Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Modern Newsprint Comic

There are comics in your local newspaper. They have been there for a long time. But there are also weird newspaper-shaped comics done in small print runs. These are often free or cost a buck or two. To my knowledge, Paper Rodeo out of Providence, RI were the pioneers of this stolen format. With hand-drawn ads for local businesses, Paper Rodeo ran for 19 issues over five years(2001-2006). PR featured comics and art from mostly Fort Thunder dudes as well as like-minded submitters. Widely admired, it is my belief that PR inspired many to adopt this cheap to fund form. Many similar papers have followed. The Schulz library has a small collection of Paper Rodeo and similar objects. The papers pictured are: Bike Roder, Pizza Wizard, Chimera, Comics Comics, Avengalist.

DC Comics even got into the act with their Wednesday Comics from 2009.

White River Junction, VT has one now. Caboose is a paper filled with stories by cartoonists in White River or by folks who have passed though this tiny town.

Caboose was of course inspired by all these great papers before it but was directly inspired by one out of Montreal called, 48.

48 debuted at Expozine last year and my friend Max de Radigués who co-edited Caboose with myself helped create in about 2 weeks! This inspired me so Max and I teamed up with our sponsor, CCS, and made a paper with lots of awesome help from our friends. Sorry if this sounds like an ad but Caboose is free so I am not making a dime of of it.

Oh, and the comic newspaper is not dead in Providence.  A new publication known as Taffy Hips has been making itself known for the past year and a half.  (full disclosure: the author of this post has a page in the latest issue of Taffy Hips.  Again, I am not getting paid for this)

So I guess the lesson here is this: kids, if you are sick of making mini-comics by hand with staplers and stuff. Just find a printer who can print on newsprint and ask your parents for some money. It’ll be fun, I promise!

-Chuck Forsman

Dave McKean’s “Pictures That Tick”

Note: Steve Bissette and I are teaching a course in contemporary comics history (Survey of the Drawn Story II, as it’s properly known).  Our students are required to submit an essay, in blog form, on an aspect of contemporary comics history.  They are restricted to the period of 1969 – present.

Today’s essay is by Andrew James Christensen.  Enjoy!

– Robyn Chapman

Dave McKean’s Pictures That Tick

By Andrew James Christensen 

Pictures That Tick is a fantastic collection of Dave McKean’s personal comics work.  The pages are filled with his explorations and experimentations in writing, drawing, painting, photocopying, photography, and probably a dozen other processes McKean tampers with, all united under the common theme of story-telling.

In general, all of his stories are dreams, poems, fairy-tales, and music.  Some contain more of those elements than others, but they all fall in that spectrum.  Part of this is certainly due to the words he chooses to tell his stories, but I expect that this notion is more due his visual choices.

One thing I love about Dave McKean’s work is that nothing is off-limits.  Anything that can be used as a means to make pictures can and will be used.  Pictures That Tick provides many examples of this notion.  In particular, a single page story entitled “Liam’s Story” is a product of playing with a color copier (as McKean explains in a brief introduction).  The story itself is about a pig stacking objects upon one other until he wants to “huff and puff” and blow them over.  Only he discovers they won’t fall because they are not being stacked up from the ground but instead flat along the glass of a photocopier.

Besides the photo-collage work that has become a staple of McKean’s imagery, I was excited to see a good amount of his straightforward work with ink.  Be it by pen or brush, I feel that the ability to make pictures out of simple lines is evidence of a great cartoonist/illustrator.  It’s like a magician having to perform without all the smoke and mirrors, and instead being limited to a deck of cards or just a coin.  Don’t get me wrong, the “smoke and mirrors” are really cool and all, but if that magician can amaze you with the basics, then you know they’ve got something special.  AND, it makes the “showy” stuff all the more believable.  Not that I ever doubted McKean’s artistic expertise, seeing his work with ink confirms his mastery of the visual medium.  Two stories in this collection really highlight this: “Bitten and Bruised” and “(eye)” (literally, the title is a symbol of an eye).  “(eye)” in particular is a visual masterpiece.  Basically, it is about a bird soaring over a town and various moments of peoples’ lives within it.  The pages are commonly formatted into three panoramic panels, which is perfect for depicting the bird’s journey.  This story, as with many of the stories in the book, becomes very rhythmic due to the regular page division.

My absolute favorite two stories in this collection, “Mixed Metaphors” and “Black Water”, combine both ink linework and McKean’s digital-collage method for color and/or background.  However, “collage” may be an incorrect description in these stories’ cases, as it’s more a matter of overlaying textures and possibly digital blending (who knows the process but McKean).  “Mixed Metaphors” is another wordless story that is beautifully composed and tinted with sepia-toned textures.  The story is simple, enigmatic, and beautiful.  “Black Water” may be my favorite story of all, but I’d expect that’s due to a bias love of painting on my part.  Unfortunately, I often find that in “painted comics” the artwork actually distracts from the story itself, and thus ceases to be as much a comic as a series of paintings in comics-form.  This is not the case in “Black Water”.  Here paint seems to be used simply as another tool in a cartoonist’s toolbox.  By this I mean that McKean manages to use painting seamlessly within the “comics” framework, combining it beautifully with brushed inks and perhaps some digital manipulation. Besides the visuals, the story is also a simple dreamlike anecdote for returning to a place that might be better left alone.

Pictures That Tick may not be for everyone.  It certainly takes a willingness to participate in the dreamlike wanderings of Dave McKean’s mind.  But whether willing or not, it’s clear from this book that the comics medium has so much to offer.  The only limitation is that we have to bring ourselves to put pictures to paper and make it exist.

– Andrew James Christensen 

Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise

Note: Steve Bissette and I are teaching a course in contemporary comics history (Survey of the Drawn Story II, as it’s properly known).  Our students are required to submit an essay, in blog form, on an aspect of contemporary comics history.  They are restricted to the period of 1969 – present.

Today’s essay is by Tom Casteel.  Enjoy!

– Robyn Chapman

Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore

 by Tom Casteel 

 Strangers in Paradise is a comic book series that was self-published by its creator Terry Moore from 1993 to 2007.  The series ran for 90 issues, coming out reliably every 6 to 8 weeks for fourteen years.  Excluding a handful of pages drawn by Jim Lee for a special issue, Moore single-handedly penciled, inked and lettered every panel of the series’ run. Putting this output in perspective, Jeff Smith’s Bone ran for 55 issues over thirteen years.  When the series ended in 2007, some industry commentators claimed it was the end of the self-publishing movement started by Dave Sim.  Cerebus and Bone had both ended in 2004, and Strangers in Paradise was arguably the last widely read title that had emerged during the self-publishing era of the mid 1990s.  At its conclusion the series was still highly popular.  The entire run has been collected in trade paperbacks, all of which are currently in print, and has been translated into seven languages. 

Strangers in Paradise 2

 In 1992, Moore was looking for a way to break into either the comic book industry or the world of syndicated newspaper comic strips. He wrote and drew the first issue of Strangers in Paradise, the first comic book that he had ever drawn, as a calling card or portfolio piece to get him work at one of the big comic book publishers.  His intent with creating the first issue was just to get a job, not to self-publish his own comic book.  However, after seeing the first issue, Antarctic Press approached Moore about creating a 3-issue mini-series, expanding on the characters and plot of the first issue.  Though he later admitted that he had no idea of what he was getting into and was just faking his way through, Moore agreed to the deal with Antarctic and in November of 1993 the first issue of the mini-series was published.  At first Moore thought the mini-series would be the end of Strangers in Paradise, and he would try again to use this work to get a job at one of the large publishers.  However, the mini-series received positive critical response and Moore was encouraged by other self-publishers to continue with the project.  Moore knew that Strangers in Paradise was not the type of book that would be published by Marvel or DC, though he also realized that it wasn’t “alternative” enough to appeal to some of the smaller presses either.  After a brief run with Homage Comics, Moore started his own publishing company, Abstract Studio, and re-launched the series with a new first issue in 1994.

 Strangers in Paradise is primarily a story about the relationship between its three main characters: Francine Peters, Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski and David Qin.  The series starts with the budding relationship between Francine and Katchoo.  David enters the story in later issues, though he quickly grows in importance until becoming a central character.  Another character, Casey Femur, gains importance later in the series and is also a central character at its conclusion.  These characters possess remarkable emotional depth and complexity.  It is tempting to give a profile of each character, but like real people their individual personalities cannot be neatly summarized in a few words.  The relationships between the characters are complex and are ever shifting between friendship and romance.  The deep internal emotional lives of the characters, and the complex emotional terrain of their relationships creates a highly satisfying and remarkable story.

 The artwork on this series is impressive.  Moore’s linework is beautiful and  achieves both realism and simplicity.  Working with a brush and nib, with fluid live lines, Moore masterfully conveys a huge range of emotion.  He draws his characters convincingly with real body types and real faces.  His work has been praised for its realistic portrayal of woman’s bodies, especially given the context of the highly sexualized and spandex-clad content of much of the comic books of the major publishers in the mid 1990s.

 Moore’s take on the sexuality of his characters has brought the series both positive and negative attention.  The romance between Francine and Katchoo is the driving emotional element of the story, though neither character ever makes a declaration of their sexual identity.  The story is really about their relationship, not about their sexual preferences.  Interestingly, at first glance Moore does not seem to be your typical crusader for equal rights for gays.  He was raised in a conservative Christian church in Texas.  Moore decided to explore issues of sexuality in his early issues of “Strangers in Paradise” after his cousin, a homosexual, died of HIV early on in the AIDS epidemic.  After members of his church began to read his series and saw what they considered a favorable representation of homosexuality he was asked to stop the series or to leave the church.  Moore left his church and continued the series.

 Another interesting aspect of Moore’s approach to this series is his inclusion of his other creative efforts in the comic book.  Moore decided early on in the series that Strangers in Paradise would be the outlet for all of his creative passions, even those not were not traditionally included in comic books.  The stories often include poetry, prose, song lyrics and fine art.  These elements are used both as storytelling elements and as creative works of the characters, which is an effective device in revealing their character.

 Moore’s career in self-publishing continues today.  He started his new series Echo in 2007 and plans to conclude it within two years with issue number 30.   This series is a sci-fi thriller, yet still embraces Moore’s flair for emotionally diverse characters and realistic but simple drawing.

– Tom Casteel

The Art of the Comic Con Sketchbook

Mike Allred

 

     Given that comic convention season is upon us, I thought it most appropriate to write on the matter of convention sketchbooks! While interning in Portland, OR, last summer I spent some time with one particularly thoughtful writer,  Jamie S. Rich. Rich is the author of such graphic novels as the brand new Spell Checkers, You Have Killed Me and Love the Way You Love. I contributed myself to his convention sketchbook of choice but I think I better let him tell you it about himself!

     In the old days, you could get just about any comic artist to do a drawing at a convention for a measly $25 (or thereabouts). As a teen on a budget, this meant planning out who I would most want to get for whatever was in my pocket. My very first convention sketch was a headshot of The Shadow by Howard Chaykin (he charged $15 for heads, $25 for full figure); my second was a pretty spectacular Christine Spar from Grendel artists Arnold and Jacob Pander. This was also in the days when small cons could be held in the banquet room at a hotel and San Diego Comic Con was contained by the main hall of the old convention center. You could actually mill about in the aisles and have time to chat with your favorite creator. As the shows got bigger, so did the demands.

Chynna Clugston

 

     I can’t pinpoint the year people started showing up with sketchbooks. The first one I ever saw was owned by my first boss, noted editor Diana Schutz, and hers was a special breed. People didn’t just whip something out at their table, they took it home to draw in. That’s how she ended up with a double-page Matt Wagner drawing of Kirby’s Demon, complete with a poem. I followed suit almost immediately, and worked with the same meticulousness she did. One really damn good drawing a year was preferable to filling up an entire book of freebies. Every artist has a free sketch they do over and over, something that takes less than 30 seconds. The kind of thing they develop because they know a bunch of the seekers don’t even know (or care) who they are seeking, they’re just working their way through the show. Of these, Bruce Timm has made an art of it. His Batman headshot is a masterwork of simplicity.

Jen Wang

     To stand out from the crowd, many art collectors have moved toward themed sketchbooks. They pick a favorite character or theme and then ask their favorite cartoonists to contribute, hoping that maybe asking Joëlle Jones to do something other than her 100th Dr. Horrible of the day, she’ll have fun and come up with something brilliant. A break for them is a boon for you! I’ve seen Catwoman, monkeys, Yoda, David Bowie, Billy Wilder movies, Madman, Tintin, the Royal Tenenbaums, and even someone once who had every artist draw his face.

Christine Norrie

 

     My personal sketchbook is Audrey Hepburn. It was actually started as a gift, a portfolio put together by a well-known comics retailer who used her reputation and mine to get folks like Mike Allred, David Mack, Chynna Clugston, Andi Watson, and Craig Thompson (a particularly difficult “get”) to draw my favorite actress. I still keep my regular “do whatever you want” book on the side just in case–some folks find the Audrey book very intimidating–but there is a special pride in having a portfolio no one else could ever possible have.

Craig Thompson

 

     Smart collectors, by the way, show up with good reference for the artist. And, of course, we are willing to pay. You tip the guy who makes your coffee in the morning, how can you not tip your favorite cartoonist?

     To flip through the rest of Jamie S. Rich’s Audrey sketchbook, visit his online portfolio here!  Thank you, Jamie, for your excellent advice and thoughts on the highly important matter of convention sketchbooks! 

-Jen Vaughn

The World’s Largest Comic Library

I’m mighty proud of The Schulz Library’s collection (8,416 books and counting!)  But when I consider the collection at Michigan State University, I can’t help but commit deadly sin #6: envy.  MSU’s Special Collection Library is the world’s largest public collection of comics (with a quarter million comics and counting!)

Lately I’ve been chatting with Ryan Claytor, a cartoonist and professor at MSU.  Ryan shared this excellent blog post about MSU’s comics collection.

Watch this video tour with Randy Scott,  MSU’s Comics Bibliographer.  To learn more, visit Ryan’s blog.  FYI, Ryan is planning a book tour this summer that will stop at CCS, watch his website for more detail. 

– Robyn Chapman

Nevermind The Bollocks, Here’s a Comic!

Note: Steve Bissette and I are teaching a course in contemporary comics history (Survey of the Drawn Story II, as it’s properly known).  Our students are required to submit an essay, in blog form, on an aspect of contemporary comics history.  They are restricted to the period of 1969 – present.

Today’s essay is by Nomi Kane.  Enjoy!

– Robyn Chapman

– Nomi Kane

Incoming: Far Arden

Published by Top Shelf Productions

ISBN: 1603090363

Having enjoyed the educational graphic novel, The Stuff of Life, written by Mark Schultz and illustrated by Zander and Kevin Cannon (no relation) I looked forward to reading Far Arden exclusively made by Kevin Cannon.  Far Arden is one of those books you plow through in an excited and ecstatic manner only to slow down towards the end in order to savor every page turn.

What is apparently the work of several 24 hour comics put together, Far Arden still reads well in one sitting-in fact, that is what I did. The mark making and uniform line widts enchanted me while the story crescendoed with action and sunk back into its contemplative state like a masterful musical movement. This action adventure on the sea took me places emotionally as well so it gets major points for making me cry and laugh.

We follow Army Shanks, a seaman of noted fame, and his ragtag group of well, we’ll call them barnacles. Shanks is a typical loner who wishes to find the island of Far Arden on his own but keeps picking up people attracted to his inner strength, including the pluckiest of orphans!

The story twists and turns but you are right there with Cannon. While some could consider his action sound effects gimmicky, they are delivered with the right amount of humor to be effective. I looked forward to the action sequences and was not disappointed with such beauties as ‘Mid-air Groin Grinder’! Cannon definitely delivers.

One pleasurable design aspect is Far Arden’s end pages. End pages are often forgotten and by GOD, do we need more maps, character portraits or scene setting in the end pages. The strong story speaks for itself but these touches create an overall experience and our attentions are turning slowly towards more than just a reading. The publisher of Far Arden, Top Shelf, makes a habit of producing sincere work and every step of this book is considered.

Check out your local comic book store or our graphic novel section for Far Arden by Kevin Cannon today!

-Jen Vaughn