Tuesday, May 22, 2018

FIRST LOOK: Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas by Ant Sang & Michael Bennett

Above:  The cover for Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas by Ant Sang & Michael Bennett

Coming this July, Penguin Random House NZ presents a new graphic novel,  Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas from award-winning authors Ant Sang & Michael Bennett. And I've got an exclusive first look at some of the artwork!

In this exciting sci-fi adventure, Helen is kidnapped by time-travelling ninjas and thrust into the year 2355 — a ruined future with roving gangs and ‘Peace Balls’, giant humming devices that enslave and control people’s minds. The Go-Go Ninjas have one goal: to destroy the Peace Balls. They believe that Helen knows how. Can Helen use her knowledge of the past to help them save the future?

Above: Preview pages from Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas by Ant Sang & Michael Bennett. Copyright  Ant Sang & Michael Bennett 2018. 

Ant Sang is one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed cartoonists and graphic novelists. His books have been published in New Zealand, North America, the United Kingdom, France and Taiwan. His bestselling graphic novel Shaolin Burning won an Honour Award at the 2012 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, and was in the Top Ten of the Nielsen BookScan charts for ten weeks. His cult comic series The Dharma Punks was released in 2014 as a graphic novel after a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, hitting its target goal after five days. Ant has also been a featured speaker at Taipei International Book Exhibition, and his work has featured in exhibitions. One of the original key creatives of the acclaimed television series Bro'Town, Ant won Achievement in Production Design awards for his work on the show.

Above: Preview pages from Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas by Ant Sang & Michael Bennett. Copyright  Ant Sang & Michael Bennett 2018. 

Michael Bennett (Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Whakaue) is an award-winning New Zealand screenwriter and author whose films have been selected for numerous festivals including Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and New York. In 2008 Michael was the inaugural recipient of the Writers Award from the New Zealand Film Commission, and in 2005 he was awarded the British Council/New Zealand Writers Foundation Award. In 2011 Michael’s feature film Matariki won Best Feature Film Screenplay at the New Zealand Screenwriting Awards, and in 2013 he was awarded Best Documentary Screenplay for his documentary on the Teina Pora case, The Confessions of Prisoner T. He went on to publish In Dark Places in 2016, which won Best Non-Fiction Book at the Ngaio Marsh Awards and Best Biography/History at the Nga Kupu Ora Awards 2017.

Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas will be released in bookstores everywhere on July 2nd, he's the product information:

Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas 
Ant Sang & Michael Bennett 
ISBN: 9780143771241

- AK!

Above: Preview pages from Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas by Ant Sang & Michael Bennett. Copyright  Ant Sang & Michael Bennett 2018.

Road to Armageddon: Tauranga and Christchurch 2018

The Armageddon Expo machine rolls on, with pop-culture events coming to Tauranga this weekend and Christchurch over Queens Birthday Weekend! 

The events will feature a star-studded line-up of TV and film guests, including: a dynasty of Luthors: John Shea (Lex Luthor from Lois & Clark) and Katie McGarth (Lena Luthor from Supergirl); as well a healthy guest list from the Arrowverse of DC Comics shows: Katrina Law, Paul Blackthorne, Echo Kellum, David Nykl (Arrow), Keiynan Lonsdale (The Flash) and Mehcad Brooks (Supergirl). Other TV guests include: Garrett Wang (Star Trek: Voyager), Lauren German and Lesley-Ann Brandt (Lucifer), Daniel Portman (Game of Thrones), animation guests Christy Carlson Romano (Kim Possible), Brad Swaile (Death Note), WWE wrestler "Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, and international Cosplayer Ashlynne Dae.

Above: Comics guest Sloane Leong.

On the comics side of things, the international comics guest is Sloane Leong. Sloane is a self-taught cartoonist, artist and writer of Hawaiian, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Choctaw, Welsh and German ancestries. She explores themes of survival, displacement, relationships, spirituality, identity and mental illness through literary vehicles like science fiction, horror, adventure and slice-of-life genres.

Her work focuses on exploring silenced narratives from marginalized communities and people of color, to connect personally with individuals through storytelling, with an aim to cultivate a kinder, more understanding future. She has been self-publishing her own comics since she was 16 and has done various work for companies like Image Comics, Top Cow, Cartoon Network, DC, Dark Horse, Boom! and many more. Her current projects include: A Map to the Sun, to be published by First Second in 2019, and Prism Stalker from Image Comics.

The NZCC (New Zealand Comic Creators) will have a presence at both conventions, featuring a great selection of locally published comics titles from NZ cartoonists. I'll be attending the Tauranga convention with cartoonist/artist Ross Murray (Rufus Marigold), and the Funtime Comics team will be on hand for the Christchurch event. Local comics publisher Beyond Reality Media will also have a booth with their latest graphic novel releases!

Armageddon Tauranga will be held on May 26-27th, at the ASB Baypark Arena (81 Truman Lane, Mount Maunganui) from 10am to 5pm both days (Early Access from 9am available Sat 26th only). Tickets are available now through iTicket HERE, and at the gate on the day.

Christchurch Armageddon will be held on June 2-4th 2018, at the Horncastle Arena, Queen's Birthday Weekend. Open from 9am to 5pm all three days. Tickets are available now through Ticketek HERE, and at the gate on the day.

For more information on these events, visit the Armageddon Expo website HERE.

- AK!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

REVIEW: Out of the Woods by Brent Williams

Above: The cover of Out of the Woods by Brent Williams, illustrated by Korkut Öztekin.

In 2009 Brent Williams was a successful lawyer based in Wellington. He had build a career working in community law, creating services and resources to help vulnerable people - particularly children, and victims of domestic violence. After completing two major projects - the implementation of the Care of Children Act and the Parenting Through Separation Programme for the Family Court, he became unwell and was unable to continue working as a lawyer.

The graphic novel opens with a atmospheric scene of Brent returning home on a stormy night, the darkness of his kitchen enveloping him, growing into a claustrophobic forest of unease. He forces himself to 'snap out of it', he'll find his own solution to this situation - take a test, find the cure to this unseen force robbing him of his life and career. After exploring a variety of medical options, it's suggested that his symptoms point to the cause of his illness as depression. His first response is denial - "you can't be right, I'm a strong person!". He continues to try to work though it on his own, alienating himself form friends and family in the process. But after an anxiety attack, Brent finally acknowledges his illness and seeks help through counseling, to begins the journey of recovery - finding a path through the dark woods of depression back to the light.

Above: A page from Out of the Woods by Brent Williams, illustrated by Korkut Öztekin.

Williams' story is well told, and uses the visual medium of comics to its full potential, communicating a difficult subject in a clear fashion that is both relatable and dynamic. He does a great job of relating the world through his perspective during his illness - the colour is literally drained out of him and his surroundings, the artwork become blurry or jagged as anxiety and hallucinations set in. We also get to witness the quiet serenity of his good days, when the joy of simply living and enjoying music or a bike ride keeps depression at bay.

He's found a great collaborator in this project with Turkish illustrator, Korkut Öztekin. Previously known for his work on horror comics like Clive Barker's Hellraiser,  Öztekin is a master of atmosphere; communicating the inner turmoil and dread of depression, while still keeping the story grounded in reality. There's some great visual metaphors weaved into the storytelling, the hanging branches of a tree as a stand-in for the lungs is a nice example of using the visuals to reinforce the text. The spectre of death haunts several scenes at the story's darkest moments without feeling melodramatic; making plain just how high the stakes can be in the depths of depression.

Above: A page from Out of the Woods by Brent Williams, illustrated by Korkut Öztekin.

During his counselling, Williams revisits some of his childhood memories, particularly the overbearing presence of his father, well known property developer and philanthropist Sir Arthur Williams. Publicly, Sir Arthur was a respected leader of NZ society, but behind the doors of Williams' Karori home, domestic violence was a daily occurrence. Williams is bravely candid in sharing these revelations which help unlock his depression and sets him on the path to recovery, and will no doubt help inspire others to overcome their own feelings of self-doubt and anxiety about seeking help for depression.

Above: A page from Out of the Woods by Brent Williams, illustrated by Korkut Öztekin.

Out of the Woods has already found international acclaim, recently winning a silver medal at the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Awards. As graphic novels continue to branch out into previously unexplored areas of storytelling, Out of the Woods is a fine example of a graphic novel that uses the medium to tackle a difficult subject, and make a real difference.

Out of the Woods:  A Journey Through Depression and Anxiety
Brent Williams with Korkut Öztekin
ISBN: 9780473390068
$39.99 NZ

Brent Williams will be appearing this weekend at the Auckland Writers Festival, for a free event, Speaker's Corner: Into the Woods. For more information, you can visit the Auckland Writers Festival website HERE.

For more information on Out of the Woods, you can visit the book's website HERE.

If you suffer from depression or feel you are in crisis and need to talk to someone, please consider calling one of the following help lines:
Lifeline New Zealand: 0800 543 354 (Help anyone - 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (Help anyone - 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (Help young people & their families - 24/7)
Find a list of specialist NZ helplines here 
The Lowdown – Help young New Zealanders recognise and understand depression or anxiety
Depression.org – Help New Zealanders recognise and understand depression or anxiety

- AK!