Monday, December 17, 2007

Merry Xmas, Happy Holidays, Lang May yer Lum Reek.

I'm having a holiday from me blog over Xmas, so let me wrap a few things up, send them to bed, run them up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes; as it were.

First of all, I hope you all keep well over Xmas and avoid the nasty flu-bug - however, if you don't, can I suggest you buy the following Get Well card, which I think is very, very, funny. They do say that laughter is the best medicine, and I'm pretty sure this will raise a chuckle from even the very ill!

Okay, Marian Heath sent me copies of my latest Get Well card, you know, the one I showed you in the short post about 'layering in Photoshop', somewhere below, so I thought I'd let you see how it turned out. Anyway, you keep well, but if you don't...

Secondly, whilst I have cartooning on my mind, there is still some time left for you students out there to become as fantastic as me - yeah, you wish! Just joshing. Anyway, you know it has been a bad year, and well, I hate saying at least some good has come out of it because that is a tired old cliche, but, at least this is a fitting memory to one of the cartooning family we lost this year; it's the Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship (the cartoon is by the brilliant 'usual idiot', Mad Magazine's, Tom Richmond, who is built something like myself):

My friend, cartoonist, and occasional boss, John (Bonanas) Kovaleski, had the following to say about the scholarship being open to all students, which I, as a student of English Lit' and Arts Humanities, certainly would have welcomed:

As for the reasons behind some of the requirements, starting with "don’t have to be an art student": This comes from the fact that a number of cartoonists, many of them prominent, were not art students (including last year’s Reuben winner, Bill Amend, who was, I believe, was a Physics major). And, let’s face it, being an artist is a tough career and students might not choose that as their major. But they might have a strong interest and be doing it on the side. (Some of my strongest cartooning students, the ones with the most drive, are not art students. One does three different web cartoons a week.) And the scholarship might be just the thing to help them think about it as a career.

Jay's bio is here.

Thirdly, my cousin Allan Macfadyen is 50 years old this month. You remember him, he's the guy in the Lepertown comics who read The Bunty when it was still regarded by the unenlightened as a soppy-girls comic. The handsome facial features he once might have had, have now been replaced by a slight facial resemblance to Droopy, the cartoon dog, and he has begun to shrink somewhat so that he is probably now well-under six feet tall, maybe 5' 5" or thereabouts - and a little portly. I think, that if he had a bulldog, and he was out walking the thing, people might assume they were seeing conjoined twins.

So, I'm wishing him a Happy Birthday and sending get well wishes to my Aunt Peggy, who has been poorly. And my Aunt Kathy too, who has managed to bravely overcome a very deadly foe. My goodness me they don't make them like that these days.

That's your lot for this year, my chums. Keep well, and may your God go with you (Dave Allen).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Aren't the Critics we Agree with Just Great?

Now we're cooking with gas. Dirk Deppey has pointed the way to Dan Kois's most excellent list of the best comicbooks of 2007, at the New York Magazine, and I have to say, I agree wholeheartedly with it, Neel!

Of course the fact that Dan has The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Scholastic) in his number-one slot helped swing it for me, but his inclusion of The Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno (Last Gasp) shows the guy really knows his stuff, Neel.

Augh, this year really has been oveshadowed by gloom.

I see from my morning visit to Mike Lynch's blog that the gloom hasn't lifted, but deepened, and that veteran cartoonist Al Scaduto died last week, aged 79. Mike has written a really nice, affectionate piece on the passing of his friend and colleague.

Earlier this month, Australian cartoonist,and the man who single-handedly helped to keep people like me in touch with the wider world, through the OZ cartooning publication, Inkspot, James Kemsley, the cartoonist behind Ginger Meggs, died an untimely death, on December the 3rd 2007, at the age of 59, after a brave battle with Motor-Neuron disease.

Another recent tragedy, and one a little closer to home, was the demise of Stirling-born artist and cartoonist Ged (Gerald) Melling, who died on October 29 2007, as a result of a road accident. Ged worked as a cartoonist and illustrator for The Times, the Sunday Telegraph, the Economist, The Financial Times, the Spectator, The Observer, Sporting Life, Private Eye and The Oldie, which isn't a bad resume for a cartoonist who only took up the profession in his 50s.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Neel Mukherjee Reviews 'Graphic Novels'. Why?

Now, Neel Mukerjee is a serial reviewer. He is a Cambridge graduate and so he is uniquely placed to review 'graphic novels' because...actually no, I'm being sarcastic.

It's not that I have anything against Neel Mukharjee, you see, it's just that I don't think the sort of people who get invited to review novels, should automatically be encouraged to review 'graphic novels', for reasons that I have recorded in earlier bloggings (see below), and nothing written in today's Times, by Neel, has changed my mind.

In today's Times the job of reviewing 'Graphic Novels' is given to Neel, who may well be a fan of the genre, for all we know, but there must be a certain amount of doubt cast on that assumption when we read the reviews. It's not that he doesn't effuse over the titles, he does, it's just that, well, he doesn't seem to quite get it. For instance, the 'Three Books of the Year', according to Neel, are, It's a Good Life if you Don't Weaken, by Seth, Exit Wounds, by Rutu Modan, and Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings.

Maybe they are in 'no particular order' but Neel has Seth's, It's a Good Life...(published originally by Drawn and Quarterly in 1996 in his native Canada, and reprinted here, in the UK, by Cape) as his number one of these 'three books of the year'. Don't get me wrong, I like Seth, and this is a decent book, especially for Seth fans and cartoonists and illustrators who are, like Seth, in both his mode of dress and his style of drawing, drawn to the great illustrators of the past, and past New Yorker Magazine illustrators, in particular. But we have to bear a few things in mind. The first is that the story is actually a collection of Seth's comic Palookaville, issues 4 to 9, and it was originally published in, and has sold very well since, 1996, and hard though it may be for Neel to believe, a lot of some backward folks over here in yea olde Britain are already too familiar with the work to proclaim it a 'book of the year' for 2007. If you are new to Seth's work, which you may well have seen in the New Yorker (yes Neel we even get that in Scotchland) I certainly wouldn't put you off buying it. It's a Great Life... was voted number 52 on the list of the '100 Best Comics of the 20th Century' by The Comics Journal.

Exit Wounds, again originally published by Drawn and Quarterly, and again reprinted here in the UK by Cape, is new though, and a sample from its pages can be found here;
The book, by Rita Modan, was the North American 'graphic novel' debut by the impressive Israeli cartoonist/illustrator, who has already won several awards in Israel and abroad and was voted 'Young Artist of the Year' by the Israeli Ministry of Culture. Unlike Seth's book, the premise of Modan's story is thoroughly modern. Set in modern-day Tel Aviv, the protagonist, Koby Franco, discovers that his estranged father may have been a victim of a suicide bombing in Hadera, and he sets of, reluctantly, to discover the truth about his Father's disappearance. This is story of our times, and a really great example of what a modern 'graphic novel' can be.

The third choice here, Shortcomings, by Adrian Tomine, was published originally by Drawn and Quarterly (am I sensing a theme here?) and is reprinted here in the UK by Faber. A sample from the book can be found here;
Of course, those of you familiar with my blog will know that I just recently posted about an exhibition by Giant Robot Magazine that featured original artwork from this book, so I'm a bit of a fan, but I wouldn't fo so far as to proclaim Shortcomings one of three 'books of the year'.
Tomine's protagonist, Asian-American, Ben Tanaka, is, as The Village Voice pointed out, 'a lonely, socially constricted man, longing to make a connection and spinning in the purgatory between youth and adulthood', in other words he has the mind-set of a typical cartoonist. He is overly critical, overly sarcastic, and highly insensitive, especially in relation to his long–term, long-suffering, girlfriend, Miko Hayashi. I like Adrian Tomine and I like Shortcomings, but like Seth's book earlier, it has neither the scope or the depth that Exit Wounds brings to the medium.

Now, I draw no conclusions from the fact that ALL three of these books were originally published by Drawn and Quarterly, it may just mean that D&Q have a good eye (maybe that will rub-off on Cape and Faber and they will one day publish a new story, rather than a reprint that has already garnered critical acclaim). And although these three books are declared as '...THREE BOOKS OF THE YEAR' by Neel, he reviews a further five 'graphic novels': The Invention of Hugo Cabaret (Scholastic) by Brian Selznick, I Killed Adolf Hitler (Fantagraphics), by Norwegian cartoonist Jason, Paul Hornschemeier's The Three Paradoxes (Fantagraphics), Posey's Tamara Drew (Cape) and Nevermore (SelfMadeHero) an anthology, illustrated by Stuart Tipples, Steve Pugh, John McCrea, D'Israeli, Shane Ivan Oakley, Jame Fletcher, Natalie Sandells, Alice Duke, Erik Rangel, and Laura Howell.

Anyone writing a review of graphic novels and compiling a list of 'THE THREE BOOKS OF THE YEAR' in that medium, who has no knowledge of Shaun Tan's, The Arrival (Arthur A. Levine Books, reprinted by Lothian Children's Books in the UK), doesn't know the first thing about 'Graphic Novels'. In my humble opinion. I'd be prepared to overlook sloppy research that results in 'THE THREE Books OF THE YEAR', in the 'graphic novel' genre all being found on one publisher's website, but having no knowledge of a 'Graphic Novel' that has the entire cartooning community of cartoonists, illustrators, cartooning critics, cartooning bloggers and comicbook fans gaping in awe, is an astonishing oversight, is it not?

For the benefit of any Times readers who might look in and for Neel himself, Shaun Tan's, The Arrival is a 'silent graphic novel', of 120 pages of pencilled artwork, that took four years to develop. The reviews below, by people who clearly do have a clue about the medium, sum it up:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Virgin on the Impossible

Richard Branson is everywhere at the moment. He is the Northern Rock's 'preferred buyer' (not that we should pay any attention to the financial instincts of the mental midgets that run that bank) but it looks like it's more or less a done-deal, so he's actually going to have a license to print money; which is kind of amusing, in that old trippy-hippy Tubular Bells kind of an ironic way.

It's Virgin comic books that interest us here though, I mean, a new comic book publisher, a new comic book publisher that like most of the others has one-eye on the movie business, it must be a good thing for the entire comic book industry, right? Trouble is, every time you hear a phrase like 'a good thing for the entire industry', it usually only really means that it's a good thing for a few well-placed and well-connected people. It is, more often than not, one of those loaded phrases that means absolutely nothing, on its own, because it is uttered long before any empirical proof exists. To be fair, this belief that it must be a good thing for the entire industry may just be an example of hope over experience, rather than the usual spin that accompanies every single business launch. Who knows? In time Virgin may well throw open its doors and invite, shall we say, a less-salubrious cast of creators into its pantheon and then, perhaps, the phrase will carry some meaning. At the moment, however, I can't help but think that the pool of talent they are fishing in is a very small pool indeed:

Now, that's a little misleading of me. I am being somewhat mischievous by suggesting that movie director Shekar Kapur, medical doctor, writer and guru to The New Thought Movement, Deepak Chopra, movie director John Woo, actor Nicholas Cage and his son Weston, movie director Guy Ritchie, are actually a small pool of writers and illustrators actually creating comic books, they do have their names on the covers, movie-style, they came-up with the characters, but I think that, in the main, the writing and illustrating of the tales is down to, I presume, work-for-hire freelancers.

This thought, that this is maybe just another 'work-for-hire' comic factory makes me pause, and the blurb that heralded the company's birth, that 'Properties developed will also be translated into full media properties across a wide line of products and media outlets' sounds an alarm bell in my little overworked cartoonist head. In my experience, over the last three decades, companies that produce 'Properties' to 'develop' into 'full media properties' are going to be a lot happier hiring cartoonists and writers to work on their own in-house projects, than just publishing innovative new comic ideas from, heaven forbid, unknown creators.

Perhaps I am being unfair, perhaps I am being suspicious and Virgin Comics may well welcome new submissions and ideas for comic books, just as Dark Horse and Tokyopop and Image do. Time will tell.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Oh to be in LA, along with the giant robots...

Congratulations to Giant Robot Magazine on its 50 issue jam! And a big thanks to Giant Robot's Editor, Eric Nakamura, for letting me post this marvelous photo of a selection of original art from Adrian Tomine's 'graphic novel' Shortcomings, from the show he curated at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

It may seem obvious, but to me this is exactly how illustrations should be displayed. Too often random pages are picked for display because they feature an eye-catching panel and they are then displayed in isolation, in fact they are often spread around walls with other pieces in between, which creates a very dislocating effect. Go here, to Eric's flickr pages, to see more excellent photos.

Excerpted from Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine. Copyright, Adrian Tomine.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Rex in the City

Well, Rex in the City is a comic strip I started to do in my spare time. It's a weekly thing, and it's fun, I mean, it has everything; the office, the dinosaur, the evil genius, the giant monkey robot, amazons, witches, werewolves, vampires, pterodactyls, Mexican wrestlers, a time machine and guest stars from the world of showbiz.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day of the Dead, All Hallows Eve, Halloween...Spooky.

I think I mentioned my entry into a sort of a hyper-state/hyper realism, through watching first, the movie Nacho Libre, and then every episode of Ugly Betty. One prepared me for the other, I think. Having reached that state, I became obsessed with Mexican wrestlers masks and costumes, and hyper-coloured soap operas - so much so that a recent advert for The Bold and the Beautiful, complete with mullets, over here, got me all a quiver. Well, I think it maybe goes back further than I thought, to the intro to Ghost World the movie - you know, the Bollywood dance scene at the beginning.

Anyway, my Mexican wrestling obsession got all tangled up with the Mexican Day of the Dead (see my comic below, which also features a wrestling mask) and the colours and the noise and all that sheer spectacle, salted with a little highly decorative iconic catholic ritual, and the macabre, has lead to something forming in my head, but not so clearly that I can get it down on paper. It's more a mood, maybe. At any rate, it may be too late, because I discovered, thanks to my daily visit to Dirk Deppey's Journalista, the work of Croatian born, Canadian illustrator, Drazen Kozjan, who in addition to being involved in the animation of Rupert the Bear, and illustrating a number children's books including Diary of A Fairy Godmother and The Biggest Girl In the World, that he has actually made just the sort of thing I was trying to imagine with The Happy Undertaker, and I think he's done it better than I could have.

After checking out Drazen's site, you have to look in on his blog for more of this, The Happy Undertaker. As you can see, it combines all the elements I'm thinking about, and in that whimsical, childsnatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang/Joann Sfar's Little Vampire sort of way. In other words it looks just brilliant:

Many thanks to Dirk at Journalista for pointing me to The Happy Undertaker, so good I'm sending you there twice.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Usurp the Useless Eulogists

I can see a great danger ahead in the UK that will stunt the growth of 'graphic novels' here are surely as the growth and development of comic books and comic strips was stifled in the 1930s by D.C. Thomson.

I have mentioned in the past that 'cartoonists' here, in the UK, are not afforded the opportunities that were around when I was a beginning cartoonist. We couldn't make millions from our art, even if it was read by 1,000,000 readers a week, but we did have the opportunity to develop as cartoonists. We could produce full-page, full-colour work for the smut mags, we could submit comic ideas to IPC and DC Thomson (work for hire, of course - with them keeping all the character rights), and we had numerous publishers of gag cartoons to bring in the bread-and-butter-money. We have never really had a comic strip industry, which is why Peanuts could never have evolved here and neither could The Far Side or Calvin and Hobbes.

Once that period, which in retrospect was a bit of a Golden-Age, I suppose, was over, the comic artists and writers who had created 2000 AD, Alan Moore, Alan Grant, Brian Bolland, Cam Kennedy, Grant Morrison, et al, all drifted over to the US, either in body, spirit, or both. The comic artists and writers who worked on IPC's Juvenile titles (like me), however, who had no such eager market waiting for them, did not. Not then anyway.

Today then, it looks like a new 'Golden Age' is dawning, with the ever increasing popularity of the 'Graphic Novel'. Stellar works like Maus, Persepolis, Jimmy Corrigan, Palestine, Ghost World, Blankets, Black Hole, Shortcomings, have all helped usher in this new development in the history of the novel, along with major Japanese Manga, like the voluminous Monster and Death Note. So why am I worried?

Well, my major worry began with the bible; 'In the beginning was the word...'. That belief in the primacy of the word is still to be found today, for all manner of cultural and religious reasons - and canonical reasons of power and control, in critical circles in Britain today. In yesterday's Independent, Thomas Sutcliffe helped harden my resolve that the right to review work by other cartoonists should not fall to the 'usual suspects', the 'graphically illiterate' literati friends and former classmates of the novelists they review, but to cartoonists, who can decode the medium - after all, intellectuals who publish books and do understand comic books, like for instance Professor Umberto Eco, are pretty thin on the ground here, for all the reasons mentioned above. I really believe that unless the people who produce these 'graphic novels' insist on being given the opportunity to review the work, in a way that explains its accessibility to the public, then production of graphic novels in this country will just never take off in the way it has in the rest of the world. In his article, Thomas Sutcliffe mentioned the 'defiant pride' the reviewers' exhibited when it came to discussing anything as lowly as a 'graphic novel'.

You don't usually expect to encounter confessions of illiteracy when you're chairing a Radio 4 arts review programme, but it has happened two weeks in succession to me, with guests on Saturday Review admitting – without obvious shame – that their reading skills aren't very good. In fact, there was an edge of defiant pride in the way they announced their incapacity – the explanation being that it wasn't printed prose they were admitting to having problems with, but comics, or graphic novels.

What astonished me, I have to admit, is that this patronising attitude toward the medium actually extended to the work of the establishment's favourite creator of comic strips, the ennobled Posey Simmonds:

It happened first when we were discussing Posy Simmonds' latest book Tamara Drewe, an knowingly updated version of Far From the Madding Crowd. "I don't know how to read it," one of the guests said fretfully, explaining how they found themselves perpetually tugged between the pictures and the text.

Okay, speaking as a cartoonist I am astonished. Speaking as someone with degrees in English Lit', I am amazed that these people wish to be associated with literature at all. Speaking as someone who has taught English, using, amongst other tools, graphic novels, I fear that these people haven't been educated to GCSE standard. Or, or is something else going on, are they pretending to be 'illiterate' here in order to demean the subject?

And oddly enough, exactly the same lament surfaced the following week, when Zadie Smith's anthology The Book of Other People came up for review. Two of the contributors to this collection of character studies, Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware (whose work should be familiar to readers of The Independent on Sunday), are cartoonists, and their pieces apparently induced a similar kind of anxiety in at least one of the guests. "I never know where to look first," was the way it was phrased.

This is quite extraordinary, two of the reviewers can't read the work of multi-award winning author/illustrator/cartoonist Chris Ware, the man labelled 'Smartest Cartoonist on Earth ' in an article by Andrew D./ Arnold for Time Magazine as long ago as the year 2000, and what's more they are proudly announcing it to anyone who is willing to listen. Of course they may well be telling the truth. Perhaps they are 'challenged' when they see words and pictures together - perhaps they can't watch movies or theatre with subtitles - poor little lambs. On the other hand, perhaps they are the sort of old or prematurely old, fogey's who habituate these programmes and decry anything that smacks of the 'vulgar modernity' of pop culture.,9171,53789-4,00.html

Just for them, those people who don't know what order to look at the pictures and the words in, I thought I'd throw in an added bonus; some dolls they can squeeze whilst they are pondering what to begin with, a picture or a word:

Monday, October 22, 2007

Against Charity!!

Well, of course we are not 'against charity'. But I got up late on Sunday and all we had to read was a crappy local paper called Scotland on Sunday, it's sort of like if Edinburgh was a school, this would be the school magazine. Oh, it's probably no worse than some papers and better than some others, but it has no soul, it has poor and uninspired graphics, it pays no attention to people like me, illustrators who have to go abroad to make a living, whilst promoting writers who will never, ever, get their work into the publications that use mine. It is a very dull paper, indeed.

Anyway, I happened on a review of a book, the proceeds of which go to a good cause, Dave Eggers's 826 New York, which helps children aged 6 - 18 with their reading skills; the book, edited by Zadie Smith, is called The Book of Other People and in it 23 authors make people up. Now the book has, according to the review in this newspaper, an 'astonishing' roll-call of contributors - er, okay.

What does astonish me is that there are what the reviewer calls '3 graphic novelists' included here. Now, I might be missing the point altogether, but given that the fight is against illiteracy, and about tempting reluctant 'kids' aged 6-18 to 'read', wouldn't something the kids themselves might actually also want to look at be a better idea? Wouldn't more 'graphic novelists' have been, I don't know, in keeping with the message? I mean, I know that it is popular to align yourself with comic-book culture these days, what with Ian Rankin and the like eager to write Hellblazer and the increasingly hilarious Virgin Comics 'crew' such as musicians Dave Stewart and Duran Duran and movie star Nick Cage and Junior all giving birth to their inner-comics,
but cramming 20 wannabes like Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith, Toby Litt and AL Kennedy et al, in an anthology with only 3 'graphic novelists', that's a bit desperate, isn't it?

Now, as for the 3 'graphic artists', I'm presuming, that Zadie Smith is a Guardian reader, because the choices are so obvious, and so uninspired, that only a Gruniad reader would have settled for them: Posey Simmonds, Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes. Of course I am a fan of Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes and Posey is okay, but come on, this is hardly 'edgy'. There is a reason why Posey draws the green-welly brigade you know, it's because she is one of them. What's more Posey is in her 60s now, I mean, if you have to get a 'token' British cartoonist, sorry 'graphic novelist' does it have to be such an obvious choice. All the writers involved try desperately to be, or at least to look, young and hip, so why not try to find a talented youngster out there to illustrate a story?

As far as Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes go, the Gruniad readers have seen references to Jimmy Corrigan in articles about comic books, they aren't quite sure who Daniel Clowes is because they don't actually read comic books, but he has entered their consciousness at the cinema, during the credits of Ghost World - Oh, that's Daniel Clowes. I am a fan of both these cartoonists, but I can't justify having three quarters of the small representation of 'graphic novelists' come from the US, in what appears to be a British anthology, it gives the impression, wrongly, that there are no 'graphic novelists' or as we occasionally refer to them, 'cartoonists' working in the UK. Of course there are, and the reason they mainly ply their trade abroad or produce mini-comics themselves to reach their markets is because British publishers are only interested in them after they become a big success abroad, and the Guardian and the Telegraph write articles about them - without actually soiling their pages with the work, except as examples.

Having said all that, 3 cartoonists in this anthology is better than none, and the cover might just fool some people into thinking that there is a lot more artwork in the book than there actually is. So that's a plus. For all you 'content analysis' freaks, the review covered an entire page, and about twenty words were devoted to the 'graphic novelists', and that was a discussion about word balloons.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Old Coren is dead.

I wonder sometimes if manufacturers of foolproof items keep a fool or two on their payroll to test things.

The thing about working for Punch during 'Old Coren's' reign, from around 1978 - 1987, was that as a cartoonist one had achieved two things; you had made it as a cartoonist because it was the satirical magazine that gave birth to the cartoon, the pinnacle of cartooning; Punch was, after all, the magazine on which The New Yorker was based, but it also meant something else, something equally important, that one had met with Alan Coren's approval. Perhaps, even, that one had made Alan Coren laugh, and that was really, really some achievement.

I don't know how you might compare this to another profession, perhaps if you were a painter and you visited Picasso and found he had a painting of yours on the wall, or you were a singer and maybe heard Sinatra say in an interview that he listened to your songs. I think that's the sort of yardstick it was, to many of us cartoonists. It really meant more than any payment or associated fame or contracts that might result from appearing in the famous tome. Now, how often can you say that, nowadays?

I have to say I always enjoyed reading Punch. Of course, nowadays, give me an issue from that period and I'll read it from cover to cover, but even back then I enjoyed Coren's piece, it was effortlessly clever, and always fiercely funny, and I loved the fact that this clever, funny, man enjoyed cartoons so much, and enjoyed some of my cartoons. I suppose, like many of my peers, sending cartoons to Punch was as much about seeking approval from Alan Coren as if was about getting into that magazine.

In more than one interview his love of the cartoons came over and that is unusual even in a humour magazine where the editors like you to think they are doing you an enormous favour by publishing your work - Coren was the exact opposite. He said, '...the writers like me, knew it was the cartoons that sold the magazines'.

Alan Coren (1938 - 2007) will be missed. I wish I could think of something funny to say, I can't.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Webcomics Tools

I promised Euphrosene Labon a post about useful webcomic tools. It caused me some inner-turmoil though, because I was going to keep this one to myself, but then if I did that, the guy who put it together, Kevin Forbes, wouldn't get the kudos he deserves, so I had to bite the bullet. This first tool, Boxen, can be used, indeed is being used by me, to make templates for print work as well as web comics, so Euphrosene will find it very useful indeed, I hope.

Me, I love the thing because as you'll know from reading earlier posts I cannot draw a straight line, or at least I can't see one. I have some kind of problem with one eye, something to do with depth perception and my left eye has lost some seeing power, and for some reason I see a straight line and draw it, and it turns out to be squint. So thank goodness for the fantastic brain power of Kevin Forbes, the cartoonist behind the comic strip Simulated Comic Product, for he has given the world Boxen, which is at present in its Beta state.

This is the sort of programme that will have the Luddites squealing, but I couldn't give a flying bat's fart, I have a painful eye and I intend to use this programme. Take a look at the top line where you decide what your comic template will be. Now, you can do a lot of things with this little gem, including, setting the 'gutter at .25, the margins to, about .25, then set the 'width' to 4.25 and the 'length' to 13.25 and the 'line' to .030. After that you can just 'right-click' in there and add 1 or 2 or 3 panels, of equal size, then export it as a 300 dpi png file (you'll have to open it in PS or PSP or whatever to save it as a tiff or a jpeg. And you have a lovely 300dpi print resolution comic strip somewhere around the standard comic strip size of 13"x4".

You can then work with the thing and reduce it for the web, if that's your aim.

The goodness doesn't end there, you can make up single panels, comic book pages, Sunday-size comic strip templates, you name it. For template lovers like me (remember my eye!) this takes the guessing out of making my 'graphic novel' templates. Generally, I work small and make the pages almost 'same-size', around 9"x7", and I like to stick to a format, when I can, for instance 6 or 9 panels a page. So I can make 300dpi templates, print them out on a conventional printer, draw on the page, and scan it back in. Of course, if you want to, you can open the png in PS and convert the lines to a pale blue (non-photo blue) and trace over then giving the panels a hand-drawn look.

As I say, my hats off to Kevin, this is a great little toll, I think it's great that he's taking the time and effort to do this.

Next up, and this is another really handy tool for web comic artists, is the 'dirty little secret' of the Mac-users, Comic Life, by Plasq. What use is this to me with my PC and my dislike of all things Smarty-panty-Maccy? I hear you ask. Well, this multi award winning little powerhouse, which handles templates, word balloons and lettering, is currently being Beta-tested for Windows and if you head along to the Plasq site you can join in and take part in the testing. It sounded, last time I looked in, as if this 4th incarnation of the Windows version of Comics Life is going to be the last beta before a stable Windows version is released. If it's your thing, go get it.

The next two webcomic tools are services, created by cartoonist and computer programmer, Ryan North, the guy behind Dinosaur Comics. In all, so far, Ryan has created three tools to aid webcomic authors, Oh No Robot, a webcomic transcription tool which creates searchable text databases for comics:

RSSpect, a method of creating RSS feeds for websites;

and Project Wonderful, a pay-per-day auction-based ad serving system.

As far as fonts go, I'd recommend Ron Evry's Witzworx, which, such is the generosity of the man, he almost gives away. It works at low and high resolutions and there is no problem about you using it for commercial reasons, if and when your comic project starts bringing in the money:

Most times it the bitchiness and the pettiness and the in-fighting amongst the creatives in the cartooning community that gets the news, but there is a generosity of spirit out there that is often overlooked. If you do get round to using some of this stuff, drop the creators a quick line and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Day of the Dead

I think that by Halloween I'll have my new website sorted. I don't know if I want to make a strip, as such, I'd rather just do a bunch of comics sometimes with the same characters, sometimes with the same themes and sometimes serialized over a period, but I don't want to do a strip, per say. If the comics theme I'm using allows me to, I'll drop in the comics without trying to make them all the same size and format, and without posting one panel at a time; which annoys the heck out of me.

Anyway, I've been drawing and writing some new comics, and Dia De Los Muertos should, as long as the posting went well, also be in Shoit Crock 13. It's a story that will grow in length, it began as only one page and at 4 pages I think it is beginning to look like an Orpheus-like tale with the repentant father following his son, and his wife, to the underworld.

This second story has been a real pain. It was a simple idea that I planned to draw in an hour or so while watching TV, but I drew it as one huge page and it really screwed it up. I've made it into two pages now. Originally a one-off, I think I'll enjoy drawing more exciting adventures for Count Orlok, single dad.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Gerry Mooney's Big Comixpress Adventure

I like Gerry Mooney. Gerry is one of the people I like to discuss the direction comics can go in, with. There are cartoonists who are completely disinterested in this, although I can't fathom why, and others who have no interest in cartoons at all. Of course this shouldn't be a surprise, if you think of cartooning as a job then it is analogous with shoe sales-persons who are not interested in shoe design, or hospital workers who don't care about medical research, or hospital closures. Of course if you think of cartooning as one of the arts, it's more difficult to understand.

Anyway, Gerry is one of those who is interested and is always looking at the way the business of cartooning changes and adapts. And he has adapted one of his current projects, his Flash movie 'Sister Mary Dracula' to the comic book format. I have to say the result is pretty impressive.

With the help of the POD company Comixpress, Gerry's self-published comic book is every bit as impressive as any other comic book out there. This first episode of Sister Mary Dracula contains Chapter 1 of the story, with Chapter 2 promised early next year, 2008. In addition there's a few pages of his comic strip Goo and Roo, and a nice advert or two for the Mooney Art Studio, and SMD merchandise.

The story itself, which is well drawn and rendered in half-tone, is told from the point of view of the protagonist, Terry Malloy, a schoolboy, and it has all the right elements of imagination and suspense. We, the reader, have no idea if Terry has actually seen what he thinks he has seen, or if it is all down to his vivid imagination - the truth will only unfold with a full reading of the entire story. The final panel of Chapter 1, performs the job of leaving you wondering 'what happens next'? and that is the prerequisite of any good story.

I have to say I am impressed by the quality of Comixpress's work. I have seen that the POD model works with comic strips because another friend of mine, cartoonist, Jay Nocera, published a comic book of his Buddy and Hopkins work, but I think this latest example, Sister Mary Dracula, throws up one or two more possibilities for the future of cartooning and of mini comics, anthologies and portfolios. We live in interesting times.

For any of my interested British cartoonist chums. I have one or two copies of Gerry Mooney's Sister Mary Dracula comic book that I will send to one or two of you (you can enjoy the story and check out the quality of the Comixpress publication) if you do the following. Email me with your address and answer the following question correctly:
1. What school does Terry attend, in the story?
Thank you for the replies everyone, as of now, 15.38 on the 1st October 2007, the 3 copies of Sister Mary Dracula have been won. The lucky trio are Alex, Wilbur and Ian.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Between Friends: Sandra Bell-Lundy's new blog

One of my favourite cartoonists, Canada's own Sandra Bell-Lundy, creator of Between Friends, has a new blog; here!

I am a huge fan of Sandra Bell-Lundy's comic strip, Between Friends. My daughter Dominique has a highly-cherished signed copy of Sandra's book in her collection, and I have a highly-cherished original comic strip. We are a family of Sandra Bell-Lundy fans.

I couldn't resist letting you see Sandra's beautiful artwork 'same size', from her original drawing.

I am making this clear from the beginning so that nobody thinks I am jumping on the bandwagon because Sandra is one of the small group of cartoonists whose work is enjoyed in both mainstream and indy circles - only Between Friends, Dilbert, Mutts, Get Fuzzy, Pearls, Doonsbury, Non Sequitur, Candorville, Peanuts, newcomer Lio, and For Better or for Worse really get mentioned with any degree of affection from both camps.

Sandra's artwork caught my eye immediately and for want of a better term I'd say it that's because it looks 'New Yorkerish'. In British terms it would be the sort of artwork Posey Simmonds would produce, so it was already a given that I would like the strip. It's the subtle humour though, that keeps one reading, coming back to see what happens next in the lives of the three professional, highly-caffeinated women, at the centre of the strip.

Now, I know it's a strip about women, but I watched Sex in the City and I watch Ugly Betty and I read the adventures of Little Lotta and Little Dot and Nancy when I was younger, so I'm not afraid to admit I'm the sort of man who enjoys Between Friends by Sandra Bell-Lundy - and neither should you be.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Didn't Mean all British Cartoonists Are Crap, I Meant They Have Become Crap.

There's a point to this cartoon. I drew this cartoon for a special issue of The Harvard Business Review and it appeared on a whole half-page. I was well paid for it. It is not a domestic gag or a gag about new technology being funny or about how gauche youth are today. It is a gag that was created for a public audience, albeit one with similar interests (it's a very expensive magazine with an exclusive readership), but I'm happy with the interpretation that it's a lion playing with his food and his intended food, if lions could talk and if they had business lunches with rabbits. In other words it exists in its own parallel universe and it is one the readers of the magazine understand.

The title of this post is a little Hitchcock joke, you know, the one about actors and cattle. I think when I was on the Cartoonist Club public forum I called British cartoonists crap and thick. Sort of a very poor bunch, much in keeping with the society, or at least the readership, they sometimes create their 'gags' for. Of course they may have noticed that I am one of the people I have rounded on, I am a British cartoonist, then again they may not (whisper: not the sharpest nibs in the box).

Of course I didn't mean ALL British cartoonists, just the 'gag cartoonists', and not all of them, some of them are pretty great, like me. I certainly don't and can't include the British comic artists and writers, many of whom worked for IPC, who were poached by America long ago and have had the canvas of DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Image on which to practise and broaden their ever-growing talents.

That's the thing you see, the publications that allowed our gag cartoonists in the UK to show their talents and skills no longer exist. The old skin mags alone provided pages and pages of space for full-colour, full-page cartoons and comic strips and panels, and IPC and DC Thomson between them provided hundreds of pages for our gag cartoonists to stretch their wings and work on serials and self-contained comic pages. Learning about hitting deadlines and revising work and pacing and timing and self-editing and the disciplines and skills of the job. And, of course, there was Punch, the magazine in which, cartoons were born and the home of the surrealist cartoon.

If you had sharp eyes in those days you could fins Daily Mail editorial cartoonist Stan McMurtry's drawings in IPC's comic pages, in The Mail, and in Punch, sharpening his skills as a comic strip artist, and editorial cartoonist and a magazine cartoonist. Other cartoonists were drawing their daily quota of cartoons and even adding writing the comics to their ever-growing list of skills.

When the juvenile comics division of IPC went tits-up, some cartoonists moved to the one remaining major comics producer in the UK, D.C. Thomson, but with falling readership and the use of reprints it looks like the writing may be on the wall for the comics division there before too long (hopefully that won't be the case, but it looks like a familiar scenario). Others either moved into different areas, or gave up. I know quite a few who simply downed tools.

So what do we have left over here for people who want to draw cartoons for national publications? Well, not a lot, I'm afraid. The only daily paper left that sometimes buys cartoons is the Sun (wife and neighbour gags) The Oldie (isn't new technology and the youth of the day funny?), The Spectator (try to be Castro, or Heath), Private Eye (isn't new technology and the youth of today and Boris Johnstone funny?) and Prospect (pretty good gags usually), oh yes, and The Weekly News (wife and neighbour gags), are about the only national publications here in the UK that still buy cartoons. Given that this is all we have, for a population of 60 million, all of whom, apparently, are now cartoonists, to fight for space in, I don't have high hopes for the future of British cartooning. I mean, a simple bit of content analysis tells you that not many (even if my figure of 60 million cartoonists is a wild exaggeration) are doing good business, or possibly even making a living wage, especially since 3 of those titles have few open spots due to their habit of using their favourite 'tame' cartoonists; and in one case the Cartoon Editor's favourite is himself, so there's even less opportunity there.

This flippant little post makes light of a serious problem. There is a stage, a time that you give yourself when you start out cartooning, that you will not pass, it is a marker, it's the very last moment you are prepared to wait to 'break in'. At that stage only the really brave or the really foolhardy hang on. That used to be anything from 6 months to 2 years, depending on the individual. I have no idea how long it would be today, and I can't imagine too many talented newcomers will be prepared to hang on to find out. They are much more likely to bone-up on their Flash and Lightwave and Maya and Studio Max and Manga Studio skills and just head off into a different direction, leaving behind those less-talented, and too stupid to do anything else - those I mentioned at the beginning.

The irony is, of course, that the future has never looked so rosey. With publishers falling over themselves to learn about 'graphic novels' and small Flash animations all the rage on Mobs and new technologies opening up more new avenues a good, well-skilled, cartoonist will really be able to take advantage of what lies ahead. Of course that's the problem; this current generation of cartoonists have no experience hitting daily and weekly deadlines, they can't string a sequential narrative together, they can't write a story, half of them, and those who were at one point skilled enough have become deskilled providing for the only markets that are left. All they can do is sit down and think up gags about wives, neighbours and how funny all this new fangled technology is.

This is why, and I believe there is already evidence of this happening in the US, publishers are cherry-picking indy cartoonists and web cartoonists and people who publish their own mini comics to work on their titles rather than 'mainstream cartoonists', who have surely come to be viewed, perhaps rightly, as the least-talented of all the 'creatives' out there.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Weekly Updates

Okay, the date on MPD Psycho's celebration there is my draft date, so this is, September the 11th 2007, a Tuesday. Beginning this weekend I'll update the blog here with a new celebration of Manga every Sunday, that's beginning Sunday 16th of September, when we will celebrated what is possibly the greatest Manga story ever, and certainly one of the most successful, Death Note, with graphics from the Manga, the Anime and both movies.

Where are my Manga-ners (see what I did there?)

I really didn't draw a lot of attention to my Manga Stories blog, I Manga. I should have; not because it's brilliant, or anything, but because, well because that's the purpose of putting the thing up there in the first place, so it will be read, right?
It's not really a review blog, more of a celebration. I'm afraid I have become an Otaku and I only get the thrill I once got looking at US and British comic books from Manga these days, so naturally I want to share my enthusiasm. I have already blogged on MPD Psycho, the Manga and the TV show (I fart in the general direction of your Twin Peaks and Wild Palms) with plenty graphics and haven't added a new post to the blog yet, but as I have said all along it is going to be a very self-indulgent blog.
Imanga will feature some of the following Manga and Anime and Live Action shows in the weeks to come, Honey and Clover, Monster, Soil, Seizon, YKK, Shinchan, Pluto, Humunculus, Sexy Voice and Robo, Air Gear, 20th Century Boys, Drifting Classroom, etc, etc, and, of course, Death Note, where I'll be singing the praises of one of the greatest Manga ever written. I'll cover the Death Note Manga, anime, and both movies (which are marvelous):