09th Nov2011

Event – Comic Gosh!p Book Club (Batman: Year One)

by Chris Thompson


Although I missed the inaugural get-together of Thinking Comics‘ new comic book club last month, I was more than ready for the second one tonight (November 9). This time around the focus was on Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One, as well as Josceline Fenton’s excellent webcomic, Hemlock. Josceline herself was on hand to share insights into her work, though I can’t say the same for that slacker Miller.
 
I arrived about 5 minutes late and things were already well under way. In total I counted just over 30 people, so there were a number of us standing (or leaning) on the periphery. Not bad for the second meeting of a group discussing comics. There were also tea-making facilities and some yummy Bat-cake for afterwards, thanks to the fine people at Gosh! Comics London.

A lot of interesting points were raised by those in attendance, and there was a definite freedom to speak up if you felt inclined or just listen quietly if you preferred. I’m used to going to events at Orbital Comics here in London, but at Gosh! I felt a little out of my element. Fortunately that didn’t last long and I was starting to ease in by the end. I’ve collated some of the thoughts and findings in bullet point below for those who couldn’t make it and are interested …

 

BATMAN: YEAR ONE by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli with Richmond Lewis (DC Comics)

  • Mazzucchelli’s work on Year One was compared to Alex Toth, Milt Caniff and various European styles.
  • John Miers suggested that (at least in Frank’s mind) the Batman saga is book-ended by Year One and Dark Knight Returns since they both appear to take place in the same universe.
  • The fast pacing of the book helps you to fly through it, and that could only be achieved in a comic book. The comic form also allows for two distinct narratives – Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne – with a possible third in the form of Selina Kyle.
  • I mentioned that Mazzucchelli was most likely chosen for the storytelling he brought to the book. Batman and Bruce Wayne were always more or less prominent depending on who was providing the narrative. For example, in the closing moments of the book when Gordon loses his glasses, everything is seen in brief flashes and shadows without any great detail. This is something Miller probably couldn’t have achieved himself.
  • There were some obvious comparisons to Taxi Driver, especially when Bruce heads into the night incognito and ends up tangling with the hookers and their pimp. Perhaps Frank was channeling a little Travis Bickle?
  • If Year One is the beginning and Dark Knight Returns is the end, then did someone at DC consider All-Star Batman & Robin to be the middle arc? That’s what Steve at Gosh! suggests.
  • It was noted that the colours had been re-done for the trade paperback, and the efforts had been quite worthwhile. Unlike George Lucas and Star Wars, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to go back and fix things.
  • There was also a great discussion about whether Batman is actually a super-hero … Is it powers, the costume or the heroic acts that make a hero super? The concensus, I believe, was that actions mattered most, so by that count Batman is a super-hero. I’m sure there’s still some who disagree though.

 
 
HEMLOCK by Josceline Fenton (hemlock.smackjeeves.com)

  • Josceline started doing comics when she was about 10 based on a How To Draw Manga book her father bought. She’s trying to move away from the direct manga influence, but it’s still what she’s known for.
  • The idea for Hemlock first came up in 2006, then resurfaced again in 2008 with Starvation Soup.  It finally came back as its own series (with changes) because Josceline loved drawing The Witch (Lumi).
  • The Snail House (Richmond) became a much bigger part of the story due to public response. She hates drawing him because he’s so big, but it’s what she constantly gets asked for.
  • The inclusion of the tale of Baba Yaga comes from her Scandinavian heritage and stories she used to hear as a child rather than any ifluence from Mike Mignola or Hellboy. Josceline’s Swedish ancestry seems to inform quite a lot of her work.
  • One person noted the unique use of sound effects, and how each one felt different and special. Josceline said this was probably because her typography had been criticised by teachers at school, so maybe she tried extra hard.
  • It used to take her about two hours to complete a page, but now it takes about a day. It’s most likely due to her being a perfectionist and feeling the pressure as her audience increases.
  • The Snail’s language doesn’t really mean anything, but there are some particular symbols that do. He has a symbol for most of the main characters and one for saying hello … apparently it sounds like clicking if you say it right.
  • Josceline has a large collection of art books and takes a lot of inspiration from fashion art and historical design. I sense a call from Project Runway imminently …
  • Hemlock is planned as a series of six volumes overall. She is currently working on Volume 4 online and Volumes 1, 2 & 3 are now available in print (www.lulu.com/spotlight/mildtarantula).
  • Her original art is done on A4 (slightly larger than the finished product) then scanned in before gray-tones and captions are added. It’s actually intended for print and not for the screen, but the webcomic seems to be working.
  • Although she tries to stay a couple of updates ahead, Josceline hasn’t been doing well at that of late. The original pages she showed us were actually from the next update due later this week!

 

So, there you have it … If you were curious about Batman; Year One or Hemlock then you have some food for thought. And if you were curious about Comic Gosh!p then you now have some idea about the length, breadth and depth of our coverage. Next month’s meeting, to be held on December 14, will cover Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, as well as John Miers’ Babel (www.johnmiers.com), so why not come along?

One last thing I’ll leave you with is this great interview I found with Josceline Fenton earlier this evening. It clarifies and expands upon some of what was discussed tonight, as well as raising some new topics. Enjoy!

www.graphic-e-y-e.com/2011/10/interview-josceline-fenton.html

09th Nov2011

Review – Sandcastle by Frederik Peeters & Pierre Oscar Levy

by Chris Thompson


A group of strangers find themselves trapped on an isolated beach as things start going wrong. People are dying, children are aging rapidly and yet, despite it all, they can’t seem to leave. Can this motley group discover how to work together and escape the beach before it’s too late? That’s the basic premise behind this exciting new book from artist Frederik Peeters, writer Pierre Oscar Levy and publisher Self Made Hero.
 
Doug and the crew at Self Made Hero have done an incredible job of securing and translating some stunning European releases this year, and Sandcastle is no exception. Credit must be given to translator Nora Mahony who also translated David B’s Black Paths which I enjoyed so much earlier this year. With their current output, Self Made Hero are putting forward a strong argument for why more European volumes should be translated into English.
 
Art-wise, Peeters cleverly employs his style to contrast the tranquility of the setting with the growing uneasiness of those involved. It’s a delicate balance which puts you in the position of a voyeur – a helpless bystander observing silently as events unfold. I hadn’t planned on reading the book in one sitting, but for a brief period of time I was transported to the sands of that deadly beach and forced to watch the story play out.
 
Of course, the book couldn’t survive on art alone, and writer Pierre Oscar Levy does a wonderful job of creating characters you know. Not necessarily ones you like, but definitely ones you will know and recognise. The result is to reinforce the unsettling truth that you can’t always choose those you find yourself surrounded by. We go through life together and make do as best we can.
 
I won’t spoil the ending as the mystery is key to your enjoyment of the book. This is the kind of book I’d imagine Rod Serling writing in a Parisian cafe if he was looking to submit something at Angouleme. It’s no surprise to learn that Sandcastle was in fact nominated for the Grand Prix at the Angouleme International Comics Festival earlier this year.
 
As part of the excellent Comica Festival, Frederik Peeters will be signing copies of the book and taking part in a Q&A at Gosh! Comics London this Friday, November 11 from 6:30pm. Head down and pick up a copy of Sandcastle along with one of the free bookplates designed especially for the event. Maybe I’ll see you there …