I'm back on the trail of New Zealand comics again. This month, down at my local comic shop I picked up New Ground #1 & #2. Like "Officer Pup" from last month's Better Read, these two items are attractive-looking A5 compendiums of work from all sorts of talented (and sadly some not so talented) New Zealanders. Both these issues are from 2004, and the planned schedule is to produce an issue twice-yearly, to coincide with the local Armageddon pop-culture expo that is held once in Wellington and once in Auckland each year.
Let's check out the actual collections. The cover is glossy color-printed card, and the insides are clean B&W paper stock. Both issues are 64 pages. New Ground is compiled by Jeremy "The Boot" Bishop, under the brand of Dealer Man Comics. The contents consist basically entirely of actual comic work: there're no essays or prose pieces here at all.
The goal is to showcase new creators, or new projects from creators who already have a little recognition in the community. Some of the contributions consist purely of sample or concept art, or fragments from partly completed works. While the idea of concept art is interesting, like the luscious pencils of "Pangia" in #1, I think that offering a half-a- work, such as the fragments we see of Ashley Chow's "Boys & Girls" is actually a terrible idea. Chow's pencils are superb. But if you can write a whole story, then write one. If you can't, then don't dick people around.
As for the quality of the work, there's a huge variation. A lot of the work seems to be done by kids, and really lacks any sense of maturity. "Magical Schoolgirl Rumi-Chan", for example, is a startlingly inane contribution by a girl who is (according to the blurb) only twelve years old. Full kudos to her for getting out and creating, but as a showcase for "the best of Kiwi Comics" this kind of immature, doodled echo of the worst of Japanese schoolgirl manga does little to give the genre any credibility in the wider community.
I've started with the worst stuff but there're actually some works here that show a glimmer of hope. The concept art in #1 for "Pangia" (the tale of a female Maori warrior) is beautiful soft-pencil fine-art stuff. In #2 we get a short tale, but it's little more than a fight sequence - attractive, but with no depth of narrative. Still, there's definitely a sense of atmosphere created, so I'll wait until I see more before judging.
"Twilight" by Fred Schaaf, Michel Mulipola & Waiton Fong shows some potential also. It's a sci-fi/horror/action story, set in a future-world where DNA adjustment has created a strain of nu-human vampires. The tale is promising, but it veers very quickly into ultra-violence, and in the process loses much of any sense of tension it might have created up until that point.
By contrast, "Nebulous Definitive" by Richard Fairgray maintains a sense of abstract confusion and curious narrative, but errs in the other direction, in that it struggles to give the reader anything definitive on which to hang any attention or interest. Philosophical musing is all very well, but you are generally expected to have a tangible concept behind the work.
Waiton Fong (of "Twilight") returns in #2 with a solo effort, "In the Woods", which is a charming twist on "Little Red Riding Hood". For my money, it's the best piece in the two volumes, combining a skillful and interesting art- style with a delicously digestible tale. In fact, "In the Woods" is the kind of quality creation that I'd really been hoping for. It's the real McCoy. The challenge now is to build up an entire collection of works of that level, and then use that as a spring-board.
There's plenty of other ho-hum stuff in #2. Some have very tidy art as in "Silver Wing" and "Space Chronicles", but both are crying out for a story that raises even the slightest glimmer of interest. Others have crappy art and equally uninspiring plots. Overall, I must ask... "Where are the writers?" New Ground has found a few passable artists here and there, but rare indeed seem to be the stories to match them.
I'll keep buying New Ground. It's the only way to find new talent when starting from such meagre beginnings - throw some seeds on the earth and see what grows. But I really hope that Jeremy Bishop manages to build up a stronger "regular cast", and starts to receive more contributions from which to make his selection each six months. If "Rumi-Chan" can get eight pages in issue #2, then you really have to ask what kind of rubbish did he not include!
Breaking New Ground is back-breaking work. There's a part of me that hates myself for sitting on the sidelines and taking pot-shots like this. I feel like part of the problem, not part of the solution. Well, the least I'll be doing is handing over my cash each issue. And maybe, just maybe, I'll pick up my keyboard and see if I can write anything better!
Next: Chopper Chick!