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):

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mammal Hunting

You know, you've probably heard about 'British Reserve' and haven't really believed it exists, not if you've heard the Welsh rugby crowd singing, or seen the Tartan Army's corn beef tartan arses, or Essex girls on a Hen Night (I was once chased along Edinburgh's West End by a bunch of them, all of whom were wearing huge wedding dresses complete with veils) - but I can assure you it exists. The British are more likely to offer their children a salute or a handshake, rather than a hug. Well, the same rules apply on the net and even there, in anonymity, they, sorry we, often can't quite bring themselves to say 'I love you', or 'I'll miss you', and instead offer up our 'thoughts', which is at least something and you should think kindly of it because it is difficult to be like this and to know you are like this.

So, anyway, when I first started scooting about the net I visited the places cartoonists frequent and the big deal amongst British cartoonists was 'getting their own sites' and 'whether or not to link to other people'. Now yes, it's cute, and it reveals a misunderstanding about what the net is and how it works, but whilst some of them maintained they didn't think they should link to 'the competition'; I saw it more as a fear of admitting their admiration for a fellow cartoonist.

I'm pleased to say that the younger cartoonists are more forthcoming, but trust me, look at the links on most British cartoonist's web pages, if they have any, and you'll maybe find a link to the publications they work for, but few, if any, to their fellow craftsmen - face it, centuries of repression can't go away overnight.

Okay, so the point of this preamble is the second problem that some cartoonists have, and not just British ones this time, of working together. I mean my own theory is that too many of us are psychopaths or suffering from ADD or some other ailment that leads to the strange behaviour that makes us repeat the same actions over and over again (buying paper, drawing on it, and sending the drawings to the same people week in - week out) expecting a different result - Freud was perfectly clear about what that suggested...Oh yeah, sorry, rambling again, this other problem is the inability to work together. Now I have had personal experience of this and the group I was going to be in spent, literally, weeks trying to tie one another down with 'contracts' and 'agreements'. In fact the group spent so much time debating how to dot-the-is and stroke -the-ts that it disbanded before it began.

For me that was a pity because small, exclusive, groups of cartoonists, like-minded ones, is where I think the future of cartooning lies. The small group of cartoonists that works both as a collective, like a mini-syndicate or stock house, if you will, on certain projects, but individually, as freelancers, on others. Sometimes, and Meathaus would be an example of this, the groups can be quite large and remain successful. Or they can be small and exclusive and target a particular market, such as kids comics, like the Lunchbox Funnies artists.

The cartoonists of Dumbrella and Secret Friends Society and various other groups are now meeting with some well deserved success, and I'm pretty much convinced that one of the newer groups, a promising bunch of web cartoonists who are producing some excellent work, and a not too shabby website either; The Panel Mammals, will also go pretty far.

Featuring the work of cartoonists Jarrett Osborne, Mike Witmer, Scott Metzger and Jim Tierney, the Panel Mammals survived the difficult part of agreeing to become a group of individuals and they have succeeded in creating an identity for themselves as new creative group with four very individualistic and funny comic strips, one of which features a tree, yes a tree, as the main character:

Jarrett Osborne's The Pursuit of Mandy
Jim Tierney's Jetpacks and Time Machines

Mike Witmer's Pinkerton
Scott Metzger's Tree

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Arnold Wagner, Old Friend, RIP

It is with a heavy heart that I bring you the news that Arnold Wagner is no longer with us. Arnold had been in poor health for some time, not that anyone seeking his sage advice knew that because he was always there to pass on a kind word of encouragement or information and tips to anyone who needed them, at the various forums and sites he attended.

Here is a little about Arnold, from Arnold's own profile on The Wisenheimer:

I took the Cartoonists' Exchange correspondence course, among others, and an extension course in cartooning during high school. I attended Advertising Art School in Portland Oregon for four years, with an interruption for some unpleasantness called the army. Then I began submitting to magazines and doing local work. In 1960 Joe Pierre and I founded a cartoonist's trade journal, The PRO Cartoonist & Gagwriter, resulting in my researching all aspects of cartooning, past, present and hopefully the future.I've dabbled in most areas of cartooning, but have primarily worked in gag cartooning, advertising and illustration. I wrote the how-to book The Complete Idiot's Guide To Cartooning.

I currently reside in Salem Oregon with my wife who I met at art school. We live in a large old house with thousands of books and a horde of stuff we can't bear to toss. We have three daughters, all married, and five grandchildren. My studio is in the basement, my wife's is on the second floor, the secret of a long and happy marriage.

I shall miss Arnold enormously, he had done it all, in cartooning terms, but was still eager to learn new things. He will be greatly missed by all of us who were lucky enough to know him.