Olly’s World of Indie: Flintlock, Blood, Samurai and Birmingham Comics Festival

Flintlock 1Ahead of the Birmingham Comics’ Festival this coming weekend, I thought I would mark the debut of my new reviews column ‘Olly’s World of Indie‘ by looking at three titles debuting at the festival. Even if you’re not there, but like the sound of ‘em, hunt them down, or speak to your local comic book store. Indie is where it’s at, and these independent titles can often offer something completely different to your average superhero diet.

Flintlock 1Flintlock #1  (Time Bomb Comics)

Writer: Steve Tanner Artists: Anthony Summey, Lorenzo Nicoletta and Ed Machiavello

This comic certainly offers a lot of bang for your hard earned buck, giving not just two but three original comic strips set in a shared universe of 18th century Britain. A world of highwaymen – or rather women – pirate queens and steampunk sci-fi all in one jaunty, romping read that pays great respect to the historical period, writer Steve Tanner, has chosen to build his universe in.

In both the lead story, Lady Flintlock (illustrated by Summey) and Shanti, Pirate Queen (art provided by Nicoletta), Tanner offers us two very different kind of heroines, women who, for whatever reasons, play on the wrong side of the tracks. Independently spirited women with a taste for adventure and highway (or, in Shanti’s case, high seas) robbery. Both, in their own way, however, giving their own answer to how best to redistribute the wealth held by the elite few and, as such, we are encouraged to cheer for these anti-heroes as they pilfer from the pathetic popinjays of the period.

Behind the pomp, the ceremony and the fancy wigs of the aristocracy lie the horrors of the 18th century: slavery, exploitation, and greedy men. Lady Flintlock, Shanti and the Clockwork Cavalier (the third strip included as part of the stretch goals of a successful Kickstarter campaign) are the 18th century solutions to such problems. The superheroes of their day, fighting injustice and inhumanity in their own, often violent, uncompromising style.

The art on all the strips – and their meticulous attention to details of the period – is to be praised. This is one fine looking book, and offers its readers a polished, professional, immensely entertaining read from cover to cover. While there are three artists on the comic, their styles complement one another and thereby offers the reader a smooth, non jarring read across the three strips. The additional prose material added at the back, Tanner’s observations on the history of the highwayman of the era, and in particular, a certain Dick Turpin, only adds to the rich tapestry he is weaving, adding depth to the book and its time period.

Tanner and company offer the reader a fully realised, well researched world that, thanks to the artistic talent and writing skills involved, is good to go and ready to be filled with more stories, more characters, more adventure. I’m ready to join your crew, Shanti, if yee’ll have me.

Copies are available from the Time Bomb Comics website

BloodBlood No.1

Writer: Joe Krakec Artist: Angus Medford

A very personal, semi-autobiographical tale, forged by newcomers to comic book publishing, and one that, as the title suggests, is rooted in family history and family ties. You can pick your friends, but family? Best of luck with that.

Watch her own brother dying from cancer, Frances Bevan is shocked when her brother, Jeff, suddenly lurches forward and touches her unborn baby, nestled in her belly. Has a dying family member, in his last gasps of life, reached out and laid some kind of spell (or is it a curse?) on his sister’s unborn child? Or, is it simply a family fable that, the grown up Lucy Bevan, daughter of Frances, and our focus for this story of family ties and family commitments,has had to endure her whole life and quietly accept as true? Her uncle coming back to visit her while still a babe? Should Lucy either embrace and accept this, or admit she may be going mad. Can any of us, escape our family really?

This first issue offers up a broad range of characters over the course of this promising, slow-burning story and spans the decades too, offering us a backstory for Lucy that, at least, provides us some explanation, even while Lucy struggles with believing what is right in front of her own two eyes.

The pace of the story is spot on, not revealing too much of the horror, but enough to make you want to know more about Lucy and her seemingly ordinary family made up of the kind of relatives from all different strokes in life, like many extended families, that many readers will be able to relate to, for good or for worse. As the cast of characters are cleverly introduced at a family shindig, the story suddenly lurches into Jacob’s Ladder territory and the last page offers the hook that will have you coming back for more.

As a first time writer, Krawec shows some chops and with her artistic partner, Medford, offering up a style of art both boldly outlined, while remaining delicately detailed when needs be, Blood No.1 reads well. It successfully establishes a family, a premise and a central believable character while also teases at thrills to come, hinting heavily at a menace waiting in the shadows.

The_SamuraiSamurai (one-shot)

Writer: Jim Alexander Artist: Luke Cooper

In two stories over 21 pages, Jim Alexander introduces us, along with artist Luke Cooper, to his newest character, Samurai. A man who was called away to defend his realm against the Mongol hordes of the Middle Ages, only to come home to Japan and a tragic tapestry of family slaughter. The trigger that sends our reluctant hero on a quest for revenge against the marauders who inflicted this suffering on his family.

This is a story firmly set in a mythical, imaginative past, where we are returned to the world of Akira Kurosawa; all lone warriors and swordplay and as such, anything is possible with lashings of appropriate samurai savagery and foul language but hidden under this all is a story that offers hope too.

The marauders in question seem to be a travelling, Devil may care, horde of ne’er do wells and cutthroats who care nothing for the damage they leave behind and the lives they destroy. The feudal world in which the Samurai lives is an unforgiving one, and we are reminded of this at every turn.

And, while the Samurai himself stays mostly as silent and stoic as the stones, the words Alexander offers the reader explains it all, in a tight, and taut narrative giving us an explanation for his actions, his thoughts and his mercy.

A bitter-sweet journey taken by the title’s eponymous character who could easily lose his humanity, but for one saving grace.

As for his salvation from a path of pure revenge, you’ll have to pick up the comic to find out, now won’t you?

Now available from Planet Jimbot’s etsy page.

Author: Olly MacNamee

Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn’t know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at olly.macnamee@blogspot.co.uk. Or don’t.