Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sunshine on Leith

Now that The Bee-man of Orn is finished I want to concentrate on this project. I think I can finish it quite quickly now - thanks to the gestation period of about 6 years, and the constant revisions and redraws.

Sunshine on Leith is an unreliable autobiography, in other words it is a work of fiction that pretends to be true. In this sense it is as fictional as any autobiography, and as true as any fiction. It is peopled with composite characters and amalgamated names, but the situations and the backdrop are all real...ish.

I was born in Leith and I did attend a lot of Hibees home games. I did get 'lift-overs' and I did move to Southhouse and kiss the gypsy girl and Violet Marlowe, and I did move to Gilmerton and I did form a superhero gang, and I did spend a lot of time scrumping (nicking apples).

The sectarianism that creeps into the young lives of my characters was then and is now still very real, as was and is the bullying.

I will be redrawing large sections of the book because it was all happening too fast. I was cramming things into the small pages that should have unfolded and been presented as single images, so I'm drawing it larger (see my Bee-man notes on not drawing same-size again).

As some of you know, the book centres on a character called 'Tommy Apple' and the original title of the book was 'Strange Fruit' (a reference to intolerance and Tommy's predicament) but I changed it. The story begins not with Tommy, who is introduced much later, but with a character based somewhat on me, and like me he is born and grows up in Ballantyne Place (now demolished) at the foot of Great Junction Street, at the bottom of Leith Walk, and the one sight that makes a great impact on him is the way the sunshine floods the wide area at the foot of Walk (the Walk was the widest road in Edinburgh and the side streets are often cast in shadows), it's like looking along a long tunnel to a great pot of gold somewhere in the distance:

I'm pencilling the enlarged pages and changing them to slow the story down in some parts and speed it up in others. It's not such a huge task because I hadn't inked the newest version anyway, so really it's just like an extension of the pencil work. In the first revision I'm already up and on the wall, in the second revision I'll be up on it on the following page, and that allows me more time to establish a new character who enters the story at that point:

With any luck, this will be finished by Summer. Of course when I say 'finished' I really mean that will be when I have had quite enough of it, thank you very much. It will, of course, find its way back to me to sort spelling mistakes and to redraw hands and space word balloons better - I have no doubt.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Death Note 3: L: Change the World

This post will also form part of the Death Note article (it's late, I know) that I'll post on Imanga. It helps illustrate how enormous the Death Note phenomenon has become, since it's beginnings, not so very long ago, as a one-shot.

For those of you who are still reading the Death Note manga, or watching the anime and for those of you who haven't yet seen the live-action movies Death Note 1, and Death Note 2, The Last Name, don't worry, I'm not going to post any spoilers here, I'm just letting you know that Death Note 3, L: Change the World, was recently screened in Japan, and at the begining of February Shonen Jump Weekly #11 published a special new Death Note one-shot and supplement.

A couple of teasers for the new movie are already posted on Youtube:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Coming here any day now: The Fayest Comic ever (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Watch this space.

Here it is, The Fayest Comic Ever. Actually, I really like this character. I grew up enjoying Mandrake the Magician, Thunderbolt and The Phantom, and Batman rather than Superman, because these people didn't have 'super powers' per say. It seemed to me that if I could become a superhero (that was my plan at one point), then it would be easier to become Mandrake, or The Phantom, or Batman, because just learning and training and dedication would get me there.

So, derivative characters like Zanzibar the Magician didn't bother me, they were simply, like me. Just like me, they had decided that they could become 'super' by copying the other characters who didn't have powers from outer space or as a result of strange scientific incidents. I've let the cat out the bag, it's Zanzibar, isn't it? Well, it is, in this adventure in Paris, at least. This is one hilariously camp adventure, from Mystery Men #4 and it just cracks me up every time I look at it.

I mentioned a drawing, here on the blog, that I did in Sunshine on Leith, where I think I captured the movement I wanted, and I just had a really good feeling about it. It's that moment, that split-second when the entire story is encapsulated in the one-single-frame. Well, the single shots in this Zanzibar story seem just to be snapped at precisely the wrong moment; like when your Mother or Father took that really embarrassing photo, rather than the one you wished for. They either caught you looking ridiculous before it, or ridiculous after it, but never at the one second when you know you looked magnificent.

Here we are, in Gay Paris. Zanzibar has arrived and the campest gang member you've ever seen, until now, is about to take flight.

Off he goes. This actually reminds me of a classic cartoon Revillo did for National Lampoon a long time ago, "The Annual Runs Like a Girl Marathon".

I think this is a fairly typical camp 'Mon Dieu' stance. Note the dapper villain's left breast. The dapper villain is talking to the evil female boss in their 'underground' den.

This is now, thanks to the guy on the right, the new typical camp 'Mon dieu' stance. Again, the left breast is used for emphasis.

A gay-staring match ensues as the gang of camp ruffians discuss tactics.

Zanzibar though, with his manly gait, steps in and lands a superior right hook on the gang member with the silly hat, who even falls over in an uber-camp manner, but, something has surely passed between them; either that or the camp-ambiance of gay Paris has rubbed off on our hero because look...

...Zanzibar has developed the camp-running style of the ruffian gang.


In an final act of defiance at the prospect of being transformed into women, our barefoot villains, in what must surely be some sort of auto-erotic suicide pact, off each other 'with their guns'.

Here's the entire story:

I'm not kidding when I say I love this comic, I really do. The exaggerated stances may well be deliberate, depending on the attitude toward the French at the time, I don't know - it really just could be down to bad choices. What makes me suspicious is that some of the stances are very like those practised by Michael Crawford in his role in the popular, very camp, British comedy Some Mothers Do Have 'Em.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

This Month's Playboy, Feb (actually the March issue) 08

I think I sang the praises of Playboy before now, but I was reading the Sex and Music issue, March 2008, which I have a cartoon in, from cover to cover yesterday, and it really does still stand head and shoulders above the competition. It's a touch of class. Actually, it's more than that, it's the manifestation of a philosophy of declared quality - it has never considered going downmarket, but remained a believer in the aspirations of its readership. That's rare.

The Girls Next Door are hugely popular over here, including amongst my daughters and they also watch Law and Order, Special Victims Unit, and this issue has a connection with ICE T who plays Detective Finn in that, so I'm really up against it trying to keep the magazine from taking a walk.

They are, as I have said before, a very professional outfit and there is a sense, I feel, that even the cartoonists (and that is a reflection of how some publications make cartoonists feel) are part of the Playboy family.

So, I got my comp' copy, with a Cartoon Department note on it (it's all just very, well, classy, sophisticated), and I began to read, right from the get-go. Not racing in to look at my cartoon, but slowly working my way towards it. Anyway, that's not the cartoon I want to talk about, the cartoon I want to talk about makes mine look very poor by comparison, it's a full-page cartoon by Master-Cartoonist Gahan Wilson. Man, does it look great. What amazes me is how contemporary it looks, and what I mean by that is that given how long Gahan has been making cartoons, you might expect his cartoons to maybe look a little, I don't know, old school, slightly dated maybe? Well, they don't, and this cartoon, if you didn't know anything about its creator, could be by a brand new cartoonist fresh out of an Art College trying a brand new look for the first time; the cartoon looks that vibrant and that new and that contemporary. The only thing that might give away that the cartoonist behind the work is experienced, is the obvious craft and attention to detail involved in the expert execution of the drawing. It really is amazing to look at the seductive sinuey quality of the lines and then take in the counterpoint of the, often, macabre humour. It looks FANTASTIC.

So, one day, hopefully, somewhere down the line, I will manage to produce a drawing I like as much as this cartoon by Mister Wilson. It may never happen, but it gives me something to reach for and ensures that I never get bored doing the same job day-in-day-out as I aspire to be that good - Gahan Wilson good. And if I was in the US this month, wild horses couldn't drag me away from this event:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Mystery of Comic Strip Sizes

This is a strangely difficult area for many cartoonists (including me) to get their heads around. It's maybe a right-brain/left-brain, thing. I know people who really agonise over this and yet, as soon as they do start working on syndicated strips they seem to get along just fine.

To many people, saying 'you can basically just work to any size you like as long as ...' or, 'a standard size is 13" x 4"' really doesn't answer all the questions they want to ask. So I'll try to help a little with this.

Perhaps Lee Nordling's book, Your Career in the Comics is still the best guide. Here's a page or two from it:

Still unsure? Okay, I've highlighted the big half-page format with an X for a reason. That is the daddy of the Sunday foramts and it can be aranged in a number of ways. If you read Lee Nordling's book you'll see that it is a very clever and intricate piece of work that can be converted into a number of different formats. The most obvious and most frequent change to this template is that the newspaper can dispense with the top row, panels 1 and 2 (which is why it is often a throwaway gag or maybe just a comment, and the strip still reads as a complete strip.

These sizes are sizes you can either work to, or scale-up from, so long as your work scales back down to these sizes (I'm reluctant to put, or thereabouts).

I think we can make this a little easier by using a Peanuts Sunday template, full scale. The original was larger than this, Schulz worked larger, but the copy for publishers fits the dimensions of Format A, above. Remember, you can scale-up (click for the hi-res copy)

It still smacks a little of the dark arts, I feel, and especially so to us UK cartoonists who could not, you may recall, add our own tone to drawings until the 1980s, when we often still had to submit original drawings, and so everything, literally, was done for us.

Templates then, are very handy. However, I have a few Manga templates - blue-lined pages (blue does not scan or photocopy on certain settings) that are finished drawing size, the same size as the thing is published, rather than the size the project can be comfortably drawn at (see my post on the difficulty of drawing the Bee-Man same-size).

Blue-line Pro pads look pretty good. Those are Bristol Board sheets with 2 daily strips, 13"x4" and 1 Sunday strip ready ruled, in blue line.

And you can now add the Canson Fan Boy range to the mix. My friend, cartoonist and writer, Paul Abittabile (who helped with the Canson Fan Boy design) sent me the latest Canson Fan Boy catalogue and I feel a bit like a kid in a sweety shop, albeit looking in fropm a distance as, yet again, I'm going to have to get the tools I need from overseas. Like a lot of illustrators I'm familiar with Canson's products, in fact Canson is one of the few Bristol Boards you can buy in the UK, so I'm really looking forward to working on these. Anyway, it looks like a well-thought out range, including layout pads, comic book pages, and comic strip and even Manga-page formats, and I'm certain it'll go some way to putting the minds of we mathematically challenged cartoonists at ease. Perhaps now, size won't matter too much.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Mysterious Art of Printing

I got an email from a cartoonist friend asking me what I meant about balancing the pages of my book. I suppose it isn't really so important when you are handing the thing over to a publisher, as I am, but then I am a control freak (though not in the Chris Ware flying to Asia to make sure the colours are just so league ), so I'm doing it anyway. Well, not really, it's a purely practical thing and once you print out your dummy copy (I can't overemphasise how important this is it'll save you hours of heartache) you'll see why it's so necessary. For instance, you don't want a black page 3 and a white page 4, it's much easier to have a white page 3 and a white page 4, or a black page 3 and a black page 4 or a white page 3 and 4 with a centered black rectangle on each page, if you get my drift. It just saves trying to find a paper that's white on one side and black on the other.

I know such things are easier to do these days, and some of the old rules no longer apply, but we stick to them, I mean, a lot of cartoonists still draw using a dip-pen and waterproof Indian ink, which was only really necessary when a large wet tin-drum was still used for the printing process. So, I've balanced my pages to make the job of finding paper as easy as possible, and I've balanced the book as a multiple of 8, because that is how it has always been. And because I like things to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The cartoonist concerned is working on their first self-published project, so this is a good time to learn as much as they can about the process and how important dummy-books are and proper planning is. There are a number of illustrators out there from whom I learned basics and the best thing I can do is point you at their pages. Artbabe, Jessica Abel has a marvelous tutorial on her site and even though the mini I did with Dominique and Kim wasn't my first self-published project, I regularly checked Jessica's site for advice and help (it is so very easy to get confused).

Another fabulous resource is the Reproguide that you'll find free for download (scroll down to the bottom of the page), alongside some excellent books by Jordan Crane, that you should think about buying, on Red Ink's website. With advice from Ron Rege Jnr, Brian Ralph, Dave Choe, and Jordan himself, it's a must read.

You really should also check out Pam Bliss's advice and her pdf examples, available for download from Sequential Tart. I think this was the first advice I found online, and I found it very easy to follow.

More recently, I've come across this nicely illustrated piece by Coswell Productions which is excellent for anyone starting out, and even offers some advice to old farts like us.

So, to the task at hand. Again, let me emphasise, it isn't over until it's over, and now for me, for this project at least, it is over (unless I have to make any revisions that is). Here is the new, balanced, intro (if you check Euphrosene Labon's comment you'll notice I forgot to remind you of the practical use of these pages, info about copyright and publishing and previous books, etc, the usual bumf):

So, The Bee-Man is now balanced and every page is in the right place and we don't need any fancy black-on-one-side-white-on-the-other-side ultra-expensive paper. And more importantly, the first page is on the right, and again when the comic book pages proper start, that's also the case. This week the thing gets burned to disk and I'll also burn it to a back-up disc and make a second back-up and then it really will be time to get onto the next project.