2016: The Year That Was

A warning before we get started, this will be full of semi-spoilers and analysis of comics that I’ve written and what they mean. If you haven’t read them, you should, or this will seem like a nonsense rant from a cave dwelling madman.

Cue the music.

Hello darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again…

As we stare into the ever more daunting abyss that is 2017, it behoves us to think back on the vehicle that brought us to this point. What can really be said about 2016 that hasn’t been covered at length already by wiser and more astute commentators, Biden/Obama memes and innumerable tributes to fallen stars? It’s incredibly difficult to look back on the year that was and find any semblance of hope, civility or positivity and my own work began to reflect that towards the end of the year. Black, White and Grey, a collection of short stories by Rapha Lobosco and I, became a symbol of our dissatisfaction and the stories therein were told in a fresh context, their meaning warping and becoming something colder, their inherent nihilism dragged to the fore.

When discussing BWG Rapha and I knew that we wanted a slightly longer collection than we had, we wanted to put a spine on our book. It’s a small thing, but it has been a goal of mine from day one to have a book of that length, something that can sit proudly on any bookshelf and maybe even catch an eye or two. Enter Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver was an outline of an idea; something that had rested on the tip of my consciousness for about a year. I had thought of writing it as a Future Shock, but the script never quite worked out. I had thought of rolling it into a longer narrative, but the message was so clear, so simple, it would have been a shame to drown it in a wider context. A story about chasing happiness to the detriment of everything around you, Dreamweaver is told without context. It opens on Iggy Barker’s birthday party. His life has finally come good; he’s surrounded by friends and family, a wife who loves him and he’s wealthy, ostentatiously so. Still he can’t find peace. A shadowy figure grinning at him from the corner of his eye distracts him from all of the apparent happiness and joy around him, and suddenly things start to come apart. His wife Marion is no longer his wife, but the pregnant wife of a friend; she hasn’t seen him in years. The dialogue moves on to reflect how strange it is that Iggy who apparently struggled in earlier life now owns this beautiful mansion, and then that grinning figure appears again. The more Iggy notices him, the more this life seems to unravel. I always knew what the twist in Dreamweaver was: Happiness Comes with a Price. It was the only truly solid part of the story I had going in. Presenting the story as a cautionary tale warning about the apparent dangers of pursuing your happiness in a world bent on dragging everyone into its misery was very much a product of the news surrounding 2016.

This story leads in to Day Job. Written and drawn by Rapha with dialogue by myself Day Job is a profane and hateful little story about greed, violence and entitlement. Coming on the heels of Dreamweaver it can read like Rapha and I are warning our readers to never try and better themselves, to never work outside the goals set to them by other people. Then follows Murphy’s Day. A lot has already been said on Murphy’s Day and without going in to too much detail, in the context of this book, Murphy’s Day seems to berate the reader further, laughing callously at them as they try to appreciate a normal life, completely ordinary life. Believe me this was never the intent of the comic in its original form, but stripped of colour and presented as part of this spiralling decline, it just feels very different. The final short story in the collection is the award winning Heavy Black. This gruesome little sci-fi/horror was the first comic Rapha and I printed together and between us selling out the first print run, giving away the second and putting the comic online for free in its entirety, I’m fairly confident you already know what it’s about and how it ends: badly. Again this atmospheric horror was originally intended as a commentary on choice and agency when all is lost, but in the wider context of this collection the true horror of the short emerges. It all seems hopeless. Every choice leads to doom. In BWG our protagonists all suffer through their existence, each being ground down and destroyed. So why then do we end with a teaser for a graphic novel “coming soon”? Simple: hope.

Black Neptune, is a military industrial horror, and believe it or not, it was written all the way back in 2015. It all seems a little grim, a little nihilistic and more than a little intense. In spite of that it has humour, and banter, it shows a character not only standing up to interrogation, but joking about it and throwing the power dynamic back in the face of her interrogator. Most importantly, in spite of this story starting in medias res, it has yet to be told. There is hope for these characters, and for the future. There is a way out of this grim and destructive cycle. Maybe we can’t see it now, but 2016 can’t last forever and just over the horizon we have the future and hope and… … … but 2017 can’t last forever and just over the horizon…

[Black, White and Grey is currently available at Big Bang Comics, or alternatively, you can drop me a line here]

Caw, that was a little intense, yeah? How about we all sit back and relax and talk about one of the more comical stories that came out of my head last year?

Change the track.

Mmm num ba de, dum bum ba be, doo buh dum ba beh beh…

Ducksworth’s Last Stand was written as part of Seán Hogan’s excellent Project Crossroads and stands apart from that book as the only uncoloured story in an otherwise bright and vibrant collection. I’ve spoken about Ducksworth before but I’ll give a quick recap of the themes here. It’s all about the power of imagination, and what we creatives lose when we lose the thread of a story, or a piece of art, or even a character’s voice. The fantasy element of Ducksworth’s Last Stand will never see a satisfactory ending, and that’s OK. It’s doesn’t need one. Sir Idol’s battle with King Wicked can never come to a satisfactory conclusion because Aaron has lost that creative space. He may very well pick up threads of that story and try to weave them together again, but it won’t be the same battle, it won’t have the same consequences or stakes for him, and most strikingly, he’ll never have Ducksworth again. Any storyteller will tell you that behind them lies a graveyard full of unfinished stories. For whatever reason a draft doesn’t work or your characters don’t fit in a certain context. It can be something as simple as you’ve taken too long between drafts and you’ve lost that essential connectivity to the material. This can all be traced back to our childhood. How often did you sit imagining, or playing with your toys, only to have your game, your world, your adventure interrupted by something, anything, and then its lost, gone forever and fading faster than a dream? That doesn’t diminish the importance of this story. It is essential. It helps the storyteller to grow, it helps them to find the voice of their characters, to create and then push the limits of their world. It was still a fun way for Aaron to spend his morning, and when you’re younger that’s what stories are for. You absorb deeper meanings, but you connect with them through your enjoyment. At the end of the day that is what Ducksworth’s Last Stand is all about, and yes, Seán and I did add a little twist at the end to add a darker cultural context, and you can take from that what you will, the essential meaning of Ducksworth’s Last Stand remains the exploration of that particular creative space for a child.

[Project Crossroads is available at Big Bang Comics and from Seán’s online store]

Moving on to the third anthology I was lucky enough to be a part of last year, in Alterna Comics’ IF Anthology. The IF Anthology has an open submissions policy every year, and it publishes the best finished comic submissions that fit its theme. Last year the theme was Superpowers. I was fortunate enough, before this anthology was brought to my attention to have been working with Eoin Marron, Tríona Farrell and Kerrie Smith on a four page short with a twist. It just so happens that that short featured a disempowered superhero and a treatise on what makes a hero. The Hero is on the surface an action comic in the mould of a B list action movie.

A highly trained agent is sent in to a building full of criminals/terrorists/what-have- you. The agent dispatches these villains and after a hard fought battle rescues the hostage. This is where we started inverting the reader’s expectations. We open on the image of a thoroughly beaten Superhero. Traditionally he would be a symbol of power, yet here he is reduced to the role of powerless hostage. His agency has been taken away and his role reversed. We launch into the narration without identifying the voice of the narrator. Is it the Hero we’ve seen? Is it the agent we’re about to meet? Though the captions talk about the essential nature of a hero, it is the agent who is acting heroically. This question is left unanswered until the final panels of final page. I won’t say any more but the story takes a very definite view on the realities of a hero. You might agree and you might not, but the real heroes of this story were Tree, Eoin and Kerrie. Kerrie’s lettering and design work really help to pace the story, making it read quickly enough to feel exciting, but slowly enough to let the narration stand out. Eoin’s storytelling is excellent. He keeps the focus on the action making every hit stand out. The agent is almost constantly moving from left to right, keeping the narrative flowing, and only moves from right to left on a near silent page, so the reader isn’t taken out of the action and then at the end of the short to drive the message home. Similarly Tree uses the colours to keep the reader engaged. That pale red means danger and violence, bright read means death. These choices stand out against the duller colours in the suburban house. The Hero was one of the most enjoyable stories I saw come to life last year and I couldn’t be prouder of the team.

That brings us to Malevolence, with John Quigley, Dearbhla Kelly, Kerrie Smith.

Cut the music.

Malevolence was supposed to be a Christmas story.

About the contributor:
Hugo Boylan is a Reader, Writer, Wearer of Runners, Lover of Games, Master of Classics, Usually Bearded, Unusually Usual.
Can be found on Twitter @HugoBoylan