Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Joke About Abecedarii

This might only be funny to you if you share Mike's sense of humor, but I cooked up a funny little device that I'm planning to run (at very small size) on the frontispiece and the corresponding blank page at the back ("backispiece"?) of the micro-mini ABC that I'm preparing for the MoCCA Festival.

Basically, it relies on a few of the most hackneyed connections in the "A is for Apple" genre...

Then, when the images reappear (after the actual meat of the book), new labels give the images new names and assign them to new letters of the alphabet.

I imagine it would be fun to put one of these together for the whole alphabet, coming up with three or four different solutions that relied on different levels of the lexicon, different degrees of specificity, or different languages. But I have two micro-minis to prepare, plus the next Matteu strip, so I don't think I'm going to engage in any more elaborate wordgames today.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Matteu (13-15)

For the next Matteu strips, Mike took advantage of the page break to move the story forward by a few minutes without showing them to us. (This is obviously something we're going to have to do from time to time, so we won't have to be drawing this story for twenty years.) I think the transition has done a lot to increase the tension of the story, even if the central conflict still hasn't really emerged.

Here's this week's installment of Matteu's story:

(As usual, I hope you'll click to enlarge and read.)

As you might be able to guess by looking at the last date (which seems to be Mike's date of composition, since he emailed the final copy to me just a few days ago), this brings us to the end of the three-strip pages. Now it's my challenge, I guess, to get another strip of this story done before this time next week, to keep up the regular updates.

Now's a great time for you lurking readers to pitch in and kibbitz a bit. Ask something about where the story is going: we may not know the answer until you pose the question.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fun Color Cartoons for Stickers

Okay, so I wasn't done with Photoshop. When we publish "Stepan Crick and the Chart of the Possible" as postcards, it'll be available bundled up in an envelope, and we're thinking that we'll want some images to make the envelope look more like the cover of a comic.

...So we're going to take advantage of the cute little vinyl stickers that makes, and put a few flashes of color there.

With that in mind, and realizing that Moo has to ship to me from England before MoCCA, I spent some time yesterday working up color images from Mike's "Forty-Nine Fantasy Folk" images (not all of them).

A few of them turned out pretty nicely. Here's a little gallery:





I might be getting the hang of this Photoshop business, I tell you...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Matteu (10-12)

I'm done coloring the images for the postcard version of our Elfworld submission. Once I get them back from the printer, I'll set up a post to sell them through the website; they'll also debut at MoCCA next month.

And, in what I hope will be my final wrangle with Photoshop for the week, I've put together the next page of the Matteu story. Things are starting to get tense, now, with a real conflict emerging, sort of...

(Please do click the image so you can read it.)

You may notice the cameo Mike and I are making in that first panel. Two free sets of the Stepan postcards for the first person who can identify our clan costumes! (Use the comments section and your knowledge of the comics Mike and I grew up reading.)

This is around the time when the chronological gaps between tiers started to get kind of long. I think more than a year passed between my two strips on this page. This is what you get when you mix comics with academia, I'm afraid.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Wandered Lonely as a Crowd

I'm still coloring that Elfworld story, but I'm finally working on the last page, which is also the first page. You may remember that the first page is set in a bazaar. There's quite a crowd there.

This makes the job of coloring the thing very complicated. I wish I could say that I'd picked up enough facility with Photoshop to make this sort of thing quick and easy; alas, it looks like this page is going to take me about an hour per panel.

Why, a marketplace like this is enough to give a person agoraphobia! (Sorry. I'm sure Mike would have said it if I hadn't.)

I'll post more of the Matteu story tomorrow, by which time I should actually be finished with these postcards.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Comes the Apocalypse

Why does this exist?

And why, Lord, why does it feature Ozzy Osbourne?

The wretched details are found here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If Sauron had won...

It's all on!

Comics in Hungary

In April I traveled to Hungary for the first time in ten years. Ten years ago I wasn't reading comics at all, much less making them; and I was certainly uninterested in seeking out comics produced in Magyar, a language that laughs at the non-agglutinating, un-vowel-harmonious simplicities of the Indo-European or Semitic tongues with which I am more familiar.

But this time, when Becca spotted an ad for an exhibit about Hungarian comics, conveniently on view in Budapest right when we'd be there, I was keen to check it out, language obstacles notwithstanding [Edit: See comments for further links, courtesy of Becca]. We had a nice walk along the mighty Danube, passing by the beautiful Parliament building...

...on our way to Margit-Sziget (Margaret Island), a big green patch of land amid the river where it widens, just before narrowing again to divide the originally separate cities of hilly Buda and flat Pest. The exhibit was being held in Holdudvar, a restaurant-artspace on the island. Here's the exterior of the site, with a banner promoting the "Frame Up" exhibit:

As the English-language title shows, the curators of the exhibit catered rather graciously to their non-Magyar-speaking visitors, and a number of the pages were displayed in English translation (so please do click images below to enlarge them unto legibility!). The exhibit was curated by kArton (sic), a gallery dedicated to comics in Hungary, and it featured works ranging from decades-old adventure stories and humor comics to quite recent stories that display a kind of Dark Horse Comics sensibility (by which I mean it's attractive, professional work that happily employs genre tropes without appearing to be swallowed whole by genre clichés or over-corporatized).

One of the artists most responsible for that Dark Horse Comics vibe was
Mátyás Lanczinger, whose sample pages from a detective story called "The Woman in the Yellow Wig" looked like a parody of Frank Miller's Sin City yarn That Yellow Bastard:

Some of the more recent work fell more in the "art comics" column, with the bulk of its interest coming from painterly techniques and whole-page composition rather than storytelling or joke cracking. Unfortunately for this post, I didn't bother to photograph samples from those art comics, both because I wanted to spare my camera battery and because I'm a philistine, apparently. Also, in my effort to record details with my camera, I haven't caught the attractive display of original pages and oversized reproductions in frames that were themselves decorated with cartoons and color. Sorry!

Anyway. Another seeming reflection of English-language comics came in artist Zoltán Fritz's story "Death and the Compass" (or "The Compass of Death," as the kArton website puts it). Based on a tale of Borges (with script credited to "Zorro de Bianco"), its details of mystical arcana (kabbalistic, in this case) and occult urban mapping recall the creepy revelations about London's wicked architecture in From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell:

Fritz's story was serialized (in Magyar) in a Hungarian comics anthology called Pinkhell, whose pages also featured Noname by Miklós Felvidéki, likewise on view at the exhibit. In fact, both artists' stories won Alfabéta awards from the Hungarian Comic Publishers Association for "best comics short story (3-19 pages) of 2007." I liked their work enough to buy an issue of Pinkhell despite the language barrier (thankfully overcome in some measure by their visual storytelling skills and by recourse to a Lonely Planet Hungarian phrasebook). Here's a mostly silent page by Felvidéki from the exhibit, since it's the visuals that appeal to me most in his work:

He also tied for an Alfabéta award for best cover of 2007, again featuring his fox-man from Noname:

Felvidéki's skill at visual storytelling comes through in his four-page short story in Pinkhell 3 (a story that communicated its ideas quite well even before I resorted to the phrasebook to puzzle out some of the Magyar). It's a masterpiece of compression and the expressive use of color--or, rather, the narrative use of color, as color is used less to convey a mood than to connect scenes as they play out between past and present, real life and fantasy in the mind of the protagonist. Here's how the first page sets out the method of the story. In the first tier, the fox-man protagonist is speeding along in a car with yellow-green flames on the hood in the year 2007 (if the flames look insufficiently green, I apologize and blame my scanner). The car comes to a drawbridge--

--only to crashland in 1981, as a toy car hurled by his younger self. Note the way the distinctive yellow-green of the car's hood (tinily visible in the second panel above) is transferred to the background of the fourth panel, as the fox-man realizes his mistake, before recurring in the explosive sound effect of the toy's crash against the wall. This sort of passing-the-color-baton to bridge gaps in time, place, and perspective works really well in this story, and it comes together nicely on a final page that reveals the bridge-jumping hotrod of 2007 to be still another fantasy (far from speeding away from pursuers, the fox-man is stuck in traffic; and his car doesn't have yellow-green flames: it's entirely yellow-green, and looks a little sickly).

Finally, the cartoonist whose work appealed to me the most at the exhibit was a member of the old guard, Sándor Gugi, who apparently (according to my friends at Wikipedia) got the idea in the 1950s to produce comics adaptations of literary classics in order to avoid the charge of producing imperialist vestiges of Western cultural trash. Happily for me (as my scholarship is mostly on Arthurian literature), the Gugi comics featured at Holdudvar included his playful take on Lancelot's love for Guenevere. The story is amusing, but what I really loved was Gugi's cartooning. Check out this detail of Lancelot languishing while the wizard Klingsor traps Lancelot's love in a bottle:

Masterful black and white, and an adorable owl. What's not to like? I'm just sorry that this story wasn't featured in the only Gugi collection I could find.

From my outsider's eyes, it looks as if the current Hungarian comics scene is in an interesting place, though the Wikipedia entry on Hungarian comics seems to take a dim view of prospects for the medium and its artists. Be that as it may, with evidence of over fifty years' worth of interesting cartooning on display in a single small exhibit, and a current anthology showcasing quite a variety of approaches, Hungary's comics just might deserve a more optimistic outlook. Perhaps in the future more of us, Magyar or not, can join together in a celebration of comics and declare: "It's all on!"

Monday, May 12, 2008

Color Update on the Stepan Story

I've been coloring the pages out of order, skipping over a few that I thought would present problems, and I just finished my fifth one -- which is p. 7. I think that means I'm halfway through with the work, or at least nearly there.

The page I just finished, as you may recall, is the one that swipes its layout, more or less, from Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase. I thought I'd try doing that page with a flat version of Duchamp's palette, leaving some of the painting visible in parts of the background.

What do you think?

Miniature Dogsbody

Page 6 of the Stepan story has a lot of tiny details in it. (It's my own fault. I know.)

Here, for example, is a very, very small image of Kalbi, sitting on the back of the stagecoach.

This is enlarged around 4X for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Matteu (7-9)

So far, these Matteu pages haven't garnered much comment, but I'm going to keep posting installments at least once a week, hoping that Mike will lob the ball back into my court some time soon so we can get a nice volley going.

Without further introduction, here are the next three Matteu strips:


... Apparently we got pretty interested in that business about horses. But now we're getting into the city itself, and I'm sure the plot is going to start moving forward. I can just feel it in my bones.

Notice the weird timing on this batch. I drew the middle tier as a response to a pencil version of the first tier; Mike inked both the first and the third tiers of this page on the same day.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Stepan's School of Hard Knocks

Well, I'm working on the color version of our Elfworld submission.

It feels like it's going to take forever, but I actually have some time to devote to comics for a change, so here we go. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I'm sure I'll make visible progress soon.

Or, in the words of a captcha letter combo I got this evening,

But actually I am having fun with this, though it's terribly slow. Working on page 2, I've noticed a few things I hadn't seen yet, including a piece of Stepan's costume that disappeared pretty quickly (when I started drawing him, I guess -- oops!) and a pun (of sorts) that Mike slipped into panel 6. It's a real pleasure to go over Mike's pages and find all these little details. I'll post the next page of the Matteu story tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Continuing Color Cuandary

All right: based on some feedback to the first post about Kalbi's costume, I've made some tweaks. Does this meet with everyone's approval?

Also, how about this color combination for Stepan? It's a little different from what I was showing Mike earlier today.

Kalbi's Kostume: Kolor Kwestion

So, I have finally started to color our Elfworld submission, "Stepan Crick and the Chart of the Possible", which I'm hoping to have ready as a set of ten color postcards in time for the MoCCA festival in early June. (I'd better get to coloring! The postcards will take some time to arrive!)

And already I'm at a quandary. I can't decide how to dress our dog-headed boy, Kalbi. Could you help me decide between these options?

Originally, I'd wanted to put him in purple, or in purple and blue, so I tried this out.

Option A

Mike said he liked that version, but a little bird on my shoulder kind of convinced me that I might want to try something else.

And so here he is again, in a sort of burgundy tunic:

Option B

And then there's the possibility of a sort of compromise:

Option C

I'm not sure which one of these looks best. If it helps you to know, Stepan is mostly dressed in green. Arntham, of course, is all in black.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Comics & Cartoons in Israel, part 1

Recently I was in Israel and then Hungary to celebrate Passover. In both places, my uncanny comics-sense tingled to alert me to the location of comics stores and to direct me to various celebrations of comics and cartoons. I'll say more about my Hungarian comics experience in a later post. And I suspect that the Israeli comics will take more than one post to address. For now, though, I just want to offer a quick tour of some of the unexpected sightings--and sitings--of comics in Tel Aviv and even, to my astonishment, in Tsfat.

In Tel Aviv, my wife Becca and I hadn't walked two blocks away from lunch on my first day there before I saw these familiar characters on a wall:

The caption asks, "What do you want to do tonight?" I think we all know the Brain's usual response to Pinky's question. (You may also note the word balloon to the right, reading--in English--"He-ha comics!")

Elsewhere on our stroll, we saw another familiar comics character, the golem, looming above a well-cartooned bird and elephant:

On Rothschild Avenue, the vaguely doglike mascot of a restaurant seemed kin to Kim Deitch's Waldo:

It was Becca who spotted the comics-themed shirt on sale at Sabotage Fashion ("Sabotage art, fashion comics..."):

Inside the store, we were confronted by this unhappy fellow:

A happier young woman at the store informed us that she, herself, made comics, and she gave us directions to a nearby comics store, Comics Ve-Yerakot (Comics and Vegetables):

A glance at the photo will show that the comics for sale at CNV are mostly of the American superhero variety, but we did manage to find a couple of Hebrew-language works of great interest: a (semi?-)autobiographical series, by a religious Jew who teaches typography at a secular institution, that interweaves his life story with the allegorical stories of the chasidic master Rebbe Nahman of Breslav; and a hilariously scatalogical Passover haggadah, whose text is orthodox but whose illustrations are anything but (and whose redefinition of "the Promised Land" will be documented in a later installment).

We had to go to a proper bookstore, Sipur Pashut (A Simple Story) [English-language link], to find works by members of the Actus group (including Rutu Modan, whose original English-language graphic novel Exit Wounds has won a lot of acclaim)--and to get a proper introduction to the work of Dudu Geva, who, according to Naomi Simantov at Ha-Aretz, "is considered by many to be the founding father of the Israeli comics culture." We had, in fact, seen his name earlier in the day without recognizing it, on the cover of a comic posted in a store window:

This comic is titled "Ahlan and Sahlan in the Wild West," and it features "unendurable suspense!" I'm guessing that "Ahlan" and "Sahlan"--whose names are derived from an Arabic phrase of welcome--are the two characters filling "John Sterling" full of holes there (actually, he protests "But I'm not John Sterling!", for all the good it does him). Dudu Geva is listed as one of the featured artists in this 48-page black and white spectacular, which is "Highly highly (not) recommended by the Office of Education."

So who is--or was--Dudu Geva? A first glance at his work shows traces of R. Crumb and even Gary Panter, but I'll know more once I've ploughed through more of Pesher ha-chayyim (The Meaning of Life), the thick tome that accompanied a posthumous exhibit of his copious and diverse output. I know this much, however: his best known character was a cartoon duck known simply as the Duck (Ha-barvaz); and the day before I arrived in Tel Aviv, a gigantic inflatable version of Ha-barvaz had been erected atop the municipal building in Rabin Square. For more details on this event, I refer you to this article in the Jewish Chronicle; or you can look at this picture I managed to snap from a bus as it whizzed past the square:

A closer look at the Duck on the roof may be seen here. And here's a glimpse of Geva's cartoon version, from a flyer announcing the unveiling of the statue and a celebratory concert and party at a Tel Aviv nightclub (alas, we arrived just as the party was ending):

A few days later, we stopped in the mystical city of Tsfat (also known as Safed, from its Arabic name). We were mostly looking for famous old synagogues, but even in this town full of chasidim and pious Jews of all sorts there were cartoons to be found, if only of the graffiti variety. Here, for instance, is a sketch of a familiar face in Tsfat:

(That's Becca's progressive female Jewish shadow confronting the icon of a fundamentalist, masculinist Judaism. You go!)

Elsewhere in Tsfat, we saw this curious mélange of word and image:

The smiling guy with the beanie is labeled "Rabbi Benedict," which isn't so common a name among Jews these days (Spinoza was excommunicated by the Jews of Amsterdam, you will recall, though there are a number of Barukhs around--"Barukh" and "Benedict" both meaning "blessed"). I can't quite figure out what he's saying, unfortunately (feel free to use the comments if you can explain what he means); but I can read the big black slogan clearly enough. It says "Tsiyonim le-`Azazel": Zionists go to hell!

I found it mildly ironic to see this slogan, in Hebrew, after my encounter with a teenaged chasid whom I asked for directions to one of the famous synagogues. In keeping with typical chasidic practice, he wore clothing frozen in a time warp from pre-twentieth century eastern Europe; but when I asked him if he spoke Yiddish--which I speak better than Hebrew--, he shook his head no. [Edit: for a clarification of the ironies in this encounter, see the first comment on this post.]

Yes, even in my lighthearted survey of comics culture in Israel, politics will not be denied. I will, however, let one last cartoon image from Tel Aviv have the last word, from a weird little store-window display of underwear and other sundries:

Eighty Characters in Silhouette (again, props to Mike Lynch)

In my challenge to Isaac at the end of last Wednesday's post, I was really curious to see what he'd do if he drew eighty characters in a small space as opposed to a small period of time (not that I begrudge him his own take on the cartoon sprints!). Since I happened to have a blank postcard handy, I thought I'd take up my own challenge. I had planned to just drop the card in the mail to Isaac, but since the ink was smearing I thought I should scan it in case it's obliterated by the time it reaches him; and once a doodle is scanned, there's really only one appropriate fate for it. So here are my silhouetted versions of Mike Lynch's eighty characters, drawn not in fifteen minutes but in 10.5 cm x 14.8 cm:

(You may click to enlarge, if you wish.)

I accidentally squeezed nine characters into the first line of my would-be eight-by-ten character grid, so I took extra space at the bottom right for my self-portrait silhouette. That self-portrait replaces the redundant "hydrant" on Mike Lynch's list; a silhouette of Isaac replaces the redundant "robot" as the first item on the third row. I nearly created my own redundancy by drawing Batman's pointy head for "superhero" as item seven on the top line, forgetting that Bats would have his own slot later on row four, item 3; so I added a few blobs and strokes to turn Batman's head into Wolverine's, with a few adamantium claws snikted for good measure.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Matteu (4-6)

Our pal Carl Pyrdum anticipated, in the comments on last week's installment, the next turn in the Matteu story: the peculiar fellow in the black robe, whose name turns out to be Karel (spooky!), explains his headgear:

(Click, of course, to make larger.)

As you can see, we moved away from the idea of developing a language for the Mihkra (Mike must have been having a Tolkien moment or something when he started that). You can probably see some jostling between me (even-numbered tiers) and Mike (odd-numbered tiers) on other matters, as well: what's to become of that horse, for example, when neither of us really likes to draw horses?

You'll also notice the first significant gaps between drawing times for the tiers: apparently, we waited almost a month between strips on this page. Those were not the first delays, nor the longest, by any means.

We welcome speculation on what might happen next, though I believe that was all decided back in 2005 ... or 2006? What's this story going to be about? It's still hard to say, isn't it? (We sure didn't know.)

Cartoon Sprints, part 2

Well, that wasn't fun.

I just took Mike's challenge and tried to draw eighty things in fifteen minutes. There's probably a better way for my pal to remind me that I'm not a natural cartoonist, but this was a good one.

Here, however, to my embarrassment, are the results, drawn by Sharpie into an 8" x 10" grid:

(If you don't click, it won't enlarge. You might prefer that.)

I tried not to look at Mike's results to closely before I did this, so I wouldn't just be copying his work. Maybe it would have been better if I'd done that.

Sadly, I didn't even finish in the prescribed time. It took me nineteen minutes. I still had fifteen assorted squares left on the page when the time ran out (I didn't do them all in order, though I think the first three rows went in before the rest of the grid). Some of the drawings are plainly terrible. I am ashamed of the runner, the ballerina, both hydrants, the guy with a beard, the mean kid ... ugh. There are some drawings where I can barely tell what I was aiming for.

The two drawings I like best:

I leave it to Mike to pick out, in the comments, any other seeming nuggets of "satisfactory" in this otherwise crummy mess.