Small Press Spotlight: Portsmouth Comic Con 2019 – The Black Iris, Merrick: The Sensational Elephantman, Here and There

We take a look back at the best of small press which we picke up at this year’s Portsmouth Comic Convention.

The Black Iris (Sassafras Press)

Russell Olson’s The Black Iris started life as an Inktober experiment at the end of 2018, but with a Comic con on his doorstep and no new book, he turned an unfinished idea and a love of 40s movies into one of the most sumptuous small press books we saw all weekend. The concept is based on a 40s pulp adventure movie, and we see a Lauren Bacall like character (called Loren Buckaw), battling Nazis and storming German castles in search of the plans for a robot. It’s told without dialogue but each page is packed full of action with subtle story elements layered into the seemingly straight forward compositions. Based on the 40s and 50s movie books that saw stills from a movie recreate the film’s plot, Black Iris is a pure pulp delight. It’s landscape format makes the most of Olson’s beautiful monochrome ink wash style and makes it feel like something from another era. However,  if you are after a more contemporary comparison, it feels like a Sean Philips book (and there is no higher praise from us!), with it’s mix of retro action, and the kind of world weary faces that can tell a story with just a sideways glance. Although not cheap at £10, Black Iris is pulp perfection and the ultimate calling card for an artist on the cusp of something truly great!
Pick up a copy from russellmarkolson.bigcartel.com/

Merrick The Sensational Elephantman #7 & 8 (Merrick Comic)

Tom Ward and Luke Parker’s Merrick the Sensational Elephantman has been one of the most consistently brilliant small press books of recent years. Building from humble beginnings as a pulp retelling of the Elephantman story, with shaky Mike Mignola-esque artwork, it has grown and morphed into a supernatural infused pulp action adventure romp. Having started out as a loose biography of Merrick, the subsequent introduction of associates like Treves, Conan Doyle and Thomas Hardy, who aid and hinder his actions in equal measures, have turned Merrick into a small press equivalent of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  For issue #7 and #8 Ward and Parker have gone full pulp, with Merrick discovering plans from Treves’ secret society to develop an army of elephantine warriors, based on his DNA. Mixing horror, sci-fi and pulp superhero action into a pair of glorious 24 page adventures, the art and story in Merrick grows with confidence in every issue and with each arc Ward and Parker find their voice more and more – as well as feeling free to experiment with where the story is heading. The artwork also becomes more imaginative and iconic (and less derivative), with Parker creating this dark and angular style which manages to perfectly evoke Victorian London, but also has a modern edge to it at the same time. A book that really definitely deserves the use of the word sensational!
Pick up issues #7 and #8 for £3.50 from www.merrickcomic.co.uk

Here and There (Comichaus)

When creating a new indie horror comic, there is a lot to be said for creating a truly iconic and terrifying villain, and writer Chris Sides and artist Adam Jakes have managed just that with Here And There. The terrifying monsters are nominally zombies, but they have the stretched and sinewy jaws of an Alien xenomorph, and the blistered skin of Greg Capullo’s Joker. Add to this the creepy fingers and arachnid limbs of Hellbound Media’s Spindly Man and you have a truly horrifying focal point. Sides does a solid job on the story, with a familiar sounding tale about a man and his partner on the run from monsters in a post-apocalyptic world. There are shades of The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later, and also Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with it’s bleak world outlook, however the twist in the tale is that this is all just a nightmarish dream inside Eric’s head, which mixes dreams and reality to really confuse and muddle the reader. Despite having created such an iconic villain, it isn’t always the easiest story to follow, and this is made even more challenging by Jakes’ artwork which is both incredibly strong and scary, but also a bit jumbled and chaotic making the process of picking through the story a challenge. But if you are looking for that next great small press horror villain then be sure to check out Here and There.
Purchase for £8 from chrissideswriter.bigcartel.com