Thursday, 27 June 2013

Why I won't be watching Man of Steel

Okay, I’m prepped for ridicule. I know people say you can’t judge a film without having seen it, but if a trailer acts as an advertisement to entice viewers to pay to watch the full thing, I knew I wouldn’t be watching Man of Steel. And not solely because it just looked so bloody depressing.
Now I’m not a stickler for fidelity to source material, and I realise a lot of film adaptations -regardless of whether they’re comic book movies or not- can be good, interesting movies in their own right, but when you have a huge iconic character like Superman and lose all essence of what he is about, what he epitomises and what defines him (and *spoiler alert* I’m not just talking about killing  Zod here), then I think you’ve failed in making a Superman movie.
It's also why I think Marvel movies tend to work much better, by ignoring DC’s stringency for ‘realistic superheroes’ (c’mon, there’s no such thing!), films like The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor etc. function better both as comic book movies and in service to their characters because they have the bombast, humour and spectacle and essentially uplifting tone of the pages from which they’ve been taken.
Max Landis sums up my feelings on Man of Steel pretty well:

ELCAF 2013 report

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A disclaimer before we start: I never go to conventions or festivals in ‘journalist/writer’ mode; the ones I do attend I go because I want to attend, because the artists and events interest me and I hope to be introduced to exciting new work and have a good time in the process. Sometimes after the fact I may write up a little report about my experience and what the general feeling seemed like, and most importantly: what I bought. Tom Spurgeon, I am not. Still, I can waffle like nobody’s business and this may get pretty long, so if you just want to see the haul, scroll to the bottom.
Andy and I caught the 7:35 train from Leeds to King’s Cross, which meant I was up at 5 contemplating the weather and clothing choices. I decided to wear a coat,which was- you guessed it- the wrong choice. There were a lot of bodies and York Hall isn’t huge so I ended up carrying it a lot. We got to Bethnal Green at 11, an hour after doors opened and it was already bustling.
This is only the second ELCAF and the festival seems to have quickly found it’s footing and identity, with a strong focus on  the illustrative and graphic- there were a host of beautiful prints on display, which is no surprise- that’s what organisers Nobrow bring to the table in their products and it’s a sensibility that’s successfully transferred here. The decision to have six islands of tables which people can navigate around worked really well; opening up the space to provide walking and browsing room, and making it easy to identify which tables you’d already visited.
Things of note: I was really impressed with the strong multicultural feel to proceedings in terms of exhibitors- Portugese children’s books publishers Planeta Tangerina, were there, as were Dutch publishers Bries, along with Delebile EdizioniMilmboReproduckt, The Treasure Fleet,Fremok and more, with some Bangladeshi artists also present earlier in the morning. It’s lovely to celebrate UK comics, but it was fantastic to see beyond that and as soppy as it sounds, be bought together by an excitement and love for art. I think that’s something that ties in with the the ELCAF/Nobrow identity: an emphasis on illustration, graphics and design means translation isn’t as much of an issue at it perhaps would be with a dye-in-the wool comics reader. It also serves to set the festival apart from other art/zine/comics events  by offering something different. It’s a hugely positive and heartening thing to see and I hope it continues.
(pictures taken by Camila Barboza)
While the overall mix of stalls was interesting and varied, something that did feel a little incongruous was the presence of some publishers,who were there with stacks of books and a couple of people to sign. I know it’s a comics and art event,but it didn’t really fit with the small making and creating feel of the festival. There’s now a lot of events, cons, and festivals on the UK scene and they can be a bit funny if you’re attending regularly in that the same people will be tabling- that makes senses for exhibitors where these events is a chance for them to get their work out there and maybe even make some money(!), but it can get samey for a punter. ELCAF has established a place for itself on that circuit, but having too many comics publishing houses (even ones who may be independent and a lot smaller when compared to others) dilutes the atmosphere a little.
After having relocated from last year’s venue for a larger space, that may be something that will have to be addressed again in 2014, simply because both attendance and exhibitors seemed so healthy and enthusiastic. It would be nice to maybe have some seating somewhere- I used the floor outside when eating and inside when at the bar, and it would have been handy to have more tables and chairs than the couple provided outside (would have been nice to just been able to go upstairs and sit for a rest or to eat, but I’m assuming that wasn’t possible for a reason). As far as I’m aware, programming ran smoothly- the whole event was incredibly well organised- I thought the screenings and talks might’ve been intrusive to the floor, but they were cushioned by the general hubbub, and the raised platform was enclosed enough so that those attending panels could still hear.
It was great too, to see a lot of kids drawing away and dismembering toys with gusto. I finally got to meet the lovely Hannah Berry and shout at her while she smiled and pretended to hear me. I’ve been a fan of Dilraj Mann and his ladies, so it was really cool to meet and chat to him- it’s always that much cooler when you meet someone whose work you admire and they turn out to be pretty cool themselves. Even if they do tell you creepy, not-entirely-sure-its-true stories of people impersonating you…. Another person on the lovely/cool list is Andy Poyiadgi, who was selling out of his gorgeous Teabag Theories as I stood there- rather nice and amusing to hear people come up to him and say ‘Can I get teabag?’  Said a quick hello to David O’Connell, and then we had to make our way to Kings Cross to get the train home. Got home,of course, and realised I’d missed a ton of people. Next year?
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Luke Pearson and Jack Teagle have a draw-off: check out that colour co-ordination in Luke’s outfit, right down to the shoes!
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(pictures of Luke and Jack taken by, and borrowed from, Lizz Lunney- thanks Lizz!)
Winter’s Knight and Supers by Robert Ball: If you haven’t checked out either of these you really should. I say this as someone who is not the biggest fan/advocate of design-focused artwork, but Ball is a very talented artist and these are two very special publications. Hell, I’m not even a fan of having a book of superhero pin-ups but I bought Supers just because the composition, colours, and ideas work that well. Looking forward to immersing myself in Winter’s Knight.
The Listening Agent by Joe Decie, and Playing Out by Jim Medway: Advance copies as is befitting a diligent reviewing person, haha! Blank Slate’s summer stable is finally here and it’s got the goods. Dan Berry’s The Suitcase is already available on the site and soon these babies will be in your grasp too. Joe Decie and Jim Medway are both comics creators I love, particularly because their work manages to be substantial and uplifting simultaneously and that pleases me- not a a lot of comics are very happy nowadays, are they?
‘I’m not sure whether you’re going to like this,’ Joe joked, ‘You don’t like auto-biographical comics, do you?’ He may have been referring to this or the last paragraph of this. I’ve always liked Joe’s work though, probably because it feels real in a very different sense: he starts with narrating an event that happened,which then develops into a stream of consciousness, taking a thought and just running with it- and that often involves imaginary scenarios and flights of fantasy. Similarly, with Jim’s work, I like the  way he makes his anthropomorphic characters socially relevant, and the manner in which the naive, almost unsophisticated anthropomorphism (compared, say, to Blacksad) reflects the changing, forming character of kids and teens.
The Comix Reader #3 and #4: I’d not heard of this previously- is that bad? I really like newsprint comics, though I would like to see them in a A4 format to avoid the whole creasing problem, although that may be defeating the larger canvas purpose a bit. Lots of names I’ve not heard of in here, but it looks good.
Syklus by Martin Ernsten and Kilian Eng, and Stroke by Dilraj Mann and others: One of the questions I was asked most as I walked around the hall was whether I’d seen or bought anything interesting,  at which point I would excitedly pull out the first thing I’d purchased- Martin Ernsten’s and Kilian Eng’s Syklus. The almost invariable response to this action was ‘Ahh, yeah, that’s great; I got that at Angouleme!’ Well, you know who wasn’t at Angouleme? Me. I wasn’t at Angouleme. And I was really chuffed with this, a largely silent comic about the past, future, and dinosaurs-  it is absolutely gorgeous: the colouring alone is amazing (you can see some more of it here).
Stroke contains Mann’s collaborations with various artists, including Sam Bosma and Roman Muradov amongst others. He draws a lady and the artist then draws her companion. There’s also a short comic in there titled Frank Ocean vs Chris Brown, and don’t let the pop culture references put you off- it’s fab.
Klaus by Richard Short, and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer by Aisha Franz and Till Thomas: I saw Richard Short’s post about creating a mini printed Klaus collection for ELCAF, and had it earmarked as ‘thing to buy’, so job done. I generally like Klaus:I like the four panel structure, I like it’s clean-ness, delicate lines and philosophical leanings. Last Summer I picked up because I liked the cover: the red spine, the jagged black mountains against the blue- it’s a series of collaborative illustrations between Till and Thomas.
Lamelos #3 from Bries and Teabag Theories #2 by Andy Poyiadgi: Steve won’t let me hear the end of buying Lamelos, a beautiful, silent and fully screenprinted comic from a group of Dutch artists whose names I shall hunt down. The lady manning the table told me these little books are actually produced by 4 artists, but much like Ruppert and Mullot, their art is similar enough for them to be able to work on something like this together. It’s just gorgeous and the illustrations, colours and jokey tale reminds me of the Arabic Johaa tales my dad used to read me when I was little.
I mentioned earlier Andy sold out of these and it’s easy to see why- not only is it a neatly executed ideas, they’re beautifully constructed (and only £1.50!): little concertina comics that use tea to explain some of the mysteries of science. Wishing I could get my hands on #1.
And that’s it! I had a genuinely lovely time and look forward to returning next year.
For a whole host of clear and well-taken photographs, visit Camila Barboza’s flickr here.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Comics plus; reading matter

I am not made for travelling, it has been established. Andy, Steve and I travelled to London from Leeds and back in a day for ELCAF on Saturday (report to follow on FPI some time this week) and after a 10-hour sleep, I zonked out for another couple of hours in the middle of Sunday- note: in future, just stay the bloody night.

Anyway, here's what the reading pile is looking like at the moment:

Ralph Azam vol 1 by Lewis Trondheim: this English language translation of another one of Trondheim's fantasy adventures released last year, but I've only really got stuck into his work a-proper these past 3 months, which put it back on my radar.  Barnaby by Crockett Johnson; been following the progress of this for a while. Fantagraphics are collating all of Crockett's newspaper strips of the cigar chopping fairy god-figure and his charge in 5 books- this volume collects strips from 1942-3.

Teenytinysaurs by Gary Northfield, My Dirty Dumb Eyes by Lisa Hanawalt, Little Nothings vols 1-3 by Lewis Trondheim: I was really looking forward to Teenytinysaurs- I'm a fan of Northfield's cartooning and writing -his Gary's Garden strips in The Phoenix are great- but this didn't do it for me. The art is still nice, but it didn't strike the balance between being something for both adults and children, which is fine.
Finally bought Lisa Hanawalt's book- Andy and I had a peruse of it on the train down and it looked filthy and funny- she draws her own brand of reptilian anthropomorpholgy really well. I'm really liking books that are a mixture of odds and ends that do different things like Hanawalt's at the moment: comics, art, illustrated reviews and articles, humorous shorts- I dunno it feels like they engage the reader more, because the visuals are constantly being shaken up and offering something different page-to-page. 

I mentioned I'm going through Trondheim's oeuvre, right?

The End by Anders Nilsen, Wake Up, Percy Gloom by Cathy Malkasian, The Hollows by Chris Ryall and Sam Keith: I have to admit, I wouldn't have picked up either The End or Wake Up, Percy Gloom if Turnaround hadn't been nice enough to send them. I'm a fan of Nilsen's work, but I saw the preview of this on the Fantagraphics site and had decided to give it a miss for now. Similarly with the Percy Gloom book, I'm yet to get around to reading the first one and prefer to do that even if the followup makes sense in itself. The Hollows I bought simply because I enjoy Chris Ryall's writing and, on occasion when it's clearer, Sam Keith's art, and the synopsis was enough to hook me: a future Japan with giant cities situated in trees, built to escape the soul devouring 'Hollow' creatures below. 

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier, Castle Waiting vol 2 by Linda Medley, Genius by Steven T Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen: Whenever I discover someone's work who's been around a while, I feel a bit of a numpity for not getting onto it earlier- case in point: Aaron Renier. I'd never heard of Renier until I read a blog post by Mark Siegel on the First Second website, and was struck by how the colours in art looked very European. The Unsinkable Walker Bean is his second book after Spiralbound and it's a grand sea-faring adventure/pirate/magic tale. I have to be honest- I'm not always fond of pirate tales, probably as I've read so few good ones, but Renier's story is so dense and involving and his art tremendous- I mean, just look at this spread (click on it to see the full glory of it all):

You need to pick that book up if you haven't already.
Castle Waiting, courtesy of Turnaround again, I think I'm right in saying this second printing has more material than the first printing of the second volume. Yes. Linda Medley provides a masterclass in how to take influences, tropes and traditional tales and turn them into something wholly new, original and fantastic in its own right. Last but not least: Genius by Steven T Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen, the team behind the sublime It's a Bird. Seagle takes on Einstein and the nature of genius here and it's not what you might expect. I like that Seagle avoids making his character a misunderstood, loner-genius type, he has a wife and two children and functions well generally; indeed the story is more about the responsibilities, duties and expectations that come with great intellect and how to manage those.
ELCAF report on Thursday- until then.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Buy List: Farel Dalrymple's Delusional

Oh, Adhouse, why must you torture me so? The publishers of fine comics and art material have been on a streak of fire recently, releasing quality book after quality book. And now here’s another to add to your ‘buy’ list: a stunning  hardcover collection of art and comics from Farel Dalrymple ( Pop Gun War, It Will All Hurt, Omega the Unknown, Prophet).
Titled ‘Delusional’, the bumper 232-page compendium of Dalrymple’s work will collect and reprint comics and art from various older anthologies as well as newer contributions. Due for release in September, it marks the first time the work is being collected together under one cover, and judging from the fantastic preview images (see below) it’s going to be a thing of beauty.
As ever, folks, if you live in the US or Canada, you’re incredibly lucky in that you get amazing stuff like this first and you should be all over it- I can see this selling well and it’s a great chance to get a large chunk of Dalrymple’s beautiful oeuvre in one satisfying sitting, or even as a means of introducing yourself to his art (trying not to think about the fact I won’t get my clammy hands on it until next year).
More details and a longer preview available here on Adhouse’s website, as well as a Diamond order code.

Drowntown: guns, ladies, hapless PI'sand a talking panda


Part pulp noir, part sci-fi, featuring a hard and hulking PI, big guns, beautiful girls, sleek, sexy aquabikes, anthropomorphology,and much more, Drowntown could very easily have gone very wrong. I’m sure to some people that line of description will sound pretty wrong in itself. In this first of 3 volumes, Morrison takes an all hands to deck approach, giving the audience the full hand of players involved, the elements in place -and it works.
The setting is London futureopolis, but not quite as envisioned. The long-predicted climatic changes have boomed into effect, leaving the world and the capital submerged in water, making roads and cars obsolete, and forcing  the wealthy to retreat to their literal towers to escape from rising waters and the unseemly results of ever increasing human/animal genetic DNA splicing. Money, as ever, lies in patents, properties, politics and weaponry.
Morrison gives us a fantastic opening- our, um, hero in danger. Done many a time before yes, but done again here with verve and wit that makes it fresh once more. Up to his neck in mud and water, with guns of various sizes pointed at him, we get the seen-it-all-before, wise-cracking internal monologue of the rather bummy, but richly christened PI, Leo Noriet. As a reader you recognise and side with him instantly- the tough, dubious but ultimately good guy, here in the guise of a looming bearded, Hawaiian shirt wearing frame- less the dashing, loveable rogue, and more the affable, funny guy.  Saved at the last minute by a  human-hyena hybrid of indeterminate will and purpose, Leo is soon reminded of that old addage; nothing comes for free. His mysterious saviour turns out to be in the employ of one Alexandra Bastet, underworld figure,  African leader, object of the West; suspicion and greed.
DT Preview
While Alexandra has risen swiftly to power, she remembers nothing from the first 19 years of her life or how she came to find herself in Africa, other than that when she was ‘found’ she spoke with a London accent. Naturally keen to find out what has passed before her enemies do, she hires Leo to find out exactly who she is. Meanwhile, another lady of mysterious origin, bike courier, Gina Cassel finds herself catching the eye of heir-with-a-heart,Vincent Drakenberg, whose father’s company aims to control the weather, humans, hybrids, DNA patents- pretty much everything. And all these erstwhile people, it would appear, are linked in some way; the questions of how and why remain elusive.
As I said, Morrison chucks in a whole load of players, but never veers off track; hooking and maintaining the reader’s interest, setting up shop- introducing the various characters, getting plot-lines rolling in a healthy manner, dropping clues, hints, but not giving too much away just yet either. He’s aided and abetted in large part by Jim Murray’s sublime artwork: the way he draws the water is insane: green and murky, with thickness and dirt and heaving swells of movement that you can see. I would really have liked to see more of the world Morrison and Murray have created here, simply because what we do get looks amazing and I’m curious and eager to it built upon. A little more focus and inclusion in terms of the physical effects, changes and minutiae of having a semi-drowned world would be fantastic and hopefully will be expanded on in the upcoming books.
I loved Drowntown, and yes, it ticks a multitude of my ‘narrative favourites’ boxes: crime/mystery/sci-fi/interesting worldscape/anthropomorphic characters, but I wouldn’t have loved it if  it was bad, if those things were all jumbled together in a incomprehensible mess. Morrison’s plucking of tropes and scenarios from various genres, mixed with strong original elements really make this a super read; he uses humour, in particular, with finesse, balancing it perfectly- Noiret’s interactions with the rat community serve as the undisputed highlights of the book.
There are a few quibbles that niggle here and there; the characterisation and relationship of Vincent the rich heir and Gina the poor good-hearted biker girl is in danger of being sketchily superficial- she, at least, is saved by a sudden and truly unexpected turn of events towards the end ,but it is difficult to muster any enthusiasm or empathy for him. It could simply be that at this stage their arc requires introduction and nothing greater, but it feels inadequate. Which brings me to my next point-  I don’t know how long it takes Jim Murray to produce this art, but at 48 pages long, and one would imagine 2 volumes of similar length to come, I can’t help but feel the whole narrative would have served as a meatier, more fulfilling experience, had it been served as one, especially when you take into account this cant be read as a stand alone book. Of course, part of that is also due to the fact that Drowntown is so good I wished it was longer and I wished those second and third volumes were in my hands now.
Drowntown reaches high and achieves much of it, comedy, adventure,  intrigue, entertainment and sumptuous art- I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything else quite like it for a while.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Top Shelf to publish Ludovic Debeurme's Lucille sequel, Renee, this November

I never really understand people who complain about not having enough good comics to read- I feel (despite trying pretty damn hard) I can never keep up with the amount of quality stuff released and so much passes me by. Like this- Top Shelf publishing Renee, French comic writer and artist Ludovic Debeurme's sequel to the award winning Lucille. Released in French in 2011, the same year Lucille got its English language translation, the 544-page follow up will finally hit stores, both digital and mortar, this November and is available to pre-order now.
French graphic novelist Ludovic Debeurme returns with a devastating sequel to his prize-winning graphic novel LUCILLE. While Lucille moves back in with her overbearing mother and Arthur serves time in prison for murder, new character Renée becomes obsessed with a married jazz musician twice her age. Debeurme's haunting border-less panels follow these three lovers between dreams and reality, twining their stories together into a poignant and universal search for love. – A deluxe 544-page graphic novel with French flaps.
I loved Lucille: the simple, fine-lined, panel-less art, a narrative that felt natural and never overdone, and, it has to be said, a pretty solid ending. So I'm both curious and excited to see where this sequel goes in terms of direction and tone; it's titled after a new character so that may indicate a shift in focus, but I'm not the kind of person who demands more of the same (apart from in standards). As long as Debeurme can make the transition and choices of the characters believable and it's close to the quality of his debut, this should be one of the highlights of the year.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Tiny Pencil: an anthology of graphite gorgeousness


Tiny Pencil is a brand new, all-graphite, comic and art anthology edited, produced and bought to life by artists and creators, Amber Hsu and Katriona Chapman. It is also, quite simply, one of the most exquisite publications you will see this year. As comics and arts appreciators, there’s a vast amount of publications out there vying for attention, but it’s clear from Vanessa Foley’s spectacular opening pages that Tiny Pencil is genuinely a cut above the rest.
It’s not even the idea of going back to basics in an increasingly digital age, or the concept of getting something that’s less manufactured and more real, but the outstanding quality of the work contained here which comes together to make this 70-page book of graphite gorgeousness a composite special. Perhaps it also had something to do with reading so many comics on that same scale of  good, that when Tiny Pencil dropped onto my doormat, it just felt gloriously fresh.
I was pretty taken with it (in case you couldn’t tell) so I got in touch with co-editor and contributor Amber Hsu with a few questions as to how the whole idea and project  had come about  (interview followed by my review, so keep scrolling!):
Where did the idea of doing an all-pencil work anthology come from?
I work a lot in pencil and had originally started a personal sketchblog called tinypencil some time ago. It was going to be a rigorous daily posting of all pencil drawings and general carbon gratification. It’s still up somewhere, and has all of zero entries! I’d never been able to work on it because of other commitments, but I never let go of that idea of doing something graphite focused.
Then last year I went to a couple of comics and small press fairs. And I just fell in love with the kind of creative energy that was going on. I often feel with art, particularly in many gallery situations, the artwork always feels a bit off limits, like it’s speaking in a monologue at the viewers. This felt very different to me, very collaborative, like there was a constant dialogue between creator and viewer.
And I felt a connection between the creative spirit of those fairs and pencil – maybe because pencil is such a democratic instrument. It is a medium totally without barriers, yet capable of very extraordinary things.
So, I realized then that the pencil sketchblog idea and that kind of creative energy needed to come together. So one day over a trip to a small publisher’s fair, I roped Katriona in. She and I had always connected over a love of graphite illustration and I’d long admired her (mostly all pencil!) handmade books. Then it just grew from there!
How did you go about curating contributors?
Well being generally huge fans of all these artists, that part was (almost) easy. We already spend a lot of time just nosing around the web, in books, or at book fairs just looking and admiring stuff.  We already knew the work of many of the artists for Issue 1. But we also found some new ones along the way. There are loads of things to love all over the web, on twitter, instagram, tumblr. We’ve also been getting some great submissions, and have found a few artists that way.
Most importantly though, we looked for work that spoke to us with a strong personal voice—work that was evocative and imaginative, fantastical, or even a bit unsettling. Tiny Pencil is definitely less about realism, and more about personal, artistic visions expressed through a graphite lens. I’m generally a big fan of work coming from its own imagined place, because those things usually have really strong voices that are kind of compelling it into existence already.
Now that all sounds very serious – but Tiny Pencil can also be about fun and we do have a really fun summer project coming up so stay tuned!
I  really like the idea of giving different artists the same tool and seeing what they come up with- a level playing field of sorts. Is there a lot of different types of pencils and graphite tools that people use now to achieve different effects, or is a pencil a pencil ?
You’d be surprised what a heated argument that question could start! A pencil is definitely not just a pencil. For instance, do you go hardcore old school with wood and lead? Or opt for a mechanical? These are pressing questions! Plus there are great subtleties with graphite in terms of varying hardness which can really affect depth and tone. Then there’s also charcoal and graphite powders to consider. And coloured pencils too…
Then there’s the approach as well. For example, Issue 1 contributor, Yoko Tanaka who hasn’t really worked in pencil much, used a rather novel approach. Being a fabulously talented painter, Yoko used leads of varying softness and worked it into areas of the paper with a cloth like a paint. The result was really quite haunting and extraordinary. It was incredibly inspiring to see someone try something new and really push the medium to such great effect.
I love the forest theme for the first issue, it’s very rich in association and folklore. Some anthologies have themes, others don’t- is the decision to give contributors a theme a way of having a unifying thread in the work, a cohesion or something else?
Yes, having a theme definitely helped bring all the work into a cohesive whole.  I think it also helped give the project a more collaborative spirit. We also wanted each issue to have it’s own unique flavour — so that each one would have its own personality and be something you could really get into and want to come back to again and again.
TP could quite easily have been an art publication with beautiful illustrations. Where did the idea to include comics come from and what do you think they add?
We are great lovers of story and work that has a sense of narrative. So comics fit in beautifully with that spirit. Plus we’re just huge comics fans, and as so many comics have beautiful and distinctive illustration styles, it just seemed natural to put them in. Like I said, Tiny Pencil is really about the worlds the artists inhabit. Some artists bring that viewpoint to life in a single image, and others do it with multiple panels and some words.
We also get lots of messages from readers saying how much they like the comics and telling us which ones are their favourites. I think the comics are also great for readers because you are asked to engage in a dialogue with the pages and really enter into a story – and that can really make something worth coming back to again and again.
The woods and forest have long been fertile ground for the imagination, for magic, mystery and the mystical- that whole concept of an enchanted forest, and Tiny Pencil sees its contributors take that theme, infuse it with their own singular vision and interpretation to produce pieces at once haunting and dreamy, powerful and evocative, funny and engaging. In the interview above, Hsu talks about looking for artists with a voice, with something to say or convey, their own sense of story and their own individual way of getting that across through their art, and that has, I think, lead to some bold work here.
Beginning with Vanessa Foley’s extraordinary renderings of birds, the term photo-realism is a disservice to what she manages to achieve,  imbued as they are with life- in the softness and sheen of their feathers, the texture of their claws, their plump breasts and beady, not unfriendly eyes. It’s painstaking, beautiful work. Similarly, there’s a world of detail in Rachel M Bray’s stunning forest landscape, seemingly normal, but  the more you look at it the more you see: it’s more a lost kingdom, visible to only a few- is that a person lying forgotten entwined in in leaves and vines, or is it simply a mound of leaves and wood.
Wonderland references are two-a-penny in pop culture, but the ones that work best capture Caroll’s mix of the innocent, caustic, and the trippy, and so we have Amber Hsu’s suited, booted, stressed white rabbit standing over an axe embedded in a wood-cutting block, arms wrapped around his head and peering back at you with a strenuous, bulging eye, while ominous looking flies occupy a ream of creamy space overhead. The composition and spacing of the sparse elements is well thought out: making the 3 elements the focus and leaving plenty of space for the imagination to connect and fill.
Even with the use of various graphite tools, it’s amazing to see the  difference in effects achieved from piece to piece- it makes you realise and appreciate more than ever how  personal art is to the creator and how much they bring of themselves, their ideas to every work. Alexandra Higlett’s comic explores another folklore tale: the legend of the selkie. Her thick, dark pencils and smudgy lines and shading lends it the sense of atmosphere to which it aspires. Lisa Evans had me gazing in befuddle awe as to how she manages to gain such luminosity and lighting, while Yoko Tanaka’s hazy, post apocalyptic landscapes somehow amalgamated both beauty, destruction and a quiet hope.
When I first came across Nick Sheehy’s illustrations and comics, I found them a bit samey, his figures a bit stiff, but the taxidermy effect -particularly in his chicken head characters- is deliberately disconcerting, and I’m now a fully converted fan. I like that he’s established this world or setting with characters and a narrative of sorts- one which is equally impactful in colour or black and white.The animal heads protruding from one another’s mouths always gives me a cannibalistic feeling (an interpretation, not an urge to eat people, I should clarify), and it’s interesting to see the combinations he chooses and pondering the reasoning and meaning behind those.
It’s interesting also, to see Luke Pearson’s work minus colour and technology- almost unrecognisable if it weren’t for the signature Pearson character features: rounded heads, noses and eyes. It has a totally different feel to it- a lot more shading and texture going on to try and give it more oomph. I hope we get to see more comic artists trying their hand at this: it’s fascinating to see more ‘raw’ work, and the differences bought about by changing tools.
To be frank, I could continue writing about the work in Tiny Pencil for a while- it is a hugely impressive body of work, but instead I would like to simply urge you to get hold of a copy and experience it for yourself. It’s lovely to welcome another great comics and art anthology onto the block, and if future issues continue to maintain this level of excellence, I, for one, look forward to them eagerly.
Many thanks to Amber Hsu and Katriona Chapman for their time

Two for Tuesday: Mare Odomo's Internet, Sam Alden's Backyard

I like pre-ordering comics- not for any particularly altruistic reasons, but if I know I’m going to end up buying a certain comic anyway (due to the artists or writer involved) pre-ordering simply helps everyone involved. I then, of course, promptly forget about it until a mystery package turns up on my doormat weeks later, which is a pleasant surprise in itself. 
Towards that matter, here’s a couple of guaranteed awesome comics that I’ve pre-ordered that may slip under people’s radar. They’re by two extremely talented artists- the pretty prolific Sam Alden, and the awesome Mare Odomo of Pokemon  ’Letters to an Absent Father’ fame.  Both artists actually have pretty big Tumblr followings, so perhaps they’re not as under the radar as I think, but buy the comics- barring a horrible dip in quality they’re certain to be very good at least and are nicely priced too.

Internet Comics by Mare Odomo, $5, published by Secret Prison: Doing pretty much what it says on the tin- comics about life on the interwebs in Odomo’s unique style. I’ve seen excerpts and it is PRETTY.

Backyard by Sam Alden, $5, published by Sonatina Comics'Backyard is a comic about housemates in New Orleans. The housemates are vegans and anarchists and community organizers, and the story follows them through a humid summer of small dramas and petty arguments; meanwhile, their friend Molly is living in the backyard and slowly… transforming.' 

Go,go, GO! You can thank me later.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Otomo, Nobrow, and Comme des Garcons collaborate


As a comics fan, it’s always nice to see the medium get wider recognition from other fields, although perhaps not as surprising in the past few years of pop culture dominance, thanks in large part to blockbusting comic film adaptations. But there’s Marvel and DC influencing ‘wham!’ sweatshirts from Topshop, and then there’s the  slightly more left-field collaborations you don’t see coming, like James Jean creating concepts and illustrations for Prada products.  The news of Japanese fashion house Comme des Garcons teaming up with manga deity Katsuhiro Otomo, author of the seminal  Akira, probably falls somewhere in between on that scale of influence and weirdness .
But there’s another name involved in that pairing, that I kept seeing crop up in all the links and articles I read: that of British art and comics publishers, Nobrow. Despite all that clicking, I couldn’t quite work outhow exactly they were involved, but an email exchange later, things were clearer. Here’s Nobrow co-founder and publisher, Sam Arthur, on how the collaboration came about:
Comme des Garcons approached us to ask if they could do a kind of mash-up of some of the work from our early editions of Nobrow magazine with the work of Otomo. We cleared it with the artists CDG requested to use the images of and gave it our blessing. It seemed like a good opportunity to feature in a creative project with a very interesting iconic fashion brand, so we went for it!
All of our artists that have been involved have been really pleased with the results (they were given sign off approval on all of the work).



(Comme des Garcons collage images featuring Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira artwork and Richard Hogg’s ‘Jungle’ illustrations for Nobrow 2)  
I think that’s a really cool thing for both Nobrow and their artists to be involved in- and indicative of their ever growing reach (with the company also looking to open a US office); it’s great to think that their fantastic comics and publications are on the radar of a Japanese fashion house. It may not initially seem like the likeliest of triumvirates, but if you think about the sensibilities shared: artistic and aesthetic excellence, it’s very befitting somehow.
But what are these mashed up collages being used for? Well, at the beginning of each season, Comme des Garcons publish a mini catalogue for their mail order clients which features the work of a particular artist, with around 40 separate pamphlets produced over the duration of the year. The idea is when these are put together they create and read as a book on their own (rather like comic issues and trades).
The recently released Spring/Summer catalogue depicts Otomo’s charcters Shōtarō Kaneda and Kei on the cover in a image familiar to comic fans. Designed by CDG founder Rei Kawakubo, the publication showcases Otomo’s Akira artwork in a series of collages put together and coloured by Kawakubo herself. As with previous artists featured in the catalogue, Otomo’s art will also be used in store displays and on greetings cards, and while nothing has been announced, it is expected that CDG will also produce exclusive collaborative items following the tradition set by predecessors.
Otomo is the first Japanese artist to feature in the brand’s publication.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Review: Relish- food and comics

A few years ago, if you were told about the rise of the Internet and asked to predict one of the top things that people would blog and post about, can you honestly say food would have been up there as a contender? And by food, I don’t mean cookery, recipes and dedicated food sites, but Facebook statuses, Tweets, Instagram photos, all that jazz. Out of all the little banalities of life, who would’ve thunk that narrating what we eat would be the common denominator of web sharing, and in such a wholly ubiquitous fashion.
Telling strangers on the net what you’re eating isn’t groundbreaking, constructive or thrilling to others in any way- by and large it reflects a personal enjoyment of consumption that has or is about to take place, made more understandable, I think, if you’re of the view that food is one of life’s true pleasures, and not of my sister’s mindset; she who see food as fuel and a necessity to survive, not caring  particularly about taste as long as it’s not detrimental to her health and fulfills her needs (yes, she really is my sister).
Lucy Knisley, it’s safe to say is, is firmly in the former camp. Knisley’s Relish, a book that follows her through various periods and moments in her life framing them in relation to her culinary experiences, has been one of the most anticipated releases of the year for many- not least myself. For Knisley, these ‘taste-memories’ are no tenuous associations: she has been immersed in food culture in some form or manner since she was born- her mother a chef, her father himself a cook and discerning consoeur, her uncle owner of a food-shop selling gourmet comestibles and homemade food-  and has generally been raised in an environment filled with ‘cooks and bakers, eaters and critics.’
Growing up, food remained a strong presence in different ways; working in cheese shops, farmer’s markets, growing and sourcing ingredients, getting involved in the business side of things. So Knisley’s relationship with food is much deeper than your average persons, and despite feeling a little different for being a cartoonist, it’s a theme that turns up  naturally and with happy regularity in her work. They marry well, do food and comics.
The book is divided into chapters, with each one recounting a specific food-related memory and a recipe for that food then given at chapter’s close. Both the experiences and foods are diverse in range, from a trip to Mexico where her friend Drew learns about the penalties for smuggling porn across the border, backpacking through Europe and discovering the world’s best croissants in Venice and feverishly attempting to recreate them to no avail, to navigating horrible lemonade chicken cooked by good friends.
As someone who salivated over Enid Blyton’s terse descriptions of hard-boiled eggs and cold ginger beer, Knisley’s recollections paired with her drawings are almost a sensory overload (her move to the country with its ripe, colourful fruits and freshly plucked produce left me feeling a little light-headed).  That said, what I particularly enjoyed here wasn’t what I expected. And that’s the way in which each memory, each anecdote genuinely tells you a little about the author and her life- it’s not just ‘hey, delicious food art!’, it’s much more thoughtful and reflective than the bright colours and subject matter belie. In between food chopped and dishes cooked, there are insights into her close relationship with her mother, attempts at bonding with her father over dinners, queasy coming of age experiences shared with friends who are still friends, the developing of a cook’s resilience and tenacity.
Having said that (paradoxically) -and this is my sole criticism of the book- there is a strange sense of remove and disconnect of Knisley as a character. The reader is reading about her without any strong emotional investment or relatability on her behalf. Relish arrived in the post the same day I got Christophe Blain’s In The Kitchen with Alain Passard; in that book, a charming and effusive Blain slings an arm around the readers shoulder and guides him around, managing to thoroughly absorb him, as a novice, into the life of a Michelin-starred chef. This may have something to do with the first person narration, planted in the present but talking about the past, making it difficult to get a sense of Knisley as a person today.
I’ve always been a big fan of Knisleys cartooning and it’s as accomplished and attractive as ever here, with line and expression on point. To my mind, she’s the only cartoonist who controls the art so deftly in terms of what it conveys emotionally, perfectly straddling the realms of cartoony while maintaining an aspect of brevity. Make no mistake, Relish is a great achievement, pulling off a truly tricky combination of genres and tones to produce a book that will not only make you want to get into the kitchen and fondling food at the farmer’s market, but one I am confident will be a highlight of the comics year.
Oh, and a top tip for when you’re reading this: surround yourself with tasty snacks because you will be needing them.