Thursday, 22 January 2015

ZULU Dawn!

Isandlwana - April 2014 (photo by Craig Mitchell)

Today is the 136th anniversary of the major conflicts of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879, first the devastating defeat of British forces at Isandlwana by the Zulus and on the same day, into the early hours of the 23rd January 1879, the defence of Rorke's Drift by a British garrison hopelessly outnumbered by Zulu impis. The dramatic events not only resulted in heavy loss of life but had serious consequences for both sides leading to the destruction of the Zulu Kingdom and way of life, and questioning the expansion polices at the heart of the mighty Victorian British Empire.

Yours truly with the distinctive Isandlwana behind (April 2014)

As you will know if you've visited my blog before these far flung events have had a profound effect on me (and others!) all these years later which is difficult to explain. There is something deeply moving about an indigenous people's defence of their realm against an unjustified imperialist invasion and the difference in weaponry and technologies at their disposal. Just imagine for a minute answering your monarch's call to fight against professional soldiers armed with the very latest modern weapons, when all you had were decades old spears (assegai), clubs (knobkerries) and shields.

Haydn, Craig, Paul & I after successfully climbing Isandlwana (April 2014)

In the Zulu's favour were their familiarity with the terrain, sophisticated tactics, discipline and an unnerving loyalty to their King, despite any misgivings they may have had. However, despite these qualities there were huge losses amongst the Zulu's causing their King, Cetshwayo, to seek peace with the invaders, despite 'scoring' several victories over the British. The embarrassment of those victories though sealed the Zulu's fate as the British poured every resource at their disposal to finally crush the Zulu's resistance some 6 months later, setting fire to the royal homestead at Ulundi (Ondini) and eventually capturing and exiling Cetshwayo from his kingdom.

Meeting young Thandeka Zulu at Rorke's Drift (April 2014)

However the bravery of the Zulu's struck a chord with the British public who clamoured for information on these 'noble savages' who had stood up against the empire's might. Eventually Cetshwayo travelled to London where he was feted by the media and granted an audience with Queen Victoria at Osborne House. He was, in time, returned to his Zululand throne, but heavily curtailed in his authority and influence, the previous might of the Zulu kingdom was never again seen.

A panel of Matt Soffe's dramatic colouring from the re-mastered comic!

The interest in all things Zulu has echoed down the years since 1879, most famously for my generation in the movies Zulu, (which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014) and Zulu Dawn, leading directly to me creating my own comic books based on events at Rorke's Drift and of course visiting the battlefield and Zulu Kingdom sites in 2010 and 2014. This interest continues with new Zulu related comic work being prepared alongside a brand new 're-mastered' collection of my Water Cart Rescue strips being coloured for the first time by the very talented Matt Soffe, who has previously contributed colours to several Accent UK books.

More of these projects will follow in the weeks ahead but I just wanted to mark today's anniversary and, as I always do on this day, pay respect to those who lost their lives all those many years ago.
The Zulu Memorial at Rorke's Drift (April 2014)
The British Memorial at Rorke's Drift (April 2014)

Monday, 19 January 2015

2014 US Comic Show Analysis

I see that Heidi MacDonald of the always interesting, The Beat, has posted the results of their team up with The Devastator news site for an analysis of US comic shows from 2014. You may recall that they first did this last year based on replies from 46 exhibitors returning surveys which I linked to here, this year there were more than 100 responses so makes for a more informed result.

The full survey results and commentary are contained in a detailed report on The Devastator's main site here  and makes interesting reading, albeit a little harder going, given that there's so much there but they've retained their sense of humour in their concise and witty commentaries on each show.

So if, like me, you like looking at numbers and charts this is the place to go, particularly for those comic folks trying to plan their 2015 schedule of which US comic shows to apply for. There's still nothing like this for the UK or Europe that I've seen so this is the best that's out there and is still interesting in weighing up the economics of exhibiting.

For ourselves at Accent UK Towers, we've moved our attention away from the US and Canada for a bit, concentrating in the UK and Europe as we hopefully further develop our own audiences. We've already mentioned that a 're-think' of our own show schedule (thankfully) resulted in a boost in sales as we swapped uneconomical shows for more rewarding ones and we're again applying the same principals for 2015, which shouldn't be quite so radical as last year which saw us make some 6 or 7 changes to our itinerary. Watch this space for further details when available.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie

2014 Moments in Comics

To finish the 2014 nostalgia, here's my favourite comics & graphic novels from last year. I made it too late to contribute to Forbidden Planet's 'Best Of' articles where I was one of many featured last year, so here's a short summary of what stood out to me;

COMMANDO: Great War Stories by George Low & Keith Page, covers by Ian Kennedy

This year, I’ve eagerly followed D C Thomson’s longstanding title as it ambitiously embarked on a monthly tribute to the range of ordinary characters caught up in the extraordinary events of The Great War. The pocket sized Commando format is perfectly suited to these tales across the many theatres of war often highlighting lessor know combatants and conflicts. The stories are necessary stand-alone but, through cameos, contrast the idealistic enlistment dreams of a young newspaper boy with the experiences of those already at war. Although the tales are not the graphic accounts of a Charley’s War or a White Death (see below), they are no less effective in bringing the stories of ordinary soldiers to a wider newsstand audience and that should be praised. Expertly written and illustrated by George Low and Keith Page behind exceptional new Ian Kennedy covers these are well worth seeking out and hopefully will be collected on the series conclusion.

WHITE DEATH by Robbie Morrison and Charlie Adlard   

Sticking with the First World War, this is the recent Image Comics re-release of the indie classic to tie in with the war’s centenary. Set in 1916 on the Italian Trentino mountain range it is unflinching in its portrayal of those soldiers caught up in the desperation of war. The futility of conflict is expertly played out through the eyes of a small group of Italian soldiers as their struggles with the enemy and their nihilist commander are dwarfed by the dangerous mountain terrain. The quieter moments really stand out with carefully chosen dialogue and images reflecting the horror of the soldiers experiences without being preachy. Not an easy read for sure but an important one, well deserving of its hardcover re-release from two of the UK’s leading talents.

MULP: Sceptre of the Sun #1 by Matt Gibbs and Sara Dunkerton

An absolute delight and a charming contrast to not only First World War stories but all other comics I’ve encountered this year. An anthropomorphic pulp adventure full of mice, mystery and exotic locations, what’s not to like! In the best adventure traditions, it’s rollicking fun with an Indiana Jones vibe as our heroes meet by an (alternative) Egyptian archaeological dig where their finds are under dangerous threat from spies working for a mysterious benefactor. Matt Gibbs clever and quick moving script allows Sara Dunkerton plenty of opportunity to show off her artistic skills with many dynamic locations and action scenes. As a fun first issue from two new creators this promises to be the start of something special.

Honourable mentions to Letty Wilson's delightful WEIRD MOOSE which I witnessed being created at Glasgow Comic-ConTop Shelf’s authentic American Civil Rights Movement book, MARCH, Jonathan Cape's SALLY HEATHCOTE: SUFFRAGETTE, Images Comics entertaining MANIFEST DESTINY and enjoyable indies BLACK FEATHER FALLS and HALF HANGED MacNAGHTEN from Soaring Penguin and Uproar Comics respectively.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

2014 Moments in Music!

I've been slow with any 2014 'best of lists' so here instead is my 2014 playlist as far as I can recall from my 'go to' pile of CD's. Those who follow such things can check out previous lists for 2013 and 2012 - gosh that sounds so old now doesn't it!

1. DAVID SYLVIAN: Gone To Earth (2006)
2. KARL JENKINS: River Queen (2005)
3. JOHN BARRY: Mary Queen of Scots (1971)
4. JOHN BARRY: Out of Africa (1985)
5. DEAD CAN DANCE: Anastasis (2012)
6. DEAD CAN DANCE: Wake (2003)
7. DOUGIE MACLEAN: Essential Too (2013)
8. LONDON GRAMMAR: If You Wait (2013)
9. KATE BUSH: Ariel (2005)
10. KING CREOSOTE: Scotland With Love (2014)
Mmm, another eclectic mix of soundtracks and old favourites with just a sprinkling of contemporary-ish albums, guess that says a lot about me! Still really enjoying David Sylvian's re-mastered double Gone To Earth album which seems to suite any mood. It originally came out in 1986 and, not being a Japan fan particularly, I missed his solo career only 'discovering' him much later through the excellent Everything & Nothing (2000) retrospective. I'm still short of a couple of early releases while his later work became too experimental for me after Blemish (2003).

I do play soundtracks a lot and find myself listening to classic FM  more and more these days - along with BBC 6 Music of course! River Queen was a Classic FM discovery and is great background music with some stirring moments. The movie it comes from is an odd beast, starring Samantha Morton and Kiefer Sutherland in Victorian New Zealand and the turbulent Anglo-Maori wars. It doesn't quite deliver on its promise but is interesting and both it and its music are worth tracking down.

Through Zulu of course I've always been a John Barry fan with his short Somewhere in Time soundtrack a clear favourite but I finally caught up with his lavish Out of Africa and lessor known (to me) Mary Queen of Scots soundtracks this year, enjoying them both. Out of Africa is a very watchable movie with music to match, although the CD mood is slightly spoiled by a soft-rock number tacked on! I've not seen Mary Queen of Scots for years but the music has it all, bagpipes, recurring themes, stirring motifs even Scott Walker on vocals and has been a delight. It was though very difficult to track down the whole album with a shorter version (without Scott Walker!) more readily available.

Still enjoying my Dead Can Dance brace of albums and last year's London Grammar with this year's big new discovery (to me!) Kenny Anderson aka King Creosote and his From Scotland With Love tv/documentary soundtrack album. I guess this is his most commercial offering but its been the reason for me to finally embrace his music and I've just picked up his acclaimed Diamond Mine (2011) album with Jon Hopkins so not a bad thing - maybe a bit like David Sylvian, I get there eventually!

My other favourites were the two artists I saw perform live in 2014, Dougie Maclean and of course a certain Kate Bush! I've been lucky to see Dougie many times, (I think this was the 6th!) and its always a joy to hear and meet him - he normally pops out afterwards to chat and sign CD's etc. He was in demand last year with his famous Caledonia song performed en masse at Glasgow's Commonwealth Games ceremony so this was a special treat.

Much of course has already been said and written about Kate Bush and her totally unexpected return to the stage after some 35 years or so! The performance was very, very special and it was a privilege to witness. Needless to say Kate did not pop out afterwards for a chat but she did seem to enjoy herself and be truly astonished with her rapturous response she received. The show was the excuse I needed to revisit her albums with Ariel, which formed much of her setlist, a favourite.