Friday, 25 March 2016

Obscure Comic of the Month - Necessary Monsters

Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.


Necessary Monsters by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey and Sean Azzopardi – First Comics 2011

There exists a world of horrors beneath the one we know. Where creatures of our nightmares stalk amongst humanity and play their games of vengeance, murder and intrigue. To police this world there is The Chain; a covert agency of monsters and killers, charged with keeping the human herd from ever growing too thin.

Contains Mild Spoilers

I picked up the first book of Necessary Monsters when I was at Leeds Thought Bubble a couple of years ago. The creators were promoting their second run of the series (sadly still uncollected) and It was pitched to me as 'Oceans Eleven with movie monsters,”. Suffice it to say, the pitch was unique enough that I couldn't possibly refuse.

It's important to note that I'm not a fan of horror films, at least not the slasher genre anyway, and that colours my experience with Necessary Monsters to a large degree. The cast is heavily populated with ersatz versions of horror icons. Cowboy 13 is a reference to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Charlotte Hatred a reference to The Ring and Creeping Tuesday to Nightmare on Elm treet. If you're a fan of those films, you'll probably love the comic unconditionally on those grounds alone.

But I'm not a fan of those films, and so I'm left to look at Necessary Monsters on its own merits. Fortunately for me, despite all of it's horror references, the comic is very much a hard boiled spy story, with much more in common with a Bond tale than Friday the 13th

The story follows Tuesday Jones, daughter of a killer who could walk into dreams. She's inducted into The Chain, a secret organisation of monsters and killers who police the other monsters and killers. The Chain are not good guys, but they are less bad than the bad guys, or so we are led to believe. As the story goes on it starts to show that the villain, Harps Bane, may have more noble intentions than it initially appears.

Azzopardi's art is just perfect for the story, the stark black and white keeps the story grounded even as body parts begin to fly, and it walks just the right line between serious and ridiculous. His art does become a little ropey at times, with quite a few character looking a little off model, and his guns look really... odd. Most of the visuals are great though, and a battle between two elderich abominations at the climax is particularly inspired.

As for the plot itself, it doesn't waste any time in getting to the good stuff. The use of pop cultural touchstones allows for the reader to fill in the blanks of the world building all on their own. The cast are all thoroughly likeable, no mean feat considering they are mostly indiscriminate murderers. They're all appropriately grotesque too, setting the tone for the plot and leaving you wondering how it's going to end.

The comic throughout makes the most of the visual medium to create what is essentially a form of American folklore. Both Lady Liberty and the Hollywood sign play an important role in the plot and combined with the horror symbolism it takes a wry look at the concept of American personal identity.

As the plot unfolds, Tuesday is presented with a choice, embrace what she is as a monster, or turn away and return to the mundane world. It's good allegorical storytelling, essentially using movie monster tropes to tell a modern fable about being true to your identity. It's no accident Goodbrey cast Tuesday as a young black American in a story about personal identity, and her story arc is particularly touching.

Now the comic is not without it's problems. As mentioned earlier, the cast are likeable for a bunch of murderers, but that doesn't change the fact that they are, ultimately, murderers. It makes it hard to keep the reader sympathetic to The Chain's cause, but it also causes a massive headache in the dissonance between characters. Tuesday and, to a degree, Hatred are more like vigilantes in the use of their powers, taking down killers and gangsters in a form of warped justice.

Cowboy 13 on the other hand is an actual serial killer, who we see murdering teenagers at both the beginning and the end of the book. If Tuesday is, at least to some degree, empathic towards the plight of victims then it seems odd that we're supposed to just accepter her working alongside 13. Perhaps this is something that gets addressed in a later story, but for now just leaves things feeling a little off kilter.

Maybe it's just because I'm not a horror movie fan though. Most slasher villains become figures of fun eventually and the audience cheers along as they murder people in progressively more ridiculous ways. Maybe we're supposed to cheers along with Cowboy 13 retuning to his murderous roots, but for me, somebody reading this as more of a pulp spy story with a twist, It doesn't ring true.

I suppose that is emblematic of Necessary Monsters problems as a whole. The comic has one foot in one genre and one foot in another and never fully reconciles the two. It's a fun book, and a unique premise, and finishes at an excellent point that leaves you wanting more. It's best enjoyed quickly, and not thought about too much. For horror movie fans, It's probably perfect, but for everyone else, it might leave you feeling as though something is missing.


Jack Harvey 2016. Necessary Monsters (c) 2011 Daniel Merlin Goodbrey and Sean Azzopardi. Images used under Fair Use.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Sea of Spheres FAQ

So some of you may have noticed that I've been talking about starting a webcomic for a while. Well gears are finally turning in the right direction for that (Though the whole idea of running a site is still a little daunting, so if anyone has any advice on that side of things feel free to PM me.)

A couple weeks ago I wrote about some of the characters, but now is the time to give you a better idea of what the comic will be like. Here's an FAQ.

So what is Sea of Spheres?

It's a fantasy story with elements of science fiction and steampunk in there. The first story arc is primarily a murder mystery.

Okay, what's the comic about more specifically?

The setting of Sea of Spheres is a cluster of small planetoids in a crack between dimensions. A breathable atmosphere connects these small worlds and people travel between them in air balloons and sky ships.

Occasionally travellers from other realities will pass through this crack, leaving behind magic and technology that the inhabitants adopt.

Most of the Spheres are ruled over by a large city called Icon (pronounced Eye-son) that hangs above them. Their biggest rivals are the largest Sphere, called Arcadia, and a tecnologically advanced Sphere called Gemini. Beneath the Spheres is a large concave desert called the basin.

Sea of Spheres is the story of these inhabitants, and the societies they form on the spheres themselves. To begin with though, we'll be following a couple of detectives call 'Justices' investigating a murder on one of these worlds.

 So what format is is going to take?

Each page will be about three to four panels. The artwork will be black and white, but I'll try and fit some colour in now and again. I'm trying to stick to the feel of old 'newspaper' style serials.

What's the planned update schedule?

One strip per week is what I'm aiming at. I hope to upload the prologue in full (about five pages) to start with.

I'm planning the main arc to last about three acts, at about fifty two pages each, not counting interludes. I'm writing it to be self contained so that it's concluded after about three years, and if it's picked up enough interest I have a larger story to tell after that.

How soon can we expect it to start?

I'm hoping some time during March, but more realistically it'll probably be April/May time.

Is this based on any of your other works?

It's not connected to the Modern Realms stories, and it's not connected to Cummings either.

It shares the same fictional universe as a bunch of Carnack short stories I'm writing, though they do not themselves take place in the spheres. Some of the characters might cross paths though.

What are your major influences for the comic?

Sea of Spheres actually started as an idea for a Planescape comic, so you'll see a lot of similarities both in the setting and the visuals. However, my original plot was playing fast and loose with the Planescape setting anyway, and became much more interesting once I changed it to an original universe.

Other than that you'll also see elements from things like The Wire, Judge Dredd, Doctor Who and the works of David Lynch and Terry Gilliam.

Hang on a moment, haven't I seen some of those characters from your old Dungeons and Dragons campaigns?

Yes! A few characters are re-worked from ideas that came about during a couple of our Dnd campaigns a few years back.

However, even though you might see some of those characters and events mentioned, you can consider any of the old Dnd stuff non-canon. The comic has no connection to Dungeons and Dragons or any of it's fictional settings.

Any other questions, feel free to get in touch.