Monday, 31 March 2014

Free read: new Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes comic 'The Key'

A bit of a treat over at the BBC Magazine this Monday morning, by way of a beautiful, free to read, new comic by Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes. Titled 'The Key,' the comic has been produced by Hughes and Morrison for the BBC as part of their freedom2014 season, investigating what freedom means in the modern world, and is entirely wordless. That choice fits in with the themes the artists are exploring in The Key, a dystopian and highly controlled future society, where any facet of individuality is forbidden. People wear collars with locks around their necks, and the rigid ruling state (drones are shown on the skyline, hovering ominously, there's a presence of armed soldiers) is intent on making each and every key for these exactly the same- so that one key could essentially be used for all, with no difference between person to person.

There's a brief interview with Morrison and Hughes where they talk more about the ideas and process of making The Key. 'What I love about comics is they way they allow you to talk about big ideas like freedom, meaning, what we're all here for and why,' says Morrison. [In The Key] It's a totalitarian state where freedom isn't exactly top of the list. We have a rebel who wears a key around his neck [instead of a lock collar]. His key represents his own individual expression. With the state seeming to execute this character for dissent, many people realise they have keys of their own. It triggers a landslide and people start to act,' he explains. 'The quest for freedom and self-expression is a perennial story, it's always current in one way or another, says Hughes, 'There's always somewhere in the world where someone is trying to control others' expression.'

It's a succinct little comic, gorgeously stylised by Hughes, as ever, with the one panel scroll making it simple to follow. There seems to be have been a discernible increase in the use of comics as reportage in inventive ways- most noticeably in The Guardian and BBC News magazine- and both online, which is really pleasing to see, and an interesting development. This is the first time I've seen such well-regarded and popular comic creators produce a comic, however. I wonder if anyone has tried pitching comic journalism features to either publication, and how responsive they would be.

When dinosaurs ruled the Earth

I commissioned the amazing Warwick Johnson Cadwell to draw one of my favorite moments on celluloid (and there are quite a few), from one of my favourite movies a couple of months back, and last week I returned home from a not-great day at work to a huge A3 padded envelope in the post containing, quite literally (in both the new and old definitions of the word), happiness. So anyway, I though I would share the rad-ness with you.

Here's a screen-cap of the scene from Jurassic Park that I sent to Warwick:

Which he then drew and inked in black and white on a thick A3 paper:

And then scanned and coloured digitally to be produced as a gorgeous A4 print (encased in a protective plastic sleeve):

Here's a close-up of the print:

I got a few goodies, along with the original artwork and print commission pieces- a couple of postcards (one which I've already misplaced :/ ), and Collected Views and Comics, Warwick's latest book, collecting various short comics, pin-ups and commissions he's undertaken (mine is in there, along with another Jurassic Park one): Ripley from Alien, Adele Blanc-Sec, Rosarch, Martian Manhunter, and loads more. Super chuffed to have this, as Mr Cadwell's a pretty busy guy so having anything new of his in print is a real treat. I really love the cover/design of it, too- the strip along the top with the title, the illustrated band with the monkeys and gorillas going a bit berserk on that wonderful tree and the contrasting block of orange colour. Spiffy.

And a couple of the comics pages- look not a word on my photo-taking/editing skills, alright? The brown/gray scale images are of sea settings/sailor communities, aka, the thing wot Cadwell Johnson does best; mark my words, if he were ever to do a long-form comic with an ocean and docks location, with boisterous women and men singing and drinking and fighting and making all sorts of merry, that would be the best shit ever.

If you want to commission your own piece of awesome, you can do so here at Cadwell's shop- you'll find the books and other bits and bobs there, too.

2014 Doug Wright award finalists announced

The Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning announced their prize finalists for 2014 on Friday. Celebrating 10 years since its founding this year, the awards aim to recognise the best in English-language comics (or translations of French) by Canadian cartoonists, in 3 categories: best book, a 'spotlight' award  bestowed upon cartoonists deserving of wider recognition, and a prize for the best experimental or 'avant-garde' comic. The annual ceremony takes place on the Saturday evening at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Below is a list of nominees in each category:

Best Book: 
  • Palookaville #21 by Seth (Drawn and Quarterly) 
  • Paul Joins the Scouts by Michel Rabagliati (Conundrum Press) 
  • Science Fiction by Joe Ollmann (Conundrum Press) 
  • Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée (Drawn and Quarterly) 
  • Very Casual by Michael DeForge (Koyama Press) 

Spotlight Award (a.k.a. 'The Nipper') recognising Canadian cartoonists deserving of wider recognition
  • Connor Willumsen- Calgary: Death Milks a Cow, Treasure Island, Mooncalf, and Passionfruit 
  • Dakota McFadzean- Other Stories and the Horse You Rode in On 
  • Patrick Kyle- Distance Mover #7 – 12, New Comics #1 - 2 
  • Steven Gilbert- The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge 
  • Georgia Webber- Dumb # 1 – 3 

Pigskin Peters Award, recognising the best in experimental or avant-garde comics: 
  • Calgary: Death Milks a Cow by Connor Willumsen 
  • Flexible Tube with Stink Lines by Seth Scriver 
  • Journal by Julie Delporte
  • Out of Skin by Emily Carroll 
  • Very Casual by Michael DeForge 

I generally prefer awards that keep things tight in relation to number of categories, and Canada has a wealth of cartoonists, currently especially those who seem to be at the forefront of the cartooning zietgiest in formative, important, yet different ways: Michael Deforge, Connor Willumsen, Patrick Kyle, Emily Carroll.

The awards have also announced an additional feature component to the programme at TCAF for 2014, which will see the formal induction of the pioneering artists of the Second World War 'Canadian Whites' comics into The Giants of the North: The Canadian Cartoonists Hall of Fame during the ceremony on Saturday May 10. Here's a little more on the Canadian Whites comics:

'The Canadian Whites were black-and-white comics produced between 1941 and 1946 that contained a host of original (and iconic) Canadian characters such as Johnny Canuck, Canada Jack and Nelvana of the Northern Lights. These characters were created by the likes of Murray Karn, Adrian Dingle, Gerry Lazare, Leo Bachle and Jack Tremblay.'  

Panel from Death Milks a Cow by Connor Willumsen

Friday, 28 March 2014

Monday was an exorcism, Wednesday was a bust

There's this scene in Sam Alden's Hawaii 1997 where the characters turn into blobs and prance upon the beach, and I'm stuck on it. Their lack of definition leaves room to superimpose our own presence, yeah, but there's something else of the scene's anonymity which lends it power. 

Maybe it has something to do with speed. Like drawings made with this loose kind of abandon hurry the half-fold grid Alden has on tap, but more so there seems a need to distant these images from detail, like any time spent on character's faces or anatomy would obstruct the energy/memory of the sequence. This way they're just ceaseless forms bouncing, the smudge of their boxy lines nothing but texture. And it's all about texture - like it is in nearly any other Alden story.

But here, with Hawaii 1997, texture is more so the anchor than the events. That's probably an arguable thing to write because, sure, the story does center on the scene mentioned above, but it's not a comic blanketed by an event like incest or whatever the fuck happened in Backyard. It's more so about an impression, and while the example Alden chooses to depict - children discovering their own paradise before loosing it - is catchy, with a pop hook, the overall description of this comic won't overpower everything else. We're looking at something softer, presenting an opening for the comic's other tendencies to kidnap the conversation. Line art being one of them. 

Granted, I'm not sure this discussion point is something new in the larger Alden dialogue, but with this piece line certainly plays a stronger role because it communicates a recognizable amount of this story's tone. The washed away, disconnected appearance isn't always as abrasive as in the page shown above, but the general aesthetic strings through the comic, and with it comes its synergy to the story or thought. 

Drawn this way, Hawaii 1997 shows these memories how you might feel them - slowed down (thanks to the more cinematic grid in use) and faint, or scattered. You might call the execution cheap - maybe too easy or obvious - but it doesn't seem to matter when it works so well, and, too, it shows Alden as an artist willing - if not interested - in manipulating his style to serve a story he wants to tell. Because this isn't drawn like Backyard or Household, his other hit singles. Those play more upon shading, emphasizing perspectives both within and removed from the narrative. Here ... he's blanketing everything we see in a general haze - one that could either be menacing or romantic - and Alden twists the knob on its prevalence when the story requires it.  

Like with the blobs. It's heavy. It's the moment most called upon in memory, the instance that tainted all the others with its beauty. Taking that the young boy in the comic is named Sam, you could assume this is Alden looking back on something, but in general - to remove the autobiographical reading - it's clear the visual narrator of this story is some years removed from the event. And like with us all - those sorts of moments - we recall them as not bullet points linked in a series of actions but rather a mix of emotions, smells and color. That's how these things ruin everything else, after all, because we cannot analyze them objectively. All the fun stuff - the blonde hair and the giggle - stands in the way. And partly, that's our fault. Because we want to view it as such. We want those sensations to linger. 

And that's how the last page hits so hard. Because it's true. We will search forever to find it again. How could you not when you know what it tastes like?

It's a beautiful ending, and it's a cut above the other spectacles Alden laces his conclusions with because while a grand moment, it doesn't really end there. That's just the second we clocked out. 

News, Views and Oddities #30

News, Views and Oddities, a fortnightly feature where we link to various bits and bobs which have grabbed our attention, encompassing comics, books, illustration, design and film. Clicking fingers at the ready.

I know I tweeted this, but I absolutely love it and can't think of  better way to start a Friday morning than to be confronted by some amazing art: Ryan K's Speed Racer film poster.

This Tove Jansson article on the BBC by Mark Bosworth, written in celebration of the Finnish artist's  birth centenary,  is a good read.

If you haven't read them already, there are new, short interviews with both Bill Watterson and Richard Thompson as the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum holds exhibitions of each artists work. The bigger response has been to Watterson, and excitement over what appears to be a very gradual, increased public interaction.

Speaking of museums, publishers Image have become a corporate member of the Cartoon Art Museum. Tom Spuregon has a little more.  Staying with Tom, him tweeting about this bought it to my attention, and it just makes me smile, even as I find it a bit odd.

I wrote about Lauren Monger a while back; as far as I'm aware she's not published any comics work yet, so the news that she's doing a comic with Space Face Books is pretty exciting.  

I couldn't decide which of these Godzilla posters by Dalton James Rose I liked better, so feast your eyes on both:

Comics you should read:

If you'd like to be a committee member or judge for this years British Comic Awards, applications are now open.

I unfortunately wasn't able to subscribe to Retrofit, with the UK shipping costs simply being too high to afford (even after being cut down), but this Madeleine Flores comic looks great and is now available to order.

Oh, and ditto with Warwick Johnson Cadwell's comic and art book, Collected Views and Comics 2014, which I have a copy of and is worth every penny and then some. I always wish upon wish Cadwell made more comics- he's so good at it.

Here's an excerpt from Dakota McFadzean's new mini-comic, soon to be released with One Percent Press.

Not comics, but I really like these- potentially multi-purpose and the aesthetics are attractive: make your own Tutti Frutti fruit templates - I believe the templates are free to download and use.

And finally, Katsuhiro Otomo draws an Astro Boy cover for Anime Buscience, while  Yoshiyuki Sadamoto takes on Otomo's Akira for the same magazine.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Tintin Thermozéro: everything you need to know about the 'new Tintin'

There was some very interesting -and exciting- news on the comic vines yesterday- Bleeding Cool published a brief piece stating French publisher Casterman's intention to release a new Tintin book, Tintin Thermozéro, apparently completed by Herge and ready to be published in a similar style to Tintin: Alph Art. The provenance of Rich Johnston's piece was this La Parisien article by Christophe Levent- the link is pay-walled and in French, but here's a translation of the whole thing: 

"Former Director of the Angoulême Festival, Benoît Mouchart, 37, has, since last year, been editorial director of Casterman. Since his arrival, his priority has been to bring order to relations between the publisher and Hergé’s rights-holders, which in recent years have been complicated. “It's been done”, he enthuses today. To the extent that new projects, besides Le Malediction, are already in the pipeline.
We're talking about a colorized version of “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets”, his first adventure?Benoit Mouchart: Yes, this is a project that has been embarked upon with the backing of Moulinsart. A test page has even been done, with rather sepia colors. I was a little skeptical at first, but I found it to be a real success. But we have no release schedule .
There is also a completely new adventure in the drawer?Yes, it is an unfinished work called Tintin and Thermozéro, which lies between Tintin in Tibet and The Castafiore Emerald. There are five or six versions of the script , one written by Greg. It’s a very “Hitchcockian” story. Tintin witnesses a car accident, a man is knocked over. He puts his raincoat on the casualty, who eventually dies. He discovers that he’s slipped a paper into his pocket, and that men want it back…
Hergé finally abandoned publishing it because it was too close to albums like “The Calculus Affair”. There is a complete storyboard, and eight pages drawn by Hergé. We are talking of a publication, a bit like we published Alph -Art after his death. But again, there is no date."
(Original article by Christophe Levent)

A rough pencilled page from Tintin Thermozero (via)

As excited as I was about this news, I'm no authority on Tintin or Herge- I'm a fan in the sense that I read all the books when I was a child and own them now to pore over Herge's art in wonder, but I don't know a great deal about the history and context of the series. So I got in touch with Simon Doyle of Tintinologist, the largest and longest running English language Tintin fan site (fansite sounds rather disingenuous, it's an incredible resource), to ask him more about the 'new Tintin.'

Simon, can you provide us with some background here- what is Le Thermozéro?

It’s one of Hergé’s lost books. He had several projects over the years which, for one reason or another never got off the ground: from Tintin in the Far North, and early tale of the Arctic ice floes, to One Day in an Airport, in which Hergé would have had the characters interact and get involved in an adventure in the confines of a terminal building.

So where does it fit in to his time-line?

After work on Tintin in Tibet finished around 1960, Hergé found himself a bit burnt out (not a new experience for him) and bereft of ideas for a new book. He then recalled an article in Marie-France magazine from 1957, by French journalist Philippe Labro, entitled La peur qui vient du futur (Fear from the Future), which recounted an accident at a laboratory in Texas, where two families were contaminated by radioactive pills.

Hergé had filed the article in his notes - he kept extensive files of reference and information - with a note to himself about a bottle of radioactive pills being taken, and involving Tintin as they took effect. Further notes were apparently added, which expanded into Cold War territory, with references to British double-agents Burgess and Maclean, the Bird Brothers (villains from The Secret of The Unicorn) escaped from prison, and a Russian scientist from behind the Iron Curtain.

It sounds like he actually had quite a few ideas then?

Yes, for someone who was stuck he did! However, although he’d these notes, he couldn’t get them into a plot. This led him to speak to Michel Régnier, future editor of Tintin magazine, but at the time a writer (under the pen-name Greg amongst others) of various comics, to see if he could develop these basic elements for the next adventure.

Greg constructed a plot, initially entitled Les Pilules (“The Pills”), which, as it developed, involved an international crime cartel, a silent explosive, and a chase across Europe ending in Berlin. As a late replacement for the radioactive pills as a focus for the adventure, he came up with some sort of super-cold chemical substance, which existed at a temperature below absolute zero (> -273ºC). Greg called this substance “Zero Heater”; Hergé changed this to “Thermozéro”.

So why wasn't Thermozéro published at that point, then?

After eight pages were pencilled (a car-crash on a country road in a rain-storm, in which a man being chased by baddies is fatally injured, but not before he secretly slips a note to Tintin…) Hergé called a halt to the whole affair, and mothballed the project. It wasn’t working. For many years this was assumed to have been because he was dissatisfied with the story - a theory apparently held up by his lukewarm response to the animated film Tintin and the Lake of Sharks, which was also from a Greg story, rather than being written by Hergé.

But that was just an assumption?

Yes- Hergé actually seems to have liked the story, as far as it went: what he found he couldn’t do was work from someone else’s scenario without it cramping his process. He’d work fairly organically, allowing the story to take him new places if he though that there was a dramatic beat or a good gag to be had. That wasn’t a problem as he could just make up the next bit from wherever he’d landed. Being stuck with someone else plotting out everything stifled that, and he just found himself unable to go on.

It’s also possible that the Cold War setting and chase struck him as being too similar to other adventures, especially the recent The Calculus Affair. He had pushed himself in a new direction with Tintin in Tibet, and he might have thought that he’d be going backwards if it became spys, guns and international intrigue again. In point of fact, if it was this feeling of repetition which got to him, Thermozéro might actually have been the exact best thing for him after all, as he began to work out his own plot which was its exact antithesis: a book in which nothing happens, and set entirely within the confines of Captain Haddock’s house.

Without Thermozéro, we might not have had The Castafiore Emerald…

Abandoned sketches for Tintin Thermozero (via)

Am I right in thinking the book wasn't left there?

Something else, which was less well known - in fact hardly known at all, to the point that some still doubt it to this day - was that, rather than discard the script, he passed it to right-hand man and chief studio artist Bob de Moor, and asked him to try and adapt it as an adventure for Jo, Zette & Jocko, Hergé’s second-string series, about a brother, a sister and their pet chimp. He’d no great love for the series which had been demanded of him by publishers looking for comic adventures with a stronger family structure than an independent, gun-toting boy-reporter who had no obvious parental figures could provide.

The series was moribund, but Hergé saw something useable in Le Thermozéro, which was thus taken and re-shaped for these other characters; and then it was shelved again!

Nevertheless, some sample pencilled pages, along with notes and sketches were published in a biography of Bob written by Bernard Tordeur (now the senior archivist at the Studios Hergé). Although these passed largely un-noticed, and many people never saw them, I was fortunate to be given a copy of the bio by my brother, and I filed the information away in the back of my mind. So when I attended a Tintin-themed conference at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich 1o years back, I had the opportunity to ask M. Tordeur  in person about this forgotten J,Z&J version of Thermozéro, and how much of it was done - and he dropped the bombshell that it was effectively complete!

Not “finished” art, but a whole story, worked out and at least sketched up, and that, as far as he could tell, it could be published. He compared that idea to the Tintin and Alph-Art book, which collected Hergé’s last sketches and notes. Nobody had asked him that before, and he’d never volunteered the information.

What is Casterman's role in potentially publishing this 'new Tintin'?

Two or three years ago, Nick Rodwell, husband of Fanny (Hergé’s widow), announced in a press interview that, due to a lack of proper promotion of the books, he was seeking a “divorce” from Casterman, the publisher long associated with the works of Hergé.

Casterman responded by saying that they were surprised, and unaware of any dissatisfaction.Although the full details of the situation at the time haven’t been made public, there was definitely a cooling of relations, which then disappeared from public view.

Can we draw any conclusions from this, do you think?

While it’s possible that Casterman had become complacent, it could be that there was a natural decline in sales - I can’t say, that’s a business matter outside of my knowledge. However, one can imagine that lack of new material didn’t help in keeping the series to the forefront - and there was a complete embargo on any new Tintin adventures, at the behest of Fanny.

She has the last word, being the beneficiary of Hergé’s estate?

Yes. She had decided that Hergé had wanted the series to end with him, and as such, she determined to act on that wish.

So she could allow a new book?

Yes, it nearly happened soon after Hergé died. After being initially advised by several parties including Casterman to allow the studio to finish Alph-Art under the guidance of Bob de Moor, she then had a genuine change of heart, and stopped its completion; the studio was dismantled, the staff let go, cutting off the chance of continuing the series. Years passed, and the decision remained in place: no new work, in respect of Hergé’s wishes.

When did the rumour of a 'new Tintin' book in the pipeline start?

Out of the blue, in a newspaper interview last year, Nick Rodwell fielded a question about new Tintin books, and said yes, it would be possible! However, there were some strings - there might be a new official book, but not until 2052, a year before the copyright lapsed (indeed, possibly as a measure to retain copyright). It was pretty off the cuff, but it was also very unexpected. It allowed for the possibility - while kicking it so far into the future that it wasn’t an immediate issue. But it was the start of a thaw…

So it's pretty much up in the air until then?

Well, then there were changes at Casterman too: it was restructured, Benoît Mouchart (who’d been artistic director of the Angoulême International Comic Festival) took over, and rebuilt the bridges with Moulinsart. They announced a big sponsorship deal with the Musée Hergé, and secondly announcing that they would also produce a lavish book on the production of Cigars of the Pharaoh from B&W original to final colour version, as a celebration of their many years working on Tintin.

Finally we got the unexpected but welcome sight of Mr Rodwell, Benoît Mouchart, Benoît Peeters, and Numa Sadoul (a journalist who, as a student, bagged the biggest interview with Hergé ever done, which became a book and the basis of the documentary film Tintin et Moi) sitting on stage at last year’s Angoulême Festival, discussing the future of Tintin, in a very civil and constructive debate.

Have they announced the new Thermozéro book then?

No, but it threw up the notion that Moulinsart was not discounting new books based on the character - and their tentative suggestions were that we might see a coloured revision of Soviets (indeed it was said that they were already carrying out tests) in an edition more like the other books, and that unfinished stories might be re-vamped, including the long-lost Thermozéro.

As an aside, Nick Rodwell gave a very moving account of how his wife had been on the brink of signing the contract with Casterman to allow Alph-Art to be completed, when she found herself unable to do so because she knew in her heart that Hergé would not have been in favour.

A big worry was that, had Alph-Art gone ahead at the time, it would have been in effect ersatz Hergé, and might have been found wanting, tarnishing his legacy; but now, such a long time since Hergé had died, his reputation is made and secure, and there is a clear line of demarcation between the original books, and anything that might appear by other hands, without his imprimatur.

So the door was open, at least a little, but nothing set in stone?

By the end of the festival the “word on the street” was that they were shooting for a 2017 re-launch, although no such date is mentioned in the debate, and nothing concrete was said - it is/ was all hypothetical.

Where are we now?

It's possible that some sort of version of Thermozéro could appear. The recent newspaper article with Benoît Mouchart repeats much the same position as they had at Angoulême, but with a little more firmness than the hypotheticals of the debate. Casterman have affirmed their interest, said that they are developing a Thermozéro book with Moulinsart, and that they are looking at it being a collection of work in progress, akin to Alph-Art, rather than a finished book by new artists - which is what some recent reports seem to suggest - but there is no firm date for a release as yet.

So to sum up, while we won’t be getting a 62 page standard album as the beginning of a new series, yes, I think it does show that there is a better chance of Thermozéro making some sort of debut now or in the future than there has been since the sixties!'

Many, many thanks to Simon Doyle for his time and patience.

Comics Shelfie: Joe Decie

page from The Listening Agent

I'm pretty excited about this week's Comics Shelfie guest; when I first started getting into comics (beyond Batman), it was the work of UK artists, independent and self published that hooked me in- Dan Berry, John Allison, Warwick Johnson Cadwell, Kate Brown, Luke Pearson, Hannah Berry, Lizzy Stewart and Joe Decie. Via these artists I discovered a spectrum of comic styles and narratives and quite a few of them were also the first creators I clumsily engaged with at comic conventions; all in all, knowingly or unknowingly, through  their work and more, they've been instrumental in my comics growth. It's a testament to the quality of all those I've mentioned that their continued output is still incredibly good -if not ever better, but right now I'd briefly like to talk about one in artist in particular.

If you were to categorise Joe Decie's comics, you might put them under diary comics, or auto-bio, but the downside of labels has always been the constrictions they enforce. Decie's strips are indeed autobiographical, narrating little everyday incidents, but they have a thoughtful lyricism to them, an emotional humour, often wandering into the imagined and fantastical, an effect compounded by the beauty of his ink washed art. He's published 2 superb books so far (amongst a number of minis), The Accidental Salad, and the more recent, excellent The Listening Agent, both of which I recommend unreservedly. 

So it's a real pleasure to have him on the blog today to talk about his comics collection. Over to Joe, then:

'We moved house two years ago, so forgive me that I've yet got round to unpacking my comic books. I know comic book collections are usually pictured neatly displayed, categorised in some sort of complex fashion, and I'd love to join in too, I just haven't got round to it. And I probably never will (my record collection is a different story) 

So anyway, what have I got? a few book shelves full, mixed with the odd cookery or art book. Then a dozen or so boxes as yet unpacked, untouched in two years. Everything I've bought since then is piled up around the house, hidden places or stuffed in drawers. Let me tell you about these books then, it's a little bit of everything, excluding superhero stuff, which I know nothing about. I'm sure if I had half a chance I'd read that too. What there is, is quite a bit of the standard European translations (Sfar, Trondheim, Larcenet, Blain, Gipi, Mawil, Jason, all the Dungeon books, and then some Moebius) Loads of stuff by Bagge, Clowes, Chester Brown, Kaz, Joe Matt, Steve Weissman, Kochalka, Kim Deitch etc. I did used to buy all the Chris Ware Acme books, but would give them as gifts once read. I had no idea they were discontinued. I want them back. 

I have a few bits of Manga; Akira and the like. There's some stuff from my childhood Viz, Astreix, Calvin and Hobbies. I didn't like Tintin then though, picked them up more recently. The back bone of my collection is several large boxes full of mini comics. When the dollar was weak against the pound I bought in bulk from the Poopsheet Distro, just to see what was out there. Since I've been making them I've been happy to trade with others. Trouble is, I amassed too many and I am a hoarder. In recent years I've been systematically making care packages of them to give to people who might like em, so I send UK stuff to US artists and vice versa. It's great to be able to introduce people to work they might like. 


There's nothing unusual or rare in my collection, I passed up a chance to buy that big Kramers Ergot for only £30. What a fool. Oh I do have some Moebius rarities, but they're not mine. Also a complete collection of Eightball, again, not mine. It's all the sort of stuff you'd find in Gosh!, The Beguiling, Page 45, Floating World, Atomic Books coz those are the sort of places I buy em from. I mostly just borrow books from the library these days, Brighton library is brilliant. I don't need to own all these books, it's silly. The signed and sketched books are all treasured I suppose. So let me tell you about three specific books that were important and influential to me as an artist. Of course, theres tonnes of books, but let me single out some...

Mark's Little Book About Kinder Eggs
The first zine I was aware of. Must have been the early 90s, my stepdad, Roger Radio, was doing a lot of Mail Art (also cartooning for Viz) and there would be all kinds of zines and assembled art collections around the house and Marks Little Book About Kinder Eggs caught my eye. It's a tiny photocopied (actually maybe riso) typed on typewriter, cut and paste, DIY book about one mans adventures with Kinder Eggs. A diary documenting his purchases. You should find a copy, it's still in print. Well, after reading this my mind was blown. It was my gateway into the Fluxus and Dada art movements and was responsible for me producing my own zines and becoming heavily involved in Book and Mail Art networks. I'd never seen how easy it was to make something, to just do it.

Mc Sweeney's Quarterly Concern No 13
I was aware of alternative comics before this, I'd read Crumb and Shelton and Tank Girl/Deadline but this book was a real eye opener. It's an amazing anthology of contemporary North American comics artists, a who's who of indie.  I loved the book so much, I bought extra copies to give to friends. I probably picked it up because of the Chris Ware dust jacket, a design student friend of mine had been ripping off his art and until seeing that I was not aware what she was up to. So very naughty. Also, hidden in the folds of the jacket were two mini comics, one of which was by John Porcellino who I knew from years before when I was doing zines. The book also has lots of words in there, but I haven't read those.  It's the best sampler book you can get. Let me just cut and paste the artist list off wikipedia "Lynda Barry, Mark Beyer, Chester Brown, Jeffrey Brown, Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Michael Chabon (as Malachi B. Cohen), Daniel Clowes, David Collier, R. Crumb, Kim Deitch, Julie Doucet, Debbie Drechsler, H. C. "Bud" Fisher, Ira Glass, Glen David Gold, Milt Gross, David Heatley, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Ben Katchor, Kaz, Chip Kidd, Joe Matt, Richard McGuire, John McLenan, Mark Newgarden, Gary Panter, John Porcellino, Archer Prewitt, Ronald J. Rege Jr., Joe Sacco, Richard Sala, Tim Samuelson, Seth, Art Spiegelman, Adrian Tomine, Rodolphe Töpffer, John Updike, Chris Ware, Jim Woodring" see what I mean? 90% of the artists in that anthology were people I went on to buy the back catalogues of their work.

American Elf
There were a few diary type comics I started reading at the same time, but Kochalka spoke to me more than the others, more off the wall I guess. He had real skill for picking brilliant moments in his day and documenting them beautifully. After reading this collection I found his website and started following him there. At some point on his forum I got to talking with him about doing my own online collection and he pointed me to one of the free hosts for webcomics and that same day I became a comic artist. That's the beauty of great art, it inspires. "I can do that" a million of us all shout, but only a few can pull it off well. Last year at SPX I got to meet James and he's a lovely chap, intense, in a good way.'

Many thanks to Joe for his time and participation. You can view all the previous installments of Comics Shelfie here. Remember to stop by on the 9th of April for the next installment.

Michael Cho announces debut graphic novel, 'Shoplifter'

I know I keep saying it, but how good a year for comics is 2014 shaping up to be? The good news for fans of the medium just keeps coming and coming. Yesterday saw artist Michael Cho announce the upcoming publication of his debut graphic novel, Shoplifter. Due for release, this September from Pantheon Books, and judging from Cho's blogpost, the book has been something he's been meticulously labouring over for a while, so  it must be gratifying to finally see completed and  given a publication date. Cho's previously published an art/sketchbook with Drawn and Quarterly, titled Back Alleys and Landscapes, as well as doing cover illustrations for various comics and books. His art style is frankly, absolutely gorgeous (as evidenced by that sublime cover above), so a full length comic book from his is great, great news.

Here's the official plot overview:

'Corinna Park used to have big plans. Studying English literature in college, she imagined writing a successful novel and leading the idealized life of an author. After graduation, she moved to a big city and took a job at an advertising agency—just to pay off her student loans. Now she’s worked in the same office for five years and the only thing she’s written is . . . copy. She longs for companionship (other than her cat),gets no satisfaction from her job, and feels numbed by the monotony of a life experienced through a series of screens. But whenever she shoplifts a magazine from the corner store near her apartment, she feels a little, what? A little more alive. Yet Corinna knows there must be something more to life, and she faces the same question as does everyone of her generation: how to find it?'

Shoplifter will have two-colour illustrations throughout, run at 96 pages and be published in hardback format.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Comics Carousel: something pipeth like a bird

Reviews! Or something approaching them... As ever, click on pictures to enbiggen, and click on bolded titles to lead you to places where you can buy said publications. I was supposed to post these on Friday, but I fell asleep, so here they are now.

Rabbit Stew by Viv Schwarz: Rabbit Stew was originally conceived by Schwarz at an event for a 24 hour comics event- this published version has been coloured and (you can still see the rough, black and white version in its entirety here). It starts off simply enough: a girl and her mum are out riding on a bike and they come across a rabbit. Too late, they see it and unable to stop, the inevitable occurs. The little girl insists on taking the rabbit- at this point still clinging to a thread of life- home, and this is where Schwarz imbibes her narrative with that strange, slightly surreal, almost cruel (in an unvarnished presentation manner, more callous perhaps) vein that runs through a lot of the best children's stories (except this isn't really a story for children).

Mummy and Daddy decide that Jenny needs to deal with this in her own way, so the rabbit is tucked in into a little cradle beside her bed, even though they know it will die very soon. And sure enough, even as the parents see a ghostly figure pass by their window, Jenny wakes up in the middle of the night dragging Mr Rabbit (now very much dead) onto Mummy and Daddy's bed and demanding that they deal with him rightly and properly 'We killed him, And he was alive and bouncy. And it's not right.'.

And you can guess from the title how best they decided to honour Mr Rabbit, even as he hovers over their shoulder in semi ominous/semi friendly spectral form. It's funny and very real, the mum and dad hedging their answers whilst trying to be as honest and open as possible. I love the looseness of Schwarz's drawings; the way she thinks through and navigates from that style to a beautiful realistic rendering of the dead animal spread on the kitchen counter, the effect of that sudden, stark switch up, as the reader is placed in the position of the mum as she looks down, confronted with this thing and what she's about to do.You'll notice the placing of the kettle next to the rabbit is almost an imitation of itself, transparent- really clever, nuanced touches. The thing that really sets off Schwarz's cartooning is something that's difficult to elucidate: it's expressive and appealingly cartoonish, yet has this edge, a rawness, as her illustrations veer looser, contort, and snap back, a quality that allows her to explore and convey further than others.

I know its terrible, but all I could think of when the discussion of affording the dead animal the appropriate 'respect' was that new Hannibal TV show, which certainly added another dimension to proceedings. I enjoyed reading Rabbit Stew so much- it just does its own thing, different from anything else out there and is the better for it.

Treasure Island by Connor Willumsen: I bought Treasure Island after Julia Scheele wrote about it for the Notable Comics of 2013 feature on this blog towards the end of last year. I'd not heard of author Connor Willumsen before, but he's had an interesting career trajectory to date: starting out on the alternative comics scene, going on to work for Marvel and DC, and from what I can gather now again concentrating on producing his own unique comic work. If you haven't already his strange, beautiful Death Milks a Cow (available to read for free at Study Group Comics) you really should. I mean, i didn't get it at all, but I loved looking at it, and because I'm weird, I sometimes appreciate impenetrability. I think Willumsen is a special, intriguing artist in the current landscape, and an important one, and I hope he continues on this rich path.

Treasure Island, which was also originally serialised online, is, superficially a more accessible work.  And what drew me to it is Willumsen's art- the man can draw and draw: fine, fine lines, used to hatch and shade- simply exquisite work. The narrative revolves around a remote cabin, presumably on an island where Dr Joy and her research assistant Doug are staying undertaking a study of some nature. We join them as Joy's preparing to leave for a visit back home, only to have Doug inform her that it's not financially viable until they've amassed enough money to repair their dodgy satellite dish. This leads to a video call with Maxwell, the government representative who's funding them, to no avail. Willumsen effortlessly shifts gears in pace and emotion, moving from Joy's determination to sort this problem, to a desperation to get home, to a calm resigned state.

Two things that I really appreciated in Treasure Island: 1) the concept of space. In location/setting, where having the luxuries of the latest tech and gadgets is rendered somewhat redundant, in personal space between Joy and Doug having only each other and yet trying to not get under the other's feet. There's also an element of these two people, each with their own problems (Doug with his boyfriend, Joy with her family), having left behind unresolved issues only to have to confront them here in the vast seclusion of the jungle, where you can practically hear crickets chirping. Willumsen pushes that concept of space some more via the illustrations, the inky passages when Joy and Doug watch Independence Day and the panels are completely black with the only the screen floating in the middle. Even the use of negative space, when Joy sits on the floor of her room, head in hands, alone.

2) There's a ridiculous closing act/scene here which comes out of nowhere (and which I'm loathe to spoil)- I loved that- the complete shift of tone, and it harks back to Willumsen's unconventional tendencies. Somehow it works.

Willumsen excels also in the dialogue and characterisation- really layering and rounding out these two people through their interactions with one another and just watching them as they go about completing little mundane tasks. The way he draws faces and eyes reminds me of Frederik Peeters- the eyes have a depth to them, a real look. Treasure Island is a much more nuanced and layered work than I can pay lip service to in a capsule review. A word, too, for the production on this print edition, exercise book size, with a thick grainy cover and lovely creamy paper. This is one of the best independent works I've read in a long, long time, and you need to read it, too.

Thought Bubble announce changes to registration system, move to curation

Thought Bubble, the annual UK comics festival in Leeds, today announced significant changes to its set up, in terms of makeup and impact upon exhibitors. Thought Bubble is undoubtedly the UK's most well regarded show- something you'll hear from professionals and attendees alike, and unique also in that it's located in the North of England, where most events of any pedigree tend to center around London and the South. Furthermore it's located in my home city, and along with ELCAF, the only show I make sure to attend each year, so there's a degree of personal investment in there.

Changes were expected this year, to some degree- the festival has been growing rapidly and last year tables sold out in an unprecedented 2 hours, which led to the recruiting of a third hall in order to accommodate demand, in addition to its usual 2 spaces of New Dock Hall and Royal Armouries Hall. However, that space is now inhabited by the retail units it was originally built for, and therefore unavailable to use again, which has led to the following changes-

Table pricing has changed:
'The basic costs for tables in all halls this year will be £90 for a full table for indie creators/professional artists or £55 for a half table, and £135 per table for retailers and publishers.' The reason for the rise in table prices is because the festival is building a state-of-the-art hard-shell marquee in the main square as a third hall (The New Dock and Royal Armouries halls are located in buildings opposite one another, with a vast space in between, which is where the marquee will be situated). The other option was for the festival to move to another city entirely, but that's not something that's being considered at this point,  'The idea of leaving Leeds is a last resort to us, as we love this city, and everything that it’s brought to the festival. Without our partners, like Leeds City Council, Leeds and Bradford Libraries, and Leeds International Film Festival, Thought Bubble would change entirely and we just can’t have that.'

The show will be fully curated:
A direct impact of that growth, and presumable only being able to fit so many people into the 2 halls and the intended marquee, means the show will now be fully curated, with online registration going live on the website on Monday 31st March, and remain open for two weeks until 5pm on Monday 14th April. If unable to fit all applicants into the space allotted, the decision over who gets a table will be judged by the organisational committee, to ensure fairness. Priority will be given to 'comic books, comic book publishers and retailers, and comic book artists and writers,' - the festival has previously had a strong element of craft and print, with outfits like Mondo tabling. Successful applicants will be contacted shortly after, and payment then taken.

The mid-convention party will be charged for and ticketed:
Lastly, the mid-convention party, which takes place on the Saturday night and is free to exhibitors and the first 500 pre-ordered convention tickets, will now be charged for and ticketed separately. Tickets will be made available to buy in advance, so demand can be gauged and an appropriate venue hired.

It's difficult to see how Thought Bubble could have done anything else than enforce these changes- it's imperative to the identity of the festival to not move city at this time, and there's simply no other venue large enough to accommodate them at the moment. I don't think there'll be much fuss over the rise in table prices, as they've emphasised that they're happy for people to share, and the business and popularity of the event means that creators are generally happy to pay to be there (and tend to make their money back). Curation can make some people anxious, as the decision over their attendance rests in someone else's hands, but again, it's hard to see what other route could have been taken. A big element of what has made Thought Bubble so successful is the people behind it- Lisa Wood, Clark Burscough and others, and the way in which they've managed every aspect of the show, so I'm pretty confident that these changes will be implemented with equal care and aplomb. All in all, good news, I think, and deftly handled.

Locust Moon's Little Nemo tribute anthology: Dream Another Dream

News from a while back -last August in fact, when I was mired in my Masters and rather less focused on everything comics. Locust Moon, a comics store in West Philadelphia, who have also moved into publishing (most notably with the Once Upon A Time Machine anthology) announced a huge project- both in scope and in news worthiness/excitement. This autumn will see them publish Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, a tribute book dedicated to the creator of the Nemo newspaper strips, Windsor McCay. The project will see a dizzying range of comics creators author Nemo by creating their own interpretations of the strip- and when I say dizzying range, how about Mike Allred, Paul Pope, Bill Sienkiewicz, Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, Neal Adams, Peter Bagge, Farel Dalrymple, Brandon Graham- seriously, just check out the litany of those involved below. Locust Moon are aiming to publish the finished product as both a newspaper and a hardcover book at the original, full size format of the Little Nemo broadsheet pages (16″ x 21″), and it's really cool to see people take on something of this magnitude- and something that's a perfect canvas/showcase for print.

McCay's Sunday strips, generally considered his masterpiece, featuring Little Nemo would see his young protagonist embarking on fantastical adventures each week, only to wake up in the final panel. The strip ran from  1905 to 1926, moving from The New York Herald to the New York American and back again. I've only just started reading Little Nemo (Oliver lent me this huge tome- that man is a gem- and way too trusting) but it's one of the most brilliant comics I've clapped eyes on. I mean, here's one of my favourite pages, which leaves me a open-mouthed: the tall panels and the perspective as the elephant gets closer and closer, and the sheer artistry on display blows me away:

I can see myself having to write a few long pieces to get the buzz out of my system; it's a real shame more of the comics aren't in print, although pricier copies and editions are floating around.  Anyway, here's the list of people doing strips for the book so far (more being added still, I believe):

Mike Allred, Peter Bagge, Fil Barlow, Jeremy Bastian, Jeremy Baum, Stephen R. Bissette, Box Brown, Mark Buckingham, Dave Bullock, Kevin Cannon, Zander Cannon, John Cassaday, Senk Chhour, Dave Chisholm, Cole Closser, Jorge Coelho, James Comey, Aaron Conley, Toby Cypress, Farel Dalrymple, Camilla D’errico, Dave Dorman, Alex Eckman-Lawn, Daniel Elisii, Ulises Farinas, Lisk Feng, Charlie Fetherolf, Frank Gibson & Becky Dreistadt, Dan Goldman, Rawn Gandy, Raul Gonzalez, Brandon Graham, Rafael Grampá, James Harvey, Dean Haspiel, Maria & Peter Hoey, Matt Huynh, J.G. Jones, Sam Kieth, Jeffro Kilpatrick, Denis Kitchen, Todd Klein, Daniel Krall, Roger Langridge, Brendan Leach, Mike Lee, Jasen Lex, David Mack, Andrew Maclean, Mark Mariano, Benjamin Marra, Paul Maybury, Carla Speed Mcneil, Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, Moritat, Scott Morse, Dean Motter, Tom Neely, Troy Nixey, Jerome Opeña, David Petersen, Roger Petersen, Nick Pitarra, Paul Pope, Nate Powell, George Pratt, Dave Proch, Hans Rickheit, Paolo Rivera, Paul Rivoche, Rafer Roberts, Jim Rugg, P. Craig Russell, Tom Scioli, Mike Sgier, Yuko Shimizu, Galen Showman, Bill Sienkiewicz, R. Sikoryak, Bisakh Som, Dave Stewart, Jamie Tanner, Craig Thompson, Jill Thompson, Jen Tong, Jenna Trost, Andrea Tsurumi, Charles Vess, S.M. Vidaurri, Mark Wheatley, Grim Wilkins, J.H. Williams Iii, Rob Woods, Chrissie Zullo

And here's a look at some of the pieces people have done so far:

Paul Maybury

David Petersen

Jeremy Bastian

Maria and Peter Hoey

Toby Cypress

Roger Langridge

Peter Bagge

Friday, 21 March 2014

A busy Boulet

People in the UK, US, and Cananda are probably most familiar with Boulet via his webcomic, Bouletcorp, which, apart from his unforgettable 24-hour comic, Darkness, that AdHouse published last year (under the title of Noirness), is the only work of his available in English. In his native France, Boulet's done a raft of  books- along with his Notes volumes, which collect his web-comics in print, and collaborating on Lewis Trondheim's Dungeon, he also authors Raghnarok, a series chronicling the misadventures of a small dragon, living in the forest with his mother, grandmother and her two friends, currently 6 volumes in. He's also ventured into non-fiction, educational territory with La rubrique scientifique, another series aimed at younger audiences, which offers and applies scientific interpretations, covering subjects such as music, DNA, physics, dance, 3D, film, etc., presented with Boulet's signature humour. Over the past few weeks, Boulet's been sharing a number of great illustration work he's produced over the years for various collaborative projects, so I thought I'd collate some of the pieces here- there are worse ways to spend a Friday right?

First up, some illustrations for a French edition of Terry Jones' Erik the Viking:

Cover jacket and interior illustrations for the French translation of Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones' Now We're Sick, a collection of  'funny, frivolous and frightening poems by thirty of the world’s best known science fiction, fantasy and horror authors.' 

And finally, some illustrations for French singer and songwriter, Renan Luce's 2006 album, Repenti:

You can see all these, and a great deal more at Boulet's Tumblr blog.