Slaine The King

Music Zone (there’s one on Oxford Street) is having a sale, and I picked up this nice hardback comic album for under a fiver (they also have the complete Halo Jones at the same price, among many other things, lots of Judge Dredd and so on). I like Pat Mills generally, but the story, of an ancient Celtic warrior, with added druidic magic and monsters, is far from my kind of thing, but it features my favourite British action-adventure comic art ever.

I don’t mean the bulk of it, by Glenn Fabry. He draws very well, and everything looks bright and shiny and bold (which doesn’t feel right for the series, really). His inking is lovely, and he does good faces – but my problem with him is that he is so hopeless on portraying movement and action. I think Mills understood his strengths and weaknesses (I remember him talking to me about it when he had signed up this new artist), so he cut the fights down a great deal. I understand why Fabry has become popular, especially as a cover artist, but I’m not all that keen.

But the first 60 pages or so are by Mike McMahon, at his absolute peak. I find these more thrilling than any other British comics art, produced here or for the US. He had worked in an unusual way for some time: he would take plenty of time designing and composing his pages, then ink them really quickly, his view being that this would give the best of both worlds, care in the layout and fundamental drawing, energy in the inking. I think it worked, and you can see both at work here, in the clarity of his layout, loads of surprising but brilliant compositions (look at the 4th page of the 4th episode of ‘Sky Chariots’ for a dazzling page layout that also features several panel designs like nothing I’ve seen before), and a rough vigour in his rendering that is perfectly suited to this story. He does one other thing here that I can’t remember seeing from any other artist: he uses plenty of heavy black areas, then he puts little white lines over the top of them, which seems to energise what would be solid blacks, making everything seem scratchy and full of life. It’s particularly effective on the scary evil wizard types, wearing costumes of what looks like straw and twigs.