The cream of British comics was assembled for the two-day extravaganza that was the Cardiff International Comic and Animation Expo.
Some 1,200 fans poured in through the doors of the Mercure Holland Hotel in Cardiff for a weekend of meeting artists both established and new, sitting in on the horror-themed panels, shopping and a fair bit of cosplay.
Some of the scenes from the shop floor
The labour of love, now in its second year, was put on by the people behind the gargantuan Bristol Comic Expo – Mike Allwood and Iz McAuliffe.
Mike said: “The Expo went really well and better than even I had hoped for, with this being the first two-day event after the one-day litmus test last year. We added so many new features to what started life as a comic convention: the animation tangent was a highlight; we had the two main universities along, three studios and a drop-in work shop. All were really popular and we will build on that side for 2013.
“We added the Horror@ the Expo showcase which again proved a hit and yes, we are back next year. We already have one book slanted to debut.”
The good doctor’s TARDIS was doing its bit for Help for Heroes
Toad of Toad Hall never looked so scary
The guest of honour was artist Mike Ploog, who had celebrated runs on Werewolf by Night, Frankeinstein, Ghost Rider, Planet of the Apes and Creepy.
Another special guest was Watchmen inker and artist in his own right, John Higgins, talking about his demonic creation, Razorjack. The King of Comics that is Jack Kirby saw his flag flown in the form of a museum dedicated to his legacy. 2000AD fans marked the 35th anniversary of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic with some of its legendary creators. New and independent publishers and creative teams hawked their wares and every other person seemed to be wearing rubber, in a good way.
Next year’s event is already booked for Saturday, March 2 and Sunday, March 3.
Here are some of the highlights:
Jack “The King” Kirby
He’s the man behind a string of summer blockbusters including this year’s The Avengers so why does no one outside of comics know about Jack Kirby?
Ask a class of schoolchildren if they know who Stan Lee is and hands shoot up. He’s the guy behind Fantastic Four, Inhumans, X-Men, Hulk, and Thor – but ask who Jack is and the other co-creator of the Marvel universe draws blank looks.
Russell Payne, writer and ambassador for the Jack Kirby Museum, says what’s not to love about the guy who created all the above and New Gods, Captain America and other off-the-wall characters like Devil Dinosaur, OMAC, Machine Man, Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth and, erm, Paranex the Fighting Fetus from Captain Victory.
Paranex the Fighting Fetus
He said: “Jack was a member of CAPS (Comic Artist Professional Society) and one time they got together but they didn’t know what he looked like and he was heard introducing himself as Ramon De Los Flores, an Italian pornography artist.” The King (as he was dubbed by Stan “The Man” Lee) was so successful with the ruse that many CAPS members refused to believe he was Kirby after the truth came out.
Author and Kirby Museum ambassador Russell Payne
Kirby also played an indirect part in rescuing hostages from the US Embassy in Iran back in 1979 in what was called The Canadian Caper. The prelude to this saw Kirby commissioned to design the sets for the film adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light sci-fi novel. A theme park with 300ft Ferris wheel and voice-operated mag-lev cars was also based on Kirby’s designs, so confident were producers of a big budget hit. The project was scrapped due to embezzling.
The design of Science Fiction Land based on Kirby’s designs for Lord of Light, which became CIA cover story during the Canadian Caper
The CIA, needing a cover story to send a man in to Tehran and walk out six Embassy staff through a militant-controlled Iran airport, jumped on Kirby’s designs and other production notes like script. The stranded Americans would be turned into film scouts for Argo, a fake production based on the Lord of Light project. It worked and everyone left the country.
Kirby also had a number of high-profile fans: Frank Zappa, Paul McCartney during his Wings era, Kevin Smith, Gene Simmons of Kiss, Robin Williams and Nicolas Cage. TV host Jonathan Ross is a collector of Kirby art and named one of his children after the King of Comics.
Frank Zappa and Jack Kirby
Art given to Paul McCartney by Kirby during Wings’ USA tour and inspired by the song Magneto and the Titanium Man
“Jack Kirby has had such an impact on people it is surprising he has not had much recognition,” said Payne. “He was the Bill Gates of comics, the Elvis of comics, the King of Comics. When he was alive people made a lot of money. When he died in 1994, aged 76, Marvel made a lot more money in merchandise.”
When CGI caught up with Kirby’s vision it went on to fuel a billion dollar industry – big screen comic book adaptations. The Kirby family served notice to Disney and others that come 2014 they would want his copyright back. The bid, handled by the bane of big media, Marc Toberoff (see Starburst #374 for the Superman court case) was one of his rare fails.
To do justice for the Jack Kirby name, his daughter Lisa set up the online Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center in 2005. It is campaigning to build a bricks-and-mortar museum as a physical home for the King’s career, stories, life, creations and promote an understanding of comic books. The aim is to put a ‘pop-up museum’ near Kirby’s birth home on New York’s Lower East Side.
A documentary from Montilla Pictures who did a similar thing for Will Eisner is also the subject of fundraising and the name of Kirby will live on in upcoming productions The Avengers, X-Men Origins: Magneto does not look likely but Iron Man 3 certainly does. Inhumans is also coming in the future and Ben Affleck is to direct Argo, the George Clooney-backed movie of the Canadian Caper.
Visit http://kirbymuseum.org/ for more on the King of Comics.
The Monster Squad: from left, Dan Marshall and Gavin Jones of Sidekickcast, David Clifford and Jamie Lambert of Dexter’s Half Dozen, Rich McAuliffe of Damaged Goods and Simon Wyatt of Unbelievable: The Man who ate Daffodils.
Breastfeeding dead babies, werewolves stalking the trenches of the First World War and trying to gross out the comic book artist are all tricks of the trade for up-and-coming Welsh comic makers tapping the dark vein of horror.
A trio of creative bodies from the Cymru comic scene were dissected by hosts Gavin Jones and Dan Marshall of the Sidekickcast in the panel What’s That Coming Over The Hill at the expo.
All the creators come at horror from different directions – David Clifford and Jamie Lambert’s supernatural war horror Dexter’s Half Dozen has been dubbed Indy meets the Dirty Dozen, Simon Wyatt’s Unbelievable is dark folklore from deep in the woods and Rich McAuliffe’s Damaged Goods has been called twisted nastiness. So how do you terrify the shit out of your readers?
Artist/writer Simon Wyatt with some of the sketches from his new graphic novel, Unbelievable: The Man Who Ate Daffodils
Wyatt believes what’s unseen is scarier than the seen. “You can alter the beat and build that tension of something going to happen”.
McAuliffe agrees. “Turning a page to see Jason from Friday the 13th jump out of the water in a static panel looks cool but doesn’t work. Horror in the 60s was the happening thing in comics at the time then EC got a hammering and Batman went into space to fight aliens so it all got fluffy. But Japanese horror never went from over there.”
Clifford claims horror is trying to find a new angle to explore, though there is no escaping blood and guts in anything based on the world wars while writing partner Lambert says there is more freedom to do stranger things in the genre, like werewolves ripping out entrenched soldiers.
One gruesome example, said McAuliffe, was a website suggested to him by his mother where stillborn children are dressed up for family photos. “That’s creepy”, he said. “So I wrote a story and sent it to the artist and he said … cool. One comment that came back was ‘she should try and breastfeed it’. So I put that in, too.”
With the body of an angel and the face of a minger, can Razorjack do for creator John Higgins and team what Spawn did for Todd McFarlane?
After a decade the artist and colourist – who has worked on 2000AD, Death’s Head, Hellblazer and Watchmen among others – hopes so.
The titular character is a mad god who has destroyed countless dimensions through her minions. Now Earth’s realm is her next target. Her creator says she cannot be beaten, though the same cannot be said of her followers.
Higgins said: “We have a multimedia platform for this character. It started ten years ago and I didn’t know what to do with this villain. Razorjack is the name of the series and I knew this would be a trans-dimensional critter based in one dimension trying to get in to ours.”
For inspiration Higgins sought out the scariest monster he could find and came up with H.R. Giger’s Alien design. He went back to his own pad and came up with the dichotomy of a beautiful woman and a head that looks like the Predator and Hellraiser’s Chatterer cenobite. “Sometimes a beautiful creature can be monstrous,” he said.
Razorjack began as a two-part comic book, with smaller strips, rolled into a graphic novel. Now the mad god’s universe has been expanded into two novels, some brief animations and thrash metal music.
Michael Carroll, 200AD script droid and sci-fi author, wrote the first Razorjack novel, Double-Crossing. He said: “I wrote for the adult market where no-one was allowed to die and there had to be a happy ending. It was refreshing to do Razorjack.
“I had to write a book that didn’t spoil the original graphic novel. Razorjack is the prime mover but she’s barely there. What you don’t see is more often scarier than what you do see. So with Razorjack we don’t show her too much.
“Al Ewing (also of 2000AD) has written a Razorjack novel and his is much more blood and guts. We come at it from different angles. It’s a lot of fun but quite daunting as John owns Razorjack so we can only do things that we are allowed to.”
Higgins said that project Razorjack has always been long term and, after ten years, it is finally starting to get up some speed.
February 26: the date Napoleon escaped from Elba, Hitler formed the Luftwaffe, the World Trade Center was bombed and the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic was unleashed.
Exactly 35 years ago Thrill Power was unleashed on an unsuspecting Great Britain in 1977. To mark the date, some of 2000AD’s greatest droids were assembled for some quick fire questions on all things Tharg by The Megacast hosts Iz McAuliffe and Stacey Whittle.
What is your personal highlight of working with 2000AD?
John M Burns: “I think Nikolai Dante is my favourite. I read one and thought it would be nice to drawn that and they fell over themselves to let me.”
Rob Williams: “Tharg has had many incarnations and at that time it was David Bishop who sent me a letter saying ‘well done, you have sent me the unoriginal pitch of all time’. He said it had been published in 1978 and had even gone into the archive to dig it out and send to me.”
Gordon Rennie: “Smoking cigarillos with Carlos Esquerra.”
Mick McMahon: “Working with Pat Mills and John Wagner. They are such fantastic writers and I didn’t appreciate how good they were at the time.”
What stories would you take if you were stranded on a desert island?
Michael Carroll: “Is it to read or eat? The Apocalypse War.”
Compared to the early days, is there anything you have had rejected?
Gordon Rennie: “I have been pushing it a bit in Absalom. There’s a bit of racism in it but true to character so we keep that in.”
PJ Holden: “I drew a scene where a character falls through a skylight in a Cursed Earth shopping mall. I thought about putting logos in and Tharg said no, no, no. I covered up some letters and moved others around.”
David Roach: “The most famous censored sequence was about Michael Jackson, which was changed to Jackson Prince.”
Michael Collins: “I’ve had nothing censored but I thought I would when I drew a woman with a boob for a face for Al Ewing.”
Mick McMahon: “It was not my fault but the script called for people to jump off a high building with people putting bets on where they would land.”
Who would you like to take on?
Gordon Rennie: “Shankle, a big bastard polar bear that the CIA want dead.”
A question from Pat Mills: how would you get Wales into 2000AD without making the Judges Welsh?
PJ Holden: Whales?
David Roach: “I have drawn lots of Welsh things in Dredd but not 2000AD.
Michael Carroll: “I’m a huge Garth Ennis fan but not every Irishman is a drunk in comics. It’s been done.”
A question from Leigh Gallagher: what’s the strangest fan moment you’ve had?
Mick McMahon: “There was a boy and he sent a 20-page questionnaire and wanted to know how many windows and toilets I had so he could train himself to be an artist. He then got a job with Federal Express. After a while he decided to be a writer.”
Rob Williams: “I got an email saying ‘Mr Williams, we are big fans of your work from Germany. We are a TV show and want to invite you on to break your own world record of making sandwiches with your feet’. I looked it up and the guy is called Rob Williams. I should have said yes.”
Michael Carroll: “There’s a guy in England called Michael Carroll, the Lotto Lout and I still have people who think I’m him.”
Next year’s event is scheduled for Saturday, March 2 and Sunday, March 3. If you can’t wait that long, check out the Bristol Comic Expo on May 12 and 13. Visit http://www.fantasyevents.org