One of the great things about going to comic conventions, apart from the chance to dress up like a fictional character and not be judged by cruel unsympathetic eyes, is seeking out new material to feed your need for sequential art. Browsing the interwebs and getting tips from fellow travellers on which comics are worth your time is fine, but there’s nothing quite like a first run-through of a con, absorbing the sensory kaleidoscope, sniffing out the market trader vibe, then spying what scratches your particular itch.
If you’re in introvert, like me, this isn’t without its hazards, as it actually involves talking to people in person, as you get your greasy mitts all over the results of their creative process. But there are usually enough people around to help you fly under the radar and get what you’re looking for without too much awkwardness, even if you are dressed like Hellboy. It is a hit and miss process. For every fantastic comic you come across, you’ll find several misfires, or flavours that don’t taste right. But for my money it’s the best way to find material that you wouldn’t come across otherwise, that’s just as good, if not better, than anything running in mainstream titles.
During one such comic con I came across Particle Fiction, a work of quiet and delightful joy. An anthology style book in the tradition of 2000AD, it features science fiction tales with different settings and genres in bold black and white inking. It takes its inspiration from pulp adventures, classic superhero fare, and old TV shows The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
Although there are several good stories here, set in apocalyptic wastelands, hard-boiled film noir style gritty cities, or futuristic nightmarish prisons, the stand out character is Ideasman, a joke sci-fi protagonist resembling Green Lantern or possibly Awesome X, the anti-hero from Frisky Dingo. His adventures send up the conventions of the genre, a pastiche playing on the familiar, in a similar way that Airplane! And The Naked Gun mocked hackneyed disaster movies and cop shows. Self-referential and knowing, with a fondness for comics and all their clichés, it is fun and clever without being too clever-clever.
The traditional comic style art appeals, with the content a loving parody of melodramatic over the top ridiculousness, a high-stakes old-school homage, channelling 60s era Stan Lee material as well as older 50s space sagas like Flash Gordon, or speculative fiction pulps like The Shadow and Doc Savage.
David ‘for the Wynne’ Wynne is the writer, artist, and showrunner. He shares my fascination with the fantastic, the absurd, and the surreal. Alliteration bombs like ‘archipelago of aerodynamic architecture is the arena for the crazy cacophony of creatures and cultures from the multitude of multiverses to meet in a melting pot of madness’ are pure delight, and villains like Flatulax the Malodorous, or Hellvetica (riding a Thesaurus Rex dinosaur steed, naturally) are there to battle our hero.
How does Ideasman get past Hellvetica’s wall of text? By changing the setting on his gun to enable HTML, to switch to italics, that’s how! It’s wonderfully silly, and perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but that’s exactly the point of seeking this kind of thing out. If you want eye wateringly good artwork, with stale and formulaic storylines that you’ve read a thousand times before, then Marvel or DC will be only too happy to oblige. If you want something fast and loose, with the freedom to play and experiment with ideas, then you need to look elsewhere.
Particle Fiction started life as a web-comic before making the transition to the printed page, which is a common route. Producing hard copies is expensive, as I discovered when running off a handful of my own efforts, so it makes sense to establish a presence and audience for yourself online first.
You can pick up a copy (digital or otherwise) of the first book for just a few quid. Google it, buy it, read it, and let me know what you think. It deserves some love. There are apparently plans to develop a full Ideasman comic. I can’t wait.