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.