indie comics spotlight: robbie burns witch hunter

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Robbie Burns Cover LargeIn June, to promote their inclusion as award nominees by the Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance, the creators of Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter made a preview of their work available. We read it, were immediately hooked, and ordered the book. One reviewer on Amazon has compared the artwork to Mike Mignola’s style on Hellboy, and we will agree that if you like Hellboy then you will love Witch Hunter.

The story begins with the humiliation of poet Robbie Burns, a historical figure Witch Hunter brings to life in fiction. Soon, Burns stumbles across a pagan ritual in an abandoned church, a ritual matched in its sensuality only by its pure evil. There, Burns is rescued by a pair of experienced dispatchers of hellish hordes. And so begins his adventure. (Burns composed a horror poem you may know: Tam O’Shanter, first published in 1791. It serves as the inspiration for this tale.)

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Did we mention how much we love the artwork in this book? Let us say it again, to give artist Tiernen Trevallion his due. After all, writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby did win the Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance ‘Best Writer’ awards at the Glasgow Comic Convention, Beeby won ‘Best New Writer’, and the book itself won ‘Best Graphic Novel’. But it’s Trevallion’s artwork, along with Jim Campbell’s lettering, that brings the rollicking script to life for us on the page.

You may recognize co-author Gordon Rennie from his work on Rogue Trooper, a classic 2000AD series we have featured on this site. So, if you are a fan of that unique Scottish comic-book sensibility which brought readers in the States such popular writers as Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, or if you are a fan of 2000AD comics in general, that’s just one more reason to read Witch Hunter.

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We don’t mind telling you our favorite character is Meg: tough as nails, quick with profanity, great with a crossbow, and seemingly unafraid to ride into the very mouth of hell itself to do battle with the demonic forces of the underworld. Meg stands in sharp contrast to the vacuous ladies Burns pleasures himself with in the opening pages. She’s every bit an action hero with a sharp mind and a sharper tongue, and her inclusion in this tale endears us to it all the more. And to think that Meg was merely the noble horse in the original Tam O’Shanter!

robbie burns witch hunter sample panels

Fast-paced adventure with an outstanding cast of leading characters fighting the hordes of hell make Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter an enjoyable and unforgettable read. We look forward to more work by these creators and from Renegade Arts Entertainment.

You can order Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter directly from Renegade Arts Entertainment, or you can find it on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle editions.

sketchbook sundays

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No finished inks to share today but here are some 9×12 pencil roughs for three drawings in progress.

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The first directly takes its composition from depictions of the lion-headed Hindu deity Narasimha. It seemed an appropriately mystical subject for a story-in-progress in which our protagonist and her cat merge their minds with a giant octopus inside a secret asteroid-based cyber-genetics lab. So the plan is to take this rough and re-pencil the lion face as a calico cat, the female as the protagonist, and the various surrounding animals as octopi tentacles and seahorses featured in the tale.

The next two pencil roughs feature the protagonist amid a swirling school of sharks, in keeping with the cybernetic sea creature theme. To avoid the joy of lawsuits and other legal actions from San Rio, we need to re-draw the ‘hello kitty’ pirate flag with a more standard jolly roger.

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We should take a second to celebrate selling our framed inked portrait of the late Wayne Static (of the band Static X) on eBay this week to an enthusiastic Wayne fan. Wayne has made it to his new home safe and sound in our basically bomb-proof shipping box and is probably hanging on a new wall right now. As the old saying goes… Party on, Wayne!

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And that’s it for today! Happy sketching, and stay creative!

tigers and traitors: classics illustrated 166

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Classics Illustrated #166: Tigers and Traitors adapts the Jules Verne story The Steam House. Verne’s loquacious style and many of his scenes are simplified and compressed in this 1962 adaptation for younger readers, but the main plot and adventure remain intact. A British group hell-bent on shooting many tigers travels India using a steam-powered mechanical elephant.

Verne uses a historical figure named Nana Sahib in this story. Nana Sahib took part in the Sepoy Revolt, which you can read about in the text pages following the main story. (Today, this event is often called The Indian Rebellion of 1857, and Verne’s original narrative refers specifically to events in Cawnpore and Lucknow.) Nana Sahib’s fate following the revolt remains a mystery, and Verne takes that mystery as the starting point for this fictional adventure.

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As a tale of two cultures, The Steam House seems to favor the British imperialists as the heroes of the narrative. In the original text, Verne spends a bit more time exploring the culture and religious beliefs of India as encountered on the journey. Verne’s original description of the Sepoy Revolt also spends time describing the horrors committed by both sides. But, his scenes which build sympathy for the Indian characters are largely eliminated in this adaptation. And, as a work of historical fiction, one can hardly fault The Steam House for portraying the British as the victors of the central conflict.

Nevertheless, a student of the culture and music of India will undoubtedly find this adaptation sadly one-sided. If the treatment of Indian characters and the wanton slaughter of animals for sport are offensive, then we should perhaps reserve our offense not for the book but for histories of exploitation and the attitudes of the ruling class which Verne portrays in this story. In the final panel, ending the life of an Indian man is counted towards a goal of murdering 50 tigers, a statement which says less about the ferocity of the killed man than it does a colonialist attitude that the men they ruled were no better than beasts.

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The story also has little use for women other than as motivating factors for male revenge, with Colonel Munro and Nana Sahib each having sworn vengeance for killing the other’s wife. If you’re looking for a strong female lead, you won’t find her in this book. The steam house is a boys’ club on wheels, a glorified version of a fort or treehouse with a ‘no girls allowed’ sign hanging on the door. (Plus, the back-up story about a German king in this issue fails to include a single female anywhere in the story, not even in faces in the background.)

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But, as lovers of the visual splendor of comic book art, our biggest criticism of the adaptation is the lack of huge, awesome panels dedicated to the majesty of the mechanical elephant. Surely the wonder of this steam-powered beast merits the reader’s and the artist’s attention, not to mention the savagely ironic imperial subversion of the form of the welcoming elephant-like Indian god Ganesha for use as a tool to trample and ravage the continent, its animals, and its people. (For a modern take on the mechanical elephant, visit the page of the French theme park full of mechanical animals, including a giant walking, rideable elephant that sprays water from its trunk: Les Machines de L’Île.)

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Gilberton Company, the Classics Illustrated publisher, printed this book three times: in 1962 (identified as HRN 165), 1964 (HRN 167), and 1966 (also HRN 167). You can find them in MyComicShop, though they are rarely in stock. We ordered this copy from a Canadian seller on eBay at a steeply discounted price due to the torn cover. Depending on condition, this comic typically retails for $6 to $30 or more. (We also discovered some unrelated illustrated adaptations of the story, one in Spanish and one in Turkish, but we have yet to see those publications.)

In the gallery below, you will find a cover-to-cover scan of the complete issue, including a brief biography of Jules Verne, a text page about the Sepoy Revolt, a text page which concludes a short story by Guy de Maupassant, and a five-page illustrated history of the German king Frederick Barbarossa.

library of female pirates 8

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library of female pirates logo“A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates and Also Their Policies, Discipline, and Government.” Nearly every book you find on pirates of antiquity will refer to the book featured in today’s installment of The Library of Female Pirates. David Cordingly, in Under the Black Flag, calls it Captain Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, and Cordingly has provided an Introduction to at least one edition of the book under that name.

However, you will also find the book listed under author Daniel Defoe. Why? Editor Manuel Schonhorn explains in the Introduction to the edition pictured below. Based on the work of Professor John Robert Moore in 1932, academics have increasingly come to believe that “Captain Charles Johnson” was merely one of many pseudonyms for Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe. Schonhorn elaborates on Defoe’s life, his interest in maritime commerce and piracy, and the nature of his sources and travels.

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Schonhorn’s edition fills more than 700 pages and incorporates text from four editions of the first volume of A General History and the second volume as well. His supplementary material works to clarify Defoe’s factual claims, while the organization of the text for clarity cohesively orders material which was apparently scattered throughout the editions published in Defoe’s era. Defoe himself made corrections and changes between editions, and Schonhorn must have put in tremendous time and effort to make a single coherent text.

Compared to other texts in our Library of Female Pirates, this one has the most antiquated language. Schonhorn has preserved many old spellings (such as “authentick” instead of “authentic”) and the apparently common “anything goes” Approach to Capitalization of those bygone Days. This makes the book at once more challenging to the reader and more endearing, as if one is truly studying an historic document.

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Pages 153 through 165 cover Mary Read and Anne Bonny. We would love to scan those pages for you, but the book is incredibly thick. Scanning it without destroying it is nigh impossible. However, most of the information has been recounted in the other, more modern books we have covered in this series. A General History of the Pyrates has served as the primary source, or at least the starting point, for all modern research on Read and Bonny, from the romantic retelling by Charles Ellms to Gosse’s account to Cordingly’s scholarly work.

Yet some details of their lives only appear in Defoe’s work, as far as we can tell. For example, Defoe spends nearly four pages recounting a tale of three stolen spoons. The drama between a wife, her husband, and her maid resulting from these stolen spoons leads directly to the circumstances of Anne Bonny’s early childhood. Mary Read’s various military services and her marriage resulting from one of those services also earn a bit more detail in Defoe’s history than in subsequent works. A combination of Defoe’s General History and Cordingly’s research in Under the Black Flag may well constitute the sum of all we shall ever know about these two famous female pirates.

indie comics spotlight: antichrist

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antichrist coverIf you’re looking for a twisted psychological horror comic, Antichrist will provide you with a uniquely disturbing experience. Betvin Géant and Kay, along with colorist Milton Das, continue their Antichrist story in the third issue, on sale today at Comixology. Things don’t get any better for their delusional protagonist in this issue. Having escaped from an institution in the first two issues, he is now on the run and hopelessly confused by his holy obsessions.

Géant successfully makes his lead character Michael more horrifying by playing on our sympathies, then viciously subverting them. In one scene, Michael gains our sympathy by intervening to stop the beating of a gay youth on the streets. But just as soon as we think he might have heroic potential, he condemns the youth’s homosexuality as a sin.

antichrist sample page

In another scene, we see Michael wandering homeless and hungry. He almost makes friends with a kind-hearted hippie who offers him food. But then, he has a horribly violent outburst due to misunderstanding the name of a common vegetarian food. Michael may be down on his luck, but his delusions make him a serious danger to everyone he encounters.

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The narrative appeals to our natural tendency to champion the underdog, and then makes us regret it every step of the way. It’s an interesting story concept that delivers the fright of a horror comic without relying on the genre’s familiar tropes. Whether or not Géant has a full-scale biblical apocalypse planned remains a mystery, but one thing is for sure: Things are going to get a hell of lot worse for this hapless antichrist and everyone he meets.

Antichrist book 1 issue 3: on sale today at Comixology.

sketchbook sundays

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frog on leaf ink drawing - Copy

Oak Toad on a Leaf
Micron 05 and 01 fine point pen

And that’s it for my drawing pad of 6×8 paper! Though I have a couple other blank sketchbooks waiting, I might get another 6×8 pad to have around. I like working in this size for several reasons. One, it takes less time to go from concept to completion than it does with a 9×12 drawing. Two, the dimensions make it easier to crop to a 5×7 aspect ratio for custom-printed greeting cards. Three, I can find mats and frames for a much more reasonable price at this size, compared to the relatively exorbitant cost of matting a 9×12 to an 11×14 frame. And four, since I draw all my mid-tone lines by hand without a ruler, it is less challenging to cover large areas of the drawing than it is in a 9×12. Just try drawing hundreds of straight lines across a 9×12 sheet of paper sometime, and you’ll see what I mean!

Like last week’s damselfly, this toad had as its photo reference one of my mother’s recent nature photographs. She’s taken some especially crisp and detailed photos of small animals lately, and it’s been fun using them as inspiration for opportunities to practice inking with fine point pens.

robert e. howard in his own words

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pigeons from hell cover

 
As a big fan of Dark Horse Comics’ recent adaptations of Conan, I hoped to find adventure in some of Robert E. Howard’s other stories. The Dark Horse series often featured on their letters pages, in the original single issues, short comic strips about Howard’s life taken from his memoirs. So, when I purchased this 1976 edition of Pigeons from Hell, finding a brief bio from Robert E. Howard himself made for an unexpected treat.

And yes, the deciding factor on choosing this book was the awesome dinosaur painting, by artist Jeff Jones, on the cover. Jones led an interesting life, at one point marrying comic book writer Louise Simonson and later living as a female under the name Jeffrey Catherine Jones. You can find a small sample of Jones’ 100+ book covers in this free online gallery. I tried to find a decent collection on Amazon to link for you, but they all seem to have their shortcomings. If you know a complete collection with high-quality reproductions, please leave a note in the comments section here.

All but one of the thirteen stories inside originally saw publication in Weird Tales from 1925 to 1938. Combining elements of horror, fantasy, and western genres, they all read as fairly straight-forward narratives. Howard provides some creepy moments but not really any shocking twists and turns – at least, not by today’s standards where movie audiences expect some kind of revelation to re-frame everything at the end of the story.

On the downside, this edition suffers from poor proofreading, with several typos per story. You might prefer to spend a couple more dollars than I did and get a more recent edition. And as an editor, I would have reduced the reliance on semi-colons and extended sentences with multiple clauses. In general, Howard’s prose is fast-moving and tight, but it could use a little editorial tune-up to hone its edge. If you can get beyond these minor quibbles, though, most of these stories make for a good, quick read and would be well-suited for adaptations as comic books.

Below, you can read the pages from the introduction, a letter from Robert E. Howard about his life and his thoughts on writing. The first paragraph is by Glenn Lord, an agent for Howard’s estate.

 
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