Created by Pat Mills, Mike Donaldson, Ian Ashcroft, Bruno Stahl, Ade Hughes, Gareth Sleighthome, James Newell, Cliff Cumber, Charles Gillespie, Lisa Mills, Vince Hunt.
Spacewarp is an ambitious new comic masterminded by legendary 20000 A.D. editor Pat Mills – who writes all the stories within. The book spans a healthy 70 pages and features a cluster of stories around the theme of a reality-bending warp bringing humanity into conflict with everything from dinosaurs to space gods. The stories are interspersed with plenty of Tharg style feature pages and background material.
Pat has said that he hopes this comic will be a success on the digital market. He sees the creative potential in ‘guided view’, which takes the reader through the panels. The print market has not been left behind but will be served by print-on-demand technology fulfilled through Amazon. At a time when comics publishers are tightening the purse strings it makes sense to find the best way to be self-reliant.
There is no doubt that the current financial, social and health crisis will see big changes in how comics are created, funded and distributed and also in how they are consumed. Authors want creative control and autonomy and they want to retain ownership of their intellectual property. They also need to find a means to reach the greatest number of readers in an affordable and scalable way. Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms are becoming increasingly popular with indie comics creators and some bigger players looking to solve funding and distribution problems.
In Spacewarp this very 21st century approach to the medium meets a classic narrative style from the great days of British comics. It is very hard to get away from 2000 A.D. (and related titles like Battle, Action and Starlord). The legacy of the book runs through Spacewarp. There is not so much Judge Dredd but there are real echoes of the likes of Flesh, ABC Warriors, Nemesis the Warlock and Invasion.
Sfeer and Loathing opens the bidding with a tale of Lovecraftian cosmic weirdness. Gareth Sleighthome does not miss his opportunity to go to town with depictions of wild alien space deities and otherworldly technology.
Jurassic Punx is my favourite story in the book. Set in Liverpool – which has been overrun by dinosaurs it is full of references not to the Beatles but the post-punk city of Echo and the Bunnymen, the Teardrop Explodes and Frankie. Namechecking Eric’s and Probe Records will always get you points with me. The sight of a man literally fighting for his life while still nursing his academic grudges is hilarious and I wonder if the references might be closer to home. The subtle messages of ‘abandon the north and save the south’ has a contemporary resonance as well. Good to see Pat has not lost his anti-authoritarian bent. Bruno Stahl does a wonderful job depicting slavering hordes of ravening dinosaurs with the action scenes building wave upon wave through the panels with real dynamism.
Hellbreaker sees Ian Ashcroft illustrating Pat’s words in a tale of a rogue so roguish he escapes from hell itself. Equal parts funny and shocking Hellbreaker reminded me of Iain M. Banks book Surface Detail with its decapitated but living heads and its infernal setting which examined ideas of religion, virtual reality and consciousness.
If you miss Ro-Jaws and his pals you will be pleased to see the debut of Mr Murder in Xecutioners. This charismatic mecha is probably the outstanding character of the book and Gareth Sleighthome does a great job bringing him (it?) to life.
Futant is a school story with a difference. The difference being that this is not Grange Hill or a certain school for wizardry, rather it is a school for kids with ‘future powers’ who will be sent to do the bidding of the twisted headmaster in defence of humanity. The Lord Protector is a distinctly Torquemada-esque character down to his catchphrase ‘Be Worthy, Be Manly, Belligerent!’. Mike Donaldson does a great job in depicting the personalities of the different kids.
The strip SF1 has a bit of a Rogue Trooper vibe but with present day anxieties – bacteriological threats to the fore. With a big cast, this faces that ‘first issue’ problem of introducing them all without too much exposition – an issue for all the strips in this comic, but one which should soon resolve itself. Ade Hughes provides fittingly twisted illustration.
The final strip in Spacewarp is Slayer where Pat’s script is in the hands of James Newell. This strip had overtones of some of the wonderfully OTT legions that come out of the Warhammer 40K milieu. There is no doubt that there is a ready audience for that type of fare and if Spacewarp can tap into that audience it will do well.
Bacteria! Bacteria! Bacteria!SF1
The idea of the over-arching theme is ambitious and does work well to tie the book together. Whilst the strips, having the same writer and being set in the same world, have a similar tone it is clear that the aim is not to appeal to everyone. It will be interesting to see if Spacewarp decides to bring in a broader variety of strips.
I have a pre-release copy in which most of the strips were in black and white. I’m not sure if that will be the case for the final version. I am a fan of black and white in print but for brightly backlit digital comics it doesn’t work so well. Colour in digital is purely RGB and so a different and brighter gamut to the grayscale or CMYK used in print. If you are going to lose the subtleties of print then you might as well take advantage of the neon intensity available in digital.
Spacewarp has the ambitious aim to reach new audiences worldwide – especially younger ones. With the right marketing it might just reach those kids who wander into the Warhammer shop every Saturday or their global equivalents. There are plenty of thrills to be had and if anyone knows how to punch through in a tough market it is Pat Mills.
Spacewarp is created by Millsverse Comics and will be available digitally from July 29th. It can be pre-ordered now at https://www.spacewarpcomic.com/ where you can also read previews of the strips and get an exclusive story featuring art by Cliff Cumber.