27 Jul 2017

Pipedream Indie Round-Up - July 2017

Here's the latest edition of our ongoing team-up with Pipedream Comics.

Writer: PJ Montgomery
Art: Gavin Mitchell
Kickstarter £15.00

Alex T: One of the most eagerly anticipated indie books of recent years, PJ Montgomery and Gavin Mitchell's adaption of Steve Jackson's The Trolltooth Wars is finally here after a two year wait! The world of Titan is in the midst of a war between two powerful sorcerers - Zharradan Marr and Balthus Dire - which leads to an epic showdown in the Trolltooth Pass. In the middle of this, hero Shadda Darkmane is on a mission into the heart of Firetop Mountain to encounter its legendary warlock Zagor. If you grew up in the 1980s reading Fighting Fantasy then this will be an amazing trip down memory lane. Montgomery has created a faithful retelling of the book - flaws and all - and makes the most of classic scenes like the caravan raid at the beginning or the scenes in Firetop Mountain. Although it has a huge battle at its centre, The Trolltooth Wars manages to focus on character and not spectacle, so doesn't get bogged down in overdoing the huge sweeping battle scenes, instead focusing on the actions of the characters, which makes it much more readable. There's a cleanliness and simplicity to the characters and it's not too serious either, as Montgomery manages to bring humour into the book thanks to sidekick Cherval. Mitchell's art work throughout is incredible. His labour of love to finish this book over the past two years has reaped ample rewards with every page looking truly exceptional. The action leaps off the page when needed and the design and realization of the key characters is top notch. They are packed with Mitchell's trademark personality, especially Dire who has a real snarling presence to him, with angular and pointy demonic features that make his a fantastic villain for the piece. And the big reveal of Zagor is almost goosebump-inducing, especially for long time fans! Packed full of action and excitement, character and humour (plus a generous amount of gore and violence!), The Trolltooth Wars works so well as an adaptation because it avoids getting bogged down by some of the more overwrought elements that the fantasy genre can be guilty of, and as a result is a truly epic fantasy in every sense! 9/10

Writer: Ken Reynolds
Art: Sam Bentley

James B: Cognition’s second issue follows Cal, Sigma and the team of the British Occult Secret Service as they embark on a mission to investigate a rumoured ‘devil dog’ in rural England. Rumours have been circulating of an evil beast roaming the countryside for centuries and any who gaze upon receive the Black Shuck, a form of bad luck or misfortune, as a result. However, when a recent contact lends some credence to the rumour, these mystical adventurers make the trip to confirm the truth and, hopefully, survive it. Once again, Ken Reynolds has crafted a good, fun story which is an interesting read with a nice twist on a rather clichéd stereotype. The main draw of this issue is the title’s main characters as the dynamic between the robotic Cal and the the mousey Sigma feels as strong as ever especially during the carriage ride to their destination. Issue #2 also begins to delve more into the connection with these two leads as well as some of their mystic abilities, which only helps to cement their compelling nature. That said, the other characters, chiefly Pope and Hattie, aren’t given the same attention and even their identities aren’t really provided in what feels like a self-contained story. There is also a back-up feature to the issue which, while interesting in its own right, doesn’t feel connected to a great degree to the main cast (with Cal and Sigma only mentioned by sight) and so isn’t as compelling a read. On the art side of the title, Sam Bentley provides another great job as his wonderfully gothic style continues to give the series that well suited Victorian horror vibe which was such a highlight of the prior entries. However, while the overall style is still top notch and really helps give Cognition a unique identity, there are still brief moments throughout where the events of the issue become confusing as the characters and backgrounds look as if they are bleeding into each other. The back-up story, on the other hand, offers a very different style to the main book which is a lot clearer with bigger, bolder pencils and some panels come off very art-within-art style which is a nice change of pace. While not as strong as the previous two outings, Cognition is still a darkly enjoyable comic with some inspired gothic art bringing to life some of comics most interesting character team ups. With this series, Reynolds and Bentley have created something really compelling in both its world and the characters who wish to protect - or possibly destroy - it. 9/10

Writer: Matthew Dooley
Artist: Matthew Dooley

Alex T: Winner of the recent Jonathan Cape Short Story prize, Matthew Dooley's new collection of short stories and one-off strips is another inspired slice of surreal nihilism mixed with daft stories about swearing birds and tall milkman. As with his first book Meanderings, each strip feels immaculately conceived and very carefully considered. His tight panels are both detailed and also wonderfully simple with almost no wasted effort. And his colour palette is delightfully muted allowing the shocks of ginger hair in his autobiographical tales to really stand out. The strips range from list-like one-shots such as the one about 'Potential Existential Threats' and '21st Century Methods of Divination' to longer-form stories such as 'St Helena' (about the aforementioned sweary birds) and 'Colin Turnbull: A Tall Tale' – the story about a lofty milkman for which he won the Cape prize. These humourous offerings are interspersed with several poignant autobiographical tales starring Matthew himself, in which he lays himself bare, both psychologically and literally, to great effect as he ponders the state of the world and the bleakness of humanity. As well as delving deep inside his own insecurities he instills every strip with a bone dry sense of humour or a surreal aside, managing to skewer his own angst and stop it from being too overwrought. Great examples include the story about weight loss where he enables himself to lose weight via cutting bits off his arm or the surreal story where he sheds his skin like a snake! All of which makes Practical Implications so much more than just another angst-ridden small press collection. Dooley's mix of depth and humour stops it from ever getting too serious, because just around the corner is a strip about a boy with a message in a bottle that just says a rude word in it. With this volume featuring almost entirely new material, it is a fantastic look into the development of one of the most unique and enjoyable voices on the UK small press scene and we cannot wait to see more! 8/10

Writer: Various
Artist: Various

Alex T: Dirty Rotten Comics has consistently been one of the best and most eclectic indie anthologies around, and to celebrate its 10th issue it has made the bold decision to introduce colour throughout. However, rather than just colour in its usual selection of quirky strips, editors Gary Clapp and Kirk Campbell have purposefully chosen artists for whom colour can help bring their work to life. This starts from the very first page with a stunning cover from Lucie Ebrey, which breaks the traditional DRC structure to create a stunning wrap-around image that works as a statement of intent for this bumper issue. The strips inside feature a mix of familiar names, along with new exciting talents. For example, there's Rozi Hathaway, whose aquatic tale makes the most of her water-coloured style (and just wouldn't work in black and white), while Josh Hick's warm up for his new book from Good Comics is a slice of Akira-esque sci-fi written by Mikael Lopez. Then there are new strips from the wonderful Tim Bird, who continues to take a look at the mundanity of life, and another offering from the wonderful Matthew Dooley. What makes DRC such a great read is the new talent it introduces. For us, this meant we discovered James Wragg (whose psychedelic science fiction sizzles with colour), Alex Potts (whose tale of life in an office after hours makes us never want to work late) or Emily Rose Lambert whose heart-breaking 'Broughton Road' tugged at the heartstrings. And that's not even mentioning Kevin Loftus's hilairous 'Skinless Steve', Jay Levang's 'The Bad Ass Mr Sir Bos's and Scott Wrigg's 'The Entrepreneur'. As with all anthologies there are some stories which are more successful than others, but there are so many styles on offer here that there is genuinely something for everyone. And with its emphasis on innovation and diversity it continues to be a book which we cannot recommend heartily enough. At an epic 92 pages, and now available on Amazon as both a print and digital title, there is no excuse not to be reading DRC. Whether you are new to the world of small press or a old hand, it is the perfect showcase for everything that is great about independent comics. 9/10

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