New graphic novels by festival guests

A stack of new graphic novels by writers and artists coming to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October have been published recently, or are due out in the next couple of weeks.

Eustace by SJ HarrisFirst on the shelves was Eustace, a blackly comic, surreal and beautifully drawn debut graphic novel by S J Harris, published by Jonathan Cape.

It tells the tale of a young boy who is convalescing in bed.  With his father barely noticing him and his mother obsessed by his older brother who is away fighting in The First World War, Eustace spends his days in a fantasy world.  He gets occasional visits from his Aunties, who fuss and smother him, and his cousins who only add to his problems.

But then the book takes a sharp and fairly dark turn when Eustace’s mysterious uncle arrives in a cloud of pipe smoke, accompanied by a swelling cast of prostitutes, hoodlums, drunkards and assorted hangers-on.

Eustace finds himself transformed from an invalid to the star of a glittering and decadent social scene. He sees himself serving drinks and holding court in his bedroom until his Uncle’s past begins to catch up with him.

Gary and Warren Pleece - Montague Terrace 2Next up, was Montague Terrace by Warren and Gary Pleece, which was also published by Jonathan Cape.

In this book nothing is quite as it seems. An array of strange and extraordinary people live in Montague Terrace, including Paul Gregory, self-exiled pop crooner holed up in his hovel for forty years.

Mrs Beatrice Green, codename Babushka, an aged former special ops agent fighting a new war against overzealous council officials; and Marvo the Magic Bunny and Mystical Marvin, a pair of down-on-their luck entertainers, shielding a disturbing past.

To add to this weird and wonderful line up there are Landlocked sailors, fake pet psychics, hounded inventors and randy postmen.

The Observer’s Rachel Cooke said the Pleece brothers’ black and white drawings are ‘brisk and economical, they have an energy that pulls you along. Their story gets under your skin.’

TMWL CoverMid-April saw the launch of The Man Who Laughs, an adaptation of a Victor Hugo novel by festival guest David Hine, with artwork by Mark Stafford.  It is published by Selfmadehero, who have made something of a speciality out of adaptations.

As the press release notes, this story is less well-known – and read – than Hugo’s Les Misérables, and Notre-Dame de Paris.  It follows the story of Gwynplaine, the two-year-old heir of a rebel lord. The child is abducted upon the orders of a vindictive monarch, who instructs that he is to be mutilated (to produce a permanent, grisly smile), and then abandoned.

Hugo’s novel is described as ‘impassioned, outrageous and bizarre’. As David Hine writes in his afterword to the adaptation, it is also the inspiration behind The Joker in Batman, and has ‘left an indelible mark upon modern popular culture’.

The Man Who Laughs_MEDIA_33Hine says: ‘When Heath Ledger’s Joker says “Let’s put a smile on that face” in the movie The Dark Knight it’s a twisted version of Victor Hugo’s Gwynplaine who is speaking.

‘In 1940, when Jerry Robinson, Bob Kane and Bill Finger were working on the first issue of the Batman comic, they saw a poster featuring Conrad Veidt in the 1928 movie of The Man Who Laughs and the image inspired them to create the Joker as Batman’s nemesis.

‘In 2011, I wrote an issue of Batman and Robin for DC Comics featuring a crazy Frenchman who mutilates his own son in a perverted homage to Victor Hugo.  The story was a tip of the hat to the man who inspired the Clown Prince of Crime.’

Mark Stafford’s artwork is stunning.  In his afterward to the book, Hine writes: ‘There aren’t many artists who could capture the grotesque aspects of the story and also convey the humanity of the characters and the black humour and irony of Hugo’s prose.’

Don Quixote front coverAnother adaptation from Selfmadehero is out in the next week. Don Quixote: Volume II, which is illustrated by Rob Davis.

Selfmadehero says this second volume is “darker than the first’. It picks up where Vol. I left off and follows our hapless heroes on their last adventure together.

Quixote plunges head first into the legendary Cave of Montesinos and seeks to disenchant his imaginary truelove, Dulcinea del Toboso, who is imprisoned there. Meanwhile Sancho is finally given an island to rule over by the Duke and Duchess who, like many characters our heroes meet in this book, have read Vol I and wish to have a hand in the events of Vol II.

Betrayal, deception, death and cats beset Quixote from all sides.

I’m not familiar with the Don Quixote stories but from what I’ve seen so far of Rob Davis’ artwork for this volume, this one is definitely on my reading list for May.

stephen_collins_beard_spreadAnother book that is coming up in May is The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, by Stephen Collins, which is published by Jonathan Cape.

The synopsis says: On the buttoned-down island of Here, all is well. By which we mean: orderly, neat, contained and, moreover, beardless. Or at least it is until one famous day, when Dave, bald but for a single hair, finds himself assailed by a terrifying, unstoppable…monster – namely a beard!

Where did it come from? How should the islanders deal with it? And what, most importantly, are they going to do with Dave?

Collins will be familiar to Guardian readers from his cartoons and this is first his graphic novel. Jonathan Cape say it ‘is about life, death and the meaning of beards’.  I haven’t read it yet but I have seen a copy of the book and it looks very imaginative and entertaining.

A review in The Times said ‘It’s part satire, part parable, part nursery rhyme and part disaster movie, and it’s an utter joy to read.’

Coming up in June from Myriad is a new edition of Science Tales by Daryl Cunningham, including a fresh  chapter on the process of hyrdraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’.  Jonathan Cape will also be publishing the first volume of Drowntown – set in a flooded London.  It’s written by festival guest Robbie Morrison, with artwork by Jim Murray.  But more on both of these books later…..

You can find more details about all the guests coming to the festival on our website www.comicartfestival.com

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