I reviewed the first (and only, it turned out) issue of Pulp Detective. More recently, my sea-mailed package of goodies from Japan actually arrived, and a google search lead me to a big manga database site with a tiny bit of extra information on it (well, the name of the publisher and a tiny cover scan).

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No less messy than any other Japanese comic cover

Novel Lynx is a “Light Novel”, or “Raito Noberu”. This is a recently-invented Japanese term, used to describe what we would call a Story Paper. Though after the stories have appeared in weekly or monthly papers, they are then reprinted as complete books, which are also called Light Novels. Here we would just call them books XD.

Novel Lynx is a monthly story paper, with a few comic strips, of about 500 pages, and roughly A5 sized. It costs ¥760, which is pretty steep, actually (a ‘full size’ monthly called Boy’s Monthly Magazine is only ¥450, as is Nekopanchi). But then again Novel Lynx has quite an, ahem, “niche” interest.

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Presented by Hello Kitty

It’s a “Boy’s Love”, or BL, story paper. Boy’s Love is a genre of gay romance stories, generally with pretty boys, which are mainly read by teenage girls. It’s also known as Shonen-Ai, and the more pornographic end of the genre is called Yaoi. In English-speaking countries, the term “Yaoi” is a catch-all which can also be applied to purely romantic stories. There’s an American company called June Manga which publishes completely harmless romantic stories as “Yaoi”, which I found a bit disappointing XD. Still, at least it was safe to read them at work.

Though BL may be considered a niche genre, it’s an incredibly popular one. A lot of totally ordinary bookshops (like Japanese equivalents of Waterstones) have at least one whole row of shelves dedicated to BL novels and comics, as well as several of the monthlies on sale near the tills. In addition, one of the two Comic Toranoana shops in Akihabara (a pilgrimage there is the geek’s version of Hajj) is “for girls”, which these days means it’s crammed with BL comics. There’s also a mini-Akihabara in the Ikebukuro district, which has several 8-storey BL “superstores”.

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As usual, the first few pages are on glossier paper and in colour. The writing is still vertical, and in three “columns”, just like King was 70-odd years ago.  This is one of a few short, complete stories, with the colour used for a cute illustration. It reminds me a little of The People’s Friend… though I doubt they’d run stories on this theme XD.

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After that, the first of the main stories gets a big splashy full-colour introduction page. All of the (text) stories in this issue appear to be complete, though they may be in series, like the regulars in The Champion were back in the 40’s. The main stories are around 40-50 pages long

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Each of the other main stories is introduced with a full-page title illustration, with the main characters in romantic poses and credits for the writer and illustrator. These sorts of stories seem to nearly all follow the cliche of one character being unsure of his sexual orientation, and the other trying to attract him. Most of the stories in this issue seem to be divided up between real-world high school or business relationships, and fantasy worlds. There’s also numerous adverts for books from the same publisher (Gentosha). Presumably those stories once appeared in Novel Lynx themselves.

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Itsoshisa no …something

Most of the rest of the pages look like this, 3 blocks of text with a mini title illustration in the top corner (just like The Boys’ Friend in the mid 1900’s… ahem).

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The text story illustrations are all full pages, well it is A5 sized. Some are more explicit than others, I’ve stuck to the clean ones for a “family” blog XD. These pictures also show the changing ink colour. While Shonen Jump uses different coloured paper, and black ink, many other Japanese comics use white paper throughout, but different coloured ink. Here including slightly red and slightly brown tones. I Wonder if it’s to help readers find the page they were on more easily, or something…

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As well as the long, “main” stories, there’s a few short ones of roughly a page and a half. These ones all seem to have a fancy border.

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The three comic strips are in sections of around 20-30 pages. Unlike the text stories, at least one of the strips is a serial! Well, with Japanese comic techniques, 20-30 pages is about average for a “chapter”, not a whole story. As with the text stories, this one is set in a fantasy world, while another one is set in a modern school.

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Tadaaaaa

As I mentioned, many of the adverts are for other Gentosha books, probably reprints of stories that originally appeared in Novel Lynx (or at least, some of them are part of “The Lynx Collection”). Here’s a whole list of “back numbers” for sale.

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There’s not many feature pages in Novel Lynx, but towards the end there’s a short “Comments” section with text message style notes about the stories, illustrations or comics.

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There’s also a double-page advert for “Comic Magazine Lynx”. No doubt a similar publication dedicated to comic strips. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it on my next visit to Ikebukuro! Now that I look, it says it costs ¥680, cheaper than it’s text-based cousin! I can only assume it sells more copies. That or ¥680 is the pre-tax price, and you actually pay more.

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In keeping with Shonen Jump and Nekopanchi (and most other modern Japanese comics, it seems), the contents section is at the “back” of the issue. Though western readers might turn to that page first, as Japanese books are read “backwards” XD. As well as the contents, there’s credits for the cover illustration (presented without loads of clutter all over it) and a message from the editors.

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Mind you, I don’t see how that postage-stamp-sized black and white picture is a “pin up”

On the back cover, there’s an advert for something called BL Diary, which appears to be a book where BL fans can record and rate their favourite couples. No doubt it also gets used for rating the chances of straight guys who the owners think ought to be couples XD.

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And finally, here’s a look at one of the many (many, many…) Light Novels on sale. It’s also a BL one, which I bought just because it had a “funny” title that jumped off the shelf at me. Unfortunately I had to censor the title before posting it on here! As you can see, they’re slightly smaller than manga reprint volumes, and usually have a ‘loop’ of paper with adverts and blurbs wrapped around the covers (very common on Japanese books). The text inside is no longer in columns, and the images are still full-page. No doubt stories from this issue of Novel Lynx now exist in book form, with new coloured covers.

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Peeps at foreign comics 2: Nekopanchi

I was on a manga-related forum a while back, where there was this guy giving it the usual lip about how “western comics” were failing because they’re “all superheroes”, and how manga is “succeeding” because it “has variety”. He went on to astound us with the amazing news that in Japan, there’s “even NAVAL MANGA”.

Of course, we know that’s complete nonsense. In fact, here’s a completely non-Japanese NAVAL MANGA I bought only a few weeks ago:

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Which is actually a 25 year old reprint, but Commando can theoretically produce brand new NAVAL MANGA at any time.

Of course, the British comics industry (when somebody can be bothered to invest the millions it needs to make it worthy of such a name again) could do better. For instance, while we do have NAVAL MANGA, we don’t have a 400 page monthly anthology ABOUT CATS.

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Nekopanchi, issue 73, October 2012

Nekopanchi seems to literally mean “Cat Punch”. One of the first ‘modern’ Japanese humour magazines was Japan Punch, a Japanese(ish) version of the british Punch magazine which was produced by immigrants. For a while afterwards “western style” cartoon illustrations (as opposed to funny Ukyo-e pictures) were actually called “Ponchi-e”, cementing the magazine as a solid phase of Japanese cultural history. Which may be the inspiration for the name Nekopanchi.

The issue opens, as is customary, with a colour section. First of all with an unsullied, and signed, reproduction of the cover illustration (more comics ought to do this, if they’re going to bury their covers under a million neon-coloured blurbs. And that goes for Japan and the UK!).

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On the back is this, Either a slightly-blurred photo, or an AMAZING painting. I can’t quite tell. The background suggests it’s a photo, but the cats don’t look quite right to me.

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The strips themselves appear to be a mixture of short comedy strips and longer instalments of advenure serials. Except they’re all ABOUT CATS (did I mention that?).

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PATATATA…

The lead story in this issue (though the order probably cycles, as is typical in Japanese comics. Even Naruto isn’t always at the front of Shonen Jump!) is called Kizutora Neko no Koume-chan. No idea what “Kizutora” is, but “Neko” is Cat, and -chan implies the name of somebody young and/or female, so presumably it’s about a cat called Koume. The story itself appears to be a kind of light-hearted soap, featuring one family, and the cat’s experience of what is happening. I suspect all of the cat’s dialogue is along the lines of “FEED ME, INFERIOR BEINGS”. This is followed by a more cartoonish story about the same cat going into a forest and having a meeting with other cats. Presumably about how to make humans work harder.

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Our mouths are A’s

This story also features cats meeting in a forest, but appears to be a bit more ‘serious’ (and is brilliantly drawn). It appears to be set in a fantasy world based on the Edo period, where cats and humans can talk to each other, and some sort of giant goblins also exist. Oh and the cats appear to be led by a dematerialising giant monk. Or maybe he is Buddah himself.

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This spread shows a couple of short gag strips commonly known as “yon koma”. No doubt “the faithful” insist that these are an ancient Japanese tradition, steeped in the mysteries of the orient and passed down through the generations from father to son. In fact they are exactly the same as newspaper strips like Dilbert, just vertical. They were probably originally inspired by cartoons in… Japan Punch! Because foreigners care more about British comics than the British do. There’s also an apparently complete story about a couple who are seemingly being kept apart by a “ghost” linked to an evil dragon statue, but a cat is able to see and fight the ghost XD.

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GAHAA

This one is called Last Boss, and appears to be about a scarred cat who fights other cats for control of the neighbourhood. There’s also a small kitten who dares to stand up to those terrifying monsters called “swans”.

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This story appears to be about a police cat who helps a woman to solve crimes. Later on it even gets it’s own uniform! Of course, her superiors aren’t impressed to begin with, but then the cat appears to pick out a suspect who (I suppose) is shocked into confessing that he really did it.

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Some more gag strips, and a short story which appears to be about a very cute, small stray kitten that decides it wants to be adopted by some people, so just stands in their garden and refuses to leave. I’ve seen that before!

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cha cha cha cha

More gag strips, this time with very simple, big-eyed artwork.

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I beleive that gate is one leading to a temple near Tokyo Tower

Another story which is like a cat experiencing a soap opera. Except this time the ghost of an old artist is involved! The artwork is very good, though the people are drawn in an 80’s-looking style. Could it be a reprint from that time? It’s not out of the question for there to have been cat-related comics back then too! Japan’s comic industry is just the absolute best. Nobody in other countries should rest until their own is as good (though that does not, of course, mean mindlessly copying “the manga style” and complacently assuming it will fly off the shelves).

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This is also marks the 6th anniversary of Nekopanchi, so there is a short article with several drawings (perhaps sent in by readers) to celebrate. Could you imagine such a “focused” comic lasting 6 years here? It’s hardly guaranteed even The Phoenix will! Still, though Nekopanchi is monthly, it’s actually quite small (by Japanese standards). The pages are about the size of reprint books, and most monthlies have 6-700 pages, or more.

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Oh yeah, that book is about a dog detective XD

You may be wondering if there’s a similar comic about dogs (or ABOUT DOGS, even). Some people who know a little Japanese may even be thinking about looking out for an “Inupanchi” next time they go there. Well actually the dog-based equivalent is not called Inupanchi (or “Dog Punch”) but Wanpanchi (or “Woof Punch”).

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“You’re biting my ear”

I’ll keep my eyes open for that next time, perhaps. Not that I can really read any of this stuff, and my next visit to Japan is likely to be the last, so I might never actually be bothered to learn the language properly.

Anyway, by way of comparison, here’s a couple of looks at British stories which are also about animals.

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Nibbles, from the 1976 Beezer Book (which I actually bought when I was a kid in the 90’s, and read over and over! Far more entertaining than the annuals I had then) is a fantastically-drawn tale about a red squirrel who saves a boy after he falls down the stairs, by attracting the attention of the neighbours.

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Daring Adventures for Boys is a book from the 20’s or 30’s with a lot of stories that are told from an animal’s point of view. Most of these stories result in the animal being killed by human hunters. I did actually wonder if the book was more modern than it appeared, and had been written by some animal rights organisation, but another story is about a black boy coming to a boarding school and ‘daring’ to be a better boxer than the white champion.

MCM Winter Expo 2012

(Why yes, I am referring to them in the same manner as the Japanese refer to Comiket, though those are a couple of months later, entirely dedicated to comics, and four times bigger XD)

Last weekend I went to the MCM Expo, which is held twice a year in London’s Excel Centre. Also known for hosting various Olympic events. I actually got myself organised this time, and caught the same train as my friend from King’s Lynn, so we went together. I also finally gave her a Nendoroid (small, chubby figures of characters from nerdy things… where’s the Doctor Who ones?) I’d bought in Japan. She was with various friends in costumes, who said “We’re a bunch of freaks”. Except on the way down the train I’d walked past a loligoth zombie with her face all in stitches, so yeah. I’d intended to dress up as a 30’s American gangster, to “promote” Pulp Detective. In the event, I forgot to even take the first issue of Pulp Detective and shove it in people’s faces. The small WH Smith in the King’s Cross Underground didn’t have it either. Why yes, I would have bought a second £3.25 copy just to shove in people’s faces.

Anyway, on arrival we promptly lost most of the people from the train, who had spent the journey playing Mario Kart and screaming. The journey to the venue was uneventful… apart from when a few Japanese girls accosted my friend (dressed as computer-generated singer Hatsune Miku) and wanted pictures taken with her. Then they asked us where “the Harry Potter place” was. We also met a cowboy on the underground, but he was on a pub crawl, not going to the con XD. Also my friend’s friend, dressed as the second doctor (though with the hair of the fourth XD) decided to spend the rest of the day in character, which was amusing (he saw many of his future selves). We waited for somebody else, who was cosplaying a “Pyramid Head” from… some game. We had to wait for him to change, which appears to have involved taking most of his clothes off, which somehow took ages. His costume was very good, so loads of people wanted pictures taken, he also insisted on walking to the queue “in character”, dragging his huge sword. We decided to leave him to it.

The queue was as fun as ever, with many hi-fives and fist bumps. There was also a few “mexican wave cheers”, but as big as the MCM queue is, it was a bit too small for those to work properly. You really need 110,000 people, stretched across a gigantic field, with AC/DC at one end. Later on we tried to start a mass singalong, but unfortunately nobody else knew the words to any Spitting Image songs (or 19th century German propaganda anthems). Oh we also got everybody clapping at one point XD. After the qeue was finished I lost the other two by stopping to have Thai curry AND sushi… well you didn’t get very much of either. The sushi was the nicest pre-packaged kind I have had in this country, which isn’t saying much.

Once that was over and done with, it was on to the main hall! I’ve always said they should expand the convention into two halls, instead they appear to have taken out the partition between two and turned them into one huge one. It was far less crowded than it was in May, and even the small press “comic village” had a decent amount of space between tables. It was also the first place I headed for, of course! There was plenty else going on along the way, mind you. KITT was parked in the middle of the hall, and there was a Yu-gi-oh / Magic card tournament nearby. Also costume competitions, talks and that. All of which I sailed serenely and ignorantly past, I had comics to buy!

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The complete haul

Japanofail issue 6 (of 5) is a collection of very funny gag strips, I’ve lost track of how many of them I have, mind you. Better have a dig in the small press drawer.

I also got a couple of Victorian-set stories, though both involving elements of “Steampunk” and magic. Widdershins is pretty funny, and remarkably for a “vaguely manga”-type modern story, doesn’t depict Victorian Britain as “just the same as it is now but with a few gas lamps”.

Twisted Dark is great big 200 page wedge of horror for only £5, and Tortured Life is a new full-colour comic from the same creators. This one about a man who is able to see how people and animals will die when he looks at them, so becomes a hermit, then finds somebody who is apparently not going to die!

Allsorts is from Sweatdrop Studios (in-depth post really is going to be made one day, honest! …or just look them up yourself) and is an all-ages comic. There’s actually a few Sweatdrop comics that would be great for children, but which have swear words added for no reason. It puts me in mind of “daringly” watching 12-rated films when you are 10, or spotting one swear word in a translated manga. Completely pointless! Anyway, Allsorts is A4 sized and very thin, a format just like a traditional British weekly. Mind you it’s also £5 because it has a small print run and many people worked on it. It even has a text story! Though knowing the Sweatdrop lot, this was no doubt inspired by seeing text stories in The Phoenix, rather than a knowledge of the history of British (or real history of Japanese) comics. Also from Sweatdrop is Reluctant Soldier Princess Nami – a parody of Shoujo Battle anime from the late 80’s, which makes no sense to me, probably because I haven’t watched what it is parodying!

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Oops, some airfix paints fell conveniently into place

But the best buy of the con was this Doctor Who book. IDW in the US are producing their own Doctor Who comics (including a crossover with Star Trek) independently of the strips in Doctor Who Magazine or Doctor Who Adventures. The cover was signed by artist Al Davison! I’m keeping that one in an old Phoenix envelope. The story itself is about the tenth Doctor in the world of Hollywood during the roaring 20’s. I seem to remember a brief reference to that in one of his last TV episodes – making the book a neat ‘gap filler’.

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Posters n postcards

The most interesting thing I got was Sound, a compilation of Vietnamese comics(!). The theme of the collection is Sound, though there’s also plenty of stories with a ghostly horror element. One story, perhaps inevitably, mentions the war and another gives an insight into Vietnamese culture – they have a “Civil Defense” who are like Britain’s PCSO’s, only organised along military lines. The artwork is mostly Japanese style and the production of the book is in line with UK small press anthologies. I suppose Vietnam’s comic industry is tiny, under-funded and anaemic, with a very blurred line between the “small press” and “professionals”. Just like Britain’s comic industry, in fact!

After a lot of wandering about looking for my friends and appreciating cool costumes, I spent the last of my money on some Japanese porn comics and came home, going through several flurries of freezing cold rain. Winter is truly here now, so stay indoors with your favourite picture-books. My next convention will probably be the Spring MCM or Camcon II… depending on dates! There is a convention in Leeds next weekend, which The Phoenix will have a stand at, but that’s a bit far to go for a day trip, from here.

Pulp Detective

I spent the past couple of weeks in Japan, and while I was there I swept up great armfuls of comics ancient (well, 30’s) and modern. Japan probably has the biggest comics industry in the world, in terms of the output of actual comics (the US industry makes most of it’s money from films, videogames and pyjamas). Among the many publications I picked up was this one:

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Which is a ¥760 monthly (this is a second hand copy, which is why it has a ¥100 sticker) called Lynx Novel. I was quite surprised to discover that it actually only contains a minority of comic strips – most of it is three column illustrated text stories! No doubt British fans of Japanese comics would call it a “Light novel serialization anthology”*, or some such guff. Of course we all know the correct term – it’s a STORY PAPER!

Anyway, I planned to do an article on this comic, angrily asking why we can’t have such things here. Unfortunately I can’t do that article yet, because I was buying far too much stuff and had to ship some of it home by surface mail, this among it. Of course, there’s no rush to create such an article is there? I mean, what’s going to happen? It’s not like somebody’s going to launch a new story paper in Britain while my back is turned, is it?

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…shut up.

Yes, that is precisely what has happened! And it’s a themed story paper too. Lynx Novel is about gay romance, but Pulp Detective is about prohibition-era gangsters. I know which one I prefer to read… in text form, anyway. On first impressions some things about Pulp Detective look a bit off, namely the illustrations look far too colourful and cartoony for the hard-boiled action they depict. Also all of the stories are set in the same time and place, when I was hoping for trips to Victorian London or modern America. But these things will grow on you, honestly!

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A map of Bay City, where the stories all take place.

With the stories all set in the same place, there’s plenty of potential for crossovers and characters meeting each other, or one story being pushed along by events in another. I don’t see anything like that in the first issue (and rightly so – it’s got to find it’s feet first!), but the possibility is there, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t happen.

 

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Typical spread

It’s a good thick publication too, with about 130 pages (Lynx Novel has 4-500, but that’s Japanese comics for you) that will take a decent amount of time to read. A perfect train station / airport buy for those long trips, I’d have thought. As you can see above, the illustrations look almost like Franco-Belgian comics, and for some reason they have speech and thought bubbles (something the Starscape Storypaper also did, which I found a bit weird). A lot of them are decently atmospheric, for all that, and the exaggerated, cartoony features do at least allow characters to stand out clearly. The style of the illustrations appears to be the first thing a lot of people coming to this comic notice – but don’t let them put you off, really!

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Different illustrators are used for each story

The first story features the main character, police detective John Munro, in the first part of what promises to be a long-running serial (each part of the serial is very long, though, a mini-novel in itself) as he takes down the mob piece by piece. The second story is told in the first person, by private detective Henry Reed. While the first story moves around the city, the second really focuses on one man’s experience of it. There’s plenty of fairly authentic 30’s American slang too, though a mini-glossary is provided.

 

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Taken pictures with the camera again, it’s not too good XD

The third story in this issue follows another private detective (and has illustrations that are much better suited to this sort of tale… also the cars in it look a lot more like they’re from the early 30’s rather than the mid 40’s!). This story is complete, and in each issue the complete story will follow a different character, showing yet more aspects of both the high and low life in Bay City.

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Comparisons of the cars

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Most of the third story’s illustrations are like this.

Pulp Detective issue 1 is on sale now from most branches of Smith’s (even, amazingly, Ely – who don’t always bother with 2000AD or Commando). It’s also apparently being sold in several smaller newsagents, though I have seen at least two reports of them saying they sent it back to the distributors saying it “wouldn’t sell”, or even that it “wasn’t selling”, only 2 days after they’d received issue 1!

YOU TRAITORS!

Have an ask around your the newsagents in your own area (or at least those that, according to the official website’s store finder, are supposed to be selling it), and refuse to do business with any that say the same, eh?

Issue 1 costs £3.25, which is cheap compared to ¥760! I really hope this comic is here to stay, it’s easily overtaken The Phoenix (“yet another magical fantasy” is getting old… I say, as Zara’s Crown is getting underway) and is up there among Commando and Spaceship Away as my favourite British comic.

Also, knowing what side their bread is buttered on, the publishers don’t want to have this comic running in “isolation”, like DC Thomson’s output, and are advertising the MCM Expo on the back cover!

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I hope they will have a table there too. My promotion of it will be vocal!

In fact, I may even cosplay as a 30’s gangster…

Visit the Pulp Detective website here: www.pulpdetective.com

 

* – American spellings and all

Red, White & Blue issue 2 – coming “soon”

…though when people will actually be able to buy it is anybody’s guess. Perhaps at Camcon 2013, in May/Jun/Jul next year… unless I’ve gone to Japan, that is. I think I need to get an Etsy shop set up sooner rather than later! Of course if I do go to Japan I will have to shut that down, as I’d probably, by selling stuff I’ve made in Japan to British readers and having them put money in a British bank account, be evading taxes XD. So then the issues (until I come back / get Japanese citizenship… one or the other) will only exist ‘in theory’.

But, then again, this one is another that has missed it’s deadline by two months – and considering what I intended to get done this weekend (finish and print it), and what I actually got done (most, but not all, of the lettering), it may even eat into the 2/4 months earmarked for issue 3. And that’s with 10 of the 15 black and white pages already completed – as they are reprinted from the old series issue 2. Though I have re-lettered them (in all caps, from now on) and also rewritten the stories slightly.

It’s a bit pathetic really, isn’t it?

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MCM Expo, May 2012

I’ve gone to several of the MCM Expo’s now, always the ones in London (though they are also in Birmingham, Manchester and, er, Telford). The London ones are twice a year, in May and October, and go on for three days! But I only ever go on the Saturdays. One of these days I’ll book a hotel and get the full experience. Plus I’ll make some costumes!

Anyway, On the past occasions I kept forgetting my camera, but this time I remembered. I’d been looking forward to it for a year, as last October I went to an Anglo-Japanese society Karaoke night that “got out of hand” the day before. Ahem.

I woke up at the normal work time, and first went into Ely to take some ridiculous photographs. Here is the Ely funfair:

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At 7-ish in the morning, so nothing was going on

You’ll notice it is taking up half of one of Ely’s central car parks. Now while the city does have a “park and ride” it’s really not big enough to justify having one. Plus most of the shops in the centre are girly clothes shops anyway. If you have a car, going into Ely is only suitable for quickly buying some small things, otherwise you’d go to Cambridge. So really the council wants to make as much central parking available as possible, otherwise they will just kill the town off.

Of course the funfair was once held here:

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But that’s near this:

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And so people complained that having the funfair there was “disrespectful”. And once again “rethpect for peopleth sincewy hewd beweifs” was allowed to stand in the way of progress and efficiency. Sometimes I wish we were more Chinese, I really do. Mind you the government will no doubt adopt the worst parts of China, like a national firewall, in time.

Anyway, with that lot out of the way I set off for the actual event! It’s in the Excel Centre in Docklands, which is so big you probably really can see it from space! It’s even got it’s own DLR station, and as you get nearer on MCM day the trains start to fill up with people in crazy costumes, talking about anime. Oh and about which station they are going to change at – any of the three after Bank Underground station is fine, honestly!

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A friend did an ‘interesting’ photoshoot around here. You can see this building in the background XD

Having changed trains you then stay on and are taken right to the convention’s front door! Apparently via Fukushima…

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Should we be this close?

After that there’s a “bit” of a qeue. I arrived earlier than I normally do this time (11-ish as opposed to 1-ish), so the qeue was shorter. It also seemed to be moving a lot more quickly. In previous years there’d always be people stopping to take photos of each other’s costumes, but I didn’t see as much this time around. Maybe there was some crackdown on it announced on the official website.

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Spot you!

I didn’t see any queue-jumping either, in spite of the formidable, impassable barriers that had been set up:

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Some of them were even raised off the ground!

Maybe it’s not that we don’t have no friends, we just choose them better! And meet up with all 60,000 of them twice a year…

Anyway, after queueing for about half an hour – 45 minutes, and a great many hi-fives, I finally got the “Adult Entry” wristband. For some weird reason you then ‘queue’ again to have somebody put it on you.

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Ooh, aint ‘e bold

And with that, I was finally in the convention! After walking past a vast area of empty hall. Like I said, the Excel Centre is giant. I bet you could fit all of Camcon in the room that the qeue is in. Strangely, though, they rent these two rooms but the convention itself is only held in one. The other is half-filled with the queue and then is half empty. Surely it would be better to put  some stands in there as well? Leave the main hall for the “big attractions” (Marvel, Viz Media, new games etc) and have the artists and small press in the other half of the queue hall?

As it stands, the room that the convention proper is held in can get worryingly overcrowded at times. They’ve also tinkered with the layout this year. There’s a popular (and controversial) stall that sells Yaoi, which used to be in one corner, but this time was right inside the entrance. There was also a ‘walkway’ between large merchandise stalls running at 90 degrees across the people coming in. The comics area was also strangely laid-out, with the small pressers in ‘lines’, but then with Marvel against the wall, right in the middle of the far end of the lines – resulting in major blockages. Still, it was easy to get to the small press tables!

Sweatdrop Studios, who are ‘technically’ small press, but are so well-known that they could better be described as ‘medium press’ these days, were out on their own with a large stand. If I remember rightly Emma Vieceli used to be one of the main organisers of MCM, mind you XD

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I’ve been meaning to take a pic like this for ages, in-depth post coming soon!

Saturday was incredibly hot, though the main convention hall was well ventilated and/or air conditoned, so it wasn’t as bad as you might imagine. I had to keep ‘topping up’ with deodorant mind you! I bought a few odds and ends including Bakuman book 11, which I promptly left behind at the stall selling a British comic called Formera. I went back and amazingly it was still there, I also bought the two volumes of Formera currently available. It “looks like One Piece”, as I said at the time. But I’ve never read One piece (and at approaching 700 chapters I’m not about to start!).

After that It was time for lunch. There’s a giant hallway running through the Excel Centre, which on this occasion was completely open (on a previous occasion half the centre was closed off for a medical conference – the look on their faces as they came through “our” bit as priceless!). There’s loads of little fast food outlets all the way along with a greater or lesser degree of seating. They’re quite “reasonably” priced too – considering they have a large captive audience in central London, anyway!

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This is just over halfway along (with the shorter part behind me, mind you!)

After that I decided to venture outside. On previous occasions I’ve never actually realised that anything was going on outside the building (mind you some of those previous occasions have been really cold). But actually there’s a big plaza and riverside area with a grass embankment to sit on, a stage set up on a lawn with live(ish) music, and a ‘dance’ area where people do silly dances like Caramelldansen. I only discovered all of this a few weeks ago when I looked at Youtube videos of past expo’s. BUT this year they moved the stage to just outside the main entrance, so you could hardly miss it!

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A girl that was doing Jpop dances

Most of the performances I saw were basically girls who have memorised the dances to manufactured pop music performing them. Except of course this is manufactured pop from JAPAN and so ,no doubt, has an ancient and noble samurai tradition behind it. I wonder if these sorts of events in Japan feature girls doing the dance moves to “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls, or something?

The reason the stage had been moved to just outside the main entrance was because there was another event going on further down, promoting the benefits of swimming. At least it had attracted additional ice cream vans and also a load of portaloo’s, so the qeues were smaller!

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Once upon a time this was all disreputable boarding houses filled with disguised detectives.

Oh and just another picture to give you an idea of the scale of the thing. The stage area is up those stairs, between them and the building!

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Desertified

I had a couple more wanders around the convention hall, bumped into a few people I know (including the organiser of Camcon!)  and bought some more bits and pieces. Including a couple of books from June Manga, who label them “yaoi”, though I understand yaoi is a term for pornographic comics. June’s comics are actually romantic stories with varied settings. One I got before was a police procedural, and this one has two stories, both dealing with love-hate relationships turning into, erm, love-love ones. Mind you the stories could do with more action, what about a tale of romance between two strangely-long-haired Desert Rats during El-Alamein?

I also got a book called One Cell from a company called Lomsofd Manga (which I kept misreading as “Lowestoft Manga”). It’s “backwards”, despite having been originally written in English. Plus the art style looks more like an exaggerated stereotype of manga, I think somebody’s having a larf! Also on the shopping list was a couple of books from Ushio, who does some very funny material in his “Japanofail” books. Oh, and another title from Sweatdrop Studios – the second part of Strangers & Friends, which is about mysterious murders in Wooton Basset.

The best thing I got, though, was a huge reprint book of Hokusai Manga, which was the first thing to be called “Manga”. One literal translation of manga means “random sketches”, and that’s what Hokusai Manga was! You’d have a couple of pages of insects, followed by Noh masks, followed by people doing everyday jobs. There would sometimes be ‘literal’ illustrations of famous proverbs and things too. Hokusai Manga was originally planned to be just one book (published in 1814 – during the Edo Period, when Japan was closed off from the world and basically a Medaeval society), but ended up running to 15 volumes published over 64 years (though the last one was discovered and published 30 years after Hokusai’s death). The books were supposed to be a kind of guide to drawing, but ended up being bought in their thousands by a whole range of people who just liked looking at the pictures. I can see why, there’s something enchanting about them. Many copies even found their way out of Japan and influenced and inspired artists in other countries.

After a bit more wandering It was time to go home. I deliberately aimed for the new part of King’s Cross station. I remember major building work going on there when I was going to Plymouth with my granny for the eclipse… in 1999! It’s kind of hard to believe I won’t ever be squeezing through a narrow tunnel of wooden hoardings next time I go.

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Don’t I have another blog for non comics pictures?

In all, a fun convention, though I didn’t buy as much as I expected to (still spent the expected, large, amount of money mind you!). Perhaps in October I’ll do the full three days!

Red, White & Blue issue 1 and Camcon

All the way back in May 2011, I decided to ‘retrospectively’ ask IPC for permission to use Sexton Blake in my Red, White & Blue comic, and got turned down! So I decided to re-launch the comic, now with a new detective called Norman Saxon, and three black and white serial comics instead of two. The initially-planned release date for the new issue 1 was July, then September. Then February 2012, and then “Camcon 2012”, which was held on the 12th of may. I was up until 1 in the morning the night before printing and stapling! This in spite of the fact 10 of the 15 comic pages had already been drawn. I’m still hoping to make the comic bi-monthly eventually, though. Mind you only the first issue has a 25,000-odd word article about the history of British comics in it, which took “a while” to do (and still has a few mistakes – see under the History tab!).

So what does the finished product look like? Well I’d already posted the cover design on here, but the final has been altered slightly – mainly to “double date” it (I wish it had ‘only’ taken those four months to produce) and also to point out not every issue will have 40 pages!

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Same price as the old 24 pagers, though!

The two serial strips from the old version have returned. The first parts of them have been re-scanned and the script has been altered slightly. I’d actually intended to re-draw a few of the worst panels, but didn’t get time in the end. Oh I also added unobtrusive “previously published” labels – more as an excuse than anything, it’s not like many people ever saw them the first time around!

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I’m planning several “fictional people in real events” stories to make the comic “educational”. Including the Falklands War, Taisho / Showa-era Japan and the Great Storm of 1987.

Joining the two old strips is a new one – The Gun. It’s actually based on my  “first” (not really, but the actual first one made no sense at all) adventure comic, which I created from the ages of about 11-15. In the old version the world has been randomly carved up into two weirdly-named armies, who are fighting World War 3 (in the vein of all those war toys with “goodies” and “baddies” from no specific country). The new version is, of course, more realistic.

Oh wait, no it isn’t! Instead a huge, brainwashing cult has captured a huge territory stretching from Zimbabwe to western China, and is now aiming to take over Europe, Russia, the Arabian Peninsula, China and Korea. No doubt certain people will take the concept of a “huge, brainwashing cult” centered around the Middle East threatening the world the wrong way. But actually the enemy are going to be more based on that sort of smug, ivory-tower, “this is the correct way to live, you uneducated plebs” person, than on Muslims (who are not all the same anyway, if you’d bother to spend 5 minutes wiki’ing it). The first part of the story just introduces the main character and explains how the war starts – the enemy are called Intersoc, and have been inspired by Eurosoc, an orwellian dictatorship that briefly takes over the EU. World War 3 in this story is fought more like World War 2, but with jet planes and cooler tanks. The lack of nuclear weapons blowing everybody back to a radioactive stone age in 10 minutes is explained away unconvincingly – but if you want to read that, buy the comic!

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There will be an Etsy shop eventually. OR I may syrup-ticiously have a small quantity on sale at the Saturday of this year’s May MCM.

Of course, the main attraction of the comic is the complete detective story in each issue. The first one is around 11,500 words long and introduces Norman Saxon. The early continuity of Sexton Blake (in fact, quite a bit of the later continuity too!) was very confused and contradictory. As I’m coming up with a new character, I have given him a solidly-defined age, house, assistant and skill set right from the start! My old Sexton Blake stories jumped around, ranging from 1900 to 2007. Norman Saxon, though, is going to be firmly set in the Victorian / Edwardian period. The first two RWB stories are set in 1900. The first Trident story will be set in 1899.

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I think I need to work on scene composition

And, of course, there is that article! The version currently available under the History tab is version 2, the print version is actually version 2.1 – it has a few minor spelling and grammar corrections. There are a few others required, though. The next online version will be 2.2 – and will also contain pictures! The only picture in the printed version is the title. The aim of the article is to give the readers (who will mainly be at these conventions for US / Japanese comics) a new enthusiasm for British comics, and so it is a bit biased and ‘fluffy’. That said I took care to make sure all the facts were correct, and certainly avoided “the Dandy was the first British comic with speech balloons”-type waffle.

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In the far future an absolutely corrected version may be printed as a book with lots of colour pictures and sold seperately.

Oh and the back page contains profiles of the characters in the RWB, both in the current issue and those coming in the near future. That’s near future issue numbers-wise anyway!

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Hopefully by the time I get to the football story I’ll be a bit better at drawing distinctive faces!

With the comics printed and packed (and my huge stack of Roy of the Rovers sorted out, finally), it was time to pack and sleep. I even got everything into one case!

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It weighed a bit.

I’d also been attempting to record a Camcon video diary, but have scrapped it for two reasons. One, when I’m “talking to myself” (or machinery) my voice goes even more high pitched and pathetic than it already is. Two, I blu-tacked the camera to the dashboard of my car and made several ‘amusing’ comments during the journey, but I’d forgot there was a delay before it started recording, so all of those clips were of me turning the camera off again! I decided to just quit while I was ahead.

In the spirit of promoting British adventure comics, I also decided to create my own T-shirt with a Phoenix reference. I also took the latest issue and showed it to a few people on the day. Conveniently my 1p comics (always a draw, once you tell people the price) and the latest Phoenix both have rampaging dinosaurs on the covers! So let’s hope the guys and gals in Oxford have a few more subscribers before long.

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I’ll wear it at the MCM later this month too!

I’ve never been one for Cosplay, though I’ve since had a few cool ideas that might not be too difficult to make. But promoting The Phoenix comes first!

Anyway, having arrived at the venue decently on time (fortunately some horrible roadworks right in the middle of Cambridge have now been finished) I went around and started to get set up. As well as RWB issue 1 I also had the only issue of my old Scum Slaughter comic and a couple of 1p comics. I needed some “padding” so took various duplicates from my collection, including a load of 80’s Roy of the Rovers, and some older Union Jacks. Also a couple of volumes of The Windsor Magazine, a Victorian Strandalike. A few people had a look at them but didn’t buy them – far too heavy!

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The only picture I took at the con proper. The table closest to the camera was for an enigmatic “Cielia” who never turned up XD.

As you can see, the room was rather small, and so the walkways were very narrow. The tables were extremely close together, me and the girl behind me kind of had to take turns sitting down because we couldn’t both do it at once XD. But then again I prefer to stand up at these sort of events, you can engage the customers on the same level. Some “general anime memorabilia” merchants were next to me, and appear to have booked “back to back” tables so they could sell to people passing on either side of them.

As I didn’t have quite so much stuff I was set up in only a few minutes. I decided to start drawing some better signs for my table, though only got one of them partly done before the doors opened. I didn’t exactly have a decent range of pens either! It’s Cambi, the Camcon mascot, with Britannia fighting off clutching zombie hands. Or would be If i’d had time to draw them. I also forgot Cambi’s glasses and boots.

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 Next time I’ll make the effort and watercolour up something proper

The con was underway! And as usual I got generally ignored XD. A few, ahem, “older” guys came to the table. attracted by the Roy of the Rovers’s. But in the end I only sold 3 RWB’s, 1 Scum Slaughter (the guy loved the look of it, wonder what he thinks now?), 2 penny comics and a couple of secondhand items. Oddly I assumed the really old ones would go like hot cakes but they didn’t sell at all, I did dispose of a Union Jack from 1932, though.

I was opposite Sweatdrop Studios, which is not the best place for an obscure comic to be! Their table(s) were mega-busy virtually all the time. Still in a quiet period Emma Vieceli did actually realise who I was from some odds and ends I’d posted on thier forum XD. I was also able to collar a Thai girl who I’d previously been talking to (along with other Sweatdrop members Sonia Leong and Morag Lewis) at the previous week’s Hanami Exhibition. She’s interested in the history of the comics of all nations, and so I was able to sell her an 80’s Roy of the Rovers. I bet “I sold a Thai girl an 80’s Roy of the Rovers” is a googlewhack and a half. She later came back to ‘complain’ that it was full of football stories XD. But I was able to persuade her to part with hard-earned money for a certain other publication with a big article about comic history in it.

Other amusing incidents include some old guy who asked me how long I’d been interested in “manga” and didn’t seem impressed with the answer of “since May 2009, and I only read one!”. Some other guy also bought an RWB off me but then seeded my table with a load of leaflets for a tabletop RPG convention. I quietly shifted them before I had people coming and asking me about it XD. Also saw a few people from my Japanese classes, but didn’t sell anything to them. They were well-warned in advance!

The room was cold in the morning, but later in the day I discovered the painful way that one whole side of it was made of thick glass – it was like an oven! At least I wasn’t facing the window, I felt sorry for those guys. As time went on the number of visitors dwindled away and I went on a buying run of my own. I didn’t get much as there was a “last flicker of the candle” rush of people just as I’d extricated myself from behind the tables XD.

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The 9th Art book I actually got for free, it’s a regular(ish) anthology of comics creators from Cambridge and Oxford. I doubt they’d like what I’d send them, though! “White Violet” is one of Sweatdrop’s most interesting sounding comics, but one I’d somehow not bought until now. Vampire Freestyle is an adorable and amusing series by Jenika Ioffreda, who is insanely dedicated and attends ALL the cons! Even otherwise-unrelated craft fairs and goth conventions XD. I’ll do a proper review of the series one day. Sidekick appears to be a series of comics in which the main character keeps jumping genre (and mocking them). In the first one it’s a slice-of-life type story, but in another issue he finds himself in a sci fi space battle. A western looks to be on the cards too! Also there’s Fantasy World, which I’ve barely looked at (good, clean art though), a Sonic sketch and the conbook. The conbook also contains a short strip and a one-page cartoon about comic collecting, by me! There’s a few other bits of incidental art and loads of little Cambi designs.

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Oh and I got kitty/squirrel ears. They make my own ears look even bigger!

After the con closed down there was a break of an hour or so, in which I took my case back to the car (that was fun, I had to drive out of the space, chuck the case in, and then park again – in a multi storey! Lucky it wasn’t busy). After that I ate, did a bit of drawing on a big roll of paper, saw some other friends and watched a little anime in the tiny, boiling hot screening room. I don’t normally like anime but, well, there was nothing else going on. Also Dominion Tank Police has entered my “must watch” list. It’s cheesier than Space Mutiny!

Later on there was some singing and that. Zonic, aka Ziggy Newman, the organiser of the con, performed some of her own songs. Some of these involve putting words to music from the Sonic the Hedgehog games! Then the Cambridge-based clubnight Psychocandy rounded off the night with a load of geeky music including club remixes of the Nyan Cat music, a metal version of the Ghostbusters theme, Twilight by ELO and of course The Timewarp XD. Didn’t hear the Mandelbrot Set song, but you can’t have everything, eh?

New format for Commando

No, don’t worry, they haven’t added any colour to it! (Mind you, if Commando sales are increasing and if The Phoenix can establish a bridgehead, could a re-launch of The Victor, “The new colour weekly from the makers of Commando!” be an outside possibility?), instead they have improved the printing dramatically.

A while ago, DC Thomson closed down their in-house printing operation to save money (this also bought about the end of the Beano and Dandy libraries). The new outside printers seemed to have trouble with Commando, with issues becoming creased along the spine.

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An old “in house” issue, a new printer issue and one of the latest.

As you can see, the most recent change has made the issues much thicker, with a good, square spine and no creasing! In fact the 64-page Commando issues are now as thick as 96-page issues of The Boys’ Friend Library from the 20’s and 30’s!

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Alongside a BFL from 1937.

The paper the new printers had been using was also slightly “crinkly”, but they have now switched back to a more ‘pulp’, newsprint type that really allows the ink to stand out.

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An old issue, note the creasing up at the centre and shiny paper.

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Now, much better!

Commando is not included in the ABC sales figures (in these dark times for British comics, they are eagerly scruitnised and speculated over!), probably because it’s “four every two weeks” schedule is “weird”. But according to information from the Commando CO there has been an increase in sales recently – no doubt due to the reprint books, publicity surrounding the 50th anniversary and the National Army Museum exhibition. Commando pages also work perfectly on the screens of digital readers such as iPads, where it has also proved popular. Perhaps the profit from the digital version is being invested back in the paper editions? It’s an encouraging sign.

Also encouraging is the fact that, on a few recent occasions, I have complained about the “stupid” WH Smith staff only putting out three of the four issues. But when I went to buy the most recent batch I actually got the last issue of the (non reprinted) Falklands War story. They weren’t failing to put out certain issues – they were selling out! In fact on occasion, when I have gone into Smith’s on the ‘other week’ there has been only 2-3 comics left in the box! May be feel some cautious optimism?

Incidentally another batch of 3-in-1 reprint books has been released. But I appear to have accidentally deleted the picture I’d taken of them!

Progress Report

After far too long, the “new” 1910 Press website was launched recently. It’s the third or fourth “revamp” it’s had which is not actually a revamp at all, just a few small alterations that took 6 months.

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And even then it’s not finished!

The URL is http://www.felney.co.uk/

It actually needs further edits, as I have decided to cancel The Small Press Digest and The Sentinel before they even began! As they are both “newspapers” my typical working speed meant that by the time they got printed the news in them would have been hilariously out of date. I’ll stick to the blog for that!

I originally intended for The Sentinel to join “The 22 Club” and merge with The Red, White & Blue at a later date. I may instead just add a one-page “The Sentinel Says” article to the RWB, containing news of small press cons and new British Comic releases.

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Marcus Morris wouldn’t have liked this

Speaking of The Red, White & Blue, it’s bi-monthly publishing schedule began at the start of 2012, meaning the first issue is dated Jan-Feb 2012. So where is it? Horribly delayed! Virtually all of the artwork is done, but the “Complete history of British adventure comics 1777-2012” article turned out to be rather long, for some reason. An early draft of the article, with huge numbers of spelling and grammar errors, and not a small amount of factual errors, can be read under the History tab. It is being slowly revised, the Norman Saxon story will also be re-read and corrected and the first issue will hopefully “go to press” on Friday, in time for it’s unofficial “launch party” on Saturday.

The party that the RWB will be “hijacking” is actually a premeeting for Camcon, the first Comic/Sci-fi/Anime/Cosplay/Roleplay/My Little Pony (all the cool kids are going mad for it, seriously) convention to be held in Cambridge!

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www.thecamcon.com 

I have decided to prepare the first two issues of the RWB in time for Camcon, in May, and put them both on sale there first. After that I’ll sort out an online shop, probably using the arts and crafts website Etsy.

The first issue of the RWB, including the overlong article, is going to be a “mammoth” 40 pages! From issue 2 it will be 32 pages and from issue 3 (after various ‘setting up’ articles and editorials are out of the way) will contain:

One colour comic strip (4 pages)

Three black and white strips (5 pages each)

One complete text story about Norman Saxon (7-8 pages)

One text serial instalment (3 pages)

Plus other short complete stories/strips, articles and filler.

Unless I can find somebody to help with artwork (and who in the UK small press cares about jingoistic boys’ own comics?) the page count will be drastically reduced in future. Probably shedding the colour strip, one black and white strip and the text serial. Of course I will try to keep the  “full size” comic going for as long as I can manage!

As for the release date of the first issue of The Trident… your guess is as good as mine! If I can manage to get ahead of myself on the Red, White & Blue I’ll take a week off work and pummel the keyboard until it’s finished! The story in Issue 1 is going to be the “actual” first Norman Saxon story, set in 1899. It will be a heavily-revised version of an old Sexton Blake story I wrote, which can be found here: http://www.felney.co.uk/web/blake/hong.html  (warning: long and terrible!).

 

And now, in light of the cancellation of The Sentinel, here is Black Widowe, the comic strip that was due to appear in it! I will continue this one day, I’m just not sure where or how!

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A comparison

…of Japan’s best weekly adventure comic and Britain’s best (only!) weekly adventure comic.*

It’s no secret that I hold Japan up as an example of how the comic industries of all countries ought to function. Thick, cheap weekly anthologies with exciting serials, which are then collected into better-printed book form for fans to collect. I’m not suggesting that Britain ought to start copying the Japanese art style or stories, though. And our comics don’t need to be as thick either, if we’re going to stick with detailed Commando-type artwork. But they do need to exist!

With sales dropping or barely holding across the board (mind you The Beano did recently gain just over 1000, which is a step in the right direction.) some drastic gambles may have to be taken. And of course comic fans all need to do their bit to promote the art form to non-readers in everyday life.

But enough of that, on with the comparison!

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The Phoenix issue 8 and Shonen Jump issue 12 (for 2012)

Here are the covers, and I think The Phoenix easily wins out,  with a big bold image and minimal text, as opposed to the “bit of everything” Japanese clutter. Some otaku hold that Japanese writing** is “more artistic” and so cluttered covers work better in that language. Well actually in Japan it’s considered “artistic” to scatter odd English around designs (usually it makes no sense). Cluttered covers are just ugly whatever language they are in!

Of course, the ideal is to have a strip on the cover. But we just aren’t getting that these days.

But enough of the fronts, lets look at the sides…

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That’s about the size of it.

Yes, Shonen Jump is still a weekly! It can be such a huge size partly because of the style of manga art, with many panels featuring only talking characters with basic backgrounds. Also manga usually uses screen tone to add shading, rather than time-consuming cross hatching. Oh and of course (at least if Bakuman is anything to go on) artists and writers only work on one story at a time, for which they are paid a decent wage and also receive royalties from sales of the collected books. This means they can concentrate on “their” story entirely. Most if not all of them also have assistants doing the donkey-work of, say, drawing the windows on distant skyscrapers. It is in effect the famous “studio system” used on Dan Dare raised to a state of perfection.

This particular issue contains 21 stories in about 500 pages (most of them aren’t numbered). The Phoenix contains 11 stories in a mere 32 pages. Though of course the length, style and pacing of them is so completely different a direct comparison is meaningless. Also the Phoenix’s editorial content is a ‘story’ in itself!

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Like so

Starting off, we have the latest information on “Phoenix land”, with the ongoing case of the missing feathers. One of the fictional editors of the comic has been arrested on suspicion of stealing them, which has not gone down well with the rest of the team. And then we’re into the first story. The stories in The Phoenix are all full-colour and the paper quality certainly beats Shonen Jump hands down. Mind you I’m wrong in the head so I actually prefer thin newsprint, but I’m not going to start claiming it’s better!

The first story is Pirates of Pangaea, which is actually pretty close to the “sort of thing” you’d see in manga! A fantasy world of dinosaurs and crazy pirates. Mind you though Pirates of Pangaea doesn’t feature a mysterious child with an ancient power locked within him, or elaborate, wordy mind-games. No it features shooting at rampaging raptors with flintlocks and then running like mad!

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A blonde guy teamed up with a “dumb animal” that’s more intelligent than him, shades of Tintin eh?

The other ‘serious’ adventure story in The Phoenix is The Lost Boy. This one is actually drawn in a kind of combined British / Japanese style. And it also features a seafaring adventurer on a mysterious island!

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Sweet sugar lumps!

The other “flagship” adventure story is the more comedic Long Gone Don, created by The Etherington Brothers. This pair are for my money not just the most talented writer and artist working in British comics at the moment, but are among the best in the world! The complex and detailed art is a joy to behold, the dialogue is fantastic and the stories rattle along at a good pace. The one criticism I can perhaps offer is with art that deep and detailed they ought to go about including some “where’s wally?”-style mini visual gags. That’d make their work just about perfect, and would encourage people to stare at it for longer, too!

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Crazy invention time!

The Phoenix also contains some purely comedy stories, such as this one by Jamie Smart. To put it diplomatically Jamie is a “marmite” artist. A little like a modern version of Eric Parker, in fact, in that he sure can turn ’em out. He’s almost made The Dandy his own of late – which has bought about some highly polarised opinions. I’d better reserve my own judgement on the matter, lest accusations of jealousy start flying around.

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What would the Rev’d Marcus Morris have made of this?

One of my favourite parts of The Phoenix is the educational Corpse Talk. The basic premise is that the skeletal, rotted remains of famous historical figures are dug up and interviewed about their lives. Like ya do. This week it’s the Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, and previous bodies in the chair have been Marie Curie and Genghis Khan. I should think more than one kid has got better marks on their history homework as a result of this! Plus just look at how many panels have been crammed in, it’s like 1950’s Jonah!

The feature content of The Phoenix includes the usual “letters and pictures from readers” section that has long been a staple of British comics (though of course the best letters sections appeared before 1930). I can’t see anything that looks similar in Shonen Jump. The Pheonix also contains a series of articles about creating your own comics, and encourages children to have a go themselves.

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 Mind you this one is about sound effects, which are overused, over dramatic and over here!

To my mind this is the most important part of the comic. It will hopefully instill in the readers not only the desire to try it for themselves (all kids draw, but if my own experience is anything to go on very few of them attempt to make comic strips. Though to my own young mind it seemed the logical thing to do.) but also an appreciation of the art form of comics and of the effort that goes into making decent ones. If The Phoenix can be sustained (apparently it’s secure for two years… are you doing your bit to make it run beyond?) and if those kids can inspire others at their schools to draw comics too we might see the long-wished-for comics “revolution” in Britain within the next 15 years!

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More Etheringtonism

The Phoenix also contains puzzles, including the ongoing series The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan. Some of these are harder than others and really require you to get yer brain in gear. This issue’s are a bit easy though. Readers are invited to “help” the adventurer by sending in the solutions to the puzzles, and if “chosen” by him receive prizes.

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Yep!

Finally one thing Shonen Jump definitely does not have is text stories! Text-filled story papers were the predecessors of British adventure comics, and even once the adventure strips started to appear in the late 30’s there was a long crossover period of mixed text and strip content. By contrast I’m not sure Japan ever had what could be considered an equivalent to story papers. But then most histories of manga begin in the late 1940’s and ignore everything that went before as being “too nationalistic”. Mind you certain ivory-tower preachers are attempting to act like British comics only began in 1976 and nothing that came before is worthy of note.

Possible candidates for Japanese story papers include books called ‘Yellow Covers’ that first started to appear in 1775 (the first British story paper was possibly The Young Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1777, but very little information is available on it). After these there was a genre of serialised stories called ‘Books for reading’. I’ve also seen an issue of a 1920’s “comic” (as described by my girlfriend of the time) called Boys’ Club. But I can’t find any information on it, and it was locked in a cabinet at a museum with all of the other information about it in Japanese.

Anyway, the Phoenix text stories are often extracts from children’s books, which means I don’t bother reading them as I won’t be buying the books. Occasionally however they run complete stories or mini-serials (including an adaption of The Minotaur). More of those, please!

The Phoenix is completely free of advertising, because it is funded by “anonymous backers” (why anonymous though, surely not ‘shame’ at being involved with ‘mere comics’? Stand up and be counted, true patriots!). By contrast Shonen Jump has quite a lot of adverts, even in the form of fold-out “colour plates”!

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 FURUKOOOOOOOOOOSU!

These adverts are generally for action figures, videogames or anime DVD’s. Almost all of which are based on the stories that have appeared in Shonen Jump! And yet in this country when a British comic character is adapted into another form (rather than a TV show being made into a ‘comic’ with hardly any comic) it’s generally either ignored or is met with a disgraceful shower of hate from hack journalists who have suddenly ‘discovered’ that the comics they read as a kid 30 years ago have changed since then. And this from supposedly ‘patriotic’ newspapers.

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Hand!

By contrast to The Pheonix, Shonen Jump contains only 3 pages of comic in colour. They are the first three pages of Haikyuu!!, a school and volleyball strip. It’s apparently a new strip, so this could be the very first part and the colour pages serve to introduce it. Of course in issues where a new story is not beginning it’s probable that a popular one is randomly chosen for the colour pages.

The Phoenix does not have any sport stories, but they were once a genre that ebbed and flowed through British comics. The Boys’ Realm became a sport-themed paper towards the end of it’s life, and even launched a smaller spinoff called The Boys’ Realm Sports Library, which I recently bought 6 months of. This issue of Shonen Jump has two, Hakyuu!! and Kuroko no Basuke (Kuroko’s Basketball).

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 Is a small tsu in Katakana also a ‘sound extender’ like a line is?

Of course the staples of shonen manga (boys’ comics) are the adventure stories. There’s some comedic ones such as Toriko, which is about a “gourmet hunter” who tours the world looking for ingredients to create “the ultimate meal”. If British TV companies want to save a few bob they could always combine I’m A Nonentity Get Me Back On Telly (are you sure that’s right? -ed) and Masterchef into one show in this way.

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Also it has Mexican wrestlers

Another comedy adventure tale is the famous One Piece, which is about a crew of pirates captained by “Luffy”, who has some sort of superpower. In this issue we have the 657th (O_O) chapter…

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 With some English

…and you thought Varney The Vampyre ran for a long time! Like the early-mid 19th century Penny Dreadfuls, a successful manga will be extended and extended to make more money rather than allowed to end at the point the writers probably hoped it would. This of course usually leads to people beginning to describe long-running stories as “annoying” or “crazy” as the writers just stick in whatever they think up first, probably having long since given up caring.

Of course in Britain from about the 1860’s – 70’s onwards stories had a set length and finished when they finished. It didn’t do our industry any harm for the next hundred years! And of course a story ending doesn’t mean that the same characters can’t come back in a new tale later, but it does free up the creators to think of something totally different if they want.

The main stock in trade of the shonen story is, of course, giant monsters, giant lasers or, er, both.

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Oroboros? It always makes me think of Red Dwarf!

Some stories actually have quite a lot of detail despite still being 20-30 pages a chapter. There must be quite a crew of assistants working on Nurarihyon no Mago.

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Fields of swords!

And of course there’s the epic battles with magic energy beams. I wonder how people don’t get tired of this stuff… but then again somebody who can’t read English would probably consider every Commando comic to have the same story XD.

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 DOGOOOOOO. Mind you if the Treens were watching this they’d know not to mess.

Shonen Jump also contains a few examples of other genres, including one which was once very popular in Britain… up to World War 1 anyway, the “work” story. The Boys’ Friend used to be crammed with tales about boys who worked in mines, factories or shipyards. And the immortal Sexton Blake used to regularly go undercover in all sorts of industries. In today’s Shonen Jump we have Bakuman, a story of kids working their way into the manga industry. The old work stories in Britain were usually detective stories at their heart, with the hero overhearing some villainous plot and working to foil it.

Bakuman is instead basically a romantic story at it’s heart (well there’s not much scope for villainy in the manga industry, a serial pencil thief is not that threatening). Moritaka Mashiro dreams of being a manga artist, he loves Miho Azuki who wants to be a voice actress. They promise that when Moritaka has made a successful manga that is animated, Miho will play the woman in it, and then they can be married. But apart from that it also contains many other amusing characters and offers many insights into how the manga industry in Japan works (which is how I’m even able to write posts like this!). The Japanese books are currently up to 16, the English have just reached 9. This chapter will probably be part of book 17.

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“Everybody Listen!”

Other styles of stories include the purely humorous story, as we’d see in The Beano. Just longer, black and white and probably serialised to a degree (and later made into an animation without mouth-foaming, traitorous ravings in the papers).

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Teacups for heads? It’s PC gone mad!

One of the longest running comedy comics in Shonen Jump is called, and breathe in here: This is the police station in front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward. It’s been running continuously since 1976, and in fact the artwork still looks more like 70’s manga than the modern kind.

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“I’m gonna try and do 3 rotations!” “Aagh stop rotating!” …or something like that .

The story is probably more like Only Fools and Horses (or maybe Stop The Pigeon) as the characters try to use the latest fads or wierd inventions to either get rich quick, or catch criminals more easily. Of course these always go wrong. Also like the stories of Billy Bunter or Sexton Blake the main characters never age even though the world is changing around them. But actually in this story a few characters do age. A baby born in an early story is now a teenager, but his parents are still the same age.

This particular story appears to involve a pushy journalist constantly interfering with police work by trying to interview everybody. However he then helps them arrest an armed robber by popping up at the resturant he is holed up in and trying to interview him. While he is still wondering what’s going on he gets arrested!

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Myootsukee.

There’s also a school story apparently told from the perspective of the teacher. The only British example of that I can think of (except for maybe “Singled out: Teacher” Bash Street Kids episodes in The Beano from the 2000’s) was in The Captain in 1899!

You will probably have noticed that most of the print quality in Shonen Jump is not fantastic. That’s because these weekly anthologies are seen as ‘throwaway’, in fact the trains and stations in Tokyo usually have discarded copies laying on the seats. Of course in Britain for most of history comics were also seen as “throwaway” and were used to, say, light the fire once the kids were done with them. This has found it’s ultimate expression in the replacement of the printed US Shonen Jump (which was monthly and had half the page count… somehow) with “Shonen Jump Alpha”, which is at least weekly but ‘expires’ and deletes itself. Of course any comic that goes purely digital from print ceases to exist as far as I’m concerned. But having them ‘expire’ really is a step too far. I haven’t bought a videogame since 2009 because of the Orwellian excesses of that industry. It cannot be allowed to creep into comics too!

Of course, it’s okay to dispose of the weekly anthology copies in Japan because the stories that the readers like will come out in better-printed book form. Virtually every story will be printed in this way, whether they sell or not! It is of course these collected books that we get in foreign countries.

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But a little bigger

Of course this can help with Japanese study… an aspect of comics that must also be promoted by fans to the unbelievers, and a reason why it is essential that more countries begin to produce a wide range of varied stories in the manner of Japan, and export them!

Imagine the proliferation of enthusiasm for learning other languages and the cultures that go with them if all nations produced interesting-looking picture stories that people wanted to understand. Comics have advantages over plain books in that the pictures help to explain what’s going on, and the dialogue and descriptions are “broken apart” clearly.

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The English words actually seem to fit some of those bubbles better!

Of course book form reprints of stories from British comics are starting to proliferate now. But only haphazardly and occasionally in “best of” type books rather than full reprints. They’re also usually hardbacks with thick glossy art paper… even if the original artwork has been lost and the reproduction would have been just as good in lower-quality paperback. Of course this drive for quality of printing and binding drives the prices up to prohibitive levels, especially in a recession, and people stay away. Then series are left incomplete because of “poor sales”. Still if everybody reading this made up their mind to buy just one of the British comic reprint books this week…

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Serving suggestion

Of course it’s far more important that the risk is taken and that ‘vanished’ stories are once again reproduced thousands of times and distributed to the ends of the country, so that they may survive into future decades in an easily accessible form. But as usual those who “know the cost of everything and the value of nothing” win the day. Mind you unsympathetic shopkeepers don’t help. Classics From The Comics was just really getting into it’s stride, switching from purely reprinting 1/2 page humour strips to a little bit of everything from DC Thomson’s extensive back catalogue, even reaching back into the twenties! But bad distribution killed it off in it’s prime. It was probably the closest thing we have had to Shonen Jump, actually. Though only 100 pages and entirely reprints.

One other book Britain has had which was a bit like Shonen Jump was this one from 1989

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Intended as an annual, mind you.

It was a paperback reprint of a random selection of IPC / Amalgamated Press adventure comics from the 50’s and 60’s. It even had Jump-like print ‘quality’!

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A highwayman story probably originally from The Thriller Library

Even in 1989 this apparently didn’t sell well enough to be reprinted. But really it ought to point the way forwards, if the quality of the reprints is not going to be very good because of missing/deteriorated original artwork, cheapen the paper to match and knock it out for as low a price as possible! And of course all of us will then have to let other people know it’s out there!

It’s one thing to wish that we had regular big wedges of comic like Shonen Jump (not that thinner wedges of full colour like The Phoenix are a bad thing, we ought to be able to do both, really). But if we want it, all comic fans and creators have to stand together and do their bit!

*- Actually Doctor Who adventures is also weekly, and Doctor Who is an “acceptable” licensed character. But it only has 4-5 actual pages of comic strip per issue, the rest is dumbed-down articles with big pictures and “ooh scary!” captions.

** – The ‘fancier’ characters are actually almost all Chinese, though!