One of the nice things about having this little bully pulpit is that I get to recommend comics which are made by people whom I'm friends with. I've already plugged Jim Massey's great comedy Maintenance on this blog (just before New Year, in case you were wondering), but here are two more books which I recommend you check out.
First off, for those of you who are young adults (of all ages), writers Antony Johnston and Dan Evans III have a nifty little creation which is just about to ship its debut issue to stores. It goes by the name of Texas Strangers, and is what I'm sure Hollywood types would call a High Concept - it's a cowboy series for kids and teens, with lots of extra added goodness in the form of magic, elves, ogres and mysterious interlopers.
Texas Strangers is the story of a pair of teenage twins, Madara and Wyatt, who are on a mission to return an artefact - a knife - to its rightful location in Texas. En route, the kids are surprised to find that their quest will not only prove dangerous to their health, but may reveal to them secrets they never knew about themselves. In a nice bit of role reversal, it's Madara who's the pugnacious, scrappy one, while Wyatt is more content to swot up on his magic and rely on his sister to (literally) fight their corner on a more physical level. Their world is one where Christopher Columbus discovered America with the aid of an on-board wizard and Mexico has a large indigenous orc population, and it's a world that's being unveiled to kids this month.
Johnston is no stranger to comics, having worked on titles such as Queen & Country, his own ongoing Oni Press series Wasteland and the graphic novel adaptation of Antony Horowitz' Stormbreaker. Evans, on the other hand, may be new to comics scripting but has years of experience under his belt in the field of TV, where he has worked on shows such as Transformers: Beast Machines and Digimon. Together with artist Mario Boon, they've put together a story which fills a gap in the market - an ongoing children's book from a major publisher which doesn't feature superheroes or cartoon characters. Texas Strangers looks to be set to give comics-reading kids a continuing action-adventure series to call their own for the first time in donkeys' years. Each individual story is set to run over two issues for maximum reader-friendliness, and if you're interested in checking it out - and I hope you are - there's an 11-page preview of the first issue here, and it won't cost you one red cent.
If you don't reckon all-ages comics are your cup of tea, though, you might want to try out Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's current Image comics series Phonogram. Following the story of one David Kohl, a distinctly unlikable indie chap, Phonogram posits the theory that music and magic are intrinsically linked, and phonomancers like Kohl can use the former to effect the latter. Kohl is a misanthropic fellow who's out to get what he can from whoever is willing to let him take it, but one day he finds out that Brittania, the symbol of Britpop and Kohl's patron goddess, is in trouble. At that point it all starts to go a bit wrong for him, and he's deputised on a mission to save both her and himself from rival phonomancers who are trying to tape over his memories and identity.
Gillen's been a writer for many a year, and is regarded as one of the top video games journalists around (he was responsible for creating a new style of review called New Games Journalism which focussed on subjective experience of games, which many saw as good sense and others were less enthused by. The debate continues to rage and no doubt amuses Gillen no end). He's also written for and co-edited the British small press anthology Commercial Suicide and writes a strip entitled Save Point for Official PlayStation 2 Magazine. Gillen's writing style is one which you have to work at (there's no easy way to articulate complexity without sacrificing at least some meaning) but is always rewarding once you wrap your head around the Big Concepts (which, ironically, often can be articulated easily - music is magic. See?). His David Kohl is a complicated guy, who seems at first glance to be the kind of guy you get in every scenester hangout and whom you would generally try to avoid, but he's got more in common with Hellblazer star John Constantine than the fact that they're both morally reprehensible magicians in comics - they're both also guys who will do the right thing as often as the wrong, even if you don't like their methods.
Art is provided by Jamie McKelvie, who comes from the flaming eight-balls, skulls and dice school of art. He excels at drawing attractive punk girls, but luckily his range also extends a lot wider than that too. He has a super-cleanline style reminiscent of Steve Conley and Steve Rolston that could, in lesser hands, make for a pretty posed-looking comic, but McKelvie manages to give characters a subtlety of facial expression and body language that adds a sense that these characters have weight and presence. He's got an original graphic novel called Suburban Glamour out this year which, unsurprisingly, features some attractive punk girls, but it's hard to begrudge them that when he certainly draws them well.
Like Texas Strangers, Phonogram has a preview online (at this location) which covers the first ten pages of the first issue. Unlike Texas Strangers, Phonogram is definitely not all-ages, so don't click through to it whilst unprepared for swearywords.
There you go. Two comics by my mates, easily sampled online. Whether you choose to go into the West with Texas Strangers or turn on and tune in to Phonogram, it'll be worth your while. Plus, y'know, it'll help to make my friends richer, and they might buy me drinks. So everyone wins! Hooray!