Practitioners 9: Grant Morrison

As a catch up for all new visitors to Beyond the Bunker, we’ll be representing the original Practitioners series 1-55 (Simon BisleyChris Bachalo and featuring the most influential comic creatives in history). Thoroughly incomplete but featuring legends like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller and Alan Moore already more will be hitting the site every two alternate weeks. For now though, sit back every Tuesday for a run-down of the men and women who created the comic industry we know today. (Or check the full list in the menus above). This week: Global comics megastar and frustrated visionary; Grant Morrison.

All Star Superman 6 (DC, 2006)

Grant Morrison is a scottish comic book writer and playwright born 31 January 1960 who harnesses and embraces the full power of literature, psychology, history, science and mixes it all with an acute awareness of readership and popular culture. Sending Frankenstein to a land at the end of human experience and standing Wolverine and Sabretooth at the urinals of the Hellfire Club in the pursuit of perfect storytelling in comic books, drawing on a bewildering array of sources to bring forth writing that elevates and encourages its readership with rich language and deep, irony laced ideas of impossible futures and near unrecognisable presents, outer dimensions and the end of many worlds. Due to leave comic books at the end of his run with Batman, Morrison’s legacy will be one that lasts.

All Star Superman

Never scared of the poignant or the difficult Morrison has the canny knack of shifting seamlessly from the scientific explanation of a Voyager Titan mentally preparing to be launched into deep space for centuries in All Star Superman to the very real failure of Scott Summers to retain his marriage in the wake of post traumatic stress he is unable to express in New X-Men. It his acknowledgment of the need to ground – at least to the degree required for a readers’ mind if not in real terms – absurd statements and events with less abstract and more concise human situations and scenarios, underpinning everything with realistic and recognisable reactions.

He achieves this while still understanding the bare bones of comic book storytelling – still revelling in the idea of superheroes and extreme science fiction and (occasionally) magic. Elevating the subject matters though he does, he knows at all time who he is speaking to – and speaks as one of them, only with greater authority and verve.

He recognises, as all great writers perhaps do – no matter how many stars and space cannons are exploding around the main characters – that it is the individual humanity carefully identified by the writer that each character demonstrates that pins the story to the ground and allows it to resonate with the reader. In the same way that horror relies on the reactions of the participants, Morrison crafts insane worlds that are either (mostly) wholly accepted by its participants or accepted begrudgingly by them. The level of disbelief is relieved most of all by Morrison’s dialogue in which central, authoritative figures matter of factly describe high end science fiction ideas in lyrical and poetic language that causes the reader to wish it were so and, more subtly, believe it is possible. Using real science, meticulously applied and expanded upon, Morrison creates ephemeral worlds on solid foundations, allowing a degree of believability. The idea that Lex Luthor keeps a trained Baboon dressed as Superman in his cell for instance relies on the idea that reinforces Luthor as a genius, capable of manipulating his environment and the malign patience required to train a baboon and the influence to get the materials required. This falls into Morrison’s third greatest trick; an astonishing array of subtext and context to all of his characters. This is demonstrated beautifully, with the realisation that Luthor has a cavernous escape route available at any time through a trap door in his cell. His character is yet further reinforced as Kent is met at the base of stone stairs by an ambiguously aged girl in mild S&M uniform, piloting a Gondola on an underground lake. The iconography involved draws in sexual ambiguity (what is Luthor’s relationship to the girl – later uncovered as his niece, possibly for matters of taste), themes of power and influence and the mythology of the river Styx, as the innocent Kent is slowly taken back out to the living world. This may seem overly detailed and analytical but Morrison is at least that referential. His notes to his artists perhaps second only to the great Alan Moore.

His pacing and use of character is impeccable as he inhabits the mindset and responses of all of his characters – no matter how peripheral. It is in these reactions as Lex Luthor remains steadfastly oblivious to the possibility that Clark Kent has saved him as a prison riot rages around them in All Star Superman – assuming, naturally, that he has the situation well under control when in fact Kent continues to use an array of powers beyond his notice to ease his passage and even save him from a blundering Parasite. Kent remaining true to the honest and unassuming character of Superman to great comic effect.

Arcadia Byron of the Invisibles (Vertigo)

Morrison’s first published works were Gideon Stargrave for the brilliantly titled Near Myths in 1978 at the age of 17. Soon followed Captain Clyde, an out of work superhero for the Govan Press, a local newspaper in Glasgow, plus various issues of DC Thomson’s Starblazer, the sister title to the companies Commando title and the New Adventures of Hitler. He spent much of the early 80s touring with his band The Mixers, putting out the odd Starblazer and Zoids strip for DC Thomson.

In 1982 he submitted a proposal for a storyline involving the Justice League of America and Jack Kirby’s New Gods entitled Second Coming to DC. It was dismissed but his fascination of the New Gods no doubt formed the skeleton of the enormous Final Crisis saga in which Darkseid launches armageddon on an unsuspecting world in a second age of the New Gods using Earth and its inhabitants as hosts and demonic incubators. His desire to write DC’s primary superhero group was no doubt sated with his long run on JLA in 1996 to revamp the team and bring it up to date which he pulled off with Rock of Ages, Earth 2 and World War 3 (in no particular order).

At every stage he proved time and time again that he expanded the material handed to him – writing for 2000AD with Big Dave, Future Shocks and the unusually superhuman for 2000AD – Zenith under his wing before his tenure at DC.

The Filth with Grant Morrison and Gary Erskine (2003)

Upon crossing the Atlantic he demonstrated immediately his capacity for reinventing fringe characters and enhancing them beyond the original idea – taking the near unknown fringe character Animal Man and not only imbuing his character with the real reactions of a man who could channel the powers and thoughts of animals nearby to him but forced him to look through the fourth wall at the reader – breaking the indefinable rules of the medium in the process to brilliant effect.

Morrison is known for treating mainstream established titles in the same way as fringe titles and this has earned him a status as the great re-inventor in Modern comics. He was the man to make Scott Summer’s cool again as he took hold of the X-men universe and rang the life out of it – a process he tried to make un-reconnable – Killing 16 Million Mutants and giving Professor Xavier an unborn, evil sister who returns as a mind slug and unleashes the Shi’ar navy all over the mansion. Introducing a cavalcade of new Mutants some as hilariously and poignantly useless as ‘Beaky’ the featherless, beaked bird boy who batters in the head of the newly uber-feline and faux gay Beast. Jean Grey dies but for once is given no reason to return – as psychic hyper-bitch and new headmistress of Xavier’s Emma Frost sways Scott Summer’s exhausted heart, filling the emotional vacancy usually left by Phoenix every time she summarily carks it. Magneto is beheaded after destroying half of Manhattan and Xavier’s approaches an actual curriculum and focusses on its students for the first time in its history.

Jean and the Beast (New X-Men, 2002)

Morrison often – whether intentionally or not – represents the discussion boards and blogs of the fans – testing theories that are discussed hypothetically on public pages that no one expected to see them on. Batman is killed and returned and given a son in Morrison’s watch. Jason Todd effectively returns breaking the almighty unwritten rule of comic books – partly you suspect out of sheer bloody mindedness. Morrison finally being characteristically brave to investigate the reality of Dick Grayson under the cowl.

Dick Grayson as Batman (Batman, 2009)

The content of his independent titles have become mainstream – for good or ill – leaving many readers of Final Crisis utterly confused as to what was taking place – an abstract Superman tale in which he passes through multiverses in order to combat an abstract thought form made real in storytelling in an ephemeral world populated by reality vampires via a limbo championed by an indifferent Woody Allen-alike in a jesters outfit in order to save Lois Lane in between her penultimate and final heartbeat borders on the lunatic – but is incredibly detailed and worth the three reads it takes to fully grasp the deliberately overlapping realities thrown at it.

Morrison clearly found a like mind in penciller Frank Quitely, bringing to life the inner workings of Professor X’s mind in New X-Men, the gnarled and diseased but lithely libidoed geriatric in Lust for Life from Jamie Delano’s 2020 Visions (Speakeasy comics, 2005), scraping by each other by two volumes of the Authority – Morrison on Volume 4 with Gene Ha and Quitely on Volume 2 with Mark Millar, empowered the new JLA with a little much-needed modern sheen in the book of the same name in the early naughties and reinvented the greatest super hero of them all in All-Star Superman.

But it was WE-3, the story of three prototype ‘animal weapons’ as they flee the project that ‘enhanced’ them encapsulates the creative partnership. Morrison was meticulous as ever with his descriptions and insisted on consistent and protracted revisions of minute details from Quitely in order to produce a work of rare and fine quality. This certainly was achieved as it was released via Vertigo imprint in 2004 to public and critical acclaim. Morrison’s subtlety and nuance of character supplied each of the fleeing and desperate central characters; a rabbit; a cat and a dog a bewilderingly believable character each recognisable as an individual and the drives and psychology of the animal in question. Morrison’s capacity for invention supplied the narrative with a relatively basic speech pattern simulator for each of the animals allowing them to emote through limited cognitive language in a way not human but beyond its species. The effect is a dizzying, gripping and poignant story of extreme science inflicting havoc and chaos on three innocents’ lives – each reacting in their own very specific way. In many ways WE3 is exceptional and as near perfect as a comic book can get because it uses – perhaps most transparently and as such to best effect – Morrison’s greatest creative methodology – to recognise inherent and recognisable characteristics in vulnerable and capable beings and then inflict seven hells of pseudo lunacy on them – in whatever form seems most fun!

We3 (2004, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Most recently, Morrison has become devoutly lambasted for his incredible work in the Batman titles; killing Batman himself, replacing him with Dick Grayson, who struggles with the responsibility of the cowl. The hardened purists in the DC readership continued to make life harder and harder for Morrison to ply his trade. That, combined with his increasingly bizarre statements about his influence and involvement in the comics industry have begun to slow the genius down. His ideas were beginning to outgrow a perhaps more commercially minded DC as it tries to keep up with it’s Red banner rival, Marvel. Increasingly limited in the titles he has been permitted to write, Morrison announced recently that he will be leaving the comics industry behind, citing specifically the antagonising nature of the hardened fan – who actively denounce any major creative changes in the writing of any major character – irrespective of sales or popularity among the general public. This is an enormous loss to the industry and should not be underestimated. Wild card though he was, Morrison was a comic book loving wild card, determined to bring innovation and broad ideas to a fairly staid and unchanging medium. This is the man who finally killed Batman, deified Superman and killed 6 million mutants in 1 issue. Let his comics epitaph read; ‘went down fighting, but took a lot of characters with him.’

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Practitioners 54: Paul Cemmick

The trouble with Paul Cemmick is it’s too easy to overstate his talent. It’s not that it’s not present – in fact the scale of it is incredible – but it wouldn’t be English to express too enthusiastically just how exciting and impressive a full page of Cemmick’s work truly is. And that wouldn’t suit Cemmick. His is the stuff of England. Lunacy and silliness so inherent in his linework that it’s hard to explain. The physicality of any character in a Cemmick page is height, width, facial features and stupidness. His basis as an incredible caricaturist blends perfectly – communicating precisely everything you know about every character the moment you take a look at it – whether it’s the small, strident figure of girl-ahead-of-her-time Maid Marian, leader of a band of rebels, the handsome, lanky and innately cowardly gangle of Robin of Kensington or the Face of Bo in a recent Doctor Who poster – it’s always a massive joy to behold.

Paul Cemmick is a cartoonist and caricaturist whose designs and work have been seen in many different media, most prominently animation, (British) comics and book covers. According to the website ChildrensIllustrators.com, Mr Cemmick “started drawing cartoons as a child by copying Popeye, Tom and Jerry and Yogi Bear from his gran’s TV.”

He is a jobbing artist – certainly not working on the scale of Coipel or Quitely, nor as famous as Bisley or (Jeff) Smith however this is because he is happily entrenched inside the British industry – by choice one would guess – with a distinctly English artistic style his work is rarely seen outside of the British Isles. This has led to working on the most english of titles – something he’s clearly enthusiastic about – including the Funday Times children’s supplement of the Sunday Times and more prominently, in the 90s the work of classic comic book art that was the set of eight Maid Marian and Her Merry Men comic adaptations of the popular Children’s BBC series.

Providing the artwork for the closing credits of the popular kid’s show, which ran between 1989 and 1993 – the adaptation to comic book, adapted by the lead writer, creator and star Tony Robinson (better known as Blackadder’s Baldrick) it wasn’t long before an adaptation was in the offing. Hard to imagine the final title sequence was finished before saw the wisdom of using Cemmick for the series of books. Seemingly blending the cartoon work of Jim Patterson of the Beano, anarchic Looney Tunes physicality and perfectly observed caricature of the existing cast the books were a ball thanks to Cemmick.

Doctor Who Poster (2011) - part of Cemmick's continued work with the BBC.

Robinson’s ideas were meticulously realised but no one was concentrating on that. Whether it was the gormless expressions of King John’s Guards Gary and Graeme as the dialogue was revealed or the deliberate miniaturisation of Tony Robinson’s Sheriff in relation to every other character, Cemmick added quirks, gimmicks, character ticks and details that were never present in the original while still putting across the personalities of each one of the distinctive cast.

It’s impossible to sail through a Cemmick page – his attention to detail and his joy in leaving prizes to those willing to take a longer, closer look pushed the value of the books well above what they might have been with a less enthused artist. In 2006-2007 he produced four all-new mini-comics which were included in the each of the four series DVD releases from Eureka Entertainment.

Mr Cemmick’s best-known cover artwork adorns several of the later covers of Tom Holt’s comic-fantasy novels, published by Orbit Books in the UK. Mr Cemmick was the third regular Holt cover-artist, following in the footsteps of Josh Kirby and Steve Lee. Mr Holt explained the transition from Lee to Cemmick being due to “some sort of falling-out between and the Orbit people” after his novel “Open Sesame.”

Cemmick’s cartoons and caricatures appear regularly in the UK Sci-Fi magazine SFX, and publications including “Take a Break” magazine. He co-created “N.U.T.S. Investigations” with Spitting Image and 2DTV alumnus Giles Pilbrow for The Sunday Times, and has produced full comicstrip artwork for several BBC magazines, including “Girl Talk” and “It’s Hot”. These official BBC comicstrips include adaptations of EastEnders, adventures of the Blue Peter pets, and most recently (as an interesting semi-follow-up to his work on MM&HMM), the latest BBC One version of Robin Hood (2006) in ‘Robin Hood Adventures’ issue 1 (BBC Magazines, 10–23 October 2007). Cemmick is currently producing 2 comic strips in the weekly BBC publication Match of the Day. As well as a double page comic strip in a new magazine based on the massively successful TV show Top Gear. The mag is called Top Gear Turbo.

In television, he has worked on anarchic rubber faced satire series Spitting Image as well as the afore-mentioned Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. He was also one of the designers and three main artists on the ITV television series 2DTV (2001), working on that programme for all of its five series’. He recently designed the logo for the revamped ITV animated series Emu (2007) starring Emu, Rod Hull’s famous sidekick – minus Rod Hull himself.

Impossible to ignore, Cemmick’s work is illustrative and only finds his way into the Practitioners list for his work on the Maid Marian Books – although his new work remains incredibly high in standard nothing has quite matched that work for sheer exuberance – understandably securing hgim such a long tenure with the BBC.

Most importantly from one person’s perspective, Cemmick is probably the most influential artist in my personal history. While others such as Jim Patterson, Geoff Senior, Liam Sharp, Adam Kubert, Simon Bisley and Frank Quitely have informed me and developed my interests away from where they started (Masters of the Universe), Cemmick revolutionised my thinking and made me really understand the liberties that could be taken with an empty page. Cartoonishness, characterisation, layout, panel filling, use of colours and humour in such an apparent anarchy that belies the actual work that has been sunk into it. The natural line work, the placement of a finger and a foot to add greater humour to proceeding makes the page look as though it could never be any other way. Paul Cemmick is both a world class artist and – I suspect – a great British secret. But without his influence, I and many other artists of the same age might not understand the true shape of funny on a page. Bridging that gap perfectly between the simple, straightforward comic pages of the Beano, Dandy, Buster and Whizzer and Chips and more adult fare like 2000AD, Oink and Viz. But more than that – he captured the timeless, spotless and universal moments better than the television series loaded with exactly the same material and made the themes last 20 years – and well beyond.

Typically answering a question you didn't need answered - here's Nicolas Cage in a much better casting - Paul Cemmick (2011)

Personal thanks to Paul Cemmick for inspiring me to always look for the silly in any page – and in the serious – just look at a blank page and understand that between the words on the page and the final page there is a perpetual gap that artists get to fill and make their own.

RIP Mœbius (1938-2012)

Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was a french comics artist, working in the french tradition of bandes dessinées (literally drawn strip or BDs).Known more prominently as Mœbius, and to a lesser extent Gir, the latter appearing in a boxed form at the bottom of the artists paintings.

His work has influenced generations of artists around the world for years. His transcendent, highly detailed technical ability belying the incredible simplicity of his compositions. The idea shines most brightly in most of Mœbius’ work, rendered with a clarity of vision rarely seen in any other artist.



Among his most famous creation was the Western comic series “Blueberry” which he cocreated with Jean-Michel Charlier, one of the first Western anti-heroes to appear in comics. Under the pseudonym Moebius he created a wide range of science fiction and and fantasy comics in a highly imaginative and surreal almost abstract style, the most famous of which are Arzach and the Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius, and the The Incal. Blueberry was adapted for the screen in 2004, and in 1997 Moebius and cocreator Alejandro Jodorowsky sued Luc Besson for using the Incal as inspiration for his movie The Fifth Element, a lawsuit which they lost.

Moebius contributed storyboards and concept designs to numerous science fiction and fantasy films, including Alien, Willow, and Tron.

Mœbius has given the most famous western artists and film makers their style. Modern industry legends such as Simon Bisley or Frank Quitely, Liam Sharp or Jamie Hewlett have drawn hhuge swathes of inspiration from his work.

The world of comics is significantly poorer without him, or would be had his legacy already been so securely etched into the rock face of modern comics art. An inspiration and an example to all artists arriving into the world now, Jean Henri Gaston Giraud’s effect will be felt for a great many years to come – perhaps as long as comic books exist.

Practitioners 50: Stan Lee (Part two)

In 2011 the first Kapow convention in London pulled together a line-up of incredibly popular and legendary writers and artists. Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, John Romita Jr, Lienil Yu, Dave Gibbons, Chris Hemsworth, the cast of Being Human, Merlin, Misfits, IGN stands, Marvel, DC, film previews and a Guinness World Record attempt. In 2012, arguably it’s main competitor has Stan Lee in his first visit to a British Comic Convention. People actually saw this as a coup.

Stan Lee, legend of legends appeared at the first Super Comiccon in February 2012 at the Excel Centre in London. The effect was enormous. In an industry trying to find it’s feet it had exactly the right effect. The event was an enormous success. The crowds were more mainstream than had previously been seen. You can claim a number of reasons for this but what it boiled down to was this – it was a chance to meet the man who changed the face of comics.

In the late 1950s Stan Lee was working for what was known as Atlas Comics. He was disgruntled, writing Romance, adventure, westerns, humour, medieval adventure, horror and suspense. By the end of the decade, Lee had become dissatisfied with his career and considered quitting the field.

A curious set of circumstances began to accumulate that was to fuel the creation of Marvel Comics. In DC, Editor Julius Schwartz had run into considerable success with the updated version of the Flash, reviving the superhero archetype, and later had the same success with the Justice League of America. In response to this, publisher Martin Goodman asked Lee to create a new superhero team. Lee’s dissatisfaction with the industry was now turned into an advantage. With his intention to leave comics and with nothing to lose, Lee’s wife urged him to experiment with stories he wanted to write. It was here that the crucible of the entire Marvel Universe was formed. Lee, who, having dutifly worked for comics since he was 19 was about to change every rule.

Lee acted on the advice, giving his characters a flawed humanity, a leap from the god-like archetypes that had been striding the pages of superhero comic books. Lee introduced complex, naturalistic characters who could have bad tempers, melancholy fits, vanity; arguing amongst themselves, but crucially propelled downwards at terminal velocity back to the streets of the real, now forced to worry about bills, relationships, homework. The Superman had been knocked off his perch, dressed as Clark Kent forcibly and told to work his way back up to Superman. Champions were no longer heroes by right; Lee brought the demi-gods of Golden Age comic books back to their literary roots. They were now subject to heartache, anxiety and could even get physically ill. These aspirational figures had become accessible. No longer beyond the reach everyone on the streets, they are everyone on the street – struggling with the same impassable issues we all do.

The first was the Fantastic Four. Workaholic Reed Richards, brash and impetuous Johnny Storm, thuggish and crude Ben Grimm and the occasionally ferocious Sue Storm were hammered with cosmic rays and thrown back to Earth where they respectively gained the powers of elasticity, fire and flight, invulnerability, super strength and impervious rock skin and invisibility. The combination of super powers and real life drama is reflected now in the popularity of supernatural and superhero TV shows. It proved a flawless and undeniable combination; real life issues and concerns propelled into battles with monsters, investigation of interdimensional travel and space giants!! The most noteworthy character was Ben Grimm, named ‘The Thing’ thanks to his new found craggy demeanour. Reflected in his personality, his is in fact a science fiction story of a successful, confident figure being faced with dismemberment. Susan Storm’s feelings of abandonment by the man she loves and his lack of understanding as to why his work isn’t more important to her are universal ideas, locked in high literature and TV soaps. When the emotional story lines might dip in other genres now there were Mole Men to smack down, or intergalactic heralds declaring the arrival of a globe threatening natural disaster.

The Fantastic Four’s immediate popularity led Lee and Marvel’s assembled Marvel Illustrators, including Steve Ditko, Bill Everett and led by Jack Kirby to create a field of dreams that would outlast almost every other book on the market. With Kirby, primarily, heroes known throughout the world, representing ideals and concerns and fears recognisable to everyone began to appear out of the smoke of heady creation. Bruce Banner saved Rick Jones moments before a Gamma blast irradiated him and created the angry, defiant, thundering Hulk, genius inventor Tony Stark meets his greatest fears as he is forced to create a metal suit to save him from shrapnel wounds to create Iron Man, the mutant X-Men are assembled in a Westchester School of Higher Learning by Professor Xavier, Lawyer Matt Murdoch gains super senses as a result of losing his sight as a young boy, swearing to represent justice at both ends of the spectrum. Captain America returns from the icy seas of the North Atlantic, Namor is resurrected from war-time comic books, the Norse God Thor appears from the thunder and the Avengers are formed. Finally with Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange – an arrogant doctor who loses his hands and uncovers, in his desperation to regain them – the art of mysticism and finally, the figure that represents most clearly Stan Lee’s ideals.

Lee had been watching a fly crawling on the surface of a window and ‘marvelled’ at it’s ability to move as it did. Imagining a man capable of the same thing he decided that ‘Fly-man’ had little appeal however perhaps a ‘Spider-man’ would have a better time in the cavernous streets of Manhattan.

Stoic, brave and heroic, Peter Parker is the absolute embodiment of the Marvel ideal and it’s most successful character. Representative of every one in America, his struggles are real, his fears and worries palpable and his capacity to overcome them unlimited. Parker is the little guy, the sickly, victimised orphan boy mollycoddled by his Aunt, he is clever and brave but struggles to utilise either. With the bite of a radioactive spider, Peter Parker gains the proportional power of a Spider. Over the years Spider-man has fought every major villain in the Marvel Universe, wise-cracking all the way in a fit of denial as to the situation he is throwing himself into. Those idiosyncracies and habits are real. The overcompensation of Peter Parker to be Spider-man on the battlefield historically irritates more seasoned, honed fighters but that’s the point. He’s no professional. And Lee understood this and presented a boy trying desperately to keep up with the lot life had shown him, without realising, as so many of us do, how capable he always was. The perpetual underdog, Spider-man shines with a humanity that Lee gave him more than half a century before – and one that will never dim. Editor-in-chief Joe Quesada’s decision to scrub out Peter Parker’s life with Mary Jane, his wife, was one of genuine affection and a need to return to the vulnerability that Lee had imbued him with previously. While the character was growing, it was the innate lack of experience that Lee had given him that made Spider-man such a mainstay character and it’s testament to Lee’s decisions so long ago that Quesada felt the need to reset it.

The other defining characteristic introduced by Stan Lee was that of a shared universe. This connected all of the various characters together in a way that united the creators and readers in a way. A community could now be formed around that universe. Based in the real world, the cities were those that the readership woke up in every day. The Human Torch left a message for Spider-man across the sky over the real Manhattan. Gods walked amongst men in a way unseen. The Hulk smashed in real states, not the purpose built spires of an imaginary city such as Metropolis, Gotham or Coast City. It also reduced the level of destruction that took place in the confines of the books which bred greater creativity in developing the plots. It turned the real world, in particular New York into a sandbox world to be played with, both recognisable by real and fictitious characters. It raised the stakes as well as the events taking place had the potential to end everything we all knew. Galactus would devour our homes and towns. The nuclear threat created by Magneto would radiate part of our planet. These were gods given consequences.

While Superman’s Metropolis had been laid to waste by Doomsday and flood and rebuilt, Batman’s Gotham destroyed by plague and earthquake and Coast City decimated by star ship as a mere plot point someone else’s story in order to facilitate a plot that would bring back Superman in Stan Lee’s Marvel Universe a single school is destroyed in middle america in a dust up between super powered ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ and the effects are far more divisive and far reaching than the destruction of an entire state in DC. Stan Lee gave Marvel pathos, real life drama, boundaries and greater emotional punch. He gave us figures that could bring down buildings but crack under emotional pressure. He gave the super humans their humanity. It is something that cannot be undervalued.

Stan Lee’s Marvel revolution extended beyond the characters and storylines to the way in which comic books engaged the readership and built a sense of community between fans and creators. There has been some dispute as to the creative credit associated with his works – particularly in the case of projects with Kirby and Ditko, however Lee did more for creative credit than any other editor previously. Lee introduced the practice of including a credit panel on the splash page of each story, something now adopted into every book brought out in some manner, naming not just the writer and penciller but also the inker and letterer. This has fuelled fans of writers and artists as well as characters, titles and companies over the years and has really allowed articles such as The Practitioners to develop. Regular news about Marvel staff members and upcoming storylines was presented on the Bullpen Bulletins page, which (like the letter columns that appeared in each title) was written in a friendly, chatty style. Lee had made the Marvel Universe friendly and easy to visit – his welcoming and inclusive style and his love of people clear in his approach to how he ran this company.

Throughout the 1960s, Lee scripted, art-directed, and edited most of Marvel’s series, moderated the letters pages, wrote a monthly column called “Stan’s Soapbox,” and wrote endless promotional copy, often signing off with his trademark phrase “Excelsior!” (which is also the New York state motto). To maintain his taxing workload, yet still meet deadlines, he used a system that was used previously by various comic-book studios, but due to Lee’s success with it, became known as the “Marvel Method” or “Marvel style” of comic-book creation. Typically, Lee would brainstorm a story with the artist and then prepare a brief synopsis rather than a full script. Based on the synopsis, the artist would fill the allotted number of pages by determining and drawing the panel-to-panel storytelling. After the artist turned in penciled pages, Lee would write the word balloons and captions, and then oversee the lettering and coloring. In effect, the artists were co-plotters, whose collaborative first drafts Lee built upon.

Because of this system, the exact division of creative credits on Lee’s comics has been disputed, especially in cases of comics drawn by Kirby and Ditko. Lee shares co-creator credit with Kirby and Ditko on, respectively, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man feature film series.

In 1971, Lee indirectly helped reform the Comics Code. The US Department of Health, Education and Welfare had asked Lee to write a comic-book story about the dangers of drugs and Lee conceived a three-issue subplot in The Amazing Spider-Man #96–98 (cover-dated May–July 1971), in which Peter Parker’s best friend becomes addicted to pills. The Comics Code Authority refused to grant its seal because the stories depicted drug use; the anti-drug context was considered irrelevant. The comics sold well and Marvel won praise for its socially conscious efforts. The CCA subsequently loosened the Code to permit negative depictions of drugs, among other new freedoms.

Lee also supported using comic books to provide some measure of social commentary about the real world, often dealing with racism and bigotry. “Stan’s Soapbox”, besides promoting an upcoming comic book project, also addressed issues of discrimination, intolerance, or prejudice. This has been seen throughout Marvel’s history as writers introduce plots they feel particularly strong about, Peter David’s continued inclusion of gay and lesbian agendas in his work from The Incredible Hulk and X-Factor has allowed a subject he feels strongly about be presented in an unusual but popular medium. That, in part, is thanks to Stan Lee’s years of effort and devotion to putting out positive messages of tolerance and civility.

But it is Stan Lee’s lasting legacy (one that he still fuels) that has elevated him above other writers, artists and creators. His relationship with his fans and his creations have made him synonomous with them. If you type in Stan Lee into any search engine, the majority of the images generated will be of the man himself; as famous as any one of his creations. That was what we saw at Super Comicon in London on February 25th and 26th in 2012. A man who allowed millions to dream of seeing a man fly through the sky on rocket jets – but more importantly – made it clear that they could just as easily be that man themselves.

Next: The Legacy of Stan Lee.

Comics, Controversy and Joe Quesada. Full Kapow Guest List Announced!

Ever since London Super Comic Con announced Stan Lee as their guest of honour, all eyes have been on the UK’s other big cons to see how they would respond. Well, the first retaliatory shot in the (largely imaginary) battle for convention guest supremacy has now been fired as Kapow Comic Con announced today that Marvel Chief Creative Officer, Joe Quesada will head up their own guest list. Now in its second year, the Mark Millar fronted convention is seen by many as the closest match (in terms of style) to the new born LSCC, so a lot of people have been very excited to see what kind of guest list Millar’s team would pull out in the face of LSCC’s behemoth of a line-up.

As well as serving as Editor in Chief for 10 years, during which time he masterminded much of the modern Marvel universe, Joe Quesada is also a hugely celebrated artist in his own right. A feature that we ran back in October, collecting a selection of his “building the cover” tweets, remains our highest ranking post (largely due to Joe himself being kind enough to give us a shout out on twitter and facebook). While he may not be a household name in the way Stan Lee is, Joe Q is a massive guest in comic book terms and a lot of fans are going to be very happy indeed about this announcement.

Other guests announced for the show include Warren Ellis (another good catch as he’s a relatively infrequent convention attendee), Frank Quitely, Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr (who apparently wrote some stuff for CLiNT Magazine). It’s not a list devoid of controversy (it is a Mark Millar project after all) and the failure (once again) to feature any female creators is unlikely to do Kapow any favours when it comes to silencing some of their more vocal critics (the con has been accused of deliberate sexism in the past). Likewise packing the top of the bill with stand up comedians while relegating writers and artists to the lower rungs could be seen as something of a cynical move for a convention that claims to be all about the comics. On the whole though, it’s a pretty solid line up and the majority of fans should be pretty happy.

If you want to learn more about Joe Quesada’s work then you can check out his Practitioner’s article and you can buy tickets for Kapow itself from their website.

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Kapow Comic Con Line Up Announced!

The official site for Kapow Comic Con 2012 went live today and with it came not only this rather groovy trailer but also some details of the first round of guests. Fans who make their way to the Business Design Centre in North London next May will be able to rub shoulders with the likes of Frank Quitely, Dave Gibbons, (Marvel head of talent) C.B. Cebulski and many more. Kapow spokesman Mark (Kick Ass) Millar has promised an even bigger show next year which, given how good this year’s show was, is a big promise.

There’s already some negative buzz starting to circulate regarding the lack (or rather total absence) of female creators on the initial bill but with the full line up not due to be announced until February, there’s plenty of time to rectify that. the real challenge for Kapow this year will be how it’s supposedly gold standard guest list fares against Super Comic Con’s impressive line up.

Needless to say, Beyond the Bunker will be there. So if you are thinking of giving Kapow a go (and you should, it’s fantastic) then be sure to drop by and say hi

For full listings, check out the KAPOW WEBSITE!

See you there,

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Kapow Diary 4: Frank Quitely, the Guinness Book of World Records and the Trouble with Gibbons (Pt 1)

You should always try to meet your heroes. There is a reason they’re your heroes. Frank Quitely is a genius. Capable of mixing line work with beautific composition like a parisian master in between the erratic highs of victorian period heroin and a sharp dose of Absinthe. Man’s a magician of the highest order and I respect him greatly. He is an Alan Silverstri. One of those artists that you pull out of the drawer when you want to make a million bucks on a comic book. You could write about Ingrid Bergman’s feet – nobody cares because Silvestri or Quitely’d make them look better than Ingrid’s herself!!

It should also be said that there is a fine art in the meeting of your heroes. One of them is not to tell them loudly about your mate’s baby’s unnaturally hard head. But I did and that was the least of it. I didn’t even limit it to my all time hero, I scattered my absurd intros to any legend of comicdom that’d stop and listen. For f@ck’s sake don’t make eye contact with me – I’ll tell you my Nan’s name!

I arrived at the Kapow Comicon on Saturday with a zen-like attitude towards what would take place. As far as I was concerned I’d roll up with the kit, set up the tables, sell some books and make our way. But this plan was shot to buggery. Firstly, its important to understand that artists do enjoy a certain degree of anonymity as they move around these comic cons. People know them for their work but they don’t know them on sight. Some artists defy this by looking exactly like you think they will. John Romita Jr looks like he’ll plug yer as soon as look at yer on some newspaper strewn street, Dave Gibbons looks like the friendly old penciller you’d expect to see sitting quietly and calmly at a drawing board under a arm lamp finalising the finishing touches on his latest piece, Brian Bolland looks like a gentlemen who can’t let a page go ’til he has lovingly and caringly cross created it like a kindly Gepetto fashioning his wooden boy and so on. Simon Bisley looks like a biker etc, etc. But only when you know who they are – by dint of they’re career they are an invisible presence. They’re an unseen hand, leaving a slap mark on the rump of the comic industry without anybody getting a good look at them.

But they are also the bass guitarist to the Writers lead singer. The artist, at his height is what gives the fans what they need and drives the lyric and lead guitar forward. You get an action sequence, that my friends is the artists guitar solo. Pyow, Nyoooow, rooooooow. (Ahem). They have the capacity to enthrall and infuriate. Its on the strength of their work alone – except for extremely gifted autistics who can read a book front to back in a second – that a book is initially picked up. They’re the good guys who never say a wrong word – cos they never write one down. And I was about to run into a few of them.

The Guinness Book of Records event was being set up at the far end of the event, by the IGN stands and the entrance. An intention to create a comic book using the greatest number of artists in one day. The original script being written by Mark Millar and then possibly expanded upon, I later overheard, by other script writers. It was a great idea. The pages split into three panels, an artist taking on one each and producing a full length comic book to be printed by Marvel comics that afternoon.

Having missed the E-mail I went down to the stand it was all taking place at (by the IGN stand at the front) to sign up which I did. Up on the stage was Leinil Yu and Frank Quitely, quietly finishing their panels. This was a quiet sight with not many people around and the Guinness Book of Records crew oblivious to who was sitting there. They didn’t care. They don’t read comic books. They read the Guinness Book of Records and the Roy Castle Autobiography. Anyway, I found myself in a strange predicament as I was the only one aware of the importance of the two gentlemen sitting in front of me. These were giants of the industry. These were the poster boys for the industry I’m trying to break into. However, they were also practitioners of the art I want to be part of and so should be afforded professional courtesy right. Professional courtesy probably extends to not bothering them while they’re working on a taped off raised table but what the hell – this was Frank Quitely and Leinil Yu.

I said to one of crew ‘, Woah. That’s Frank Quitely and Lienil Yu.’
‘Oh’, he replied politely in a way that I would if someone had said ‘Woah. That’s Tamara Beckwith and Natalie Pong,’ (I made the second name up which gives you some perspective).
‘Who are they?’ The Guinness representative inquire, helpfully, realising he might need to know.
I did well here in keeping calm but I mentioned ‘All Star Superman, X-Men, Hulk, Wolverine’ ‘Geniuses, ‘ and ‘in awe’ at least once.
‘You should meet them.’ the Guinness representative said. What a prick. What f@cking unhelpful, cheerful, friendly prick.
‘No I shouldn’t,’ I said – thinking on some level that I shouldn’t.

In this discourse Leinil Yu stood up. signed off on his panel and started moving off the stage. As he did so Lucy Unwin, the organiser, moved in to shuffle him off. Yu seemed kinda placid and calm. I moved forwards with the intention of talking to him. I stopped short of saying touching him. What would I want to touch him for? Weird. Whatever. It actually wasn’t about touching but by now Lucy was very efficiently whisking Leinil away. However, still sitting unguarded by the surrounding Guinness Book of Records representatives, still oblivious to the pure legend they had sitting amongst them quietly unaware, was Frank Quitely. Now I could be properly mental. As the Guinness representative insisted ahead of me that I should introduce myself as he’s my hero – I felt that pull. The feeling I get when I’m entering uncertain psychological territory and the edges of my behaviour begin to thin. I focussed sharply, trying to occupy my mind on simply introducing myself to my long time hero. So I went the other way. Not wanting to be a fanboy.

So I caught his attention. ‘Vincent,’ I said.

The thing you have to understand is that I had written about Quitely, and Leinil Yu and many other of the other Practitioners present at Kapow (Mark Millar, John Romita Jr, Brendan McCarthy, Dave Gibbons) in a series of articles I’ve written for this site – never once thinking about what it would mean when I met them. I can tell you right now when you’re faced with a hero and hopefully, one day, a colleague you admire and respect the weirdest thing to know – and something I don’t usually – is what school they went to – or their real name. Frank Quitely’s is Vincent, Vincent Deighan. And I’d just used it like I knew him. And I don’t. Never met him in my life. And obviously, neither has he. And now he was looking at me wondering if I knew him.

So things had changed now. I knew Frank Quitely by name and he’d turned and expected a mate or a colleague but it was a man, scruffy like an ancient sheep who came to tell him he loved him. Using your actual name and then telling them you love him didn’t seem apt. So my brain opted for another angle. One that justified the use of his personal name…

BEN MORGAN! Ben Morgan was my partner on the original Beyond the Bunker and lived in Edinburgh. He had claimed a short while ago that he had been drinking with Frank Quitely. ‘If you’re lying Morgan I’ll fly to the South side of the Forth and nut you you bear tree mother f@cker’ I thought at that point. Frank acknowledged the association and said he hadn’t seen him since before he had his son. He then waited quietly while I told him that ‘ things have been rough for Ben recently, he’s only just got a job.’ Who the f@ck cares about Benjamin Morgan my brain was telling me on some level – give him your book, tell him you love him – his WORK – YOU LOVE HIS WORK (F@CK’S SAKE!)

This was supposedly enough of a connection for me so I asked if he was going for a drinks tonight and he said ‘yeah, he most probably would,’ and he asked where was good to go. I didn’t know. I’d been drinking round the area in recent weeks and had completely forgotten the name of any pubs. So now I was arranging to go for a pint with the guy on the basis and that he had had a drink with one of my mates in Edinburgh and a three minute conversation.

I chucked him Moon 1, saying we were making it available to legends (thereby swinging back into fanboy territory again). He seemed to like it, politely flicking through it and nodding occasionally saying it was good.

It’s hard to know what the right response you’re looking for is. ‘This is the finest piece of artwork I have seen for some time! I would like to mentor you and introduce you to the commissioning editors of DC,’ would be nice. So I accepted his acknowledgement that he could see a marked improvement in the work as the book progressed which was nice of him.

I maintained the pub talk and suggested I’d let him know where we were all going if I saw him about the place again. As I maintained the conversation I could feel the dread moment, I could feel mysef heating up as the steady realisation that I was maintaining a sensible conversation with one of my heroes began to dawn on me. I had to back out before I said something stupid (something I proved was an accurate concern later on) and I’m pretty sure my eyes went all boggly. I’m not sure its a visible tick but they were definitely wider than they were meant to be. So I legged it, booked in at 3.30pm to come back and do my stint on the Guinness Book of Records stand.

BE BACK HERE TOMORROW TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED AT 3.30PM

Kapow Diary 2: What we didn’t see…

Inevitably as an exhibitioner, even one doing the wander around – you miss things inevitably and there was a hell of line up over the course of the weekend. The day was high end and everyone involved (from IGN, Millarworld, Clint and the Business Design Centre) – had pulled out all the stops. Behind us was Markosia, run by Harry Markos. Markosia is effectively the mainstay of the independent comic book scene. I’d been lucky enough to meet up with Harry once before. We didn’t realise he was behind us until half way through the first day. I arrived at the 2000AD stand too late for a portfolio review because I hadn’t had a chance to find out where it was. The way to define a convention is not just by what you see but what you miss. Turns out, after a little scraping away it becomes clear there were some genuine diamonds just out of sight (if heavily sign posted).

Of course, Mark Millar was present but was effectively operating on an entirely different level to the rest of the place. Like a machiavellian god with Postman Pat hair he was only spotted by us once throughout the entire event. News I had back however was that he was friendly, cordial and helpful about the place. Millar is on a pedestal in an industry populated by people who are often happier being ashamed of themselves and both myself and Dan, when presented with an opportunity to meet him – didn’t want to bother him – advice I could’ve given myself earlier in the day (more on that in another blog). It was inevitable that Millar was going to take some flak across the bows for having the gall to elevate comic books above the level it has been stuck at over the last ten years. Regardless of his intentions or reasons, Kapow was a massive success with things popping out of woodwork all over the joint if you were looking.

Jonathan Ross reportedly nailed a show over on one side of the room while Quitely and Leinil Yu quietly began the proceedings on the Guiness World Record attempt to involve the most people in a single comic book in one day on the opposite side, down by the IGN stand (something I managed to be involved in). The sheer scale of what was taking place was enormous. Chris Hemsworth was in the building at some point for the Thor launch and there was talk of a mystery movie – which clearly was so unimpressive that we still don’t know what it was. Highlighted as Movie X, myself and Dan distracted ourselves from the replaying Batman/ Green Lantern game promos playing repeatedly in front of us by taking guesses as to what it’d be about.

X-Men: First Class? Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Jonathan Ross’ wife) have close connections with Millar following Kick Ass last year. Thor? Chris Hemsworth in place you’d think they wouldn’t bother flying him over for that one if they could preview the film. Kick Ass 2 was suggested at one point though the liklihood that messrs Vaughn and Goldman knocked out a major sequel quietly with no PR or evidence of production seemed a little far fetched. Things turned again when it was revealed (by a bloke somewhere) that it was an 18 and involved a guy in cape. At that point we gave up. If anybody’d taken a look at the Kapowcomiccon site it clearly said there was preview footage of Hobo with a Gun. Starring Rutger Hauer as the aforementioned hobo it looks like a breakneck ‘Braindead’/ ‘Bad Taste’ mash up. Someone even lets ol’ Rutger do a little ‘burning off the orion belt’ ad libbing while staring at a baby. Nobody expected this? This looks like a great movie! Why don’t they just call it Rutger Hauer is a vengeful tramp! You wouldf have had to have chained me to something to stop me from kicking the doors down to see it!

But there was bigger news in that the Green Lantern movie looks like its back on track. 8 minutes were played of the film – in excess of the 4 available online and everyone was turned as a result. CG more intact, tone a little heavier and more intelligent and obscure images from the original trailer resolved in the new material. This is good news as we here at the Bunker had dismissed the Green Lantern movie as a disappointer of the masses based on the previous output but right now we’ve got the focus back on. I’ll admit Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re took me by surprise. The whole thing is

Also out there was Attack the Block’s writer and first time director Joe Cornish of Adam and Joe who was doing signings and photos at the IGN stand while I was drawing. The crowd was being ‘entertained’ by a guy who looked and sounded like he’d be happier at the X-Games than a comic convention and locked onto the idea that Spider-man 3 was shit to exactly one person’s noisy agreement. Meanwhile, pleasant man-child Joe Cornish (responsible for my favourite Radio 6 show by the way) was out of sight making geeks happy. Attack the Block is the story of hoodies battling Aliens in South London and was inspired by Joe getting mugged. The empathy of that man is astonishing. But it looks fukkin’ bo muvver! Bare Good! Check it out.

There were folks from Misfits (Iwan Rheon (Simon) and Lauren Socha (Kelly)), Merlin (Colin Morgan (Merlin)), Bradley James (Arthur), Angel Coulby (Gwen) and Katie McGrath (Morgana) as well as folks (Dakota Blue Richards (Franky), Sean Teale (Nick) and Jessica Sula (Grace)) from Skins, World Exclusive Pilot of Falling Skies and Toby Whithouse, the creator of Being Human. Games previews for Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Nintendo 3DS, Lego Star Wars 3, Operation: Flashpoint and Dirt 3 from Codemasters.

Present were Mark Gatiss, Lienil Yu, John Romita Jr, Bryan Hitch, Simon Bisley (which was so last minute I couldn’t find him) Olivier Coipel (apparently), Kevin O’Neill, Paul Cornell (sporting a comedy beard for charity much to his own embarrassment), Noel Clarke, Mick McMahon, Brett Ewins, Brian Bolland, David Lloyd, Andy Diggle, Liam Sharp, Sean Philips, Adi Granov, Chris Weston and Eric Stephenson. Not one of these people I saw.

The important thing is who I did….

When Artists Collide: Moon line work to colour (Penfold to Matilla)

Ivanna Matilla enhanced massively the artwork in Moon 1 and is ready for more. Iv doesn’t need to work with us at this stage as she’s beginning to get the commissions she deserves. I was pleased to get good critiques on my pencil and ink work from comics editor for Clint Magazine, really great bloke with genuine interest in the scene – who even bought a copy of Moon to add to his collection. In many ways I’ve been aware since Iv’s reactions to some of my line work (constructive of course) that there was room for improvement and I’m stepping up for Issue 2 – you can see a style change and sharpening of the line work by the end of Moon 1, something that was confirmed by Frank Quitely as he flicked through his own copy.

BE BACK HERE ON THURSDAY FOR MASSIVE FALLEN HEROES NEWS! NEW CREATIVE TEAM AND NEW TITLE ANNOUNCED!!

Kapow Diary 1: View from the desktop.

We arrived at Kapow comicon early ready to set up and were presented with a full scale building front featuring Hal Jordan (photos on their way). I’d been in the hangar that is the Business Design Centre, Islington before for a job interview for a creative recruitment consultant position at a neat little place at the back of the hall. Its an enormous hangar space with windows running across the ceiling and the business centre placed in rectangular office spaces at its centre. While there was IGN gaming stands at the front – and a massive red balloon – the convention proper took place on the top of these office spaces underneath the curved hangar roof. Talking about it now we’re pretty sure – given the success of the weekend – it’ll likely upgrade to Excel at some stage but this was the best venue I’ve stood inside for a long old time. The difference was that this time we had a convention under our belts and more than a hundred sales. Kapow was where we were going to prove that Moon can shift against the best of the best – lined up against Gosh! and Markosia et al this weekend was our testing ground – and its fair to say it went well.

Not faultlessly. While Dan was his usually damn organised self I was still me and while I did the things I do best – I also made sure – in order to keep things even- that I create a little weird. In a weekend in which a famous director would refuse to sign our book because it wasn’t his, in which I got a stick of rock I couldn’t get rid of and created a distinctly awkward air around some of my heroes, its fair to say there was an incredible amount of weird. Finding my name on the front of a book I had nothing to do with was a highlight. Over the week I’ll fill you in on what my weekend was like…. I was planning a straightforward single blog but I’ve listed them down and I’ve got a surprising amount of material. A lot of it involving Frank Quitely. Sadly for him. Poor bastard.

But taking to table 72 we were facing the DC stand – I wasn’t aware of a Marvel one. While I sidestepped out pretty much for all of Saturday thanks to my low threshold on caffeine and my attention deficit issues, Dan sat manfully slowly losing his mind to the gods of unreleased gaming. On the opposite view screen, between a table selling fairly lacklustre and pretty unmemorable DC images and a fairly grim looking plastic Superman statue which we began to think was staring us out, was playing three trailers – totalling no more than 5 minutes material in total – on repeat. For the sake of completeness and in order, partially, to drive Dan even more mental I’ve posted the three up below. Trailer for Arkham City (already posted here by Dan), an in game footage preview of Arkham City and the CG trailer for the Green Lantern game.

While all three (the Arkham trailer) in particular are a work of CG art, advancing the cinematic further than its ever been before – if me or Dan see one of these again we are going to take whatever its playing on and send it stone age. We like you IGN but more hour and a half trailers please in future – with musical interludes. Maybe episodes of the Muppet show. Just a suggestion.

The view from above at the Business Design Centre, Islington. Photo by Mitch Layden from Glasgow.