Wednesday, 27 September 2023

Obscure Comic of the Month - Acceptable Losses

Obscure Comic of the Month is a column where I take a look at a comic or series that hasn't really been talked about. This covers independent comics, zines, weird spin-offs, webcomics and more.


Acceptable Losses by Joe Glass, Danny Flores and Moose Baumann - 2020 Queer Comix

Contains Heavy Spoilers

Last year I spoke very highly of Joe Glass' seminal superhero deconstruction The Miracles, and so today I'm taking a look at one of his smaller works, the self-contained one shot, Acceptable Losses, a comic that is probably easiest to describe as What if Captain America Became The Punisher?

The story of Sam Tyler, AKA superhero super-solider U.S Eagle begins in medias res as he undertakes a mission in the Middle East to eliminate a dangerous terrorist leader. Deliberate parallels to the hunt for Bin Laden are obvious here which we'll dig into more later. Tyler's mission goes awry, however, in part due to his unwillingness to endanger civilians in the crossfire, including a nearby school. Meanwhile mission command, overseen by the all too believable Senator McKeen, has little concern for collateral damage, the titular 'acceptable losses.'

As the terrorist leader looks to slip out of Tyler's grasp, McKeen orders an air strike, seemingly killing the hero alongside innumerable civilians, children included. From this opening sequence it is very clear the type of story that we are in for here, and the perspective in which it views the 'necessity' of the 'war on terror.'

Tyler, of course, didn't die, and the story's focus shifts to cover an extended revenge scene carried out against McKeen interspersed with flashback as Tyler is nursed back to health by the very people that he was deployed to treat as 'enemies of America.' What follow is a gorgeous, if extremely brutal and harrowing, sequence of events which Danny Flores' art and Moose Baumann's colours are expressly suited to. As the story jumps between the dark night of revenge to the comfortable browns of Tyler's recovery, it is almost sub-textually saying that we cannot view geopolitics in simple black and white.

This is easily the darkest of Glass' stories so far, and sits at an interesting point between his more optimistic and celebratory stories from The Pride, to his idealistic but still more grounded and pragmatic work in The Miracles. The story is vicious in it's storytelling, and definitely feels like somewhat of a rebuttal to modern superhero stories being muted and soft in their criticisms of American foreign policy and unquestioned patriotism.

As a one shot the story is sharp and to the point, done in one and complete in it's message. In all respects but one does this work in it's favour, but if I had to levy one criticism at the story it would be that the later reveal that Tyler and his 'inside man' Private Krinsky are in a relationship together, is covered somewhat too briefly, if for no other reason that so many incredibly interesting stories could be spun off from such a twist.

The depiction of a gay Captain America is not something that is particular new (look to Andrew Wheeler's Soldier Sailor for another such example) but the idea of one explored through the Acceptable Losses' grounded and gritty lens would certainly be a unique one. Still, that's far from a deal-breaker, and if anything it feels as though Glass has more of these types of stories in him, it just being a question of when he's ready to write them.

Acceptable Losses is a brutal bullet to the head of a comic that doesn't pull any punches. If you felt like bigger franchise fair has been skirting round the subject of the war on terror for a while now, then this is a fine antidote.


Jack Harvey 2023. Acceptable Losses (c) 2020 Queer Comix. Images used under Fair Use.

Sunday, 24 September 2023

Warhammer 40'000 - Who Killed Warboss Badgutz?

It gives me great pleasure to finally get the chance to introduce you all to Doctor Grotson, the intrepid Gretchin detective who as you can expect doesn't exactly fit in easily with the rampaging hoard of Orks he has found himself in the company of.

When Warboss Badgutz is found dead with no clear culprit, the Ork rules of succession are thrown into confusion. Desperate to stop the Ork forces from fracturing, Doctor Grotson takes it upon himself, with a little help from the Warbosses prospective replacements, to to find out who exactly had offed the vicious leader, and more crucially, find out why they haven't claimed his throne.

This was a real fun little story to write. Both comedy AND murder mysteries are difficult to balance, and that's before you throw in the Warhammer universe's most raucous inhabitants to the mix. It was a real experiment in seeing what I could get away with while holding the story together.

To top it all off, we have some amazing artwork by Ork artist extraordinaire Alex 'Crippled Giraffe.' He did an absolutely steller job of bringing the characters to life. If you're in the mood for more Orky antics I highly recommend you check out his work.

Who Killed Warboss Badgutz? can be read full over on AO3.

Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Jack Minute - Mask of the PhanTekWar


It's been a hot (bat) minute since my last podcast appearance, so I am delighted to announce that I have once again joined the Batminute boys as guest of honour on their latest episode on Mask of the Phantasm, a film I hadn't seen in years and found surprising to experience again.

In the episode we discuss James Bond minute and the history of the jet pack in popular culture, Mark Hamill's strange relationship with independent comics and a discussion of what makes a 'so bad it's good' vanity project.

Always a pleasure, never a chore to join Niall and Jon in taking 60 seconds of a film and going down so many rabbit holes we end up with tunnel vision.

Bat Minute of The Phantasm - Minute 67: Not Everyone Can Be 'William Shatner's TekWar' (with Jack Harvey)

Wednesday, 16 August 2023

Obscure Comic of the Month - Knights vs Pirates

Obscure Comic of the Month is a column where I take a look at a comic or series that hasn't really been talked about. This covers independent comics, zines, weird spin-offs, webcomics and more.


Knights vs Pirates by Jay Martin, Chris Imber and Chris Jenkins - 2020 Reckless Hero

Contains Mild Spoilers

We like to get somewhat intellectual here at Obscure Comic of the Month (and by we I mean me.) Whether it's dissecting the Life is Strange comic's criticism of it's own source material, or discussing what the alien societies of Prism Stalker have to say about mankind's inhumanity to man, dissecting themes, subtext and metaphor is what a lot of this column is all about.

Sometimes, however, along comes a comic that is shaped exactly as it is. Where there are no depths to plunge. What you see it what you get. Knights vs Pirates is one of these types of comics.

Pitting King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table against the crew of legendary pirate Blackbeard, Knights vs Pirates steps into a long standing genre of historical mashups that we have previously seen in such things as the video game For Honour, the tabletop game Unmatched Battle of Legends and the Half-Life mod Pirates, Vikings and Knights.

The video game comparison is apt, really, as Knights vs Pirates is all about the action. Jay Martin isn't here to bring us a story about the class differentiation between noble knights and stateless pirates. He's not here to bring us any kind of exploration of each character's mythic qualities and the legacy they left in historical folklore. He's here to have a bunch of cool looking guys with swords smash up against a bunch of cool looking guys with guns, on boats. It's not dissimilar to downloading a skin pack for Unreal Tournament 2004 so that you can have Gordon Freeman fight the Master Chief.

If it sounds like I'm counting all this as a negative against the work of Martin, Imber and Jenkins you may be surprised to find out that I'm not. If you know me, you know I actually love downloading skin packs for Unreal Tournament 2004 so that I can have Gordon Freeman fight the Master Chief.

Is there a reason that King Arthur here wears the St George's Cross and a crusader's bucket helm, despite predating both those things by centuries? Because it looks cool that's why. The historical and folkloric perspective doesn't really matter. This is pure popcorn munching entertainment. It's smashing action figures together in comic book form, and Knights vs Pirates manages to excel at such goals with high speed and panache.

The story, such as it is, takes place during Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail, as pestilence stalks the land. However, he and his knights become embroiled with the machinations of Poseidon of Atlantis (Why is there a Greek God here and why does he also happen to be a fish man? Because it's cool, that's why,) as has, centuries later, Blackbeard and his crew, who are lured to the Bermuda Triangle and sent backwards in time with the promise of riches and glory.

As the Knights come to terms with gunpowder weapons and the pirates capitalise upon the confused forces of the past, so proceeds a series of battles and skirmishes between Arthur and Blackbeard's forces. The characters are all larger than life, more akin to Street Fighter characters than their historical counterparts, with their own colourful set of unique designs, motivation and gimmicks.

Chris Imber's fast and bold art really stands out in these battles. Keeping a sense of movement and logic at the same time, while making every bloody strike and blow feel heavy and visceral. Likewise, Jenkin's vivid colours really pop out of the page, and bring to life the personalities of these colourful characters (pun intended.)

The writing is archetypal with Arthur so noble it's almost maudlin, and Blackbeard very much the pantomime villain. Still, there are genuine moments of pathos here and there, such as Blackbeard expressing his past admiration for Arthur when he read stories of his adventures as a boy, and being nightmarishly torn between the optimism of his youth and the cynicism and selfishness that has overtaken his life.

Like any good versus story, after many bloody losses, the two sides eventually join forces to fight the real villain. Poseidon rises at the end to reveal the full extent of his schemes, which primarily concerned the retrieval of Excalibur, the sword having been constructed from his three pronged trident (Why? Because it's cool, that's why.) The climax brings an action packed battle as Imber really pushes the visuals to create a striking melee between Knight, Pirate and aquatic sea-folk.

Knights vs Pirates is excellent evidence that you can produce a story that is silly and over the top without being dumb. It's shallow only in the sense that greater depth would actively make the story worse. The story need not be saddled with attempts at highbrow storytelling. This is a monster truck rally. This is professional wrestling. This is a visual cavalcade of larger than life characters carrying larger than life weapons.

I can safely say that if I had read this as a sixteen year old I would have easily become obsessed with it, and sometimes, you just have to give the sixteen year old inside yourself something like this every now and again, as a treat.


Jack Harvey 2023. Knights Vs Pirates (c) 2020 Reckless Hero. Images used under Fair Use.

Saturday, 29 July 2023

Obscure Comic of the Month - No Romance In Hell

Obscure Comic of the Month is a column where I take a look at a comic or series that hasn't really been talked about. This covers independent comics, zines, weird spin-offs, webcomics and more.


No Romance in Hell by Hyena Hell

Contains Mild Spoilers

No Romance in Hell tells the story of an idealistic demonic woman, while unnamed in the comic itself, we do quickly learn of her love for romances and her longing for a similar experience. Having failed to achieve any meaningful relationships in the bowels of hell, she travels to earth and blends in as best she can, with the hopes she can strike up a whirlwind romance there.

The comic is, frankly, the best possible execution of such a premise, in my opinion. As you may or may not know, I am not unfamiliar with writing demonic romances myself, so when I saw Hyena Hell's comic sitting on the shelf of Newcastle's Travelling Man, stereotypical romance novel text above a scantily clad green-skinned woman disintegrating a helpless suitor, I knew I would have to check it out. It was absolutely my jam.

Not an inch of space or time is wasted within the story, which serves as a razor sharp satire of modern dating culture. From the vapidity of online dating apps, appearing here as the fictional 'burner' app, to the insecurities facing the vast majority of of those singles today embarking upon such a chaotic and daunting endeavour, Hell manages to condense perfectly our own anxieties into this lumbering, clueless dolt that we can't help but grow attached to.

Every joke manages to land perfectly. There's visual comedy, as the demonic woman struggles to get dressed by clumsily liberating clothes and a wig from a shop window dummy. There's the classic repetition of her constantly disintegrating people who insult or displease her. There's the aforementioned satire, covering both the fast paced, no strings attached attitude towards modern relationships, as well as the heightened idealism of classic romance comics of yesteryear. The writing is never too overwrought or corny, never spoon feeds the reader, but isn't afraid to go for those easy laughs when the chance arises.

The art too is just wonderful. Every character is eye-catching and full of personality. At all times it manages to be grotesque and vulgar and sexy. Hell is a realm of flimsy boob tubes, thongs, jock straps and codpieces, while Earth is a realm of casual hookups and disappointing sexual encounters. Nudity is presented unceremoniously throughout the story, while the idea of objectively 'beautiful people' exists purely within outdated romance comics, which both fits with the story's themes and helps humanise these characters. In a world where nobody is beautiful, there is beauty in everyone.

If there's a moral to this story, it's very much in line with that way of thinking. In the end our demoness realises that she wouldn't actually enjoy living the happy ever afters of her romance comics anyway, and concludes that actual happiness can come from something more humble. Hell manages to tie the whole story together with the final pages into a nice little bow, fittingly, and still manages to get a good few final gags in there for good measure. If you don't have a smile on the face by the time you get to that final panel then you have no soul.

The adventures of our wayward demoness are not over just yet, as it appears that Hell has more stories to come, if recent art previews online are anything to go by. After No Romance in Hell, I'm really excited to find what existential crises she ends up falling in to next.


Jack Harvey 2023. No Romance in Hell (c) 2020 Hyena Hell. Images used under Fair Use.

Sunday, 2 July 2023

Jack's July Update


We're living in uncertain times folks, but you know what you can count on? Me continuing to write and draw. Here's an update on what's coming up.

- I'm happy to announce that Turbomiracle is working on the art for a comic script I wrote. We've got a short four-page supernatural action story in store for you, and you can see some of the concept art above. I'm really excited for this one and can't wait for you to see it when we're done.

- In case you missed it, another short four-page comic, Precious Resources, dropped last month with art by the ever fantastic Kristina Amuan. You can read it here.

- My sixth and, for now, final Sea of Spheres story is currently in the works. It's called Choose Your Weapons Wisely and I expect it'll be dropping some time before the end of the year.

- My Warhammer 40k short story, Who Killed Warboss Batgutz, is ready to go, and I'm just waiting on the amazing artwork by Alex Crippled Giraffe, which is shaping up to be something special. You can't rush these things.

- All of my comics currently in print are now available at the small press aisle at Travelling Man Newcastle. So if you've wanted a physical copy of The Whitehaven Siege, An Illustrated Guide to Drinking Beer, or One Hell of A Night, you can pick them up there while stocks last.

- The BatMinute Podcast is currently on it's run of Mask of the Phantasm, and as you can expect I'll be gusting on an episode later in the year.

- As mentioned previously I have two more convention appearances lined up for this year. Carlisle Megacon on 19th August and The Lakes International Comic Art Festival on 29th and 30th September. I'm toying with maybe squeezing one further appearance in somewhere before the year is up, so you'll hear here first if that happens.

- Most of my ramblings and periodic updates can be found on my Twitter, but given the current instability of that site who knows how much longer it's going to be sustainable. Either way, I'll still be uploading most of my art to Deviantart and posting regular updates on my Tumblr. As usual, it's here where all the definitive updates will happen.

That's all for now, hope you've had a good first half of 2023 and if not here's hoping you have a good second half.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 25 June 2023

Obscure Comic of the Month - The Envoy and the Warrior

Obscure Comic of the Month is a column where I take a look at a comic or series that hasn't really been talked about. This covers independent comics, zines, weird spin-offs, webcomics and more.


The Envoy and the Warrior by Simon Roy and Linnea Sterte

Contains Spoilers

Way back in my second entry in this revived series of columns I took a look at Simon Roy's Habitat and came away with the feeling that I really wanted to discover more about this strange, seemingly galaxy spanning dark age. In the years since then, Roy has given me exactly what I wanted, with his webcomic Griz Grobus showing us more of these strange and wonderful feudal societies living within the ruins of a half-forgotten high tech civilisation.

It is not, however, Griz Grobus I am here to talk about today, but the short comic The Envoy and the Warrior, which came as a bonus with Grobus' Kickstarter campaign. In my last entry on Habitat I talked about being fascinated by the reawakening of what seemed to be some kind of eldritch star god that got little explanation by the story's closing pages. So fascinated was I that I even did fan art of the creature. So imagine my delight to discover that the short comic itself focusses entirely on these enigmatic beings.

One of Roy's greatest strengths is to leave an element unexplained and allow a certain degree of ambiguity to generate around an aspect of the story. He trusts the audience to pick up on what they're reading. While the origins of the star gods is never fully spelled out, the story heavily hints at their nature as artificial beings. There's a heavy does of Iain M Banks' Culture series in this story, tapping into the idea of artificial intelligences as benevolent, but not benign, custodians of mankind's future.

The story begins with two such gods meeting, approaching first in physical space and appearing as unsettling, and nightmarish looking creatures. They then manifest as more recognisably humanoid once they pass into another plane of existence. A paradise, once again heavily hinted, but never outright confirmed, to be a digital space.

Much like Habitat the artwork is on impeccable form. This time Linnea Sterte creates a mind bending blend of body horror and geometric impossibilities for the forms of the star gods, before drawing us in to the beautiful serene landscapes of the paradise. It's human inhabitants, recognisable but unremarkable, clash with the slight and ethereal gods. Their somewhat subdued facial expressions betray that these creatures are far beyond human, and that their thoughts are likewise alien to ours.

The larger of the two gods is introduced as a former god of war, now tired from violence, having created a paradise to house the souls of those innocents that had previously suffered at their hands long ago. The smaller of the two gods, an envoy, has arrived to ask a favour. Part of humanity is now beginning to crawl out of it's long dark ages and back into the stars, bringing potential weapons of galactic destruction with them.

The old war god, however, has no desire to return to their old ways, no matter how noble the intentions. After the envoy questions their motivations one too many times, the war god seemingly kills them in physical space, and they awake in a humbler body, back within the paradise.

The Envoy and the Warrior is short but it packs a lot of themes behind it's sparse script. This tale is one of guilt and responsibility, of action and reaction. Despite only a few moments passing between them, the two star gods debate their fundamental philosophy, in both what they say, their body language, and ultimately their actions. Does the true pacifist seek to exempt themselves from conflict, or seek to avert it? Are actions of atonement for past sins negated if those sins are repeated once more? How ethical is violent action when it is a reaction to an evil that may not even occur?

As mentioned above, Roy is not a writer that wants to spoon feed you the subtext. As the story ends, it is up to the reader to decide how warranted the war god was in the action they took against the envoy, and if, as lowly mortals, we can even comprehend the stakes of such immortal beings.

Even at only sixteen pages long, The Envoy and The Warrior is equally as fascinating and dynamic as Habitat and Griz Grobus. As mentioned above, Roy is clearly content at showing us snapshots of these worlds and galaxies, allowing the reader to piece the connections together themselves, rather than dump lore and backstory on top of us. It's a great approach and everything I could have hoped for after Habitat. Roy's work continues to impress, and I can't wait to see where he goes with it next.


Jack Harvey 2023. The Envoy and The Warrior (c) 2023 Simon Roy. Images used under Fair Use.