Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No, of course not, silly… it’s a blurb, with its undergarments on the outside and wearing a cape admittedly, but a blurb all the same:
“Batman schmatman, there’s a new hero in town and he’s kinda dorky…
Kirby Baxter went to Omnicon for the cosplay, the comics and the collectibles.
No-one was supposed to get murdered.
Get ready for a whole new kind of crime novel. The Dork Knights are rising and Kirby Baxter and his friends are putting the nerd firmly into noir.
Its all fun and costume changes at OmniCon until schlock horror superstar Erica Glass turns up dead. Fresh from a mysterious adventure in Lichtenstein Kirby Baxter soon finds himself up to his geeky neck in a deadly murder mystery.
Kirby must deploy his unique skills of deduction and detection before the body count rises and ruins OmniCon for everyone.“
All throughout my life, my 47 years and counting on this planet, I have loved comics. They have been a strong and stable part of my life since before I could even read. I cannot recall a time when comics in some shape or form have not been a part of my life. My first love was probably a comic; most likely one of IPCs classic weeklies. Every Saturday morning – tucked away in the newspaper, most likely giving the poor paperboy a double hernia and haemorrhoids from all of the effort of getting it through our letterbox every week – would be not one, not two, not even three, but… er… several different comics waiting for the young Marty to clamber back into bed with and devour. Not as in to eat them, obviously. No, but to read. Just in case you were wondering.
Amongst those titles I loved SO much were: Buster; Jackpot; Whizzer & Chips; Cor!!; Nutty; Scream!; Oink!; Whoopee: The Dandy; The Beano; and Wow!, to name just a few.
These were my obsession. I spent hours pouring over every panel, relishing in the bonkersness of the uniquely British humour that filled their pages.
Artists such as Leo Baxendale; Tom Patterson; Sid Burgon; Ken Reid; Lew Stringer et al mesmerised me with their crazy panels and wild imaginations.
All I ever wanted as a child and teenager growing up was to be a cartoonist for IPC comics (although I enjoyed the DC Thompson titles The Beano and The Dandy, it was with IPC where my heart truly lay). I spent hours and hours aping their styles and doodling away on pieces of paper wherever I could. In the end I never pursued it as I was encouraged, as so many kids were at the time and throughout time immemorial, to pursue a ‘real job’, and being the person I was – and remain really – I took the easy route and left the drawing behind.
I had started to compile a portfolio of sorts though that I had, in my head at least, planned to send to the editors of the short lived, but brilliant, Oink! comic (the page above is from that very publication). I present one of the surviving pieces below:
That is now 30 years old, blimey. A 17 year old me can be seen sitting at the foot of Uncle Pigg’s desk, feverishly drawing away to impress him – he was the ‘editor’ of Oink! 😅 You can also clearly see the influences of the IPC artists all over that drawing.
I continued to draw for family and friends, but I had moved on and I was never as good as I felt I wanted to be, so I hung up my pencil and have barely drawn anything since (so don’t even ask, lol).
Anyway, all of that aside, I soon discovered the joy of the American comics of Marvel and DC and a whole new world opened up to me. That world opened up even further when I discovered that there were actual shops in London that sold nothing but comics. Can you imagine? Comic Shops. The first ever one I went to was the classic Forbidden Planet, then located in tiny premises in Denmark Street in Central London. You can imagine what that was like to a 15 or 16 year old me at the time. I fairly wet myself with excitement. From there one could buy import comics; those that were several months ahead of the corner shops where, up until then, I had to scavenge my treasures from. I used to walk out with my bags a bulging – carrier bags, please, tut – and, when my friend and I used to cycle the 20 odd miles from St Albans into central London, we would stuff them down our tops and cycle back again trying all the time to hold them in and to avoid them spilling out all over the Great North Road.
Ah, happy days.
As if that wasn’t enough, we also discovered comic conventions: gatherings of like-minded individuals and, the big excitement, the actual writers and artists themselves. My first ever con was the now defunct United Kingdom Comic Art Convention (UKCAC) in 1987, where I accosted Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons (who I discovered comes from and lived in my home town of St Albans), Alan Davis, Alan Grant and many others. The mid-late 80s was a time of great prosperity in the comics bizz and the UK was leading the charge; it was a nerds wet dream.
Sometime around 1991 I had a few months of unemployment and my comic buying and collecting days were over. Shortly after that I got married and became a father and luxuries such as those faded from my mind never to be revisited in such a way again. But I have never ever lost sight of my old passions and I still call into Forbidden Planet whenever I am in London, and have attended the odd MCM Con in the vast Excel Centre in London’s Docklands. Conventions have changed a hell of a lot since I last went in the late 80s early 90s. Now they are much more varied affairs encompassing everything from books to comics to films, to films of comics, to books of the comics of the films, to TV adaptations to collectibles and merchandise. It’s all a tad overwhelming, really.
But I remain forever a geek, nerd, dork inside, even now I am nudging 50. Fuck growing up, growing up is for pussies, maaaan.
So, what has all of that twaddle got to do with Duncan MacMaster’s wonderful and hilarious book, A Mint Condition Corpse (or AMCC as it will be hereon known as)?
Quite a lot as it so happens. You see, AMCC is a book about comics, comic conventions, nerds and pop culture. Only with a murder thrown in for good measure. I don’t recall that happening at those I attended.
Kirby Baxter is a professional cartoonist who has worked for Marvel, DC and latterly the once proud, but now ailing Atlantic Comics. Described thusly, he is your average joe really:
“[…] Kirby Baxter entered the lobby and, aside from the new goatee, he looked almost exactly the same as the last time they met. He was still a tall scrawny bastard with a long neck, and a narrow pecker head, flanked by big jug handle ears, making Madden think of a live action Ichabod Crane. If push came to shove, the shove could send Baxter into next week.”
Jug ears and scrawniness aside, I see Kirby very much as a kind of Alan Moore figure in AMCC’s world. Back in the 80s Alan, aside from being a prolific and respected writer of many of his own titles and creations, took aged and tired comic book franchises and turned their fortunes around. Of these, Miracleman (or Marvelman as he is more correctly known) and Swamp Thing are probably the most famous (leaving aside the seminal Watchmen that originally took a whole raft of classic Golden Age Charlton comics heroes, but transformed them when storyline issues prevented them using the original characters). Kirby did pretty much the same thing under Atlantic Comics, whereby he took on their once flagship title ‘ShadowKnight’ and turned it around after famously killing off the irritating side kick, the daftly named ‘Shadow-Squire’. You could almost hear the collective sigh of comic fandom everywhere.
Although a renowned and respected artist, Kirby was released by Atlantic after a change at the top, and shortly after accidentally won a very large fortune on the Mega-Ball lottery. Combined with some tasty investments in Europe, Baxter is sitting pretty on a large and stable fortune. All right for some, innit? Fortunately for us readers, Duncan MacMaster has avoided making Kirby into a lottery winning douche-bag. Kirby Baxter is a thoroughly likeable and well-grounded individual, first class flights and expensive suites in expensive hotels aside, but you can’t blame him for enjoying the odd luxury here and there now, can you?
After his record breaking win Baxter took himself off to Europe where things didn’t go exactly to plan and he found himself in a few scapes and scuffles involving a classified incident in London, a kerfuffle resulting in receiving a medal from the Prince of Lichtenstein and acquiring a personal bodyguard in the very large and meaty shape of Gustav. All as you’d expect really.
Kirby and Gustav remind me, in a round-a-bout kind of way of Wallace and Gromit, the plasticine crime fighting duo of Aardman Animation fame.
Now, bear with me on this one! Kirby is a highly intelligent man, he’s not in any way like Wallace who, though clever – after all he did build a rocket to the moon and a pair of mechanical trousers that could climb walls – is a bumbling, if likeable, twit really, who confuses the skills and intelligence of his dog Gromit with those of his own. But in AMCC, Kirby and Gustav have many a similar trait:
So, you see, there is some similarity. Well, in my mind at least, so… shut up! It’s my blog and my review. Go and read someone else’s if you don’t like it! See if I care. Go on… shoo!
No, wait… I didn’t mean it. Please come back! Oh, poop. Well, it’s their loss. Shall we carry on? Good.
Gustav is a very formidable character and one that you really wouldn’t want to mess with. A strong silent type, he is so well written and he comes across wonderfully for someone who doesn’t have a single line in the whole book (although Kirby insists that he can be quite the talker when he wants to be, much to the skepticism of the others). He’s definitely someone who you’d want on your team.
In AMCC, Kirby has has flown back to the North American continent, to Toronto in Canada to be precise, to attend Omnicon – a large and popular travelling comic convention. But not as an invited guest, he’s here to relax, ogle at the cosplayers and reacquaint himself with some familiar faces and have some fun on the way.
The trouble is, there are certain people attending this convention who are less than pleased at Kirby’s attendance, setting things up nicely for our little adventure. And of course, there is a MURDER!!!
To be honest, the blurb up there tells you all you really need to know about this book story-wise. I went into this without reading it too closely and failed to even register who it was who got murdered, so when it came it was quite a shock. I kinda wish that blurbs in general wouldn’t say too much as they can ruin the fun a bit. In AMCC there were several characters who could’ve been the victim, so when [name redacted in case you too haven’t read the blurb and don’t intend to] is bumped off it came as quite a shock if you didn’t know it was coming. Which I didn’t.
Although the police are quickly involved in the case, Kirby himself, after his shenanigans over in Europe, cannot resist getting involved and starts to conduct his own private investigation. At first this pisses off the police, and the arrogant and miserable Inspector Spasky in particular, but after a certain event transipes, Kirby is soon enlisted as a ‘consultant’ on the investigation, due to certain privileges bestowed upon him by Interpol, and is able to help the police more directly.
You see, Kirby is a man of many talents. He is a kind of dorkier Derren Brown figure.
Just like the aforementioned Mr. Brown, Kirby is a master of illusion and of reading people (also Derren, like our Kirby, is a truly brilliant artist; there is pretty much no end to that man’s talents). He can notice the tiniest of facial inflections, movements of the lips and eyes, twitches of eyebrows and shifts in body language and tone of speech that, to the uninitiated, can make him seem to posses paranormal mind-reading powers, but it’s all perfectly natural to Kirby. He also has a crazy heightened sense of smell and an over-acute sense of hearing, which, when combined with his apparent ‘mind-reading’ abilities makes into quite the impressive individual. Now all of this could make for Kirby to become a pretty dull character, but Duncan ensures that his skills are used only where necessary and are not in some deus ex machina kind of way to solve the case rather over-conveniently before teatime.
A Mint Condition Corpse is a thoroughly entertaining book full of brilliant pop culture references and colourful characters. Chief amongst these is Kirby’s self-styled ‘official mooch’ Mitch. Marvin Mitchell Mandelbaum, aka 3M or That Little Bastard, is a colourist in the comic business and Kirby’s closest friend. He is also chief piss-taker of Kirby. We first meet Mitch at the airport on Kirby’s arrival in Toronto thus:
“Kirby looked down from the top of the escalator and saw Mitch’s sign poking out above the heads of the milling throng below. It was a piece of plain white Bristol board, with LORD KIRBY Q. FISTBOTTOM ESQ. carefully printed on it in block letters. Mitch had officially made his presence known.
Kirby waved and caught Mitch’s eye, the short man waved his sign in response. Mitch often described himself as “five feet and five inches of sexual dynamo,” and whenever he did Kirby would ask where he kept two of those five inches. That question usually resulted in Mitch doing his patented flying kamikaze tackle/atomic wedgie combination. Mitch had sharp brown eyes that were always on the lookout for trouble and black hair in the style of a Brillo pad. He was dressed in his regular uniform of oversized black denim jacket; blue jeans that were too old to be trendy, and too worn to be retro; and a t-shirt adorned with a Lovecraft abomination pitching Cthulu Cola: the Elder God of Soda.”
Mitch is hilarious and the exchanges between himself and Kirby are amongst some of the highlights of the book. In fact, the dialogue throughout AMCC is superb. It is clever, natural and very, very funny. If you are a comic fan you’ll find plenty to chuckle over in that self-satisfactory way reserved for those who feel that they are in on some kind of big in-joke, but even if you have never picked up a comic book before there is loads to enjoy as Duncan has ensured that he has crafted a story for everyone, not just the nerds 😉
Kirby is also reacquainted with an old friend and fellow artist, Molly Garrett. Molly hasn’t seen hide nor hair of Kirby since he was let go by Atlantic Comics, scooping his Big Win and then fucking off to Europe, and she is less than pleased about it, but after a frosty shin-kicking reunion a truce is agreed and she accompanies both he and Mitch back to his luxurious hotel suite on the Excelsior Floor (nice nod to Stan Lee there? 😉).
AMCC is rammed to the rafters with brilliant characters throughout. I’m not going to go through them all here, but chief amongst these is the odious and highly unpleasant Max Cooperman. Max is the CEO of MaxCo – a movie company currently looking to acquire Atlantic’s stable of superheroes in order to make films and supposedly secure their future. Cooperman is a truly terrible person. He’s selfish, spoilt and insidious. He is like an overprivileged child who, when he cannot get what he wants – and boy does he expect to get everything he wants – throws ALL of his toys out of the pram, along with the nanny. He’s an overweight lump of balding lard and has it in for pretty much everyone and anyone who stands in the way of what he wants.
Now, I have to admit that when I first read the name Cooperman I really couldn’t help but think of this man, no matter how hard I tried not to 😂 :
But then, just like that, the image faded and the ‘real’ Max Cooperman formed in my mind (The Beardy Book Blog would like to apologise for this blatant attempt to crowbar in a well known catchphrase 😔).
Max hasn’t made a profitable movie in years and in order to save his own ass is trying to get a film of one of Atlantic’s current hot titles, ‘The Vengeance Sisters‘ made in record time. Of course, there is more to that than meets the eye and Max isn’t in this game to make Atlantic look good – he wants their stable of heroes to himself, potentially locking them away so no-one else can get to them, and he will stop at almost nothing to ensure that he does so. But will he go as far as murder to do it?
Well I’m not going to tell now, am I? No, no I am not. So may I redirect you to my recap and purchase links below, please and thank you….
A Mint Condition Corpse is ridiculously good fun. It screams fun from every page and every word. I admit that at first I was a little overwhelmed by the introduction of so many characters in such a short space of time, but that soon passes and the book settles down into its stride nicely. It is a very well plotted, clever story, with a cast of superb characters who all have their part to play in the tragic case that unfolds. There is plenty in here for the geekier readers to spot and enjoy, but that certainly doesn’t mean that this book cannot be enjoyed by everyone. AMCC is accessible to everyone and is a very, very funny book. You’d be bonkers not to check in to Omnicon yourself and see what all the fuss is about, so join Kirby and the gang and embrace your inner nerd. The Dork Knights are rising and you wouldn’t want to be left out now would you? 😉
Highly recommended in every way.
You can buy ‘A Mint Condition Corpse’ direct from Fahrenheit Press at the link below:
Kirby Baxter returned in ‘Video Killed The Radio Star‘ and you can also buy that here:
Duncan has also written a non-Kirby book – HACK (http://www.fahrenheit-press.com/books_hack.html)
Blurb for HACK:
“Another irresistible page-turner from the best-selling author of A MINT CONDITION CORPSE.
Jake Mooney is a ghost-writer who just landed a lucrative gig penning the autobiography of legendary eighties television icon Rick Rendell.
It should have been easy money – fly to Rick’s island paradise, enjoy the sunshine, collect some juicy stories of Hollywood excess then weave them together into a bestselling memoir for a public already hopelessly addicted to scandal and celebrity gossip.
Simple? No. Not so much.
Before he even gets started Jake narrowly escapes an attempt on his life and when the first shot rings out it becomes clear that some people will stop at nothing to ensure their secrets remain firmly under wraps.
Jake’s used to dealing with clients with scandal in their past but one with murder in his future is definitely not what he signed up for. ”