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: