Propaganda opens the Boxes

Published On April 26, 2008 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

Bukhead: Boxes

by Ciaran Cross

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(Introductory panel to Bulkhead: Boxes by Ciaran Cross)

The biggest problem with our modern hyper-connected world is that no-one ever gets the chance to slowly build it seems. Everything is there, available immediately, whereas in the past things developed, they matured, aged and hopefully, over time, got better and better until, by the time they were made public, they were ready.

Such is not the case nowadays. It’s a world full of MySpace bands pushing god-awful demos out and a get it on demand culture. And here’s where I finally get around to mentioning comics…. even the comic industry suffers from this problem. Instant publishing via the web. No time to work away in obscurity, no chance to make the inevitable mistakes in isolation, no chance to appear fully formed on the comics scene for the bunch of youngsters around now. Although reading back on this I seem to be painting myself as some bloody elder statesman. I am not that old. Just feels like it when I see all these youngsters around (Mr Bruton is currently auditioning for the Grumpy Old Men comics special – Joe).

Ciaran Cross is just one of these young types. I’d guess young enough to make me feel even older than I do right now. He’s a talented artist as you should be able to tell from his work. But I can’t help feeling that the pressure to produce, the pressure to have something out there is far too great. For a start the only way you can see any of Ciaran’s work at the moment is online via a PDF download. And I hate reading bloody comics online. People keep telling me that webcomics are the future and I’m missing out because I don’t regularly follow this one or that one. But I can’t do it, I just find it so difficult to actually read anything in comics form on the screen (old, old, old me) and it’s only because Ciaran asked very nicely that I even read the thing, usually I just reply like a grumpy old man that if it’s not in print I wont look at it.

But Ciaran’s first long work is only online, or at least the first 16 pages of Bulkhead: Boxes are. And I liked them very much.

From Ciaran’s Blog:

In an unnamed Latin American country, a multinational corporation is being attacked by a group of locals determined to halt the voracious export of national resources. a militia has been elected to impose order on a fragile state of affairs by hunting down the insurgents – led by the elusive Jesus Pais…

into this walks Bernard Bridges, a photographer sent to capture the company’s accomplishments for its advertisting department. before he knows what’s going on, he finds himself dragged into the escalating situation, and faced with an irreconcilable conflict of interests…

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(Our protagonist Bernard Bridges, not the happiest of men, in a situation that’s just going to get worse. Artwork and story Ciaran Cross.)

There’s an obvious roughness to the work, partly through Ciaran’s inexperience, but I’d like to think a lot of it is a styling. The grime and dirt of the setting seem ingrained in the page and there’s never a point from getting into the story where you actually feel clean.

His art style is strangely reminiscent of Raymond Briggs, albeit darker and dirtier, but there’s something in the squatness of his characters that reminds me of Brigg’s characterisations in books such as When The Wind Blows. I’m sure there are other influences but that’s what stays with me.

Boxes, at least this first 16 page prequel, follows a photographer into some pissant little corrupt Latin American country. It’s business as usual here. Corruption, trade embargoes, a populous under threat from their government and it’s troops. This is not a good place to be. Everything in these pages is enclosed, boxed and trapped, including the reporter, trapped in his own dark mood. Cross uses his panels well, locking the characters of his story within thick panel borders and using a strict grid of varying sizes to continually emphasize his themes.

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(Everything in Boxes is trapped and enclosed. Panel artwork by Ciaran Cross from Bulkhead: Boxes.)

The photographer acts not only as our eyes and ears but most probably our guilt well. It’s our fault the bloody world’s like this. Within the 16 pages available Cross tells an intriguing little tale concentrating on the corruption and despair in the country our journalist is visiting. We follow his arrival in the country, looking at the country through his eyes and his increasing despair. It’s an impressive little story and I’ll be interested in reading more.

Of course, I still stand by my initial grumpy old git response that perhaps Ciaran should wait a while before rushing to get published, should perfect his style, work on some of the more obvious rough edges a little more and then come out with a print version. But that’s just me.

In the meantime, point your mouse, or whatever you young folks use to surf the interwebby thing at Ciaran’s website and weblog and download the PDF (all 9.9Mb of it) from there. It’s well worth a look. Then convince him he needs to get something in print and we’ll see him selling it at a convention or down at Camden market one day. I wish him all the best and will happily read anything else he sends my way.

Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.

He doesn’t normally like reading comics onlne and would much rather you sent him your books to look at and review. But sometimes he makes an exception, as long as it will run on his steam-powered Difference Engine.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

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