Thursday, July 28, 2011

REVIEW: Baltimore: The Plague Ships

Above: A page from Baltimore: The Plague Ships by Ben Stenbeck. Copyright Mike Mignola/Dark Horse Comics.

Lord Baltimore is the latest victorian horror hero to emerge from the mind of comics master Mike Mignola and his collaborators Christopher Golden and New Zealand artist Ben Stenbeck.

The first installment in what will no doubt be an ongoing adventure, The Plague Ships introduces us to World War 1 veteran Lord Henry Baltimore, a soldier turned peg-legged vampire hunter cutting a bloody path across plague infested Europe in pursuit of a vampire leader known as Haigus.

After exterminating a nest of vampires on the coast of France, Baltimore finds temporary sanctuary with an elderly witch and her granddaughter Vanessa. They assist him in escaping the village locals, who are less than grateful for the presence of this suspicious looking stranger. The only catch is, Vanessa insists on accompanying Baltimore on his voyage to Livorno, so she can leave her death ridden village behind her.

During the voyage, Baltimore recounts to Venessa his harrowing encounter with vampire bats amongst the corpses of the dead on the battlefields of World War 1, which may have provided the catalyst for the original plague outbreak. Soon their trip takes a treacherous turn, as a vicious storm sinks their ship leaving them stranded on a deserted island, inhabited only by the wreckage of plague ships, victorian submarines and the corpses of the infected. Whether they'll stay dead long enough for Baltimore and his companion to survive the night is another matter entirely...

This is another solid entry into Mignola's growing library of victorian styled horror comics. The writing takes its cue from the likes of classic horror novelists like Bram Stoker, opting for slow-burn reveals and atmosphere rather than shock images, and is all the better for it.

Above: A page from Baltimore: The Plague Ships by Ben Stenbeck. Copyright Mike Mignola/Dark Horse Comics.

An equal amount of credit has to go to Stenbeck, who's carefully paced artwork expertly tells the story, keeping it atmospheric and grounded at all times. At first glance it would be easy to call Ben's artwork here a close approximation of Mignola's own, as they share a very similar stylistic approach (and it certainly doesn't hurt); but a careful study reveals Ben is bringing just as much of his own great touches to the series.

Stenbeck's artwork has a layer of vintage detail and texture that brings a lived in reality to the story and it's historical setting. It's subtile, but an essential element necessary to reinforces this story, one which I think would have been lost in the abstraction if Mignola had illustrated it himself. Ben's artwork doesn't contradict the visual language of Mignola's world, but expertly adds to it when called for, the sign of a true collaborator. The hardback also contains a bonus sketchbook of Ben's development drawings and sketches as well as brand new pin-ups!

Above: Baltimore: The Plague Ships cover by Mike Mignola. Copyright Mike Mignola/Dark Horse Comics.

This hardback collection has already landed on the prestigious New York Time Bestseller List, with a sequel mini-series Baltimore: The Curse Bells, beginning with issue #1 shipping August 10th from Dark Horse Comics.

If you're a fan of classic suspenseful horror from when vampires were vampires (and not socially awkward tweens) then this is essential reading! It's available from Dark Horse Comics and your local book store now, for $24.99US.

For more of Ben's artwork, check out his website HERE, and you may want to revisit this Studio Visit I conducted with Ben a few years ago for a look inside his working process HERE.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

EVENT: Overload 2011 NZ Comics & Manga Convention

If you're a fan of Manga, comics and Cosplay, then this weekend's Overload Convention is for you!
This two day event will be held July 23-24th at the Hotel Pullman (formerly the Hyatt Regency Hotel) Regatta Rooms in Auckland, from 10am-5pm. There's a $5 entry fee at the door, which buys you entrance to the NZ Comics and Manga Market, Cosplay and artwork competitions, special guest panels and more.

Special guests include: Ant Sang, designer of Bro' Town and creator of the recent graphic novel Shaolin Burning. Ant will be appearing all day Sunday and presenting a panel discussion on his work at 1pm.

Dylan Horrocks, author of Hicksville and currently producing the webcomic Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen at will be appearing both days at the New Zealand Comics booth, along with myself, Lee-Yan Marquez creator of The Impostor series, and Richard Fairgray of Blastosaurus.

Yuri Inaba, the Grand Champion of the World Cosplay Summit 2009 will also be appearing both days, shearing her passion for Cosplay and Anime with her NZ fans, as well as taking part in a Q&A session on Cosplay at 2pm on Sunday afternoon.

Above: A photo from Overload 2010.

If you're not familiar with the manga and cosplay movement in New Zealand, this convention will be a real eye-opener. After attending last year, I can tell you some of the artwork and comics available here are amazing, and I expect this year will be no different. For more information about Overload 2011 and a timetable of the weekend's events, check out the official website HERE.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

NZ Exclusive: New Karl Urban as Judge Dredd Picture

Above: Karl Urban providing the chin for Mega City One's top cop. Copyright 2000AD/DNA Films 2011.

He's the latest photo of Karl Urban from the upcoming movie reboot Dredd.
Based on the long-running British weekly comic, directed by Pete Travis from a script by Alex Garland, the film was due for release later this year, but since filming wrapped in South Africa some months back it's been pretty quiet on the announcement front. I'd say we can expect an update from next week's San Diego Comic Convention, with possibly a firm release date. In the meantime, if I see Karl at our local supermarket (it's happened before..) I'll ask him myself...


Friday, July 15, 2011

Auckland Zinefest 2011: Comics Preview

Above: a page from Into The Dark Woods by the Sheehan Bros. Copyright Sheehan Bros 2011.

At this weekend's Auckland Zinefest there will be a number of new NZ comics making their debut.
Here's an exclusive art preview of issue #3 of the Sheehan Bros' graphic novella Into The Dark Woods. It's only $3 and if you've missed the earlier issues, you can pick them all up for just $8!

Above: Into The Dark Woods by the Sheehan Bros. Copyright Sheehan Bros 2011.

Marc Steeter will also be there with a new comics collection ActionMan Adam: First Impressions (based on his popular webcomic that you can view HERE). It follows the romantic misadventures of Adam, an outgoing Canadian guy making his way in Christchurch, New Zealand. It's a huge 44 pages and comes in a pack with a badge and stickers for only $10!
Above: A box of customised ActionMan Adam: First Impressions. Copyright Marc Streeter 2011.

The print run is strictly limited to 46 copies, and to make it extra special: each and EVERY cover has been personally customised by Marc! (yes, that's 46 separately hand drawn backgrounds, you can view them all HERE). So be in fast to get your favourite cover.

Above: A page from ActionMan Adam by Marc Streeter. Copyright Marc Streeter 2011.

Marc's ActionMan Adam webcomic has recently started a new story-line reflecting the effects of the Christchurch earthquakes on Adam and his friends; it's a bold move and definitely worth checking out. You can follow the latest updates HERE.
Above: Darkest Day: Comics for Christchurch. Copyright Funtime Comics 2011.

Speaking of the Christchurch earthquake, the charity issue of Funtime Comics Darkest Day: Comics for Christchurch, devoted to raising funds for the victims of the Christchurch earthquakes will also be on sale from the NZ Comic Creators table. It features an all-star line-up of NZ comic creators for only $10, with all proceeds after printing costs going directly to the Red Cross.

The Zinefest Market takes place tomorrow at St Kevins Arcade, 179 Karangahape Road, Newton, from 12 noon - 5pm; so set aside some of your zine buying budget for these essential NZ comics!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

VIDEO: Auckland Writers & Readers Festival: Graphic Novels, Comics & Cartoons

Above: Dylan Horrocks talking comics.

A few months back I chaired a panel Graphic Novels, Comics and Cartoons, for the annual Auckland Writers & Readers Festival. Featuring some of the best and brightest minds in New Zealand comics and literature, I was joined by cartoonists Dylan Horrocks, Ant Sang, Chris Slane and YA author Karen Healey to discuss our love of the medium and the creative process.

If you weren't able to make on the day, the panel was filmed and is now available to view online!
Unfortunately the slides we're discussing aren't visible in the video, but as an exclusive bonus I'm happy to present them as a Slideshow below, so you'll be able to follow the conversation as we go.

Highlights: Ant reveals his in depth writing process and it's relation to screenwriting; Chris discusses how using google earth and historical research informs his work; Karen talks about the mistreatment of female characters in superhero comics, specifically the death of Spoiler from DC's Batman: War Games event; and Dylan dishes the dirt on working for DC Comics on that same event! (possibly with a Dan DiDio impersonation..?) But more to the point, he talks us through the creation of his latest serialised web-comic Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen.


*All Slideshow art and content is copyright it's respective rights holders.

PS: For our foreign viewers, yes that's a New Zealand accent...(Yikes...I know, go ask Anna Paquin if you don't believe me!).

Above: Chris Slane waxing lyrical on comics and how easy it is to draw Don Brash as a zombie...

Monday, July 11, 2011

EVENT: Auckland Zinefest 2011

Auckland Zinefest is already well under way, with plenty of events for fans of traditional DIY self-publishing in all it's forms; from magazines to comics and everything in between. The featured centerpiece of the event will be this Saturday's Zinefest Market, held at St Kevins Arcade, 179 Karangahape Road, Newton. From 12 noon - 5pm you'll be able to buy and browse a wide variety of zines and comics, as well as take part in special talks and activities.

Above and below: Photos from Auckland Zinefest 2010.

Featured events include: a talk by cartoonist Sam Orchard of Rooster Tails on 'Trans and Queer Web Comics'; a panel discussion 'Zines as a Tool for Resistance' organised by Rebel Press; and a binding workshop 'Inside Out' by David Merritt from Landrover Farm Press on how to recycle hardback covers, scavenged cardboard and flour sacks.

The New Zealand Comics Creators store will be there on the day, distributing the best of NZ comics from across the land. Web-cartoonist Marc Streeter will be on hand with a new comic-book from his popular web-comic ActionMan Adam, and the Sheehan Bros will have the latest issue of their immaculately presented graphic novella, Into The Dark Woods (return here for a special preview later this week!).

After a long day of Zine purchasing, you can unwind at the official Zinefest After Party held downstairs at The Wine Cellar from 8pm, featuring live band, karaoke and punch specials all night long.

There are plenty of other Zinefest events taking place this month, so visit the website HERE for more information and details.