Thursday, 31 January 2008

Favourite comic series

Rol likes lists. So do Paul Rainey (surely the facial model for the exuberantly happy New Frontier J'onn J'onzz figure) and fans of classical composers apparently, so following the list of favourite covers, here's a list of my favourite comic series, in no particular order.

Now, the first two series are holdovers from my childhood but the others are comics I've embraced as an adult.

1. The X-Men. As a young kid, I had some weird early favourite artists: at one time or another, I recall Dick Dillin, Jim Aparo and Sal Buscema all being favourites but they were blown clear out of the water when I saw John Byrne's pencils for the first time, on the X-Men strip in Rampage. This was a reprinting of the "Mesmero-turns-the-X-Men-into-carnies" issue and I fell hard and fast in love with the X-Men series. I lost interest when Byrne left (the series went into quick freefall until the arrival of Paul Smith years later) but came back during Romita Jr's first run, staying until just after the Age of Apocalypse. The original Claremont years were great, especially the first run with Cockrum, then Byrne, Smith, Romita Jr and Lee. It's gutted and lost beyond all hope now (although Astonishing X-Men has come the closest to recapturing that former glory) but the complete run I have from Giant Size X-Men to around #310 or so (including Classic X-Men reprint issues) remains one of my nostalgic faves.

2. The New Teen Titans. This was the only DC title I regulalrly bought, outside of the also-superb Giffen/Levitz Legion of Superheroes. Wolfman and Perez forged some of the best characterised superhero stories ever, with Who Is Donna Troy being an early modern classic. Some of the stuff that followed was ok but the series never regained the initial spark: another complete run in my collection (including reprinted editions).

3. Bridging the gap between childhood heroes and newer fare, Justice League International. Great stories, great charcters, great art (my first exposure to Maguire, Hughes and i think Sprouse), great laughs. Comprising JLA/I, JLE and all the spinoffs, this is yet another complete set: actually all of the followng series are complete sets, so I'll stop saying that.

4. Starman. Far better and more focussed than Gaiman's Sandman, here is a true mature, adult series without any need for gratuitous profanity, sex or violence 9all of which have their place). Fatherhood, duty, honour, loss, triumph and the complete career of a hero, Starman remains a true classic: I'd get the new omnibus editions but don't know how many tie-in issues they'll be including, and i have them all...

5. A Distant Soil. Great art, complex stories and distinct characters but this is so sporadically produced, it leaves a burning craving for the final few issues. Dave got me into this and I now have FOUR versions of the series! (I'm a completeist, sue me...)

6. Preacher. If you're gonna go extreme, then this series is the one to have. A modern day Western set between ultimate good and evil, this is one of Vertigo's best ever series.

7. While I'd be hard pressed to pick an all-time favourite series, it'd kill me to lose my Rocketeer issues. Charming, action packed and beautifully illustrated (especially the painted collection), you can't ask for more in a comic. Dave Stevens, what an artist...

8. Bone. Sucking you in with its humour and warmth before whisking you away on a grand adventure, this is a great series, ending with one of comics' simplest but most powerful funerals. Would have loved to have seen the planned animated cartoon but Smith rightfully cut the chord rather than put up with the intended musical numbers.

9. Leave It To Chance. Another fun all ages title, lovely artwork and fun stories make this an overlooked but rewarding gem.

These are probably my fave all round titles: I buy some well written current series in trades for the writing (Walking Dead, Ex Machina, Y: The Last Man, Fables, etc) but usually buy stuff for the art, so no doubt coming soon will be---my list of favourite comic artists....

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Project Week

I always come back from my monthly sojourn to Birmingham feeling energised and eager to get back to producing some pages but I hit a delay this month when the Jock pages I'm due to draw heavily feature a bandstand. Now, this can be fudged but a working model is always preferable for that added verisimiltude: as a result, I borrowed Rol's Dead Zone DVD a while back to get some reference but had apparently lost the file on my PC last week.

With Tone mentioning that PCs tend to go on the fritz after five years (and mine coming up to its fourth birthday), I decided to take advantage of this temporary halt in producing artwork to clear my PC down. Added with the possibilities provided by Lulu and Ka-Blam (NOT Thai hookers, as you may have heard) and have set myself a number of projects to clear this week before resuming pencilling at the weekend:

1. Clear down files from my PC. I have already deleted tons of files and rediscovered not only the bandstand (huzzah!!) but some forgotten art files, including character designs for Rol, artwork done for the local council and a few other bits. I have also burned off downloaded files that may be helpful if I ever need a new PC.

2. Burn off the miscellaneous music on my PC onto disc. I did this last night, just need to do the case (I save clip art from Previews and magazines to use as CD covers) and track listing now.

3. Sort through my old PC discs and organise them better (well, AT ALL really...)

5. Burn off ALL my photos: family pics, Xmas pics and trips to France and New York, all now burned safely to CD.

6. Sort out some artwork: I want to print some comics but have nothing to print so I might produce some gallery editions of whatever I can bear to look at. Make a list, see what can be done.

As an aside, I want to print that damned book (which is now as finished as it'll ever be, minor margin and print-size checks aside), print these gallery issues, print the Jock, EVENTUALLY publish the Jock tpb and ULTIMATELY--and this involves more work and a bit of expense but will be worth it--print a fully coloured hardcover deluxe edition of the tpb. Colouring will take ages, as will the art but currently each copy would cost around £14 to produce so splashing out on a few copies could be fun.

However, creating the necessary PDFs for the above projects will be a nightmare as I don't have the necessary software or knowledge. I get the impression that I may take advantage of Dave's kind offer and slip him a few pennies to create a few PDFs for me. Tone's been checking my word formatting but I'll have to appease him with scribbled computer game tie-in comics instead. Or cheese.

Those are my projects for the week.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

No Country For Old Values

So, went to see No Country For Old Men this weekend, great film, stunning opening sections...only spoiled by the persistent russle of food wrappers. Now Rol used to complain about the distractions in the cinema and I used to think I was lucky as I always had the advantage of late afternoon screenings with barely anybody else in. However, over the last two years or so, it has become an ordeal each time I go to the cinema, either due to constant chatter (I moved TWICE during Transformers, the second time when two people shifted to face each other and were having a full blown conversation!), people kicking seats or persistent plastic bag ruffling (you expect a bit but not for prolonged periods). I really really can't stand this, is it so wrong to expect a little consideration when even the screen tells the audience to be quiet (two people walked out of No Country when their mobiles went off!)?

After the film, Tone and I went to the pub where two obnoxious loudmouths out of a group of four made it difficult to even hear each other. Angrily, I questioned "What is it with all the chavs around here?" Tone asked "What, don't you have chavs in High Wycombe?". I considered this and explained that I can't remember any in the pubs but of course we do have chavs, that's why I find catching the bus every night such an ordeal. Plus, a lovely area called Castlefield was featured in a documentary a few years back and was portrayed--probably fairly--as the blight of Bucks.

Cinema noise. Obnoxious gits on the bus. Poor public transport services. Practically everything on TV and the radio. Can I blame all of this on a decline in standards---or is it really just me? I don't mean that figuratively: IS it me? Who am I to stand as a moral paragon? I try to treat people with civil courtesy and respect and expect the same back but am I right to demand that? SHOULD others conform to polite behaviour?

Today at work, a small error I (99% probably but not entirely beyond doubt) made at the start of the month rose to the surface, a really minor thing that got missed but could have led to big trouble. This angered me no end. I mean, REALLY angered me: I hate the fact that I make mistakes like this (I can live with litle insignificant ones), although everybody does them, but today I just went off big time. I wanted to pluck out my own eyes or stab my arm. Seriously. In the encyclopedia of normal, I think there's a great big gap around where that might have gone. I was so angry, I couldn't face my regimented balanced meals and worked straight from 8 ttill 5.15 with nothing except a cup of tea (missing my fruit, salad and ceral bar throughout the day) as I was too angry--with myself mind, not anybody else- to relax on break so I worked through it instead. Come the afternoon, my mood started to subside when another stupid error surfaced, this one I know was because I was rushing. Again, my blood rose...and by the time it levelled off around 4.40, I was both knackered and now starving.

Is it normal to get so over-angry and to turn it inwards? I've started reading a book about Steve Rude, who talks about his own battles with depression and I recognise the symptoms in myself. I've had some dark periods in my past to be sure and I probably have more issues than the Comics Warehouse. I'm generally an easygoing calm person---but I do bottle things and sometimes this can lead to VERY fast, high anger levels. In comic terms, I liken myself more to Cyclops than the Hulk (okay, stay with me here!). Bruce Banner can't control his anger, his temper literally runs away with him and destroys everything while he has absolutely no control over himself. Cyclops meanwhile has similar reserves of power which he has to consciously bottle up each day in order not to destroy everything around him and this takes its toll on him. He maintains control but sometimes vents when necessary. Cyclops and optic beams, me and anger, that's the same y'see.

Now I don't want this blog to get all serious and black but today was a bad day, hopefully tomorrow will be better. Let's hope so, eh? After all, even ruby quartz visors can crack...

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Style conflicts

On Comicspace, my ID is Conflictedartist because that's what I am. I try not to ape any artistic style but of course am influenced by everything I'm exposed to, even if it's deciding not to draw in a manner that I hate in other work. That's natural I suppose but where I get conflicted is in choosing a style of drawing to pursue. I think the underlying drawing will always be the same, but it's the finishing style that sometimes throws me.

To illustrate my pondering, some visual aids: a later piece of EC sci-fi art by the great Wally Wood and Peter Parker & Gwen Stacy by Steve Rude (I've picked these artists as they are the ones whose art I'm currently fascinated with).

Now the Wood piece is great: a consistent light source creating areas of shadow that add weight and atmosphere. Not overly rendered but exquisitely detailed (to show examples of that, look at the splash to the EC SF story Food For Thought, one of comics' greatest ever pages). However, look at Rude's piece: all the emotion is there, carried by just a few lines:no need for unneccesary fuss here.

Both styles have their advantages: the more elaborate style is sumptuous and creates a greater sense of space but the leaner style is more open and graphic. Is one better than the other? Nope. As with most things, its subjective but when it comes to actually following either approach as a school of thought, things aren't so simple.

My personal instinct is trying to recreate as realistic and accurate an environment as I can and I'm more naturally inclined to the heavier work load of the former. The latter definitely has less labour involved so productivity will be better, but all the work goes into the design of the drawing. If your basic storytelling and drawing off, you don't have the luxury of varying fields of black (or tone, stippling, hatching, etc) to convey space. Your drawing must be spot on and clear. It's not as simple as it looks: I began inking a page of the Jock pencilled in my usual 'detailed' style but using the leaner finishing style. I gave up on the first panel as I realised it wuld never work. There were elements of the drawing that would be lost that were necessary for the image drawn.

I want to experiment with the leaner style but not halfway through the Jock, it would be too jarring, even though we've only just begun (Oi! No Carpenters references, arrite?). I'll probably do a Silver short, see how it goes.

Interestingly, Wood later pared his own style way back and much preferred his later work and hated the fact that his fans (and let's not forget, he was namechecked on a Marvel cover way before Lee or Kirby ever were!) always loved his lush EC work more. Wood even managed to make Kirby look great. You wouldn't think two such different artists - one being able to draw and the other not (nyuk nyuk)- would work well but after a successful-artistically- collaboration on the Sky Masters newspaper strip in the 50s, both artists were reunited when an uncredited Wood inked the Daredevil figures in a Kirby issue of the FF: below is an example of the work, just look how much Wood's embelishment saves the DD figures from the flat Giacoia inks seen throughout the rest of the issue:

Interestingly, I've just finished the lastest Modern Masters (a great series of books if you're into the work of the subject) on Frank Cho. His is another example of the lean inking style, having a wonderful grace and fluidity to his lineswork (none of which is created with a brush, surprisingly). Perhaps from pondering the above artistic styles recently, I was taken with the manner he creates depth by using clarefully placed blacks (a la vintage Wood) while retaining a cleaner overall line. The image below is one that particularly caught my attention. I'm not really an Elektra fan and don't really like the way Cho has decided to draw her bindings but just look at how her sparsely-delineated figure pops out from the more rendered background, approximating the effects of cel animation's limitations, ie a less rendered figure laid over a more realistic background.

That's a new mix to thow into the pot. Hmmmm....

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Just not enough hours in the day....

I get so annoyed, I really do.

I'm up at 6.45, out the door by 7.20 and at work by 8.00. Finish at 5.15 and it takes me an hour (if I'm lucky) to get home, a trip of two miles (as the crow flies). I'd sooner walk but every which way I look, there's a NASTY hill to walk up (I work in a valley but live on a peak so while I'll never be flooded, getting home's a git). By the time I get home, make dinner and grab my e-mails, have a quick whiz on the net, it's at least 7.00.

Not including distractions like TV, DVDs, stuff to read, going out and whatnot, this doesn't leave much time for drawing and I REALLY want to get back into it this year.

I love drawing, always have done, it's a great way to relax and for a while I wanted to be a comic artist. I'm not sure if that's an option now but dammit, I'll at least get these four Jock issues done! I've done more since November than for years before but I find it hard building a head of steam when my time is eaten up so much. I have ideas: I want to get the Jock done, get some samples done and do some of my own stuff, printed nicely, but again, the slightest delay and my drawing time's gone.

My eternally conflicted mind says both "Leave it, you'll never be an artist, let it go" but also "Go for it, you can still do it, you're better than Liefeld!" (though as Tone says, better than shit is not an endorsement).

My current artistic goals:

1. Complete The Jock #2

2. Do a quick strip of my own testing a pared back style (probably falling back on to Silver)

3. Using my lightbox (which arrived today, YAY!) revise The Jock #1 (ever unhappy with my work, I was going to completely redraw most of #1 but found that with a few redrawn panels or panel elements, much of the issue can be saved)

4. Do some samples

5. Do a sample page for Rough Stuff

6. Complete The Jock #1-4 and print it as a nice single volume, with a bunch of bonus material (Rol's genesis and history of the comic, the MTV thing, script pages, pencils, deleted panels, etc...this'll be news to Rol as I was planning on doing it on the quiet and just having his jaw drop when a copy drops through his postbox...but at my current rate, that might be a way off yet...)

The reason I'm posting now instead of drawing is because the buses are so crap, they changed drivers AND BUS ROUTES without telling any of the three passengers still on the bus! I could have ended up in Slough! Needless to say, after much fuming in the bus station, my trip home was delayed further. And Spike's in Torchwood tonight, so that's another night's work gone.

I TRY to pencil at the weekend and ink during the week.

I try.

I need to try harder.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Why comics?

I intend this blog to be much like any other and cover whatever I feel like rambling on about but already there's a heavy comic content. So what is it that appeals to me about comics?

My grandad died when I was five but he was aa amateur painter and would entertain me for ages with his drawings and the bug soon caught me and I was drawing from a very young age apparently. Somewhere along the line, I was introduced to the Marvel UK weeklies, mainly Captain Britain, Spider-Man and Mighty World Of Marvel, which used to freak me out with the cyborg simians featured in the Planet of the Apes strip. I missed alot of school during my second year at infant school, thus falling way behind the rest of the class. I was withdrawn and nervous anyway so this didn't help but I lived in an area where all the local kids went to a different school. This isolated me to a large degree and while I had two or three pals around, I would go through long periods spent on my own, mainly through the winter. Entertainment would come from comics in that pre-home video age, and I learned to draw and read from following them. Within a few years, my literacy had shot me to the top of the class.

However, I fell away from comics when the last Byrne X-Men issues were reprinted (funnily enough, in a relaunched Mighty World of Marvel) by Marvel UK but a doodle of Shang-Chi caught the eye of a schoolmate at secondary school (well, GRAMMAR school actually, dotcha know...), who reintroduced me to comics, beginning with the Nomad issue of Marvel Team-Up. Spider-Man had a new look, Robin had become Nightwing and Crisis On Infinite Earths was around the corner. I was hooked and have been buying the buggers ever since.

I've got rid of literally thousands of comics and have tried to downsize my collection several times, which now consists of my favourite runs (Uncanny/Classic X-Men, JLI, David's Hulk, Starman, Preacher, New Teen Titans, etc) supplemented with comics featuring art by my favourite artists. These disparate issues form the bulk of my collection, featuring such names as Hughes, Maguire, Sprouse, Russell, Williams III, Warren, Doran and many others.

The artwork is my main concern nowadays as I've essentially read all the superhero stories I need to and still enjoy the genre but yearn for something new. I currently have a stack of Nexus issues by Steve Rude to study, as I want to develop a more cleanline approach to my art once I've finished The Jock #4. This is because it looks nicer and hopefully I'll be able to produce more, although clean lines leave no room for weaknesses in the basic drawing. I've also got to read a large stack of Wally Wood and Al Williamson EC science fiction stories (all of them, I think), after rediscovering these 50-year old gems again at last year's Birmingham comic convention.

I think you need to be a certain age when discovering comics to truly embrace the medium, and while there is a lot of rubbish out there, each month I find myself having to reluctantly miss items from my chosen advance order service.

They taught me to read, tought me to draw, entertained, informed, even shaped my moral views to a degree and have introduced me to some great people.

THAT'S why comics.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Favourite comic covers

For a while, Wizard was getting big name artists, such as Jim Lee and Frank Cho, to list their seven favourite comic covers with a brief commentary explaining why. I thought this was pretty interesting and mused that it might be fun to pick my own favourite covers. I soon got stuck trying to think of all the covers I've seen and all the covers I own and put it on the back burner. However, Tone recently revived the idea on his blog so I decided to step up and add my own.

My first decision was to only use comics that I own, so no iconic images from ones I don't possess. However, I couldn't be bothered to root through my back issues so have worked from memory and devised a category system to make things easier: it's simpler to pick a cover when a several thousand-issue collection is reduced to a handful of subjects. So, while I am positive in the belief that there areprobably tons of covers out there that I've forgotten about, here is what completes my list:

1. Probably my favourite artist is Adam Hughes, and while I prefer his lush earlier painted covers, his current work sees him at the top of the computer-coloured comics game. His Catwoman covers are great but I've given up buying stuff just for his covers as the interiors were often terrible (with Frankenstein Mobster being one of the worst comics I've ever read: and I bought both X-Force #1 and Youngblood #1, mind you!) so his key run before was Wonder Woman. There were many excellent covers during his run but these two are my favourites: I love the tenderness and bottled sexuality of 141's clinch with Superman (there was a great comedic pseudo-sequel with Superman fed up as WW and Lois Lane natter a few issues later) and there's something mesmerising about 152 (I even used this in the background of The Jock #1).

2. Justice League International. One of my favourite ever comic series, with the first three and half years being practically flawless. The cover from #1 was so iconic that it was reused numerous times throughout the line and has even been used on a number of other comics too. While #1 would be the obvious choice as a favourite, I prefer #24. It establishes the running gag of the same image, Kevin Maguire had improved as an artist (especially as he was no longer smothered by Austin's inks) and if you replaced Wonder Woman and Metamorpho with G'nort and Dr Fate, this would be my ultimate JLI lineup. Classic.

3. Brian Bolland. Another great comic artist, his work just blows me away but sadly he provides covers for comics that don't really appeal to me so I don't have much of his work (outside of the glorious Art of Brian Bolland). You can't go wrong with a sexy lady and his Zatanna cover is beautifully illustrated: a nice balance of open space at the bottom and crowded chaos at the top, with a delicately delineated main figure. Niiiiice. I no longer own Superman #422 but it was the stunning cover alone that made me first pick it up. This was just two isses before the Byrne revamp in 1987, and I hated the fuddyduddy Silver Age incarnation featured in this issue but wow, what a cover.

4. This is breaking my own rules as I don't actually own this specific cover, although I have the stories. Dave Steven's exquisite lush and smooth artwork doesn't appear often enough and his Rocketeer stuff is stunning, especially the collected edition of the first storyline, matching Stevens' gorgeous line art with some lovely watercolour instead of the original bog-standard dot matrix colouring. I have all the individual isues (and one is even signed by the man himself) but the collection of the second storyline is incredibly rare now and so quite expensive (I've been looking online recently), but has a great iconic image. If you've never read the Rocketeer, have a hunt for it, it's quality work not often seen.

5. Cyclops. Before I could even read, I was into comics and loved the Marvel UK weeklies from the 70s. They used to run a full-page ad on the inside front cover of Mighty World Of Marvel for The Superheroes, featuring the Silver Surfer and the original X-Men. I used to gaze at the drawings of Cyclops and Angel, the concept of their uniforms making me think that superheroes need to have a unified design (as with the Fantastic Four, which I was also loving on TV at the time in the Hanna Barbera cartoons---I still remember the tiny size FF running between the feet of giants trying to stab them during the title sequence!). As a result, the prominent shot of Cyclops has always endured as my archetypal idea of a superhero and when I began reading comics properly a few years later, the Cockrum New X-Men stuff was being reprinted in Rampage, a really expensive comic that I longed for for months before finally being able to afford a copy. When I started buying it regularly, Byrne had just taken over and I was hooked. Cyclops has always been the man for me (especially as I relate to his pent up frustration---though I don't have the convenience of a foxy redhead or an alluring blonde to help me, ah, relieve some stress). This Classic X-Men cover is one of my favourite Cyclops images, featuring his classic outfit, his past behind him and lovely art from the criminally underused Steve Lightle.

6. Finally, I like the work of both George Perez and Alex Ross (owning hardcover books devoted to both) and as a young teen first building his collection of comics up after falling away when Byrne left the X-Men, Crisis On Infinite Earths was a big deal for me. I was always more of a Marvel reader, though I'd pick up DCs too, but Crisis generated alot of excitement and positve change, so Perez and Ross' cover to the collected edition has to be included, even if it's just for the amount of characters featured (over 300, apparently).

Friday, 11 January 2008

Ta-dah! Here I is, at long last!

Well, I finally caved in to both temptation and deafening demand (cough) and have started a blog to spout off when I have something to say. Could be very often or next to nothing, but I have a few topics in mind (here's a hint, one will be in response to Tone's blog, links to be added soon) so there may be a flurry in the short term.

My first posting finds me conflicted as usual. Hoorah!! After weeks of constant searching, I won an A3 lightbox (to be used heavily in saving alot of artwork from dodgy details when I tweak the pages for The Jock #1--continual comments will be forthcoming regarding this project) on eBay last night for just £2 more than the cheapest prices I've seen elsewhere (but were constantly out of stock). I won, then saw there was a Buy It Now scanner added after I placed my winning bid, priced at £15 cheaper. Goddammit!

Recently, I dusted off and updated my book on comics adaptations on screen, completing the work this weekend. The book currently clocks in at just over 300 pages with just over 150 entries across five sections. I'm just giving it a final run through for errors and grammatical revision and will be liasing with Dave M and Tone for advice on creating the cover and turning the whole thing into a PDF (as I'm not very techy), hoping to print off a few copies for myself and mates. Then what do I see, but this bastard thing:

This kind of pips me to the post but is different enough from my book that I still think I should print up a few not the least because I SPENT FRIGGIN' YEARS WORKING ON THE DAMN THING!!! I've ordered the above book (it's something I'm interested in, hence why I started my book in the first place...which was a LOT more work than I first thought) but won't let it influence my book, which I'm sure will be more in-depth. With twice as many pages covering fewer entries, mainly covering the American comics we're all familiar with (with a section covering British comics and English-language versions of European comics, with two or three mangas thrown in), I'm hoping my book won't be the dry academic work I'm assuming the above to be.

But never assume, that makes an arse out of yourself and I apparently---I've never understood that reasoning, to be honest....