Sign of the Hammer!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Gimme Toro, Gimme Some More!

Almost three years ago (has it really been that long?) artist David Broughton and I unleashed 'Martillo' on the world - a hefty comic about an angry priest with a sledgehammer, smiting evil in 1940s Spain. However, when I was scripting 'Martillo', I found myself particularly enjoying the dialogue and antics of one of the supporting cast, Detective Gallo of the Higher Police Corp. In the grumbling Gallo, I had a character who seemed permanently exasperated by everything around him - particularly the supernatural - and whose caustic retorts proved enormous fun to write. As such, David and I are currently working on a spin-off, which will see the loquacious lawman starring in his own comic. Set in 1949, 'Gallo' sees the balding, smart-arsed sleuth dealing once more with paranormal peril - peril intimately connected to his own troubled past. But now that Martillo's no longer around, will Gallo have to face it alone?

Well, no. Much as he might wish otherwise, Gallo has a new partner, the energetic young Toro - a courageous cop, far more practical than his predecessor, the notoriously incompetent Detective Moles. But why does it often seem as if Gallo would prefer a more useless partner? The answer, as ever, may lie in the psychic upheaval of the Spanish Civil War...

'Gallo' will consist of three linked stories, and at time of writing, looks likely to be a 32-page volume. The scripts are done and David has completed the art for the first story, which looks smashing - he's using a slightly different approach to light and shade from 'Martillo', which guarantees that 'Gallo' will be a striking-looking comic. More updates as we progress - for now, here's a sneak peak at Toro, a man who needs no red rag to spur him into action.

"You think I ain't worth a peseta, but I feel like a millionaire!" Art by David Broughton.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Paragon Paradox Part Three (Final Part, Honest!): Eliminate 'Er!

Welcome to the final part of my thoughts on 'The Paragon Paradox' - and rest assured, it is the final part. (First part here, second part here.) First, a few words on the artist currently known as Scott Twells - a remarkable talent. I first  encountered his work when he illustrated a yet-to-be-published story of mine for a yet-to-be-disclosed comic. Discussing his work with the editor, it struck me that though his style for that story was deliberately scratchy and cartoonish, it was also blessed with a remarkable sense of composition and some sublime posing. Oddly, Davey Candlish had also sent Scott a short Spencer Nero script to illustrate, which meant he ended up drawing two of my stories in quick succession - before being handed The Paragon Paradox on the strength of 'Spencer Nero Feels Your Pin'. The upshot is that only David Broughton has ever drawn more pages of my scripts* - a gent with whom he shares a similar talent for swiftness, without ever sacrificing quality.

Now for a few random observations:

Part One:

Lettering by Jim Campbell
  • The Dalmatian hanging out with Bulldog at the start is called Gooch - this is not a reference to any weird piercing (look it up! No, wait, don't!) but in fact a nod of the head to a book I enjoyed as a child, namely 'Mr. Gooch and the Penny-farthing', a story about some dogs that run a bicycle shop. The lead dog is a Dalmation in a boiler suit.

  • Mr. Twells notably places the number '18' on Bulldog's hangar - 'Hangar 18' is, of course, a key song on Megadeth's 'Rust In Peace', one of the greatest albums in the history of the human species. Ergo, I posit that Scott Twells is likely a thrasher of some description.

  • Ganesh's foe is a Promethean Eagle - the horrible thing that used to pull Prometheus's regenerating liver out on daily basis. At one point I was going to have Bulldog carried away by the eagle - until I remembered he'd just been carried off by a pterodactyl in his own series a couple of episodes ago!

Part Two:

Lettering by Dave Metcalfe-Carr
  • Jikan's arrival line is paraphrased from 'Shogun Assassin', in which Ogami Itto exclaims "They will pay... with rivers of blood!" On reflection this sounded a bit Enoch Powell, so I changed it. It wouldn't have been the most appropriate line for a story in which extradimensional immigrants threaten Britain...

  • Ekhidna's changed slightly from James Corcoran's depiction - she's a bit better looking (still got nice cheekbones) and actually closer to what I originally imagined she'd look like.

Part Three:

  • It struck me as I reached the end that this story is a Freudian nightmare - a gigantic archetypal mother-figure gets gang-banged mauled by a bunch of macho men. Someone had to articulate it (but not excuse it.)

Lettering by Ken Reynolds
  • Bulldog and the big hairy metaphor: Wait a minute - didn't I say in my last post that Bulldog was the most down to earth of the team? Why is he going all metaphorical here? Well, given his lineage and pre-eminent status as small-press icon, I decided he was the best person to articulate the subtext of the story - namely that it's all about the difference between small-press comics and the work of 'the big boys' (as Davey Candlish likes to call them) at Marvel and DC.  Ekhidna represents the latter - constantly repeating herself, squirting out debased copies of myths that once mattered, unable to do anything particularly original but always ready with a new #1. She's finally floored by the PARAGON characters, who of course represent the small-press: varied, versatile, hit-and-miss, off-the-wall and representing the true spirit of their creators. All done in the context of the crossover, that most quintessentially American of comics formats, filtered through PARAGON's 70s/80s Brit sensibility.

And that, as they say, is your lot!

*James Corcoran has drawn the same number as Scott.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Paragon Paradox Part Two: Tres Hombres (Plus One.)

Art on Paragon Paradox by Scott Twells - more on him in the next part!

Happy new year, and welcome to the second instalment of my rambling commentary on 'The Paragon Paradox' from PARAGON Annual 2016. (First part here.) In choosing my Paragon Patrol, I had three characters in mind from the off. Obviously I'd use Spencer Nero - Ekhidna was his nemesis, after all, and I figured his tendency to jump to conclusions might cause a bit of friction with his peers. But although leaning heavily on Spencer Nero continuity with the story, I wanted Jikan to take a leading role. He's the comic's flagship character - PARAGON's equivalent of Judge Dredd -  and I deliberately held back his arrival till Part Two to give it more impact. Jikan subsequently galvanises the team and is pivotal to all that happens afterwards. I've never written Jikan before, and whilst he looks like Toshiro Mifune, I originally thought he should probably come across like Tomisaburo Wakayama  - Ogami Itto from the 'Lone Wolf and Cub' movies. (Yeah, I know they're based on some remarkable comics - I have the first couple of volumes - but I saw the movies first and they've had a lasting impact.)  That notion didn't really stick - Jikan seems more amiable than the gruff Lone Wolf - but he does carry out some theatrically over-the-top blood-letting that is hopefully in the spirit of the films.

Lettering by Jim Campbell

Next up was Ganesh: a mainstay of early issues of PARAGON, who these days only appears in his 'Li'l Ganesh' or 'Oor Ganesh' incarnations (both of whom also make cameos.) I wanted to bring him back in his full atomic-stomping glory. I wrote him as quite knowing and slightly fed-up - he really just wants to get back to his celestial garden, but the universe keeps conspiring against him, in ways whose outcome is all too clear to him. I also gave him a slightly pompous side - he's a god amongst mortals, after all.

Spencer Nero's role in the story is basically to screw things up. Everything that happens is his fault (dating right back to PARAGON #13) and he doesn't make things any better by picking fights with his team-mates, getting his uncle into difficulties, and breaking the entire multiverse.
It's a running theme that Spencer is often architect of his own troubles, or at least doesn't always make things easier for himself, and that plays out in spades here. But what's really significant is that this is the story that properly settles whether or not the Janus Mask does actually have mystic powers, or whether it's all in Spencer's head. It turns out it does indeed have remarkable, untapped powers - but Spencer's spent fifteen years using it on its most basic 'setting'! Might we now witness him trying to explore these powers in future stories? We shall see. There's something of same conceit here that Arnold Rimmer faced in Red Dwarf: Back to Reality - the suggestion that he was stuck playing the useless-gimp-cover-identity of a vastly more capable secret agent.

So, who would the fourth man be? Originally, I thought Icarus Dangerous might be good, not least since he actually hails from Ancient Greece, and would therefore be a logical fit with Ekhidna. I imagined Spencer Nero would look at him with the same kind of star-struck awe in which teenage girls view boy bands - a living, breathing person from classical mythology! But that didn't prove possible, so Davey Candlish suggested I use Bulldog. Bulldog was created by Jason Cobley, who very kindly agreed to let me write his character - for a brief history, have a look at Jason's blog here.

Bulldog I saw as working-class (even though he's an officer), effective and fairly blunt - the sort of chap who might prick the pomposity of the more flamboyant members of the team, and undercut their pretensions with a dry quip. Bulldog's role swiftly became the guy who gets things done - the reliable, sensible backbone of the squad. Compared to the other three, he seemed a much more straightforward, much less troubled character. In some strange way, it felt to me like having Bulldog in the story somehow 'legitimised' it, helping draw a clear line to some thirty years of small-press comics history (but more on that in the next post.)

So, this was the team, with a few others pencilled in as cameos, to show Ekhidna's impact on various parallel worlds. Except, in my original synopsis, Ekhidna was only the first villain the heroes would face - she'd swiftly be superseded by a related character (and, in even earlier drafts, his minions too), out for revenge. I'm not going to name these fellas here, as I still hope to bring them into 'Spencer Nero' in the future, but if you know your Greek mythology, you'll know that Ekhidna didn't create most of the monsters of antiquity on her own...

The problem was, of course, that this was wildly overambitious, and as usual, I was trying to squeeze too much in. At one stage, I even wanted some of the PARAGON heroes to end up stuck in the dimensions of the cameo characters - I had a plan that they'd have to escape from Oor Ganesh's Dudley Watkins dimension, in which Spencer Nero (secretly Scottish - see PARAGON Annual 2015) might end up going native. Actually, I still like that idea - might make for an interesting Nero two-or-three pager.

Oor Ganesh, by Davey Candlish

Anyway, that's quite enough for now. In the next and final part of this series of posts, I'll provide commentary on the finished strip itself, speculate on whether Scott Twells likes thrash metal, and explain what the story's really all about...

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Paragon Paradox Part One: Master of Sparks

A homage to... something, not quite sure what. Pencils / inks by Davey Candlish, colours by Jim Cameron

The PARAGON Annual 2016 is out, in more formats than you can shake a rabid badger at. (Not that shaking tends to work - they just tighten their monochromatic grip.) So, if you want to see Spencer Nero, Jikan, Bulldog and Battle Ganesh team up to punch extradimensional evil (and each other) in the face, here's your chance. And here's mine too, to indulge in a multi-part blogging bout, in which I take a self-indulgent look at the genesis and development of 'The Paragon Paradox', my story for the annual. But first - here's how to get hold of the book in the incarnation of your choice.

The hardback:

The paperback:

The e-book:

Just 'The Paragon Paradox' itself:

And now, let's turn the clock back to find out how the story came into being. Feel free to wobble productively - this is a flashback after all...

In the worlds before PARAGON, primal chaos reigned...

'The Paragon Paradox' all began with Stephen Prestwood - specifically, this smashing picture that he drew of various PARAGON heroes, standing around looking tough.

Crossover candidates

Davey Candlish stuck it up on the PARAGON blog in March 2015, and I happened to mention we now needed a story where they all teamed-up and fought some interdimensional menace. Of course, saying something like that in front of Dave is like dipping yourself in gravy and dancing naked in front of a man-eating tiger - you can't be surprised when he bites. So it was decided there and then I was to script the multi-hero tale - a tale which the inspirational Mr. Prestwood suggested be titled 'The Paragon Paradox'.

Looking back at my notes, it seems I almost immediately decided to link the whole thing into Spencer Nero continuity by featuring Ekhidna, the extradimensionally-exiled Mother of all Monsters from 'Spencer Nero Goes South' in PARAGON #13. I could have come up with some other interdimensional menace, but since I already had one waiting, why not use her? I'd had plans to write a story called 'Spencer Nero's Army', in which he and various characters from his adventures to-date all teamed up to travel to Ekhidna's realm and rescue his uncle, so I thought I might use this basic framework for the crossover.

Panel from 'Spencer Nero Goes South', art by James Corcoran

I definitely wanted this story to 'count', for Spencer at least - I like crossovers that are very squarely part of a character's continuity, rather than ones that are detached, and never mentioned again. The Judge Dredd / Batman and Judge Dredd / Alien crossovers are perfect examples of the former - both draw on existing continuity, have some impact on Dredd's world, and are obliquely referenced further down the line.

So with that in mind (and deciding also that if I used Spencer's continuity, I had to make damn sure he didn't dominate the story), I had to choose my cast. It wasn't realistic to feature all the characters from Stephen's original drawing in major roles - this wasn't Crisis on Infinite Earths - so I decided to boil it down to a squad of four... a Paragon Patrol.

In the next post, I'll explain, who, why, and what they were originally going to get up to...

Saturday, 26 September 2015

I'm #18 and I like it!

Well, give or take twenty-years. But I'm never one to let the facts get in the way of an Alice Cooper-based pun, and the release of PARAGON #18 gives me that opportunity. Two Spencer Nero tales in this one  - aside, of course, from another smashing instalment of 'Bulldog and Panda' by Cobley / Prestwood / Campbell, and a particularly notable episode of Jikan from Howard / El Chivo / Caliber. Here's a few words on 'Spencer Nero and the Reckless Return of the Ruthless Rhymer'.

This story is a sequel to the original 'Ruthless Rhymer' two-pager from PARAGON #13, back in the mists of 2013 (Yikes! Time moves fast in the small-press world!) That tale was drawn by Neil 'Bhuna' Roche, and I loved his design for the Rhymer so much that I was moved to write a lengthier tale of the vicious versifier. The Rhymer is inspired by the cruel and hilarious writings of poet Harry Graham, but he's also very autobiographical - the Rhymer is the impatient side of me that gets annoyed by selfishness, thoughtlessness, bumbling, and general idiocy, the short-tempered side that wants to dish out ridiculously disproportionate justice to the irritating. As such, writing his antics proves very therapeutic - although his outrage inevitably makes things worse for him in the long run. I particularly enjoy writing in rhyme - rhyming stories have become a bit of a PARAGON tradition - and it's always a welcome challenge trying to get the meter right.

Art is by Nero-newcomer Dave Snell, who does an intensely characterful and atmospheric job - I absolutely love his scornful, self-satisfied and yet rather hapless Rhymer - exactly how the character should be

To finish up, here's a few random observations:
  • Can you spot the signed picture of Aleister Crowley on Mr. Alabaster's desk?
  • Also on page 1, the Rhymer's resurrection is a bit of a tribute to the end of the movie 'Carrie'.
  • The large ladies in the elevator on page 3 are a tad Beryl Cook - something which has cropped up in my stories before.
  • That's William Kitt in the museum on page 4 - the most chameleonic character in Spencer's supporting cast, he's like the David Bowie of the strip, when it comes to changing his look all the time.
  • Spencer is borrowing Homer Simpson's 'think unsexy thoughts' routine on page 5.
  • Page 6 sees Edward Lear in full fight - Davey Candlish is a real fan of this poet (though I didn't know that when I wrote the story.) In fact, Davey told me he'd had a recitation of The Owl and the Pussycat at his wedding!
  • Page 8 gives me the excuse to bring back the Rhymer any time I want - but given the conclusion to the story, I'm not sure how much rhyming he'll be doing!

Unfortunately, magic gremlins got into the works when the story was published, and replicated a speech balloon from a previous page atop the climatic panel - so here's said panel as it was meant to be seen. Cut it out and stick it into your copy - or paste it onto the screen if you're reading digitally!


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Spencer Nero's Secret - The Lost Chapter

The 2015 PARAGON annual (still on sale here or FREE to download here!) contains a prose Spencer Nero story revealing the Civil Centurion’s darkest secret  – he’s actually Scottish! Clearly, this is a shameful state of affairs for such a bastion of civilised Englishness (and murderous Romanosity), but it was always part of my plan for the character. In fact, it’s even in the original pitch for the series I made to PARAGON editor Dave Candlish, which is preserved for posterity at the back of the Spencer Nero Compendium

However, what’s not  so well-documented is the fact that ‘Spencer Nero’s Secret’ was originally a chapter longer, and featured a fight with an ungodly Orcadian stoor-worm. I cut this chapter, because I felt the story was going off on too much of a tangent, and taking too long to get to a key conflict, but on reading it again, there are bits I quite enjoy, so I thought I’d stick it up here as a piece of Nero apocrpyha. One aspect of the lost chapter is alluded to in the published story, but sadly, there was no room for the stoor worm. Enjoy.

[Afflicted with a spiritual virus which he’s keeping at bay by wearing the Janus Mask, Spencer heads to Orkney, to fight the mythical beast that’s infected him.]

Part Four: The Flying Scotsman

Teddy Talbot had many unique qualities, but ‘tactful’ and ‘restrained’ were not amongst them. His blithe disregard for other people’s feelings or personal comfort was made all the worse by his position as in-house pilot for some of the more obscure civil service bodies, including the Department of Collusion, the Department of Oversight, and the Department of Contingency. Not only did Teddy frequently regale his passengers with the grisly details of what might happen in the case of a catastrophic engine failure, he often had the privilege of flying Spencer Nero to his latest destination, and would spend most of the trip speculating cheerfully on ways the Civil Centurion might meet his fate.  When dropping him off over the invisible Island of the Naztecs, for instance, he’d expressed his sincere wish that Spencer wouldn’t drown. When taking him to the Alps to tackle the North Face of the Eiger, he’d invited Spencer to consider the possible impact of below-the-belt frostbite, and to decide in advance whether he’d “keep them in a jar if they fell off from the cold.”

Thankfully, however, Teddy wasn’t even slightly Scottish, which made it safe enough for him to transport Janus. It was a rather like delivering a temperamental and highly explosive bomb to its target. As such, Teddy was sure to treat his cargo with the care and respect it deserved.

“Crikey, you’ve got a shiny face, haven’t you?” he asked, once the plane – a sleek and single-winged Percival Gull - had taken off. “Haven’t you, though? You have, haven’t you? What do you polish that with then?”

The skin of the fallen,” replied Janus, who was seated directly behind Teddy, his impossibly baritone voice redolent with menace.

“Oh, right. Do you ever use someone’s face to shine your face?” asked Teddy. “That’d be funny, wouldn’t it? It’d be a bit like kissing them, I suppose.”

Janus’s fists clenched visibly. “Tace,” he intoned – a simple request for Teddy to cease talking.

“Was that Latin?” asked Teddy. “Of course, you’re Roman, aren’t you? Reminds me of a joke: what’s behind Spencer Nero’s mask? Only a Roman knows. Get it? Knows? Nose? Get it? Get it? It’s good, isn’t it?”

Listen,” commanded Janus, his voice so deep the fuselage shook. “Janus delights only in carnage or the promise of carnage. Survive by silence.

Teddy’s eyes widened and he nodded his head, looking oddly thoughtful for a moment. Janus did not relax – such a thing was virtually impossible – but his fists became a measure less clenched.

“On the Good Ship Lollipop!” exclaimed Teddy suddenly, apropos of nothing. Janus simply stared at him, a disturbing twitch visible in his left eye.

“You know, the Shirley Temple song about the airplane?” asked Teddy. “Go on, sing it! With your voice, it’d be bloomin’ hilarious! Go on, sing it. Sing it! I’ll start you off. ‘On the good ship Lollipop, it’s a sweet trip to the candy shop, where bon-bons play...’ Come on, join in!”

Janus began to grind his teeth together, producing a noise that sounded like tectonic plates shifting.

It was going to be a long flight.

They were headed for the northern cluster of islands which comprised Orkney, near which the beast was known to lurk - a fact suggested by folklore and confirmed by the tarot cards of Mr. Alabaster. 

It is probable that Teddy avoided dismemberment only because the idea of dismembering the Nuckalavee (a much more interesting creature, anatomically speaking, with multiple limbs, torsos and heads, all ready to be ripped off) proved more tantalising. It was, however, a close-run thing. A stop-off for fuel in Aberdeen provided Janus with merciful respite, and when a vast Stoor Worm erupted from the sea near the isle of Hoy and nearly plucked the plane from the sky, it came as a particularly welcome distraction. 

The Worm was a horrid, segmented, rubbery thing. It was almost as tall as the Big Ben clock tower, though not nearly as thick, dripping with brine and tipped with a monstrous gnashing maw. Its black, oily skin was covered with projecting jelly-like fronds, which flapped unpleasantly as the creature spiralled and writhed, lunging at the plane. 

“Blimey – does that thing work for the Knuckle bloke you’re after?” asked Teddy, veering the Percival Gull sharply away from the snapping worm. “Or did it just wake up on the wrong side of the reef?”

Num importatis,” stated Janus flatly, and began to open the plane’s canopy.

“If you say so,” replied Teddy. “This is the bit where you hop out and I clear off, right?”


“Well, chances are you’ll get eaten or crushed - or you might just expire from that plague of yours first - but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you anyway,” Teddy told Janus, as the latter scrambled out, digging his fingers into the very metal of the fuselage itself to maintain his position. “Won’t put any money on you surviving, of course – I mean, I’m not that stupid – but stranger things have happened. Cheerio!”

And with a profound and all-consuming sense of relief, Janus leapt from the plane and straight into the Stoor Worm’s mouth. As its warm, wet gullet enveloped him, and its many rows of teeth began to tear into his flesh, one thought resonated above all others in Janus’s mind.

His day was finally starting to get better.

Part Five: The Rammy

At the foot of the merciless cliffs of Hoy, from which Jock Numinous had plunged the previous night, an odd vessel eventually floated to shore. Someone well-versed in both folk and nautical lore might have suggested it looked like an impromptu dinghy, constructed from the insides of a Stoor Worm and using its uvula as a sail, but no such person bore witness.

Janus emerged from the fleshboat and clambered onto land. His skin was cut, his clothes were torn, and he was covered in a thin, semi-transparent layer of pharyngeal mucus, but if anything, there was a spring in his step. Swiftly, he traversed the rocks and began gathering up flat blades of mustard-coloured seaweed, heaping them together in a pile...

Friday, 26 June 2015

David and Goliath

Well, 'Goliath and Goliath' really, according to the press! For 'Martillo' has just got the loveliest review imaginable over on Down the Tubes, courtesy of dear Owen Watts. Check it out here. What I particularly enjoyed about Owen’s sparkling prose was how bloomin’ insightful the review was – it’s funny to think that I’ve now written enough small-press comics that I’ve got an identifiable style or obvious area of interest. According to Owen, I tend towards: “Insane cultural & historical mash-ups – and ludicrously ambitious set pieces” – and you know what? It’s pretty hard to argue with that. Thanks, Owen!