24 Panels – Comics Anthology

On June 2017, the Grenfell fire killed 72 people in a 24-story tower block in West London.

24 PANELS is an anthology comic to support the PTSD needs of the survivors. Curated by KIERON GILLEN (THE WICKED + THE DIVINE), it features 24 stories, each no longer than 24 panels. Half drawn from professional creators who volunteered their time and half drawn from open submissions, 24 PANELS is about community, hope, and (most of all) raising as much money as possible…

As I was personally offered this comic anthology for review, I was very honoured and excited to take part due to the reason this comic was put together.  What a creative way to show solidarity and support in times of adversity…

This anthology has very impressive art work and short storylines – with some stories I wish they were a bit longer than it was, but they were great nonetheless.. It was difficult to choose a favourite but I really liked Bagan Burma 2040, a culturally infused Burmese comic, I also enjoyed Dream Job which was a choose your own adventure type comic and They Say which is an important story that demonstrates how everyone has their own story half the time things that are said about you may not be true as people really don’t truly know what happens behind the scenes – everyone is dealing with their own battles you don’t know about..

A great collection of comics, great illustrations, story lines – recommended to graphic novel and comics fans and it is available for purchase online – proceeds go to supporting those affected by the Grenfell fire in 2017.

Special thanks to co-author of Above the Grave Mitchell Hall for having me on board to read and review this wonderful comics anthology..

-Annie

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Above the Grave (Graphic Novel) + Exclusive Blog Q&A with the artists/authors Mitchell Hall and Andrew de Zilva

Rick Mastertine is having a bad first day on the job. He’s getting grief from his “customers”, staff and boss. His place of employment? He’s the new chief warden of Mako, the world’s super villain prison, located deep in the Namibian desert and converted from an old diamond mine.

Can Rick uncover the true secret of Mako, while preventing an ingenious jailbreak by the likes of the shape-shifting Mister Twister, luck manipulating Russian Roulette, sentient tree Davine and brilliant crocodile-man hybrid Crocitis?

Image from: Above the Grave

Blog Q&A Exclusive with artists/authors – Mitchell Hall and Andrew de Zilva…

When did you both decide to co-write your comic book “Above the Grave” and how did you come to this decision?

M: I mentioned it to Andrew and at that stage had it as an issued comic mini-series. Andrew liked the idea of the story and expanded out the story and wrote it out in a Screenplay format.

A: This would have started about ten years ago. Mitchell has oodles of story ideas but there was something about this concept that really grabbed me, plus I thought the characters were fun and distinctive. It goes deeper than that though, as Mitchell established some themes that resonated with me. For example, at the time I was a supervisor and on one level Rick, as the warden, is a middle manager so I could identify with his issues working at Mako! The tone was also right up my alley, it’s really a big, brash action-comedy. I stayed true to those aspects while expanding the story with among other things Rick’s redemption arc and I introduced a few more characters to drive the expanded plot.

How do you structure the content, for example, does one write while the other illustrates and do you go through several drafts of writing and illustrations before you get to your finished product?

A: With the story, there was a baton passing from Mitchell to myself. Once I took the baton, I ensured I kept Mitchell’s authorial voice throughout the many subsequent drafts. Only once I thought the story was nailed down did I begin drawing because I knew it would be a lot of effort to redraw pages. However, I ended up redrawing about 40% of the panels anyway because this was the first comic I ever drew and I learned many lessons about comic storytelling as I went along! This, by the way, was only possible because I drew it digitally.

It looks like a lot of work went into “Above the Grave” was this a long journey just to put content together for publication?

M: Oh it was a LONG Journey. From concept to writing and Andrew learning on the job and drawing it at the same time took many years.

A: To be honest, at first I was too scared to want to draw it myself. I had always liked drawing but to bring this story to fruition, I was only too aware it meant I would have to draw many things I had never drawn before and the volume of drawings needed was going to be huge, something in the order of 500 panels. But thanks to Mitchell’s encouragement (and prodding), I took the plunge. It was really intimidating sitting with that first blank page in front of me on the drawing table knowing I had 136 pages to do. In fact, I might have even said to myself I’ll just do the first 20 then we’ll get someone else to do the rest. But you know what they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

After I finished drawing there was still the lettering to do! Not a glamorous part of creating comics, I can tell you.

Now that’s it’s done, we couldn’t be prouder.

What was the inspiration for the characters you use and the storyline in “Above the Grave”?

M: Inspiration came from seeing a prison line up of Villains in a Spiderman cartoon and hearing a radio news broadcast many years ago about the South African Government considering building an underground prison.

A: I’ve always liked reading the news and I know Mitchell is an avid book reader. Mitchell came up with some really bold concepts for characters and I filled in their back stories from things that floated around in my head. The references to Russia and North Korea for example. But they’re from years ago, it’s just that those countries have stayed topical. It’s true afterall that the more things change the more things stay the same. As for the character designs, that was nothing but hard work, lots of google picture searches and constant iteration. Especially Da Vine, I swear I will never draw another plant/human hybrid for the rest of my life!

What else do you have in the pipeline that us comic geeks can keep an eye out for? Is this a series by any chance?
M: While we have ideas for upcoming projects the focus right now is just letting people know about Above The Grave from conventions to getting the book into stores.

A: I’m going to work on some fan art of other popular properties to try to attract attention at cons. It’s hard trying to sell an original story.

Some illustrators really don’t enjoy drawing – especially as scenes can get repetitive, did you really enjoy writing/illustrating this comic book?

A: This is what I would say to people who are thinking of drawing a comic: If you do 100-odd pages you will find out just how much you really like drawing! Seriously, drawing a comic is nothing like drawing a pin-up or even other kinds of picture books. It’s fun but it is certainly repetitive and there are times when it feels like a horrible grind. The only thing that keeps you going is that promise of the finished product and getting your story out there. The other process I adhered to that made it easier for me to reach the finish line is that I made sure to keep up momentum and do all the pages, even if the art was terrible to begin with. Then I went back and improved them A LOT. Working that way, I knew I could have quit at any time and still had at least something in hand. As it turned out, I never quit because I saw constant improvement in myself that drove me to cut no corners and do every page to a high standard. I see no reason to be modest about this lol.

If you stumbled into writer’s block (or illustrator’s block) how did you overcome it?

M: For myself and very luckily never had an issue with writer’s block. Just going forward and focus on the next part of the story without getting too far ahead.

A: Luckily that was not an issue with this project. It was a miracle how it came together. Sometimes your brain’s neurons just work!

For those who are thinking to branch out into publishing comic books, what would your best piece of advice be?

M: It’s a hard journey, break things into small areas that you have to complete. I know for myself that it would of been such a harder journey if it didn’t find such a great collaborative partner. If i don’t cross paths with Andrew. Above the Grave doesn’t happen. PERIOD.

A: I would definitely advise any aspiring creators not to do 136 pages! The most important thing is to FINISH. If you just finish you will be ahead of 99.9% of other people. We all know about the proverbial screenplay sitting in a drawer. So choose a manageable story!

Getting to know you….

When you’re not writing/illustrating, what would you be doing?
M: Plotting ideas, playing guitar, game and watching television.

A: I was illustrating in most of my spare time for the duration of this project so I listened to a lot of podcasts. When I had forced breaks because I needed to recharge my drawing tablet I spent the time reading stories about all kinds of things online. Because the internet is random! You never know what will give you an idea later on down the line.

Who are your role models when it comes to your writing/illustrating journey?
M: Paul Hogan, John Cornell, Matthew Reilly and Kevin Smith.

A: Jim Lee for drawing. His longevity in the comics industry is astounding as well.

What are your favourite comic books? (graphic novels or manga included in this question)
M: Watchmen, Superman: Red Son, Guardian Devil (Daredevil)

A: For me it all began with Asterix and Tintin. (I actually homage the artist of Asterix, Albert Uderzo, with a character named after him in ATG.) Then in high school I loved the X-Men. Y: The Last Man opened my eyes to what’s possible in the medium as it’s not a humour or superhero story. I like Red Son as well.

Besides comic books, what is your favourite genre to read?
M: Music Biographies, True Crime, Horror, Self Help.

A: I don’t read many books these day but I like to read long-form journalism and sites like io9 for nerds. I used to read action adventure novels like James Bond and Jurassic Park. But I read more fact than fiction overall.

Where is your ultimate holiday destination?
M: San Diego during Comic con.

A: Disney World when the Star Wars hotel is completed in 2021!

If you had the power to adapt “Above the Grave” to a TV show, Stage Show or Movie, which would you choose and why?
M: …. Let’s go the movie! Let’s go HUGE! Lol

A: …. $200 million major motion picture! Actually, ATG began as a comic, then it was written as a screenplay for a reason that I forget, then it became a comic again. That’s why it’s 136 pages, it’s very cinematic for a comic.

Special thanks to Mitchell and Andrew for taking the time for our Blog Q&A and for also attending as our special guests for the Read3r’z Re-Vu Comics Day Exclusive… It’s so exciting to meet friends with hidden talents and amazing achievements!!! Hope to see more from you both in the future!!!

-Q&A and content compiled by Annie

And the Ocean was our Sky by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Rovina Cai

A Moby Dick retelling – told from the whale’s perspective!!!

‘With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt, fighting in the ongoing war against the world of men. When they attack a ship bobbing on the surface of the Abyss, they expect to find easy prey. Instead, they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself… As their relentless Captain leads the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men…’

Beautiful – Lyrical – Interesting…

A thought provoking story with amazing illustrations that really brought this story to life and really makes the reader see things in a different light.. It was an interesting experience to read the story from the whale’s perspective but it does take some time to get your head around it at first as it’s not everyday that your storyteller is a whale. A Moby Dick retelling that takes you into the eyes of a whale who is part of a family that are proud protectors of the ocean and live for the hunt as they are constantly hunted by humans.. The story was so beautifully written and the illustrations really bring the story out – I believe both author and illustrator nailed it with this one, I can definitely see this book shelved as modern classics..

Special thanks to Walker Books for sending me a review copy of this book, it was great!
-Annie

Fabled Kingdom Volume 1+ Exclusive Q&A with its author/graphic artist Queenie Chan!!

This is a comics-prose story. It contains chapters 1-3 (of 21)*

Fabled Kingdom, Volume 1
What if Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother isn’t her real grandmother? What if her two trueborn grandmothers are both Queens – where one is good, and the other one is evil?

Celsia is a ‘Red Hood,’ a healer-in-training living with her grandmother in a small village deep in the woods. Life was ordinary and uneventful, until the fateful day a shocking truth is uncovered – Celsia’s grandmother isn’t her REAL grandmother. Forced to flee her village, Celsia is soon on a quest to seek her two TRUEBORN grandmothers – both powerful Queens of magical kingdoms.

Accompanied by her childhood friend Quillon and the cheeky faun Pylus, her first destination is the fabled kingdom of Fallinor, which was destroyed over 60 years ago… or was it?

Fabled Kingdom Volume 1 Review
Red Hooded Magic with an Intriguing Plot!!!
Red hooded cloak, a magically inclined basket and a girl on a mission to go to grandma’s house. Sounds like a normal red riding hood story, right? Whelp, stop there because Fabled Kingdom is anything but an ordinary story of red riding hood. Queenie takes the tale of red and weaves in her own twists in the form of werewolves, tricky fawns and magic that entices you to continue reading mixed with wonderful artwork and detail that’s your eyes a glued to the page.The characters are the highlight of the series. Our main character Celsia is a head strong heroine that made for some comedic moments. I enjoyed the secondary characters such as Quillon and the fawn that you meet on Celsia’s journey.I would recommend Fabled Kingdom to anyone who loves fairytale retellings, fantasy and beautifully crafted artwork.If I were to give it a rating, I would go 5/5 stars.
-Maisie

Exclusive Q&A by author/graphic artist: Queenie Chan
1. You have published quite a few graphic novels!! What is the name of your debut graphic novel and what titles have you published?
My first published work was a mystery-horror set in the Australian bush called “The Dreaming”, which was published with LA-based publisher TOKYOPOP in 2005. That got me some illustration work with authors Dean Koontz (Odd Thomas) and Kylie Chan (White Tiger), doing graphic novel prequels to their best-selling series. Apart from those books, I’ve also published my own collections of short ghost stories, webcomics and my fairytale YA fantasy “Fabled Kingdom.” I’m also currently moving into colour comics, so I’ve been doing a lot of short, home-made mini-comics about cute animals. I’m also planning my next graphic novel, which looks to be a standalone YA fantasy in colour.

2. Your publications are not just illustrations – it’s part story part illustrations, what goes into the structure?
Do you illustrate then write or the other way around? I’ve tried it both ways, but I find that starting with a rough outline of a comic book page and then working backwards is a better way of doing “comics-prose” storytelling. Part of the reason is because when you convert comic panels into prose, it becomes embellishment of existing comic panels, and by extension, of the characters and story. The process is like layering a cake, which I find very satisfying. Conversely, when you start with prose and then convert part of it into comics, then the process becomes somewhat reductive. Complexity has to be reduced, and while some may argue that visual presentation brings its own form of complexity (which is true), the fact is that, in some ways, it makes things fuzzy rather than exacting. Editing is also harder when you start with prose, since you need to edit twice—both before AND after you lay down the panels on the page.

3. Do you like reading graphic novels yourself? What would be your favourite?
I consume a lot of media – prose fiction, comics, video games, animation, movies and music. I don’t read as much graphic novels as I used to (mostly because I believe a creater should look for inspiration outside their own industry, lest they start cannabalising what their colleagues are doing), and I mostly read manga these days anyway, due to my love of serialised fiction. I’m currently still reading “One Piece,” which is a manga series that I’ve been reading since my early twenties. I’ve fallen off the bandwagon a bit so I need to catch up, but it still remains an inventive and fun series despite having been running for 20 years. So it’s recommended from me!

4. Who have you collaborated with on your work and what is it like to collaborate, especially when drawing/writing graphic novels? I’ve worked with Dean Koontz and Kylie Chan on their respective series, and my relationship with Kylie is especially close since I was able to talk with her directly about what she envisions for her characters and world. In terms of Dean, he was easy to work with, but communication was difficult since I was only able to talk with him through his agents and editors. I should also count the comic writers (Fred Van Lente, Landry S. Walker) who adapted his stories into comic script format for me to work on, though unfortunately due to the publishing house production line, I wasn’t able to talk to these writers either. However, I still feel I learned a lot from them, which I’m grateful for. On the other hand, working with writers made me realise how sensitive prose authors are to having their writing altered in any way. I was surprised at first – writers can get very sore at having even a SINGLE word altered – but I understand why they get so worked up. I don’t have that feeling myself though, despite being a writer too, probably because words account for only a fraction of what I do.

5. As an author and graphic novel artist, what was the most exciting experience you have had eg: Supanova or Comic Con?
Meeting Dean Koontz at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2008! I was a fan of Dean when I was growing up – the first book I bought with my own money was a Dean Koontz omnibus featuring his earliest horror works. I fell off the book-reading wagon in my early 20s, but his series “Odd Thomas” got me back into reading, so it was great to meet him in person. He was very polite, funny and gracious, which was wonderful. It’s always exciting to meet famous authors who you’ve grown up reading.

6. For the aspiring graphic novel artists, what would be the best piece of advice you could give them?
The arts is a difficult place to earn a living, but I highly recommend comics as a form of creative expression! I think that no matter what you create or why, the most important thing is to ensure that you’re working on something you love and care about, and to FINISH it. A lot of people start drawing a comic but never finishes it, which results in online comic websites looking like a graveyard of unfinished work. This is not a good thing for any creator, because it makes you look unprofessional – like it or not, even when you do comics as a hobby, it reflects poorly on you when you don’t seem to care for your readers (no matter how many readers you have). Most people also only read a story when it’s finished – if you don’t finish your work, people can’t judge your level of writing, and therefore won’t care, or trust you as a creator. You may think this is unfair, but to be honest, in this day and age, people have too much competition for their attention to care about a creator’s unfinished work. That is my 2 cents 🙂

-Interivew compiled by Annie

Many thanks to Queenie Chan for spending this time with us!! We are big fans of your work and we hope we will see you again soon, keep up the awesomeness!!

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts: Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods by Craig Phillips

A fantastic collection of diverse myths and legends from around the world – from Iceland to Poland to Japan, altogether in one graphic novel!!!

Tales include a cobbler girl tricks the Wawel Dragon, after all the king’s knights fail… The Polar Bear King loses his skin… Momotaro, born from a peach, defies the ogres everyone else is too scared to face… Snow White and Rose Red make friends with a bear…

This collection contains 10 tales and are retold as comics that includes adventures with giants, trolls, witches and beasts!!!

The art work is simply amazing, the legends and folktales are so exciting!! It’s one a graphic novel you would read over and over again and keep for collection. This is something I recommend to readers young and old alike who, like me, love myth and legend. I also recommend this for kids storytime – where parents can read to the children. It is pretty easy to follow however some themes may require parental guidance – the artwork is extremely details – such a visual feast!!!

Many thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.

-Annie

Yukarism Vol 1-4 by Chika Shiomi

A manga series about love transcending time…

Volume 1-4.5 Stars

In this volume we meet the main character Yukari and the two other characters Mahoro and Katsuhiko who are friends with Yukari.

Yukari is a 17 year old famous male author in the modern day. Yukari was born with memories from his past life. In his past life he was an Oiran (a beautiful, renowned high class female courtesan) from the Edo time period.

The two characters Mahoro and Katsuhiko are also reincarnation from the same time period as Yukari. These two characters don’t have their memories, but during the Edo time period they knew each other in the red light district.

– Meredith

Yukarism volumes 1-4 is a fantastic manga series about past lives, love and an ancient curse binding three incredible characters from the Edo period Japan to modern day. Story building, back story and characterisation are amazing. The story explores themes about belonging, self-sacrifice, acceptance, connections and love. The drawings are beautiful and intricate, I loved it so much that I was inspired to draw a large fan-art poster for Meredith (see below, it’s obviously not as beautiful as the actual drawings!). Recommended if you’re after a manga series that is short and sweet (some manga series can span 10+ volumes). If you like endearing characters, magic, intricate drawings and a heartfelt story about love transcending time, this is a great read to sink your teeth into!

Click here to read the story blurb on Goodreads.

– NJ

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