Apr
22
2009

Wide Awake Press FCBD Preview

This year, as with the past few years, the good folks at Wide Awake Press are offering a totally 100% free downloadble anthology.  Each year has a theme and this year’s is ancient civilizations–hence the title: The Ancient Age.  Here’s the official skinny:

The Ancient Age presented by Wide Awake Press
On May 2nd (Free Comic Book Day!) revel in a pantheon of illustrated lore from the ancient age. This free comic download gathers fantastic stories about the world’s earliest civilizations, as told by the mighty sequential artisans of today. A monumental mix of new and classic tales featuring heroes, philosophers, creatures, and gods. It’ll be spectacularly epic, epically spectacular, spantafically epilacar—it’ll be good!

And here’re the folks who contributed:

Dan Boyd, Michael Bresnahan, J Chris Campbell, Andrew Davis, Andrew Drilion, Patrick Dean, Paul Friedrich, Alexis Frederick-Frost, Justin Gammon, Bernie Gonzalas, Brad Mcgintiy, Corinne Mucha, Dusty Harbin, Mike LaRiccia, Joe Lambert, Josh Latta, Pat Lewis, Rey Ortega, Katie Skelly, Steve Steiner, Ben Towle, Rob Ullman, Jeff Zwirek

Alas, I was too busy this year to do a story, but I did contribute an illustration.

Here’s a very cool video preview put together by J. Chris Campbell:

The book itself will be posted on Free Comic Book Day; I’ll post a link to it here then.

Apr
21
2009

Amelia Aerial Panel – Final Image, Amela Update

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Well, for any of you (three or so) folks following along at home, there it is: the final image that’s come of my various posts on this once-panel now-spread.

Amelia is just about wrapped up now.  I’m anticipating sending off completed files tomorrow; although, I may have to revisit some of my gray layer work.  This is the first time I’ve done a “duotone” book that’s actually going to be printed on two separate Pantone plates, so there’re a lot of subtle nuances to getting the gray underlayer just right that are new to me.  It’s actually more akin to setting up a two color screen print than prepping files for printing as I’ve done it in the past.

I’m dying to post some other pages from the book, but I think I’ll hold off a bit.  With the other Hyperion/CCS books, there’ve been websites set up for the books with sample pages, so I’ll wait until I know if there’re specific pages set up as previews and then post those here as well.

Apr
13
2009

My Best of 2008

Between the time it became public that I’d be an Eisner judge and when the nominations were settled on and announced, I didn’t want to go “on record” about what my favorite books of the year were, but now that the Eisner nominations are out in the open, I’ll go ahead and drum up a list.   I did mention a few standouts over at ChasingRay.com a while back–those being Capacity by Theo Ellsworth, Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware and Crogan’s Vengeance by Chris Schweizer–so I’ll not repeat myself here, but here’s my list of my other favorite comics and comics-related publications from 2008, in no particular order:

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Gus and his Gang – Christophe Blain (First Second) – The amazing French artist Christophe Blain is one of the best cartoonists working today and it’s great to see his work given top notch treatment by First Second.  This is a beautiful collection of stories by Blain that turn the traditional tale of the American Old West on its head: they’re all romances–or, at least, they’re all about men and women interacting, as opposed to the standard genre trope of gun play.  Blain’s cartooning is as stunning as ever, and his colorist, Clémence (who’s, unbelievably, uncredited in this edition) turns in a truly spectacular coloring job that shows how comics coloring can serve an actual narrative purpose, rather than just making things look pretty.  If it really comes down to it, I prefer the story from Blain’s Isaac the Pirate, but this is the book I’d pull off the shelf if I knew nothing about Blain.

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Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsely and Chester the Molester – Bob Levin (Fantagraphics) – 2008 saw a ton of great books about cartoonists–from the great coffee table books about Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, to the fabulous Bill Mauldin biography by Todd DePastino–but Most Outrageous, by lawyer and longtime Comics Journal contributor Bob Levin was my favorite.  This fascinating look into the life and legal travails of Hustler cartoonist Dwaine Tinsley, who was accused of molesting his daughter over a five year period in the 80s, touches on all sorts of thorny, provocative and uncomfortable issues: the role of art in society, the social value (if any) to vulgarity and pornography, the relationship between an artist’s actions and his art, the unhealthy relationships that can develop between family members (and not just the obvious father/daughter one alleged here).  It’s a fantastic book that I’ve seen precious little press about.

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Thoreau at Walden – John Porcellino (Hyperion/CCS) – Is there a better combination of word and image than John Porcellino and Henry David Thoreau?  Porcellino’s spare but beautiful drawings are the perfect companion for the prose he chooses to excerpt from Thoreau in this fantastic book that seems to have fallen below the critical radar.  If you’re a longtime fan of Procellino’s comics, it’ll take you a bit to get used to seeing his artwork with “tones,” but he uses them as sparingly and tastefully as you would expect.

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Bodyworld – Dash Shaw (www.dashshaw.com) – I really enjoyed Dash Shaw’s 2008 book Bottomless Bellybutton as well, but if I had to pick one thing by him from this year, it’d be his serialized webcomic, Bodyworld, that wrapped up this year but which will soon reappear in printed form from Pantheon Books.  I think my preference is partly just because of subject matter (I hunger continually for well-done science fiction comics) and because I really love seeing h0w Dash uses color in his work when it’s available.

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Petey and Pussy – John Kerschbaum (Fantagraphics) – What more can I say? This book’s #%&*in’ hilarious.   Oh, I guess this: it’s also beautifully drawn.  For the love of god, someone please put that poor bird out of his misery!

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Dragon Head – Minetaro Mochizuki (Tokyopop) – There was a ton of really solid Manga going on in 2008 (Real, Emma, and Hikaru no Go all come immediately to mind) but the one that seemed to generate the most press was Monster–perhaps because it wrapped up in 2008.  For my money, though, I preferred Minetaro Mochizuki’s Dragon Head, which also wrapped up in 2008.  It’s a solid post-apocalyptic thriller that starts out entirely within a collapsed train tunnel, then, once the characters extricate themselves, we follow them through a devastated Japan as they search for their home town and try–along with a few other stragglers–to find out exactly what’s caused the destruction of their country.

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Fuzz and Pluck: Splitsville – Ted Stearn (Fantagraphics) – 2008 saw the release of the last “floppy” of Splitsville, but it was almost immediately followed by this beautiful collected edition.  Many reviews of this series seem to make a lot of the world the characters inhabit, but what really drives the book is the characters themselves: Pluck, the smart and confident plucked chicken, and his pal Fuzz, the sweet somewhat dopey stuffed bear.  In this story arc they wind up separated, with Fuzz getting involved in a bizarre scheme involving a ferry and Pluck as an unexpectedly effective gladiator.

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Drawing Words and Writing Pictures – Madden & Abel (First Second) – Maybe it’s my bias as an occasional comics teacher, but I think this is a genuine landmark book.  I wrote a lengthy review of this a while back but in a nutshell: those of us who teach comics finally have a decent textbook–one that’s organized to work in conjunction with a class schedule, one that pretty much covers all the bases, and one that’s genre-independent.

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Travel – Yuichi Yokoyama (PictureBox) – I was surprised about how much I wound up liking this book.  My taste in comics is generally fairly conservative–at least in the sense that I tend toward books that have at least a traditional narrative underpinning.  Travel, on the other hand, has pretty much no narrative at all.  Things happen, sure, but there aren’t really characters or a plot in the traditional sense.  What there is, though, is a stunning, immersive graphical world that’s utterly original and strangely captivating.

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Comics Comics – ed. by Timothy Hodler and Dan Nadel (PictureBox) – For years, people have been grousing about how there’s not a critical comics publication that’s “between Wizard and The Comics Journal.”  By this, what they mean (I think) is a publication of serious comics criticism and analysis that’s well-written, but without the “attitude” that TCJ is known for–and a publication that’s open to discussions of a broader section of the comics art form.  That’s pretty close to what Comics Comics is, although it has its own “attitude” of sorts (is there writing that doesn’t have some obvious editorial bent–if so, would you want to read it?).  The only reason I can think of that seemingly very few people know of and read Comics Comics is that it’s printed as a gigantic newsprint broadsheet paper, a format that comics shop folks probably don’t dig since apparently anything that isn’t the exact shape and size of a standard a 6 x 9 inch comic book tends to make comics retailers’ brains overload and explode like the androids from “I, Mudd” on the old Star Trek show.

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Punk Rock and Trailer Parks – Derf (SLG Publishing) – Punk Rock and Trailer Parks is a work of fiction, but it’s pretty clearly one that’s based on some personal experiences by the book’s author, cartoonist Derf.  In about 99.99% of comics I’ve ever read that take place in high school–whether semi-fictional or autobiographical–the characters seem to fall conveniently into the old tired Breakfast Club-esque stereotypes: The Nerd, The Jock, etc.  What makes Punk Rock and Trailer Parks so refreshing in this department is how true-to-life and fleshed out its main character, “The Baron,” is.   Add to that the historical interest of the Akron punk scene that was going on at the time and you’ve got a fantastic read.

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Tamara Drewe – Posy Simmonds (Mariner Books) – I tried really, really hard to come up with one negative thing about this book and this is the best I did:  Tamara Drewe is, formally, pretty much occupying the exact same ground as Simmonds’ last book, Gemma Bovary.  If all you can come up to complain about is that this book is just as beautifully drawn and brilliantly conceived as its predecessor, I’d say that’s a big point in ins favor.

Apr
07
2009

Post-Eisner Nomination Wrap-up

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It’s probably not kosher to divulge a whole lot of information on the goings-on of the Eisner Awards nomination process, but given that the call for submissions notes that the nominations will be “announced in April,” and it’s now April, I feel that I can safely reveal that the nomination weekend is now over and that the official announcement will be forthcoming.  As with every year, there’ll be a lot of online back and forth about what did and didn’t get on the list, but what was as interesting to me as the actual nominating process was the preparatory experience: reading basically every graphic novel published by every major publisher in the 2008 calendar year.  Here are a few observations borne of that experience, in no particular order:

1) The amount of comics published in a single year is truly stunning. Before the nominations I (and the other judges as well) tried to read through pretty much all the graphic novels that generated significant press in 2008.  Even narrowing things down by this criteria, there were easily more than 100 books of genuine interest to get through–and that’s not even getting into serialized comics.

2) Production values on graphic novels have never been higher. Lots and lots of the books I read for this year’s awards were really beautiful.  Among the most popular flourishes I noted were “french flaps,” “belly bands,” and covers that mixed glossy and matte finishes.  The standard “trade paperback” format looked positively anemic by comparison.  The archival stuff of course was beyond stunning–the hardcover Hellboy collection, the slip-cased Umbrella Academy book, the Scorchy Smith book,etc.–but what struck me as far more important was that the baseline for a decent-looking regular old graphic novel is now pretty damn high.

3) Closely related to item two, above: pretty much everything that looked incredible production-wise was printed in China or Singapore. Some of the old guard publishers are still having their books printed by Diamond-friendly printers like Brenner and Quebecor, but there’s just no way they can compete with the prices you can get from Asian printing. A fifteen dollar book printed in North America is likely to be 150 pages, black and white vs. a fifteen dollar book printed in Asia that’ll likely be 200 or more pages, full color, great paper stock, with french flaps and other flourishes.

4) There are a hell of a lot of periodical/serialized comics being published these days that you’re probably unaware of if you’re not into superhero stuff. As mentioned, I read a sizable quantity of graphic novels and Manga stuff before I flew out for nominations weekend, and just figured I’d be able to “brush up” on monthly comics once I got there and figured out what was in the running and what wasn’t–but, damn, there’s a heck of a lot of stuff to sort through.  Some is really good, some is really bad, but if you’re someone who mainly reads comics in graphic novel form–or once things have been collected in trade paperbacks– you’re probably unaware of the true quantity of monthly books that are out there.

5) Is there some sort of favoritism/politics going on at the big comics publishers? Being an “indie guy” I have no knowledge of the politics of what goes on a big “mainstream” comics publishers,  but I was really surprised that a few of them didn’t send copies of everything they’d put out in the previous year.  I can’t imagine that this is a financial concern–it seems more like a deliberate snub to those folks they didn’t send books from.  There were at least two people who’d done great work (I thought, anyway) for a couple of mainstream publishers in 2008 who I really wanted to champion, but without their company’s having sent their books along for the judges to read, there really wasn’t much I could do.  To be fair, though, it’s probably better to formally submit a select few items than to submit everything, regardless of quality. (Edit, based on some comments: note that publishers can only submit five books per category; what I’m wondering about is why not just go ahead and send in all your output?)

6) There’s a lot of breadth to the comics art form and, chances are, whatever you’re into is just a small subset of the whole. I went into the judging with the idea that there were a number of key books that were basically just “shoe-ins” in the big categories like “Graphic Album New,” but was really taken aback when some of the other folks dismissed some of this stuff pretty casually. (And I’m sure the other folks had exactly the same thoughts about some of the work that I didn’t take to as well.)  It’s easy I think, if you’re into some particular type of comics, to become entrenched in that area and not see the comics world as a whole, from the perspectives of other individuals who may have interests that are 180 degrees from your own.

7) There’s some really great foreign material being published today.  I was certainly aware that folks like Fanfare Ponent Mon and First Second were regularly cranking out great-looking English editions of foreign material, but it wasn’t until I saw all of this stuff piled up in heaps that I realized just how much of it there is and just how great a lot of it is.  It’s amazing to think back, say, twenty years or so to the anemic volume of European and Japanese stuff being reprinted here and compare it just to last year’s output with stuff like Travel, Gus and His Gang, Little Nothings, Disappearance Diary, Bourbon Island, tons of great Tezuka, etc.

8) 2008 was a banner year for books about comics and about comics-making.  Here’re just a few: coffee table art books on both Kirby and Ditko, a spectacular biography of Bill Mauldin, The Ten Cent Plague, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, Lynda Barry’s What It Is, and my own personal favorite: Most Outrageous.

9) Big book publishers have decided that “graphic novel memoir” is the current cash cow. – I guess it’s a natural thing for folks to see what’s been successful in the past and then emulate that, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of prose publishers with fledgling graphic novel divisions have decided–likely, based on the success of books like Fun Home and Persepolis–that their initial forays into the world of comics should be memoir.  In some cases, though, it’s pretty ridiculous: one major book publisher, for example, submitted their entire 2008 output and every single book was memoir–every one.

All that said, now that it’s over, I’m really looking forward to digging into my stack of new books from 2009 that I’ve had to ignore until now…

Apr
05
2009

Comics Goons Are Born, Not Made

This afternoon I was clearing out some junk from the cabinets in my studio, trying to make more room in there for the stuff that’s currently clogging up my shelves, and I came upon a really hilarious research paper I had to write, apparently in high school.  Not surprisingly, the subject is superheroes.  I present here, fully aware of the potential repercussions, the preposterous outline of this paper–typed on an actual typewriter no less–from 1987, making me 16 at the time:

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Actually, the penultimate section is strangely (and not intentionally) prescient: “Adult comics, Superman, Batman.”  In the late 80s, with the publication of stuff like Maus, Watchmen and The Dark Knight, young comics goofuses like myself truly thought the art form had “arrived.”  And yet, once those three books had faded (the latter two of which don’t seem nearly as non-juvenile in retrospect as they did at the time) there wasn’t really anything “adult” to come after and we were left pretty much back where we began.  Batman, Superman… “adult comics”… Batman, Superman.

Apr
03
2009

Craft: Full Page Aerial View Spread

Well, my old friend from a few weeks back, the aerial view of L.A. from Amelia, has returned.  This page has come up previously on this blog in a discussion of layouts vs. finishes, and I’m once again working on it.  No, not just inking that same page… but, before I get into that, here’s an anecdote:

I used to work in a restaurant–the kitchen of a country club–and at one point the chef in charge of the Sunday buffet asked me if I knew how to carve a steamship round (that’s a cut of beef often served on a buffet line), and if not, whether I wanted to learn.  After agreeing to learn how to it was done, another kitchen worker took me aside and advised, “Be careful what you learn how to do.  Once they know you can do it, you’ll be doing it every Sunday.”  Sure enough, I was carving those damn steamship rounds for the following bajillion Sundays.

So what does this “be careful what you let on you can do” business have to do with comics?  Well, the topic of my original post on the Amelia page I linked to above was the middle panel depicting an aerial view of downtown Los Angeles.  Since pencilling that page, though, Jason and I had some back and forths about the subject of spreads and bleeds.

In my first book, Farewell, Georgia, I avoided such things entirely, sticking to a strtict nine panel grid.  But in Midnight Sun I started to make occasional use of bleeds–pages where the printed image goes all the way to the edge of the page–to highlight the vast expanses of ice depicted in the book.  Jason’s layouts for Amelia, as thumbnailed, contained a number of spreads (sets of two facing pages that comprise a single image, spread across the two pages), but I decided to go ahead and plan for possible bleeds in all of these cases by drawing them all on single large sheets of paper, with the image drawn outside the normal page space to accommodate a possible bleed.

Once I started inking, though, it was time to decide which of these, if any, should really be bleeds, and which should simply be spreads.  If you look through issues of Jason’s series, Berlin, you’ll note nary a bleed, so I wasn’t even sure any of them would wind up being bleeds.  As it turns out, though, that middle panel of the L.A. cityscape provided the answer.  It was decided that until that point in the story, all the two page spreads would just be regular old spreads–but that, as Amelia looks down and sees the city below on her first time up in a plane, we’d use this as the first of several full bleed two page spreads…. meaning specifically that the page in question would be rejiggered so that the L.A. cityscape wouldn’t be a panel, but rather the first two page full bleed spread.  So here it is in action, from blue pencil (sorry it’s so hard to see, but that’s exactly the point of NP blue pencil, right?) to pencils, to inks–with gray toning to follow soon.

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I’m a bit ashamed to admit, being someone who’s taught an occasional perspective class, that I completely “eyeballed” this drawing.  With so many objects at various angles, and no horizon visible it’s actually pretty easy to get things looking okay by eye.  I see a few bits of wanky perspective here in the final product, but nothing too offensive.

So, be careful what you let on you can draw–you might wind up having to draw it a whole lot bigger.

Mar
17
2009

Pre-Eisner Judging Reading (or, “Why Haven’t You Been Posting Anything?”

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Just when I’d gotten into the habit of cranking out one substantive post every week or so, I’ve now pretty much ground to a halt.  Why?  Because, as some of you might know, the deadline for submissions to the 2009 Eisner Awards was a couple of days ago… which means that Eisner nomination time is looming near and now, with every book in, the pressure is really on for us judges to get up to speed reading-wise.  Of late, my studio shelves, which are usually at least semi-organized, have become a massive “in/out” box for reading material from 2008 and any time I get the inclination to do a little writing on something of interest, a little voice in my head starts with, “The SHELF, think of the SHELF!”

The photo above is just a small sampling of the constantly-rotating stock of comics and graphic novels I’ve been making my way through.  (A note on the books that are headed for the library or my own personal collection: stuff that’s submitted to the Eisners of course stays with the Eisner folks after reading, but some publishers will also send comps to individual judges–and it’s these that one’s free to do whatever with, once they’ve been read.  I’ll be passing what ones I can on to the public library.)

Mar
15
2009

Sketchbook 03/15

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Mar
12
2009

Interesting Word Balloon Use in Today’s ‘Cul de Sac’

Today’s Cul de Sac features an interesting formal use of word balloons that I’ve not seen before.  The basic setup here is that Alice has a new pair of shoes that she’s been enjoying mainly for their incessant squeaking, which has now ceased.  In the strip, she’s imitating the squeaking and the placement of the balloons gets ever higher within the panel to indicate the increasing pitch of her squeaking.  Finally, the “squeak”‘s being all the way out of the panel is used to indicate that Alice’s squeaking is now so high-pitched that it’s out of human hearing range.  Not seeing = not hearing.

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Mar
09
2009

CNN Reports on Real Tintin Submarine

When I saw this article on CNN.com about “winged luxury submarines,” the first thing I thought of was that awesome shark submarine from the Tintin book, Red Rackham’s Treasure:

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I was surprised to note that the article did in fact mention Tintin.  I was really surprised, though, to note that the Tintin book mentioned was one I’d never heard of: Tintin and the Lake of Sharks.  This is because apparently this Tintin book is not one penned by Hergé, but rather a book made to look like stills from an animated Tintin movie written by Belgian cartoonist “Greg” (Michel Regnier), a friend of Hergé.  Out of curiosity, I tracked down some sample pages from Lake of Sharks and although I was disappointed to find that the submarine in question is actually just the same shark sub from Red Rackham, it’s kind of interesting to see Tintn art done in a style designed to ape the look of animation:

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The Hergé-drawn Tintin exhibits a differential between the way the figures and the way the background are drawn (much discussed in Understanding Comics), but stylistically they cohere quite well.  In the animation-style page above though, this disconnect is, to my eye, just too great and produces an odd effect.

I gotta wonder about the reference to Lake of Sharks in the original article.  Was the author a hardcore Tintin fan who used this opportunity to show off his knowledge of obscure Tintin books… of maybe someone who knew nothing at all about Tintin and just maybe got Lake of Sharks from an errant google search?

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