Thursday, 11 July 2013

The beautiful, starry adventures of Astro Dog!

I’ve been meaning to flag up Paul Harrison-Davies‘ new web-comic, Astro Dog since its launch on June 28th. I know of Paul’s work from his contributions to great British comic anthologies ink + Paper and Solipsistic Pop, and his unqiuely coloured artwork is really, quite simply, lovely, and recognisable off the bat. Astro Dog, a beautiful silent comic that updates Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, is carried by the charm and character in those illustrations. It’s set a little apart from other web-comics not only in terms of the style, but by it’s lack of dialogue and child friendliness.
My plan initially was to just do a quick ‘go look’ post, but Astro Dog deserves more than that, so I got in touch with Mr Harrison-Davies himself for the lowdown on all things space-canine (you can read Astro Dog here):
Can you tell us what AstroDog is about?
Astrodog is about a little dog (maybe a Jack Russell?) that has space adventures. She lives in a house that has more than a passing resemblance to my own, but I don’t think my dog has a space suit. It is, hopefully, just a fun yarn that I hope gets a bit sillier as it goes. Being silly in real life is easy, writing silly is really hard!
Did you envision AstroDog as a web-comic or did something in particular encourage you to go the web-comic route?
I first had the idea of Astrodog quite a while back as a picture book. Later I was asked to pitch to a brilliant children’s comic called The DFC and  they decided on Astrodog. Unfortunately The DFC folded before Astrodog was able to appear. Another publisher showed an interest in Astrodog but nothing came of it and I lost heart a little. After a while I kept thinking back to Astro and decided I should just finish it for myself and not worry about publishers. Initially I had no idea what to do with it, but an article about using webcomics as a way to drum up interest in a Kickstarter fund made me think I might as well start posting it online.
Online comics are great, and I wasn’t resistant (as the landscape format show, but that was also a call back to Astro’s picture book days, and at one point was going to be a half page strip in The DFC), but I did wonder if the pacing of Astrodog was suited to the format – being designed as a one pager in a weekly anthology. I did mess with the pacing quite a bit from it’s original DFC version, but it was still told a certain way in my head.

Is all the artwork and colouring digitally produced?
The line work is ink and brush on watercolour paper (for added texture) and coloured digitally. I experimented earlier with drawing blocks of colour with a brush pen instead of linework and altering those colours digitally and this technique found it’s way into Astrodog which is where some of the slight texturing comes in (you can find more detail on Paul’s process here).
Astro-Dog is very child friendly- do you think there’s much of a children’s audience for online comics?
Thank you, child friendly was the aim. I’ve done a few text free comics and the idea for Astrodog was that children struggling to read would be able to enjoy it. Since I started Astrodog I’ve changed my mind a little in this regard (probably because I’m studying to become a primary school teacher) and plan to use more text, but to be careful and make sure it’s compatable with Systematic Synthetic Phonics, which is how many children are taught to read.
I’m not sure what the online audience is like, I’ve very new to this side of comics and making it up as I go! Ideally I’d like to say reaching all ages online, especially with tablets, is a great idea, but it all depends on whether children have access to the internet, or tablets. There’s also the problem of how do people find the comic – obviously that’s easier for bigger names, but no so easy for me. I really do hope there’s a children’s audience out there, and that they find Astrodog.

Too soon to ask maybe(!) but do you have plan for AstroDog and his story, or will you see how and where it goes?
Well, the first Astrodog story is going to be about 32 pages long, and at the moment I’ve drawn up to page 27, so I know where this story is going. I’m unsure if there’ll be more Astrodog stories, it depends if I come up with something suitably silly. Once Astrodog is finished I have a short story to do for a children’s anthology of horror comics, called Boo!, that I’m putting together with some friends. After that I hope to start a new webcomic called Paint Girl, which I’ve been wanting to ever since my daughter came up with the character.
PaintGirl pin up by Paul Harrison-Davies

The Suitcase: what not to do with dead pets


It begins with an ordinary, yet unfortunate, circumstance. After agreeing to feed her neighbour’s cat and dog while they’re on a weekend break, Helen, on a visit to feed the pets, finds the dog dead. Nothing untoward; Cruncher had had, by all accounts, a long and good life, but still upsetting to find when you’re house-sitting someone’s pets, and sad for the owners to not be able to say a proper goodbye.
She gives her holidaying neighbours a call to inform them of Cruncher’s demise and it’s agreed that it’s best for Helen to take care of things while they’re away and so another quick call to the vets establishes that they’ll be able to make the necessary arrangements in lieu of burial. It’s only once she puts the phone down Helen realises she has no means of transporting Cruncher’s body to the vets.
Stepping outside, she tries to ask Richard, her other (vile) neighbour to give her a lift in his car, but he’s not having any of it; shoutily reminding her about a favour she agreed to for him and ignoring anything else she says. And so Helen, desperate to make the given time at the vets, decides to bundle poor dead Cruncher into a trolley suitcase and take the bus there instead. Thus begins a journey of escalating oddness, decisions that seemed perfectly viable at the time and the dreaded ‘c’ word: consequences.
Of course, once you decide to put your neighbour’s dead dog in a  suitcase and embark on public transport, chances are a ne’er-d-well will want to chat to you about where you’re going and what’s in the travel case. And of course, you don’t want to seem like a weirdo who kills animals and keeps them in luggage, so you make up an ill thought out cover story about your nephew’s computer. Which is all a young ne’er do well wants to hear from an older lady on the bus. Reader, he steals it.
And that’s all I’m going to tell you about the plot. Berry divides The Suitcase into 3 chapters: each following one of the 3 neighbours, the interlocking tales following on from one another chronologically and making up the larger narrative. Another pet death (this time suspected murder), a hilarious, cringe-worthy Top Gear audition and an accident  sees a descent into a hilarious farce. It’s a very British book in many (great) ways: the escalation of events and the catalogue of mistakes and manners is reminiscent of the best sitcoms and sketch shows.
I’m a big fan of Berry’s art (there need to be more watercolour comics in the world); he has a style that’s incredibly lovely and accomplished, the kind that’s incredibly easy on the eyes and not obtrusive to the reading experience, instead furthering and enhancing it quietly. He has a fine, controlled line that results in just the right degree of expressiveness without descending into messy territory, rather like a reined in Quentin Blake. My only wish would be that the art conveyed movement better as at times it can feel a bit flat.
Berry’s paints and colours are beautiful too- there’s an  autumnal feel to a lot of his work (Cat Island, After We Shot the Grizzly), lots of browns, oranges and purples, yet I always get the feeling his palette is very pastel-ly- even when that’s not the case, perhaps due to the light washes. His colouring choices are harmonious and cohesive; he’s started using brighter colours increasingly, seen again here with the recurrance of red, acting as a signifier for ensuing danger, action, ridiculousness.  I particularly like the way he introduces it in different ways; as a mood wash in the bus scenes, as a character with the brash overbearing car and, of course, as the colour of the eponymous suitcase itself . That pop of colour brings with it an element of anticipation as you being to subliminally associate it with the occurrence of events.
The Suitcase is a lovely, witty antidote to a lot of comics work out there- work that forgoes originality and story for experimentation or perceived depth. I’d been hankering after a longer book from Berry for a while and after 50 pages of this, I was still after more, that’s how good the man is. Publishers Blank Slate are currently charging only £4 (which is about $6) for shipping to anywhere in the world which is all the incentive you need to grab a copy of this: it’s a fab, hugely enjoyable comic and you’ll be all the better for reading it.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Caleb Goellner & Buster Moody's amazing TMNT fan comic

I've been looking forward to this TMNT fan comic by Buster Moody  and Caleb Goellner since Moody posted the above cover art for it back in April. Now available for you to download for free in both PDF and DMZ format, it's a really fun 6-page short story with amazingly stunning visuals; the colouring is gorgeous and there's a whole load of detail to pore over- I'd be more than happy to pay for a print copy of this. So yeah, just thought I'd point you in this way as a very cool thing o check out, if you haven't already.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The buy list: Kilian Eng's Object 10

You may remember me mentioning coming across Swedish artist Kilian Eng's work at ELCAF last month. I knew the name rang a bell, and it was because of this poster he designed for Mondo of Jodorowsky's Dune documentary film, that was making the inter-webs rounds a while back. Eng works almost exclusively in digital and his work is a great  advocate for the medium, with a focus on colour and architecture and landscapes: considered vistas.

His biography states that much of his inspiration 'comes from the interest in both classic and futuristic architecture, surrealism, science fiction, theater scenography, different elements and shapes in nature as well as in urban landscapes' and I would say that's pretty apparent in his work- compositions, framing and layouts- certainly in Syklus, the only physical work of his I own.

Which is a round about way of getting to this point: Floating World Comics have the exclusive sale of Eng's new book, Object 10. A follow up to his previous monograph of work, Object 5, the 80 page long hardback book comes in a European album format and contains a selection of his most recent illustration and design work as well as couple of older pieces. The 'regular' edition runs to 2000 copies worldwide, with a  special signed edition limited to 200 copies. More information and order details here.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

John Allison's out of hours comics

hulk (2)

When someone is comic-ly consistently excellent as John Allison is -and he truly is excellent, folks- updating his ScaryGoRound web-comics, Bad Machinery and more recently, Giant Days , 4 times a week (!)  with excellently written witty and sharp cartoons, it is easy, as readers, to slip into a state of take-it-for-granted-ness.
It becomes part of your daily routine, click on the comic via your Facebook page  or just accessing it via the bookmarks/favourites bar. Sometimes it can take the artist doing something a little different and seeing them operate outside of  the parameters you’re used to, to make you appreciate their brilliance. I always enjoy it when Allison riffs away with the odd superhero or pop-cultural-y referential cartoon on his Tumblr blog, and recently he’s treated his readers to 2 in the space of a week.
The first comic features the Hulk going clothes-shopping, and the second is a tribute to that monolith of superhero- television programming, Smallville (oh, the memories!). As Allison helpfully reminds:
Smallville, you may remember, was a show about Superman. It ran for 43 seasons.
Heh heh. They’re both pretty brilliant. I can imagine it’s nice now and again to take a break from the day job- regardless of how much you love the world and characters you’ve created- and mess around with other stuff. Of course, Allison’s messing around is a few notches above what you and I would do- his art is always lively and zesty, and there’s a warm humour in both these shorts that seems to come from a genuine affection of the source material coupled with the recognition of the more ridiculous apsects of super-heroics that we all like to poke fun at. More would be a fine thing.
small (2)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Read it now: James Harvey's brilliant Masterplasty

James Harvey's superb comic, Masterplasty is now available to read free online, at the Blank Slate Books website .Originally published in anthology, Secret Prison 7, Masterplasty is a prelude to Harvey's upcoming book, Zygote, to be published by Blank Slate Books in 2014. 

Masterplasty is the name given to a procedure undertaken by people after a new scientific discovery is made: the existence of apiece of cartilage in the brain which, when stimulated or modified, allows the host body to totally transform its appearance. Tomo, like many people, is convinced his life, the people around him, everything, would improve if he was just better looking, so he begins a journey to settle upon the perfect face.

It's horrible and fantastic and funny and simply gorgeously illustrated and coloured, and you really must go read it for yourself. I haven't seen much of James' work since his autobiographical comic, The Life of Mr Harvey James Teacher, and it's great to see an artist just do something completely different to his previous efforts, and do it so well. Really very excited for Zygote now.

Harvey wrote a little about his art process over on his Tumblr blog:

‘A couple of people asked how I got the old-timey comic book texture on Masterplasty.  Truth is, it’s not a texture… I achieved it the same way they would have achieved it back in the early 20th century. Top left is the final image- around it are the three separations that go together to make it.  The whole thing is built from three layers of a single colour each. 

Zygote uses the full fange of colours that digital colouring offers to us.  Digital makes choosing colours so easy, and yet comic art produced a hundred years ago using traditional methods still looks so much more vibrant and intelligently conceived than much of what gets produced today. Digital can be great, but it also makes us lazy, I think.

So, I thought it’d be a good exercise to ask myself ‘what would happen if I made a comic using roughly the same process they used to make newspaper comics like Little Nemo around 1905?’. Masterplasty’s my current answer to that question. I’m looking into getting it printed for real in the kind of oversized formats readers would have been accustomed to in 1905- right it looks like it’s going to be pretty expensive, but if I hit on a way of doing it affordably I’ll let you know.’ 

Monday, 1 July 2013

'I don't get why people write stories without sex in them' -Julia Gfrorer

My interview /feature with artists and comics creator Julia Gfrorer went up on The Beat today. I don't think I'll reproduce it in full here (it's pretty lengthy), but here's an excerpt. Please go have a read if it piques your interest:

“Her work resonates with the reader because it succeeds in harbouring a greater depth- ostensibly it explores humanity: people and their wants and desires, their extents and extremes, their complex simplicities, and always coming from a place of such feeling and emotion; the crux of what drives anyone to do anything, the crux of being. It’s made all the more stronger by a tangible, focused essence lent to it by its creator, and Gfrӧrer’s willingness to explore herself, her emotions, things that trouble or interest her, and spin all that into a true fiction laid out on the page.

‘For as long as I can remember I’ve used drawing as a way to manifest my darkest thoughts: if it scares me, if it makes me cry, if I feel ashamed for thinking it I’ll try to put it on the page and address it. I want to hunt my demons down and ride them until they die of exhaustion.

There’s a confrontational element to my stories, though my drawings tend to be, despite my efforts to the contrary, very delicate, and I think I’ve only been able to get those elements to work well together in an intimate medium like a book.  Maybe it’s just that I feel safer spilling my guts into a book, which, in a sense, receives its audience in private.

I wrote a comic last summer about Athanasius Kircher taking me on a tour of the world underground, and when I’m afraid to go he tells me, “It is the duty of those who possess even a little courage to explore the world within, and to map it for those not destined to explore.” Without meaning to, I was writing my mission statement.”