Comics: South African Roundup #3

Posted: 6 September 2013
Category: Features Comments View Comments


This South African comics roundup features a number of comics that have been produced this year, some of which have set the bar very high with their quality printing, fantastic artwork, skilled storytelling, and fun, quirky characters.

This short roundup is in honour of the Open Book Comics Festival and to highlight some very contemporary work. Many of these creators (as well as Joe Daly) will be at the two-day festival at the artists' showcase, on panel discussions, hosting workshops, or just roving at the various events and this presents an ideal opportunity for fans to buy the comics and get them signed, and to have conversations with the artists and writers about their work.

Juvies Volume 1: Under Construction
Juvies Volume 1: Under Construction A print compilation of an ongoing web comic; 5 May 2012; 46 pages; colour
By: Jarred Cramer
Publisher: Kaos Production Studios

Juvies Volume 1: Under Construction is a print collection of Jarred Cramer's Juvies comic strips completed between 2008 and 2010, which he publishes on the Web. The book was launched at Free Comic Book Day 2012.

The below-the-belt strips feature the adventures of three 20-year-old young men, Scott Redman, an arts student; Thomas "TJ" Campbell, a personal trainer; and Roger Nicholson, an IT student. The title Juvies is, of course, a giveaway (and a warning) that there is going to be a lot of juvenile behaviour and humour. This is definitely not a collection for kids, even though Jarred spent the whole of Free Comic Book Day 2013 with his head buried in his sketchbook turning excited young people into Juvies characters.

If you know what you're getting in to, it's not too much of a problem, however. I have to admit that I enjoyed quite a lot of the humour. However, some of it was far too crass for my liking and some storylines stray into some very offensive and cringeworthy subject matter that other publications wouldn't be able to go near but, for some reason, because the three protagonists are misadventure-prone young white men, Jarred is able to get away with a lot.

The comics are printed in full colour on glossy paper stock that really brings out the colour, although some of the wider strips have been rotated to fit on a page, which is a bit disconcerting. Each strip stands on its own, although many are also part of longer storylines, which gives the storytelling more depth, and a few characters pop in and out, sometimes in almost cameo appearances that are a treat. The writing is quite snappy, although there are occasional punctuation and grammar errors, and the character designs and facial expressions are well done. By reading through the book you can also see how the quality of the art (and storytelling) evolved as Jarred became more comfortable with the work.

This is not for everyone but if you're not easily grossed out or offended it's worth looking at.

Kaos Produktion Studios: Official Site, Facebook

Cottonstar Chapter 2
Cottonstar Chapter 2 A print compilation of an ongoing web comic; 4 May 2013; 24 pages; colour
By: Ben G Geldenhuys and Danelle Malan
Cover: Lynton Levengood

In Chapter 2 of the web comic Cottonstar, a "post-global-warming pirate adventure", we learn more of the back story of Renier du Preez (in a well handled two-page layout that is text heavy but not a chore to read) as he reminisces while trapped in the middle of the ocean on a tiny floating island that's a former piece of Long Street in Cape Town. We also learn a bit more about the global-warming events that turned Cape Town into a series of islands, notably Kalk Bay Island, where Renier is from, and we see some of the events that occurred during his first few weeks on the Cottonstar as the ship's boy, which gives us more insight into some of the characters he met in the first chapter. Finally, we discover why he's stranded on a tiny piece of Long Street and no longer on the ship.

This printed edition collects all the pages of Chapter 2, which were published online in 2012 and 2013. They have been reproduced in full colour and the book includes a few bonus pages of some great fan art by the local comics community. The cover art is by Lynton Levengood, who is also the cover artist for Velocity Anthology 4, which is being launched in October.

The art is dynamic, with skilled facial expressions and fantastic use of colour that doesn't overpower the line work, the writing is excellent (and properly proofread), and the characters are fun and full of personality. Cottonstar is one of the local comics that is setting the bar very high and I enjoy it immensely.

Lynton Levengood: Official Site, DeviantArt
Shop online Shop Online: Readers Den

Creamy Cheese Ninjas Chapter 1
Creamy Cheese Ninjas Chapter 1 Comic; 4 May 2013; 28 pages; colour
Art: kEda Gomes
Writing: Wesley Harris

The text on the back cover begins with "too much tequila presents a stunning hallucination!". I think it refers to the creation of the comic but it more aptly describes the experience the reader has trying to get to the last page, although you don't need any tequila to assist you.

I love the art - I really love the art - because it's dynamic and fun but I don't know what the hell is going on in the story. I can't follow it. It's almost as if half the panels were randomly removed and what's left has been published as the comic. What this means is that the creators are making too many assumptions about flow, and what the reader is understanding. Unfortunately, we're only getting what's on the page - we aren't privy to what's in the minds of the creators and they're forgetting that and therefore not filling in blanks that they take for granted, having worked on this for so long. We're being forced to leap over these blanks - but it doesn't make sense as we don't have enough to put the rest of it together coherently. (For those interested in astrology I can best describe it as trying to have a conversation with two Geminis at once (or one really hardcore one). At some point you just have to leave the room - for your sanity and to preserve mental coherence.)

The good news is that this can be fixed, if the creators want to fix it. They just have to slow the pace and put in the moments in the story that they're skipping over.

What I can discern is that there is an evil organisation headed by "Miss Muffet" and our team of heroes - Matt, Alexis, Kyle, Fluffy the chicken fish, and their sensei, Sensei - head out to stop Miss Muffet and are confronted by ninjas in the process.

The comic is printed in full colour that looks good, although the images are lacking crispness. I don't know whether that's due to the printing process or that images that were too low res were sent to the printers as finals. The comic includes two bonus pages of some bizarre stuff - a maze (such as the ones you get in kids' activity books) and a recipe that's written like something you'd expect to see in a fantasy novel (3 tbs tears of the goat; 1/4 cup ground bones), with traditional substitutes (cow milk and cake flower [sic], for example) listed at the bottom. As you can see, there are also some spelling, grammar and punctuation errors but you'll be so confused by the story that you may not even notice them.

Having said all of this, if they complete chapters 2 and 3 I will still buy them. I'm keen to see what happens next - even if I don't understand half of it.

Wesley Harris: Twitter
Shop online Shop Online: Readers Den

Crimson Issue 1: Battlecry
Crimson Comic; 4 May 2013; 12 pages; black and white
Story And Art: Alastair Brauns and Arthur Brophy
Art: Alastair Brauns
Cover Art: Alastair Brauns
Publisher: tank 21 creative

The intro to this comic says that Alastair started out by doing a few drawings and then decided to turn it into a comic and, unfortunately, this shows. The ideas in the story are quite interesting but it's all very ambitious and convoluted and I think that a more constrained story, rather than an epic tale, would have been a better way to start.

The story concerns a rare, almost mythical, treasure hidden somewhere in the East that attracts the attention of mercenaries, as well as a clandestine organisation that destabilises and terrorises. In the present day a shady corporation now has possession of the treasure but it is infiltrated and the story ends on a cliffhanger with what I presume is our female protagonist suited up and ready to defend it. Sadly, it's really hard to know exactly what's going on or what is to come based on this first issue.

The art has a rough, chaotic linework quality to it that actually suits the story quite well - the cover art is especially attractive. The comic's downfall, however, is in the text. In some places it doesn't fit into the designated bubbles and the entire story is filled with typos and mistakes. It feels as if whoever typed it up closed his eyes, plonked his hands on his computer keyboard, and bashed away at the keys in the hopes of hitting the correct ones. I'm actually furious about this because, as well as more serious errors, it includes mistakes such as "mpre", random single letters here and there, and missing apostrophes, all of which any spellcheck can detect and correct. There is no excuse for this and it shows a lack of respect for the comic arts, which are a combination of text, storytelling, and artwork. All those elements are important and require attention. It's quite obvious that no one proofread this before it went to the printers, which is crucial. It's easy to correct a text mistake on a web site (I, unfortunately, know this all too well) but when you're sending something to print it's permanent so you have to work extra hard to ensure that it's perfect.

I don't know if there is going to be another issue as the web site still isn't live, after four months, and there's no information about the comic online. Text mistakes can be fixed and the story is full of big ideas that could lead somewhere interesting. I would like to see more of Crimson but I don't know if it will ever happen.

tank 21 creative: Official Site
Alastair Brauns: LinkedIn, Twitter

Sophie, Giant Slayer
Sophie, Giant Slayer Comic; 4 May 2013; 12 pages; black and white
By: Kay Carmichael

This is a lovely tale with a female protagonist who wields a massive sword and finds herself tasked with slaying giants. The story serves as an introduction to what I hope are further adventures so in these pages we see the emergence of Sophie's self confidence in her role as a giant slayer, though it's still a mystery as to how she acquired the sword in the first place, where she is, and why there are giants. Hopefully more will be revealed in time as, bar a bit of swearing (that, honestly, is appropriate in the context of the story) this is a comic that, although suitable for everyone, has positive elements that girls, in particular, can connect to.

I love the art and the pace is great. Professionally Kay is a storyboard artist and illustrator so her experience is very evident in how the comic flows. The print quality isn't fantastic - I think it's halftone printing on inexpensive paper - but this kept the cost down considerably and I think Kay was one of the first to sell out at Free Comic Book Day 2013, where she launched the comic.

There isn't much text - the story is all told through the images - but, although we're left with many questions, it is a full story in just a few pages that introduces a character with depth and feelings, adds a brutal but exciting action sequence, and then winds down leaving you wanting to read more. I really enjoy this comic. I'm hoping that it isn't a one-off piece and, instead, that Kay has big plans for Sophie.

Shop online Shop Online: Readers Den

Wrath Chapter One
Wrath Chapter One Comic; 4 May 2013; 28 pages; black and white
By: Christopher Beukes

Wrath is a post-apocalyptic story in which the protagonist Gerrin - the future "marshall of the two armies, and master of the beast", we are told in a spectacular early story teaser on page three - wakes up the next day, having passed out in a toilet stall in a club, to find that present day is no more and he's in some bizarre futuristic scenario, complete with a robot and monsters, that's straight out of a Hollywood summer movie. So, armed only with a baseball bat, he heads out into the world to figure out what's going on and where he is.

The art is a combination of digital work (notably the layout and pencilling, so it's easier for Chris to make adjustments) and hand inking with brushes, which gives the work a more traditional feel. The result is a wonderful blend of old and new techniques. The print quality is lovely due to the high-quality paper stock, so you can see the brush-based inking clearly. The last page features bonus art, including character-design development sketches and examples of two pages to show the art in progress.

The first chapter was launched at Free Comic Book Day 2013 and included a limited-edition three-track CD featuring really great music by heavy metal band Strident, which is now a rare collectible, I would think (I'm certainly not giving anyone my disc!). Strident is producing the score, for what ultimately is hoped will become a full graphic novel, which will be a combination of orchestral work (such as that which is on the CD) and metal. I'm looking forward to hearing more of the music.

This is a great, professionally produced comic that features skilled art and well-paced, engaging storytelling. It is one of my favourites and I highly recommend that people buy it.

Strident: Facebook, MySpace
Shop online Shop Online: Readers Den

Zero Edge
Zero Edge Comic; 4 May 2013; 20 pages; colour
By: Clarence Musson and Kevin Gibson

Zero Edge is an anthology compilation by Clarence Musson and Kevin Gibson that they put together even though they live in different cities. It comprises a series of short comic strips called GG For Life, which Clarence wrote and illustrated; HRA, a short story that Kevin wrote and illustrated and Clarence coloured (which really brings the art to life); Over The Edge, two short strips that Kevin also wrote and illustrated that Clarence then coloured; and a few pinups. All the work can be viewed online in the two artists' DeviantArt portfolios (see the links below).

GG For Life is my favourite in this collection. The humorous (mainly) one-page vignettes centre around five gamers and their antics will be recognisable to anyone who has spent too many hours behind a computer screen or console. The art has a manga quality about it and the characters are cartoonishly expressive and lots of fun.

HRA ("Historical Restoration Agency") is a short story set in space with both human and anthropomorphic characters that involves a weapons test. There's no information as to what the HRA is or does so I'm hoping that Kevin intends to produce more stories as he's developed seven characters that deserve some more adventures. I'm not completely sold on the twins Tegan and Tully but some of the other characters, such as Director Williams (the head of tactical operations) and Donovan Styles (the special-combat operative (time traveller)), are particularly intriguing. (There's a bit more insight into Donovan in an unfinished story on Kevin's web site.)

Over The Edge is another series of two one-page vignettes that are also centred around gaming, although the humour isn't as strong as GG For Life's (the ideas are good but the execution needs some refinement) but there's lots of potential and the two pages aren't really representative of all the Over The Edge work that Kevin has completed - it's just a taste of what's available. Some of the other Over The Edge comics that are available online (they debuted in 2008) feature some expressive character artwork that demonstrates more of Kevin's artistic ability and the storylines don't always centre around gaming - instead it's often an exploration of the lives of two friends. (Though I must sadly point out that this bigotted comic also exists.)

My only real complaint is with regards to the pinups. There's a subtle male gaze about two of them that's slightly disconcerting (nevermind what's on the cover) but none are offensive. I don't feel that most really tell a story, however. They're more art for the sake of art and therefore I would have preferred that space had been used for more comic work, such as a few more of the Over The Edge comics.

On the whole I like this compilation and I think it's a smart way for two creative people to get some of their work out that's otherwise left buried in DeviantArt galleries. By collaborating on the project each strengthens the other while reducing the risk. It is a bit all over the place but I think it's a great introduction to their work and hopefully we'll see more of it.

Over The Edge: Official Site, Gallery
Clarence Musson: DeviantArt
Kevin Gibson: Official Site, DeviantArt

The Number 1 Game Episode 1 - So It Goes
The Number 1 Game Episode 1 Comic; 29 August 2013; 12 pages; black and white
Text And Art: Archie Birch
Lettering: Alex Kopiyo Alaka
Assistant: Simphiwe Magobiyane
Editor: Matthew Kalil
Publisher: Isotrope Media

This brand-new comic was launched last week at Blank Books in Cape Town. It is also set in a futuristic Cape Town (see Cottonstar above) that has been affected badly by rising water and is now a set of islands instead of a peninsula - Cape Island and Point Island. I'm don't know why the Cape Flats were flooded but the Waterfront wasn't but perhaps parts of the land rose during the catastrophe as well.

Cape Island, which includes Table Mountain, is now more densely populated, with rich people living in pleasant surroundings even higher up the mountain and the poor slumming it at sea level. The story is narrated by Rosie, one of a group of bergies that the teenage protagonist, Joe K, meets on the island after having crossed the water from the mainland in search of his destiny, which he believes is to be found there.

Archie Birch started working on this comic about five or six years ago but has only published the first issue now, due to encouragement from friends. I'm glad they pushed him because this is interesting work, with very detailed, accomplished line art that, sadly, isn't reproduced to the quality that it should be due to some low-quality printing and the paper choice but for now, while he tests the market and demand, it helps to keep costs down. The next few issues are complete, but not yet printed, and Archie has planned a story that has the potential to be 10 to 12 issues long. The characters that we have met so far are intriguing and having the story narrated by a women, especially since she speaks in bergie vernacular, is something different, and uniquely Capetonian. It's a promising start.

You can buy copies at Blank Books in Woodstock, where some of the A3 art from the comic is also on display for the next few weeks. Stop by, purchase a copy, and have a look at the art being exhibited. It's beautiful.

The Number 1 Game: Facebook
Isotrope Media: Official Site, Facebook

Most of these comics creators will be at the Open Book Comics Festival in Cape Town this weekend so make sure you stop by to meet them and buy some of their work. See the programme for more details.

Tags: #books, #cape_town, #comics, #games, #ninjas, #open_book, #pirates, #speculative_fiction

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