Sign of the Hammer!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Goodbye 1936: PARAGON #15 and PARAGON Annual 2014

Within the space of a fortnight, TWO (yes, TWO!) mighty PARAGON publications, masterminded by small-press guru Dave Candlish, have been published. As is customary, here’s a few words on this festive coupling, since I’ve had a hand in both.

Part 1: The King and I

PARAGON #15 features Spencer Nero (in what will be, if you include the one and two-page stories, his 10th outing!) taking on that historical threat to traditional British values, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, lover of the King! Yep, the 1936 setting proves fertile once more, as Spencer finds himself embroiled in the abdication crisis. The story is a sort-of sequel to ‘Spencer Nero and the White Spider’, in that it features the return and secret origin of Nazi soul-eater, Saturn Reisen, but it also nods its head in the direction of several past stories. I am pleased that the strip has now reached the point where I can start referencing and building on elements of continuity, whilst still hopefully delivering an accessible done-in-one story. I’m particularly happy this story ended up in the winter issue of PARAGON, as it is set in December ’36 (yep, Spencer’s moving into 1937 next year!) and has snow in it for at least three panels. Of course, the real king of the story is artist Stephen Prestwood, who puts his stamp firmly on Spencer, and delivers some striking two-fisted, square-jawed action. He even draws good giant maggots – which is just as well, since Spencer seems to have adopted one, and intends to name it Iapetus, after one of Saturn’s moons.

Of course, #15 also features some stellar work from my fellow small-pressers. On the artistic front alone, this must be one of the most varied and yet accomplished issues so far, featuring wildly contrasting but no less aesthetically stunning pages. It’d be hard to name a favourite – Chris Askham’s brilliantly atmospheric work on Mark Howard's ‘Jikan: Demeter’ is a definite highlight, well-suited to a  script that features a great central conceit, a great final page, and an excess of vampiric hissing. Elsewhere in the issue, the wonderful El Chivo turns in some superb, energetic, characterful work, every figure chock-full of vigor and personality, whilst the Davey Candlish / Tom  Newell combo works together to stylish and elegant effect, illustrating the intriguing ‘Bludd & Xandi’ (with Icarus Dangerous now finished, PARAGON is honour-bound to feature a winged protagonist in at least one of its stories!) And of course, there’s Jim Cameron’s cute-but-sometimes-sinister work in ‘The Biggest Stick’, with an HdE script that, were it squished down to four pages, would be more than worthy of appearing in 2000AD as a Future Shock. It’s not hard to see why no less an authority than John Freeman reckoned this was the finest issue to date.
Part 2: Annual General Beating

Meanwhile, over in the PARAGON Annual 2014, Spencer enters a new and unexplored medium – prose! Based around the theme of board games (though I wrote it without realising Davey would be including a Jikan board game in the annual!) ‘Spencer Nero and the Chairman of the Board’ introduces a new foe for the Civil Centurion – Sors, God of Luck. It also reintroduces Oswald Gypsum, Mr. Alabaster’s nephew, from the ‘Ruthless Rhymer’ story. The story sees Spencer playing live-action Monopoly – the game was, of course, launched in Britain in 1936 (there’s that year again!)

I must admit, I found it really hard to settle on a story for the prose tale. My first thoughts involved a tale called ‘Spencer Nero and the Purple Prose’, in which form and content would match, and in which Spencer would find an ancient tome that encouraged ever more flowery and pretentious speech. However, I shelved that idea and decided instead to write a prose adaptation of a comic script I was working on, ‘Spencer Nero and the Pack’ - until I decided that one really did work better as a script after all. The same thing happened with another half-finished script, in which Spencer falls in love (!) – though I’m not telling you with whom or with what! Finally, I settled on the ‘board game’ idea, because it seemed well-suited to appearing in an annual published at a time of year when so many of such games get an airing.

Unlike with #15, I’m not going to discuss the rest of the annual, ‘cos I reckon it’s best approached like a treasure trove or a well-wrapped Christmas present – half the fun is ripping off the layers of shiny paper and discovering for yourself what joys lie within! Davey Candlish is pursuing a very specific aesthetic with this one, paying loving homage to the annuals of his youth, and I feel he’s succeeded very well in recreating the vibe he’s after. All I will say is that the annual also features familiar dose of Spanish nonsense – much as no nativity scene is complete without a caganer! And with that, I shall see you in 1937 – or 2014, if you prefer.

Sors bless us, every one!