November is here and as eyes turn bewilderedly towards 2017, 2016 let out an old man rattle, said something along the lines of "Oh, I'm not done with you yet," and took Steve Dillon.
Dillon from all reports was a lovely man. He was also a preternaturally gifted artist who turned pro at the age of 16 (!!) and barely put down his pen from that moment on. He spent time drawing for Marvel UK, some incredible 2000AD work and was one of the brains behind Deadline magazine along with Brett Ewins. Among many features Deadline premiered was Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin's Tank Girl. Of course, he was most famous for his collaborations with Garth Ennis, chiefly a defining run on Hellblazer and the smash series Preacherand several incarnations of The Punisher with writers Ennis, Jason Aaron and the currently ongoing series with Becky Cloonan scripting. It was with Hellblazer, however, that he became a favourite of mine. His charismatic, smouldering characters, action sequences like snapshots frozen in time from some lost Peckinpah flick, ability to draw virtually anything (except animals) and his incredibly clean lines made his work instantly recognisable. With his death at the age of just 54, comics lost another beautifully individualistic voice. Thanks again 2016.
But it didn't end there. Jack T. Chick also died. Chick was the creator of what came to be called "Chick Tracts," fundamentalist Christian comic strips that warned readers to love the Lord or else. He was remarkably prolific and odds suggest you've likely come across his work at some point (I have a Chick Tract titled This Was Your Life that was found on a train). They really are horrible little things and their creator had a frightfully old-fashioned and generally abhorrent worldview. He was 92 and likely happy to be meeting what he believed to be his maker. I wonder if he's pleased. For more on Chick, this article is really worth a read, covering Chick the man, Chick's work and whether or not we can separate "the message of a work of art from the artistry it contains."
COMIC OF THE WEEK : ANCESTOR
By Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward
Published By Image
Exhibit A in the argument as to why everyone should be reading Island, the Brandon Graham/Emma Rios curated comics anthology series is here, collected in a single trade paperback and ready to blow your mind. Ancestor is created by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward, who share writing and artistic duties. Both script and colour, Sheean pencils and Ward inks and letters but the process is far more organic than that division of labour would indicate. Ward, it's also worth noting before moving on, has had a remarkable 2016 with From Now On, a collection of his short SF comics published by Alternative Comics earlier in the year showcasing a clearly restless and adventurous creator.
Originally published in issues #3, #5, #7 and #11, Ancestor starts something like the comics equivalent of a Black Mirror episode, but ends up morphing into something Jack Kirby and Stanley Kubrick could easily have jammed on.
It's the near future and the internet is in our heads, with information about those we encounter helpfully aiding us throughout the day, along with pop-ups for various services and programmes you can access that will help you make the perfect cocktail or counsel away your stresses. It's called The Service and it's kind of like staring at a person and seeing their entire Facebook, Twitter and Instagram history floating around their faces. It's undeniably helpful, but the obvious anxieties and pressures that this would manifest are embodied by the character of Peter Chardin, who we first meet running a complex meditative program and who clearly only grabs a brief moment's peace when he "loses" The Service at an event hosted by wealthy futurist and Service-sceptic Patrick Whiteside.
Whiteside has a different plan for technological betterment and The Service has no place in it - the dozens that attend his event find their inability to access The Service initially alarming. Whiteside assures them it's all part of the plan, reminding the attendees that their apprehension is drawn solely from having to rely on their own "feeble" minds instead of the access to instant, Service-provided facts. Naturally, Whiteside's plan is actually quite abhorrent in execution and as Chardin and his friends find the exits of his labyrinthine mansion barred, the creators rapidly escalate suspense and head towards a stunning pivot point. Culminating in mind-bending, epic and cosmic fashion, I'll leave the final quarter of the book for you to discover, but Ancestor concludes brilliantly and intelligently.
Sheean and Ward work as though a single entity. The collaboration feels seamless and the little bonus at the back of the collected edition discussing Ancestor's creation sees creative partners working hand in hand throughout the project. Their art is clean and packed with detail and the tech, from the floating bubbles of The Service to the various gadgetry attached to Whiteside's personal therapy chair, is a highlight.
In addition, it's worth noting the production of the collected edition, which swaps the glossy paper of Island for matte, softening the colours and providing a warmer, more tactile reading experience although my bias towards matte paper may be showing here. All in all, Ancestor is one of the year's best comics SF experiences. It's also something I hope we see far more -- a single, self-contained story, ending with a virtual mic drop by the creators as they, hopefully, go on to top it. Ancestor is a remarkable comic that's likely flying under the radar in a year swelling with incredible work. If you like your techno-dystopia deep, dark, brain-frying and lovingly made, I encourage you to pick it up.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : CRAYONS
By Sammy Stein
Goddamn, this is incredible work. Turning the creation of comics into fine art is Sammy Stein, who appears to rewrite inter-dimensional rules by the end of Crayons. Beautiful, forward-thinking work that turns the grunt work of comics creation into comics itself.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : IRON FIST NETFLIX TRAILER
Closing out this rather random week is the trailer for Netflix's Iron Fist based, of course, on the Marvel property. It's a couple of weeks old at this point but, hey, I hadn't seen it, maybe you haven't either. As a big Danny Rand fan, I'm pleased to see this looks as solid as Netflix's other Marvel offerings, although the inclusion of yet another hallway fight is kind of ridiculous unless it's all some big in-joke at Netflix HQ to get some sort of drinking game going. The money shot is when Iron Fist goes full...uh...Iron Fist and the effects looks pretty great as that translucent, white-hot looking fist powers up. Thumbs up.
See you next week. Love your comics