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The Coastal Town That They Forgot to Close Down

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Small Pressganged is Broken Frontier’s weekly column designed to shine a spotlight on the often overlooked world of small press and self-published comics. Every seven days we’ll be providing a mix of review round-ups of the best of current small press comics and spot interviews with some of the movers and shakers of the scene.

Rol Hirst is a gent with a long pedigree in the British small press scene. Some readers may remember his name as a frequent comics letterhack in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s (with a particular fondness for all things Spider-Man), but it was his cult fave small press book The Jock, in the Nineties, that turned concise comics commentator into respected small press comics creator. In recent years Rol has been back on the small press circuit with his curmudgeonly anthology book PJANG (standing for “People Just Ain’t No Good”); a title that gave him the opportunity to work with a varied bunch of established British SP artists. His new book Too Much Sex & Violence debuted last month and was reviewed in Small Pressganged a couple of weeks back. I caught up with Rol this week to talk about this latest self-published venture and reminisce about those heady days of the 1990s…  

BROKEN FRONTIER: The first issue of your new small press book, the dark and macabre Too Much Sex & Violence, debuted recently to excellent reviews. Can you give the Broken Frontier audience a brief summary of the book’s premise and its influences?

ROL HIRST: The book is set in the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Fathomsby, which is my amalgam of Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby and Staithes: all wonderful towns, but also very creepy, kooky, quirky and spooky places. The area has inspired a lot of great gothic fiction over the years, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Paul MagrsBrenda books, and I find myself drawn there every year to explore the narrow mazes of back streets, shadowy churchyards and dramatic cliff top walks. I wanted to tell a story involving a variety of bizarre characters – including retired gangsters, geriatric superheroes, mutant prostitutes, vampire DJs and sexual psychics – and Fathomsby became the ideal home for them all. As we’ll discover in future issues, there’s a good reason why these characters have chosen to live in Fathomsby. It’s the one place in the world they can do whatever they want… and the law can’t touch them.

My main inspirations were the TV shows Psychoville and League of Gentlemen which successfully mixed dark humour with horror, but also featured a large cast of characters linked by location and back story. I also owe a debt to Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, having stolen the book’s title from their debut single, ‘A Sheltered Life’. And, of course, all the comics I’ve ever read: from Spider-Man to Strangehaven. They all bleed through…

BF: Too Much Sex & Violence has a unique angle in that each character’s subplot is illustrated by a different small press creator. What was the thinking behind this narrative technique?

HIRST: Simply put, comics take much longer to draw than to write. I can’t afford to pay the artists who draw this book (there’s no profit to be made in small press comics) and they all have day jobs and their own projects. I knew lots of artists who were willing to commit to drawing three or four pages every couple of months… but if I’d asked them to draw a whole comic they’d have either turned me down flat or it would have taken a year (plus) to just get one issue in the can. Knowing this would be the only way to get the book published on a semi-regular basis actually led me to devise the portmanteau storytelling technique discussed above.

              

Examples of the differing art styles that Rol's collaborators bring to the project. Art here by Andrew Cheverton, Kelvin Green and Mark Renhard

BF: The first issue included art from the likes of Andrew Cheverton, Martin Eden, Adrian Bamforth and Nigel Lowrey.  When assigning certain storylines to certain artists were you specifically tailoring subplots to their individual styles or is some of the fun in seeing how your collaborators interpret the scripts?

HIRST: All of the fun is in seeing how each artist interprets the script – and there have been some wonderful surprises along the way. None of these artists is a stranger to graphic storytelling, so each adds their own exciting details to the tapestry. They make my scripts so much better than they were when I wrote them.

To begin with, I definitely assigned certain characters and scenes to specific artists because I knew those sequences would play to that artist’s strengths, but the plan has always been to give each contributor something different to draw each time they work on the book, to get varied interpretations of each character and to keep things interesting for both the artists and the readers (and me).

BF: Do you have any other artists planned for future issues/storylines?

HIRST: Yep! Issue #2 features the debuts of Neil Cavenham, Dave Metcalfe-Carr, Stephen Prestwood, Ryan Taylor and Tony McGee while Chris Askham will be joining the fun in #3. Beyond that, there’s a couple of other prominent small pressers who have volunteered their services… but I’m always on the look out for new collaborators. If any Broken Frontier readers think they’re up to the task, they should drop me a line.

BF: Do you see TMSAV as a finite project working towards a specific end or do you have a more open-ended philosophy? And are there any teasers you can give us as to what’s coming up for the characters?

HIRST: There are definite ends for specific storylines, but I’d like to keep writing about these characters and following their twisted adventures for many years to come. That’ll depend entirely on whether artists want to keep drawing them… and readers want to keep reading them.

As to what’s coming up… well, I can promise a time-travelling pig, more monster DJs, a male prostitute who can turn into your favourite movie star, loads more semi-gratuitous nudity and unnecessarily bloody mutilation, and the most depraved comics page I’ve ever written. It features a new character: Serena, Sister of Mercy, a nun who provides a very special service to society at large. That’s in issue #2, and I didn’t realise quite how sick it was until I saw it drawn by Rob Wells. This is the issue I had to add “For Mature Readers Only” to the cover. Yet in my mind, it’s actually quite a moving little scene. Whether or not anybody else agrees, we’ll have to wait and see…

             

A selection of covers from Rol's anthology book PJANG

BF: Your anthology series PJANG (“People Just Ain‘t No Good“) gives you a similar opportunity to work with a number of artists, albeit it on complete, individual stories in a variety of genres. What was the book’s genesis and are there plans for more issues of the wonderfully cynical PJANG in the future?

HIRST: Again, the reason I chose to tell short stories with a number of artists was purely down to the fact that nobody was willing to commit to anything more substantial. I’m not sure how well comic fans like anthology books though. Most seem to prefer serialised fiction (I certainly prefer writing it), hence the move from PJANG to TMSAV. That said, there are a few PJANG stories still in the works… but I have no idea when they’ll see the light of day.

BF: You probably won’t thank me for mentioning this but it’s been nearly twenty years now since the first issue of The Jock (below right), your dystopic tale of freedom-fighting D.J.s taking on the might of the evil YOURENT corporation. The Jock counted the likes of Warren Ellis and Tony Lee among its vocal readership. Looking back on the five years that The Jock ran, what are your particular favourite memories of that small press fan-favourite journey?

HIRST: I think the thing I’m most proud of about that book is the schedule we maintained. Not quite monthly, but pretty damned close. That was back before most of us had proper jobs, when the likes of Nige Lowrey, Adrian Bamforth and the other artists who worked on that book had a lot more free time to devote to drawing my silly stories. I’m proud of the fact we published almost 30 issues and that the book was so well-received by readers and pros alike. (I do wish I could get a copy of TMSAV under Warren Ellis’s nose, if only for old times sake.) The scary thing about The Jock looking back now is how dated it all seems – not in terms of storytelling, but technological and thematic elements. It was set in a near-future where rebel DJs still played their music from CDs and vinyl, where the internet didn’t even exist, and where it still seemed possible that big evil corporations like YOURENT might one day be defeated. Sometimes I long for the good old days…       

BF: What other writing projects have you got up your sleeve that we should be looking out for?  And are there any other small press books that are particularly taking your fancy at the moment?

HIRST: I’m working on another new comic called Department Of The Peculiar with TMSAV artist Rob Wells. Unfortunately, I keep distracting Rob by getting him to draw more sex and violence. I’m also trying to interest publishers and agents in my latest novel, which I completed earlier this year. It’s called ‘I Wish, Wish, Wish You Were Dead, Dead, Dead’, a blackly-comic coming of age story set in the 1980s about a young boy who discovers he can kill anyone he doesn’t like with just a handshake and three wishes.

I’m obviously a big fan of any new comics from my TMSAV collaborators – that’s why I chose them. I love Andrew Cheverton and Tim Keable’s West, Martin Eden’s Spandex, Ryan Taylor’s Grinning Mask, everything Paul Rainey produces, and all Rob Wells’ Crisp Biscuit work. That’s not to slight the other guys, they just haven’t got any regular projects out at the moment, though I know they’re working on them. Non-TMSAV crew small press books I enjoyed recently include Terry Wiley’s Verity Fair, Rob Jackson’s It’s A Man’s Life In The Ice Cream Business, and anything by Sean Azzopardi, Douglas Noble, Tommie Kelly, Patrick Brown… and Ralph Kidson. Nothing makes me laugh like a Ralph Kidson comic. They ought to prescribe them on the NHS.  

You can order the first issue of Too Much Sex & Violence for £2.50 (or 99 pence for a digital copy) here as well as back issues of PJANG. To find out more about Rol Hirst's work check out his website here.

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The Testament of Doktor Zeitpunkt #2
Frank Candiloro (Writer/Artist)

This week's short review offering comes from Australia, in the shape of the second instalment of Frank Candiloro'sThe Testament of Doktor Zeitpunkt, the first part of which I reviewed for Broken Frontier earlier this year. In that opening chapter we made our first visit to Metullistadt City, an obvious playful homage to the bustling Metropolis of the 1927 classic silent movie, and witnessed the beginning of the titular Zeitpunkt’s revenge scheme against his one-time mentor Dr. Burton Tuknupteiz.

Seeking to redress the injustice of Tuknupteiz stealing his clean energy generator and passing it off to the city as his own invention, Zeitpunkt embarks on a vendetta that takes the storyline off in a fresh and unexpected direction. This culminating episode explores the relationship between our protagonists and answers questions we didn’t even know we had, before tying up the narrative strands in a totally logical, but completely unforeseen, manner.

I will admit some slight scepticism about the need for breaking this story after I read the first issue and wondered why it hadn’t been presented as a single graphic novel. However, this is one of those occasions where the gap between instalments serves an effective purpose. Having fully digested Zeitpunkt #1 I thought I had a complete handle on the storyline but I was very, very wrong, and the wait makes the impact of this issue's complacency-shattering developments all the more acute. I'm always open in my comics reading to the refreshing experience of having my expectations well and truly confounded after all. To appropriate a phrase from British football commentators this is, very much, a comic that is “a game of two halves”.

           

Zeitpunkt was originally conceived as an animated project and I would love to see it produced that way at some point in the future. It would be particularly fitting to see it presented as a “silent” film with musical accompaniment and inter-titles replacing any spoken dialogue. Candiloro’s art on Zeitpunkt is sometimes abstract, often surreal, but always reverentially faithful to the era of film he so lovingly seeks to recreate. Indeed ultimately - and this is to be considered a strength not a criticism - the story becomes almost secondary to the celebration of its influences. If you’re a fan of German Expressionist cinema, and the likes of Fritz Lang and Robert Wiene, then this respectful pastiche of the work of those seminal directors is well worth your attention.

The Testament of Doktor Zeitpunkt is priced $AUS 4.00 for issue #1 and $AUS 5.00 for issue #2 and can be ordered online here. For more on Frank Candiloro's work check out his website here.

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Andy Oliver is Broken Frontier’s Managing Editor and a contributor to Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die.

If you are a small press comics creator, or self-publisher, and would like your work to be reviewed in a future edition of Small Pressganged then e-mail Andy at andyoliver@brokenfrontier.com for further details.

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Comments

  • Kstewart

    Kstewart Nov 28, 2011 at 9:30am

    ?Nothing makes me laugh like a Ralph Kidson comic. They ought to prescribe them on the NHS? ? brilliant!

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