Shiny Shelf

Raven #1

By Mark Clapham on 09 November 2002

Now here’s a bargain – a comic for a quid. Not bad, huh?

And ‘Raven’ isn’t bad. It isn’t brilliant either, but it ain’t bad. A British small press anthology, ‘Raven’ has three strips of variable quality, and boasts high black and white production values. None of the stories, at this stage, look likely to set the world ablaze and have Joe Quesada kicking the creators’ doors in (the ‘Com-X factor’), but all three are competent pieces of work.

‘Sapphire’, written and drawn by publisher Vince Danks, is the best of the lot, a bafflingly complex mixture of espionage thriller and supernatural mystery, all set in historic York (one of this reviewer’s favourite cities, and therefore a surefire way of getting me on side). ‘Sapphire’ apparently first saw a run of publication in 1997, which could explain why some of the story elements border on the hackneyed by 2002 standards. But as far as post ‘X-Files’ supernatural thrillers goes, this is a pretty good stab, and the main criticism of the script is that it takes itself painfully seriously. But there are worse crimes than being earnest, and the art is both interesting and attractive, a combination of Ranson-esque ink washes and judicious use of photos.

Less sensible use of photography can be found in the second strip, ‘The Bishop’, which suffers from being very obviously sketched over photo references. The story as a whole is hard to judge due to an uncertainty of tone. Is it supposed to be funny? The title coming from a ‘Monty Python’ sketch would suggest so, and the over-earnest writing and comedy decapitation would suggest that this gung-ho hybrid of macho thriller and exorcism drama is intended to be ironic. However, there are no obvious gags, so the jury is out on this one. Whichever way it goes, the concept is certainly appealing.

The final strip is definitely supposed to be amusing. ‘Dan Druff’, with it’s awful, punning title, and pastiche news stories, looks set to be an SF reflection of Mersey-centric culture in the same way that many of the strips in ‘Viz’ take the local humour of the North East and apply it to other, often inappropriate, genres. Dan is a local hero who disappeared some years before, and this first installment sees his comatose form being stolen from a secret facility by a couple of eccentrics. Yet again, the concept is sound and the artwork fine – and after so much pseudo realism in the other strips, a more cartoony approach is a relief – but there are no really laugh-out-loud gags.

‘Raven’ is a solid collection that offers nothing spectacular, but never embarasses itself. ‘Sapphire’ is the unmistakable star of the book, and with a bit of a lighter touch on the scripting side could become a must-read. The other two strips are less fully-formed, and need to pack more content into their pages – with stories this short every line needs to be polished to perfection, and it’s very telling that I can’t remember a single word of dialogue from either ‘The Bishop’ or ‘Dan Druff’. Let’s hope the standard of scripting becomes more confident as the title continues, as with slightly sparkier scripting this could be a title to watch. At the moment, this is a tentative recommendation, and I’ll certainly check out the next couple of issues to see how ‘Raven’ develops. If nothing else, it’s good to see new small press titles – especially British ones – out on the shelves.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named


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