Sunday, January 8, 2017

Best Comics of 2016, No. 12: The Children of Captain Grant

I used to love those live action Disney movies when I was a wee tad. Now they seem a bit of a cornball, but they still stand up well for the most part. Many of them, like The Incredible Journey, The Miracle of the White Stallions and The Three Lives of Thomasina are about survival and search against impossible odds.
And thanks to Dell/Gold Key, a lot of them got their own comics too! Many were illustrated by Dan Speigle. I didn't realize it at the time, but his art influenced me almost as much as that of Curt Swan.
This book is an adaptation of a film of a Jules Verne novel, one of a very LONG series of adventure books he wrote. Though Disney played fast and loose with the novel, the resulting film (and comic, and I think there was a paperback novelization as well) was very engaging and exciting.
I had forgotten all about it, until I was reading the recent reprint of the French adaptation of the original novel, The Children of Captain Grant. As I was reading it, I found the pacing a bit off-putting, as it has that Victorian air about it that can slow the telling of a story in its deliberation. But I found the story itself oddly familiar. It wasn't until I did some background research for this piece that I made the connection back to this earlier adaptation from my childhood- a "well, duh!" moment.
I may have been misled by the subgenre in which the graphic novel is recast.
The story is retold using the furry motif.
All the characters are humanized animals- or if you prefer, anthropomorphized  humans. There's no real reason given for this. It's just assumed that that's the world in which these characters endure. The same as ours, except that everyone has fur, or feathers, or scales, or fins or some such.
Longtime readers will know of my affinity for such stories, both in consuming and in creating. From my early exposure to Barks' Duck books to my apprenticeship on Reed Waller's Omaha the Cat Dancer (a short chapter in my life that I never tire of bringing up), funny animals have been an integral part of my worlds. And I've seen all stripe (so to speak) of art in these books, ranging from the crude to the energetic and elegant (Katherine Collins' Neil the Horse comes to mind). There are some funny animal stories (to use Reed's preferred term) that take the art more seriously than others- the mechanical precision of Martin Wagner's Hepcats comes to mind here.
But I don't think I've ever seen as lushly painted a furry book as this, with the possible exceptions of Blacksad and the Grandville stories.
Every page explodes with meticulously controlled color. Landscapes, ships, architecture, different cultures, all exquisitely rendered.
Once again, I'll rely on the publisher (in this case, Super Genius) to provide a plot overview: "In this adaptation of the classic novel, the entire cast of characters has been transformed into anthropomorphic animal! It begins with a message-actually three water-damaged messages-found in a bottle removed from the belly of a shark. Written in three different languages the messages reveal that the long-missing Captain Grant was shipwrecked and is being held hostage. The only clue from the messages that might be of any help, will lead Lord Glenarvan and Captain Grant’s children on an adventure literally around the world!"
The story has the requisite elements: quirky characters, burgeoning romance, yearning for a lost parent, and so much adventure and derring-do you could plotz.
Though published in the US in 2016, this book was originally published in three volumes in France between 2009 and 2013. Its creator, Alexis Nesme, is well established as a children's comic illustrator in France. Here's an interview with him (in French- I can make out about half of it, not enough to provide an accurate translation, so I'll leave you to your own devices).

This book was a bit of a slog at times. My tolerance for quaint period writing is not high, so it took me a while to get through it. But that's a failing in me, not in the work. It was worth the effort. This book is exciting, lush and ultimately very satisfying.
Next: Best Comics No. 11, behind the scenes...

Friday, January 6, 2017

Best Comics of 2016, No. 13: the Drawing Lesson

The 1990s were a heyday of new titles. Between the zine explosion and new publishers not only trying, but getting distribution of, new and innovative titles, some great work came out of that era. One of the most ambitious of these publishers, Sirius, gave us titles as wildly divergent as Dawn, Dogwitch, Poison Elves, and the delightful Akiko on the Planet Smoo.
While creator Mark Crilley moved on to other projects after more than 50 issues of Akiko, his work remained fresh and innovative. I didn't keep with his post-Akiko work, but did note in passing that he had begun to produce How to Draw... volumes, mostly on manga.
When I happened on The Drawing Lesson in a search of recent public library volumes, I was intrigued but skeptical. I've seen numerous volumes on the subject, some of which, like the Christoper Hart books, are simply awful. But given that it was Crilley, I vowed to give it a chance.
The book describes itself as "a graphic novel that teaches you how to draw." Usually such books have a thin plot that serves as a framing device for lessons. A classic example that works fairly well is David Chelsea's volume on comic book perspective drawing. This book also employs a such a device, but it's a bit meatier than most.
In The Drawing Lesson, Crilley tells of David, a young boy who wants to draw, but is reluctant to do the work of mastering the basics to get there. As a teacher and as a student, believe me, I've been there. Following a chance encounter with a woman named Becky, he begins to pester her until she agrees to give him his devoirs in drawing.
In her review of this book, Joanna Draper Carlson points out the myopic male privilege young David exercises in his demands on Becky. I agree to a point. He is demanding of her time and energy, and resistant to her teachings, but I saw that more as a function of youth than of sexism (though the latter is also a clearly valid point). Also, Becky is not shy about sticking up for herself, and understands what it means to be so young and so eager to get somewhere that you forget to take the whole trip!
A very good Becky lesson!
This is the real strength of the book. Yes, the lessons are solid and work well. But Crilley never loses sight of his characters. They become plausible and empathetic very quickly. The story twines about both David's growth as an artist and his fledgling friendship with Becky, also touching rather elegantly on the special bond between teacher and student, a bond different than any other I've experienced in life- deep and profound, but always at a necessary distance, and often transitory by necessity.
The lessons are not perfect. For instance, in the above spread, Crilley overlooks the cast light halo that often appears at the base of an object's cast shadow. But he's quick to point out that everything is not contained in David's lessons, which serve only as a foothold for fundamental skills and for the confidence to grow as an artist.
Crilley recognizes the place of art in life, while also observing life with a compassionate eye. This book is an elegant and effective approach to drawing, one I'm adding to my own overcrowded reference shelf on the topic.
Next: No. 12, kids on a search in their animal natures...

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Best Comics of 2016, No. 14: Dr. Strange

I've admired Dr. Strange for decades. The movie made me so happy, despite the Ancient One controversy. While the comics were clearly calculated to cash in on the film, I was eager to see the Doctor in an ongoing title of his own, which he's not had since his last book ended in 1996. 21 years without his own title and still a major player. Now that's magic!
The ads showing the cover of the new book did not give me hope.
An axe and a belt of skulls? What is this, Strange the Barbarian? Sheesh.
Well, turned out I was wrong to doubt the good Doctor.
Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo have given us an opening story arc about magic itself being under siege. This gives them a chance to play fast and loose with Marvel's mystic universe (while remaining surprisingly consistent with established canon) and give some fun little bits, like a neutral territory magic bar where mages can hang out and unwind.
Strange became Sorcerer Supreme again a few years ago in an issue of the Avengers, after Brother Voodoo died in battle (another black superhero lost!). His faltering skills, as chronicled in the miniseries The Oath, appear to have been fully restored along with his mantle.
The core of the first arc, the duel between magic and technology, is not new territory for Dr. Strange. Many of his foes are simply anti-magic, like Silver Dagger. And the core of his involvement in the Fantastic Four arc Unthinkable is his ability to help Reed Richards come to terms with the dichotomy between science and magic. But really, there's only two primary ways a Strange story can go: either an anti-magic bad guy or a powerful magic bad guy. Other than the stories with a more introspective tone (my favorites), that's most of them. And they appear to be coming around to the latter, as Dormammuu jumps into the fray at the end of the most recent issue.
Dr. Strange is one of those characters that a lot of artists want to draw, but unlike Spidey or Bats,  his books have been sporadic, there haven't been as many opportunities. This makes the iconic artists on the title- Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, Marie Severin, Dan Adkins, Marshall Rogers, Paul Smith - shine all the brighter. It's too soon to know if Bachalo's work will be held in that high regard in the long run, but there's certainly promise here. Bachalo manages to emulate the greats on Strange with imitating. It's no mean feat to innovate in the illustration of other magical realms, but Chris has done so consistently in this book.
My only quibble with Marvel's current handling of the good Doctor is that they're milking it a bit. In addition to the main title, there have been a couple one-shots, a 2-issue movie prequel, a second book, Dr. Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme (a back history book that's really pretty good in its own right), and a Dr. Strange/ Punisher crossover that I picked up, but haven't been able to bring myself to read yet. There's a Golden Book for the wee ones out this week as well. Come on, Marvel. I know you're a for-profit company, and the profit window from a movie like Dr. Strange is smaller than some of the more established characters. But there's no reason to be that calculating about it.
Really, that's the only reason this book ranks as low as it does on this year's Best list. The merchandising aspect of the title hangs like a shadow over the whole book. Despite that, the book itself remains strong, and I am likely to continue picking it up each month.
Next: Best Comics of 2016, No. 13, a lesson for us all.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Best Comics of 2016, No. 15: Agony

Every year, some remarkable and unexpected reprint projects present themselves. There were several in 2016, and a couple of them made the list.
The first one takes a little explanation.
In the mid 1980s, Art Speigelman was bringing out the iconic RAW anthology. At the same time I was reading these, I began listening to The Residents, Tuxedomoon and Snakefinger. The strangeness and beauty reminded me of The Doors and of the compelling aspects of Dada, to which I was first exposed late in high school. I was privileged to see Snakefinger in concert once, a remarkable experience. Simultaneously poetic and raw, aggressive and vulnerable, dark yet hopeful, Snakefinger sounded like no one else.
And the record covers were equally compelling.
I was fascinated by this image. It reminded me of the late Rory Hayes, whose horrific primitive works in early undergrounds were simultaneously innocent and brutal. When flipping through issues of RAW, I woke up and recognized it as the work of Mark Beyer. Beyer's AGONY was published as one of a series of RAW One-Shots.
AGONY is back in print in 2016, courtesy of New York Review Comics (an imprint dedicated to reprints, currently numbering nine volumes). They did a fine job, printing cleanly and binding the work well, while not jarring with the work's overall aesthetic. Several years back, there was a deluxe two-volume slipcase edition of Gary Panter's work, and I remember thinking how odd it was to have such aggressive and "street" art in such a lush format. In contrast, the new edition of AGONY has a decent dustjacket and a plain white cover.
The dustjacket cover
So what's it about?
Well, the title actually sums up the work pretty thoroughly!
Presented as a page.
In the reprint, each panel is its own page.
This is part absurdist theater, part Grand Guignol, part mean little kid. The story is so implausible as to be laughable, yet the reader can't help but feel sorry for our hapless heroes, who seem to be the only two decent people in the world, constantly beset by the vicissitudes of nature and the caprices of their fellow man. Like the best of Crumb's more outrageous works, this leaves me laughing and cringing at the same time. To quote the promo blurb from the publisher's web page: "ENJOY THE ECSTASY OF AGONY. Amy and Jordan are just like us: hoping for the best, even when things go from bad to worse. They are menaced by bears, beheaded by ghosts,  and hunted by the cops, but still they struggle on, bickering and reconciling, scraping together the rent and trying to find a decent movie. It’s the perfect solace for anxious modern minds, courtesy of one of the great innovators of American comics. Now if only Amy’s skin would grow back ..."
My only problem is a minor issue with the layout. In the new edition, each panel is presented as a  single page, while other versions have used the classic 6-panel grid shown above. I think it flows better in the earlier format, but it's such a thin volume that the new panel per page presentation may have been more strategic than aesthetic.
That minor quibble aside, there's a lot going on here. Beyer plays with time much as Dali and Bunuel did in Andalusian Dog. The story is set in February 0000. Captions include the obtuse "soon" and "two weeks later". Beyer's work alternates/intersects the violent melancholy of the relationship commentary in the Dali/Bunuel film with the adolescent puerile humor of early John Waters films, to great effect.
The lyrics to the single pictured above come to mind in summing this book up:
You can follow me and I guarantee to take you far away
But we must leave before the eve of everlasting gray
Next: Best of 2016, No. 14: Strange days indeed.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best Comics of 2016: No. 16: BRIK

Here we go again with the annual series of the best comics of the year. As is my way, I will post one a day rather than posting the whole list at once, as most do.
Our opening entry is a bit of a curiosity.
Mike Benson and Adam Glass share the writing credits on the Oni Press series BRIK. The premise is innovative but direct. From the Comixology solicitation: "Drew is a bullied kid in the Yonkers neighborhood of New York City whose family faces encroaching violence from Russian gangsters. Before his beloved grandfather is killed in an attempt to muscle the family out of the neighborhood, he’s able to pass down to Drew the story of a mysterious but dangerous protector who helped their people during other troubled times. When Drew finds his grandfather kept the secret to creating a golem, is it worth the risk to summon this supernatural avenger to take on the all-too-human darkness swallowing his world? An urban fantasy tale of power and morality from writers Adam Glass (Suicide Squad, TV's Supernatural) & Mike Benson (Deadpool, Moon Knight), amazing new illustrator Harwinder Singh, and colorist Gonzalo Duarte (The Bunker, Big Trouble in Little China)!"
All that said, what's working here?
The characters are empathetic rather than sympathetic. This is good. Empathetic characters are much more plausible and interesting than sympathetic ones. There's even a bit of an attempt to make the bullies more fleshed out characters.
Many have commented on parallels to early Spider-Man. A kid stumbles into abilities that could end his torment, but said abilities prove to be as much trouble as the initial problem.
However, that's a little too easy. This story is also a chance for young Drew to embrace his Jewish heritage. I would have liked to see more of the grandfather in this respect. His function was primarily to carry the spear, as it were, tell his heir the legend and then move on. This is symptomatic of a larger problem in contemporary comics. Writers don't know how to write outside their age boxes. More on that in later installments.
Both writers here are seasoned professionals. Glass's run on Suicide Squad was strong, but not up to the high standard set by John Ostrander or Gail Simone. In contrast, I found Benson's writing on Luke Cage:Noir to be quite compelling. In BRIK, the story moves along briskly but still leaves space for meditations and introspection.
Harwidner Singh's art is quirky. He tends to flatten faces a bit, though that tendency recedes as the series continues. He composes images well, with a deliberate eye towards advancing the story.
Bottom line: BRIK is a good book, at rare times a great book. Drew's discovery of Brik's abilities has elements of pure bliss, reminiscent of Atreyu riding the Dragon in The Neverending Story. The neighborhood feels a  bit cliched at times, but for the most part, it works.
I'll be watching for more work from this team. Also, it's nice to ONI Press hanging in there!
Next: Best of 2016, no. 15, an agonizing work.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Original Art Sundays (monday) No. 241: Inktober, days 3 - 10

Posting a bit late again. Two jobs will do that. The work is long done, but due to doing the work catch as catch can, at my drawing board or on break at work (either job), the work was scattered and it took me a bit to get it together and find time to post.
October 3
This was done at break at work, from online photo reference. It's simple ballpoint pen on 20# printer paper. One of my Inktober goals was to push myself stylistically. While I've done nature drawing in the past and have a moderate affinity for it, it's not the first place I think of taking my art. Besides, as backgrounds/environments remain a bit of a shortcoming in my comics, working on this type of art will improve my comics as well.
That's a bit of a sophistry, as working on any art will improve your comics.
October 4
Copying from the masters!
This is a copy from a Hugo Pratt Corto Maltese story.
Materials: previously mentioned ink paper, #6 round flat synthetic brush and India ink.
Pratt's work is so compelling. He can take the simplest line, even a very crude line, and make it ring with the poetry of a desert or of an ocean. Like the best of the so-called simple artists, his work is elusive. As soon as you try to copy it, you begin to realize just how insightful those scrawls can be.
October 5
 Done straight from imagination, thinking about Sheena and about the power of really good Tarzan comics. Such variety, ranging from the Jesse Marsh stuff to Joe Kubert to Hogarth!
I'm not convinced this piece is successful, but I look at it as a draft.I went straight to ink, no under-drawing. Started with a quick sketch at work, bought it home and completed.
Copy paper, 20#
Ballpoint pen
Sumi-e ink
#6 round/flat brush
#20 flat brush
Brush Faber Castell tip ink marker

October 6
This one was fun!
Straight copy from the Archie Meets the Ramones one-shot, a comic that's a lot better than it should be. Gisele's art on this one is spot-on. I loved the combination of tight control and rock energy!
Though it is weird, after reading Archie comics for decades, to think of Fred Andrews as a punker....
I did a quick underdrawing on this one, then jumped in.
Materials: Small sketch pad, #4 lead holder, Magic Rub eraser, Sharpie. That's right, Sharpie. As part of this is about control for me, working with crude tools to get specific results is part of the process.
October 7
For this one, I inked an old sketchbook piece.
This was originally done as a proposal for an album cover. A friend of mine was assembling a tribute to the Welsh band Man, and I offered to do some cover art. I took this to pencils, scanned it and sent it off for comments. He had forgotten our conversation and did something completely different!
Ah, well, at least I had the art.
I just inked this up with my reliable Faber Castell brush tip marker. I had some of my usual scanning issues, what with the scanner picking up unwanted gray tones, but for the most part it's successful. I did NOT want this to be a tight mechanical drawing. I wanted the aggression to come through. The guitar strung with barbed wire is a variation on the barbed wire harp that Dali made for Harpo Marx.
October 8
This was just a sketchbook experiment. The original was done in China marker in a 9 x 12 sketchbook with a rather rough tooth.
I went over it with my reliable Faber Castell brush tip ink marker. That's it.
I honestly don't know if this piece works or not. There was a vibrancy and urgency to the original sketch. I'm not sure it's still there after the inking. I was reluctant to push it too far, and chose to keep the underlying sketch intact behind the inks.
October 9
Okay, this one was fun.
I was watching music videos on Amazon Prime and thinking about the Archie Meets the Ramones comic. I thought about Archie as a badass, and for some reason thought about Harlan Ellison's rock novel Rockabilly (AKA Spider Kiss). This image came to mind.
I did a quick pencil sketch and jumped into the inks.
It's all freehand, folks. Even the spotlight behind him is rough and ragged.
Materials: I have an extensive list of the materials used at home, which I will post later. For right now, it's the standards:
lead holder & Magic Rub eraser
Faber Castell brush tip marker
India ink
various brushes
This may be my favorite of the month. Maybe.

October 10
I was thinking about a couple things on this one. I had noticed a tendency to be more blunt in my recent Inktober pieces. While I like the energy and the confidence that comes from not holding back, I do miss doing detail work at times. As I had been thinking about the bullfight my dad took my mother to on their honeymoon (yes, really), and my dad telling me to read Collins and Lapierre's story of the matador El Cordoba, Or I'll Dress You In Mourning, inspiration struck. On break at work, I did a quick search for matador and found some images from which I assembled this piece. Very simple materials. No pencils, straight to inks with this one! Ballpoint pen on printer paper, that's all!
I have a couple more pieces to locate for the next batch, but should be able to post again soon.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 240: Inktober, days 1 and 2

Back in the art game! I decided to do Inktober, so I will be posting my ink sketches every day or so on Facebook and doing weekly compilations here.
For those not familiar, Inktober is self-explanatory. You do an ink piece every day in October.
We're only two days in, so a light week.
First up, a Star Trek pastiche- a quasi-Vulcan lady with overtones of Kes from Voyager.
 The light ink wash I did to set the character apart from the background a bit served primarily to wrinkle the paper and mess up the scan. I suppose I could have waited until tomorrow and scanned it on the good scanners at MCAD after teaching, but I was eager to post, so I'm letting the ugly stuff show a bit. Giving an allusion to setting with the star field window.
I've been enjoying Star Trek a great deal lately, but still haven't seen the latest film. From the friends I've talked to, it may be just as well, but as always, I'm trying to keep an open mind on it.
Materials on this one:
  • Faber Castell India ink artist pen (ink marker)
  • crowquill and No. 6 synthetic brush
  • Pro Art India ink
  • FW artist's acrylic white
  • Canson 55 lb. paper sketch pad
  • Preliminary done with lead holder, #4B lead and Magic White eraser. 

That was yesterday. Today was this.
This one is a stylistic departure for me. This is a preliminary for a piece that's been tickling the back of my mind for a LONG time,  and I want to fully realize it before I comment on it in any depth. Yeah, it's a pastiche of a young Blackhawk, but I'm not saying any more about it right now, at least as far as content.
Materials used:
  • Faber Castell India ink artist pen (ink marker)
  • crowquill and No. 6 synthetic brush
  • FW artist's acrylic white
  • Pentalic Corporation Paper for Pens. I've had this tablet forever. I don't even remember where or when I got it. I've never used it before, but I really like it! It's strong, durable, takes well to erasing and drybrush, especially since it has no discernible tooth. I'll be using this a lot more! Tough, responsive paper!
  • Preliminary done with lead holder, #4B lead and Magic White eraser.
I do hope I can keep up with Inktober. I like it. It feels good to just do art again, for its own sake. The graphic memoir is important, but the content weighs on me, making it difficult to get anywhere. I understand why Stuck Rubber Baby and Fun Home each took years! I've not abandoned Sharp Invitations- far from it. Scripting for the Daddy's Song chapter has had a breakthrough, and my revisiting of the Curt story is coming better than its absence here would imply. Re-pacing it from the rough version proved elusive, since it was such a complex time. It's hard to clarify the elaborate without boring a reader, but I think the improvements to the script and pacing will prove worthwhile.
Next: either more Inktober, some Sharp Invitations, revisiting the Blackhawk thing, or a miscellany I have laying about.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Unwelcome Powers (Faith and Thin)

A few quick thoughts on a recent revelation: I have a superpower.
I'm not sure exactly when it started, but I can be invisible. I have no control over it at present. I first noticed it about ten years ago.
It happened when I started gaining a significant amount of weight. People who once saw me and sought me out for casual conversation, social interaction and dating started passing me by. When I first noticed this, I started feeling like the central character in Robert Silverberg's To See the Invisible Man.
This didn't make sense to me. The visible spectrum of light still hit me, and there was more of me for it to hit. The people I passed didn't walk in front of cars, or run into doors or to each other, so clearly they could see. They just couldn't see me.
Or like the society in which Mitchell found himself in the story, they chose not to see me.
One can argue for weeks about fat people. It's their fault, it's genetic, it's laziness, it's a sleeping gene. Who cares? In a practical sense, it doesn't matter how you got here. You're here.
Adn you want to be dealt with fairly and respectfully.
In that spirit, two recent comics come to mind. The first, less obvious one is Thin by Jon Clark.
This is a horror book, which may color its perspectives a bit. After all, as Stephen King notes, horror is about despair, while SF is about hope. Even in light of that, and as intriguing as the first issue is, I'm having a really hard time with this one.
The arguable protagonist, Doris Greene, begins the story with a gleeful eating binge followed by shame-based burying of the fast-food containers in the trash. She sees a baby alone on the threshold of her home, and enters  only to find her husband Gerry having sex with another woman, while commenting on how thin she is after having given birth. Rather than confront the cheating creep, she apparently blames herself. She takes off to the grocery to stock up for yet another binge. The clerks snicker at her. Rather than call them on their rudeness to a paying customer, she leaves.
In the parking lot, she chances on a woman named Lacy, an old friend who's lost a great deal of weight, but still has disproportionately large breasts and the vapid, self-absorbed attitude of the stereotype dumb blonde. Page 9 opens with a gratuitous butt shot of dear Lacy. Lacy tells Doris the secret of her weight loss.
Over supper, rather than confronting her cheating husband, Doris tells him of her new plan to lose weight. He shows contempt for her goals rather than support. She responds with yet another binge on her way to the treatment Lacy disclosed.
She meets Doctor Romero, the man who supposedly administers the weight loss treatments. He also breeds dogs (and mentions in passing, in broken English, that his specialty is cross-breeding species, a probable clue to the storyline).
Doris goes to the Doctor's basement, where the procedure is to be done.
I'll stop there rather than reveal the whole first issue, though that's a great deal of it.
There's not one likable character in the whole book. Gerry only cares about himself, the store clerks are immature and empty-headed, Lacy is vapid, and Doctor Romero is tired and resigned to his fate, which he obviously loathes.
In a Comics: the Gathering interview, creator Jon Clark said, "I tried to stay true to how it would feel to deal with the issues that she has and perceives that she has, and if a message comes out of that, well, that’s just a gift." From this I infer that Clark is not a heavy man, in the sense we're addressing here. And maybe this level of cynicism is necessary for a horror book.
But I don't care about that. I care about Doris, and the other fat women, real and fictional, whose lives are ruined by the contempt of others. This is not exonerate anyone who's overweight from their own actions. It's to say two things:
  1. Not everyone who's overweight is unhappy or has low self-esteem. 
  2. Judging us almost never helps. If all you want to do is impose your values on somebody else, preach away. If fat people need anything, it's real friends and real support.
Fat people in the comics are mostly invisible. Sometimes they're villains like The Kingpin or The Blob (how's that for a reaffirming name?). Fat women in comics are pretty much nonexistent, with the exception of the (again) evil Granny Goodness.
I'm working from memory to get this written in a timely fashion. If I've overlooked any significant characters, please let me know. However, I contend that fat people in general, and fat women in particular, have rarely, if ever, been fairly treated in comics. Most often either we're not there, or we're seen as objects of contempt, ridicule or pity, as in this page from the otherwise wonderful Fantastic Four story Unthinkable.
Now, in fairness, that's a shot at the whole country, but the artist, Mike Wieringo, has chosen to use mindless, heavy people eating junk food to convey the concept, as though heavy people exemplify the nation's worst. It may not have been that overt in intent, but what does it say that the artist's mind went there to present that idea?
This is not to say that there are not, and have never been, positive images of fat people in comics. Inspector Dolan in The Spirit was somewhat heavy-set, as was Batman's Commissioner Dolan and Superman's Perry White.  But for women, sadly, we often had this:

To be fair, there were also 50s and 60s stories in which Superboy gained weight, and the anarchic personal favorite, Herbie, the Fat Fury.
And then there was the early 70s underground Dynamite Damsels, the first collection by Roberta Gregory. Shelley's story has a mostly positive end on its second page, and shows a fat chick with the capacity for actual self-acceptance. Despite her small victory in finding clothes that are affordable and fit her in the Men's department, she still has to deal with the barbs and slurs of others, including two young male toughs, one of whom shouts at her, "Hey, I like a chick I can find in the sheets!" That aside, this comic dares to show a fat woman as an empathetic person, a whole person, and to show the narrow minded responses of those who have bought into the whole "thin = healthy and beautiful" myth. She's also drawn realistically, not as a caricature of a human being, as fat people often are.
The other underground character that comes to mind is Lee Mars' Pudge, Girl Blimp.  This story of a teenage runaway who lands in early 1970s San Francisco deals directly with the fat question- sort of. Mars' contention is that fat people are really Martians who are distorted in appearance by Earth's atmosphere, which is also why we feel constantly alienated! Unlike the mainstream characters, Mars' characters are all sympathetic and empathetic, even adversaries to our heroine. And the cat is a delight too.
There was supposed to be a TPB collection of this delightful series a few years ago, but I can't find it anywhere. Any help on the matter is welcome.

There are some characters in Bitch Planet who manage to bypass the whole "fat = self-shaming" thing too. Not going to elaborate at this point, but it does deserve mention.
However, in contrast to Thin, another recent book saves the day.
I'm talking, of course, about Faith.
Many folks have recognized this book as the breakthrough that it is. In short, it's a fat girl who's happy with her life, has a good social life, a good (if tentative, but hey, in the economy of the last 20 years, what isn't?) job, and happens to be a super-heroine named Zephyr.
I'll comment more on the Faith book itself when I do my Best Comics of 2016- not sure yet where it will place, but it definitely makes the list.
This is going to come across as "there's no pleasing that girl", but sometimes I think Zephyr/Faith's world is a little too good. I mean, if thin people don't get perfect lives in the comics, why should we? It's a very chipper little book, and I do like the optimism. I just hope for balance. Even in light of that, the idea that fat people deserve every kind of love and a full, happy life is revolutionary in contemporary comics, and a step in the right direction.
If this keeps up, maybe someone will see me again one of these days!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Thursday) No. 239: Sharp Invitations: Theresa's Zen Riddle

Posting again to atone for my sins in neglecting to do so for so long!
Just finished another of those quick pages! As you may or may not recall, these are designed to do a few things:
  • Get my creative juices flowing when I'm stuck
  • Use as few tools as possible (usually a pencil and marker or pen on regular printer paper)
  • Work as fast as possible, and don't edit the result
  • Ease the tension in the story, since this story is pretty unrelenting (at least from my perspective).
  • Time spent on this page: about 20 minutes, as it should be.
To those ends, this snippet goes before the chapter titled The Second Sharp Invitation, previously posted. Since that chapter opens with a talk with my sister Theresa (who prefers to be called Terry now), that seems a good place for this one. Also, it's nice to have a page that isn't about trans issues. They're important and the focus of the book, but that's not all there is to my (or any) life.
And now, another great childhood moment!

I've had this one in the back of my head for a while. I left out the following bit when we both broke out laughing right after she said that!
This is the third of these comic interlude pages. I don't think I'll do one for every chapter - that would be tedious- but where necessary, they'll show up.
I'm alternating between working on the scripted roughs for Daddy's Song and working up more finals for the Curt chapter. Since she's coming to visit this weekend, I'd like to get a start on scripted roughs for the chapter on Jenny soon too.
Next: some of the above...

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 238: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 2

Taking this week off work to complete more of the graphic memoir and prepare for the upcoming MCAD faculty art show. Gotta love Paid Time Off- what a concept!
In light of that, I finally scanned the most recent page, which has been done for a while now. This page was included in (very) rough version in the printing of the first draft in May.

I'm pretty happy with this. Since the first page of this story is a pencil page, I let that serve as the template for the whole story.
The scan came out very well. As I've discussed in the past, the issue with scanning pencils is getting decent dark areas without picking up unwelcome artifacts. If you push your black point too far, the scanner does indeed darken the pencils, but it also picks up every invisible smudge on the page!
Lettering in Photoshop, using Comic craft's Clean Cut Kid, my favorite typeface for comic book body copy. Still using their Zap word balloons too. The shapes are a bit limited, but sufficient for my immediate purposes. If necessary, I'll do some digging and find a greater variety. I can always hand-render too. While this is working reasonably well, I take the comments of my friend Kim Matthews very seriously, and she contends that tightly rendered type is out of place on my looser art. However, since this is a more finished version of the page, I think it serves well, or at least better.
This part of the story is emotionally challenging, in some ways more than the rest. When I screwed up something in my life before I came out, I could always rationalize that it was because I wasn't being my "authentic self", whatever that is. But after coming out, you don't have that excuse, or at least you think you're not supposed to. But as will be discussed later in the book, there's more than one step, however big that step may be, in becoming authentic.
Just for comparison, here's the original rough for this page.
Layout was loosened up a bit, and the addition of the ticket booth gives the page a bit more depth. I think the kiss works in both, but the final version is much clearer. It also shows that despite people somehow seeing him as physically small, Curt was just over 6' tall and had decent musculature!
In preparation for the show, I'm adding a few (ideally all the rest, but that may be overly ambitious within the time frame) chapters to the book. Those will probably be in fairly rough form, akin to what is presented here screen right. I've been thinking about publishers, but it's premature to talk about that in depth.
My reading has turned back to queer comics. I just got my Kickstarter of the Alphabet anthology from Prism, and am enjoying it a great deal. Such works inspire me to be a larger part of that world again. I've felt damned by faint praise from the queer comics community, whatever that is, and would like to be a more accepted part of it. I hope this work serves that end, as well as the larger end of getting the story out there.
Next: more Sharp Invitations, sooner than later.