David Anthony Kraft has passed away thanks to Covid (the toll this virus has done to the creative arts is depressing) and with that, the world of comics has lost an important figure but we’ll never see the likes again. I first noticed Kraft’s name when he started writing The Defenders which thanks to Steve Gerber’s work, had becomed one of my favourite books.
The Defenders was one of Marvel’s team books but unlike say, The Avengers, the stories were not the normal superheroic stuff with pages of fights often replaced by the weird and bizarre (as much as you could do under the Comics Code in the 70s) which also coincided with artist Keith Giffen in his Jack Kirby phase so the entire book was a crazy mix of weirdness, philosphy and superheroics with a roster which would wildly change often with one issue to the next. It was wonderful stuff. As was his run on Marvel Two-In-One, a strange wee book featuring the Thing from the Fantastic Four teaming up with another hero each issue.
But it’ll be his magazine Comics Interview he’ll mainly be remembered for.
The magazine was vastly more mainstream than the Comics Journal, so more stuff from Marvel and DC would crop up, though Kraft still kept the magazine open for all genres and publishers til 1995 when the collapse of the industry he loved affected him directly when Comics Interview was cancelled. There’s still a gap in the market for something like this which parts of the internet tries to deliver.
And now another figure from an important era in comics is gone and they’ll be missed.
It might only be a local event and relatively small but dear me, have I missed these things something chronic over the last 16 months but in a few short weeks in the sunny climate of Cumbernauld I’m back trading for a smallish two day event.
I’m still sticking to events near Glasgow barring the big Edinburgh events until things get back to full normality, whatever ‘normal’ will be in future. Subsequent events will be announced but please do turn up if you’re in the area, say hello and grab some glorious comics I’ve been waiting 16 months to sell!
If there is a single comic you must buy in 2021 it is Barry Smith’s Monsters.
Starting out back in the Jim Shooter era of Marvel Comics as a Hulk origin story it was never published there (there’s no way this could have worked then) then passed through a variety of companies over the decades before Fantagraphics grabbed the chance to publish this. Well done to Gary Groth and Fantagraphics for doing so as this is extraordinary stuff.
Telling the story of Bobby Bailey, who ends up being the obvious ‘monster’ visually but this is a book full of monsters, and by the end we see the worst of them all. However this isn’t just a ‘monster on the loose’ story but a story of families destroyed by war, and the military itself with Bobby becoming a sort of MacGuffin who motivates all the other major characters in this book. Yes, there are wee hints and traces of that Hulk story here, but Bobby is an altogether more pathetic version of what is basically a power fantasy.
In fact there’s very little to glorify here. People die needlessly or are humiliated in death with the general mood and atmosphere being hard, grim and terrible, especially when dealing with the extended scenes of domestic abuse. As said, this is not a Hulk story, but one about people trying to make their lives better and not taking the chance to do so, or in Bobby’s case he takes a chance to better himself with disastrous consequences. If all of this makes the book seem a grim read that’s right, but this is also incredibly uplifting as well as tragic Smith does put the reader through a lot here and throughout 300 pages plus of art which is among he’s finest of his career. There’s stuff done here with a pencil and ink I didn’t think capable of doing.
Monsters does have issues. The ending, although satisfying just sort of stops plus we don’t see much of any of the story through Bobby’s eyes which I can understand why does rob the story of a viewpoint. These are minor quibbles as this is a wonderful bit of comics that tops off an astonishing 50 year career of someone who started as a Jack Kirby clone before imposing his look upon Conan and then carving his path in the industry which ends with this masterwork that will be his monument for when historians talk about the industry at this time.
Barry Smith is a bit of an enigma in modern comics in that he keeps his public announcements to a minium which for much of the last decade means he’s said nothing. Now his greatest work Monsters is out and it is the book which tops off an astonishing career from a Jack Kirby clone to this amazing work.
Here’s a rare interview with the man for the Comix Experience site and it’s worth your time.
The Scottish election was won by pro-independence parties in the shape of the SNP and the Greens. True, the SNP failed to get a majority by itself but the Holyrood sysyem isn’t designed for single parties to win majorities, so this result is what was expected to happen but the narrative a second independence referendum hinged purely on a SNP majority started early.
There was never a tight contest. This was a lie but it is now the mainsteam UK narrative as the sheer, blind unthinking fear of Scotland becoming independent has been unleashed the last few days with even the eldtritch horror of Gordon Brown stomping around giving the same statements we’ve heard for ages.
The fact is an independence referendum is a long, long way away. The earliest we’re looking at is 2023, realistically 2024 as the SNP have said they’re fine with letting the Covid recovery happen, then putting together a bill, then waiting for the electoral commision to agree on the terms of the vote, including the question then give at least 6 months time to campaign and we’re looking some time just before the next Westminster election. This assumes as well of course there’s little legal action as the UK government are likely to dig in hard so we could see a second referendum going beyong autumn 2024.
Yet even so there is a blind panic because the Unionist side know that there’s 20-30% of the electorate who are ‘soft’ no voters last time who are more open potentially to voting yes this time, plus the demographic is changing as older no voters pass away and younger voters come through who are likely to vote yes. A good campaign for independence and a bad one for the Union means Scotland leaves the UK to stew in the forthcoming insanity of the Tories running riot so for now expect to see delaying tactics pushing this vote back til the next Westminster election, and beyond.
Basically we’re in a big, bloody mess and it’ll take a hard push to get where we need to go just as the post Covid world begins to shape around us and the reality of Brexit kicks in for most people.
Resident Evil Villiage or RE8 was released this week to much acclaim but the advertising campaign in the UK, and much of the world was what you’d expect with scary adverts playing up the usual aspects of the game. Meanwhile in Japan they were for a bizarre, and quite wonderful campaign with all the main baddies of the game featured as puppets. It is quite brilliant.
Back in the 1980s there was a surplus of outstanding quality comics in a diversity of genres, many of them are now lost in the folds of history and the dominance of the Watchmen/Dark Knight/Maus narrative of history. One of those comics lost was Phil Elliott’s superb strip, The Suttons. Running from 1985 to 1991 it tells the story of a young couple, Julie and Dave, living an ordinary life in Maidstone adjusting to becoming parents and bringing up their first child and more.
It would have been easy to have elements of grimness in this pandering to the comics of the time then, and indeed, now, but Elliott keeps everything gentle, with some of the strips being genuinely touching and bursting with a humanity, not to mention decency, that just makes you feel good reading them. That’s the joy of these comics; they’re just about an ordinary middle class couple living a nice life and it’s a perfect read. It is a crime Elliott had to crowdfund this collection as a publisher should see the quality in front of them but it seems crowdfunding is the only option for some creators.
The collection is available by emailing Elliott directly at email@example.com
Being a political geek this year’s Scottish election campaign should fill me with excitement but with days to go I have to say this campaign is one of the worst campaigns I’ve seen in any election which speaks out as to how awful the thing is. Part of the problem lies with the opposition parties who haven’t a dash of vision or opportunity between them, but the SNP, as well as the Greens have also fought a frankly rubbish campaign in what is a vitally important election for Scotland and one which should beckon independence but won’t.
This election should be about not just the right of the people of Scotland to hold an independence referendum when they want, but also about holding to account the government as well as the opposition, but instead, it’s become a tiresome slanging match with Tories slanging SNP, SNP slanging Alba (Alex Salmond’s pro-independence party) with Labour’s dreary ‘hey guys let’s stop fighting but not really‘ approach. There is also a paucity of ideas not helped by the inter-party squabbles of some SNP and Alba supporters. I feel sorry for my fellow countrypeople in this vote trying to make their mind up.
As for myself I don’t think the SNP will use yet another mandate to fight for independence, far too much for them to lose, plus the Greens are happy in their current relationship so another indy supporting party isn’t a bad idea and indeed, many of those piously attacking Alba now were fully supportive of RISE (another attempt at an indy supporting party) last time around. As it stands my main vote will go to the SNP because there’s a very good candidate to vote for, but my list vote is up for grabs as voting SNP on the list is a waste in Glasgow, voting Green means supporting some policies I strongly disagree with, and Alba is a whole can of worms, so either I’ll hold my nose and vote for one of them or leave my list vote blank. This is not how it should be days before the most important Scottish election in my lifetime when we should be pushing hard for independence before Boris Johnson and the Tories strip devolution apart while further destroying people’s lives.
30 years in the making, Barry Windsor-Smith’s Monsters is out and I’m a third of the way through and so far, it is truely extraordinary.
I’ll be reviewing Monsters once I’ve finished reading and digesting it but it struck me that in this day and age when comics are in such the public eye that so few books like Monsters are coming out. Sure, there’s plenty of excellent books coming out, not to mention some fantastic reprints of classics, but works that aren’t just ‘product or a sideways pitch for a film or TV series swamp the market. Some of these latter works are fine but many are trying too hard for a media deal so the creator/s can put comics behind them while here’s a work meant for comics.
As fans of the medium we should be doing more to shout about these immense works from the rooftops because Monsters, and works like it, are going to improve and better the medium while the latest ‘blue chip key’ or Marvel/DC event book will do the exact opposite.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe must be like living in an ongoing hellscape rather than a world of wonders. Mad gods can wipe half the universe out of existence, while enhanced people and super-powered individuals stomp round the planet caring nothing of borders and international treaties, and you don’t know if giant alien craft are going to come crashing upon you. You would literally be living in terror, yet here people live in a mix of normality or an unsettled refugee.
Then there’s the entire character of Sam Wilson who we first see acting on behalf of the US armed forces, and I assume the US government, in doing slightly dodgy things in the Middle East, but by the end of the series he’s rewriting what it means to be Captain America while being a tool of that nation’s colonialism. He’s no more a hero than John Walker who for much of the series is painted as a villain but in reality, this is a normal human being asked to fight people with superhuman abilities, and his unpreparedness costs the life of his partner who is Fridged as soon as the show can.
On top of this there’s the shonky pacing and plotting of the series. This series feels like a film expanded to nearly six hours so there’s so much padding with characters literally just standing there spouting exposition in flatly shot scenes which reminded me of how soap operas look To be fair some of this horrible disjointed feel can be put down to the break in production because of Covid 19. That said, it could have lost a couple of episodes and been better for it.
It is enjoyable junk fun if you don’t think about the horrible contradictions it throws up, or how the writers struggle to see the world without an American lens on, but like WandaVision before it this was a way to get Sam into being Captain America while pushing the MCU plot along a bit. Unlike WandaVision it was not as good and less cohesive as a work in its own right. Next up is the Loki series which does at least promise a break from the norm of the MCU.
One last thing, vast chunks of this series, including dialogue, was lifted from the works of people like Mark Guenwald and Ed Brubaker, but beyond a small credit hidden away these people, or their surviving families, get nothing even though Disney/Marvel make millions from these things. I’d assumed Disney were paying creators but it appears not to be the case. I wish MCU fans were as passionate about creator rights as they are about how cool Sam’s new costume is…