Modern Slorance: the Finland Issue

Modern Slorance: the Finland Issue,
Neil Slorance

Saunas, Moomins, Food, Romance and more!

A wee disclaimer before I start: I love Neil Slorance’s comics. I first came across them in the (sadly now defunct) Plan B Books down by the Tron in Glasgow several years ago, and have been following them ever since, and then the all-conquering, award-winning Dungeon Fun with Colin Bell, and now Pirate Fun too (highly recommend those latter two for those of you with kids, they are a delight for adults and even better for young readers, some of the little girls in my own family adore them). I’ve been especially fond of Neil’s travel mini comics such as Seven Days in Berlin, or Nine Lines of Metro. I had heard from his Twitter feed that Neil had been offered a place on a comics art residency in Finland, and had been looking forward to seeing that trip filter its way into his comics, especially as Finland has been making a bit of a name for itself in the last few years with a blooming Indy comics scene (similarly it has been building a rep with the SF&F readers and writers too).

While there are may elements here you’d expect (and indeed would want to see) in one of Neil’s work – some self reflection, the influence of friends, food, exploring, romance and, naturally, the odd tortoise reference – one of the most obvious differences here is the use of full colour for the Finland Issue, a change funded through the use of Kickstarter; this comic comes with lovely, watercolour painted art, and it is a very pleasing addition to Neil’s previous travelogues – even an opening page set in a deeply snowbound forest shines with glorious colour, the greens of the trees and clear, blue skies contrasting with the bright whiteness of the snow, and the use of full colour also allows for some utterly gorgeous scenes, such as single panel depicting the colours of the sunset viewed through the wintery forest. It’s only one panel, but it is one that stops you for a moment, reminds you again that it is worth pausing now and then to raise your head, as that great philosopher Ferris Beuller once told us, to take in little moments of life like the deepening colours of the sky at sunset, the shadows stretching across the land. That is a common thing in Neil’s travel works, I’ve found, and I think it is one of the reasons why they make me smile so much…

It’s a trip which nearly never happened, and in his normal honest way Neil records how he was elated at being offered a place, only to then suffer a lack of self-confidence, stacking up the problems rather than thinking of the opportunities. It’s another facet of Neil’s work that I’d admired in previous comics too, and I suspect his emotional honesty and the way he deals with such problems (often with the help of his friends) is part of why many readers enjoy his work – it’s very open, very human, very empathic. Of course he does get talked around into taking the chance offered (otherwise there would be no comic!) and sets off for the artist’s retreat in a small town outside Tampere, meeting his fellow creators on the residency who, I was pleased to see, were a diverse bunch from various countries.

We follow Neil making friends at the retreat, occasionally “flumping” into a deeper than expected snow patch during forest walks, meeting some friends who come over for a Finnish visit, exploring the local area and customs, such as the famous saunas of Finland, enjoying the dark skies and bright stars over the forest, the Moomins museum (Neil depicts Moomins-esque tortoises, he says to avoid copyright violations, but I suspect also because he just wanted some tortoises in there), and as always, the local food. I recall one of his previous works, I think it was the Berlin Issue, where Neil noted that he had lost weight and I was left wondering how he managed this as each of his travelogues are full of the joys of local food!

And, as advertised, there is romance – after the end of one relationship time had passed and Neil had met someone new, Ashley. Rather nicely he shows how they met when she came in to visit the shop below his studio and saw his comics, it’s beautifully handled, sweet but never too saccharine, just the right, warm balance. Naturally he is missing Ashley, but she’s arranged to meet him towards the end of his Finnish trip and… Well, let’s not spoil everything, other than to say that’s just a lovely sequence, and like so much of Neil’s work it left me with a lovely warm feeling and a huge smile.

You can purchase the Finland Issue and Neil’s other works from his website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Dungeon Fun!

Dungeon Fun Book One,

Colin Bell & Neil Slorance,

Dogooder Comics

dungeon fun 1 bell slorance dogooder comics cover

This is the story of a girl and her sword.”

We open on a pretty standard scene for Dungeons and Dragons influenced fantasy – a lovely, big splash page of a large, multi-turreted castle, surrounded by an incredibly deep moat and a single bridge spanning the gap. Before it stands a proud knight errant, ready for the quest. There are Great Deeds to be Done, Monsters to be Vanquished, Princesses (presumably lovely, of course) to be Rescued! Our shining knight presents himself, a great speech prepared to announce his virtue and bravery… And that’s right when Colin and Neil, with what I suspect was great delight, pull the rug out on the generic tropes of fantasy tales. For starters out poor knight is cut off in the middle of his impressive announcement speech by a rather irate bridge troll, who is less than happy to be addressed as “bridge troll”, pointing out he does, in fact, have a name (and a nametag). Going through a pretend ‘metal detector’ he is asked if he has anything metallic on him – well, er, armour, sword… Sorry, have to leave those behind, bridge security!

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And this farcical encounter soon directs us to the world of Deepmoat – yes, there is an entire village living down in the very deep and muddy moat which circles around the castle. And those pesky bridge trolls, messy pups that they are, have a dirty habit of throwing anything and everything down there, sometimes right on top of the unfortunate inhabitants. Our knight’s sword among them…

And that takes us into the world of Deepmoat where we find not just objects but even people get chucked in the pit by the trolls above, including a very young girl. Fortunately for her she is adopted by a nice couple of creatures who live in Deepmoat and they raise her as their own, Fun Mudlifter. But when more falling junk from the trolls kills them Fun decides it is time things changed and that the trolls above were taught a lesson. Of course she isn’t sure how to do this, or even how to get up there, but needless to say in this kind of genre it will involve a lot of adventuring, dungeons, monsters, trials and more.

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I’ve got to confess I absolutely loved this; in fact I sat with the largest grin on my face throughout, laughing repeatedly. Colin and Neil have taken all sorts of elements and references from the fantasy genre, from games like Zelda to well-worn tropes familiar to any of us who have sat up to 4am battling through Dungeons and Dragons or Tunnels and Trolls. And they they have clearly had a lot of fun taking many of those generic elements and playing with them and twisting them around. There is a good adventure story here, but it is also a delightful romp served up with lashings of wickedly funny humour. And it looks fantastic too.

Regular readers will know I loved Neil’s previous solo, semi biographical works (reviewed here) and while I can see some of his other art style in the characters here it is much lighter and with the fantasy rather than real-world setting he can indulge himself in flights of fancy (although still with a lovely cartoony style). And there are lovely touches – the lettering, too often an afterthought for some creators, is cleverly done in many places, using different sized speech bubbles appended to main ones and changes in font sizes to denote changes in volume and pitch of speech, and these are matched nicely with the expressions drawn on the character’s faces as they speak, the elements all work together beautifully. There are other nice touches like the simple device of inserting an arrow into an early dialogue box then again to a much later one to help tie different events together and show how connected they actually are.

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It’s an absolutely wonderful read, inventive, funny, warm, charming and so funny I am still smiling just at the thought of it. Dungeons, moats, monsters, wicked queens, castle, knights, quests, brave girl on a mission, prophecies, I mean really, it has it all. And Sandwiches. Can’t wait to see the next book. Meantime go give Colin and Neil some money for this, you will love it.

this review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet Blog

Reviews: Nine Lines of Metro and Seven Days in Berlin

This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog.

Nine Lines of Metro

nine lines of metro cover neil slorance

Seven Days in Berlin

seven days in berlin cover neil slorance

Neil Slorance, Pipe Down

I know Zainab had mentioned Glasgow-based Neil Slorance’s Seven Days in Berlin on the blog before, but browsing in Glasgow recently I picked up both that work and the preceding Nine Lines of Metro mini comics and took an instant liking to them; I rarely ignore my instinct when I get a good vibe on a new work, even when I know little of it, because that instinct usually always points me to some good reading, and so it proved again. Both comics are rather charming, autobiographical short works detailing a couple of trips abroad by Neil to Spain and Germany respectively.

In Nine Lines of Metro Neil goes to visit his friend Morv, who is living with her sister, sister’s husband and their kids in Barcelona for a wee break after a rough time back home, and also to catch up with his old chum. It begins like a gentle travelogue, Neil arriving in Spain, meeting his friends, going exploring (using the metro system, whence comes the title, although he notes he later found out there were actually more metro lines than he thought, oops!) and having fun. Being Barcelona he naturally ends up taking in works by Picasso and Gaudi, wandering the narrow streets of the city’s oldest quarters.

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So far so good – there’s nothing overly remarkable, but it is a gentle, good-natured short comic, in a nice, simple style for the most past, and not so very different from many other short comics about trips to different places. But for me Nine Lines started to become a bit more different and find it’s emotional feet towards the end, when Neil and Morv come across an outdoor concert by accident and stay to listen. Smoking a pipe he attracts the attention of a German visitor, Toben, and the two of them are soon chatting away in a friendly manner, when he is introduced to one of Toben’s companions, Lisa. There’s a nice feeling of him relaxing, all troubles forgotten, sitting in a warm country with old and new friends, listening to music, content, happy. And then as he and Lisa spend more time together their hands find each other’s hands, and Neil captures the emotions of that magical moment of first physical and spiritual contact with another person rather wonderfully, I felt, that simple pleasure of mutual touch “all of a sudden I had someone’s hand to hold.” Simple, unfussy but so wonderfully, humanly warm.

 

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Of course, as is the way with such things he’s met her right at the end of his stay in Barcelona and has to leave for home just as he is starting to connect with Lisa. There’s one of those strange little sad-glad scenes as he takes his leave of her and his friends, sad to part but obviously a happier person for having come and stayed with them and for meeting his new friends. But there’s more to this to come in Seven Days in Berlin – Neil keeps in touch with Lisa and eventually takes her up on an invitation to visit her. This is a slightly longer work and starts off with him being very welcome into Lisa’s circle of friends, including Toben – in fact it is Toben’s birthday and he’s invited along, fitting in nicely. He explores the city, as you’d expect, gazing at the architecture, marvelling at the tower by the Alexanderplatz vanishing into the clouds, enjoying the festival of light, when all sorts of major buildings are illuminated in interesting ways (in fact this causes him to divert from his usual small panel sequence to do a two-page splash of the Brandenburg Gate) and suddenly coming across piece of that iconic symbol of division, the Berlin Wall:

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Of course while I’m enjoying his recounting of visiting galleries and buildings, and musical spots, the zoo and other cultural and historical parts of Berlin, what I’m really thinking is what’s going on between him and Lisa. And that part is rather lovely and sweet and very natural, unforced, two friends who become a little more than friends but are still aware they live in different countries, mostly speak other languages, where, realistically, can this relationship go? But the pair are sensible and don’t really consider this too much, they simply spend the time they do have together as enjoyably as they possibly can, not a bad philosophy when you know the time you can share together is going to be too damned short. And he handles this in a lovely, open, charming manner, with quite sweet scenes that leave you with a nice, warm feeling inside:

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Both connected works are nice, gentle, very enjoyable, good-natured works, the travel lit side of them is fun, although for describing some of the sights perhaps he should use a few larger panels as he did try with his Brandenburg Gate scene in Seven Days and save the smaller sequence of panels for the more intimate, person to person moments, but clearly he’s still trying things out and I’m sure he’ll play more with layout in later works. Of the two the longer Seven Days is more enjoyable and better composed – I felt as if Neil was not just trying to say more in this comic than he did in Nine Lines, I felt he was relaxing a bit (perhaps the result of two good trips!) and giving himself more space to breathe as an artist in the latter book. And both, especially Seven Days, are very satisfying on an emotional level – there’s a charming, brief romance and chance connection formed and an acceptance of it, of taking something nice when it comes into your life even if for a short while, because you know that even when you part and have to return home you take a part of that experience and person and the feelings the two of you created together with you, still inside, making you a different, hopefully better person. Sweet, honest and very charming works.