Tuesday, 8 August 2017

SECTOR 13 #1: EMERALD EXUBERANCE

Another purchase from the Enniskillen Comic Fest and a Northern Ireland original from a team of extremely talented nutters... erm, I mean 2000AD fans (same difference):

Simon McKnight in full-on Judge mode
both here and in that little panel with
me on the left!

Okay, so ignore that unfortunate typo on the cover, it was restricted to the first printing and it's still a superb front page, especially in the flesh.  I knew of this fanzine due to the fact I'd previously met some of those responsible a year or two ago and joined their Facebook group prior to the comic con.  What I didn't expect was a large-scale A4 magazine with a paper quality as high as this!  Each page is satisfyingly thick with a high gloss that makes the artwork jump right out at you.  Of course the paper couldn't do this alone and the art would need to be of a sufficiently high quality, but as you scroll down this post you'll see the comic has this in spades.

Certainly it's very clear a lot of hard work went into this and it's a very fitting love letter to Rebellion's ongoing weekly which is now in its 40th year!  Twenty-four pages with no less than three strip stories and a Judge Dredd-inspired poem plus a few extras I'll mention further down the page, it certainly feels upon first glance to be packed to the gills with thrill-power.  But is it?  Well since it's on my personal blog I must like it enough to cover it, but let's have a closer look anyway:

The main strip is an imaginative photo story

On the surface the first story, Justice Perverted, seems like a simple procedural tale of the Judges of Mega-City One doing a little bit of investigation and eventually getting their perp by the end of its five pages.  However, read carefully between the lines and you'll find an intriguing little mystery subtly woven into the action.  It's a complete story obviously, since at the time of putting this together there was no way of telling if a second issue would appear never mind when.  As such it's a superb achievement on the part of writer Laurence McKenna to craft such a tightly-knit tale which wouldn't look out of place in an issue of 2000AD itself as a special one-off.

Why a "special" one-off?  Well that's obvious now that you've seen the first page above; it's a photo story.  Now a couple of years ago the Judge Dredd Megazine ran a photo strip in its pages across many (many, many) months and to be honest I wasn't a fan.  It was very posed and reminded me too much of the strips Oink! would actually make fun of back in the 80s and seemed to take ten pages to tell about five pages worth of story every issue.  Don't get me wrong the artwork which surrounded the photos was beautiful and the story itself was interesting once it was all (eventually) told, but I'll admit I did flash back to that when I initially bought Sector 13 at the comic con and scanned its pages very briefly.  However, my concerns were of no consequence because not only is the story as good as I said above, but the artwork is so much more dynamic.

It was fun spotting cosplayers Simon McKnight and Joanne Alexander who I'd met previously, but more importantly the photos (also taken by Laurence) are top quality and brilliantly embellished by superb local talent, and actual 2000AD contributor, Ryan Brown.  While the Megazine story was happy to show off the photos within huge panels, here it's all laid out like a regular comic strip, meaning much more happens per page.  Dynamic panelling and framing abounds, with Laurence and Ryan not afraid to edit the actual photos further with blur and other effects in a way the aforementioned Megazine strip didn't.  Worth the price of admittance on its own, but surprisingly there's even better stuff inside!

When I met with some of the team behind Sector 13 recently to discuss the fanzine with them they were very clear the intention was always to produce a 2000AD-inspired comic and not a Judge Dredd one.  Indeed inside there's a Future Shock tale which is its own complete entity, but the focus of this premiere issue is definitely Dredd.  As well as the photo story there's a four-page Judge Death strip called The Low Cost of Dying (according to the contents page, there being no title in the strip itself).  Written by Mark McCann, a talented individual who goes by the name W.D. McQuaid in writing circles, including here, its drawn by Paul Malone and Jason Stewart and asks an intriguing question.  Fans of 2000AD will know Judge Death is a character from another dimension where to be alive is a crime and death the sentence for such a heinous act.  So what would happen if this terrifying creature came up against someone who was already wanting to take their own life?:

Sector 13 isn't afraid to tackle some serious issues... in its own way

I'm not going to spoil anything obviously, but the strip is a great read and ends with probably some of the best final panel dialogue I've ever read.  The artwork is crisp and clear, has lots of action and our one-off protagonist is full of character.  There's also a one-page colour spread to start off the tale which is just absolutely gorgeous.

Speaking of gorgeous:

Just one of the two posters included

Ok, yes, it's gruesome but I mean the actual artwork itself is just gorgeous.  Painted by Richard Harrison it compliments the more line-art style of the Judge Giant pin-up on its reverse from John Farrelly.  Both would look amazing framed so it's a shame they're on each other's backside, if you'll pardon the phrase.  Be prepared to buy two copies folks!  But I just had to show the Death poster to show you the kind of work that's even gone into a pin-up for this fanzine, it really is phenomenal.  When it comes to the art Sector 13 certainly doesn't cut corners, that's for sure.

I'm really rather proud of the fact this small press comic (which editorial contributor Peter Duncan refers to it as instead of a "fanzine" and I tend to agree) has come from my little part of the world.  There's been some superb comics talent to come from Northern Ireland over the years but not nearly enough.  Sector 13 hopes to help correct this by encouraging writers and artists to get on board by meeting up with the team at their monthly meetings.  They meet once a week to discuss the comic and work out scripts and contributions, but at the end of each calendar month there's an open meet where anyone can come and have a bit of craic around 2000AD and comics in general, ask questions of the team and professionals, show off work, develop ideas etc.  The back page of the comic contains details on this and they also have a Facebook page for it alongside the one for Sector 13.

The one non-Dredd strip is probably my favourite of the three here.  But first, I should mention Fitztharg, he's apparently 2000AD editor Tharg's Belfast-based cousin and as well as his own editorial column (written by Peter Duncan) he also gets to introduce his own Future Shock.  Future Shocks are an irregular part of 2000AD; small, complete stories with a beginning, middle and end all of their own.  The characters and situations within are one-offs, never to appear again and it takes a skilled writer to put together all the right ingredients in an entertaining way in such a constricting space, especially considering the very nature of comics and their necessity to show a lot of art means there's even less space writing-wise than you would have in a short prose story.

Here, Inside We're Dancing is written by W.D. McQuaid and drawn in two parts.  The first two pages are greyscale-shaded beautifully by David Yeh, while the second half by Duncan Vaughan is highly detailed black and white line art of professional quality.  This was apparently at the request of the writer himself and somehow it just works.  Both styles compliment their half of the short story and the twist (which Future Shocks have always been famous for) won't disappoint!  A highly original piece put together by a three-man team who surely should be on Rebellion's radar now after this:

A stunning, highly original story makes up
the middle of the comic

The last piece of writing is in the form of a one-page poem about Dredd written by Andy Luke with a quick sketch from Marc Savage.  There's also a page of photos of the team's various meetings in a Belfast pub which has become their comic office once a week.  Now don't get me wrong I think it's a nice page, but it could have been a wonderful page if we'd had some small bits of writing, even captions, to accompany the photos to explain who's who and what's being worked on.  It could've been a fascinating behind-the-scenes making-of page but as it stands it's still a fun, light-hearted addition.

The only real grumble I have with this first edition is the obvious space-fillers of having a page made up of only a large Dredd badge and highlights of the comic art from previous pages behind it, and the sketch page, which is essentially a blank page for the reader to doodle on.  Both feel like pages included only because they already had twenty-two pages of content and needed two more in order to print the comic.

But these are small niggles when compared to everything else contained within.  If this were later in the run, say a year or so down the line I'd still be raving about the quality on display, but to have this as the team's premiere issue is just stunning.  Whether you're a reader of 2000AD these days or not (I'm not by the way, though I am collecting the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files graphic novel collection) this is a hugely entertaining read and well worth your time.  And your £4.00.

"BUY IT, CREEP!"

Yep that's right, it's only £4.00 for such a high quality, lovingly-created comic containing interesting, well-written stories, sublime artwork and an air of fun and reverence to 2000AD throughout, all printed on the kind of thick, glossy paper you simply wouldn't find on newsagents' comics shelves.  I whole-heartedly recommend supporting this group so we can see many more issues over the coming years.  Oink! cartoonist Davy Francis is lined up for issue two, so surely that should be enough for readers of this blog to get their PayPal accounts open and send £6.50 (including postage) to Sector13@boxofrainmag.co.uk right now to help fund it, while getting caught up on issue one in the meantime.

Alternatively it's also available at Comic Book Guys on Great Victoria Street in the city and in Belfast's Forbidden Planet too.

Finally, for more information you can also check out the Facebook page for the comic and if you're interested in meeting the team, as well as other fans and professionals for a pint of Guinness and all the craic at the end of each month in Belfast there's one for that too.

COMING THIS WEEK

I had a great night recently hanging out with some of the team in The Parlour bar in my home city and got to chat to them about everything Sector 13, photo-stripping, Ryan Brown masterclasses and the Northern Ireland small press scene.  I've transcribed the chat and once I've decided what to do with the odd (lot of) profanity it'll be right here on the blog in a multi-part interview, beginning this Friday 11th August.  Don't miss it or you'll be doing six months in the iso-cubes.

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