09th Nov2011

Event – Comic Gosh!p Book Club (Batman: Year One)

by Chris Thompson

Although I missed the inaugural get-together of Thinking Comics‘ new comic book club last month, I was more than ready for the second one tonight (November 9). This time around the focus was on Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One, as well as Josceline Fenton’s excellent webcomic, Hemlock. Josceline herself was on hand to share insights into her work, though I can’t say the same for that slacker Miller.
I arrived about 5 minutes late and things were already well under way. In total I counted just over 30 people, so there were a number of us standing (or leaning) on the periphery. Not bad for the second meeting of a group discussing comics. There were also tea-making facilities and some yummy Bat-cake for afterwards, thanks to the fine people at Gosh! Comics London.

A lot of interesting points were raised by those in attendance, and there was a definite freedom to speak up if you felt inclined or just listen quietly if you preferred. I’m used to going to events at Orbital Comics here in London, but at Gosh! I felt a little out of my element. Fortunately that didn’t last long and I was starting to ease in by the end. I’ve collated some of the thoughts and findings in bullet point below for those who couldn’t make it and are interested …


BATMAN: YEAR ONE by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli with Richmond Lewis (DC Comics)

  • Mazzucchelli’s work on Year One was compared to Alex Toth, Milt Caniff and various European styles.
  • John Miers suggested that (at least in Frank’s mind) the Batman saga is book-ended by Year One and Dark Knight Returns since they both appear to take place in the same universe.
  • The fast pacing of the book helps you to fly through it, and that could only be achieved in a comic book. The comic form also allows for two distinct narratives – Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne – with a possible third in the form of Selina Kyle.
  • I mentioned that Mazzucchelli was most likely chosen for the storytelling he brought to the book. Batman and Bruce Wayne were always more or less prominent depending on who was providing the narrative. For example, in the closing moments of the book when Gordon loses his glasses, everything is seen in brief flashes and shadows without any great detail. This is something Miller probably couldn’t have achieved himself.
  • There were some obvious comparisons to Taxi Driver, especially when Bruce heads into the night incognito and ends up tangling with the hookers and their pimp. Perhaps Frank was channeling a little Travis Bickle?
  • If Year One is the beginning and Dark Knight Returns is the end, then did someone at DC consider All-Star Batman & Robin to be the middle arc? That’s what Steve at Gosh! suggests.
  • It was noted that the colours had been re-done for the trade paperback, and the efforts had been quite worthwhile. Unlike George Lucas and Star Wars, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to go back and fix things.
  • There was also a great discussion about whether Batman is actually a super-hero … Is it powers, the costume or the heroic acts that make a hero super? The concensus, I believe, was that actions mattered most, so by that count Batman is a super-hero. I’m sure there’s still some who disagree though.

HEMLOCK by Josceline Fenton (hemlock.smackjeeves.com)

  • Josceline started doing comics when she was about 10 based on a How To Draw Manga book her father bought. She’s trying to move away from the direct manga influence, but it’s still what she’s known for.
  • The idea for Hemlock first came up in 2006, then resurfaced again in 2008 with Starvation Soup.  It finally came back as its own series (with changes) because Josceline loved drawing The Witch (Lumi).
  • The Snail House (Richmond) became a much bigger part of the story due to public response. She hates drawing him because he’s so big, but it’s what she constantly gets asked for.
  • The inclusion of the tale of Baba Yaga comes from her Scandinavian heritage and stories she used to hear as a child rather than any ifluence from Mike Mignola or Hellboy. Josceline’s Swedish ancestry seems to inform quite a lot of her work.
  • One person noted the unique use of sound effects, and how each one felt different and special. Josceline said this was probably because her typography had been criticised by teachers at school, so maybe she tried extra hard.
  • It used to take her about two hours to complete a page, but now it takes about a day. It’s most likely due to her being a perfectionist and feeling the pressure as her audience increases.
  • The Snail’s language doesn’t really mean anything, but there are some particular symbols that do. He has a symbol for most of the main characters and one for saying hello … apparently it sounds like clicking if you say it right.
  • Josceline has a large collection of art books and takes a lot of inspiration from fashion art and historical design. I sense a call from Project Runway imminently …
  • Hemlock is planned as a series of six volumes overall. She is currently working on Volume 4 online and Volumes 1, 2 & 3 are now available in print (www.lulu.com/spotlight/mildtarantula).
  • Her original art is done on A4 (slightly larger than the finished product) then scanned in before gray-tones and captions are added. It’s actually intended for print and not for the screen, but the webcomic seems to be working.
  • Although she tries to stay a couple of updates ahead, Josceline hasn’t been doing well at that of late. The original pages she showed us were actually from the next update due later this week!


So, there you have it … If you were curious about Batman; Year One or Hemlock then you have some food for thought. And if you were curious about Comic Gosh!p then you now have some idea about the length, breadth and depth of our coverage. Next month’s meeting, to be held on December 14, will cover Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, as well as John Miers’ Babel (www.johnmiers.com), so why not come along?

One last thing I’ll leave you with is this great interview I found with Josceline Fenton earlier this evening. It clarifies and expands upon some of what was discussed tonight, as well as raising some new topics. Enjoy!


2 Responses to “Event – Comic Gosh!p Book Club (Batman: Year One)”

  • Unfortunately when you missed the first 5 minutes you missed the cake announcement. You wrongly attributed the cake to Gosh! rather than Jen, my co-host Darren’s wife. Thanks Jen for your amazing Bat-Cake baking skills 🙂

    • Chris Thompson

      Oops! Sorry, Mark … Thanks to Jen for the cake and Gosh! for the tea. I guess it was karma that I missed out on a piece of cake then. 😉