Friday, April 13, 2018

No. 108 INJ Culbard

First Prog: 1800
Latest Prog: 2062

First/Last Meg: 250

Total appearances: 96
-including a one-off strip in the ‘small press’ slot of the Megazine, and an extra writer credit on his own Future Shock.

Creator credits:
Brass Sun

Other art credits:
A Christmas episode of Stickleback
A 3riller and a Future Shock
No Dredds as yet. Go on Tharg, see what happens!

Notable character creations:
Bridget Curtis
I’m tempted to describe both ‘the wheel of worlds’ and ‘the Habitat’ as characters, too, although that’s dead pretentious.

This scene-setter beautifully captures the vastness of space and the tiny, closed-in nature of life on a space station.
Words by Dan Abnett

Notable characteristics:
Shiny. Clean. Simple. Elegant. Just alarming prolific and speedy. Amazing sense of space, both wide (like Brass Sun) and incredibly claustrophobic (like Brink). Unafraid to use the ‘unreal’ / shiny colours such as cyan and magenta and greens and yellows and all that jazz.

Oh, and being one of Tharg’s best ever storytellers, up there with Ezquerra and Dillon, in my view.

On INJ (aka Ian N J):
To my eyes, Culbard sprung from nowhere. There was just suddenly a new Ian Edginton epic, with an artist I’d never heard of – Brass Sun. And it was GOOD.

That shaft sinking into the snow promises so much story yet to come!
Words by Ian Edginton

Of course I immediately had to explore the world of INJ Culbard and soon discovered that he’s been in comics for ages (although not as long as his extensive CV might have you believe, he’s just unfairly fast). A lot of his early work has been in the world of retelling classic stories from the 19th and early 20th centuries – Sherlock Holmes, HP Lovecraft and such.

Clearly a natural fit for working with Ian Edginton, then!

A Stickleback Xmas tale in the vein of British comics past.
Words by Ian Edginton

But Brass Sun isn’t like any of those things. I suppose it has a steampunk aesthetic which has an overlap with Victorian/Edwardian styles, but really it’s all new.

So important to get all those balls and poles in the right places.
And, again, the promise of so many stories to explore on each one.
Words by Ian Edginton

The grandeur, the shininess!
Words by Ian Edginton

One of the things about Brass Sun is that it has lots of episodes and is already on book 5 of goodness knows how many. Seemed like the sort of thrill that could keep a single artist busy forever. But Culbard clearly didn’t think it too many, churning out episode after episode after episode (well, until Edginton took a break to write a million other long-form serials)

I will say that his art does sort of look like it was done quickly, but this is not at all to say it looks rushed. In fact, it adds a sense of urgency to the strip, which helps propel Wren’s ongoing quest to find the keys and generally to keep the wheel of worlds turning. 

Definite shades of T2: Judgment Day in this sequence. Explosive and dynamic.
Words by Ian Edginton

There’s a reason it’s Edginton’s best series in ages, which is partly that it has a protagonist with a specific goal in mind, and Culbard enhances that. It helps that Culbard knows how to use just a few lines on a character's face to really nail down subtleties of emotion, whether its anger, sadness or just plain sarcasm.

Just enough lines, and just enough colour shading, to really show you what each character is feeling.
It's not showy, not remotely 'realistic', but it damn well works.

Playing with camera angles to sell the emotion.
Words by Ian Edginton

For all Culbard's cartooniness and clarity of story, he doesn't skimp on that crucial 2000AD staple, hyperviolence.

And it’s partly that each new series brings with it one or sometimes two all new worlds to explore. If the airship-based gas giant world was less exciting that what had gone before, no matter, because we’ll be in all all-new environment very soon!

Can't wait til it all comes back in the 2017 Xmas Prog!*

Of course, Culbard didn't quite come out of the gate with Brass Sun levels of awesomeness. I'd forgotten it, but he had a slot in the Megazine some years earlier, with a reprint of one of his self-published comics, a Future-Shock-esque tale called Monster, that he wrote and drew.

Menacing, bile-spewing old ladies, a reliable frightener.
Words and pictures by Culbard

It has the basic elements of his style, but also feels less polished, and perhaps more openly influenced by other artists (Mike Avon Oeming?). Which, frankly, is as it should be for an artist's early work! I mean, it's still bloody good.

Back in 2000AD, many years later, Culbard found himself with the time and space to launch into a second series, of even greater epic length than Brass Sun: Brink. And, for me, his art has bumped up a level. I think this might be the result of the setting. The Habitat, a giant collection of space stations, has to look futuristic and metallic and all that, but also run down, with weird unearthly lighting, and above all, deeply claustrophobic.

Brass Sun was mostly about wide open spaces (except for the bits between worlds, which are amongst my favourite sequences); Brink is all about being trapped.

Amazing colours in this series, really sets the mood.
Words by Dan Abnett

Perfect setting for some tense chases.
Words by Dan Abnett

I love this kind of cartooning - such elegant economy of line, yet also stuffed with detail.
Plus, Bridget Curtis doesn't give any hoots and is awesome.
Words by Dan Abnett

How do we know they're falling down a long way?
Perspective, context, and damn fine drawing.
Words by Dan Abnett

And there's plenty of slice-of-life in there, too. In fact, these are some of the best bits.
Less showy for a post celebrating an artist, mind.
Words by Dan Abnett

Never underestimate the power of a well-timed close-up.
Words by Dan Abnett

Brink will return, and with Brass Sun shaping up to have at least 3 more books (well, at current rate of in-story development), Culbard will be kept plenty busy in the pages of 2000AD.

But before we leave, let's not forget that the man can write as well. While Monsters was fairly straightforward, his Future Shock proper, in the pages of 2000AD, is one of the really good ones, kinda reminds me of Alan Hebden's work. It's based around a classic self-serving sad-sack named Bob...

..who stumbles upon an improbable but delightful bit of sci-fi kit...

Retro-continuity Engine, eh? Someones been reading some American superhero comics.
But put to splendid use within the context of this Future Shock.
It doesn't end so well for Bob, but it leaves the reader with that sideways smile that denotes the better end of the Future Shock 'surprise!' spectrum. More please - but not if it's going to get in the way of further Brink and Brass Sun goodness. (Looks like we're getting at least one series of each in 2018, joy!)

More on INJ Culbard:
A neat little summary of his backstory on Illustrator's Lounge
An interview that ran when Brink was first out, on Broken Frontier
Of course, 2000AD Covers uncovered

Outside of 2000AD, Culbard may be best known for his adaptations of HP Lovecraft and AC Doyle.
Here's a Lovecraft appreciation bit. I read one and it was absolutely triumphant.

Personal favourites:
Brass Sun (I'll be honest, Book 4 was a bit of a let-down compared to the stunning opening trilogy, but it'll get back on its feet I have no doubt)
Future Shocks: the World According to Bob
Is that a Cthulu I see before me..?

*Yes, I composed this blogpost some months before actually posting it...

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