Monday, July 28, 2008

My Viz Comic #12 on the FPI Blog

You can find out how I managed to get a copy of Viz Comic #12, from the Donald brothers, on the FPI Blog.

Well, you know, I waited a couple of minutes for the cover to upload and I thought it was taking too long and I checked it out and it was 2.5m, which told me right away that it was 300dpi, and that means I'd forgotten to reduce it to 100dpi, which is my web-standard. It's likely I finished it on the laptop and forget about the copies on the computer here. If you find I've forgotten to webify any graphics here let me know because there is a limit on the space you are allowed to use. I can't believe I'm getting this forgetful.

There is also a little nugget of cartooning history that might have been.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Typhon review on FPI Blog

Hey, look at the time! I've been at a bit of a do. I look like Batman, not because of the Batsuit, or heaven forbid because I was in the stir, no because I'm in a tux. Of course I'm tea-total so I'm annoyingly sober. Anyhoo, I just noticed my review of Danny Hellman's terrific Typhon anthology is on the Forbidden Planet blog, thanks to Joe's hard work (there is also a horror goody, so do drop in).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Snyder, Robin Snyder...Ditko Squad

Great excuse to show one of the most brilliant Ditko covers of all time

I'm going to throw this open because I'm being pestered by Robin Snyder who keeps asking me odd Ditko-related questions but never gets right to the point.

I think he overestimates me, and perhaps because he himself has worked with Steve Ditko assumes that I to would think it pretty normal to just, maybe, drop him a line. I have to say Robin, when Neil Gaiman is almost paralysed with fear at the prospect of talking with Mister Ditko, you underestimate the esteem in which the great man is held if you think it would be that easy for me. So to clear things up, no, I have not spoken to Steve Ditko; I cannot speak to Steve Ditko: if Steve Ditko spoke to me, my heart would stop.

The matter that Robin is so exercised about is the Mister A story that appeared in Witzend that I have put on the blog here. Robin is of the opinion that it is a copyright matter. And that is where our opinions differ. Robin appears to believe that showing the publication here is tantamount to publishing the thing, or republishing it. I disagree.

The original post here, is clearly a post about Wally Wood's publication Witzend. Wally Wood's Witzend, as one of the commentators on the post pointed out, is an important self-published publication, that many people have never seen and have no knowledge of. It was published 30 years ago by Wood himself. I have posted almost, but not quite, all of the publication on my blog, including the entire Mister A story (not the only one on the www, by the way), from that Witzend, for the purpose of study.

Several things strike me, the copyright vested in the work relates to the work Witzend, in its entirety, it does not relate to individual stories and great though the Ditko story is, it is simply part of this copy of Witzend. Another issue may have had no Mister A adventure, or 4 two-page stories, or a written story. If it was necessary to obtain copyright, and I don't believe it is, the copyright would only need to be obtained from Wally Wood or his surviving representatives; not every contributor. Secondly, this is not the copy of Witzend in its entirety, it is part of the publication, so although all the pages of Mister A are on display, every page of the full publication is not. Thirdly, this is a little blog, and the piece is here for study under fair use and fourthly, if Steve Ditko asked me to move it; I'd probably do so anyway because I'm such a fanboy, the moment I recovered from shock.

As far as I'm concerned, the thing meets the criteria of fair-use, and it is clearly on a blog where the practise of cartooning and the study of that craft is discussed and debated. I might be wrong, so I'm going to switch off the little button that allows me to stop you lot from telling me what you think (the nerve). If you have a view let me know.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Making the Faber brush pen last longer

At least twice as long that is.

Hack that pen.

The thing about materials for drawing cartoons is that they cost a lot more in the UK than they do in the US. The translation is usually along the lines of - well, let's take the Sakura Pigma Micron pen as an example. The Micron costs $1.50 in the US, which is around 75p. However, in the UK the pen costs £1.75 at least, which is about $3.50. It's fairly typical as Britain is one of the most highly-taxed countries in the developed world.

As I was scouting about looking for Micron Pigma pens over here I discovered two things, you are much more likely to get them in craft shops here, as most art shops don't stock them, and you can pay up to £3.75 per pen. Now that translates to about $7.50, so if you bought in bulk and bought 100 Microns in the US they would cost you about $150 or about £75. If, on the other hand, you bought 100 Micron Pigma pens here in the UK, from that particular craft shop, the same 100 pens would cost you $750 or about £375 - that is 5 times as expensive. It is the same story here with ink.

There is a similar difference in the cost of the Faber Castell-Pitt artists pen, with a brush tip; which we cartoonists tend to like because it's easier to handle than a brush, and smoother than a pen or nib. So given that there is a squeeze on, and that ink and plastic will undoubtedly cost more money as the months go by - I'll show you how to make the Faber pens last twice as long. You'll need the following tools:

(I can't believe I forgot my Pental Brush pens, so I've added them)

A bottle of FW Acrylic ink (must be Acrylic ink).

Your Faber pens - hope you haven't thrown them away.

A pack of handy wipes.



Optional extras: Your Pental Brush Pen, Koh-I-Noor or Rotring pens, Prismacolor Markers and a syringe from a home inkjet-filling kit.

1. Okay, make sure your work surface is clean and tidy and that your paper and pads that may be lying around are in plastic pouches (okay mine is messy so do as I say, don't do as I do), and get your pens ready and have your tweezers available.

2. I think someone went as far as to make a Youtube movie about this, but I'm not going to patronise you, take the tip in your tweezers and yank it out of there. Now look at the nice pointed tip that was hidden inside. Lovely isn't it? Okay, pick it up and stick the old blunt end back in the pen, so that you have a nice new tip.

3. Grab a handy wipe and get the dirty, filthy, ink of your little fingers.

4. Now that you have renewed your nib, put the pen lid on and move your attention to the other end of the pen. Take your pliers and remove the top - a quick yank and it comes out.

5. Now open your FW Acrylic ink, take your dropper and drop 3 or 4 (no more), drops of ink into the top of the pen, and then put the top back in place.

Rotate the pen once or twice, stand it on its head for about 10 minutes, and it should be good to go.

The Optional Extras:

6. I was actually sitting at the drawing table, well I was hoovering it, when I remembered I'd forgotten my Pentals, that's because I filled them already. Anyway, same deal as the Rotring or Koh-I-Noor. Fill the empty Pental Brush pen reservoir with FW Acrylic ink using the syringe from an inkjet refill pack. It takes surprisingly little ink and never clogs and flows real sweet.

7. Take that old Prismacolor marker and pull the chisel tip nib out with your pliers. Do just as you did when filling the Faber pen and drip 3 or 4 drops of ink into the thing. You won't be swapping the tip round this time, but your old dry pen will be working like a new young 'un again.

8. When your Koh-I-Noor or Rotring is empty, take it into the kitchen and do this in a metal sink or in a plastic basin. Clean the plastic reservoir by rinsing it clean. Fill the syringe with about an inch of FW Acrylic ink, and put the needle in the reservoir and slowly fill. Squirt the left over ink back in the bottle.

That little bottle of FW Acrylic ink will fill 100 Fabers, your Pental, Koh-I-Noor and your Rotring and a dozen Prismacolours and it will make up all your washes and you'll still have ink left to do solid blacks on pages and pages of drawings. It goes a long way, and I have never, in the past 2 years, had a blockage in any of these pens.

(Does anyone else notice how weirdly fetishistic this all looks, and how much it all resembles drug paraphernalia?)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Giggle Comic's Belgian Connection

My post about IPC's Giggle Comic is up on the Forbidden Planet International Blog. Giggle was a pretty unadventurous looking comic that eventually merged with Buster, but it had a secret, it contained artwork by two of Belgium's most famous cartoonists, a fact I wasn't aware of before I looked at the copy of Giggle on Allan Notton’s fantastic Comics UK site.

To be honest I was just going through all the scans there that caught my eye and I hadn't seen Giggle for yonks so in I dived and almost immediately I thought 'whoa, that's really, really, really, well drawn comic, very professional, and oddly familiar ' - and I was right to think that. The comic character IPC ran as Tammy Tuff was Benoit Brisefer the creation of Pierre Culliford, better known as Peyo, the cartoonist who created The Smurfs for the famous Belgian comic, Le Journal De Spirou.

And from the same issue, Buck Bingo was of course, as you have spotted, Lucky Luke, the creation of fellow Spirou artist, Maurice de Bevere (Morris) and more than likely it is an episode written by Asterix’s Rene Goscinny – who worked as the ‘scenarist’ on Morris’s series for many years.

I had wondered if Herlock Sholmes was also a Belgian creation, but Steve Holland, who writes the excellent Bear Alley blog, informs me that it is the work of Yugoslavian cartoonist Julio Radilovic - which just makes this little comic even more amazing for me.

Because I planned on becoming a cartoonist I used to copy the pages of comics like Giggle. In a way, I was also using my comics collection as a sort of correspondence course in cartooning. I had no idea though, that I was learning the tricks of the trade from not just Britain's best cartoonists, but the best cartoonists in Europe.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Rod's Musings at Forbidden Planet International Blog

My post on Lynda Barry's marvelous book, What It Is, is on the Forbidden Planet Blog today.

I just had a quick look at the FPI Blog and saw a TV21 cover, so I'm heading over for a proper look-see. I loved that comic. I caught the Gerry Anderson exhibition when it came to Edinburgh yonks back. Marvelous stuff - I have the programme/booklet somewhere. I'll look it out.

Forbidden Planet International

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Death Note, Re-Post

By sheer coincidence, I was watching L: Change the World, which is both a prequel and a sequel (you'll understand when you see it) to Death Note and Death Note 2: The Last Name, on Saturday evening, and so I had the movie on my mind when, on the Sunday morning, I opened my Times and found the teeny little review of Death Note 2: The Last Name, which is currently running in UK cinemas.

It's such a pathetic review, that I've re-posted my Death Note post from IMANGA, from May, below, in the hope that someone in the Sunday Times leads movie critic Edward Porter here so he can discover a little something about the movie he watched. Here's the review in full, and the link to it so you can see I'm not making it up. According to mister Porter, Death Note: The Last Name is:

A teen-angled Japanese popcorn movie that plays like a live-action version of an anime cartoon, Death Note had a brief run in British cinemas earlier this year, and here we have its sequel, directed by Shusuke Kaneko. It revolves around the same smooth-faced central characters - a precocious, eccentric detective and a scheming antihero - who continue to do battle regarding the latter’s ownership of a notebook that magically kills anybody whose name is written in its pages. I found the first film enjoyable enough in its own silly way, but the follow-up is strictly for devout fans (should there be any in the UK). Nobody else can be expected to wear out their brains trying to keep up with the plot, which introduces all sorts of new rules and regulations governing the fatal book.

Okay, there are so many things wrong with this review that it's hard to work out where to start. I mean, honestly, do these people actually go to these things and look around? Edward and his partner in crimes against pop-culture, Cosmo Landsman (remember his graphic novel epiphany from watching Persepolis?), surely notice, when they are sitting there watching movies like Death Note, that they are the only people wearing plus-fours and Tweed jackets and who are completely unfamiliar with the material they are looking at.

I think we should begin by taking it for granted that there are Death Note fans in the UK. There are 4 in this household. Secondly, no, it's actually not a 'live action version of an anime cartoon', it's a live action and CGI version of a manga, that also has been made into an anime series, to great acclaim. Thirdly, this is part 2 of the story that began, strangely enough, with part 1, the first Death Note movie - you must have noticed that the little preview after the credits of the first Death Note movie (which you say you saw) opened this movie? And fourthly, you could have mentioned that the movie is well acted, well produced, and the CGi is excellent, Edward, because it is.

Now, it may well be that the movie critic concerned is taking the piss, but one can't be too sure, so let's take a quick look at some Death Note facts:

In Japan, the Death Note manga has sold around twenty million copies, and Death Note was nominated for 'Best Manga' at the 2006 American Anime Awards.

Over 800,000 copies of the 12-volume Death Note manga have been sold in the United States, and the first volume of the series is heading for around 100 weeks in the top-50 charts. Even the spin off novel, Death Note: Another Note, climbed into the top-10 in the US Science Fiction book charts.

Adult Swim, which also runs in the UK, on Bravo, is showing the 37 episodes of the Death Note anime series to millions of happy US viewers, and the Death Note DVDs have sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the US and the UK (my daughter Kim got her free 'Light' figure with Volumes 1 and 2, in the land of Scotchland, no less). This popular series, as you can imagine, repeatedly pops up in the top 5 in the Anime sales charts.

They have actually even heard of Death Note in China, where the manga has even been recalled in places, after the Chinese government panicked when Chinese schoolkids made their own 'Death Notebooks'.

The Death Note movies have been no less popular, and on its release more 65,000 Japanese movie-goers watched the first Death Note live-action movie on just two days in May.

So, since we don't live in a cultural bubble, I'm guessing that yes, there are some Death Note fans in the UK, even some devout ones, but just in case any non-devout cinema-goers actually fancy popping in to see the movie, it's just not true that '(The Last Name) introduces all sorts of new rules and regulations governing the fatal book.' on the contrary, those rules and regulations are all well established, and even a passing familiarity with the first Manga volume, or a quick look at Death Note on Wikipedia, will tell you all you need to know. I'm afraid you just either didn't pay any attention to Death Note or Death Note: The Last Name, Edward, or you just didn't do your research properly.

Death Note, Re-Visited

My major difficulty here is that I am aware that lots of you are currently reading the Death Note manga, and watching the anime, and may not even yet have seen the movies, so I have to avoid spoilers and as a result I don't want to go into too many plot details in case I accidentally let the cat out the bag. So, the review is kind of general, but it's affectionately done and I hope it gives the casual reader, unfamiliar with Death Note, a nudge toward reading the series.

I hate a lot of book reviews. Many book reviews nowadays are little more than puffed-up plugs between Oxbridge graduates, and a good many seem to be little more than the reviewer comparing the title to other books he or she claims familiarity with, in order to impress other editors with his/her reviewing powers. Having been to university with at least one critic, I have to tell you I'll be amazed if she has ever actually read anything other than a take-away menu from cover to cover.

Two things really bother me though, a review like the one I read this weekend where the reviewer only spoke about the book being reviewed in the final paragraph (which is okay when the reviewer is Umberto Eco, or George Steiner, or Derrida) and ridiculous hyperbole like 'understanding Hamlet's world is like trying to comprehend a whirlwind...'. Actually it isn't, because trying to 'comprehend a whirlwind is nonsense, unless you study whirlwinds, in which case it's a simple exercise - but it tells us nothing about the story. Besides, Hamlet's world is really very easy to understand.

What I want to know is will I like the book, will I be interested in what happens next, will I be desperate to finish it and yet desperate not to leave the world I have stepped into, too soon? This is difficult to gauge with a straightforward, dare I say conventional and old fashioned, book. The fly-leaf and the pages on view may well engage one, the book itself can still go on to be a tremendous let down. It's a lot easier, I think, with a graphic novel because you can tell from looking at the drawings and reading the dialogue from just one or two pages, whether or not it has you in its grip - especially if you have been anticipating the release of the larger work after following the story in comic form weekly or monthly, which is often the case with Manga, and is the case with Death Note in particular.

By the time Death Note (デスノート, Desu Nōto), written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, kicked off as a regular series in Shonen Jump Weekly, it centered around Yagami Light an extremely gifted, but bored, High School student who happens upon a supernatural notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it. With 108 chapters, spread over 12 volumes (tankobon) the series picked up a large and dedicated fan base.

The Death Note Anime, more or less follows the Manga pretty faithfully, the Death Gods, the Shinigami, carry notebooks called “Death Notes” with which they control the lives, and principally the deaths, of us mere mortals. If your name is written down in their Death Note, you will die, of a heart attack ( unless another cause of death is specified) within 40 seconds. The Shinigami, Ryuk, who mirrors Light's boredom, drops his Death Note in the human world, where Light discovers both it, and his new found power over life and death. He can now kill people, or at least his alter-ego 'Kira' can, with the stroke of his pen. At first Light uses his power to kill bad people whom the State seems unwilling or unable to punish. The powers that be, unsettled by the hornets nest Kira has stirred up, employ the mysterious L, a master detective, to track down the Kira.

The series has been also been adapted into two live-action movies, Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name. Here, Light is again a brilliant student, but somewhat older than the anime character, and his pondering on criminality (his father is a high ranking officer), morality (he is a student of philosophy and criminality) and his role of man/god after finding the Death Note is more fleshed out.

A novel based on the series was written by Ishin Nishio, called Death Note: Another Note. The premise of this was very clever and it tied into the Death Note universe by having Mello (a young candidates to become L's successor) narrate the story of L's first encounter with Naomi Misora during the Los Angeles 'BB Serial Murder Case' which was mentioned in volume 2 of the Death Note manga.

As you will know from the recent post on my blog, a third Death Note movie, L: Change the World, was released earlier this month (February 2008) in Japan, and a new tie-in, one-shot story was published.

Without wishing to repeat the very thing I mentioned earlier as a pet-hate, the hyperbole that causes one to write ridiculous sentences about 'whirlwinds' (although 'reaping' such a whirlwind might be more appropriate with Death Note, than Hamlet) I have to say I have never read anything in the West that can compare to this work, in scope, size or scale. I have read other manga that compares, such as Monster, or MPD Pyscho, but I don't think our comics or graphic novels operate on this standard of magical realism. Perhaps, some South American fiction comes close, but those would mainly be short stories and their aims and goals would be more limited. Manga on this scale, sets out to transform the lives of millions of readers, not a few, well-read English majors.

From a cartoonists perspective, I see the benefits of the Japanese system of production as key to the superiority of work like Death Note. The story actually began looking very different indeed, as a one-shot, with some very loose ideas about where the story would go, or what it might become - one imagines:

The triumph of the Japanese system of producing anthologies of weekly and monthly comics, targeted at specific age-groups, allowing the artists and writers a large degree of creative freedom whilst building a large and loyal audience, can be seen to great advantage here with Death Note. After the one-shot's success, the story reappeared as the more finished article we know today. The careless Ryuk even reminded us that he had lost his Death Note again, and over the succeeding months the tale grew more and more sophisticated with each twist, turn and moral dilemma. The popularity of the feature soared and it quickly became a hit all over the world, thanks to word-of-mouth and the scanlation groups.

Of course there was the possibility that the Death Note anime would be horrible. The manga is superbly drawn and the plot doesn't pander down to the lowest common denominator, so there was a possibility that the anime would strive for a larger audience, and water the story down. Those fears were quickly dispelled as the anime clearly used the manga as a template, and like the manga, it looked fantastic:

The biggest test though, would be the live-action movies. There were so many possibilities to screw-up here, loyal fans are both a blessing and a curse and the casting could be wrong in their eyes, the story could be scrambled, the CGI could look dreadful, the script could be awful, the permutations were endless. As it transpired, the first movie met with such universal praise that for months the coming second movie was the only chatter on the Death Note fan sites and forums. The casting of the first movie had been perfect and the teaser at the end of it, for Death Note 2, really caused a buzz:

All in all, Death Note, the manga, the anime, the movies, it's an experience. You will be transported to another place - that's the best that great fiction can aspire to.