Dan’s Blog: Kapow Debrief

I was pretty tired in this photo. If you have a chirpier one of me, please let me know!

Kapow’s something of a special convention for us. The con’s first outing last April was also the first time that Moon saw action at a major convention and Kapow 2011 remains one of my highlights from last year. In the end Kapow 2012 turned out to be something of a mixed bag, not awful by any stretch but certainly a very different to last year.

It was pretty hard to get a sense of the overall vibe of the con as we were kinda tucked away in the new Artist’s Alley on the upper level but on the whole the atmosphere definitely seemed somewhat muted compared to 2011. That’s not to say that people weren’t enjoying themselves but the electricity which permeated the air last time was lacking and the audience numbers certainly looked to be down (though this is pure speculation).

Ultimately I think you have to put this down to the decision to postpone the convention until May in order to allow Marvel Comics to attend (they were a little busy in April with a certain movie). This move placed Kapow exactly a week before one of London’s other Goliath cons, MCM and just 2 weeks after the Bristol expo. To be fair, all three cons have slightly different audiences but cramming them all into one month was always going to force fans to pick one or two and both Bristol and Kapow appear to have been hit by this (though, let me again stress that this observation isn’t based on concrete attendance figures).

The Kapow Floor begins to fill up.

One thing that wasn’t lacking was the work that the guests and exhibitors themselves put into the event. Of the few events I got to see the Lucha Britannia‘s wrestling shows remain the highlight for me. Wrestling shows at comic cons have become a pretty common sight but the Lucha Britannia guys put on by far the best show I’ve seen in this country and I heartily recommend that you catch one of their shows if you get the chance. Jonathan Ross also continued to carve out a reputation as the ultimate convention guest, at one point even diving into the ring to help the good guy wrestlers win the day.

Lucha Britannia

Reactions to the new Artist’s Alley seemed to be kinda mixed too. Some people enjoyed the quieter atmosphere as it allowed them to talk to fans without clogging up the isle and certainly for the fans who found their way up there it offered a lot of opportunities to spend time meeting creators. Of course the down side is that not all the fans found all their way up there and because the layout didn’t funnel people directly past tables, it was tough for exhibitors to strike up conversations and ultimately sell books.


 In all honesty, use of the upper levels of the business design centre was inevitable given how crowded the main floor got during the day. I take some issue with the price that was charged for the tables in the Alley, given that they were always going to be inferior to the main floor in terms of sales. Other cons justify the existence of these less desirable plots by renting them to small press publishers and creators for a reduced rate. It’s a deal that works for everyone as you essentially get what you pay for. Kapow’s stance has always been that they don’t do small press and everyone pays the same for a table. This was fine last year, we paid a premium sum but we got a premium table in a premium location. This year however I can’t help but feel that we paid way over the odds for a less desirable location. Die hard critics will leap on this as “another example of Kapow stiffing small press” but I’m not sure I see it in quite such extreme terms. The Artist’s Alley was a new venture and it takes a year or so to work the bugs out of things like that. Jumping to conspiracy theories serves nobody and it’s far better to offer organisers constructive feedback than jump down their throats. So here’s the feedback, Kapow: The Artist’s Alley works, it’s a good addition but it’s too expensive and you need to make it clearer during the booking process that it’s located on the upper level…oh and if you could book even more luchas, that’d be great too.

While we’re on the subject of feedback, I want to offer one additional thought. Kapow, your wristbands suck. They look like creepy, escaped hospital patient bracelets and they are scratchy as hell (my poor wife has the scars to prove it and that’s just from rolling onto my arm in her sleep during Saturday night). Give exhibitors lanyards. Lanyards are cool, you can take them off at night and they sound like the name of a family from Game of Thrones. There’s no reason not to use them.

Scratchy scratchy!

On the whole, the weekend was a lot of fun for us. Despite the disappointment of our table, we sold reasonably well, met a lot of incredible Moon fans (seriously, you guys are incredible) and had a lot of fun. I want to send out some congratulations to Band of Butchers artist Rob Carey who not only successfully launched his Lightning Strike project but (justifiably) had big name editors drooling over his artwork. Never get tired of seeing people I know get recognition they deserve. Also want to give some thanks to Stuart Gould from UKComics for coming through again with some amazing print work for us. If you make comics and you don’t use Stu for your printing then you’re possibly mad.

Kapow closes down for the night.

I now have four days to “relax” by doing my day job, meeting with my film writing partner Jim Eaton to work on our next big project and finalising the new Unseen Shadows comic I’m doing and then it’s off to MCM for three more days of madness. I’ll be live tweeting the Eagle awards from @danthompson2099 on Friday and given how much free beer they gave me last time, this should be something that’s worth tuning in for.

Well done, Kapow for pulling off the difficult second album. There were some logistical issues but every fan I spoke to had a cracking time. Here’s to another year of a very unique convention.

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Geek Planet Online Reviews Tales of the Fallen

We’ve been pretty quiet on the Unseen Shadows front since the release of Tales of the Fallen last November. There’s still plenty going on at the publisher and we are most certainly involved in some of it, but it’s mostly stuff we’re not allowed to talk about just yet. Still, Tales of the Fallen is still out there and seems to be gradually winning more and more fans. Geek Planet Online ran an excellent review of the book this week and I thought I’d share a link to it here. If you’re thinking about picking up the book, this review gives you a nice overview of what to expect. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“The book as a whole achieves its mission of telling good stories for newcomers while offering background to long term fans. People going in cold should find enough to entice them to seek out Fallen Heroes. It will be interesting to see what else comes from the Unseen Shadows stable in the future.”

 

 

You can read the full review HERE and if it tickles your fancy you can pick up a copy of Tales of the Fallen (or digital copies of the work we contributed to it) from the BTB Store

Jonathan Ross To Write Foreword for Tales of The Fallen!

If you’ve been following twitter or the Unseen Shadows website you’ll have seen this announced last night but for the benefit of our loyal Bunkerites I’m thrilled to announce that TV’s Jonathan Ross will be writing the foreword to our upcoming book Tales of the Fallen. Jonathan was approached by Unseen Shadows mastermind, Barry Nugent, a few weeks ago but his involvement in the project has been top secret (I only found out last night) right up until the official announcement.

To say we’re excited about this is to understate the fact somewhat. Having somebody of Jonathan’s profile (not to mention somebody who is something of an accomplished comics writer himself) on board is a huge boost to an already thunderous project. If I was excited about Tales of the Fallen hitting the stands before, now I’m practically doing backflips. Here’s a short cutting from the foreword:

If, like me, you like rip-roaring testosterone fuelled pulp fiction. With soldiers, and mysteries, and all round weird stuff in, then this is the book for you.”

If you want to read the rest then you can do so by pre-ordering Tales of the Fallen at the special price of just £8.50 and with a free digital version thrown in!

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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….

Practitioners 25: Mark Millar (Pt 2)

Mark Millar is a media operator, while his peers have a natural talent for recognising the effect of what they do and cross mediums in their choices of content (Morrison in particular can ascribe a lot of his success to his cinematic, literary and popular culture referencing across his comic book work) noone gives you the feeling that they’re not operating on a comic book scale – that the medium is considered too small for the individual involved. Indeed, Millar has expressed a want to break out of the confines of the comic book industry. A belligerent creative child at the heart of commercial companies, it was unlikely that the traditional and watchful Warner Bros (home of Bugs etc) would tolerate such an enfant terrible. Indeed, where novels are a breeding ground of controversial and broad opinions and a fevered battleground of freedom of speech, Millar made clear that comic books at the turn of the century enjoyed no such freedoms.

Nemesis, Superior, Hit-girl and Kick-ass (Millar's most recent characters) by Leinil-Yu

Detailed in the last part on Tuesday, there were offered a couple of examples of Millar’s run on the aggressive and controversial Authority title for Wildstorm (an imprint of DC, a subsidiary of Warner Bros). At this stage, with Millar’s Authority pouring in money from buoyant sales DC balked at the destruction of cities and high death tolls in the aftermath of 9/11. With ferocious fan interest and critical acclaim Millar’s Authority suffered an unexpected at the height of its popularity, internal editorialism. DC misjudged the mood of America. While there was shock and anger from the events in New York, networked globally, the general American was facing new realities that European, Asian, African and Middle Eastern nations had long been aware of – that their borders were no longer safe. The war machine beginning to roll into slow motion under the Bush administration, looking for targets belayed a more mature attitude in readerships in the US. A renewed awareness of their vulnerability to powers greater (or more insidious) than their own. A culture of wry and interested fatalism and assured realism was born in the wreckage of 9/11 among certain sections of American society – particularly in the more informed and connected East and West coast and in comic readership. Embryonic at the time – it is now perhaps more visible in the lack of interest in Marvel’s attempts at introducing a new Golden Age of Heroes. Finally, that period in comic books has passed and Millar represented it far better than most with his aggressive, edgy and deliberately sardonic style. DC didn’t agree and Millar began to bite at the chains that bound him, eventually swapping, following some well paid projects for Marvel, to the New York entertainment giant in 2001 to create the Ultimate Universe.

The Ultimate line was an imprint of Marvel comics introducing the Marvel Universe if it was formed today. What was created was a much more hardbitten and edgy number of heroes engaged in political, military, social and personal strife – though the imprint of Stan Lee’s original concepts of character fuelled titles was perhaps put at the bottom of the list of priorities – this was more a love letter to the movie industry and may well have instigated the wholesale redevelopment of major Marvel characters; Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and the Avengers to the big screen.

To begin it was Marvel’s most commercially successful title; the X-Men that was renovated to Ultimate status. The characters now more belligerent, obstinate and teenage than Lee’s incarnations, Millar imbued them with the all-knowing arrogance of teenage Mutants. A total reboot, X-Men was the first title to begin to represent its predecessor as the title inevitably followed the numerous characters plot to the most obvious conclusion; a coherent team of mutants trying to battle the world. While recreating many of the scenarios and plots from the original series; Weapon X, the Nuclear Plant detonation from Issue 1; Millar struggled (perhaps unsurprisingly) to supersede the mainstream series, most likely because it had been the home of some of the foremost artists and writers of the previous quarter century and Marvel’s most innovative title. It was fun though, bitter and harsh at times but with a self conscious teenage cool and a moral ambiguity in the leaderships of both the X-team and the Brotherhood of Mutants (sensibly without the somewhat detrimental ‘Evil’ in the title). The title proved popular and Millar moved to expand the Universe with his incarnation of the less developed Avengers. This was to be his best move.

While all this was taking place; an independent book written by Millar and drawn by J.G. Jones was in preparation. Wanted was released in 2003-2004 and tore a hole a mile wide across conservative comics, kicking them and DC firmly into touch. The lack of belief DC had shown in its readership was proven by the success of this book; featuring a world only populated by Villains – the heroes wiped out some years previously. Opening with bisexual orgies, graphic assassinations and cheating girlfriends the protagonist secretly hates; the patented anger brewed up with the previous years of censorship came spewing out. Featuring characters like Shit-head (formed from the fecal matter of the most evil people in the history of man), Mr Rictus (a skull faced sadist) and Fuckwit (a superhero clone with Downs Syndrome), the protagonist Wesley Gibson electrocutes and rapes celebrities, kills hundreds while ingratiating himself with the Fraternity of Super-villains. It went astronomical, a readership hungry for a challenge snapping it off the shelves as quickly as possible. The intention of Millar was to create a wry and morally and ethically void space in which to populate his darkest writing to date. Ferocious, unforgiving and incredibly unapologetic Millar is every parent’s worst nightmare and every kid’s dream writer. Any book that ends with a full page spread with the central character’s top half leaning in aggressively and shouting ‘This is me fucking you in the ass!’ is to be reckoned with.

James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson in the much-toned-down movie version of Wanted (2008)

Millar is troubling for that reason – his bouts of self control working for commercial giants are interspersed with pure filth and its hard to tell who he is. The knowledge he goes to church every Sunday only deepens the confusion as he represents so little of what is good or ethical about comic books. He represents shameless populism and crowd pleasing. His thinking far deeper than content, Millar has proven, having now been given a stage big enough, that he will stop at nothing to crowd please. Although a great and powerful writer, he lacks the sensitivity and at times subtlety of peers like Morrison and Moore but will stoop as low as the public needs to. His books are the equivalent of throwing the christians to the Lions at the colliseum and feel at times like the breakdown of the medium at the same time as being the bleeding edge and the expansion of it.

His take on the Avengers, the Ultimates, represents the epitomy of modern, advanced and knowledgable writing that transcends the format of comic books and expands its reach. Where the Avengers title – holding tight throughout the nineties and naughties to its showcasing of Marvel’s most heroic and impressive characters – was losing steam, the Ultimates upped the ante and caught the popular edge of the characters within the title. What ensued is a high concept, high octane, gripping and effecting story of disparate heroes representing many fields, Military, special ops, science, media, big business, liberal politics and mainstream politics trying to get on. Brilliantly, Ultimates shows that the characters that have cooperated so effectively in their time in Avengers would create such strain amongst themselves that they represent a larger liability than the threats they pose. Effectively the tale of a political / military complex trying to justify its own existence it spends most of its time fighting off threats within its own ranks. However the set pieces, rendered beautifully by Bryan Hitch – in which the team occasionally rally to combat real threats to the world are truly monumental. There is some poignant character writing within too, most notably involving the emotionally crippled Bruce Banner and the man-out-of-time Steve Rogers.

A scene from Ultimates 1 Volume 2 (2003) by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch

After 33 issues, Millar left Ultimate X-Men and wrote the number one hit title Marvel Knights Spider-Man in 2004, He also co-wrote the first six issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four with Brian Michael Bendis. He later returned to that title for a 12-issue run throughout 2005-2006, and created the Marvel Zombies spin-off title in his first and final storylines.

But it is his Millarworld movements that interest us here at Beyond the Bunker as Millar is using his considerable weight to focus the comic book industry back towards Britain. Writing Kick-Ass, while in parallel, British film makers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman made a motion picture version secured the success of both by shoring up the other. Both were british made (though Kick-ass was published as a Marvel Imprint) and have kick started a smaller, more quiet UK invasion back from the US. From the success of this Millar launched Clint, in association with Jonathan Ross and Frankie Boyle (both oddly British comedians), an anthology title in the style of 2000AD. Largely hyper-violent and named deliberately to look like the worst kind of swear word from across the room it can’t be accused of being high brow but it does appear to be working. There is no doubt that Millar’s efforts are reinvigorating the UK comic industry and whether this is sustainable is up to him and us frankly. While his motives are unclear and open to great speculation in the halls of comic conventions in the UK – he has reopened a door thought closed by being the most highly valued writer of the last ten years. His writing has excited, enthralled and challenged a very wide generation and expanded the interest in comic books to the wider population (though unfortunately not to 90s levels) but why are we putting all this on one man? Perhaps because he has proven he can handle it and come back with more. Millar might be the revolution we’ve been looking for and like all revolutions you have to applaud its effect if it moves things forwards and not linger too long on the man forcing it forwards and his motives except to applaud that he has and achieved something something special for himself and potentially for the entire UK comics industry. You can’t be bothered by Iconoclasts if you’re not an icon and within this industry that Millar is absolutely an icon for the 21st Century.

Kick-ass with his ass kicked... (Kick-ass, 2010)

Jonathan Ross gets a movie offer without writing the book!!

Horse faced television presenter Jonathan Ross has grabbed an accolade formerly only the most seasoned or lucky comic creatives enjoy. A stone cold offer to make his material into a film from one of the most powerful directors in Hollywood.

According to movie source website Deadline, Matthew Vaughn, Director of Kick Ass and currently putting the finishing touches on Marvel Cuban Missile Crisis and Professor X and Magneto Biopic X-Men: First Class is interested in a third super-hero film ‘The Golden Age.’

The comic book tells the tale of retired superheroes who are forced to don their costumes and help their grandchildren after their middle-aged parents “screw up the world”.

And Vaughn is certainly thinking massive when it comes to his cast for the film. His wish-list includes Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty – which frankly make it incredible to watch.

Vaughn said, “You have these great star names and they’re mainly playing supporting roles now. I want to give them the lead again and let them have some fun.”

Still it’s no massive surprise that the J Ross (television celebrity) has managed to skip the queue with his follow up to ‘Turf’ on this one as Vaughn’s regular writing partner is Jane Goldman, Jonathan’s wife. So it’s not what you know but… hey, we already knew that…

Mark Millar Announces Major Comic Con in 2011!

Morning chaps,

I know we don’t as a rule cover breaking news here at BTB, but sometimes things happen in our industry that are worth talking about as much and as soon as possible. As of late many of these things seem to have started with the words “Mark Millar” and this is no exception.

This week, the creator of Kick Ass, Wanted and The Ultimates announced the Kapow Comic Con, a major international comic and film convention to be held in central London next April!

Millar’s been on a crusade to put Britain back on the global comics map over the last year. Clint was a nice idea which is showing some real long term promise (and is a fantastic read), but a convention of this size could well be a massive step forwards for British comic fans and creators. As with any new venture, we’ll have to see how it pans out, but with names like Dave Gibbons, Lenil Yu and John Romita Jnr already announced, this really looks like it could be a big one.

Colour us excited!

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