We Are Comics – It is an aspirational title for sure, but what does it mean? Is it just a sound byte for the short attention span youth of today or does it reflect the mainstream mistreatment of the heroes we have been forced to endure? At Leeds Thought Bubble I was unknowingly drawn to the Madius table because the enthusiasm was rambunctious, as they seem to spread much further outward than the allotted space. This as good as any introduction to the ethos of Madius comics.
Rob Jones has been a twitter friend of mine for a number of years now and we have always tried to meet, unfortunately quite unsuccessfully. Though it is certain that I would never had had such a glorious welcome as I did at the Madius table, as his booming voice and giant size bellowed his love for the work he is doing and the comics he is promoting. Personally as a writer who initially started reviewing in order to write comics, Rob had succeeded in living the comic dream that I still hope for. So with a degree of pride and admiration I asked him how Madius was born.
“Madius comics came about because myself and a group of like minded individuals; Nick Gonzo, Mike Sambrook and Brad Holman were looking to release our own comics. We looked at submission avenues for other established small press and indie groups and decided amongst ourselves that we wanted to release comics our own way, under our own rules and in our own style. We’re a bunch of misfits really, and together we figured we could work as a tribe, a collective, sharing stories, creating and forging links with artists who we could work together with on projects and tackle the vast reaches of the ocean of comics which stretched out in front of us.“
It is impressive that these friends managed to create and develop a company out of pure passion and drive for the art form. They represent a divergent set of skills that enable the links to function as a whole. Nick Gonzo has been in the field for a while with comics such as Harvey Spig and Punk Rock Apocalypse, whereas Brad Holman has the print design experience base. Rob and Mike Sambrook represent the fresh creative driving force and have been toying with ideas for a while, with Rob being the excitable enthusiast and Mike the editing voice of reason. This skill mix presented an opportunity in being to create and produce comics, and so they went on their journey: All they needed was a name. Though the Wiki entry for Madius is a Scythian king that invaded and subjugated media, as catchy and pretentious as that sounds, that is not the rationale for the name. It is a combination of madness and genius, which is a line that they felt captured the books they were producing.
As I purchased the full gonzo at the convention, I had the welcome opportunity to read every one of their titles. Though there is no clear thematic to the company, there are certainly a variety of comic tropes presented producing an something for everyone approach. It is a pleasant side effect of giving the creators free reign to their imagination but at the same time create comics that cover a lot of ground. Let us have a look at what Madius has to offer:
This is a very deceptive comic because on the surface it seems like a simplistic spaceman comic with little detail and hand written speech bubbles. Soon enough you realise that those are the endearing qualities because there is a sweet and caring character at its heart. In fact as soon as the antagonist appears with the heavy blacked aggressive typeface, you find yourself standing behind the spaceman for protection. There is a wonderful sense of perspective with a humbleness appearing from nowhere as the protagonist interacts with other travellers. Above all it is his ship that will never let him down with a deep rapport that will hopefully be explored as the comic progresses. Certainly a great example of Nick Gonzo’s writing and adept artistry.
Funk Soul Samurai
There is a penchant these days to bring a traditional martial arts culture into the present time by adding a modern twist to it. We have had the Afro Samurai and the Shaolin Cowboy, and now we have the funk soul samurai. Where this comic shines is the sheer colour and dynamism of the fighting. There is little writing in this book but you can imagine a funk soundtrack that would accompany the frenetic violence this book employs.
This book is certainly targeted to the younger audiences and Drew Bristow has the single line animal expressions down to perfection. Sometimes the panels appear to be from too far out for this to be fully appreciated but they are key to the humour of the book. Shirley Ramlock is the greatest goat detective and with Mr Pigling by his side, there are all sorts of capers to be had. The writing by Sambrook and Jones is delightfully hilarious and even when it isn’t you don’t even notice because the central characters are somewhat half-witted anyway! The first issue is a great starter but I expect it to be more refined as it beds in with coming issues.
This is a last human on Earth story and the first issue is the build to that. The writing by Jones and McKenzie is very british and thus brings
refreshment to the have-a-go loser that Joe is. What is interesting is Brad Holman’s art which is certainly distinctive. The exaggerative facial features of Joe almost feel like we are viewing him from a camera attached to his head, like the television show Peep Show. It works for an interesting effect, and Id be interesting to see how this transitions into the zombie thematic to come.
Papercuts and Inkstains
This would appear to be the lead title as there are actually four issues and they present mini stories throughout. Some are one shots and there are those that continue in subsequent issues. Many stories play on ironic tones and drive you into a direction you would expect and then hit you with a twist which is often quite amusing. These include the facts that there is no actual escape from zombies and the dementia patients recalling stories of fear and forgetting in the dark. There are a number of highlights:
Profits of Doom – The everyday people dabbling in the arcane arts but unleashing all manner of hell is particularly entertaining and amusing. What really shines is the lovely art of Mike Smith and his beautiful inking.
Cast Adrift – Some black comedy hits as the space exploration goes horrifically wrong with a dark twist. The black and white art is heavy and based in the shadows which really bears out the fear and terror.
A Roll of the Dice – Angela Sprecher is glorious on the art in this book and has that Beano-esque exaggerative feel to it. Works fantastically with the comedic western plotline with the expected carnage to boot.
FPS – Dan Butcher is exemplary on this short with the most intense artwork from a first person perspective. It is graphic and hideous with quite a serious undertone. Once again Jones hits us with the most unexpected and disturbing twist!
Tragic Tales of Horrere
Now this is my favourite comic of the Madius group because every story has the most fantastic artwork. Jones and Sambrook are great at writing the terror and horror niche with great nuances to stamp their uniqueness to. Neil Ford is brilliant on If You Go Down The Woods Today with quite esoteric and unnerving faces, from monsters to humans alike. Alastair McLauchlan demonstrates beautifully atmospheric shading The Aufhocker, another tale of ghouls told in the dark of night. Alisdair Wood draws so professionally as there is a wonderful degree of consistency in the detailing of all the characters in Grimoire:Baby Bell Jar. As the story progresses to its horrific and scary ending, the characters become more and more terrifying. My favourite work is by Gareth Sleightholme in You Are What You Eat because his immaculate detailing is consistent from close up and afar. In fact it is not just that but he builds a scene with such depth and texture by the way in which he shades. It is a joy to look at and the story builds to quite the uneasy twist.
The Madius catalogue begins very strongly indeed and those books that haven’t started great have foundations that can certainly be built upon. Nick Gonzo certainly has some hidden depth that is developing in his books and both Jones and Sambrook can open a story with a strong premise. As they continue to write they will craft their own path towards the ready made tropes many comics have engaged with, but I do enjoy the genuinely unexpected twists to the shorts. What impresses about Madius comics is not only the professional production with quality paper and printing, but the high degree of artistic quality. Both Papercuts and Inkstains and Tragic Tales of Horrere contain some pages worthy of any mainstream publication. In such a short space of time, these gentlemen should be very pleased with the work they have produced.
It would be even more interesting to find out how they assembled the artists for the comics and how much longevity they can maintain giving the financial burdens of a start up comic company. If the passion to create has got them this far then I can only wonder how much they will progress with such a driving force. And not only that, but then they are fully deserving of the title, We Are Comics.