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Sunday, 24 May 2015

Maidenstone - A new Horror Comic from Aberdeen's La Baguette Noir Press.

The stunning cover of Maidenstone
from Aberdeen artist, Andrew Kelly
I make no excuses for my behaviour - I'm quite happy to acknowledge that my geekness seemingly knows no end of ever stopping, even in my ever increasing middle-age.....and that is the way things will probably stay. In fact I rather confidently predict that when I lie on my death bed in the (hopefully) many years to come that I will be surrounded by some of my favourite comics, books and other sorts of goodie nerdyness. I also anticipate that I'll be surrounded by a veritable bevy of beautiful women who who be collectively distraught at the mere thought of losing my very presence in the world.....Hey, stop laughing you there at the back, you're only mocking because you know me. A man is allowed to dream.

If I'm being brutally honest for once, there genuinely was a time when I considered actually growing up and discarding my love of scifi, fantasy and horror and changing my interests in life to something more grown up and responsible adult-like...such as lentils or something. However that was just about the worst two minutes of my life and I promised myself never ever to do that again.

Anyhoo, my never ending appetite for comic books was further fed a couple of weeks ago when I was sent the first of a new horror series in the expectation that A) I would want to read it, and B) I would want to review it. Naturally, they were correct on both counts.

However I do want to make it clear before I go any further that thanks to the impending and very exciting inaugural Granite City Comic Con taking place here on the 30th of May, I am familiar with the creator of this particular comic, Chris Robertson. Of course, I am nothing if impartial in my opinion so of course it will be an honest appraisal - Scouts honour and all that. After all, I'm a professional........well alright, I'm not a professional, merely a keen delusional self-obsessed amateur....but it will still be an honest opinion.

Maidenstone is a creation of the quite wonderfully named Aberdeen based company - La Baguette Noir Press. So who the heck are they? Well in time honoured tradition of my blogging, let me save myself some work and let them tell you themselves.....

"Founded late 2011 by writer Chris Robertson and artist Greg Fisher, Baguette Noir initial focus was on our first publication – OLD WORLD ORDER. Since then we’ve produced three issues of that book, contributed work to other local publications and brought together Aberdeen’s local scene of creators. In 2013 we started to bring our madness to masses at a number of events, including MCM Glasgow Comic Con and Hero Conventions.

As an imprint our aim is to bring readers an original thrilling mix of Science Fiction, Adventure, and Horror comics, with a healthy dose of weirdness.  To that end we’re looking to get more people on board. If you have a great idea for a story; or if you’re an artist looking to hook up with a writer – get in touch. 

At the moment our back catalogue is small, but mighty. In 2015 we’re planning to continue the success of Old World Order, with issues #3 and #4 (featuring new artist Ewen Cameron!), a new title called Maidenstone (out now!), and the Silver City Comics Anthology, by local creators; as well as the debut book by writer Alex Giles, AND THEY COME! in July." 

So there you go....but, what about the actual comic?.....Well.....

Maidenstone is the first in a new Scottish horror series of comics set here in god's own country, the North East of Scotland. Now, in my time honoured tradition of not wishing to contain any spoilers, I will try and keep the plot details down to a minimum.......

In principle the story has its roots in local legend and myth as it begins to depict the seeming re-emergence of an ancient and threatening force. It is a force which is once again beginning to cast its shadow upon both the remote landscape and the scattered population who inhabit it. The focus of the story is a young girl, Lucy, a child who traditionally has found it hard to 'fit in' and whose emotional vulnerability has been further damaged by the recent death of her father. Lucy is unable to connect with either her 'drugged up' brother or any of the people outside her family. She soon finds herself drawn to a new arrival in the area, the charismatic Dylan. Just what are his intentions for Lucy and rest of this closeted rural community?

Story & dialogue from Chris Robertson,
artwork by Scott Beveridge
So is Maidenstone actually any good? The answer is a resounding yes. 

The aspect that is immediately apparent from Robertson's crisp dialogue is the gritty realism it imparts throughout. I have lived here in the North East of Scotland for going on 10 years now (and fully intend to stay forever unless I'm barred) and like many areas it contains it's myriad of of local traditions, dialects and philosophical nuances. I know the area where the story is set very well, it's a genuinely beautiful part of the world where tradition and a sense of history are all important in forming the fabric of the local community. It is also a part of the world where the local dialects can often confuse outsiders with the speed and intensity of their delivery and intonation. 

People generally say what they think up here, there is little time for subtlety of emotion, and I like that. The sense of realism of speech and life is wonderfully conveyed throughout this first edition without ever proving a barrier to those who may never have visited this part of the world - the dialogue is continually laced with a mixture of intense and occasionally despairing realism and at other times contains familiar dry engaging humour. Indeed, people may even recognise some of the themes here, they are universal. For rural life, as in Lucy's case here and indeed for many of us that went through a similar experience, is no different throughout the world. Sometimes it is difficult to fit in, especially if one is slightly different form that society's norms. The narrative throughout the story is nicely realistic without ever resorting to tired cliche.

Naturally, no matter how good the story and dialogue may be in a comic book, the result invariably rests upon the quality of it's artwork. Not only is the cover art from Andrew Kelly a thing of real beauty, the story art by Scott Beveridge has a gritty surrealist style all of its own that perfectly conveys a sense of the confusion, isolation and despair of Lucy. I found myself again and again simply soaking in the delightfully (and at times hauntingly) textured layers of surrealist gothic tinged artwork throughout. The imagery on show in Maidenstone is as intense a comic book experience as I've encountered for some time.

This hauntingly evocative horror comic launched on 25th APRIL. It is written by Chris Robertson with art by Scott Beveridge and Andrew Kelly. Give it a go - you won't be disappointed.

As I alluded earlier, I was already a Facebook acquaintance of Maidenstone author, Chis Robertson, through his other 'current pastime, the co-organiser of Granite City Comic con. I can quite honestly say that the GCCC event next week (30th May) is perhaps the most excited I've personally been about any event for many a year. Not only is is going to be a stonkingly good pop culture event featuring special guests, art and writing workshops, children’s activities, cosplay, retailers and independent publishers. But even better, it's a much need local event that we've needed up here in the North East of Scotland for a very long time. So consequently I thought that it would be nice to chat with Chris and get some of his thoughts on the launch of his new comic but also few words on the preparations for GCCC.

Q) Firstly, before we talk about Maidenstone, tell us a little about your Sci-fi/fantasy/horror influences 

A) I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek, so they're my sacred texts as far as Sci-fi goes; and I loved shows like (old) Doctor Who, Lost in Space and Land of Giants when I was a kid and I used to write and draw my own little Doctor Who comics on folded bits of A4. A bit further on I got into HP Lovecraft in a big way, and his work is a pretty big influence on Maidenstone. His type of existential horror, where the protagonist slowly realises that not only does the world not care, there are forces they don't understand out to hurt them, or control them.  

Comics-wise, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison are my go-to guys for inspiration, I read The Invisibles for the first time last year and just couldn't believe some of the stuff Morrison pulls off in that book - stuff that I thought you couldn't do in comics. More recently I've been blown away by Rat Queens, by Kurtiss Weibe. It's an amazing book, the characterisation is just stunning - it feels like it's been going forever because it's impossible not to instantly love each character. Chris Claremont's X-Men is what got me into comics, and it had the same thing.

Music is a big influence for me too, Jeff Wayne's original War of the Worlds album scared the living bejesus out of me as a kid, but I kept listening to it again. I write to music when I can, mostly soundtracks if I'm scripting; computer game soundtracks are great, the Mass Effect one is a favourite. If I'm coming up with ideas I like to listen to Amanda Palmer, The Afghan Whigs, The Manic Street Street Preachers, Ice T - stuff with imagery. 

The Real Maidenstone - I've touched it
(the stone, that is) you know.
Q) So what's the origin of the name La Baguette Noir Press?

A) It's pretty convoluted to be honest! It's partly in homage to a french friend of mine and a super hero alter-ego Greg Fisher (Old World Order artist) created for him. The origin of the logo is way more interesting - back in my days as a touring musician myself and our bass player had this idea that if rock n'roll didn't work out, we would open a chain of toastie shops, called 'MixingMeToasties'. The logo for which would be a dead rabbit. Years later, Greg and myself had to come up with a logo for the imprint at the eleventh hour before Old World Order issue 0 and 1 went to the printers. I told him the story of MixingMeToasties, and he drew a dead rabbit - voila! 

Q) What was the inspiration for Maidenstone?

A) The Maidenstone is a real Celtic standing stone just outside Garioch, in the shadow of Bennachie; and my parents used to take to there all the time as a kid. There's a pretty oppressive and lonely feeling in that area, which influenced a lot of the art choices for the book. My Dad is pretty into Scottish history and legends, and the stories and legends of the Maidenstone combined with the feel of the place and my memories of it gave birth to our story.

Q) Was it important to to you to base the story here in the North East of Scotland?

A) As much as Maidenstone is a horror story, I really wanted to convey a sense of what it's like to grow up in rural Scotland, especially if you're a bit different. There's definitely a lot more of autobiographical stuff in this book - just little scenes and phrases from being a teenager in Ellon.

Q) The artwork by Scott Beveridge is amazing. Did his style influence the story development, or visa versa?

Chris Robertson (right), with Scott Beveridge
A) Isn't Scott amazing?! Scott had to put with the densest, most descriptive script I've given an artist, I even sound-tracked that bad-boy! I had pitched this to artists as something they could experiment a bit with, and the book will get more surreal as the story goes on. One of the best things about doing comics is when you get art back and it's better than what you had pictured in your head, and Scott's also from a rural up-bringing too and he really got that aspect of book.

My favourite panels are the ones with the bullies, Scott just nails that intensity and despair. As I said, the script is pretty dense, and Scott has worked a lot of layers in the art, there's a fair bit of seeded imagery in there that's meaning becomes more apparent as the story goes on. I think with re-drafting issues two and three after seeing issue one finished, I'll tweak things a wee bit more to play to Scott's style and strengths. Props also to cover artist Andrew Kelly - his work is so great too.

Q) How much of a market is there for the 'traditional' comic format in this modern technological world?

A) Man, that's a tough one, and one that I can't really form an opinion on to be honest, as I've never bought a digital comic. I have comixology on my phone and never used it. I'm part of a dying breed that still pitch up to the comic shop every week for single issues, and I'll probably do that until single printed issues stop being made. 

Q) When will the next instalment of Maidenstone be available & what (if anything) can you tell us about how the plot may develop?

A) Issue 2 will be out September, we're launching it at ICE Birmingham, but it'll be available in Aberdeen shortly afterwards. I'm toying with the idea of another wee launch event at Brewdog - that last one went great. Issue 2 ramps up the horror a bit as Lucy and Dylan's relationship develops and his motivations become a little clearer - things start to get surreal.

Chis with GCCC co-organiser, Colin Penny
Q) Apart from being a horror comic writer extraordinaire, you're also the co-organiser of Granite City Comic Con - Aberdeen's (probably) first ever Comic Con which is only a week or so away (May 30th) - how are the last minute plans going?!

A) I'm thankful to say we're pretty much there, it's just a case of letting it happen! Baguette Noir will launching the first Silver City Comics Anthology at GCCC. Silver City is a monthly group I run for creators who want to discuss and show of their work - this is where I met Scott. It's been great for meeting like-minded folks and from the wee homework exercises we did emerged this anthology of stories that hang loosely together, mostly horror again! I've written a couple of the stories and worked with Scott again on one.

So we've not only got the Anthology in May and Maidenstone #2 in September, we'll have Old World Order #3 out in the summer, and a debut from writer Alex Giles in July with his book And They Come!. So that combined with organising GCCC 2016 means it's all comics, all the time. It's awesome.

You can buy a copy of Maidenstone directly from the La Baguette Noir Press website at

The Facebook page for La Baguette Noir Press be found RIGHT HERE

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