Comics: What’s So Great About Them?

Seen as I’m on a massive comics binge lately, I’m going to write about this fascinating artistic medium and what it means to me.

I’ve been reading comics since I was a pre-teen but I first got into ‘adult’ comics when I was about fifteen. I was into this amazing author named Clive Barker and I discovered that there were comics with his name on them as well. So, I bought all of his comics – both the Hellraiser and Nightbreed comics that were published by Epic, an imprint of Marvel, as well as the adaptations of stories from his Books of Blood collections which were published by Titan and Eclipse. I remember the tiny little shop within a shop where I bought them. It was called Ummagumma Rose and I believe it was the first ever comics shop in Cork. Basically, it was made up of some shelves with comics on them and a guy behind a cash register.

The next comics I got into were by Neil Gaiman. Unlike Clive Barker, this guy was writing the comics and not just being a consultant and coming up with ideas. I devoured his Sandman comics but there are other titles he wrote that have a special place in my heart including Miracleman, Black Orchid and the Books of Magic. For quite a long time I read only Neil Gaiman comics until I discovered Alan Moore and it was like ‘where have you been all my life?’. Another great discovery was Garth Ennis.

These days I’m not limited to British and Irish comics writers. Frank Miller, Jason Aaron and Geoff Johns are all comics writers I enjoy. I’ve read up on the history of comics and I’ve even ordered a trade paperback made up of Lee and Ditko’s run on Spiderman, to find out what all the fuss is about!

So, what’s so great about comics? Well, for me, the best thing is that you get two artforms in one: writing and illustration. This gives the comic book a special status as a work of fiction. If you really ‘read’ Alan Moore’s Watchmen there is so much going on in the illustrations which act on and interact with the narrative and dialogue. Everywhere there are visual clues as to what the author is trying to say to us. This is part of what makes Watchmen such a layered, complex and fascinating work and it is why Alan Moore’s panel descriptions in his scripts are so obsessively detailed.

Is that it? What else is so great about comics? Well, to take Watchmen as an example again, there is no other artform that can convey a sense of a unique world and ambience like the comic book. Part of what people love about Watchmen is the creation of a unique, self-contained world. Here the artist, Dave Gibbons, deserves as much praise as Alan Moore. Largely through artwork can the atmosphere and sensibility of a comic book be achieved.

Another, less artistic, reason for why I love comic books is that they are so damned collectable! I have an office filing cabinet in my room, half filled with my comics which are all bagged and boarded to keep them safe from harm. There is a satisfaction you get from completing a series or a particular writer’s or artist’s run on a title which is like no other. Finding rare comics is also a delight, especially if you paid a euro or so for it.

You might laugh but comics can also get you high! They are a stimulant that goes well with coffee and energy drinks. I must admit that sometimes I can’t resist smelling the ink of old comic books to get a little rush of nostalgia. I’m pretty sure this won’t get me into trouble with the law but, just in case, drink in moderation kiddies!

So, there you have it! Try comics. It doesn’t matter what age you are or what your taste is there is a comic book out there waiting to be loved and looked after by you. It’s addictive but it’s a healthy addiction, as comics are relatively cheap and, as the old folks always say, reading is good for the mind.



How to Approach the Classics

Many people have trouble reading the Classics, both ancient and modern. This is because we live in a culture of instant gratification. We are used to blake2
reading passively. The key to understanding literature prior to the age of instant gratification is ‘active’ reading. People must change the way they approach these works. They need to change their mindsets. They need to read actively.

Think of all the great literature that has been written prior to the 20th century, going all the way back to Homer and the dawn of Western literature over 2600 years ago.

You don’t know what you are missing!

Most people think that fantasy, as a genre, was born in the 20th century with the advent of the great imagineer, J.R.R. Tolkien. Not true. The first great work of fantasy literature was Homer’s second epic, the Odyssey. And there have been many great imagineers over the ages. One of the greatest is the English visionary poet and painter, William Blake. But people are turned off these authors because they are too ‘difficult’.

All that is needed is some active reading and you can access these works and their like. You don’t need to be an English professor. You don’t even need to be an English graduate. All you need to be is someone who loves to read. So, what exactly is active reading? Basically, it means thinking about the text. It means asking questions. It means using your own knowledge and experience to make sense of the text, to make it meaningful. It means constructing meaning out of what is already inside you and what you are encountering in the text.

Making the transition from passive to active reading is easy and incredibly rewarding. You don’t need to spend three years in college. It’s just a matter of using your God given intellect to extract meaning from the text, to see shapes and patterns in it. This is true ‘reading’, not just taking in words but actively engaging with them.

We’ve already mentioned Blake.  A lot of his poetry is challenging but if you take the active approach it is immensely rewarding. A good place to start active, analytical reading is his Songs of Innocence and Experience. They seem simple on the surface but if you take the time to really read them you will discover hidden depths and layers. New meanings will spring out of the text.

Reading the ancient Classics is also a good place to start, as many classical works have a mechanical quality: they are full of mechanisms and devices which makes them easier to analyse. They also tend to be very structured which makes it easier on the active reader. Of course, these are vast generalisations but they serve our purpose here and hopefully they will embolden you to read the likes of Homer, Sophocles and Virgil.

The important thing to remember is not to be intimidated by literature that is pre 20th century. All you need to do is approach it with a different mindset. Get into a different way of thinking. An objective way of thinking. That and, of course,  a library ticket!

On Neil Gaiman


Well folks, I think it’s time I expressed my gratitude and indebtedness to the great Neil Gaiman. Without Neil Gaiman there would be no Chronicles of Dan Lee O’ Brien and no Bhikku’s Tale.

If you are unfamiliar with Gaiman’s work you really don’t know what you are missing. Gaiman writes fiction with a dark cast to it. It isn’t pure fantasy as it is rooted in the real world, not unlike the work of fellow Brit, Clive Barker, to whom I am also deeply indebted. Many people have said my work is original and fresh. This may be the case in the world of Irish fiction but it’s time I made it known that Neil Gaiman has been doing it for decades for millions of readers around the world.

So, what exactly is it that Gaiman does?

Well, a lot of it is playing around with mythology and legend, often putting them into a modern context. His is an inclusive, pluralist vision of not just the gods but society in general. The word postmodernism has been associated with him a lot and rightly so. Someone once described him as a mad chef putting all kinds of different ingredients into the cake mix.

My favourite work of his is the Sandman. An epic, ground breaking adult comic that ran to 75 issues in the 90s. What do I love about it? Many, many things but above all, its wisdom. The author Aldous Huxley once said that when he took LSD he got the feeling that all is well with the universe. There is no need to take acid to feel this: just read the Sandman.

There is such intelligence and perceptiveness in what Neil Gaiman does. His style is spare and deceptively simple and direct. Behind it there is a high calibre, very well read mind at work. Gaiman is obsessed with stories, and mythology offers a treasure trove of them. Whether it is Greek, Norse, Irish, Slavic or African Gaiman will find a use for it.

So, is there much Irish mythology in his work? There is a scene in American Gods where Shadow, the protagonist, gets into a fist fight with a Sidhe (Irish faery) named Sweeney. Gaiman makes the Sidhe very tall and thin, completely bypassing the conventional notion of the ‘little people’. I thought this was such a good idea that I made the Sidhe in the Chronicles of Dan Lee O’Brien predominantly tall and thin. There is another great scene in the book where Sweeney, after dying, comes back to life in the morgue and, speaking at his own wake, tells Shadow the histories of the Tuatha De Danann and other waves of settlers in Ireland as they are recorded in the Old Irish manuscript, The Book of Invasions. I was happy to learn that Gaiman had written a substantial portion of the book in Kinsale, Ireland.

Although there is much darkness and creepiness in much of what he writes, Neil Gaiman has a sweet voice as a writer – he just comes across as a very nice, decent human being. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying that. Many of his books are short and sweet. Many of his stories end happily but some don’t. The end of Stardust comes to mind immediately but I’ll say no more. Don’t want to spoil it for you.

Neil Gaiman has had a stellar career as a writer, going from strength to strength and picking up many awards and much praise and acclaim along the way. He deserves it all.

I just wanted to say thanks, Neil: it’s great having you in my life.

Why You Should Read Alan Moore!


Hello all! Apologies for neglecting the site for so long. It’s been a busy year for me. In fact, it’s been one of the busiest and best years of my life so far. I’m aware that it’s not been the best of years for the world in general, what with Brexit, Donald Trump’s election to the Whitehouse and so many greats dying on us. After Trump’s victory, it occurred to me: what would Alan Moore make of what’s happening in the world today?

If you don’t know Alan Moore, you should! He’s one of the greatest writers of popular fiction in the world today. He writes comic books. Intelligent comic books. Real intelligent comic books. You might have heard of the graphic novel, Watchmen? Yes, he’s the guy who wrote it. Anyway, after Trump’s election Moore came to mind. He is outspoken and extremely articulate, and these qualities, together with the man’s great intelligence, make me want to defer to him. Politically he’s an anarchist. He despises racism. These things are evident in his writing. But I won’t try to guess what Alan Moore would say about the state of the world today. What I would like to do is talk a bit about his comic books.

Why do I enjoy reading Alan Moore’s comics so much? I’ve already mentioned their intelligence. Watchmen brought a new level of realism, especially psychological realism, to comic books but at the same time it is incredibly well structured. People often compare it to Citizen Kane but it is also like Joyce’s Ulysses. Much of Moore’s work is obsessed with form and is densely allusive, just like Joyce’s masterpiece. Watchmen is like one great mechanical watch: everything is connected. It is a true masterpiece of popular literature.

In most of Moore’s work there is a sense of something going on in the background. Something hard to grasp. Again, like Joyce. Such is his intelligence. But he also knows how to tell a story, how to entertain, how to take us on a journey. My favourite aspect of Moore’s art is his dialogue. His command of dialogue puts him almost into a league of his own as far as comics go. The only other writer to come close to him is Neil Gaiman. Moore’s characters are very articulate but also very real. They are not just mouth pieces for his personal views. The dialogue is just so fresh. It is always so fresh! When I open an Alan Moore comic book it’s like opening a door to let fresh air come in. As mentioned earlier, Moore’s political views can be easily discerned in his work. He is adamant that art should have a message. That it should be involved in the world, not set apart from it as pure escapism. And yet his characters are so real and convincing. He doesn’t allow his work to become propaganda. In this sense, he is a true artist.

Another quality is that he never repeats himself. Repetition is the enemy of true art. The artist should always be breaking through – finding different things to say and different ways to say them. Moore constantly plays around and experiments with the comic book medium. And yet you don’t have to know this to enjoy his stories. Again, there is that sense of something going on in the background. Something that will be grasped only if you read the book more than once.

Finally, Moore’s ability to entertain us is second to none. He doesn’t shy away from extremes of human behaviour, from violence and horror. There is no taboo which has been left unbroken in Moore’s work. He knows what we want and he gives it to us but he also knows what we need and he gives us that too.

Even if you’ve never picked up a comic book in your entire life you should check out Alan Moore. His importance as a writer of popular fiction is undeniable. Try Watchmen or Promethea or From Hell and experience some of his magic. You’re in good hands with Alan Moore.

Why I like Clive Barker So Much.


Quentin Tarantino once said that Clive Barker is the ‘Beatles of fiction’. High praise indeed from a creator who is on a par with Barker as a writer and filmmaker. The comparison works for many reasons. Like the Fab Four, Barker was born and bred in Liverpool. His books are loved all around the world and have sold in their millions, just like the Beatles’ records. His greatness as a writer of popular fantasy fiction, or the ‘fantastique’ as he calls it, cannot be denied. Like Lennon and McCartney, he will be remembered as a master of his craft.

I discovered Clive Barker in 1990 when I was fifteen years old. I bought the Books of Blood omnibuses on the recommendation of a certain Stephen King. From the very start I was hooked. The stories were so original and full of imagination and, of course, well written. This was something new. A sensibility I had never tasted in a book before. I wish I could describe the way the books made me feel. The best I can do is to say it was a revelation. The sheer imagination was mind blowing. I got so much joy out of those omnibuses that you can imagine my elation when I discovered he had more works published. I remember reading Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show and thinking this just gets better and better. He turned down the horror and turned up the fantasy and this suited me fine. I went through a fanboy period when I bought everything with his name on it.

So that was me back in the day, feeling blessed to have this writer in my life. This name that was synonymous with originality and imagination. This world weaver who I never got tired of reading.

What does Clive Barker mean to me today? Well, I’m not a fanboy anymore but I still love his work and I know I’ll be reading him for the rest of my life. Some books, when you return to them after a long time seem limited and shallow: you feel you’ve grown out of them. Not with Clive Barker. He’s just so goddamned good!

My favourite Barker book is probably Gallilee. There is a scene in the book where the eponymous hero burns incense on a fire on a beach in order to attract the female protagonist out of the holiday home she is staying in. For me this is a good metaphor for the attraction of the book and, indeed, all Barker’s books. There is something potent and intoxicating about them. Barker pleasures us like no other writer can and he does it by accessing the deepest parts of our psyche. ‘Exotic’ is also a good word to use in relation to his work. I can’t think of any other writer who combines such a powerful imagination with the ability to write like an angel. This is not the place for a critical analysis of his work but he certainly deserves to be studied and researched. There are many themes and aspects to his work which will stimulate academic research. The Faustian pact with the Devil is one. Redemption is another. The character of houses in his work is also a potential area to be explored.

So that is why I like Clive Barker so much. I wish I could express better how his books make me feel but it is beyond my poor powers as a writer. I met the man once in Dublin when he was promoting Everville and I’m glad to be able to say that he is just as great a person in the flesh as he comes across in interviews, both filmed and written. To return to the Beatles, like they were, he is totally down to earth and handles fame extremely well.

If you are new to Clive Barker, I envy you for what you have in store if you decide to bring him into your life: a contract made in Heaven and Hell and everywhere in between.