While 99% of the comics community were in Leeds for Thought Bubble (and reminding us of that fact every five seconds), a small handful of us held the fort at the latest Comica Festival event at Gosh! Comics in London. This time around it was for a conversation with German artists Uli Oesterle and Mawil, who are both published by Blank Slate Books.
The discussion, which started just after 7pm, was preceded by a signing with the pair who really looked after everyone that made it down. Sadly I couldn’t get there beforehand, but the smaller numbers ensured some amazing sketches for those who did … I was quite jealous when I saw their handiwork later on.
The talk itself was interesting but, unlike the two previous discussions, lacked the deft hand of Paul Gravett when it came to moderation. As a result, it didn’t feel like there was as much to write about or to make sense of, but I’ve done my best to summarise what was said in the notes below:
- Uli uses thumbnails to create rough layouts for his comic pages. Much of the work is done digitally using a Wacom tablet, then the finished page is composed and put together.
- A lot of his work is done by inking the page digitally and ‘scratching the white out of it’. It’s very much about economy of time and maximising the amount of work that can be done in the time that he has.
- Hector Umbra, his first book through Blank Slate, is a combination of fantasy, noir and surrealism. Book One was published in Germany back in 2003 and was part of a planned series of three. In 2007 Uli moved to Carlsen Comics who decided to release it all as one volume.
- He worked on Hector Umbra for 8 years, but could only spend about 3 months a year on it. Uli lives in Munich and says it’s expensive, so he has to take on other illustration work to make ends meet.
- Uli decided to adopt the ‘typical graphic novel format’ as used in Germany to tell his tales. The use of the term ‘graphic novel’ has taken off over the last 4-5 years and was first introduced to help publishers penetrate the lucrative bookstore market.
- Uli didn’t read a lot of comics when he was growing up (outside of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck), and between 10-20 he didn’t read them at all. Superman, Spider-Man and the other costumed heroes held no interest for him.
- In his early 20s he started drawing comics because he wanted to tell some specific tales. He didn’t have any particular influences since he hadn’t been reading comics prior to this.
- Much like Frederik Peeters, a lot of his storytelling influences comes from cinema, particularly the work of David Lynch. He loves ‘spooky stories’.
- He appreciates the work of Mike Mignola, but wouldn’t credit him as a direct influence on his work in the way cinema is.
- Uli feels it’s important to guide the reader along, so he often uses one ‘colour family’ in his work and will change it to reflect a change of scene.
- For Uli, colours can communicate time of day, mood, atmosphere, etc. Colouring and drawing are simply functions in service to the story itself.
- Lighting is also really important to create mood. It’s all about emotions and helping the reader to experience these emotions.
- He takes a lot of photos to understand how things look – doors, windows, exteriors, etc. – but admits it’s much easier to just Google them when he’s feeling lazy.
- When asked why he chooses to work in comics, Uli says ‘it’s inside him’. Since his early 20s it’s been important to him and he just has to get his stories out. Despite being the most time-consuming, he still feels it’s the best medium for him.
- Storytelling is very important to Uli. He wants to hook the reader and not leave them feeling confused. With that in mind he can never separate the story from the art – they’re both equally important and need to work together. The same goes for colouring which plays a big part in his work.
- Mawil (which sounds a little like ‘Marvel’ spoken with a German accent) was born in 1976 and grew up in East Berlin before the Wall came down. He was 13 when it finally did, so he has a clear view of what it was like before and after.
- Growing up he read a lot of comics. These days his idols are mostly French, though he doesn’t know why. Like many people he cites Tintin as a major influence early on.
- He often wonders if there would have been more comic artists from East Germany if it had been encouraged or they had been exposed to it early on.
- He admits that the country would’ve been too small for him if things didn’t change, but they did and he still lives in Berlin today.
- Mawil didn’t really know what he wanted to be, but he definitely wanted to do something with drawing (preferably comic books). Unlike Uli, he’s able to spend most of his time working on comics because he lives quite simply and doesn’t have a family to support.
- Most of Mawil’s work in Home & Away (his most recent book for Blank Slate) comes from fanzines he worked on in Germany. He’s happy to work in colour or black & white based on necessity and the resources available to him.
- He doesn’t consider himself a colour specialist, but has embraced it as certain fanzines have gone to colour.
- In the graffiti story featured in Home & Away, Mawil originally used some cheap markers to colour the tale. He doesn’t always know why he makes the choices he does, but feels it’s good not to think too much about these things.
- Mawil does a page a month for a German newspaper and always tries to keep it different so it’s not boring for him or the readers.
- He often uses the character Sparky O’Hare (in addition to his own character) to comment on his stories and showcase different methods/styles of storytelling.
- He’s comfortable working in Photoshop, but much prefers working by hand.
- Earlier this year Mawil went to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) and was surprised at the universal appeal of his work. He wonders if the East German experience is more Westernised than he thought.
- He often takes a sketchbook with him when he goes out, but usually just writes things. He calls himself a ‘lazy guy’ and prefers to draw things the easy way rather than making them more detailed or difficult.
- Mawil feels that some books use too many words, which makes them less effective. Sometimes it just takes the right expression or mannerism to communicate something.
- Both artists made mention of Bastien Vivès and expressed their admiration for his use of ‘silence’. Uli feels that ‘even in silent panels there is text … subtext’. Silent books can be amazing if done right, but it is a very niche market.
- At this point, Blank Slate translator Iz Rip spoke up to answer some questions about Mawil’s work. They really loved his stuff and were surprised that no one had approached him earlier about an English translation. They now have him and Uli, but feel there is still a lot of untapped talent in Germany.
- Blank Slate picked We Can Still Be Friends as the first Mawil release because they liked it the most and it was the most popular in Germany at that time.
- Iz says that translating can be quite difficult when it comes to the use of slang, tense, etc. but both Mawil and Uli’s books are very faithful to the originals. She finds German quite easy to translate thanks to similarities with English.
Sadly I didn’t get any photos this time around, but it was great to have this fascinating and insightful look behind the scenes with two great German artists. Despite being poles apart in both style and content, Uli Oesterle and Mawil made a wonderful double-act. Thanks once again to Comica Festival, Gosh! Comics and Blank Slate Books for a great night out … Take that, Thought Bubblers!
Although the weather had taken a turn and there was a definite chill in the air, around 30 people turned up at Gosh! Comics in London last night (November 14) for a very special conversation between two incredible artists. I have to admit I’m not actually one of the cool kids – I wasn’t aware of Richard McGuire or Steven Appleby prior to this latest Comica Festival event being announced – but once I saw their work and some of the amazing things they’ve done, I just had to be part of it.
Things kicked off just after 7pm with comics impresario Paul Gravett on hand to moderate and keep the night flowing. He had an easy job this time around as both artists were engaging, interesting, and had a lot to say about their work. As always, I was there to take notes and capture some of the key points of the evening, so that you didn’t have to … Enjoy!
- Starting the talk, McGuire explained that he was most interested in structure first and then hanging things on that structure. This is the foundation for most of his work, and it shows.
- He displayed a number of cartoons on the big screen provided, including one called The Thinkers which follows people’s trains of thought as they escape the panels and, ultimately, the page. Like his famous strip Here, it makes use of unusual panel layouts and grids to convey these thoughts.
- In 2003 he contributed a six-page strip to McSweeney’s, curated by Chris Ware. It was about control and the idea came from working on the garden at his cabin in upstate New York. He started to think of what this garden would look like from above – a tiny square of perfectly manicured soil and vegetation – and the ridiculousness of the thought inspired him. A lot of inspiration seems to come from the mundane aspects of life.
- At one point he started experimenting with calligraphy, which led him to discover new shapes and ideas. This resulted in the book Popeye & Olive, which was released by French publisher Cornelius. McGuire describes it as ‘… an abstract love story based around shapes’ which ‘… provides a vocabulary of their relationship’.
- Many people read unintended sexual meaning and symbology into the book, which McGuire had not foreseen. It got him thinking and he followed it up with a second book, P&O, which used the same method to express the sexual adventures of Popeye & Olive.
- McGuire’s most famous work is probably Here, which was published in Art Spiegelman’s RAW Volume 2 #1 in 1989. It tells the story of one location over time by just showing one corner of a room. In doing this he makes the little moments seem really important, while the bigger moments become more trivial and zoom by.
- The inspiration for Here came when he moved into a new apartment and was thinking about who had lived there before. He’d also done an art class under Spiegelman and was thinking about doing a split-panel strip for an assignment, so that was also on his mind.
- McGuire is now preparing a book based on Here to explore and expand the concept further. He experimented with using the book format to simulate the corners themselves (an open book forms a right angle), but found the idea too restrictive. There’s still a lot to do and at this stage the book is scheduled for Fall 2014.
- He does a lot of work in Adobe Illustrator these days – scanning in sketches, then tracing them, manipulating and moving things around, adding effects, and dropping the original layers. Although he’s experimented with doing some pieces solely in Illustrator, he’s found that it’s too controlled and not loose enough for his liking.
- The idea is to make Here more textural this time around. To achieve this he’s experimented a lot with painting, photography and other media, but each one seems to have its shortcomings. Paintings are too large and his scanner can’t handle them, while photographs don’t offer a high enough resolution for what he wants.
- While working on the original strip, McGuire went through a dilemma as he felt he had no particular style. Ultimately he decided to tell the story and not worry about it as the story was more important than his own concerns.
- McGuire grew up in New Jersey and told the story of how archaeologists came to his family home to ask permission to dig up their backyard. His mother said no, but apparently it was once an Indian burial ground. This inspired the scene where the Indian dies on the patch of ground where the corner of the room will eventually be.
- He has since researched the tribe who used the burial ground and discovered they were the same ones who settled Manhattan. For the new version of Here, McGuire is trying to incorporate their language into the book (with appropriate subtitles, of course).
- As part of his research, McGuire has built styrofoam sets and filmed them to simulate various things, including the way sunlight plays through the windows at various times of day. He showed a brief sample from one of these videos to illustrate the point.
- When he’s not working on side projects, McGuire’s day job (as such) is doing covers, strips and occasional interiors for The New Yorker. Once again this is a wonderful avenue for him to experiment and play with new ideas.
- For a Valentine’s Day cover, he depicted a large group of people all checking one another out – it was inspired by watching people at the airport. Then, for April Fools’ Day 1995, he decided to create a cover with 95 mistakes on it. One of the big changes was altering the logo – something that’s never been done with The New Yorker.
- Occasionally McGuire will create single images that are scattered throughout the issue to tell a simple narrative. A lot of people would miss these flourishes, but each tells a story and takes a lot of thought to create.
- Aside from his continuing work with The New Yorker, McGuire has released a number of books, including several books for children. The first one was The Orange Book, which was inspired by an orange on the subway tracks. He started to envision a huge back story for this orange, including a childhood in Florida, and wondered what led it to this point in time.
- He’s also created a children’s book based on the 1995 April Fools’ cover, another called What Goes Around Comes Around, and one called Night Becomes Day. They’re all very conceptual and come from one single idea or thought that he expands on.
- McGuire started creating toys after experimenting with a character called Puzzlehead. Somebody saw his work and offered to produce them. The early versions were produced in a small factory in Indonesia where everything was done by hand. He found it strange to see these poor workers cutting out each individual shape and the toys were eventually moved to Europe for mass-production.
- It was actually his work on toys and games (specifically a card matching game, not unlike Snap) that led to him doing children’s books. He’d already come up with the idea for The Orange Book when someone asked him about it.
- That seems to be the pattern for McGuire’s career, one thing leads to another leads to another and so on. At one point he was working on some animations for a Japanese website and that led to doing some animations for the children’s programming segment on PBS, a public broadcasting service in the US.
- From there he was asked to do an animated short called Micro Loup for a French company, which ultimately led to his segment in Fear(s) of the Dark. McGuire took some of his inspiration in Fear(s) from Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.
- Overall, McGuire’s interest is in ‘abstract representations of things that are real’. He’s going to experiment more with that in a regular blog for The New Yorker starting next year.
- McGuire concluded with some discussion about his time as bass player with Liquid Liquid in the early 80s. The band produced three EPs, but didn’t achieve cult status until their songs started getting ‘sampled out the wazoo’. As a result, the band’s output was reissued twice – once in 1997, then again in 2008 (for which McGuire got to do the packaging).
- Liquid Liquid’s most famous song is probably Cavern, which formed the basis for Grand Master Flash’s classic White Lines. The distinctive bassline for that was laid down by McGuire himself, though the sampling wasn’t credited and led to a huge legal battle between Sugar Hill Records (Grandmaster Flash’s label) and the band. They also ended up suing Duran Duran when they covered White Lines.
- In an interesting bit of trivia, McGuire pointed out that one of Spike Lee’s earliest jobs was directing the clip for White Lines while he was still in school. Years later, when making The 25th Hour, Spike rederessed the balance by using the original song Cavern in one of the film’s scenes. McGuire doesn’t know if it was deliberate, but he appreciated it nonetheless.
- Liquid Liquid did a one-off gig at the Barbican back in 2008 as part of their ‘comeback tour’. McGuire says they were nothing as a band, but they became huge afterwards.
- When it was Steven Appleby’s turn, he started by sharing his earliest influence -some of his mother’s comics which were drawn in the 1930s. They were based on the romantic films and things of the times.
- Appleby’s early cartoons were based around imagining that the world was not exactly as it seemed. In one cartoon, his father is looking at a piece of metal sticking out of the crowd unbeknownst that it belongs to a vast spaceship buried under the lawn of the Appleby family home.
- Some of his earliest professional work was doing strips and illustrations for NME. They asked for a regular strip, so he came up with Rockets Passing Overhead (aka Captain Star).
- At first it was rejected for being too strange, but NME finally agreed to run it as a regular three-panel strip. There wasn’t a great narrative or punchline, but that’s what he was into at the time.
- Appleby then started doing pages for a German publication which allowed him to go off on tangents and explore other ideas.
- Eventually the strip started running in The Observer as the result of an errant email. It turns out one of the editors had a virus which sent out emails to everyone on their contact list. Appleby emailed them back and explained he couldn’t open the message, but was glad they’d got in touch. The editor apologised for the mistake, but agreed it was good timing and they started discussing the strip.
- One of Appleby’s biggest influences came from American illustrator Edward Gorey. You could almost mix up his pages and panels yet still get something from them, which freed Appleby from the bonds of specific structure.
- He actually got to interview Gorey at his home by performing a bit of clever ‘subterfuge’. First he contacted The Observer to ask if he could interview Gorey for them. Appleby said he was already going to the US (which he wasn’t) and that he could do the interview while he was there. They agreed, so he then contacted Gorey’s agent and said The Observer would like to do an interview. The agent surprisingly gave him Gorey’s number and Appleby made the necessary arrangements himself.
- A lot of things seem to have just fallen into place and Appleby admits that sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time. For example, he met an editor for Bloomsbury at a friend’s birthday drinks and that’s how his publishing deal with them originally came about.
- Although he didn’t have anything particular in mind, he knew he wanted to do a book, so the editor agreed. After going away to think about it, he drew a picture of a man with a chair on his back under the title ‘Normal Sex’ – the concept was approved straight away.
- A lot of the Bloomsbury books are now out of print, so he’s looking into the option of re-releasing them as a series of e-books.
- Appleby is known for his clever absurdist strips. He had the idea for a series of ‘last moments’ based on a cartoon he did of snow people discovering fire then suddenly becoming extinct. He tried to come up with other cartoons based on that theme, but none had the same impact.
- In addition to NME and The Observer, Appleby has also worked for The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and briefly did a daily strip in Germany which they translated and lettered for him.
- Outside of print, he has created a number of works designed to create a narrative event in your head. One series of pieces uses rotating discs to communicate different ideas as you turn them.
- At one point, Appleby experimented with doing Captain Star as an animated series. It took seven years to develop and raise the money, but eventually they created thirteen 22-minute episodes of the show. Although originally pitched as a more mature show, it found its home and funding through children’s television.
- It was originally shown around 4pm in the afternoon, so even schoolkids barely got to see it. Since then it has enjoyed some late night runs around the world and can be found on YouTube for those who are interested.
To summarise the evening, Paul Gravett cleverly identified that ‘go with the flow’ was the message of the day. Both artists had amazing careers largely based on keeping things diverse and allowing one thing to lead them to another.
Thanks once again to Gosh! Comics, Paul Gravett, and Comica Festival for a great night. You can read more about Richard McGuire‘s work on his website (www.richard-mcguire.com) and keep updated on the progress of his expanded version of Here. You can also read more about Steven Appleby‘s work on his website (www.stevenappleby.com), as well as pick up his new book The Coffee Table Book of Doom.
Of course, Frederik Peeters wasn’t the only comics-related event in London on Friday night (November 11). Just down the road, Orbital Comics (near Leicester Square) were hosting a launch party for the brand new Ink+Paper magazine as part of the ongoing Comica Festival celebrations.
The brainchild of David O’Connell, Ink+Paper is described as ‘comics and creativity’, bringing together a wide variety of creators to produce new strips and articles. There’s a wealth of great material inside the book and it’s well worth the £7.50 cover price.
I particularly enjoyed the contributions from David O’Connell, Sammy Borras, Timothy Winchester, Ellen Lindner, Jess Bradley, Julia Homersham, and Joe Decie. Joe recently brought out The Accidental Salad through Blank Slate Books, which I highly recommend – it’s just a shame his name reminds me so much of an early ’90s R&B group.
Ink+Paper is available through Orbital Comics and other fine retailers, and features new work from:
Around 40 people gathered last Friday night (November 11) to listen as Paul Gravett interviewed Swiss artist Frederik Peeters at Gosh! Comics in London. Peeters, who is best known in English for his autobiographical tale Blue Pills, appeared as part of this year’s Comica Festival to promote the release of Sandcastle from Self Made Hero (which I reviewed recently).
I was on-hand to take notes as the two comic heavyweights discussed Peeter’s career in comics, including his early days, other European works, and what’s coming up next. It was a fascinating evening, so I hope you’ll enjoy my brief rundown captured in bullet points below …
- One of the first things Paul Gravett did was mention the inclusion of Blue Pills as one of his 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die. In addition to plugging his new book, it also set the tone for how important Peeters is as an artist.
- Like many people, Peeters started drawing when he was just a child. Unlike many of those people he never stopped.
- He started doing short tales about his life, but he would quickly grow bored and, within a few pages, turn himself into a superhero or something.
- A lot of his early work started in and around a shop in Switzerland much like Gosh! (only smaller). He found a lot of inspiration from Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and Japanese manga.
- Peeters originally studied Latin due to a strong passion for history, so he may eventually do an historical book one day.
- He then moved on to a degree in Visual Communication which, he says, was useless. The students were mostly taught about marketing and computers, so he barely picked up a pencil during the entire course.
- His professional career began around the age of 18 with his first contributions to Bile Noire, an anthology published by Atrabile.
- The names Bile Noire and Atrabile both translate roughly as Black Bile. The idea comes from medieval medicine and the belief that illness comes from bodily fluids. Black bile resides in the spleen and is the source of melancholy.
- Atrabile have published, and still do publish, a number of books – ranging from anthologies and smaller releases through to grander and more extravagant silkscreen books.
- One of Peeters’ early paid gigs was for another publisher. He was to illustrate a story someone else had written about Swiss cowboys trying to hijack a train. It was a crazy idea and he said he needed a long shower afterwards to wash himself clean.
- Blue Pills started as a personal experiment, and he’d already completed 35 pages before he showed it to anyone.
- He showed it to his friend (who was also his publisher at Atrabile) to get some feedback and advice. His friend read it and said nothing. At first Peeters was worried, but he soon released the silence meant he was on to something good. His friend said that it must be published and that Atrabile wanted to do it.
- Peeters started the experiment (aka writing Blue Pills) about one year into his relationship with Cati. That’s one reason why a lot of the story is told in flashbacks.
- At that point he was only selling around 500 books, so Blue Pills was intended mostly for family and friends. If he’d known how big it was going to get it would have been paralysing and he may never have finished it.
- Peeters is an avid reader, especially when it comes to sci-fi. He read a lot of Ray Bradbury, Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, and others growing up. One of his goals is to create his own brand of ‘Franco science-fiction’.
- He was also influenced a lot by cinema before he discovered comics, particularly Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey) and Ridley Scott (Blade Runner). Star Wars and Star Trek were not big influences, though he does acknowledge their presence in his early years.
- Comic influences came later on in the form of Moebius, Herge, Charles Schulz, and others. Later he discovered other European artists, including Jean-Claude Forest (Barbarella). He is still very fond of Tintin and feels it stands up even today.
- His manga influences started with Otomo’s Akira, but he soon discovered Tezuka (Astro Boy), Masumoto (GoGo Monster), Urosawa (20th Century Boys), and more.
- Most of the manga creators seem to work in studios with a team, which is something Peeters envies but doesn’t expect to achieve. Ideally he’d like to achieve a marriage between manga and classic European storytelling.
- Lupus, his sci-fi epic, was published as four massive volumes by Atrabile in Europe. It took Peeters four years to complete and has yet to be translated into English. When it does he’d like to see it released in an omnibus edition.
- Lupus is named after the disease of the immune system and came from a drunken evening with a friend trying to come up with the most ridiculous character names possible.
- Peeters doesn’t like to know the whole story ahead of time – it becomes boring to him. He prefers to explore with the characters and make discoveries as he goes along. For example, he’ll write 10 pages, then be thinking about the next 10 while he’s drawing those ones. It’s a very organic way to work.
- Some original art was being passed around the audience at Gosh! It was interesting to see that a lot of Peeters’ work is drawn in segments, almost like comic strips or frames, which are then stuck together to form complete pages.
- Peeters first met Pierre Oscar Levy (his collaborator on Sandcastle) around 7 or 8 years ago when he called to enquire about the film rights to Blue Pills. The rights have subsequently reverted and someone else has it now, but it’s what originally brought them together.
- He describes Levy as crazy-looking at times – a left-wing French Jew who was causing trouble on the streets from an early age. Levy was a teenager during the late ’60s, so he grew up during an exciting time of protest and unrest.
- Levy actually stayed with Peeters for two days to film him and the family as research for a Blue Pills film. Peeters had been hesitant at first, but Levy assured him it was for his personal use as he came from a documentary background.
- It was those two days (and the time leading up to them) which cemented their ongoing friendship. Since then Levy has introduced him to a number of new books, films and influences – including Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys.
- About two or three years ago, Levy approached Peeters and said he’d written something especially for him. Peeters explained he only did his own stuff, but agreed to read it anyway. The story was Sandcastle and he was immediately hooked.
- Sandcastle was written like a movie script or treatment, complete with set descriptions and dialogue. The original script had a complete ending to explain things, but Peeters found it disappointing. Not that it was a bad, but he felt it became less interesting when explained, so he simply left it out.
- Talking about other work, Peeters explained that Pachyderm was his homage to the American comedies of the ’30s and ’40s. They are one of his secret passions, though he doesn’t have the same level of wit as Billy Wilder and others of the time.
- Peeters likens Pachyderm to a three-legged chair – it’s not comfortable or easy to read, but it leaves a lasting impression on the reader (or so he hopes). It’s also quite a surreal book with lots of illusion involved, so in many ways he considers it an experiment just like Blue Pills.
- The book is very atmospheric and takes place in Switzerland during the ’50s. It tells the story of a woman who is married to a diplomat and cannot have children. Something happens to the husband early in the book and she takes the opportunity to reclaim her freedom and independence.
- His latest project, Aama is for the prestigious French publisher Gallimard. Unlike Lupus, which was completely improvised, Aama features a clear ending that is used as the starting point (similar to Wilder’s Sunset Boulevarde).
- Peeters shared the idea for Aama with his editor on the way back from Angouleme a couple of years ago. The editor started falling asleep, which Peeters took as a bad thing, but the editor explained he was being lulled by the story – not unlike a children’s bedtime tale.
- Gallimard don’t really do sci-fi, so Peeters had to invent a new genre when pitching it. Aama blends hyper-technology with true science-fiction, but is written in a classical style. It’s very literary with lots of text, and is nowhere near finished yet.
- He feels it will sell well in the English market when it is eventually released because it features a monkey-robot called Churchill.
So, there you have it … A lot was covered during the hour or so that Paul Gravett and Frederik Peeters were in conversation, but hopefully this report gives you a small glimpse into what it was like. Thanks to Gosh! Comics, Self Made Hero, Comica Festival and, of course, Frederik Peeters for another top-notch event – it’s a great time to be a comics fan in London!
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
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
), 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!