Reviewer: Will Cooling
Editor: Barry Renshaw
Publisher: Accent UK Collective
“All that’s left of the British comics industry is 2000AD”
That’s the regular complaint of British comic book fans as the comic market that even 15 years ago boast a whole raft of comics in variety of age groups and genres. However, post crash and the mainstream British comics’ industry is simply 2000AD and Warhammer Monthly, which whilst both are excellent it cannot but be denied that British newsstand comics are in a terrible shape. Of course there are beyond the High Street and corner shop British comics that are created and sold in the Small Press Market i.e. mail order. These are a somewhat unappreciated section of the industry with little publicity given to them in Britain’s version of Wizard, Comics International despite many of the titles receiving critical acclaim from those who do read them.
One of the bigger British Small Press publishers is the Accent UK Collective, an Image style consortium that attempts to draw the disparate Small Press Market together and so increase its profile and prestige. One of their numerous projects is Red Eye, a quarterly magazine that is devoted to taking a good long hard look at the British comics industry. Not only does it offer up to date news and previews but it also takes a detailed look at the rich history of British comics, not just the modern post-Pat Mills era but also the earlier era of Eagle and Dan Dare. All these efforts are guided by a zeal to give the reader a detailed and full look at the British comics and get them to see what lies beyond the Nerve Centre.
Of course you the reader are sitting back and thinking “all very noble but what does it read like?” Now the short answer is a resounding “Yes!” but you know me well enough to know that I don’t do short answers…
Okay let’s start with the tone of the magazine. Well firstly there is an activist spirit running throughout the magazine with a very direct and earnest appeal to get you to dip your toe into the Small Press Market. However, this spirit is restrained in two important and welcome ways. Firstly, the magazine doesn’t become a shill for the British Small Press; yes it takes a positive light but its reviews seem fair and balanced (I’ve got to stop watching Fox News) with their reviews for Future Quake 1 actually being harsh in my opinion. Secondly, unlike the American magazine Comics Journal, Red Eye doesn’t let its activism become elitism. Its decidedly non-elitist spirit is shown by the healthy coverage of 2000AD, which as strange as it sounds is the British equivalent of Marvel/DC. This is a joyous celebration of “adult” British comics and all are welcome.
As for the content well we can divide that into three section; news and previews, features and reviews. The news section is excellent with a wide range of news stories written up in an easy and informative manner. What’s especially impressive is the fact that every news story is used as an opportunity to introduce readers to the new comic, which is not only good for the comic in question but makes the news item more accessible for the casual reader. The selection of previews is impressive as well with the likes of Warhammer and Solar Wind showing off some of their art. Whilst its true that these previews often feel more like solicitations with the publishers seemingly providing their own blurbs these are on the whole informative and easy to read.
The features are even better with the mix between 2000AD and Small Press, Past and Present coverage coming to the fore. The 2000AD coverage is excellent with very good interviews with Frazer Irving and David Lloyd. These are buttressed with a superb retrospective of the 2000AD career of David Gibbons by Walther Dragonbuckle, which blows out of the water almost every other article I’ve ever read in a comics’ specialist magazine, with an authoritative and comprehensive look at the development of Gibbons’ style and his approach to comic art. Slightly less successful is a slightly po-faced opinion piece by Chris Atkins which seems to ignore the comedic tone of Cliff Robinson’s nude cover for Judge Dredd Megazine 213 and also seems to bear some grudge against 2000AD simply because its managed to survive when so many haven’t…strange.
The Small Press coverage is where the magazine excels with a superb interview with Bulldog Adventure Monthly publisher, creator and writer Jason Cobley that achieves the difficult feat of not only introducing the various incarnations of the comic and its star Winston Bulldog to a wider audience but also allowing the interviewee time to breathe and so allow the reader to properly assess him. It sounds extremely interesting and the Diamond solicited mini-series that’s in the work will be on my pull list when it comes out. There are also interviews with the editors of Tall Tales’ Daniel Silverton and Alex ArbabZadeh and Strange Embrace’s creator David Hine both of which offer an interesting look into their respective comics. Also welcome is the Frontline Small Press Catalogue that with its mix of art previews and review quotes makes up for the lack of a comprehensive listings section. However the star of the whole magazine has to be Mike Burrows fantastic first part to his retrospective of the Pilot of the Future, Dan Dare (the British comics icon of the 1950s) that is a fascinating look into the genesis of one of the most enduring characters in British comics’ history. Of particular interest is the look at the role the Christian sub-text in the character’s success with the original version of the character having been a military vicar. There are plenty more interesting facts like that in what is a thrilling article that will have you reaching for those gorgeous looking Titan Dan Dare collections…I wish I had money…(goes into a corner and cries).
Finally there are the reviews, which are okay. That’s a bit unfair, you see they follow the Comics International format of doing short paragraph reviews (a la Fourth Rail) so as to fit as many of them in as possible. Personally I’ve always preferred the type of reviews carried by the likes of Ninth Art, The X-Axis and ourselves that adopt a more essay style approach to reviewing a title, especially when I’m deciding whether to try a new title. Obviously it may not be possible due to space and time constraints but I think it would push the review sections up to the heights of the rest of the magazine. That said the reviewers get more room to write than in CI and it shows with some of them (especially Leon Hewitt’s on Future Quake 1) offering an impressively comprehensive overview. The inclusion of each comic’s web address is a clever and welcome touch that further confirms this magazine as a vital resource tool for those wanting to learn more about the British Small Press Market.
This is an excellent magazine packed full of content with great interviews, articles and news coverage. Whilst the design is unflashy, it does the job and avoids any stupid mistakes like 2000AD sometimes does with their text features where the background colour makes the text almost impossible to read (I HATE THAT!). Even though this current issue is over four months old it is still a must read if only for the historical articles on Dan Dare and David Gibbons and I’m sure Red Eye 3 that continues the Dan Dare article and profiles Brian Bolland will be just as good!
Final Word: Learn more about the fast growing British Small Press Market with this authoritative, comprehensive and above all enjoyable magazine.