Thursday, 24 December 2009

Top Ten Comic Characters

Wow, this was alot harder than I expected and it took me a few days to finalise this list which surprises even me by some of the characters included and omitted. I perused some encyclopedias and my accessible comics to make ensure I considered as wide a range as possible. I found that alot of the characters I liked were purely because of their costumes or I had liked them in the past but they're so messed up now, I've lost much of the fondness I have them.

Considered male characters included Booster Gold, the Marvel and DC Captain Marvels, Captain Britain, Cypher, Doc Samson, Dr Fate, Gambit, Guardian (from Alpha Flight), Havok, Jesse Custer (Preacher), Nighthawk and Wonder Man while females rejected included Chance Falconer, Power Girl, Rogue, Saturn Girl and Supergirl. While I read very little superhero stuff now, there was still no candidates from other fare I've enjoyed (such as Bone, A Distant Soil, Aldebaran/Betelgeuse, etc) so with no further ado, here's my personal top ten:

10: Hank Pym. While Marvel completely cocked up the character with that stupid spousal abuse crap in the early 80s, I always enjoyed Pym as Ant-Man, Goliath and especially Yellowjacket. His character has been rescued somewhat over the last decade and I wish he was allowed to show the potential he holds as a Richards/Stark/Banner-level intellect.

9: Nick Fury. I never liked war stories so Sgt Fury held no interest for me but as Marvel's premier spymaster, Fury has proven to be tough as nails and always one step ahead of the enemy.
8: Nova. I loved Nova as a kid (not realising for years that he was a basic Green Lantern/Peter Parker hybrid) and was really happy when he returned in the New Warriors. Despite his current success as Marvel's premier space hero, my favourite treatment of him was during the second year of New Warriors.
7: Rick Jones. Loyal and brave (but often flawed), Rick has moved beyond the eternal sidekick role (to Hulk, Cap, Cap Marvel and Rom) to shine as a character in his own right. The recent Peter David Captain Marvel series relied less on the title star than Rick, currently running around as the idiotic A-Bomb (will somebody please just stop Jeph Loeb?)
6: Pre-Crisis Superboy. Although I appreciate his art now, I hated Curt Swan's Superman stories as a kid as he seemed so fuddyduddy and old. Then I discovered Superboy: a younger, fresher take on the character who palled around with a bunch of cool pals in the future. The pre-Crisis version remains a fond favourite, despite me having no particular affection for his older counterpart.
5: Blue Beetle. I had picked up the first six or so issues of his DC revival but of course it wasn't until Giffen & DeMatteis worked their comedic magic that Blue Beetle (together with best pal Booster Gold) blossomed into a beloved fan favourite character. I can live with the horror of Countdown To Infinite Shite due to the unofficial fact that's running around alive after being rescued in a Booster Gold arc.

4: Donna Troy. There's many attractive heroines but as a kid, the New Teen Titans was one of the first superhero titles to really invest its characters with personalities and Donna Troy developed into a warm, independent person loved by everybody without ever being too sweet and saccharine. Afflicted with a confusing post-Crisis history, the character remains true to the personality created by Wolfman and Perez.

3: Jack Knight. I hold the Starman series as one of the best superhero series ever, a complete career of a reluctant hero running throughout its run, Jack developing from a slightly rebellious and selfish but likable character into a true hero, maturing to heal longstanding family wounds before retiring to start his own family. (I'm looking forward to the upcoming Starman#81 even if Jack's not in it!)
2: Wally West. First as Kid Flash and then as the first protege to officially take on their mentor's role (as the Flash), I grew up with Wally as he developed from something of a right wing hothead to a more laid back Lothario and into the assured family man that he is today. I always loved the Kid Flash and Flash costume though I'm not sure about the new post-Flash:Rebirth mask, but he remains a favourite character and the most interesting Flash.
1: Cyclops. I've banged on about why I like Cyke before so it's no surprise that he came in at #1, the only easy choice in the whole top ten.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Anime Shun

Well, TV's still a no go zone for the most part (although I still enjoy the new Enterprise shots in Star Trek:TOS and found myself quite getting in to Misfits) so, exacerbated by the snow here and the lack of concentration to read anything substantial, I've been forced to look to mt DVD collection for entertainment.

I found myself enjoying Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Howl's Moving Castle from the famous Studio Ghibli company in Japan and mostly enjoyed other works of theirs I managed to catch on E4 (and other than the original Solaris ferreted away in the middle of the night, when was the last time E4 had any interesting new movies on?). As a result, I picked up four Ghibili movies from a cheapie DVD shop in Wolverhampton as you can usually never find them under £10 each. I later searched on eBay and took a risk by ordering a boxset of 18 Ghibli movies from Malaysia. Pirating is rife in that territory but the pic supplied made me hope it was worth the gamble: for the just slightly less than the price of a single UK Ghibli film, this boxset contained 18!

Luckily, it seems to have payed off as the four-disc set is great (and not a pirate!). The 18-film set contains every Ghibli release (other than the comic-strip based My Neighbours The Yamadas, which I wanted to avoid as it looks so ugly anyway) but includes studio founder Hayao Miyazaki's pre-Ghibli films LupinIII: the Castle of Cogliostro and Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind, right up to the latest film, Ponyo, which is the only film on disc four.

The other films are spread out across the first three discs and contain multiple dialogue and subtitle tracks. Due to the amount of data crammed onto each disc, the prints used are not always as crisp as the UK prints but are generally just as good. With a Disney film, you know what the tone will be but not so with Ghibli. There are the child friendly fantasies like Ponyo, Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro, slightly more mature fantasies like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle, adventures like Laputa: Castle In The Sky and Porco Rosso and non-fantasies like Only Yesterday, I Can Hear The Sea and the moving Grave of the Fireflies (a film you know ends badly from the opening sentence but is still powerful at the end).

I found myself surprised by how much I enjoyed Nausicaa (mainly because I always associated it with the intolerant food-labelling Fabio Barbieri, who loved it which put me right off) and Ponyo (which just seemed kiddie fare) but I still can't get into Castle of Cogliostro, a 1979 crime caper than tears at my patience. I doubt I'll sit through the testicle-morphing of Pom Poko again though as it swiftly runs out of direction).

For anybody who thinks anime is all cyberpunk or Pokemon/Yu-Gi-Oh/Gormiti /Beyblade competition arena bash 'em ups, this is a great way to sample some of the lesser known but more widely respected animation from Gojira's homeland...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Free Beer!!!

Earned some free beer today as a thanks for doing a (full colour Copic marker) pic for somebody at work, which I won't post as I don't really like the results...but you can't argue with free beer!

Posted above though is a piece I AM fairly happy with (or as happy as I tend to be with my stuff). I was asked to do a combined family portrait which is to be copied and given as Xmas gifts to the relevant family members. I love drawing people so sounded fun: Carolina e-mailed me a bunch of refs and I was off...

I got the refs late on Sunday afternoon and the failing light by that time presented a challenge. As this was for a few people, I wanted to take my time and get this right. I had the visual in mind (after being given the basic concept) and began with the heads: the likenesses would take the most time, everything else being relatively easy. After doing Carolina and her boyfriend Neil's heads, I realised I wasn't going to have room and had to rethink things.

Starting over, I pencilled, inked and grey-shaded with the Copics each head individually. I managed to do about five before the failing light meant I had to switch on the light and abandon work due to shadows from the light ahead.

The next day, I came up with a way around this: I lay my pad on my lightbox and used the light from that to balance out the shadows from above and voila, I could draw again! It wasn't all easy though as the refs were jpegs so I threw them on a memory stick to put into my digital photo frame so that I could comfortably work from that rather than the PC monitor. Keeping the frame in position was tricky but I eventually completed all the heads...

...except one, which I had missed as I had misunderstood the request so I stopped work to add the extra head onto the memory stick to work from. Once this was finished, I roughed in the sledge, pencilled the bodies, inked them all and finished with the dog before completing the whole thing with a quick gloss over with the markers.

I wasn't sure if Carolina would like the finished pic as I felt some likenesses were better than others but thankfully I think she did. Job done and another possible two request for the office to follow this weekend (the thought of which I shudder at as I may have to brave the Xmas shopping hordes, brrr!!)

Friday, 4 December 2009

Xmas Time, Mistletoe & Whine

Well, the festive season is well and truly upon us and I'm starting to have the same ambiguous feelings about it that I do each year.

Religious origins aside, I like the basic modern concept of Christmas: a time to relax and unwind with those you want to be with and forget your everyday worries for the briefest of moments. I enjoy the process of picking out gifts (though I do it early enough to avoid the hell of Xmas shopping in December) and the glimmer of kitschy decorations (not that I'd have them at home) ((though I have to confess to the guilty pleasure of wandering around town earlier this week in my lunchbreak with Carolina as she searched for Christmas chintz to deface, um decorate our workspace)) but for some reason, I always get depressed at this time of year.

Maybe it's because of the constant barrage of images of fun and cosiness, but I always end up feeling isolated and kind of fed up with the whole thing by the time the 25th eventually rolls out. Maybe this is why the season tends to be the suicide peak of the year: or maybe it's just the annual churning out of Morecambe & Wise, The Snowman, So Here It Is Merry Christmas and It'll Be Lonely This Christmas...