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Hey, look! I can order comics through the post, too!

With the annoying reality of Previews offering fewer comics in their listings because of raised sales thresholds, it’s made getting tinier comics a bit more difficult. Luckily, in the world of the Internet, you can find web sites and order from there! Such is the case with a comic I recently received in the mail … all the way from Merrie Olde England!

This is deliberately evocative of Watchmen, according to the author Harker is awfully dainty here, isn't he? This pub actually exists, apparently
I hope the person answering the door likes coffee! Harker doesn't like looking at the dead body - a nice touch by Danks, there Spooky!

Back in April, I reviewed Harker #1, a new comic about two London police detectives who get called in on the murder of a man on the steps of St. George’s Church, Bloomsbury. The second issue was solicited in Previews, but I assume due to their new benchmarks (you remember all this, right?), it never showed up, and subsequent issues weren’t listed. Oh dear. However, Harker lived on, with each issue coming out when it was supposed to. Recently I decided to pony up for all the issues that currently exist (issue #9 is the most recent one) and read them all! Actually, as the first story arc ended at issue #6, I decided to just read those. I’ll get to the second arc in good time!

So, Harker #1-6 by Roger Gibson and Vince Danks. It’s published by Danks’ Ariel Press. There’s a blog, too, which is kind of neat (I’ll get back to the blog). What’s the deal with this book?

Well, it’s a police procedural/detective book. Absolutely nothing fancy. Nobody is a psychic detective, nobody talks to ghosts, nobody has some weird superpower but hides it to solve crimes – it’s just Harker and Critchley, Detective Chief Inspector and Detective Sergeant, respectively. They have their quirks – Harker is a bit ADHD and squeamish around bodies and such, while Critchley is suave, sophisticated, a ladies’ man … and a comics geek. It’s actually kind of neat that Gibson doesn’t make a big deal about it – Critchley makes a vague reference to From Hell when he discovers where the body was found (the church plays a significant role in Moore’s epic) and that’s it, but it’s enough that we can figure out he’s a fan. The writing in the book stands or falls on Gibson’s handling of Harker and Critchley, because as good or bad as the actual plots are, if we don’t enjoy the banter between the two main characters, it’s going to be a tough sell for Gibson.

Harker likes to think out loud, so don't interrupt him!

Luckily, Gibson is up to it. Both Harker and Critchley come across as realistic policemen, and their relationship, which is at the heart of the book, works very well. Critchley appears to be the dominant one in the relationship, but that’s mainly because he’s much more outgoing than Harker. While both men know what they’re doing, Harker appears to be the one who focuses on the more mundane aspects of the world, while Critchley is given to flights of fancy. That means they bounce off each other quite well in this arc, which deals with ritualistic murders and a demonic book and a Satanic cult. Critchley immediately makes the connection to Hawksmoor that Alan Moore did in From Hell, and when evidence keeps coming up that the murders (more people get offed as the book moves along) are somehow connected to a Satanic cult, he’s more than willing to keep looking in that direction. Harker, meanwhile, remains skeptical throughout, even as the evidence piles up. Gibson does a very nice job with the tension between the two, because they obviously have a strong rapport and a long friendship, which gives them license to pick on each other even as they’re working out the clues. It’s nicely done, and keeps the reader wondering which man is really on the right trail (yes, the name of the book might give it away, but Critchley is just as much a main character as Harker is, so that doesn’t really tell us much, does it?).

This is a nifty spread by Danks

Gibson also does a good job leading us through the procedural part of the comic – I have no idea how “true to life” it is, because I’m not a police detective, but it feels real, and that’s often what matters. Harker and Critchley pursue leads, formulate theories, interview suspects – you know, what policemen do – but Gibson does a nice job walking us through it as well, and the reason it doesn’t get boring is because the two characters are so interesting. He also keeps confounding our expectations – when the Satanic cult is uncovered, at the end of issue #2, we think the book has taken a turn for the very weird. But at the beginning of issue #3, Gibson throws a curve at us, and forces us to re-evaluate what we’ve been expecting. He does this throughout the book, which is kind of neat. The biggest problem with the book is the ending. Without giving too much away, Harker and Critchley don’t really assemble clues and figure things out – it’s much easier than that, and doesn’t show us exactly how brilliant they are. They’re good policemen, certainly, but are they brilliant? It would have been nicer if we, as readers, had slapped our heads and said, “Wow, that was impressive!” It’s a nifty story, but it’s much more interesting for the way Harker and Critchley go about doing the police work and bouncing ideas off each other rather than the resolution of the case. Perhaps that was what Gibson was going for, as this is their first adventure. If so, he succeeded in, at least, giving us two interesting characters and what, on the surface, is a decent murder mystery.

Oh, Harker - you're so crotchety!

Danks is very good on the art. A great deal of it is photo-referenced, but it doesn’t look like Harker and Critchley and the other characters are simply laid onto a background – they are part of the scene, and so although we can see the tricks Danks uses, it’s a seamless-looking book (and I have no problem with artists using photo-reference – what bugs me is when the parts that aren’t don’t fit well with the parts that are). The entire book takes place around the British Museum (pretty much one street next to it), and Danks gives us a very good sense of place (Danks lives in the north; Gibson jokes that he probably went broke taking the train down to London so much). His characters are very well designed, too. He keeps in mind the personalities of the two main characters, so Critchley is always very suave while Harker is a bit more scruffy. Danks is good with body language, too – when Harker is confronted with dead bodies, we can see his squeamishness even before Critchley or even Harker comments on it (and they don’t do it all the time, which makes the times when they don’t nice character moments for Harker). There’s not a ton of action in the book, but Danks does a good job with that, too. Mostly, he just immerses us in this small area of London, which makes the comic much more interesting due to its strong sense of place. At the end of issue #3, when Harker and Critchley sit in a pub rehashing the case, Danks does a marvelous job putting us in the pub with them, not only with the surroundings, but with the other people going about their days. It’s a very cool scene.

Six straight pages of the same shot, with small differences to show time passing

I’m not totally in love with Harker; as I wrote above, the plot leaves just a bit to be desired. But I do recommend it, because Gibson and Danks give us a fun comic with two characters who get more interesting each issue, and I imagine Gibson will get better with the cases. Harker looks great, and the relationship between the two leads is marvelous. Gibson does nice annotations on the blog, too, which is kind of cool … although you should read the entire arc before you check out the annotations, because he does imply several things that we only learn in later issues. You can get a trade of the first arc, too. I’m looking forward to reading the next arc – it’s in Whitby, and apparently that’s going to be the thing with the book; it will go to different locations each arc, which is kind of neat.

You can order the book through the web site, to which I linked above. Give it a try! Who doesn’t love it when a detective stops investigating for some cheese and pickles?

17 Comments

I ordered #1 from HeavyInk several months ago & liked it fine, but it looks like they didn’t carry any isues past #2 (assuming they ever actually offered it, since it shows up as “no stock” (#1 apparently is still in stock). Oh, well — lack of orders, I suppose.

Well, duh. HeavyInk is dependent upon Diamond, come to think of it, so that explains that. *sigh*

Thanks for reviewing this, Greg! I probably never would have heard about it, otherwise. This looks sharp. I love that rich atmosphere in that last page you posted. I love that all of the characters on the page are doing something. They’re not just soulless bodies placed in chairs as background. They’re just as alive as the two main characters.

Hey Greg, I really like this idea as a occurring feature. I never heard of Harker before reading this post. I read issue #0 for free and I liked it.

I just ordered #1-7 and 9-10. #8 is out of print but the pdf is available.

Anyone else have recommendations for good comics that are still chugging along outside of Diamond and available by mail?

Louis Bright-Raven

February 2, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Alfred (and everyone else):

Do they have to be comics that are ‘still chugging along’ after Diamond? Is the 32 page comic magazine the only format you’re intrested in? Is mail order subscription really viable again, now that fans are FINALLY getting it that Diamond’s been dicking over publishers left and right and denying you content you might potentially be interested in, if you ever saw it?

I’m very curious to this interest among fandom, and to what levels.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

February 2, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Is mail order subscription really viable again, now that fans are FINALLY getting it that Diamond’s been dicking over publishers left and right and denying you content you might potentially be interested in, if you ever saw it?

No one’s ‘finally’ getting it, it’s just that usually, we we’re not exactly missing out on the top stuff, so it’s not exactly a concern.
Anything really good tends to get picked up by a publisher sooner or later.
(Emphasis on later).

This looks like a fun series. Harker himself looks damned familiar, like I’ve seen him on the BBC. This might drive me nuts.

I should buy it. I should…

Hey Louis,

I guess the format (number of pages, etc.) doesn’t completely sell me. But if creators are able to consistently produce good material, then that meets a certain threshold of being good enough for me (then I’ll see if I like the story & artwork).

I’ve ordered comics through Indyplanet, and they’re not bad but the creators are terrible at staying on a schedule. I understand that that allows the creators to do comics as a part-time job, etc. But following a sequential story when I have no idea when the next issue comics out… maddening.

Yesterday I purchased a bunch of Harker and a bunch of El Gorgo I may be in the minority on this front.

On the issue of Diamond screwing stores/customers/creators/publishers… WHERE’S MY CURSED PIRATE GIRL!! :) I’m trying to convince my LCS to use Haven for special cases. I plan to twist their arms starting this week.

Bill: Gibson has mentioned he sees Bill Nighy as Harker – maybe Danks modeled him after the actor.

Louis Bright-Raven

February 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Funky:

“No one’s ‘finally’ getting it, it’s just that usually, we’re not exactly missing out on the top stuff, so it’s not exactly a concern. Anything really good tends to get picked up by a publisher sooner or later.”

What does being picked up by a publisher have to do with being really good?

Hey, Colleen Doran’s A DISTANT SOIL was picked up WARP GRAPHICS, and then STARBLAZE GRAPHICS, and then she self-published for a while, and then IMAGE came along and picked it up.

Gee, if THREE different publishers believed in it enough to pick it up, maybe Colleen should be getting enough orders on the damn book from you bastard fanboys so that she doesn’t have to work on Marvel and DC and other commercial projects outside of comics entirely to make a living and only get an ADS issue out once every 6-18 months?

Are you all afraid of getting girl cooties from her book or something?

And since you’re claiming ‘getting picked up by a publisher’ is the criterion for anything really good being acknowledged by the industry… How about THE NEW BREED by Randy Zimmerman and Doug Lamperski? “What’s that? Who? Whuh?” Yeah, that’s what you’re thinking. But it was picked up by Caliber Press in 1992-93 to be launched as part of their Guantlet Press line and then got canceled before shipping because the other books in the line did poorly. Then it was solicited again through LAZER Comics in 1994, never to be released (not enough orders) . Then again by Mythic Comics in 1998, never to be released (not enough orders). And FINALLY Randy released it more or less himself through Arrow Books in 2002 as part of his ZIMM’S HEROIC TALES TPB of various projects he’d done that went through multiple publishers but never actually got out to the public (and Diamond then turned around and told him they wouldn’t carry the TPB- it was limited to 750 copies and sold online or direct at comics cons only).

But gee, effectively FOUR publishers picked up this series. “But I never saw it! It never came out! It doesn’t count!” It was nationally solicited three times of the four. Your retailer and/or you could have ordered it. It’s not my fault or Randy’s that you had your tongues so far up the asses of your fan favorite creators as to clean out their lower intestinal tracts that you couldn’t be bothered to notice anything else out there. Three different publishers picked it up before Randy published it through Arrow. Therefore, by your own criterion of ‘really good comics get picked up by publishers sooner or later’, it must have had some pretty damn high quality to it.

And I could name at least two or three dozen more examples of creator owned series that went through multiple publishers that went nowhere or have had very little support, Funky.

So just having a publisher pick you up means nothing. It’s whether or not retailers and readers will pick you up that matters. And it’s kind of hard for readers to pick up something when the retailers (or Diamond in some cases) won’t carry it.

Now to get back to my original statement…

I said that because honestly, if enough subscribers would pony up, I could launch a 200 page full color comics magazine with 170 pages of story content and interviews, and 30 pages of advertising (And I’m sorry, kids, but advertising is a NECESSITY in magazine publishing if you want it to make a profit and I need to guarantee the dollars so I can pay my creative teams somehow), for the price of $3.99 US / $4.99 International per issue, starting say one year from now.

170 pages of multiple completed stories per issue for the same price you pay for 32 pages of incompleted chapter fiction from Marvel or DC.

But, eight years ago, I tried that at $2.50 and only got 163 subscribers. I can’t launch without at least 5,000.

So I’m asking, straight up- do I bother with trying again? Are you ready for it?

Or is fandom going to come up with the same bullshit excuses as they did eight years ago?

Because I’m not about to do all that work for yet another ‘non-product’.

He said “Anything really good tends to get picked up by a publisher sooner or later.”

He did not say “Anything picked up by a publisher must be really good.”

Don’t harangue him for being wrong in an argument he didn’t make in the first place.

Louis Bright-Raven

February 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Alfred:

“I guess the format (number of pages, etc.) doesn’t completely sell me. But if creators are able to consistently produce good material, then that meets a certain threshold of being good enough for me (then I’ll see if I like the story & artwork).”

Okay. I’m not sure I follow. I mean, how do you know whether the creative team can be consistently good if you’ve never bought their work before? Or do you mean you go by reputation?

“I’ve ordered comics through Indyplanet, and they’re not bad but the creators are terrible at staying on a schedule. I understand that that allows the creators to do comics as a part-time job, etc. But following a sequential story when I have no idea when the next issue comics out… maddening.”

Yep. Which is of course why I would be publishing self-contained works. I don’t believe in giving out piecemeal stuff because of that very reason. There are so many series I started over the years that I never got a finished story to because of the lack of interest by fandom at large and the creator(s) never could / would finish it. I promised myself I’d never do that to my readers, so I pretty much demand the story be self-contained, be it 22 pages or 2200 pages, I really don’t care.

Louis Bright-Raven

February 3, 2010 at 3:18 pm

icculus:

The point is, Funky is just being his usual dickish self, and figures I’m talking about books I used to enjoy and can’t get anymore and blowing them off as inferior because if they were good, a ‘real publisher’ would pick them up and they’d be successful, when the reality is, most of the ‘successful’ books (in terms of sales) are mediocre in quality at best, but have corporations that have strong money and marketing power behind them that not even the best of the next tier of publishers can compete with equitably, let alone the independent press.

And you, fandom, often follow wherever the big corporation leads you, even when you know you’re not happy with the journey or the destination. More fool you.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

February 3, 2010 at 4:31 pm

What does being picked up by a publisher have to do with being really good?

Because a publisher will want to be publishing something that’s really good?
They will publish shite as well, if they think it will sell, but quality work gets picked up because they think it will sell.

An author can choose not to go that route, such as Dave Sims of Jeff Smith, but they are more exceptions in being able to successfully self-publish for so long.
Their work is also heads and shoulders above the majority of self-published work.

I pick up books in artists alley at cons, some are quite good but needs a bit more work, most is downright terrible.

Are you all afraid of getting girl cooties from her book or something?

I’ve got a collection of A Distant Soil.

Why?

Because it was good, and publishers kept picking it up.

I’ve only got one though – the art was nice, but the story didn’t do too much for me.

Should I keep picking up a book I didn’t enjoy that much?

It’s not my fault or Randy’s that you had your tongues so far up the asses of your fan favorite creators as to clean out their lower intestinal tracts that you couldn’t be bothered to notice anything else out there.

I’m a bad guy for not getting a comic originally solicited before I read comics?

It’s not our fault nobody thought Randy’s book looked any good – he deciding to make a comic and publish it doesn’t give anyone else a moral obligation to want to buy it.

Or is fandom going to come up with the same bullshit excuses as they did eight years ago?

Why does fandom have a collective mind in your response?

Why is it on us – as a collective, or individuals – to hunt down self published books that don’t make Diamond, or on us to order those that do?
I’m the retailers consumer, the retailer orders from Diamond through previews – why is it my fault that Randy Zimmerman couldn’t get his book published?
This is hard to judge as it’s so long ago, but…
Was it a high quality book?
Did he do enough promotion?
Did he do anything to get customers asking their retailer to order it, or to make retailers think they could sell it to the customer?
If people were clamouring for it, it would have gotten published.
Plenty of books do get published by bigger and smaller publishers, and there are ‘out of the blue’/’overnight’ success stories – Johnny, The Crow, Bone – so why is it anyone’s fault but Randy’s that no one wanted to order it?
Diamond wasn’t even a monopoly at the start of your story.

If people want to make books for themselves, I’m all for that.
Good for them, wouldn’t mind trying it one day.
However, why is it anyone else’s fault that they can’t find an audience for their book?
If they made it for themselves, to do what they wanted, then the work itself is the reward.
If they actually made it to sell to an audience, then do another one, but look at the book, and try and figure out why the audience didn’t want it, and fix it.

The point is, Funky is just being his usual dickish self, and figures I’m talking about books I used to enjoy and can’t get anymore and blowing them off as inferior because if they were good, a ‘real publisher’ would pick them up and they’d be successful, when the reality is, most of the ‘successful’ books (in terms of sales) are mediocre in quality at best, but have corporations that have strong money and marketing power behind them that not even the best of the next tier of publishers can compete with equitably, let alone the independent press.

No, I think you come off as someone who wanted to have comics published, and is bitter that they aren’t, and are blaming everyone else for it.

I mean seriously, Greg does a post reviewing a book he did the hard yards to track down, someone gets excited, and you post like a dick pulling apart his words, and lumping everyone who isn’t reading these books into a collective.

I don’t have the time, nor inclination to read every comic, or every novel, that’s been published, let alone all the one’s that have been self-published.
As publishers are in it to make money, and quality gets published – as you mentioned, it doesn’t sell that well, but publishers keep trying with A Distant Soil – so we’ve got stick the barometer some where.

So yeah, I am more likely to read Jason than some self published ‘funny animal’ book – heck, on ‘funny animal’ books, Crumb self published, and it was so good, everyone heard about it – and it’s now regularly re-issued and republished by publishers.

Once Adrian Tomine got published by Drawn & Qaurterly, he got a lot more legitimacy in the eyes of the world at large, than he did selling his mini-comics (although they were popular).
That’s how it is.

Now in this case, unlike your mate, these guys have been producing their book, without diamond.
Instead of whinging about it, they’ve got ten issues out, and even a collection.
Greg saw it, and wrote a review.
It sounds interesting.
Depending on cost I may get the tpb.
Were they published by image, or D&Q, or Fantagraphics, or Oni, I would’ve heard about them sooner, and have read more reviews.
I’d also have definitely picked up the trade, as I wouldn’t be paying for shipping.

And you, fandom, often follow wherever the big corporation leads you, even when you know you’re not happy with the journey or the destination. More fool you.

Again, maybe if you stopped seeing fandom as the girl who turned you down, you’d come across a lot less bitter, and be a lot more in touch with the people you apparently want to sell books to.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

February 3, 2010 at 4:38 pm

I’d also have definitely picked up the trade, as I wouldn’t be paying for shipping.

Posting and packaging is free according to the Harper site.

Might check it out.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

February 3, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Might check it out.

I Did.

It should be arriving in the mail soon.

I love getting comics/books in the mail, from ebay or where ever.
Because you order it, then kind of forget about it.
And then one day, it unexpectedly arrives, and suddenly you’ve got a new book or comic to read.

Many thanks Greg, this is a terrific overview of the first six books, we’re very grateful to you! It was indeed the Diamond benchmarks that lost us access to them as a distibuter, though we supply a range of shops in the UK ourselves, enough to be able to keep going on a monthly basis.
Getting a publisher isn’t actually quite so easy as might have been suggested here, it takes a lot of time and patience, though we’re working on it, as we want the work to go out to a larger audience. Spreading the word like this obviously helps a lot, so thank you again!
Oh – and we now have a small stock of issue 8, should anyone be missing it :)

Roger

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