Sunday, January 30, 2011

New blog notice!

I've begun a new blog. Since it serves a different purpose, I'll continue this one as well, and try to spend more time on my third, which I've neglected far too long!
I don't expect there will be a great deal of crossover in the readerships of these blogs, but I hope you'll give the new one a chance.
It's devoted to job search issues and attempts to understand the nature and uses of wealth.
It's called Opportunity Knocks on Wood!
I've provided a live link for your reading pleasure!

Very much a work in progress. Feel free to stop in!

Original Art Sundays #78: A Private Myth, p. 19

Wow, back on schedule! Let's keep it that way!
This page worked fairly well. Still need to push the blacks farther, but that will come when the narrative resumes its intensity, probably in the next page or two.
I'm also looking at reworking a couple pages with which I'm less than happy, but I want to get the first pass on book I completed before doing so.
Ahem. A Private Myth, page 19.

Again, terrific fun drawing this page. The environments resolved nicely and the character poses are both plausible and consistent with their emotional state.
So few comic pages are devoted to repose, unless they're in those tedious "slice of life" comics that try so earnestly to bring a sense of urgency to getting a cuppa Joe.
Not that there's anything wrong with the mundane, but if that's all the story you have, why should your readers care?
Conversely, so many "how to draw comics" manuals are devoted to the most dynamic angle, the most Kirby-esque pose.
But consider this page, regarded by many (including me) as one of the best works ever done by John Buscema, who did hundreds, probably thousands, of pages of Marvel superhero and barbarian comics. This is the first page of Silver Surfer No. 4.

The figure in repose is a thing of beauty!
Next week: A Private Myth, p. 20.

Original Art Sundays #77 (late): It Does This, p. 1

Ready to post this week's art, but let's catch up first!
This is the first page of an uncompleted Surrealist Cowgirls story. Four pages are done to date.
Some of the elements from this story showed up in the 24-hour book I posted about a year and a half ago, so the story will have to be re-tuned for its completion. Ideas for that are flying around my consciousness like transient modes of thought, to quote Blazing Saddles.
I have a great fondness for these pages. Whatever direction this story takes, the first four pages will remain as they are.
Now, Page one of It Does This When I Hurt.

Posting almost immediately following: a new page of A Private Myth!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Original Art Sundays #76 (late): Art like it's 1994!

One original art post after this one and I'm current again,
I know these deadlines are self-imposed and arbitrary. I also know that making them public in any way carries a measure of responsibility.
In sorting some books for Ebay sales, I found a calendar I made for my Mother in 1994. It consists of sketchbook pieces and work completed during my two years of Commercial Art education (1989 - 1991).
I cringe at some of it now, but there are some pieces that still have a charm, I think.
I was really getting into pencil when this one happened. I had a couple little statues- one pewter, and one bronze, and I just came up with a playful composition. Not so much into the fairies and dragons these days, but no harm.

Yow, look how that text baseline jumps! This was done for a class teaching now-obsolete production art skills.

This was a sketchbook swipe of a Maxfield Parrish painting. I still revere Parrish, but I've not paid much attention to him over the last few years. This is more interesting to me now for its texture than any other aspect.

This was intended as spot illustration for a book ad. Another class project. I loved this one, but nobody else seemed to. In retrospect, the clothing and hair are wrong for the era of the book. The girl is based on Simone Simon, star of the original Cat People, as well as the incubus in The Devil and Daniel Webster, one of my favorite films. She has an elusive beauty that always appealed to me.

Another piece intended for commercial use. I was getting pretty good at stipple for a while. I go back to it every now and then.

Lots of technical issues with this piece, but I do so love its attitude!
A lot of artists wince at the thought of old works, but I feel about old work much as I do old lovers. Looking back can help you understand some things, provided you don't spend too much time doing it, and you may find they still have something to teach you.
Next: Caught up!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Original Art Sundays #75 (late): A Private Myth, P. 18

I am three weeks behind on this, but will once again be caught up by the end of the week. I allowed myself to fall behind to complete by Best of posts.
I have more than sufficient inventory to sustain two months of Sundays now, even if I don't complete new work, and I WILL complete new work.
It's been a long time since I posted a page of A Private Myth. Here's the next page! The following page is on the board and proceeding well.
Also, I finally took a minute to verify my numbering. This is page 18. It was the cover experiment that threw off my ability to count (duh).
Regarding this page: is this the calm before the storm, or just calm?
Well, there's always a storm coming sooner or later, so for now, I'm going to let the ladies enjoy each other for a page or three.

I cannot tell you how much fun it was drawing this page! I'm trying to relax and embrace the flow as regards drawing scenery. I suppose it is something of a "dodge" to separate character and environment, but the next page will remedy that.
Next: some slightly older stuff.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Best comics of 2010: No. 1( tie) : Comic Book Guy, the Comic Book

Best. Miniseries. Ever.
This isn't just another Simpsons comic. Those can be fun, even if there's a sameness to them after a while and the art sometimes drifts off-model a bit (I should talk, right?), especially in some of the otherwise delightful Treehouse of Horror annuals. This Jamie Hernandez page is a case in point.

Comic Book Guy, the Comic Book is a miniseries that reflects the love of comics and comic geekdom shown in other Bongo titles, including Simpsons Superhero Spectacular and the brilliant Radioactive Man series. I wish there were a proper affordable TPB of the RM books- it would be a perfect comics history text!
But comic book guy is us. Everyone who's been to more than three comic book stores has met someone, usually a store owner, who shares traits with Comic Book Guy (proper name: Jeffrey "Jeff" Albertson, Master's Degree in Comparative Mythology).

This mini touches all the right buttons. It's like listening to PDQ Bach- it's fun enough in its own right, but the more you know about music, the funnier it is.

So it is with this mini and comic fans.Beginning with Issue one's four alternate covers, all presented on the same issue (thank you! No need to buy multiple copies!), there are in-jokes aplenty.
The covers for issue 1 parody, in order:

Fantastic Four No. 1

Death of Superman (Superman No. 75)

Avengers No. 56

Crisis on Infinite Earths No. 7
Three of the four are death covers, and the Crisis is a Pieta cover. More on Pieta covers another day.
This silly story integrates elements of fandom geekery with self-parody. We laugh at Comic Book Guy's overblown language and his fanatic love of mass market adventure because we see it in ourselves.
And there's a comfort in that.  It's not simply all right that we revere these things, but as The Android's Dungeon decays into shallow, simpering cuteness under Marge's post-mortem management, it becomes clear that the passion for solid story and adventure is what sustains the store, and by extension, the stories and their readers.
While Comic Book Guy is a joke, he's our joke.
It's like Robert McKee explained in his book STORY.
A sympathetic character = likeable.
An empathetic character = like me.
We resonate better with empathetic characters.
There are so many other aspects to this. Subtle and not so subtle jabs at industry trends and societal mores.
When Comic Book Guy passed on, all sarcasm vanished from the Internet, TV and daily conversation. This resulted in the Internet becoming a haven for the free exchange of ideas, causing in turn the government shutdown of the Internet.
A bit of a reach in the real world, but hey, we don't have bright yellow skin, round eyeballs and four fingers either.
The point is that this delightful story reminds us of who we are, and who we can be. Behind all his cynicism, posturing and self-pity, there's something noble about Comic Book Guy- excuse me, Jeff Albertson, M.A.
Fan on, Comic Book Guy!
Tomorrow, we return to Original Art Sundays, after a (embarrassed glance down) three week hiatus!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Best comics of 2010: No. 1 (tie) : Blacksad

In 1990, I interned with Reed Waller on Omaha the Cat Dancer for six months.
Or as I put it these days, it was for about 5 minutes a hundred years ago.
It was one of the most catalytic (pun unintended) experiences of my life, both personally and professionally.
This experience, in tandem with my childhood of reading Barks Duck stories, before I had a clue who Barks was, and my 80s and 90s love of Don Rosa's work (note that my affections for these works continue to this day), has given me quite an affinity for the funny animal genre, despite it being a very loosely defined genre.
I mean really. Look at this Omaha image and this Duck image, and tell me where their commonalities lie, beyond the animal-as-person device.
Caveat: this work is not for the young in maturity. Adults only, please, in every sense. It involves people enjoying their bodies, and children can't see that until they're not children any more.  I think it's a little screwy, but that's the way we roll in this society.

Okay,the other similarity is solid storytelling. But that's as far as it goes.
Two points:
1. Waller and Worley did a more Barks-style funny animal story, the wonderful Speakingstone, which ran in two issues of Fantagraphic's Critters and was never completed.
2. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that this Omaha page is one of the ones I worked on. My work was inking heavy blacks in the background, in this case.
 In any event, as a result of the work of Barks and Rosa, Waller, Worley and Vance, Talifero, Freddy Milton, and so many more that don't come to mind as readily, the notion of humanized animals, or animals with human traits, has been a part of comics ever since there have been comics. What do you think Krazy and Ignatz are, after all?
A new character entered this delightful mix in the early 2000s, from Spanish creators published by the French company Dargaud. Writer Juan Díaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido collaborated on the three graphic volumes of Blacksad. Sporadically printed in the US (the third book only recently appeared as part of this collection), they developed a reputation akin to Corto Maltese among devoted comics lover.
This year, Dark Horse published a goregeous volume of all three stories. That volume is my tie choice for Number One comic of the year 2010.

Another caveat: as always, these choices are based on personal criteria and quite arbitrary. If you have your own list, I welcome it!
Blacksad is a private detective. The story is set in 1950s America.

The level of detail is stunning and appropriate. The palette is precise and reinforces the mood, which ranges from gripping to hilarious to tragic.
In short, this work is beautiful in very sense, even when it's recounting ugly events.

The trappings of noir, or what the casual student thinks of as noir (I'm a bit more than casual, but still a student) are all here. The femmes fatale, the levels of fear, greed and corruption, the broken hearts, the sense of unrelenting desperation. There are also some odd male bonds- not so odd as in the classic Gilda, but Blacksad's repulsion/friendship with the reporter Weekly is a rather odd but serviceable bond.
Blacksad is very much a loner, though. His friendships are tenuous at best, and as in the final tale, Red Soul, making its first US appearance in this volume. This story deals with Communism, blacklisting, and unanticipated betrayals.

That's the final story in this volume. The first, Somewhere Within the Shadows, is an eloquent noir with the traditional trappings, skillfully handled. The middle story, Arctic Nation, plays up the animal aspect by using polar bears as white supremacists a la the KKK.

The use of the stylized snowflake as stand-in for the KKK cross is brilliant.
There's one aspect of noir that I question in this book.
Common wisdom on noir holds that there are no heroes, only villains, victims and survivors. And the character who has the best-defined moral code and lives up to it despite damning evidecne of the pointlessness of doing so is the closest we come to a hero.
Well, in reading this, I can't help thinking that Blacksad is a hero, and that's all there is to it.
So is it still noir? In most ways, yes. But no matter. It's a damn good comic, no matter how it's classified.
I'm pleased to note that the creators have two more volumes of bandes desinee coming out. Dark Horse, are you paying attention?

Tomorrow, the best comic of 2010. Ever.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Best comics of 2010: the runners-up

These are the books I thought about including in my list, but demurred. These are all fine books equally deserving of your attention. If I would have turned left instead of right, or eaten a different breakfast or whatever, some of these would be on my Best list.
First, second and third, books from last year's list. These books maintained their quality, but I wanted to give some newcomers more of a chance.
First, The Unwritten.
This book has maintained its intelligence, pace and imaginative art. In issue 17, with our old friend Ryan Kelly getting primary art credits (see link in daytripper post), the story is designed as a "choose your own adventure" comic, making it a meta-narrative, a sort of "nod and a wink" to remind readers that this is a book about books.
Next, Sweet Tooth.
The story continues to evolve and hold its quality. As is often the case in post-apocalyptic narratives, factions have formed and the backstory is revealed incrementally.
Lemire is now also writing Superboy. I've had little use for the smug Superboy of the last few years, but with Jeff at the helm, I'll give the book another chance.
Third up: The Lone Ranger.

The last issue of this eloquent series came out last month, though I've yet to pick it up. I've enjoyed everything about the way this material has been handled: faithful, but not slavish, to its source material.
As my Machiavellian mind began to wrap itself around the idea of creating a custom bind of this book sometime in 2011, Dynamite announced that The Masked Man would be a guest in a new Zorro book. And again with the multiple covers.
Ya can't win.
Other surprises in 2010:

This tense, moody noir set in the Big Easy hits all the right notes, and is an enjoyable read to say the least. But it's nothing revolutionary. Not that it has to be. Nothing wrong with a solid gritty murder mystery.
Again, thanks to Image Comics for another great surprise in 2010.

Doom Patrol

Doom Patrol has always been my favorite uber-weird superhero book. This issue, in which the always borderline team leader,The Chief, assumes the powers of Superman despite no longer having even crippled legs, was great superhero energy and big fun. But I lost patience with some aspects of Kieth Giffen's writing. If everything is snarky, cynical and argumentative, it loses its impact.

Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom

Top drawer adventure,  even if not from the mind of Alan Moore. Tight plotting, consistent characterization, and a nicely handled time travel story. Not the revelation that Moore's original Tom Strong books (which tie nicely in with Promethea) was, but still the kind of book that you read and just say "cool" when the plot twists and fight scenes come.

Superman: Last Family of Krypton 

Writer Cary Bates and artist Renalo Arlem bring a 3-part Elseworlds story based on a simple premise. Instead of shooting baby Kal to Earth, Jor is able to bring the whole Family of El!
This has some fascinating aspects to it, but at times resonates of Astro City. It's still well worth one's time, but it suffers from the problem that plagues most Elseworlds stories. Ultimately, the universe ends up more or less the same as it is in regular contintuity.
Even with that, this felt like reading a really good Imaginary Story from the 60s or 70s. A very welcome feeling, that.
Final runner-up:
Superman No. 701
JMS' work on Wonder Woman was engaging, but not spectacular.
I posted on the whole costume thing with WW back when the transitional issue hit. While ensuing issues were better than good, it wasn't as effective as his handling of Superman.
This issue in particular, the beginning of Superman's walk across the US, is big fun. It captures some long-neglected facets of the character, like his populist bent. His handling of this smug blowhard amuses me no end.

JMS also wrote a very well-received Superman graphic novel in 2010. Not having read it yet, I can't in good conscience review it.
That's everything but the two books tied for the No. 1 spot for 2010. I'm not letting the cat out of the bag, aside from saying that the first posts tomorrow!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Best comics of 2010: No. 2 (tie) : The Muppet Show

Whoda thunk it?
There should be no way The Muppet Show would translate into a comic book. Gags are dependent on timing, and there's so much of this you just can't reproduce on a printed page.

It's so delightful in such a cornball way. There should be no way that the old guys in the balcony or the backstage antics work in a comic book.
But they do!

The drawing is perfect. Much as I like The Simpsons comic line, sometimes the art is just wrong for the characters. Not so here!
Every issue, there's a couple story lines going- the one onstage and the one backstage, just like in the show. However, in the comic, they can stretch a bit more. the layouts offer chances for innovation, and they're able to take the storyline outside the studio, which the show seldom did (aside, of course, from the immortal PIGS IN SPACE, which I still say should have been a feature film).

Charming, witty stories of werewolves and Sherlock Holmes pastiches, interspersed with wisecracking deities gaming with the lives of our troupe.
Writer/artist Roger Landridge, who sadly announced his departure from  the book amicably for his own reasons by the end of 2010, created an unexpected masterpiece out of what was largely thought of as a dated kids' show. The artist on issues 4 - 8 was one Amy Mebberson, whose work is deserving of recognition in its own right.
Landridge began doing Muppet comics in the late lamented Disney Adventures Digest. this was another haven for kid's comics.
A couple points need to be made here.
First, I'm so sick of hearing things like "safe for kids" and "fun for all ages"that I could puke coat hangers. A good story is a good story is a good story. Are there stories that are too nuanced for kids? Possibly, but you could make the same argument for many adults. Sadly, there are a  large number of adults who think this material is somehow beneath them, more fools they.
Second, this is not the first time that The Muppets have been around the funny books. In addition to appearances in The Muppet Magazine of the mid-80s, Marvel had a great Muppet Babies comic as part of their 80s Star! line of comics aimed at the youth market.
These were also very smart, imaginative comics. But Muppet Babies was the best thing on Saturday morning for 7 years (1984 - 1991), so they had great source material too.
We wish Landridge well in his future endeavors. He's also moving on from writing THOR, which means we'll probably never see this scene....
Much as I like Simonson's Thor-frog, pictured below, Landridge's might be better. You be the judge.

Next: Best of 2010: the runners-up.

Best comics of 2010: No. 2 (tie): daytripper

This was a surprise.
Daytripper is the life of a writer, one Bras de Oliva Domingos. Told in pivotal moments and the events leading up to them, he dies at the end of every issue. Each death is a death of a part of him, though all are presented as literal deaths.
 This is eloquent, tender, raw and brutally honest. Daytripper avoids being saccharine or cynical.  The book's creative team, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, are doing the con circuit starting this year in Peru! Gabriel is the artist on the new Marvel book Casanova, written by Matt Fraction.

Moon's and Ba's art (they work in tandem on writing and illustration)has that slight distortion that reminds me of both Paul Pope and Ryan Kelly. Its fascinating, having qualities of simplicity and complexity simultaneously.
And the writing - well, the writing just pulses.

It's a book about being there for your own life, even when that means accepting your failures without ennobling them.
It's a book of wonder, not flinching from any part of the human condition.
And it's set in contemporary Brazil.

Sadly, as well received as the book was critically, it didn't translate into sales. Following issue #1, Daytripper's sales were consistently below the 10,000 copy mark, according to monthly reports at The Beat. I am hopeful that sales of the TPB, due out next month, will eclipse that.
We've speculated here in the past that the "floppy", the conventional comic book periodical, may be little more than a loss leader for TPBs in today's comic market. Based on some of the figures Colleen Doran has reported on her blog (and if you're not reading Colleen's blog, go do so right now- it's linked on this one and I'll still be here when you're done), I've come to question that blanket supposition lately.I'm not convinced that TPBs actually sell better, despite having presumably longer shelf life and a more diverse marketing and distribution platform.
But when Vertigo, a branch of DC Comics, can't move 10,000 units of so eloquent a book as Daytripper, we have a problem.
Next: Best of 2010, No. 2, part 2: light the lights!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Best comics of 2010: No. 3 (tie): The Land of Oz

After a rough couple days of writing deadlines and wrestling with money, I can get back to posting for a brief time.
The tie for the No. 3 spot is Marvel's Land of Oz.
I've been enjoying Marvel's Oz adaptations a great deal, not just because the writing of Oz scholar Eric Shanower is faithful to the source texts, but because Scottie Young's art manages the neat trick of being fresh and feeling at home with this book. Since the original novel was first published 107 years ago, that's no mean feat!

The story has new life in these adaptations. The duo has moved on to the third Oz book now, and I hope sales continue to warrant new adaptations through the 15 OZ books by Baum (including the short story collection Little Wizard Stories of Oz, and not including the Big Little Book The Laughing Dragon of Oz, written by Baum's son).
The writing on the Marvel Oz books is faithful not only in plot and tone, but in spirit. There are many thousands of people who love Oz because of the Judy Garland film (as do I, for reasons previously enumerated), but if those people have never read an Oz book, especially one by Baum, they really don't know Oz.
Sidebar: it needs to be said that the 1939 film is not without its problems. Those problems are skillfully enumerated by Peter David in his 1990 essay, which predates Gregory Maguire's Wicked by more than a decade. Interesting, as Maguire is building his narrative on some of the ideas in the David essay. Not to say he lifted the ideas. Far from it. Great minds often think on similar lines.
So what is the tone that eludes so many creators in adapting Oz?
Baum's stories are driven by a very sophisticated blend of wit, melancholy and pacing.
He refused to write down to children.
There have been hundreds, probably thousands, of Oz adaptations over the 11 decades since the first book. Many of these, building on the homilies in the 1939 film (which I do love, so much, despite my protestations here), have a cuteness bordering on simpering.
Again, a long post on Oz in comics is forthcoming sometime next month. Perhaps I'll do that as my birthday present to me.
Meanwhile, the book at hand.

The character designs are a nice cross between the heavy-line work of Denslow on the first book and the delicate pen work of the great Jon R. Neill on subsequent books (it should be noted in passing that Neill was an official author, or "royal historian", for seven Oz books following the Ruth Plumly Thompson series).
The pages flow cleanly and efficiently, as in this spread from issue 3.
But that's what happens when a good artist is also a good writer.
Not to take anything away from Scottie Young, but Shanower's comic work has been top-notch since his debut on some Nexus material in the early 80s. I've followed his career through the Nexus work, several appearances in Gay Comics, the First comics Oz graphic novels, the wonderful Trojan war book Age of Bronze, and now this. He's never disappointed. He even wrote a couple very good Oz novels!
And the Marvel series does not shy away from the transgender aspect of the original novel, which is quite welcome in itself.
These are fresh, smart versions of stories over 100 years old. Marvel is doing the comics world a favor in publishing them. This was just about the only Marvel book I bought this year.
That's partially Marvel's own fault. Their storytelling has been uneven, but the big sticking point is the ads. For example, in Land of Oz No. 4, there are 8 pages of ads, not counting the inside front cover and both sides of the back cover. That's a quarter of this 32 page book, which sold for $3.99. And that's a skimpy ad count compared to some. Daredevil No. 50, a few years ago, was the worst offender in recent memory, with a 50/50 ad/editorial ratio! Every other page an ad? Come on now!
In fairness, Marvel has been producing lovely (if very thin) hardcovers of these Oz series shortly following the completion of the storyline. Listing at $29.99, and probably a lot less online, that's an OK deal. Single issue price is $24 for the run.
But why gouge the reader of traditional format comics (AKA floppies) like that? Of the 8 pages of ads, half are house ads or ads for Marvel-related projects. If they need to offset their single-issue printing revenue that badly, they're in trouble.
That aside, this series (along with its predecessor, the Wizard of Oz, and the current successor, Ozma of Oz) deserves accolades.
If I've piqued your interest in matters Oz, do yourself a favor and get back issues of the paperback magazine put out by Shanower and his partner David Maxine for six years, OzStory!

Next: best of 2010 No. 2, part 1: As days go by...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Best comics of 2010: No. 3(tie): Market Day

James Sturm is a national treasure.
His work is tinged with emotion and possibility, yet mired in tragedy. All done so subtly that you're just sucked in before you know what happened to you.
Sturm has given us such classics as The Golem's Mighty Swing. This year's offering is the deceptively slim volume Market Day. In this less than a hundred page story about a rug maker, Sturm has encapsulated the nature of creativity and the tragedy of being a truly creative human being in a less than appreciative, which is to say, sometimes indifferent bordering on hostile,  marketplace.

Published by the always brave and innovative Drawn & Quarterly, who also publish Lynda Barry and countless other comics luminaries, this is a story that asks a simple question. What's to become of a creator when the market for his creations dries up?
The others who take their work to market on the appointed day may take pride in their craft, but not like our hero. He wants people to buy his rugs, and he wants the rugs to enrich their lives.
He is so eager for the market, the exchange of ideas, goods and possibilities!

He sees possibilities for new rug designs in everything.

In short, his work and commerce keep him alive in every sense.
However, when he discovers that his primary buyer has retired, he no longer has a place to sell his rugs. With a pregnant wife due any day, he must find another buyer for his rugs, quickly.
He is forced to question his decisions. Has he indulged in a foolishness? The rugs he wove have served every aspect of him, and sustained him and his wife. Until now.
This is a labor of love.
Market Day is dedicated in part to MCAD compatriot Michelle Ollie, who ventured across country to begin the Center for Cartoon Studies, working in tandem with Sturm.
Sturm's art is like his writing: simple, direct and on point, leaving the reader with a larger sense than before the work's consumption.His tightly controlled palette and deceptively plain shapes work to advance the story and its attendant themes much more succinctly than many of the over-embellished flavor of the month superhero artists.
Read this if the issues around a creative person surviving in the world are of the slightest interest to you. Heck, read it anyway. If those issues don't matter to you, Market Day will give you a glimmer as to why they should.
Tomorrow: Best of No. 3, part 2, as we cross a different rainbow!