My local comic shop was having a bit of an "NZ comics" fire sale a few months back, so I gathered up myself an armful of a random half-price sample and threw them in a box to review later. Well, it's later now... so maybe I should open the bag and see if I can identify what I bought.
My eye was quickly drawn to sparkly things - the three glossy mini-comics, all with shiny full-color covers. Let's start with issue #8 in the slow-but steady NZ anthology series "New Ground".
New Ground is the only currently active New Zealand anthology that I'm aware of. It's published by Jeremy Bishop under "Dealer Man Comics" and its 60 pages assembles a motley collection of brief NZ stories, most running to half a dozen black and white pages each.
Heather and myself actually contributed a story to New Ground #4, so I feel doubly-bad about sinking the boot into an NZ comics institution like New Ground. But sink the boot I must, as issue #8 is, like most of the issues that preceded it, basically a pile of rubbish.
The lead story: "Space Chronicles Adventures: The Star Crystal" features Claire - an air-brushed space heroine with boobs the size of her head. She is accompanied by a friendly robot named Tallon as she battles (well, runs around a bit) as she attempts to pick up the Star Crystal before an evil robot grabs it first. Throughout the five pages, none of the characters manage to produce a sentence that is anything more than a cliche. The final result possesses zero charm and zero adventure.
Again, the guilt strikes me as I get out the knives. Space Chronicles appears to have been written by a thirteen year old boy who has just discovered he can draw tits pretty well, and reckons that tits in space would be "really cool"... especially if combined with robots. Unfortunately, it doesn't get much past that - but still, the kid made the effort to write the story, and I feel terrible about running down his efforts. Man, I'm a lousy critic!
Second story is "Hellsquad!" A group of super-tough U.S. GI's are deep within Nazi territory when... Nazi Zombies strike! This tongue-in-cheek five-page taster doesn't really get past the concept, but the art is clean, and the story never takes itself seriously. I'd like to see where this story goes - if it goes anywhere. The tale is ... "to be continued" though really, you'd need another five pages just to get started!
Now we reach the heart of the comic, with "The Final Sunset - Part Two: Empire of Ash". Yes, the Drakobitus has destroyed Phauroraland's protection from the Luquahlian invadors, and the two Arkillian Dragons are forced into hiding as they wait for the world's last chance - the boy-warrior Bryan - to come of age and wield his father's sword... oh, dammit! This is ghastly stuff! Imagine bad manga done really badly. Eleven damn pages of trite dribble of the worst order. This is nothing more than a childish re-hash of other pathetic childish offerings.
"Rally Mark" is a rally driving NZ bloke who for some strange reason is being chased and shot at by a girl with a bazooka, a bunch of psycho-hillbillies, and some helicopter. The story is one page of intro and five pages of chase scene. The only plot twist is when the girl turns her bazooka on the helicopter instead of our hero. But given that we don't know who the girl is, or who was in the helicopter, or... anything, then it's pretty hard to care. Yawn and move on.
Let's try "Remnant". A powerful warrior has been dragged from his battle with monsters to battle a powerful armor-clad woman. But he struggles to overcome her trap and returns to battle alongside another powerful warrior in order to save his world from the dragon-men invaders... what the heck? Amazingly it seems that if you gather a random selection of 14-year old boys who know which end of a pencil is which - nine out of ten of them will draw a warrior, a woman with big tits, and will then round things off with either a dragon or a robot.
"FanGirls" is a teen-girl anime story about kids at a high school. The story meanders for six pages in the worst conventions of the genre and fails to produce a punchline.
"Terra Incognita". At last, we have a story worthy of the name. As our tale opens, a press-gang roams the docklands searching for unwary young men, to force them into service in the King's navy. Our hero is grabbed, then keenly volunteers! Clearly he's a madman, and the press gang refuses to take him. But meanwhile, the King is desperate for some decent food, and raises an expedition to seek out new tastes from China...
The tale is drawn in the Sergio Aragonés style and uses its four pages well, preferring to go for substance rather than style. Small/medium panels advance the tale, and the characters are interesting enough to get some interest going. This is the only contribution in the entire anthology to be pleasant rather than painful to read.
Editor Jeremy Bishop contributes a 4-page story featuring his son's loose tooth. The son imagines himself a giant toothy-mouthed duck storming around New Zealand in "Ducky of Doom!" It's silly, but at least it's a credible story.
Last page is a couple of four-panel "How to Communicate with a Teenager" strip gags by Steve Saville. Again, credible stuff worthy of the paper it's printed on. It's just a shame that after all the preceding crap I've had to wade through, most of my affection for comics in general is in pretty bad shape.
In conclusion... once more New Ground seems generally incapable of attracting more than a couple of stories good enough to deserve seeing the light of day. The remaining 80% of the book is filled with mindless, juvenile pap that looks like it was penciled on the back of a notepad during second-period science, and really should have stayed there.
I'm sorry to have to say that. Jeremy works incredibly hard to make New Ground happen. But he needs to work hard to get contributions from a few of the adult writers out there in NZ. They do exist... I'm sure of it. I can't help but get the feeling that as the deadline looms, he just takes whatever he can get to fill the page quota - and New Ground suffers heavily for it.
Coming Up: Two more glossy NZ Minicomics - "Tour Girls in the 23rd Century" and "Comma Cut #1".
Footnote: I later came across another NZ anthology, "Pictozone", edited by Dave Bradbury. Pictozine has released two issues so far. I covered the first one in my "Beyond Spider-Man" item, Pictozine, Sally, and Horses.