The Invisible Artist: Youtube with Subtitles

The Invisible Artist: a contemporary history of Belfast’s comic book culture is a 2011 TV documentary written and presented by Andrew Luke and directed by Carl Boyle for Belfast station NVTV. Patrick Brown was interviewed, and also provided much of the research that went into the film. Other interviewees include John Killen of the Linen Hall Library about his exhibition, The Unkindest Cut, of political cartoons about Northern Ireland in the 20th century,Davy FrancisJohn Farrelly, Jim McKevitt, owner of Atomic Collectables, P. J. Holden and Stephen Downey.

Subtitles are exhausting. Your feedback is still appreciated.


Normative, ha! What does normative know?

I am Andrew Luke.



Last month, I visited Nerdtopia in the leafy student district of Belfast’s Stranmillis Road. They were all out of Deli-Lite sandwiches, so instead, I’d a gourmet sausage roll made for the Sultan himself.

It was the morning after Q-Con, an enormous sci-fi and gaming thing, a village. We maintain being wrecked due to this pressurised stint of business, and not the Jack Daniels controlling our neurologies.

I love coffee; the dirty damage of any writer but frankly I’d been up since 6am working on my latest commission* and deserved a soothing addle of hot cocoa hyperdrive.


Nerdtopia Coffee Manager John, quite lovely. Please keep him in work.


Nerdtopia Says Eat Cake  – The coffee making area is perhaps Nerdtopia’s greatest flaw. Not for the vanilla, caramel and chocolate syrups, the size it takes up in the small premises; an industrial length box perhaps ripped from an ice-cream shop.

Around about is a booth for four, round two-person tables, a set of comfies and throws, a reader shelf and accessible pinboard. This informs the realisation I’m sitting in a community space. A business sure, but it feels inclusive, almost organic. The shop has it’s backbone of regulars, explains John, “but we get all ages in here. Many are locals just looking for somewhere with a bit of colour.”


This is Chris, the store manager. Out the back of the shop is a large room ideal for workshops and signings, used by gaming groups on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. They open a little later then.


The comics selection is one black case of about eighty books built of Judge Dredd, Batman, The Walking Dead and Warhammer. They also have on sale key rings, die-casts and brushes; board games, tobacco cases and the United Rizla Papers of Benetton.


The Nerdtopia flyer, with £1 off any large tea or coffee. Hot! They also do a 10% student discount.

In my dream scenario, comics readers are treated as the over 25s and allowed to mix strips, beer and daylight if they so choose, without awaiting allocated convention days. We’re all responsible drinkers, except for the Whovian cosplayers. The next best thing is this social model of selling coffee with comics. The late Jack Brodies in Camden sold Dr. Octopus and orange juice, and I’m told Plan B Books in Glasgow has Satrapi and Sumatra, and that Dublin City Comics and Collectables does Kickass and Kitkats.

I’d taken the 8a there, but it’s really a ten minute stroll back to the city. First, the bladder must be emptied and John points me out to the back room. Then another doorway. a tall enclosure stretching to the celing, it’s outer walls on each side an assuring police box blue welcomes me to travel the streams with the technology within.

Nerdtopia are located at 86 Stranmillis Road, Belfast, BT9 5AD. Here’s a link to their Facebook page.

*Andrew Luke is currently finishing writing the Looking For Work series of books for the Social Security Agency of Northern Ireland.

Comics That Moved Me: Third World War

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.

Crisis first five covers

Front-loaded with sequential design and a timeline of atrocities flowing. A futureworld of Pat Mills’ evidence-founded speculative horror. Artist Carlos Ezquerra’s rich figure drawing and the painted colours seemed to move in the heat of South America with its dust and its fire and sheer assault. The slums, the shanty-towns and the barrios; the expressions and adrenaline of fear and the barking army-life. The opening salvos of Crisis, a fortnightly magazine from the makers of 2000AD. As a publishing operation, it appealed. 2000AD was as the time bogged-down by more continuity than Marvel and DC, and it’s readers seemed like a clique of a club: they didn’t want me there. Crisis took the science-fiction genre and rammed it past those worlds detached to me. Lead strip Third World was about things that were happening around me, there and then.

The British Government had instituted compulsory national service from age 18 to work in the poorest countries of the world. They were to protect the interests of multinationals (a new phrase to me then) from the trigger of a gun, if necessarry. The focus was a unit of teenagers charged with re-educating and re-orientating locals. They did this reluctantly, through fear of the threat of force, or through blind faith and ignorance. Unlike a 2000AD story, we weren’t often treated to discussions of active conspiracy to liberate from an unjust system. This was comics realism. Sometimes you just have to follow orders, thousands of miles from your lovers.

3ww subversion

02 3WW free gifts

Third World War has been accused of many things. The characters sometimes lapsed into sociological text-book mode: Haralambos-speak. A fan, Hipsterdad, has referrred to them as “two dimensional” and “only open-minded insofar as they reject conventional society in favor of paganism and rebellion.” The character of Trisha was the type of olde christian. Practicing the faith at the time, she enabled me to see the hypocrisies of some of my fellow Christians’ attitudes and question other characters’ responses, which largely consisted of bullying her. In retrospect, it was Dawkins, perhaps filtered through Mills’ motor-noise soundtrack of The Dead Kennedys, Napalm Death and Chumbawamba. In the affluent part of Belfast, I didn’t know any blacks or punks or soldiers. Stereotypes are not useful for relating to specific people or scenes, but can be helpful fixing in on a broad-area signal. Dave Merrill at the above link is of the opinion that 3WW was so guilty of soap-boxing it was “soap factory-ing”.

Crisis more covers

The format of the strip: two fourteen-page installments, allowed for a quick presentation of a story, before moving on. Mills and Ezquerra didn’t waste their breath. Immediately readers were told about psychological warfare battalions (which our cast were part of), Agent Orange and free fire zones (cattle grazing land prepared by napalm). I was introduced to phrases like “Low Intensity Conflict” and the global horrors of the debt crisis engineered and fed on by Western bankers of the IMF. One story focussed on Coca-Cola’s links with death squads, forces which continue to be complicit in the murder of trade unionists in Guatemala, twenty years before Mark Thomas’ would write Belching Out The Devil. Before he would write about Britain as one of the world’s major arms suppliers to repressive military regimes in the form of CS gas, leg irons, armoured cars, surveillance systems and gallows. In one discussion of strobe guns a character remarks, “Its okay, its been tested in Northern Ireland”. Mills wrote about torture and disappearance, child soldiers and secret police. He talked about food irradiation and sterilisation, while Alan Moore was still pottering about with his giant naked blue man’s penis.

The glossary accompanying 3WW provided reference points in the form of book lists, NGO reports and documentaries, as well as historically-verifiable facts. Throughout its life Crisis retained links with the Green movement and Amnesty International, demonstrating that the news didn’t end with where the News would have you believe. You could get active and involved and for god’s sake, make an effort.

After the initial first book of seven stories (fourteen issue) closed, Mills became more interested in race and policing in London. This new narrative scene timed with format changes in the magazine and started a trend which allowed for Crisis’ death knell. Warren Ellis, writing at Artbomb, had this to say on its demise,

“And when it all fell apart, as it was always going to do, the idea of adult graphic novels in Britain largely went with it. The money was pulled. No-one at Fleetway was going to get a second shot. No other publisher – being careful and scared – was going to put their money on the place where the floor fell in.

And, to this day, no-one’s really been back there.”

Sputnik on Fortunecity has a page with a few details of Crisis and 3WW and I’ve just made a blog with a few transcriptions available.

Neither of these are well-formatted but they are informative. Third World War has not been reprinted recently, bar a few Flickr users, although there is a 2000AD thread (rightfully) calling for Book 1 to be reprinted.

I have it from my sources that we may be seeing the return of a commercial British political comic from one or more publishers in the forthcoming year.  I reckon Warren would visit.

David Baillie – Paris, Colchester and Where You Are Sitting Now

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.

A fixture around the UK comics scene for years, the creative David Baillie has been strongly touted as set to make the jump to television. For those of you unfamiliar, here’s the intro from David’s friendly website,

“His work has appeared in 2000AD, Judge Dredd Megazine, Tripwire, Redeye, Comics International, Zombies, Robots and a dozen other fabulous places. His screenwriting has recently been nominated for a BAFTA/Rocliffe Award and shortlisted for the hotly-contested Red Planet Prize and Scotland Writes Drama Competition. Exhibitions of his art have been mounted in London, Edinburgh, Paris and Oxford.”


Baillie has recently completed The Casita Situations, with webcomic pioneer Daniel Merlin Goodbrey and Italian architect Valerio Ferrari. “A micro-world” within the walls of the children’s mental health clinic at Avicenne Hospital in Paris, Ferrari conceived “a series of interchangeable wall panels…text, written in the diverse range of languages spoken by the young people there.”

casita_jan_2010_09 casita_jan_2010_10

Baillie and Goodbrey have thought through the language of visual psychology. The work is uplifting, and by design, engaging. The opportunity for patients to decide on placement allows for them to be a part of creating the environment they are in the care of, and so empowers. Also…dinosaurs, winged men, dog and cat-heads in suits…it’s super-kewl!

Goodbrey has reproduced the Situations online as a randomly generated hypercomic.


Baillie’s stint there seems an extension of this; the production of “an anthology of stories about Colchester and its inhabitants” arrived at through interacting with visitors. He’s to be involved in a master-class there, and I would guess he’ll be pulling extra shifts. Firstsite have decided that April is comics month. Their programme has contributions from writer/editor Pat Mills, historian Richard Reynolds and artists Simon Grennan, Ed Hillyer (Ilya) and Chie Kutsuwada. Boys and girls comics, contemporary art and comics and manga and subversion are to be explored in talks. There are also several schools sessions and activities for the family and children.

Oh, and a screening of Persepolis. All here.


I recently went through David’s website and read a bunch of the handsome, entertaining and free comics there. I was struck by the fact that Baillie is a fantastically great writer. His way with dialogue, particularly in ‘Scribe’ and the World’s Finest pieces, stand out like the shape of a fit model, endowned with intellect and great hips. Likewise “The indiscriminate device”, a powerful work, directed with pace and care.

a dogs tale


tongue of the dead

Like the rest of his website, the comics seem a great lesson in how to present an online portfolio, with something in every medium, genre and style. Television executives, take note.

To end on, my capsule reviews of Baillie’s works to date.

The Belly Button Chronicles (2008)  Webcomic diary of a man approaching thirty. Currently running near 300 pages and full of friendly observations, wit and varying shapes. Could so easily be lazy, but not Baillie’s way.

The Final Adventures of RocketBoy (2007) ‘Wittle’ protagonists in pastels and a smattering of computer-aided lettering in this Weekend Cupid Cutefest extravaganza with jetpacks. Occassionally too shallow and sweet, delivers a finale that made me both shed a tear and laugh heartily.

Tongue of the Dead (2007-08) From the first third of the book, a fluently related sword and sorcery adventure. Great page layouts and realised action scenes. Ordering a copy direct from the author via Paypal for only £10 (p&p included) will get you a personalised sketch too!

A Dog’s Tale – Nonsensical fun and fast-moving adventure narrative containing every something you could want out of a stupid comic. Recommended.

indiscriminate devicemindy pool

The Indiscriminate Device(2004-05) Well rendered scream from the heart.. One of the most affecting comics I’ve ever read.

Kwot – Slow starting science fiction evolves into a 2000AD-esque tale. Super-heroes, Hitmen, Mutants, robots and regular working folk. Dedicated to Will Eisner, containing a lucid and random-ness often found in his work.

Mindy / Pool – The trials of a pool attendant and a famous artist, visualised in classic minimal style. Full of wit, poignancy, sadness and frustration. No ill side effects, these comics have proved very popular with readers on the festival circuit.

Monkey and the Writer – Four shorts: cute and fun.

Scribe – Another brilliant piece of reverse-engineering iconography, or if you prefer, a story about writer’s culture and it’s ability to envelop or remove. Also, taps into universal and hidden notions we get from reading comics. A solid down-to-earth winner.


baillie superman batman

Just Like Greta Garbo (2005)  thinking, ripping yarn with deeply considered attention in this “World’s Finest” story. Visually disperses with show-off realist flash, opting for a fantastical friendly look, coloured using prettiness. Wholly functional and layers of cleverness. I like it, I like it a lot.

How I Learned To Love The City (2002) A short about the author’s big lifestyle choices. Artistic evolution in topic, content and form, with pleasing results. Optimism out of Drudgery.


Cradle to the Grave – Mini meditation on mortality, with anecdotes and Baillie’s running symbolism.

The Dream – Visuals only mini-comic dream diary. Simple and creepy. (2002)

The Ballad of Jack (2003) Short rhyming character meditation. Sensible words on lifestyle.

You can read most of these works and buy them at David’s website,