Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Foster Father

The last thing I had to clear before returning to work was the lovely oversized (27 X 36cm) Prince Valiant hardcover I picked up from Gosh . The first in a series, this collection crisply reprints the first 98 Sunday strips of the Prince Valiant feature from 1937 in uncluttered black and white on a smooth glossy stock. Together with Alex Raymond and Milt Caniff, Hal Foster is lauded as one of the titans of newspaper strips but I've never really read any of his stuff as Tarzan and prince Valiant never really appealed to me much. However, when I stumbled across this collection of strips starting from the feature's first instalment, I decided to give it a shot as I was already looking for something different to read.

I'm glad I did as it's bloody amazing stuff. My only prior exposure to Prince Valiant was the cartoon series, the pull-your-eyes-out-to-relieve-the-boredom 50s movie (starring Robert Wagner in the title role) and Wally Wood's sole page after Foster retired from art duties on the strip after 33 years (he was nearly 80at the time!). I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible and easy the strip was to read but I was more impressed with the quality of the art, which MORE than stands up decades later. Foster clearly WAS a master artist and after reluctantly adapting Tarzan of the Apes into a Sunday strip (and thus creating the first "serious", non-humourous comic strip) in 1929, the comic medium opened up to new genres and Foster's art continued to inspire countless artists (Raymond, Mac Raboy and Joe Kubert are all clearly influenced by Foster's work). Foster therefore truly was the father of real sequential storytelling art and his sense of composition, attention to detail and innate talent make Prince Valiant a joy to read. I usually tend to try and get my hand on all of any given series that I'm following but with over 30 years of Valiant strips, I think I may just take the occasional sampling!

As a side note, I remembered a little-known fact when I saw Valiant disguise himself as a demon, which Jack Kirby ripped off for Etrigan over 30 years later! I've always wondered where Kirby came up with those polka dots for Thor's design and noticed a Hal Foster Viking wearing a finned helmet identical to the one Thor sported in his very first splash page from Journey Into Mystery, as well as a series of metal circles on his tunic--this could be a bit of a stretch but given that Kirby was not above dipping into Foster's work from this era as inspiration, Foster could arguably have inspired the design of Thor, a character whose roots would lie in a similar historical period...anyway, here's a look at Etrigan's first REAL appearance from 1937!

Monday, 29 December 2008

Festive Report

Well, other than Christmas Day itself, I've been spending my seven-day break alone and been having a great time. Deciding to take the opportunity to just kick back and unwind (as I've worked like a dog this year), I've done just that and had a pretty relaxing break.

Although I've watched no TV shows beyond Dr Who and Wallace & Gromit (loved all the film references), I've mainly been watching a ton of movies. I finally caught up with some DVDs that have been hanging around (some since last Xmas!), as well as a few new ones (have to say that the extras on The Dark Knight are some of the dullest I've ever seen as they're mostly technical stuff with no real insight into the shoot---and why the hell are they devoting literally half the extras, including repeating scenes from the main feature with no alteration or comparison, to Imax, a format you can't exactly appreciate at home? Other than the fact that Christian Bale really stood on the top of that Hong Kong building and that the hospital explosion was real not CG (which is why it looked so good), I learned next to nothing of interest...and watching the main feature, how does Batman bend the barrel of a gun like that? He's Bruce Wayne, not Superman!).

While the TV schedules initially looked quite crap, I've managed to catch quite a few gems. With Howl's Moving Castle on yesterday and the Cat Returns on E4 later, that'll make four Studio Ghibli films I've seen on TV this month (nothing can prepare you for a racoon transforming his bollocks into a ship and sailing away like Frodo Baggins!), I've caught three Hitchcocks, Dr Strangelove (overrated but certainly worth a look) and typically tepid Channel Five adaptations of Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Journey to the Centre of the Earth---they sure do like to talk in these Hallmark productions, don't they?

Also managed to clear my reading pile (except for two books to eventually read on my lunch breaks) in preparation for one of my New Year's resolutions: draw more sequential pages. I have three short strips I want to do initially, the second of which will be for Rol, before hopefully getting into the groove and preparing some samples for the next Birmingham show. Yesterday I stumbled across reference to an upcoming book online, quickly investigated further and immediately ordered a copy. The book? Al Williamson's Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision Of The Heroic. At 256 pages, this book collects all of Al Wiliamson's Flash Gordon material, from the 3-part adaptation of the 1980 movie and the three issue 90s Marvel mini (both of which I've only just obtained within the last year or so--oh well, at least they'll look clearer on superior stock and hopefully I can pass the issues on to some art-appreciating pal) to the Union Carbide promotional work and King Comics issues from the 60s, which I've never seen. Flask Gordon? Al Williamson? I'm there! Can't tell you how excited I am about this book, looking forward to it almost as much as the upcoming Dave Stevens book.

In fact, this inspired me to return to a Flash Gordon pic I'd drawn in clean line that I intended to finish off but never did due to a few compositional issues. Instead, I pencilled, inked, shaded and coloured a completely new version this morning (as above): it's not as great a figure drawing as the first one but I balanced the design better, resulting in a stronger piece overall despite a less confident pose for Flash.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Kellogg's Aldebaran

I've mentioned Cinebooks before, a publisher reprinting popular European comic strips in English editions reflecting the European album format rather than the US trade format. I get the impression that Cinebook started reprinting humour/kiddie fare (primarily as there are umpteen Lucky Luke collections already) and have only just started diversifying into the older market. I have zero interest in the humour stuff but have dabbled with their 12+ and 15+ ranges. Both Alpha and IR$ are solid espionage thrillers and I'll pick up the next volumes but definitely my favourite of the range by far is Aldebaran.

Created by the Brazilian artist Leo, each Cinebook collection contains two 48-page album. There are five albums set on Aldebaran and another five moving on to Betelgeuse, so Cinebook will collect these over five volumes before hopefully moving on to Antares, the first album of which was published last year.

Aldebaran is a sci fi story set on the colonised world of Aldebaran, which was inhabited by man sometime in the 21st Century before contact with Earth was cut off a century later. Aldebaran is a marine world with the islands reflecting a contemporary society. There are no lasers, clones or other science fiction elements beyond native animals, transport is powered by either electric engines, sail power or the wind and the colony is ruled over by an almost fascistic religious ruling body. When a small fishing village is destroyed by a mysterious creature, the only survivors are 17 year old fisherman Mark Sorensen, a girl he fancies and her 13 year old sister Kim Kellar. As they attempt to move on to the nearest city to start a new life, they become slowly involved with a mystery involving the creature responsible for their home's destruction. This mystery slowly hints at intrigue concerning unusual abilities the creature can have on humans...

I can't really compare this to any other thing I've read as it's so unique. The art is gorgeous, reminiscent of an ultra-clean line Eric Shanower style with nice watercolour embellishment rather than computer colours. The dialogue occasionally hits an odd note (it is translated after all) but generally the story is scripted and constructed well enough and peopled with distinct individuals to draw readers in. There's annoyingly little information I can find regarding the series online (some untranslated pages are available to view by clicking on specific albums at http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://www.mondes-aldebaran.com/&sa=X&oi=translate&resnum=1&ct=result&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dleo%2Baldebaran%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG and a nice piece of CG animation at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=8Sd2w4iOsM8 ) but I'd definitely recommend this to anybody looking to try something solid beyond the spandex genre.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Hey, Kids, Cartoonz!

While I've not done too much "proper" art recently, thought I'd post something a bit different. I've been asked to do quite a few pieces of non-comics art throughout the years, ranging from designing logos and characters for bands, a logo and iconic character for a local comic shop and art for a Norfolk menu to illustrations for a local self-publisher's book, corporate logos and an offer to draw caricatures at a county fair (I declined that offer as I'd feel extremely uncomfortable in those situations). While these projects have been fun occasional things that have come down throughout the years, I've been doing quite alot in my current job.
I've been roped into providing art for various locally produced leaflets (the above illo is from a pamphlet about housing rights in the event of relationship breakdown---I quite like this image as it gets a split across pretty well without assigning blame to either party) and events but have also been asked for caricatures from various workmates. Being able to draw is similar to being able to play an instrument in that it always creates interest from others. Inevitably they can be impressed with work that you consider to be crap so when asked to do caricatures of family members, it's actually an enjoyable experience. Although there's the pressure of pleasing the person you're doing the art for (and ultimately the subject too!), there's also the knowledge that it's cartoony so details don't have to be exact (beyond a reasonable likeness). This means you can just kick back and actually enjoy drawing for its own sake rather than worrying about the quality of the art too much.

I try to get a good likeness rather than bignose type caricatures and the results seem to be popular as I keep getting requests. I always refuse payment but have wound up with A3 pads, chocolates, booze and vouchers anyway. I had two to do this week so thought I'd post one: as girls are always sensitive about their appearance, I tend to make them less exaggerated but I still like the challenge of trying to incorporate some of their characteristics and interests. My favourite recent job was a pic of someone snowboarding that came out really dynamic---wish I could get that into my sequentials but I'd rather focus on clarity than impact!

Anyway, thought I'd post one for abit of variety...

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Random Roundup Regeneris

Well, my time off work is nearly at an end and I decided to just unwind and relax a bit after so long working my arse off and getting artwork done or BICS. I've done the odd bit of drawing but it's not really gone to plan. I've been admiring Tone's Photoshop technique and have been struggling to achieve anything near his level so we agreed to collaborate on a pic for fun: I'd draw it and Tone would colour it, and we'd see how things work out.

The art had to be done in two stages to make things easier for the way Tone colours, so my first choice was Flash Gordon. I was struggling for a subject so looked over my bookcase and my Alex Raymond Flash Gordon collections caught my eye: I'd just been perusing Dave Sim's Glamourpuss issues which seemed to mainly be his thoughts on comic art history, following a line from Raymond through Williamson to himself (something I never saw before but can now see clear as day). I did the line art, scanned it in and was then about to shade it before rescanning when I lost interest: the rocks don't fit right (even though they ARE alien rocks!) and I didn't line up my compass right, ending up in a circle that should have bisected the pair of planets now touching their circumference and throwing the whole composition off.

I then returned to my bookshelf and flicked through my Steve Rude Commission books and after settled on Emma Frost as I'd never drawn her. I wasn't keen on the top half of Quietly's design and the Cassaday cloak line wasn't inspiring me either so I went back to the original corset design, but decided to soften it up a bit with lingerie more reminiscent of later 80s hellfire club stories.

Just as I was nearing completion of the pencil shading, it suddenly dawned on me that having a character mostly dressed in white isn't much use in a colouring exercise, so it was back to square one again (although I used this for an experiment with "colourholds" that proves I need further practice!).

Cracking open the Rude books again, I passed over characters such as Leeja from Magnus (too much solid black) and fell back on the boring choice of Supergirl. As uninspired as the choice was, the art came out OK (though the pose is a bit dull) but Tone's colouring makes it look pretty spiffy. I'm sure there'll be another collaboration soon now that we have a feel for what we're doing.

Talking of Alex Raymond, after getting drunk while playing Guinness World Records on the Wii (and I'm presuming either the game's really unpopular or we're pretty ace gamers as we were consistently scoring regional championships on our first attempts), I crashed over at my sister's then made a mad bomb up to London to meet up with some old pals--not everyone turned up and I had to leave early as I was knackered, the beer was shooting through me like a fart in a wind tunnel and there were signal problems causing delays on the underground--but it was great to meet up again. Now the pub's only 10 minutes walk from what I call Comic Shop Corner (four comic shops all within minutes of each other) so I had to pop in, didn't I? As orbital was out of my way, Forbidden Planet was kinda out of my way and Comicana's crap and I was in a rush, I only ventured into Gosh.

FP has a larger selection of merchandise as it's honking big but Gosh has a more interesting selection. I came across a reduced copy of The Art of Alex Raymond but while it had some nice work, it was more a biography with photos and text, not as much concentrated art as I would have liked so I passed it over. After looking at the Euro collections, in particular any Valerians--still can't believe I'm a Wikipedia fact now in relation to that!--I walked out with the first Thorgal collection and the first prince Valiant hardcover collection. Although he's a master, I've never really looked at any Hal Foster so I decided to pick up the first volume and lose myself in his sumptuous art. The strip's still going today and still looks pretty good, one of newspapers' last adventure strips.

In addition to those books, the final Wally Wood collection I was after also arrived from a special rare art (particularly comic, animation and illustration) book dealer in the States: it was more expensive than I would have liked but a damn sight less than the £111 asking price on Amazon! I managed to find another Wood book for £20-odd a few months ago, over £100 less than Amazon's price, so hopefully one day I'll find me a copy of the Rocketeer Adventure Magazine collection...