Monday, December 28, 2009

Dr Mystic the Occult Detective

Sorry about the lack of posts. It has been a little bit hectic and there is a lot going on, but I am disappointed that I couldn't post more. I've neglected my twitter-chums somewhat as well, but hopefully that will all be forgotten in the new year - new beginnings and all that. I have been pretty desperate to get at least one last post up for 2009, and this is it. It's a short post, but it is interesting, I think, and has some lovely drawings.

One of the things I like to look at is the development of a style of drawing, or writing, over time. The development of Herge's style, for instance, is fascinating, and studying his early work really aids a beginning cartoonist; because frankly, it doesn't look that hard to equal Herge's early pen work. Some people though, are ridiculously talented straight from the get-go, and that certainly seems to have been the case with Superman creators' Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster.

It must have been quite a culture shock coming across the work of Seigel and Shuster back in the day, especially if you were a kid who wanted to become a cartoonist. Their creation, Dr Mystic the Occult Detective, which can be found in The Comics Magazine, Volume 1 No 1, published in 1936, alongside other adventure strips like W.M. Allison's Captain Bill of the Rangers, Major Lord, and Tom Cooper's The Black Lagoon, looks to me even today, like it was drawn decades later and faxed back into the past.

The character Zator, battling the Clark Kent-like Dr Mystic above, bears a number of similarities to the bald telepathic villain, The Superman, who appeared in 1933 in Siegel's self-published short story, The Reign of the Superman. Further refined over the following 12 months into the heroic figure now recognised all over the world, Siegel and Shuster then began their five -year battle to get The Superman published, and although Superman was created before a number of their other creations, it appeared in print after many of them. It's for this reason, that looking back at the "Super qualities" of the work that was created post-Superman, but was published before it, is so rewarding.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Johnny Morte: PI to the Damned

Okay, I'm going to post the pages here, and just keep adding as I go. I still don't have a new Wacom so I'm working with the keypad on the laptop, and it really is laborious.

I've decided not to use Illustrator's Live Trace function. It really seems to kill the drawings and mine are already too lifeless for my liking. I'm just cleaning it a little, toning, and reducing the resolution so the glaring mistakes shrink.

Copyright, Roderick McKie, 2008-2009.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hitting the Groove...

Euphrosene just mentioned "sew". I should have pointed out it's a pun that relates to an incident in the story, so the biblical quote is deliberately misquoted. She's a real clever-clogs, you know.

You know you've hit the groove when you are working on something and you successfully blank out everything and everyone and then you look up and it's suddenly 3 or 4 am and you are the only person left in the room.

So I hit the groove at 4.30am today and realised that I can get the scanned pages of Johnny Morte, PI to the Damned, You Reap What You Sew, to look exactly as I want. It's slow progress though, until my new graphics tablet arrives, because each scanned page is taking about 4 or 5 hours to clean and tart up with the mouse.

One mini dilemma was the font. I'm not going to hand-write it because I have my own font, but I decided to use Comicraft's Pulp Fiction font for the cover and Comicrafts Wicca font for the inside page. The rest is my own font. My plans may change (thank goodness for layers!).

So the entire story is finished and parts of it are scanned in and one or two pages are finished and I've made web copies of a handful of them. It looks, all told, like maybe two weeks work and then I have to decide what to do with it. It may go the conventional publishing route but it may not - I might just do it all myself. It depends.

Copyright, Roderick McKie, 2008-2009.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The New Johhny Morte (shortly)

Firstly, that music ap' is great isn't it? I kind of get stuck in a loop and if I have music on when I work I jump from one song to another, and maybe I'll have 3 or 4 favourites, so it pretty much sounds like that here, with those 4 songs looping along, where I am; scanning.

Anyway, I did a longer back story to Johnny Morte and finished the entire first comic, so I'll start posting some of it tomorrow. I'm not sure how much I'll put online; I may put all of it here, and in a pdf for download, I don't know. It depends, very much, on the route I take with the thing.

It's a difficult call deciding what to do with it; especially as any internal debate I may get into can lead to me redrawing the damn thing, obsessively, and maybe never finishing it again. That's because I'd want to make it of a certain "standard" and that standard varies in much the same way that "private art" (art made for a small selective audience) and "public art" (art made for a larger audience) differ - the best work may well be the intimate piece created for yourself and a few others, it may well be more vivid and energetic, and even daring; but the piece created for the big audience, especially a big paying audience, that piece will undoubtedly be more laboured and more practised and much more the finished item.

You would certainly expect the public piece to be judged more harshly, I would think. It will almost certainly be open to more scrutiny than something created just for yourself, and perhaps your small circle of friends. Oh, I'd quite like my own team, a penciller, an inker, a colourist, a letterer, an editor, it would certainly result in a more polished end product, but I'm such a control-freak I don't know that I would respond well to that dynamic. Maybe I would, never say never, as they sometimes say.

So, my comic will, in some respects, be a little rough around the edges, but it will be a little more intimate as a result and hopefully it will be a little more sophisticated looking than your average mini (or at least my average minis). I suppose it will fall somewhere between the two standards, but that's okay, by about the 4th comic in the series I'll be into the swing of it and it'll look better; and at that stage I'll be fighting like billyo to go back and draw the entire first comic again - as you do.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dudley Watkins Addendum (but added to the top, as it were).

The Dudley Watkins piece below is one that I have wanted to post for some time, and I wanted it to have a little extra because I really believe we are talking about an exceptional cartoonist, but I really didn't know what that "little extra" would be. Well, as luck would have it, two cartoonists who you will all be quite familiar with have given me permission to reproduce their posts on a simultaneous discussion we are having in another place on this piece on Dudley, and I couldn't be more pleased. I'm particularly delighted with Steve Bright's anecdote about Dudley's Crucifixion painting, the Dundee Courier's heading is hilarious.

Roger (Beau Peep, Andy Capp) Kettle

As I'm sure I've mentioned, Rod, I joined DCT just two weeks before Dudley Watkins died. As an 18 year-old junior, I was given the wonderful job of sorting through all the old Broons and Oor Wullie originals for dating and re-printing purposes. I shared this job with two other kids, Morris Heggie and Euan Kerr who, of course, went on to edit The Dandy and Beano respectively. The artwork in the flesh was staggering and some of the storylines unthinkable in this day and age. (Stopping for a smoke on the way to school and a black kid called Sambo moving into the street). I still feel privileged to have done that job.

Steve (Bananaman) Bright

As another DCT 'kid' of a slightly younger vintage than Messrs Kettle, Heggie and Kerr (the boys done well!), I joined the company several years after Dudley Watkins death, but of course, his legacy and influence on the comics I worked for was still very much alive and plain to see.

I'm particularly pleased to see you make the point about how much he improved over the years, and that not all great cartoonists are born. I can only think of a few who appear to have been the real deal from Day One (the third of Watkins successors on the Broons and Oor Wullie, Ken H. Harrison, being one of them - consistently brilliant throughout his career). Rather than the "solace" you write of, to be taken from those early Watkins years, I'd hope those of us who struggle with our own early years (I was certainly one) can take inspiration from DDW's work, although I agree that usurping the master at his peak would be nigh on impossible. Perhaps I lack that particular ambition, but I still delight in seeing the evolution of the greats (and Baxendale's growth was perhaps an even more marked contrast), and take inspiration from that. And hopefully I never stop learning and improving, but my target has always been to be half as good as those greats, and I've never looked to better any of them.

I turned down the opportunity to take on The Broons and Oor Wullie back in the 80s. At that time, they were being ghosted by Tom Lavery, a fine comic cartoonist, but struggling to fill the great man's shoes. He had a thankless task. I was very flattered to be asked, but scared stiff at the prospect. I'd have taken on Oor Wullie, but the Broons was way too daunting, with something like ten family members in most frames. But both came as a package deal, so I declined. I was right to do so - I'm not good enough to do it justice now, never mind back then, and the artists who eventually took it on (Pete Davidson, Ken Harrison, then Davidson again) were far better equipped to do the job than I ever will be.

Interesting to read about Watkins Biblical ambition. Only last year, a rather curious depiction of The Crucifixion, drawn by Watkins over 50 years ago, was discovered in a house in Fife where it had hung for decades, having been given to the house owner by Dudley Watkins as a personal gift in 1951. Unmistakeably in Watkins' style, it shows children in contemporary clothes and hairstyles of the 1950s, queueing up at the foot of the cross. It caused quite a stir in the press at the time, but DCT's own headline was typically understated.

The Dundee Courier website reported, "Unusual Work by Oor Wullie Artist".

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Scotland's Greatest Cartoonist, Dudley D. Watkins

It is generally accepted that an Englishman born on February 27th 1907, in Manchester, England, Dudley D. Watkins, was Scotland's greatest cartoonist. Undoubtedly some of the people who say it is so simply pay lip-service to that notion because he remains to this day one of the few cartoonists people in Britain can actually name (even if they only say "the guy who did the Broons"), but to many comic fans and cartoonists alike, Watkins simply was the best. All over Great Britain and the Commonwealth, legions of fans collected every single full-page episode of The Broons and Oor Wullie from the weekly edition of The Sunday Post newspaper, a newspaper that regularly found its way all over the world as families oceans apsrt kept in touch with distant relatives. And every Christmas, The Broons and Oor Wullie Annuals were a standing dish here in the UK and overseas. Then of course there were those other fans who grew up with Dudley's work for The Beano and The Dandy, two comics that really only came into being because of the tremendous popularity of Dudley Watkins work.

For we cartoonists' who are not naturally gifted and have to work hard at our craft, there is some solace in looking at Dudley's very early work before the Broons and Oor Wullie. That's because if you began with no knowledge of his earlier work, and you just picked up a Broons or an Oor Wullie page from the 1940s or 1950s, and then traced it back to the first Broons comic of 1936, it can be very intimidating indeed. Although the Broons of 1933 is rougher than the Broons of 1943, it is still a very polished looking page for that era. There is no sign of the very rough artwork of say, the first Tintin story by Herge, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. Indeed, if you start with the Broons alone, Dudley seems to have just sprung up as a fully-formed cartooning genius. Of course, that wasn't the case, and Dudley's earlier art work is a little rough around the edges, thankfully, although it is still intimidating in itself because it illustrates the rapid professional development of the man's penmanship.

Watkins's first published work appeared in Boots in-house magazine, The Beacon, while he was working for Boots Pure Drug company in the early 1920s. In 1925 the Watkins family moved to Scotland and Dudley attended classes at Glasgow School of Art. It was the school principal there who recommended the talented illustrator to the Scottish publishing powerhouse D.C. Thomson, and soon afterwards Watkins moved to the Thomson company's Dundee base. It was there that Dudley began what would become a life-long career in comics, as just one of a number of DC illustrators, churning out pages for Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Skipper and The Hotspur. To make ends meet, Watkins earned a little extra income teaching life drawing at Dundee Art School, but his talents did not go unnoticed for long, and a keen-eyed editor assigned him the drawing of two new comic strips, The Broons and Oor Wullie - both of which were launched in the 8 March 1936 edition of the weekly newspaper The Sunday Post.

On the 11th of February 1933 D.C Thomson's Rover Comic contained a free-gift, the Rover Midget, and the episode of PC99 in the Midget was not by PC99's usual cartoonists, Charles Gordon, it was drawn on this occasion by by Dudley Watkins 1933. It was Watkin's first full strip for DC Thomson.

Just three short years after his first full strip appeared, Watkins had begun work on what would become the most iconic cartoon characters in Scottish history. The Broons and Oor Wullie comic strips were tremendous hits with the Scottish public, and it was their success that encouraged Thomson to produce both The Dandy Comic (1937) and The Beano Comic (1938), both of which were built around the look and style of Watkins work. From The Beano #1, until his final comic for Beano # 1422, the creator of Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty and Biffo the Bear, served up a steady diet of comic masterpieces that impacted on almost every single child growing up in Britain, and even further afield. Such was his reputation that he was the only Thomson artist at the time who was allowed to sign his own work, a shy D.W on the adventures of Lord Snooty in the Beano #292, September 7th 1946, gave way to the more familiar and iconic signature Dudley D. Watkins in issue '293.

The cover artist for the Beano, with Biffo the Bear, Watkins was also to become the cover artist of Thomson's two new broadsheet titles, The Topper, with Mickey the Monkey and Ginger, for The Beezer, and in addition to this comic work. Watkins still managed to work on adaptations of classics and to work on a number of biblical works, David, The Road to Calvary, both of which appeared in the Sparky Annual in the 1960s, that were very dear to his heart. A committed Christian, Watkins drew artwork for mission calendars, and from the 1950s he produced the comic strips William the Warrior and Tony and Tina - The Twins, strips full of Scriptural quotations, for Young Warrior, a children's comic paper published by the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade.

From a cartoonist's perspective there is, perhaps, today at least, a crumb of comfort in looking at Wakins very early Broons pages, but it is just that, a crumb. Let me explain, you see, as cartoonists we tend to learn from other cartoonists and whilst we do want to learn from the greats, like Dudley Watkins, we really also want to one day usurp that surrogate-cartooning-parent, and so it is essential that we can hope, one distant day, to outdraw them. There is at least a hint that one could maybe someday draw as well as Dudley in the very early 1930s Broons, but I have to admit that by the Broons pages of the 1940s any such hope is soon dashed. Within a very short time, in relative cartooning terms, Dudley Watkins was regularly creating some of the most beautiful comics pages ever seen in the history of cartooning.

There were very, very, few cartoonists in the world producing work of the quality of Watkins's work. The Broons pages contained less panels than the more action-orientated Oor Wullie, so there was more of a canvas for Watkins to experiment on. His command of perspective and shifting points of view was almost peerless and I think, with the exception of a handful of European and American greats, like Winsor McCay, it would be difficult to think of a more talented and influential cartoonist. He truly was one of the all-time greats.

One dream Dudley Watkins did not managed to fulfill, was his dream of adapting the entire Bible into illustrated format. Oh that would have been something, wouldn't it? That would have been an awesome "graphic novel", a spectacular celebration of what a dedicated cartoonist could achieve. But it wasn't to be. On the morning of 20 August 1969, his wife found him, a half-finished Desperate Dan strip on his drawing table before him, Dudley D. Watkins had died of a heart attack, doing what he loved.

Artwork copyright D.C Thomson.

Some pics purloined from various sites. For more, and more detailed, information on the great Dudley D. Watkins, I suggest you try the following excellent sites:

That's Braw

Christian Comics International

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Matt and Sammy's Treehouse of Ergot and Horror

You'll know by now that I like anthologies. As I've said before, I grew up with them because UK comics were and still are, in the main, anthologies. So it will come as no surprise that I really like Bongo Entertainment, Inc's annual, The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror. But what might come as a surprise to you, with this edition #15, is just exactly who has edited, written, and drawn this collection. It would be fair to say, I think, that it is a stellar line-up of creators; and at least three of my favourite cartoonists are involved.

Guest edited by Sammy Harkham, the award-winning creator of the Kramers Ergot anthology, and featuring the work of a good few of that publications line-up, The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror #15 features comics by some of the brightest stars in the idie-comic universe. With an eyegasmic cover by Dan Zettwoch the comic opens up to reveal such a range of talent that it really does require two or three passes just to take in, on a superficial level, the delights on almost every page. The impressive collection consists of Cloud 13 by Tim Hensley, The Call of Vegulu, written by Matthew Thurber with art by Kevin Huizenga, Blurst Agin, by Jordan Crane, Mo' Bodies Moe Problems, written and coloured by Ted May with art by the collection's editor Sammy Harkam, The Gods Must Be Lazy, by Will Sweeney, C.H.U.M, by Jon Vermilyea, Boo-tleg by Ben Jones, Three Little Kids, by John Kerschbaum, Bad Millhouse, by Jeffrey Brown and The Slipsons, by C.F

Perhaps the best introduction to the cast of creators, though, comes from the pen of the Editor himself, and I'd like to see more anthologies add this sort of illustrated calling card to its pages.

As with any anthology I have my favourites and not every story works for me, but then that is the appeal and the attraction of anthologies, isn't it? There is something for everyone, and I have to say, this collection comes very close to being pretty much perfect; for me.

The Call of Veula, for instance, was always going to work for me because it's drawn by Glen Ganges creator, Kevin Huizenga, whom I rate very highly as an illustrator. I just love his work.

Almost every piece of this works, and the stories are all very good. It has clearly been a job that everyone involved enjoyed taking part in, and it really is very nice to see such a variety of drawing and colouring styles and methods under one cover.

One of my favourite stories from the collection is C.H.U.M by Jon Vermilyea. I like everything about this story, I like the story itself, the drawings and the colouring.

Another real favourite of mine from this collection is Jeffrey Brown's Bad Millhouse (nice detaills about creating the piece on Jeffrey Brown's blog). I just love the way the condition of the characters deteriorates, in a sort of nod to Juni Ito, but is also reflected in the darkening of the felt tip pens as they themselves begin to deteriorate. It is beautifully drawn.

The comic book itself is full of lovely touches that you don't pick up on at first, like Sammy Harkham's deserted couch with little bits of various Simpson's characters littered around the scene of the crime. It's a delight, a real Halloween treat. This is really worth buying.

Art, copyright 2009, Bongo Entertainment, Inc.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dudley and Herge

This is a post that is intended to be inspirational. It's about learning on the job, and it could easily be called "look how shit Herge was when he started cartooning". In a way it's about examining how even the very best cartoonists and Herge and Dudley Watkins were two of the very best cartoonists the world has ever seen learn and evolve as they continue to work at the job of illustrating. In a way, I suppose, it's a celebration more of the craft of cartooning itself, and how experience and personal growth is reflected in the work that is produced. You will hear many cartoonists speak fondly of studios they once worked in or worked for as the place they learned the craft of cartooning and honed their skills. For many today, that happens on the internet and some web comics that began as very amateurish looking ventures have since developed into very excellent looking and very funny strips.

Before the more polished looking creation of studio Herge.

And Dudley

Not such a dramatic change for Dudley, but still an obvious one.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Appreciating the Madness of The Bunty

I'm not going to be too unkind here because D.C Thomson has changed significantly over the years. The company that once paid its creators less than IPC's juvenile comics division did, and refused to allow credits on the stories, is no longer that sort of company. In fact, with the publishing of Gary Northfield's creator-owned Derek the Sheep in the Beano, D.C Thomson took a massive leap in support of the creator, beyond any other British comic publication and many American ones. For that they should be congratulated, and in pointing that fact out I hope they will not be too mad about my close-ish reading of this Bunty Summer Special from 1972, that was given away free this week in The Guardian. After all, we need to learn from our past, and it is an interesting historical text.

As you know, my cousin Allan was a big Bunty fan. His sister, my cousin Mary, bought a few D.C Thomson titles and despite a fairly comprehensive slagging-off, he always championed the British titles when we were growing up. I, on the other hand, despite working on a British comic back in the 1980s, was much more into the US titles, and it's actually only over the last 10 years or so that I have woken up to how great the British comics, especially the 'girls' comics, actually were - and are. Having said all that, the fact that we readers have no idea who made these stories is not fair on us or on the creators. I have, I think, some idea who created some of the pages, but it irks me that creators were treated that badly.

Bunty was a weekly British comic for girls that began in 1958. Like most other British titles, it was an anthology and consisted of a collection of small strips sometimes two, sometimes three but hardly ever more than four or five pages long. There were seasonal specials, such as the Summer Special featured below, and Christmas and summer annuals. The stories, usually written by men and illustrated more often than not by men, were about, well, you'll find out when you read the examples below. They were often beautifully illustrated, often by celebrated European artists, and the coloured pages were hand-coloured by a team of women in the Thomson offices.

Most features in the Bunty came and went, but The Four Marys ran for years, becoming the comic's longest running story. Drawn by Roy of the Rovers and Scorer artist, Barrie Mitchell, who also worked for Mandy, Pow, Wham, 2000 AD and other titles, The Four Marys ran for decades from the comic's initial launch in 1958.

The story Tommy the Tomboy, with its ridiculous schooling premise, it's stereotypes and its anachronistic ideas about lady-like reactions makes us laugh for all the wrong reasons today; and perhaps would even have raised eyebrows in 1972, but the art is accomplished and attractive. It may be the work of a Spanish a Belgian an Argentinian an Italian or a British illustrator, I have no idea and I can't, at the moment, find out, but I've looked at the panels repeatedly over the last few days and each time it impresses me more.
The drawing of the strident Mrs Ponsonby, secretary of the 'Feminine Freedom Fighters', is simply perfect. She is constructed as a thick-lined, but not indelicately-rendered, shrew, and you can just imagine her shifting her balls as she moves her weight from leg to leg. By contrast, the delicate rendition of her daughter Tomasina, who is being 'taught' to be first manly and then feminine, is at odds with the text that tells us she has manly-traits.

Class rears its head in The Four Marys. Yet again we are faced with the sharp contrast of a story that is wonderful to look at, but reads like something from the Victorian era of chars and scullery maids held to ridicule.

Emergency 666 is not as weird as it looks at first glance. Again the premise is ridiculous, but there is nothing diabolical about the thing, well, apart from the dialogue that is. The emergency services number in the UK is 999, the number here, 666, is simply a reversal of that. I'm pretty certain it has nothing to do with The Book of Revelation and the number of the Beast. As silly as it is, I love the artwork.

Okay this is here for my benefit; I just love cut-outs.

Now, I have to admit this piece of ridiculous hokum, Peggy the Promette, is my favourite story. I absolutely love the hand-coloured work of some faceless Thomson staffer and I love the quality of the line-work. The story is awful, but it looks fantastic.

You know, sitting down reading 200 episodes of one of these adventures, or even just 10 or 12 of the more fleeting visitors to the pages of the Bunty, would fill me with dread; but I could sit there for hours eyeballing the pages. It's a tragedy that it has taken us (and by 'us' I really mean 'them') this long to appreciate this part of our heritage.