7 days of comics and why you should read them, Tuesdays choice – Sandman

By Tuesday I’ve woken up a little, and hopefully started writing as well as doing my day job of teaching. I’m still on the hunt for escapism, but I can deal with something a bit closer to my own reality. I also want to read something that will inspire me and get my own creative juices flowing. I find myself endlessly inspired and taken away in equal parts by Sandman, by Neil Gaiman.


The greatest aspects of human life (death, delirium, desire etc) exist as people, the family of the Endless. One of them, Dream, is a bit rubbish when it comes to women, has a deep and all-powerful sense of duty, and has been magically captured in a basement of an old house.

Once again, forgive me for the rather brief set-up, but it’s either that or a couple of thousand words.

Why I love it:

In a blog a few months ago, I tried to explain what it was about Neil Gaimans’ writing that I found so compelling. Rather than repeat that, I thought I’d mention the wonderful humanity that can be found in his characters. It’s often easy to forget someone’s motivation when you need them to do something for you in a story. Their character changes just enough to support where you want your plot to go and onward you march. In my experience, most people, whilst happy to change in the privacy of their own mind, will often stick obstinately to a decision or path when interacting with others. Also, when their key values or beliefs are threatened, they tend to blunder on, at least at that present moment. The characters in Sandman are just like that. They piss one another off, and act stupid and selfish and all of those things that people do. Despite the other-worldly nature of the comics, the people who inhabit them are entirely real, and compelling.


7 days of comics and why you should read them, Mondays choice – Fables

Starting the year with a 7 day theme, I thought I’d use this week to ‘big up’ and introduce some of my favourite comics, as well as trying to explain why I find them so inspiring.

I’m also going to try and link them to particular days of the week, though this may go wrong, so if the theme sort of changes halfway through, be nice and don’t mention it.


When Monday comes around and I’m dragging myself out of bed at 6 in the morning, I’m feeling pretty low for inspiration. I’m also keen on escaping, finding somewhere else to be for a few minutes. There can be no easier way to escape than diving into the wonderful world of Fables, written by Bill Willingham. Fables is my happy place, the world I visit that takes me completely away from my normal life.


All of your favourite characters from fairy tales are alive, and kicking, in a neighbourhood in New York. They’re there because a terrible evil is moving through their worlds, conquering as it goes, and they’ve come to Earth to escape. As a description of what Fables is about, that’s a bit like saying London is a city with buildings and streets, but it’s a start, and hopefully enough to tweek your interest.

Why I love it:

The magic of Fables for me is the combination of really strong, engaging characters. Over the years I’ve been reading it, I’ve loved growing with them, sharing their many trials and tribulations, from death to childbirth and beyond. One of the many reasons that I love comics is the notion of development, of the changes that occur over the life of a series. Retaining the emotional depth and life of a character, let alone a set of characters, over such a long time is a real challenge. Taking them through the various things that plague them and having them change and grow, realistically, is also tough. Fables has managed this, with both the writing and the fabulous artwork. Combined with an endlessly compelling plot, a wonderful sense of humour and some occasional silliness, Willingham et al. have made the universe easy to jump into and still emotionally affecting.

Instant escapism for a miserable Monday.


Why I love comics and you should too

So following my recent run in with a year 7 student who informed that comics were for kids, I tried to pick apart what it is about comics that I love so much.

I have read comics for as long as I can remember, starting with the Beano (but never Dandy, I had my opinions even then!), then moving onto Eagle and Tiger and 2000AD. From there I discovered Silver Surfer, still one of my faves to this day and of course, then went to explore the Marvel universe. This was followed with everything else that I could lay my hands on.

What interests me is that while Sandman may have had a more emotional and profound effect on me than the Infinity Crisis, or Death of Superman, I gain as much enjoyment from reading either. There’s just something about the actual format that brings me great pleasure.

I think that I like being able to see characters, have an image presented to me. Despite my love of reading I still don’t necessarily build pictures in my head in the way that other people seem to. When there are particularly vivid descriptions, I will, but otherwise I have more of a sense about a character, rather than an image of them. Comics enable me to have the picture and the story.

I also love the artwork, and the atmosphere that it gives the comic, be it the glorious black and white pop art of Love and Rockets, the naturalism of Strangers in Paradise, or the hyper stylised world of Marvel and DC.

I love that whilst the comic comes from the writers’ head, it is brought into being by the artist. This synergy is for me what makes comics so unique as an art form.



Comics are for kids…One students’ perception of Spiderman and why I disagree

I had a fascinating conversation with some of my students this term about Spiderman.



I have a cardboard cut-out of Spiderman hanging in my classroom and am often asked “why?” to which I ask the student rather smugly “why doesn’t every classroom have one?” Normally the class will laugh, slightly pityingly and the lesson will continue. In this instance however, the girl told me in simple terms that Spiderman sucked. Holding back my righteous anger and staying my hand as it reached for the sword I keep hidden beneath my desk, I responded instead with a restrained, “so why’s that then?”

She calmly explained that Spiderman was for little kids. Assailed with that kind of logic, I calmed the class and decided that, in order to maintain my sense of decorum, we should continue learning about African drumming. However, as the lesson ended and the class began again to discuss the merits or lack of comics, I couldn’t restrain myself.

Though the rage was boiling inside me and temptation to launch into a tirade of abuse was almost overwhelming, I took deep breaths and spoke calmly. The comment I made was that I thought it was a dangerously limiting belief to think that the addition of pictures to a story made it any less relevant or enjoyable. I used the obvious comparison of a movie to support my point.

Feeling better now that the natural order of the world was restored, I continued with my day.


The thing that makes the works of Bill Willingham so entertaining to read

Bill Willingham, another comic writer and the creator behind the wonderful Fables series. There are a handful of authors working within the comics medium who are, to coin a phrase, treasure troves of ideas. People you can’t imagine get much sleep because every hour they wake up and have to jot something down, some new nugget of storytelling wonder.

Bill Willingham is one of those. From the very concept behind Fables to the bizarre self-referential world of Jack and on to the shorts he created for House of Mystery, he always manages to make stories just a little more original than most. With either an unexpected twist or simply taking the road less travelled he never seems to follow the well-worn paths of story telling cliché.

This kind of thing is tougher to emulate; the simple creation of ideas isn’t easy to copy, but when I come to a part in my book where I have options within my plot frame, I ask myself, ‘What would Bill do?” My books seem to have more goblins in them now than I originally intended, but it’s a start.

There are a lot of other writers who deserve a mention here, and I’m hoping to write about them in the future.  However, I must just mention Robert Kirkman, mostly for his ridiculous work rate and, as with Bill Willingham, apparently endless supply of ideas.


Review – Strangers in Paradise by @TerryMoore

This is one of the most individual, heart-wrenching and wonderful comics ever written. Following the colourful, fallible and ultimately human Katchoo, Francine and David, and a host of equally lovable supporting characters, the series takes them from a semi-normal suburban life to shoot outs with hit-women and the most frustrating love triangle ever written.

The comics are writ through with humour and passion, anger and sadness. Indeed it is the emotional journey of the characters that resonates long after the story is finished. This is not a comic for fans of lycra-clad dudes pummelling one another. If however you want to read a story that feels real, that sucks you in and makes you care deeply for the people in it, this may be for you.

Of course, the art also has to be mentioned. Beautifully drawn, this is another step up from superhero comics. Every character is unique, and not just because they have a different costume. Face shape, expressions, build, everything belongs wholly to the character. Terry Moore also uses his lettering to fabulous effect, angry words leaping across and outside panels.

With artwork that sings and words reminiscent of Gone with Wind crossed with just a dash of Tarantino, Strangers in Paradise may not be to everyone’s taste, but I urge you to at least give it a try. If you can get to the end of the first comic without falling for at least one of the characters, then you probably aren’t entirely human.