Sunday, February 22, 2009

20th Century Boys Movie Rocks and the Sunday Times is Clueless.

Let me explain, the Sunday Times has, in the last two weeks, published two tiny reviews of 20th Century Boys and both reviews rubbished the movie; proving only that the Sunday Times critics' Damascene conversion to fans of graphic novels, manga, and all things cartoon is just a further example of grandad trying to dance.

To be fair, the Sunday Times is a serial offender with its reviewers declaring themselves fans of "graphic novels" because they watched Persepolis, and creating lists of "must have" graphic novels with no mention of Shaun Tan's Arrival, in the year that it swept all before it. In fact, this week's Sunday Times Culture section must have proved deeply embarrassing to the paper's TV reviewer A.A. Gill, because it featured Tina Fey on the cover and a large article on Fey and her brilliantly funny creation, 30 Rock. It's embarrassing for Gill because he rubbished 30 Rock and heaped praise on the much inferior Mathew Perry vehicle, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; which had actually already been cancelled when Gill lauded its superiority.

So anyway, I digress, back to comics, sort of, the first Times review of 20th Century Boys was by far the funniest of the two reviews because apparently the reviewer was bewildered by the flashbacks in the movie - honestly, the thing opens at a future date with a man jailed for drawing a cartoon; the movie pleasingly ends back in that time in that cell. The flashbacks back briefly to the release of T.Rex's 20th Century Boy, and then back to the major kernel of the story, Kenji's childhood, are not just not bewildering, but pretty darned straight forward and expertly handled. As for the reviewer's belief that the acting in this adaptation of Urasawa's hugely popular award-winning manga is sometimes "over the top" well that must have floored fans of Japanese cinema. Honestly, where do they get these people?

Okay, for the benefit of people like Cosmo Landsman, the chaps in the poster up top, were once the children in the picture above, and the story actually begins here, and using kinematographic effects, we are miraculously transported back to that time as an illustration of the central character's memory - this is actually a fairly common technique.

The "bewildering" jump forward at the opening of the movie, where a cartoonist has been imprisoned for drawing an innapropriate cartoon, clearly drawing parallels with contemporary matters and hinting at an authoritarian regime, is pleasing cleared up when the movie ends, sometime in the future, in that same prison. So that's so not "bewildering" is it, unless you didn't actually watch the entire movie?

This page, from the manga the movie was based on, and the subsequent pages below, show how the story moves backwards and forwards in time as the plot is revealed over several volumes, and in the case of the movies, over the trilogy.


In my opinion, Urasawa's legion of fans will love this movie, and like me they will be astonished at how like the illustrations a lot of the characters are, and how faithful most of the story and sets are to the original story which ran in Shogakukan's Weekly Big Comic Spirits magazine. I can't recommend it highly enough. But I don't think you need to be familiar with the manga to enjoy the movie, as long as you are not as easily bewildered as the Sunday Times reviewer that is, and as long as you like Japanese movies, comic books, sci-fi, mysteries and a rollicking good adventure. I'm pretty sure also, that the non-linear nature of the plot will not cause nearly as much confusion as it apparently did for the critic concerned.

Not that the movie would struggle if the easily bewildered stayed away, and the only people who placed their bums on the seats where those who bought the 20 million copies of the 20th Century Boys manga that have been sold in Japan, and the many people in the West who have read the scanlations, and have gone on to pick up the newly translated manga. Urasawa's fans alone will surely bring the movie, and the subsequent DVDs, a level of financial success few movies attain these days.

I can hardly contain my excitement, the trailer for 20th Century Boys 2 is out, and it's tacked on to the end of the trailer for 20th Century Boys, below. Unlike the Sunday Times reviewers, I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the trilogy - bring it on.

20th Century Boys (part 1 of 3)
Certificate 15
Toshiaki Karasawa
Etsushi Toyokawa
Takako Tokiwa
Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Yasushi Fukuda
Takashi Nagasaki
Naoki Urasawa
Yƻsuke Watanabe

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Comic Strip Culture

Let me first apologise for two things, I kept promising to do a blog-piece on these strips long ago, and now that I finally get well again and get round to it, newspapers in the US are dropping strips and some are even dropping comics pages, and secondly, I'm sorry about the scans, but I really wanted to capture something of the scale of the broadsheet-sized comic sections so they lose bits of strips - what can you do?

On the other hand, it looks like a good time to finally get it up here because one of my fellow British cartoonists, the talented Alexander Mathews, has a strip called King Monkey that he is hoping to place with a syndicate in the US, soon, and I'm also sending a strip, that I'm very excited about, to the US in a week or two. Now, even at the best of times the comic strip business is very difficult to break into, never mind during these challenging times, but I think that both Alex and I should at least give it go. The usual cartoonist maxim should apply, "if you don't send it in, it's already rejected".

I'm a huge fan of US strips, and by that I mean strips that the US syndicates distribute because some of my favourite strips are produced in Canada, but there are a good few cartoonists out there who can't say a good word about them. I have to say I think that on the whole, the syndicated strips are underestimated, especially in the US, where people seem to take the things for granted. They should try living here in the UK, in Edinburgh, for instance, a city of 500,000 people, where the local paper, the Edinburgh Evening News, carries two comic strips, Hagar and Garfield, and it shrinks them to about 3/4" x 5" and it really doesn't care how squished and squashed those two strips look. They are an afterthought.

Despite coming from this comic-strip-challenged culture, young Alex and I are willing to take our chances in the spiritual home of comic strips, the US, where a tiny handful of British cartoonists already have their strips syndicated. One of those pioneers is Roger Kettle, one half of Beau Peep and the writer of Andy Capp, who, like me, is amazed that the fantastic collections of strips that the US readers enjoy is regarded by them as too few, or too small, or unvaried. Oh, to be sure, I understand where some of the older strip fans are coming from because I once had a collection of vintage Sunday Funnies that were as big as an old British Topper comic, and as thick as a phone book, but come on, these things are a joy, rich and varied and colourful and a testament to an art-loving culture.

There is a serious point to this, of course, the US is, I think, as is clear from the samples of the newspapers below, much more comic, or comic strip, literate than the UK. The papers I've posted below, from 2004 and 2005, supplied by Mike Lynch, Dan Collins and Jay Nocera, show the sort of daily and weekly diet of comic strips that US beginning cartoonists, and would-be comic strippers, grow up with. Picture it, as the beginning cartoonists in the US are practising their craft the sheer variety of the visual language of the comics, the beat of the language, the form of the jokes, the cleverness of the language, is all there to be soaked up even before they first pick up a pen and dip it in the ink. And what is crystal clear to me, looking at the comic pages below, from the Boston Sunday Globe, the Hartford Courant, the Columbus Dispatch and the New York Daily News, is not just that comic strips are taken much, much, more seriously in the US than they are over here, that's a given, but also that there is a very real respect for the cartoonists and the reader, and a clear attempt to run comic strips that will appeal to a very wide audience.

The following full colour comic sections are about the same size as a Sunday Times broadsheet and as thick, if not thicker, than a British kids comic, with a wide range of strips covering everything from Dilbert to Prince Valiant.

I once asked, on Darrin Bell's old Toontalk forum, why American cartoonists often thought they were not real bona-fide cartoonists unless they had a syndicated strip out there, especially since lauded cartoonists like Chris Ware and Jaime Hernandez and Daniel Clowes were clearly world-renowned cartoonists without working in that oeuvre. Of course it was a rhetorical question, the answer for me was that comic strips are part of the American psyche.

Copyright of the comics pages above rest with their respective publishers, and the various cartoonists and agencies.

So, should we pity poor Alex and poor Rod as they send their creations of to be measured and judged? Well, no, not really, you see the work is done and the syndicates are the top market for main stream comic strips, they are the Super Bowl, the F.A Cup final, the Olympics, they are the ultimate test for a comic strip. How on earth could we resist sending the work to them? It may seem like a cliche, but it is the turning up and taking part that counts and you never know, one of us or both of us might just sneak one by them. Wouldn't that be something?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Once More into the it were.

Or at any rate, "once more (slowly) into the breach", as it were. Please bear with me, I'll get up to speed eventually.

This struck me as a good idea for a blogging because it cemented my relationship with a few texts that some misguided people still frown upon, in toffee-nosed literary circles. Not so very long ago, I was feeling really, really, sorry for myself; around my eighth or ninth day on water (not even the bread and water diet of Edmond Dantes) and I really got a great deal of joy from reading a bunch of stuff that I really had no right to expect more joy from, given that I have read and reread the stuff from cover to cover over and over again.

Perhaps it could be best described as comfort-reading, or maybe more precisely as renewing an old friendship - whatever, around the 30th day of my water-fest I had read my Love and Rockets and my American Splendors and my copy of Ghost World so often that I might be forgiven for throwing them away but honestly, I'm looking forward to reading them all again; although I could do without the being ill part.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I could have spent my time reading Brecht, the Norton Anthologies, Shakespeare, Joyce, or even P.G Wodehouse, all of which is right up my street (I'm a pretty pretentious guy), but I found my comfort in literature that pleased both my eyes (especially while the text was blurry) and my brain, and found, even reading these things for the umpteenth time, just as rewarding as the day they were delivered to me. Here's a complete list of my well-beloved titles:

Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes

20th Century Eightball by Daniel Clowes

American Splendor by Harvey Pekar

These were the titles that I kept returning to, despite having a wide range of possibilities, so to me they gifts that keep on giving. I just found that when I couldn't even be bothered watching a DVD and the text of any number of novels looked more like marching ants than recognisable words I got a lot of comfort from holding, carrying, looking at and reading these books - even the colourful covers cheered me up. These, mainly Fantagraphics titles, were real Chicken soup for the soul to me.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hey Everyone, thanks.

Hey everyone, thanks for the many good wishes and the gifts and cards; they made a real difference and lifted my mood, which was very dark for the longest time.

I only have one or two more tests to go and so far everything is progressing nicely. My concentration isn't great and my eyesight will need rechecked for new reality goggles, but that's no big deal.

I've hated not being able to work, but what can you do? Not that there is a lot of work out there, there is certainly a lot less than there was last year, already, in the world of gag and strip cartoons. Hopefully, we can put our heads together and figure out some new angles, after all; who's like us?

I'll write to you all individually over the next few weeks.