Faction: Comics, Kiwi-style

By Robert Smith

Art from Rachel Royale's Woman King.
Art from Rachel Royale's Woman King.

Blockbusters based on comic books might be racking up billions at the box office, but the creators of Kiwi comic anthology Faction aren't in it for fortune and glory - they just want to get their comics out into the world.

Faction is an 86-page New Zealand comic anthology from publisher 3 Bad Monkeys, featuring short stories in a variety of genres and styles, all created by local artists.

The second issue was published last week, and includes science fiction stories set on alien worlds, slices of an autobiographical comic, and tales of dinosaur taming, existential cycle races and young mischief makers.

Artist Damon Keen - who co-edits the title with Amie Maxwell - says the title wasn't launched as a money making proposition, they just want to get more new Zealanders reading comics.

"There is just so much difference and variety in comics, and it's mainly invisible to the community at large. So we were looking for material that raises the bar to a high level, with the aim of making a very beautiful product that would attract some new readers."

The book comes with a 'suggested for mature readers' tag, and has some mild nudity and occasional bursts of violence. Keen says the idea that comics aren't just for kids anymore has been around for decades, but Faction was still trying to offer slick and sophisticated comics for the widest audience possible, and that sometimes resulted in something more suited for adult readers.

Keen contributed to the second issue with the 23-page story Ectype, about strange life on a hostile alien world, and admits the whole venture "isn't entirely philanthropic".

"I had some comics of my own that I wanted to put out there, and at that time there was nowhere to go, so I got together with some other artists and we did it ourselves."

After raising the start-up funding on NZ crowd-funding platform PledgeMe, the first issue was published at the start of this year.

While many people still associate comics with superheroes, Faction allows the artists in work in any genre they like, and there are no men in tights at all in the latest issue.

The artists include a mix of established comic creators, up and coming talents, and designers for Weta who do comics on the side. Keen says the best thing about editing the series was finding new artists and seeing what they can do.

"You get people like Allan Xia who has a very painterly, Heavy Metal style, but then there is also Rachel Royale's work, which is much more delicate and colourful. And then you have somebody like Lauren Marriott, whose comics are just hilarious.

"Some of them have a Pacific influence, and some of them are a real mash-up - you get stuff that looks like manga, but reads like Western comics. We're quite lucky here in New Zealand, because we get a real mix of influences."

Many of the Kiwi artists in Faction honed their craft on webcomics, and tablets have made reading digital comics even easier, according to Keen.

He says there will always been print comics, but they were more likely to be art objects than mass-produced entertainment, and the future for Kiwi comics was a digital one.

"The internet changed everything, and it brings like-minded artists together to form a community, allowing them to meet and work with people they might otherwise never have known."

Technology has also caused huge changes in the physical process of creating comics, says Keen.

"The artists are all scanning their own work and coloring on their computers. That's the norm now. Apart from some sketchy thumbnails, all of my art was done on a screen.

"But it's just a matter of using whatever works for you - you can get too hung up on the tools. It's still the same principles of comic art, whatever you use."

While the Faction comics are being published in print editions on glossy paper, the stories are being made available to read for free on the publisher's website. The first issue is fully available for download, and pages from the second issue will be made available this week.

Keen says he hopes interested readers will buy the print edition, but the decision to release the comics for free online was partly made to get the comics out to that biggest possible audience.

"There might be no comics community in smaller towns, but there also might be one person making their comics in their bedroom, and wondering how to get people to read their work. We're just trying to say don't stop, don't be discouraged. Look, we did it, and you can too."

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# Download Faction comics at www.factioncomics.co.nz

# September is Comic Book Month at Auckland Libararies. Faction co-editor Damon Keen and several other local comic creators will present a panel on Kiwi comics and culture at the Auckland Central Library on Tuesday from 6.30 - 7.30pm. See here for more details.

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