Thursday, 20 December 2012

New website and clean up.

I've created a website for my illustration, design and animation work, whilst I'm reserving the blog here at for personal (unprofessional) musings and Sparko-related stuff. I'll prune the non-Sparko entries from here after a suitable transitional period.

So, for all my proper artwork check out my new website here: Karl Stephan Illustration and Design

*edit - posts have been pruned.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

EGL reviews Sparko!

Review on EGL Magazine's website!

"Sparko Review

Sparko, the graphic novel by writer and artist Karl Stephan, was released earlier this year by Slave Labour Graphics, the publisher that has previously introduced us to the likes of Jhonen Vasquez (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac) and Roman Dirge (Lenore).  Sparko definitely seems to follow in these dark eerie footsteps, both in peculiar story telling and artistic-style alike.

Inept drug-dealer and depressed junkie, Norman, is a man caught in a doom spiral, and heading in only one direction; rock bottom.  Once he was a gifted musician, but now, after crossing a London gangster, it would seem he has finally met his sticky end… only to wake up on the bank of the Thames to find himself being pick-pocketed by the colourful, scooter-driving thief, Belle.  A bizarre and hugely entertaining chase ensues, taking them from the familiar sights of London into a new city beneath, one that uncannily resembles, yet is totally unalike to our dear old Capital.  Here, Norman finds himself unwillingly dragged into Belle’s quest to find an ancient relic, amidst an evil, deepening plot against the Royal Family, involving goblins, Templars, and dead pagan gods.

The story’s beginning seems almost ordinary, yet is unusually gritty even by previous SLG standards.  Drug use, violence and organised crime all set the scene for Sparko, and despite a peppering of random humour, the initial feel of this graphic novel is very different to the eventual turn out of the rest of the plot.  Upon Belle’s introduction however, things quickly turn more bizarre; starting with a hilarious street-chase involving evil grannies and their faithful Chihuahuas, and then plunging into the Underground and beyond, into an outlandish world so similar to our own, the Walled Kingdom.

The dialogue and artwork contain numerous hints to British culture, such as Doctor Who and Monty Python, and the initial setting in London provides many familiar sights as a background.  There is also a little flavour of Tim Burton within and while humorous throughout, the satire is typically subtle and almost masked by the randomness and oddities.  But the humour of Sparko is not reliant on “dookie” jokes as it may seem to the casual reader. Karl Stephan has worked in these little nods towards political observations and pop culture, and seems to have perhaps nodded towards previous SLG authors’ long-running jokes (Jhonen Vasquez has a long-running gag that implies that Chihuahuas are horrifically frightening).

As Norman and Belle travel to the Walled Kingdom, it in turn has numerous similarities: familiar royal faces, a certain clock tower and various others.  In particular, it did strike me how Sparko shares many similarities with Neil Gaiman’s novel “Neverwhere”; however, the darkness is not the same.  The ludicrous humour is not the same.  Sparko clearly stands separate.

Slave Labour Graphics is well known for showcasing graphic novels that are rather dark, yet at the same time, hilarious in a random, off-the-wall manner.  Sparko is no exception, and yet perhaps may even seem somewhat darker.  There is a certain grittiness that is somehow disturbing, its realism serving to contrast against the insanity that follows Norman and Belle on their adventure.  At the heart of this story, we have a severely troubled, drug-addled young man who has fallen in deep into the heart of London’s criminal underworld.  A crazy journey with goblins, demonic ghost dogs, little boys with television sets for heads doesn’t seem to fit in here… yet somehow, the two elements slot together, creating the whole.

The artwork is round and cartoon-like, appropriate for its outlandish humour, yet also still manages to evoke emotion and a strong sense of despair and darkness.  The artwork manages to fit perfectly and balance perfectly between cute and funny, and dark and sinister, with everything from detailed background to bizarre creatures being rendered lovingly.  Thanks to this balance, we, as the reader, can laugh with the characters when something poo-related occurs, but we can also connect with Norman, despite his less admirable traits, as we delve deeper into his sad past.

Sparko was an enjoyable read, and one I would recommend for any fan of previous SLG works.  Karl Stephan is one to look out for, both as an artist and a writer.

Article written by...

Picture Blackavar is an artist and writer from Hampshire.  Her interests include the creative arts, Japanese culture and all things Goth. She is also a published fantasy author.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Strange Kids Club reviews Sparko!

Another glowing review. This time from the guys at Strange Kids Club! 

Review: Karl Stephan’s ‘Sparko’ Takes You on a Strange Trip Through London Underground

Written By:

Sometimes it takes a hours of hunting to uncover a few hidden treasures to share here at the clubhouse. Other times, a rare find falls right in my lap. SPARKO* – written and illustrated by Karl Stephan – is one of those finds that found me. A bizarrely original story, Sparko follows a drug-addicted rock star (Norman) through an odyssey of self-destruction and discovery in the otherworldly Walled Kingdom, a sort of mirror universe of London.

Norman is far from alone on his existential journey. Stephan takes great care in populating the Kingdom with plenty of interesting characters, each whom come with multiple layers of subtext that add new depth to the story. While this can be entertaining (Jim Morrison as the face of God!) it can also cause things to become a bit confusing for those not familiar with England’s subculture (Margaret Thatcher as Boudicca aka Britannica, the physical manifestation of the British Empire). In particular, Norman’s companion – the pickpocket Belle – and her “working spook” Tom provide an equal blend of light-hearted moments and emotional high points.
Regardless of subtext, the overall narrative of Sparko is highly enjoyable as a tribe of changelings (modern-day goblins) plot to resurrect an ancient demon previously vanquished by St. Augustine of Canterbury in the 6th Century. Toss in a few more ghosts, a homicidal gang of grannies, some skinhead Knights Templar and you begin to get a picture of just how insanely fun this book can be.

Adding to the enjoyment is Stephan’s art style, to which comparisons to artists like Jhonen Vasquez or Drew Rausch can be made. Managing to find a lot of range within the gray tones employed, he also some phenomenal facial expressions that really help set the personality for each character. Creepy old ladies are appropriately menacing while Pomeranian-eating ghosts appear genuinely ethereal thanks to the juxtaposition of light and shadow. Full of great humor, impressive artwork and a character-driven storyline, this is definitely a title worth tracking down!

*NOTE: Sparko is cockney slang for being knocked out cold.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Review time!

Blummen good review of SPARKO from Cool Stuff You Will Like (hey, who am I to argue?)

"Sparko is quite a thing, coming across as the weird, unappreciated love child of Jamie Hewlett, Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton. No, I don’t know how three men can have a love child, but maybe that was why it was unappreciated. Fuck, I’m just rambling here, and if you want a paternity test go see Jeremy Kyle. Oh, actually, whilst I think about it, the mother could have been Lenore, the little dead girl, but that would just be weird, right?

Anyway. On to Sparko, the creation of Karl Stephan, a person who might just be the creator you’ve been looking for. When he contacted me and asked if I would review his graphic novel, I certainly wasn’t expecting 170+ pages of creativity, more like a few dozen pages of poo that I could smarmily make fun of. I have only seen the online version, but rest assured if you like your comics bound (with gags), it’s available by clicking on the magic Amazon link at the bottom of the page.

The first thing that hits you about Sparko is the art style, which really does bring Jamie Hewlett to mind, crossed with Roman Dirge (Lenore). Although black and white, it’s incredibly sharp with nice detail and the occasional background gag. It suit’s the story perfectly, though, and that’s just fine and dandy (or Beano, if you must) with me.

The story itself is sometimes a bit convoluted but always fun. On the surface we have forgotten rock star Norman, who has been moping around for years after the accidental death of his girlfriend, swapping sex drugs and rock and roll for, well, drugs. He gets embroiled in a takeover bid in the  hidden under-world of London that’s sort of like Gaiman’s Neverwhere, where London’s history lives on, never forgotten but mostly misremembered. His lot is thrown in with that of a spunk filled (not like that, dirty boy!) tearaway called Belle, who was in our London to steal a relic so that the Queen’s son, who has been kidnapped….. Oh, bugger this. If I go on it will just spoil all the mental surprises, so I’ll just say it’s twisty, turny, topsy, turvy and very tight.

The sense of humour is pitched just right, with cultural references sneaking in but not getting in the way, plus tons of snappy, funny dialogue. In amongst all the daftness and high adventure, there’s still time to tell Norman’s sad story as he tries to get over the girl he once lost. Although I was a bit daunted by the length at first (it was rather near bed time), I read this in one sitting because I just had to know what would happen, and also it was fun. This is the sort of thing that could be serialized in the Judge Dredd Megazine and make a lot of fans, but until that happens it is something that you really should check out, because some gems are not meant to stay hidden."

Saturday, 23 June 2012

I slapped together a short promo trailer for Sparko in Flash. I was thinking of doing something like this when I started the book, but only got round to it now, with suitable music by Caustic. I've also been fiddling with some character animation - check out Fat Bob in there.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Sparko review

Here's a cool review of Sparko at Comic Book Resources:

(by Greg Burgas)

"Sparko is a digital comic that SLG printed up and sold for $14.95. It’s written and drawn by Karl Stephan. If that kind of information makes you happy, there it is!

The main character of the book is a young man (who looks like a boy) called Norman Niemand (which means “nobody,” because Stephan is just that clever!) who was once a big rock star but who is now a junkie who sells drugs to the dregs of society. Apparently seven years ago the love of his life, Amy, died in a car accident, which sent him into a spiral of depression. One night he runs afoul of his supplier, Bragg, who has one of his flunkies stab Norman and dump him in the Thames. Problem solved!

Except, of course, that Norman doesn’t die. He washes up on the shore and meets Belle, a young lady thief who’s running away from three old spinsters and their horrible dogs, which includes a bouncing, evil Pomeranian (it’s that kind of book). Norman won’t let Belle get away, because she has a pendant that Amy used to wear and he doesn’t know where she got it. She takes him under London, where the outcasts and supernatural weirdos of London live. It’s an interesting notion, actually – London can’t forget all the tribes and armies that conquered her, and traces of those events live on underneath her (presumably because there are so many layers underneath today’s London), where they gain consciousness but become twisted versions of themselves. There’s the embodiment of Boudicca, for instance, who has been turned into a being called “Empire” and who resembles Margaret Thatcher, unsurprisingly. Belle had to retrieve a relic because the Underground Queen’s son, William, was kidnapped and the goblins who took him wanted the relic. Nothing, of course, goes right. Eventually it’s revealed that it’s a big scheme to return a pagan monster banished by St. Augustine of Kent back in the days when he established the archbishopric of Canterbury back in the 590s. Because that’s what you do!

Stephan does care about the plot, but he also makes sure that he gives us a lot of colorful characters. Norman and Belle are interesting, not because they have a romance, but because they seem to be the typical “antagonists who eventually grow to like each other,” yet Stephan makes sure that it doesn’t really go that way. Norman is too much of a dick, and Belle is too much of a thief. Norman’s journey is fascinating, because we think there’s more to his story about Amy, and there is, but what we learn makes him far less sympathetic, which makes his acceptance of his douche-baggery more powerful. The third main character, I guess, is Harry, a Templar with an attitude, who helps Norman understand what he’s been doing with his life. (Stephan’s character design for Harry is hilarious – at one point he takes off the wig we didn’t know he was wearing to reveal his baldness, and Stephan writes in the back matter that he got sick of drawing his hair style, so he just had him take it off.) The villains are done quite well, too – I won’t reveal the main villain, but he’s cruel and vile and rather interesting. The book has some humor in it, but Stephan is also more concerned with what happens to people who are forgotten and what happens to people who can’t forgive themselves. There’s a nice bit at the end where Norman realizes that his situation hasn’t changed all that much, and he finally decides to change himself.

Stephan’s art is really beautiful – full of goofy and/or nasty characters, each with plenty of personality. His “underneath London” landscape is a surreal mix of actual architecture and weird, demonic buildings. Stephan crams the book with oddball stuff, so that we feel like Norman really is navigating a strange netherworld. His Norman does look a bit too young (he’s rather small to begin with, but he has a boyish face to boot) to the extent that Belle, who’s the same size as he is, looks far older and gives their nascent not-quite-friendship/not-quite-romance an odd vibe. Stephan does nice work with the horror parts of the book, as his nasty creatures are just bizarre enough to not be too scary but weird enough to be unsettling. His giant monster at the end actually is somewhat scary – a nice, lurching thing from the depths of the earth that doesn’t appreciate humanity in the least. A great deal of the humor of the book comes from the odd juxtaposition of the mundane with the fantastic, and Stephan pulls it off really well.

Sparko is a cool little comic – it’s full of high adventure and weird supernatural doings, but it also has a lot of humor and deals with some serious themes as well. Stephan is a good creator – I’ll have to keep an eye on him. For now, I’ll just Recommend Sparko to you. The title might not make sense to me, but the comic is good!"

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Tried my hand at drawing Judge Dredd from the ever popular 2000AD Magazine. The script I used is 'Gunrunner' by John Wagner.

Character sketch: Juvie
Character sketch: Pal and gun