Best Of British: Black Leather Brings Azzopardi And Noble Back Together

by Richard Bruton

In this all too infrequent look at the British comics scene, I’m here to champion a scene I’ve been involved with for many, many years. The strength and depth of quality in British comics is huge with some incredibly talented writers, artists, self-publishers, micro-publishers, and more.

Here, it’s a tale of growing up, bikers, heavy metal in Black Leather

So… Black Leather. I’ve already covered the individual creators, Sean Azzopardi and Douglas Noble, before at Comicon, with Azzopardi’s ‘50‘, Noble’s ‘Counting Stones‘, and their collaboration, ‘Sightings of Wallace Sendek‘. These are two very different creators who really do seem to have developed a third, again decidedly different, voice in their collaborations. This is merely their latest collaboration, a 5-issue series of teen adventures, motorbike gangs, heavy metal, and first love. Or as Azzopardi puts it…

It was the 1980s. Black leather is a wild ride of heavy metal, motorbikes and the explosion of youth. A tragedy of first love, of sacrifice, and of discovery, Black Leather is the scream of yesterday echoing right now.

On the face of it, it’s more Azzopardi than Noble, with Sean’s artwork more reminiscent of the light, open style we last saw on 50. It’s focused on two lads and their friends, plus possible girlfriends, going out, having fun, getting into the music scene, heading for parties, but there’s always that spectre of the ‘Pagans’, the local Hells Angels sort of gang, albeit a very British sort of Hells Angels, shown comically so well when one of the lad’s friends is there, tagging along with these black-clad bikers on his crappy little Suzuki.

However, there’s always that spectre of Noble’s influence, right from the start, as everything begins with darkness, a mysterious find at a building site…

No idea who that was, no idea when that’s set. And it’s a question that we don’t revisit through these first two issues, with the very next page setting things in the 80s, deep into the lives of the heavy metal kids.

Now, through both issues, whether it’s me expecting it from previous readings of Noble’s wonderfully, frustratingly, complex stories, full of deeper meaning than what’s there on the page, or whether it’s actually there more than just that initial discovery, I’m still not quite sure, but, through it all, there’s a sense of something darker happening or promising to happen. All this lightness and fun is merely the build-up to something more. And that’s the thing that really got me deep into Black Leather and made it so damn enjoyable.

Black Leather has had, as Azzopardi feely admits in the afterword, rather a long and tortuous birth. He describes it as ‘a 100-page comic, a fictional autobiography about a father and son relationship, covering 40 years. but, it’s a story that’s been with Azzopardi for years, mutating, changing, taking in horror fantasy with Hells Angels and Satan worship and dead teenagers then transforming into something of a therapeutic workout, with Azzopardi working through his issues around his parents’ divorce from those same teen years. It became a lost project, albeit one that kept popping up in his work.

And then Douglas Noble came onboard, and that’s the comic we see now. And a very fine comic it is too.

As for Sean Azzopardi’s artwork, it’s as enjoyable as ever. As I say, it’s lighter, more open, than some of his work, a style he seems to be adapting more recently. But, within that, there’s still so much to enjoy. I like his simple figures, the uncomplicated facial expressions, the sure flow through the pages. But, there’s still time to impress. One page absolutely works so well, just a simple thing of showing a bike accelerating off, but how Azzopardi does it is really impressive…

That page of the biker accelerating through traffic just explodes off the page with how it’s constructed – that first panel of obvious forms, faster, faster, faster, and the second panel shows it all, the speed, the acceleration. And then it bursts into … what? Well, that is down to the reader. But, man, that’s so good. Here’s that middle panel blown up for you… there’s a wonderful abstraction about it, don’t you think?

Black Leather Issues 1 & 2 (of 5). Art by Sean Azzopardi, written by Douglas Noble, from a story by Sean Azzopardi. You can get hold of copies from the websites of Azzopardi and Noble.

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