What I thought of Big Man Plans #4

Thoughts about #1#2 and #3.

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This has been an amazingly brutal, but splendid Will Eisner inspired mini-series that has told a story well but at times has turned even a hardened stomach like my own but this issue starts with the promise of more violence, as well as some revelations.

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Sure enough brutality ensues however there follows a few pages where Powell and Wiesch quite touchingly tell the story of our Big Man and how he joined the American army after finding out Holly,the girl he loves was engaged, but after this interlude it’s back to more brutality as he deals with the man she married.

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We find out Frank is a total fucking bastard. We find out how he falsely arrested two gay boys. We find out what he and his friends did after they raped and beat the boys half to death. By this point we as readers are angry so that when the Big Man continues his torture of Frank we’re almost accessories to the mutilation.

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Watching a man like Frank being slowly taken apart over a number of pages isn’t cathartic, or it shouldn’t be because as horrible a monster that he is (and he deserves to pay for his crimes) the punishment being dished out is extreme, but the Big Man is a product of his upbringing and Frank’s bullying helped create the monster he became.

This has been a great book but I think people may miss the morality of the story because deep down this is a morality tale but it’s not one where we’re supposed to empathise with what is a horrific central character, not because of his size but because of what he does. Neither are the agents of law or order in this people we can rely upon. Big Man Plans is a visceral read and I hope for more from Powell and Wiesch of this standard  as it’s been a superb four issues.Even if those four issues have been detailing the behaviour of monsters.

What I thought of Big Man Plans #3

Thoughts about #1 and #2.

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At the end of the last issue our Big Man had just been tortured, beaten and set on fire but had managed to live through all this albeit in a wee bit of a mess. This issue starts with an astonishingly shocking flashback to the Vietnam War that shows the reader that the Big Man is proper nails before showing us the exceptionally fucked up state he’s in after last issue.

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Big Man takes refuge with the nurse that protected him as a child, and she manages to patch him together as she did many years earlier.

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The old nurse clearly has dementia, but she still manages to look after him as he waits for his body to recover but Powell doesn’t make this lull tedious. In fact it’s a necessary breather not to mention it’s a chance to throw in something that if it isn’t made into a bit of merchandise would be a crime.

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This issue is about building up to something so horrible, so vile in it’s violent execution that I flinched, actually flinched, looking at the page. Make no bones about it, the violence in this issue is jaw-dropping and horrific so really, if you’re at all of a weak disposition (and by now if you’re reading this series, you probably aren’t) perhaps look elsewhere for your reading pleasure, but this twisted little tale of revenge has delivered big time. There’s one more issue in this excellent series to go and it promises to be brilliant and terrible….

What I thought of Big Man Plans #2

Thoughts about #1.

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The first issue of this Will Eisner inspired tale of revenge by Eric Powell and Tim Wiesch apart from being excellent, also set thing up nicely for the rest of it’s short run, and this issue hits the ground running with a couple of great opening panels.

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This issue opens with such a brutal act of violence that it’s probably going to turn a lot of stomachs but it’s important we see the brutality of our as yet unnamed main character, as this is why he’s returned home to enact the worst sort of revenge upon people that (we assume) have done him wrong. It’s also put into context with a touching flashback that puts the main characters childhood front and centre, and it wasn’t an especially happy one.

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Our protagonist is told by his father that because of his height, life basically is going to fuck him over again and again and again, but to never give up, a vow he holds dear to him. This provides him the drive to survive everything life throws at him from prison to the Vietnam War, but as yet we have no idea why he’s back home for revenge but by now the hints are this is him getting revenge upon those that bullied him so badly at school, hence the juxtaposition of this scene so quickly after the brutal opening.

The rest of this issue is hard to describe without spoiling it too much, but our main character tries to continue his mission of revenge, but is stopped by the equally brutal police force who decide to take the law into their own hands.

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Needless to say the series doesn’t end here, but this is a pretty mean tale of revenge that doesn’t hold back. It’s stripped of the stylistic flourishes of most modern crime comics and just paints a simple, but no less effective tale of a man that is never going to give up to finish off that which he started, and next issue looks as if that revenge is going to step up a gear.

This is a fantastic comic that if you’re not getting I’d highly recommend that you do so right now. I

What I thought of Big Man Plans #1

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I’ve not really read much of Eric Powell’s best known work, The Goon, but I’ve liked the little I’ve read but upon seeing the first page of this in previews I was very interested as this is wearing its Will Eisner influences clear for all to see.

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It also helps that the story starts in 1979 with an explosive opening that not just establishes tone, but drags you right in as Eisner would in his work as the backstory of our smaller protagonist is established that makes us not only sympathetic to him, but helps establish the past in such a vivid way.

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After an attempt to join the American army during the Vietnam War he’s refused entrance but is recruited anyhow for the dirty job of going into Viet Cong tunnels to kill the Cong.

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Upon his return to the US, he falls into drinking, drugs and a path that takes him to prison where other inmates see him as an easy target but he’s far from that and is more than able to hold his own.

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Big Man Plans is a stunning book, beautifully drawn and uncompromisingly scripted by Powell and his co-writer Tim Wiesch. It looks and reads like a cross between Will Eisner, EC Comics Shock SuspenStories (especially the Wally Wood stories) and 1970’s American crime cinema but with a European style and honesty that I’m not used to seeing in American mainstream comics. It’s brutal but it’s gripping in a way that can’t really be done in film or novels. These are creators using the medium of comics to tell a story that may be a bit pulpy, even cliche, but they’re trying something here by mixing past and present aesthetics in a way that’s turned out a cracking wee story.

This is a four-issue series from Image Comics that I highly recommend. Get it from your nearest shop, or as I did, from Comixology.

The Eisnercon-Glasgow’s First Comic Convention

eisnerconI mentioned in an early blog post about the Eisnercon, and went into detail about GLASCAC but haven’t said anything about the first real comic convention Glasgow held in 1986. This isn’t to say Glasgow didn’t have large comic related events, it did, but they were either the large Marts that the comic shop, AKA organised, or the signing sessions held at AKA featuring a lot of the rising British talent of the time but there wasn’t the big convention of the type we’d be familiar with today.

By the mid-80’s Glasgow was well established for holding regular SF conventions with Albacon being the regular one held over a weekend during Glasgow’s Fair Fortnight, which grew out of the original Faircon which is (and will be) a blog in itself. Anyhow the idea from John McShane, Pete Root and the others at AKA was to organise a large 3-day convention along the same lines as what was being done with SF conventions and to have a full programme of events, dealers room, film room (ended up being a video room but more on this later) and of course, a bar which would never, ever close unless it ran out of beer.

The convention was to be in the Central Hotel in Glasgow mainly because this is where the SF conventions had made a home so the management and staff were used to working with such events and that it was a cheapish, good central location. It also helped reduce the risks as although comic conventions were fairly common and frequent south of the border they also fell quickly by the wayside in a lot of cases, so a good location was paramount as was a good guest list which could be counted on with AKA’s connections but the convention needed an American guest for credibility and it got Will Eisner.

I’m going to have to make a confession here that I vaguely knew Eisner because of The Spirit, and his influence upon Frank Miller’s work but I really didn’t know much else even though I was by now firmly embedded in AKA and John McShane and several other customers adored his work. I was moving away from being a superhero reader only thanks to titles like Love & Rockets but it was still early days however this convention would change a lot of my reading habits forever.

John had managed to get Eisner as the main guest along with Marv Wolfman who was still riding high from Crisis on Infinite Earths, while we had Bryan Talbot as the main British guest along with a couple of dozen others including Alan Davis, Alan Moore, and Alan Grant. This was a huge deal getting someone of Eisner’s stature and the British guest list would still pack out halls today so anticupation was huge.

One day sitting around AKA various jobs were being bandied around so people could do them and I fancied my hand at doing the film room, but unfortunately we couldn’t afford getting a projectors, films and paying for them, so we downscaled to a video room. One of AKA’s customers was a chap by the name of Hugh Campbell who used to do a nice wee fanzine called Fusion. Yes, this is a Grant Morrison cover of Kid Marvelman…

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It also used to be printed and assembled in the back shop of AKA and I did one issue, #5 I think, but it was a splendid fanzine which Hugh did a great job with. Hugh also had an amazing collection of VHS videos, including some pre Video Nasty versions of films which instantly appealed to the gorehound that I was back in those days, but the idea was to get a programme to appeal to everyone & to run it really late, or indeed all night, which meant people could kip in the room overnight.  The Central were amazingly accommodating and to this day I’m amazed at the stuff they let pass during the conventions they had there.

We publicised the convention in the shop, not to mention the other shops in Glasgow and Edinburgh, plus in the comic press and anywhere we could. Expectations were high and we’d tried to make it as affordable as possible, but advanced numbers weren’t what everyone hoped but there was still the will with everyone involved with AKA to make it work, plus we didn’t know what would happen on the weekend itself.

By the time the weekend came I’d got around 40-50 films from Hugh and built up a programme which I thought would go down well with things like the Superman films, Blade Runner, and  of course, a few Video Nasties. I’d also got myself a few minions to help and to allow me to dive out to the bar.

If all this sounds fun can I point out that organising convention can be fun but it’s also extraordinary hard work, not to mention that if something fucks up (as it did) then you’re held responsible and people will delight in telling you that but thankfully the convention came and went along it’s way quite smoothly considering that we were all utterly and totally blagging it as running a 3-day con with all it entails is an entirely different beast to running a mart.

As for Will Eisner he was a complete gentleman who had time for everyone including the tosser who thought he could tell him about perspective! How can some spotty faced wee wanker tell the man who drew this about perspective?!

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Moving on…

The video room was going well with the odd technical problem being dealt with as and when but I’d worked out that if I put really long films on in the evening then it’d give me time to grab some food, or a drink or get my head down for an hour or so. There was also an incident with a young girl who became upset by a scene near the start of the film The Howling which features an extreme scene of rape which takes place on a TV screen in the background of one scene. I hadn’t thought of that incident for years til being reminded of it.

The main programme consisted of talks & a lot of Eisner doing classes in drawing which were amazing to watch as the man was a genius. I don’t really remember much else of the programme as I was busy/sleeping/drunk but what I saw was fun, but the dealers room seemed awfully thin of customers. In fact the honest truth was the entire weekend was thin on the ground when it came to attendees with a rough estimate of 300 or so people there over the 3-day event.

It didn’t make it’s money back. It may have been an artistic success but AKA couldn’t afford to bankroll another one so we fell back on signing sessions and the bigger marts and there wouldn’t be a big convention in Glasgow again til 1990.

Looking back at it I suppose you could say it was ahead of it’s time and you’d be right. Had it been held in 1988 then things would have been very different but it was influential in helping some Glasgow based creators get some connections, plus Eisner’s classes clearly influenced some people to take up drawing but it’s sadly fell down the back of the sofa of history and been forgotten about. I’d like to get more stories from it as it’s an important bit of British comics history that needs to be fleshed out, so if anyone reading this wants to add anything then feel free to contact me as I consider this very much a work in progress…

Secret Origins part two

In this first part I explained the early parts of my life up to around 1980 and how things were hardly caviar and champers every night, but it was alright but some big events happened in 1980 to change things as they were, and in hindsight, change the course of my life as a number of events happened which changed things.

First up was my brother Steve announcing he was moving out the family home. This caused huge arguments but the jist of what had happened was got deeply involved with FOKT, the local SF fan group and organising SF conventions in Glasgow and was moving high up in the group and in fact was in charge of organising Hitchercon 80, which was as far as I know the first Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy convention anywhere in the world in September of that year and is another story. Before that he was heavily involved in helping organise Albacon 80, the first Easter SF convention held in Scotland, which as I’ve said elsewhere this was the first convention of anything I went to. I was taken by my mother (who always had a sly interest in SF) for the Sunday and I spent my money on comics, and my time watching films before being taken home a tired and happy bunny, bu, guess what, this is another story.

The next was this meant I didn’t need to share a bedroom with my older brother James, so for the first time in my life I had my own bedroom!! This meant my books, comics, and all my other wonderful, glorious crap could be spread out in my own room which gave me a freedom I never had before.

Next was the opening of Glasgow’s first comic shop, Futureshock, which brought me in regular contact with Bob Shaw who by now was almost a family friend because of his friendship with my brother Steve and the fact I think Bob wanted to help me get out from under the shadow of my brothers, not to mention he also really hated the girl Steve started seeing now he was living in the West End of Glasgow.  With Futureshock’s opening I was able to get new American comics without struggling across the city, and I was also aware that a group of comic fans also met at the Wintersgills pub but on a different night. I obviously couldn’t go as I was only 13 but a world was opening up to me.

There was something else as well; the fact Futureshock was based in the West End, meant regular trips there and exposure to the sounds of Postcard Records which to someone brought up on Bowie, and exposed to Punk was a huge breath of fresh air.

Lastly was the slow unraveling of the family unit. Steve moving out seemed to disrupt things more than expected, so James became even more quiet and weird, my father had to work even more hours as Steve was no longer contributing while my mother seemed to lose something of herself and as for myself I became less introvert

The next few years saw me go to more SF conventions in  Glasgow, this time by myself and the first Glasgow Comic Mart (like a convention but over a day with no guests, just dealers) happened in the spring on 1982 and it was here I met Pete Root, Steve Montgomery and John McShane. I didn’t realise then the impact of all this because all I wanted was Warrior #2.

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But I get ahead of myself. I’d become more independent which cheered my mother up, and my father was encouraging me but throughout 1981 my mother started becoming ill, and in 1982 died after a fairly long and painful bout of cancer. The aftershocks of this saw my father slowly fall apart, and over the next year or so I started drifting away and losing myself in comics, SF and music.

Bob Shaw had also split with his business partner at Futureshock and had opened Photon Books in the Candleriggs part of Glasgow, and it was here I started meeting characters like Sloane, Andrew Hope, Peter Coyle, Dom Regan, Jim Clements and a lot more weird and wonderful ones, and Rab. Dear god Rab, the human STD.

It was here I found out that my brother Steve had vanished from Glasgow after his pretty vile girlfriend ripped him, and everyone around her, off, including Bob who by this point was separate from FOKT and the Glasgow SF scene due to a run of highly personal arguments and fall-outs.

In December 1982 my father and me went to Australia thanks to my uncle paying for us to go over for a month to recover from the aftermath of the previous year. We were there in the middle of summer in a place called Wollongong which was exotic and bizarre to my 15 year old self. It was also hot, very, very, very, very, very hot. Even during the summer of 1976 I’d never experienced this sort of heat, and frankly couldn’t cope with it but I loved my holiday there as it was the first holiday I ever had and even brought back a few tectites for Bob.

1983 to 86 are pretty much a blur. A lot happened in those years; I left school, became part of the original  AKA Books and Comics gang, discovered the joys and delights of the ‘Tech’ which was the bar/club part of Glasgow Tech College, went to Brighton for a weekend, became politically active, supported Partick Thistle, helped organise what became known as the ‘Eisnercon” which was Glasgow’s first real comic convention, started avoiding Bob Shaw due to the fact he appeared to be Glasgow’s leading pornographer, and did loads and loads which I will go into detail eventually on these blogs.

By the end of 86 though the family was pretty much split. James had moved to just outside Falkirk with his girlfriend. My Father had hit the bottle and was working or drinking and I was left to my own devices which eventually meant I was becoming pretty demoralised. I had tried to get into Glasgow University to do English a few years earlier but my four Highers and 7 O Grades were not enough (now, they’d get you as far as you want to go) and I stupidly turned down a chance to do a course at Stow College because I had this idea it was Glasgow Uni or nothing, so this meant I flitted from nothing, to the dole, to whatever AKA could spare.

At the start of 87, I started dipping into my comics and selling them at marts. The first time I did a Mart I walked out with £400 in cash. That was a fucking fortune in 87, so I dipped in and out of my comics and found this actually helped supplement my lifestyle as my father was spending money on booze all the time, and my brother was turning into a giant arsehole so I was on my own really.

By the end of 87 I was helping Pete Root out with ordering at AKA and I was on the phone chatting with Neil Phipps, one of the lads at Neptune Distribution who were one of the companies we used to get our comics. We were having a chat and he mentioned that they were having a right hassle getting a new member of staff, which made me say ‘well, I’d do it if I lived in Leicester’ (which is where Neptune were based) which resulted in Neil shouting this across the office to Geoff, the MD of Neptune and Geoff coming quickly on the call and saying that’d he’d pay for me to come down for an informal interview though he was effectively hiring me there on that call as we’d met at that year’s UKCAC and we’d spoken often on the phone.

I came off the call and spoke to Pete, who by now was sitting next to me behind the til asking me in Pete’s typically understated way ‘what the fuck’s all that about?’. I explained and Pete said it’s something I should think about seriously about before taking me to the pub to seriously think about it, before being joined by John McShane who advised me that it was a chance too good to turn down. Both knew my circumstances and background & I knew they were right. I needed a sharp change in direction and this was it.

So in December 87 I went down to Leicester for two days to see Neptune and Geoff, and we agreed I’d move down in the New Year and start as soon as I got myself down. I managed to find myself somewhere in Leicester to live with the help of Neil, and forgetting that you needed money to hire a van and pay rent, a loan from John and Pete from AKA to help me on my way.

My father didn’t take the news of this well. But by this time he’d found himself a widow and was calming down a bit, but my brother was a cock about the whole thing and spouted some of the most amazing anti-English spite I’ve heard from any SNP supporter. I haven’t spoken to him since.

I was amazingly sad to leave people behind, but I’d made a decision to move and  there was a new generation of AKA lads (who had to handle the Glasgow Comic Wars first hand while I just stirred it from afar)  coming through which was good, but I was off to sunny Leicester and the glamour it brought….

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Which brings me to the end of my Secret Origin. If it seemed I was being vague, or didn’t go into detail you’d be right. Some of this is because I fully intend going into greater detail and partly because there’s some things I prefer keeping to myself and partly because the diaries I kept from back then are incomplete and my memory isn’t going to fill in all the details.

But this should give enough context for everything I blog about from now on. I’m going to try to keep an order of sorts, but I’m going to probably end up leaping here, there and everywhere so next up could be the tale of Hitchercon 80 and how amazingly nice Douglas Adams was to me, or the history of comic shops in Glasgow in the 80’s, or that trip to Brighton in Easter 1983, or the trip to a comic convention in Birmingham in 1986 which saw people drawing straws as to who’d share a double bed with Grant Morrison, or the late nights of debauchery and on and on.

You’ll just have to wait and see what comes out first.