State of a Project: The City

•July 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

If you know a bit of comic book history you find it plagued by great artists that have their pet peeves, and one of the most common ones is how often they dislike drawing inanimate objects.

Ranging from the legendary John Buscema, to Bryan Hitch, and passing through The King “Kirby” himself, lots of artists have voiced their distaste for having to draw the backgrounds.

What separates the “greats” from the “not-so-great” is that the good illustrators rose up to the the challenge and learned to make the backgrounds part of the story. The little whinny pussies who can’t deal with backgrounds are usually infatuated with anatomy and dynamic poses, and fail to end up making a cohesive story in graphic format.

I mean, c’mon! Even John Buscema gravitated towards Conan just so he could avoid drawing buildings and cars and city landscapes.

In this project I am on, the city IS the story and sometimes it has a larger protagonism than the hero himself.  So, here I am working and working on making the sets, fleshing the surroundings, documenting styles for the buildings, and in general working my ass off to make this city come alive.

The story calls for the characters to walk into dreary alleys, to be ambushed into derelict streets, to hang out in rooftops, to develop shanty towns based on cultures and ethnicities, to see trash as a part of the landscape, etc and a very extensive etc.

I have scenes where the nuances of the building create ambiance, where street angles are used as part of the story, and the landscape has to contribute to story, accentuating diversity and the richness of a destitute melting-pot.

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Being a mediocre artists (and that is being kind) I am spending many nights drafting and sketching this environment.

I realize this is a huge departure from the majority of comics published in the us, where buildings are something superheroes use to fly over, to create vanishing points for the human figures.

 

I remember seeing some great shots on some Marvel titles that elicit awe and admiration through the years.

And that, my fellow artists, is a text book example of Vanishing Point reference.

And although those moments where present more often than not in the silver age of comics, some remains are still carried over today.
Although it must be said that even back then the emphasis was always placed on the heroics, the flashy costumes, and the bright colors, and the city, more often than not, got relegated to the function of a prop for the hero.

Check out how a master like John Byrne uses city landscape to make Captain America get a workout in the city.

Man, I love how resistant the flagpoles are in NYC… they can stand the thrusts of a 200+ lbs muscle man….

Continue reading ‘State of a Project: The City’

Recommendations: Some Manga (part 1)

•July 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Let me start by saying this: Manga is a wonderful influence in the western world of graphic storytelling.

That said, you should know that I despise the majority of manga.

Wow! Talk about contradiction! Well, I am a complex soul.

I respect a lot the influence of Stan Lee had on popular comics in the 60’s. He energized the characters, set them in real cities, gave them real problems, and made them so relatable that it may escape the younger readers.

Superman was so overpowered that the writers had turned him into a circus of super-contrived feats of wonder, trying to put challenge him (how do you challenge the man who has all the powers in the universe?)

Here are some links, of other sites that dealt with the topic:

http://io9.com/the-15-worst-batman-superman-stories-ever-told-1202007441

http://www.ranker.com/list/the-50-greatest-examples-of-superman-being-a-dick/ariel-kana?format=SLIDESHOW&page=3

http://www.cracked.com/article_20069_5-classic-superman-comics-that-prove-he-used-to-be-dick.html

And the same goes for Batman, don’t get me wrong. DC was publishing company that was churning these stories like they were in a factory (it was).

So that’s why Stan Lee has so much merit reviving the genre and bringing the cartoonish characters to life.
But along the way something else happened.

From 1970 through 1990 most pages were so focused on action and dramatic stances, that the genre forgot how to take a pause, and breath, and create dramatic pauses. Well, I should remind you that I am talking about mainstream American superhero comics. Avant-garde authors like Will Eisner were already masters on pacing a story and choosing how to tell it. And other authors, like Richard Corben and Bernie Wrightson were also setting their own pace, albeit their work did not get as much recognition in the US as it did overseas.

And so, by the end of the 1990’s some daring publishers introduced in the states popular manga, and eventually its influence was felt in the story-telling process of future writers.

Now, as to why the reasons I dislike manga is exactly the same reasons I dislike American mainstream superheros: The majority of them are cookie-cutter products (and I make room for some noteworthy exceptions.)

If you go to an area in Tokio well known for its comic stores, and pick one manga of each title from the shelf, you are read them without your brain turning to mush, you will find one common thread: Way too many of these book are very intimate portrays of personal slow paced experiences.

And dear readers, do start emailing me telling me to check out this or that, to prove that it is different. In Japan’s comic scene there are fights, there are romantic, there adventures, there are space-operas, there are period pieces, there are a myriad of topics, I am fully aware. And do not get me started with the rich tapestry of Hentai, the pornographic section of manga, that deals with every fetish under the sun, some very disturbing to our Western sensitivities…

But, way too many manga are focused on the character development and the intimate moments of the character.

Basically is a medium for a teen to enjoy in intellectual/artistic masturbation.

I don’t mean masturbation in the sexual sense. I mean masturbation in the sense of that there are some people who seek information to confirm a view they already believe in, not caring that there may be contradictory information. Or those authors who admit starting a comic with a blank canvas, no script and just start drawing what they feel like.

Usually this leads to very slow storytelling (not that there is anything wrong with that) because making a story efficient and agile usually requires revisions and rewrites.

But when a whole industry is plagued by this type of narrative… it does get boring fast. In the same way that superheroes can get boring fast.

Anyway, let me make some suggestions for those of you not familiar with Manga, that may help you enjoy some of the best that Japan has to offer.

All of this recommendations are among the best graphic stories I have read, so let me know what you think (and please, use the comments, not the email address of the blog)

Lets start with the new classics. Manga evokes Japan and Japan evokes samurais, right?

 

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, by Hiroaki Samura  Published by Dark Horse.

http://www.darkhorse.com/Books/46-978/Blade-of-the-Immortal-Volume-1-Blood-of-a-Thousand-TPB

 

You get it all here. Rogue samurais, a young girl seeking revenge, lots of gory violence, but justifiable in the context of the story, a bit of supernatural flair, and lots of lyricism and pacing when telling this story.

The art is simply gorgeous. Jaw dropping.
H. Smaura manages to strike a decent balance between lyric exposure and gut-wrenching action.
Something worth noting is the realism with which people die. Gut wounds can take days to kill someone off. Bleeding of can take for ever. Lots of injured people do not stay down till you completely disable them.

 

 

 

Very gory when it needs to be.

 

Continue reading ‘Recommendations: Some Manga (part 1)’

Where are the graphic albums?

•July 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

With age comes a certain burden of knowledge that is difficult to relate to those who haven’t experienced it in person. Also allow me to clarify that I am some decades away from qualifying for Social Security (mainly because they will push the retirement age further and further)

The 70’s gave us Warren with the plethora of amazing Spanish artists giving us a different take on art. Also the revival of Will Eisner’s Spirit.Cover of Will Eisner's The Spirit, as published by Warren Publishing

 

And Heavy Metal.

Then in the 80’s we had a chance of growing up when Moore and Lloyd introduced us to V for Vendetta , and later we saw the publishing of the Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen , both in 1986.

The main thing I remember about the 90’s was giving up on comics. Among bad business decisions, there were some redeeming books to be picked up, although some serious gems can get lost among the rubble, and we should recover them.

You have Maus coming into being.

DC Published Preacher and also Death: High cost of living 

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City gave us an amazing fulfilling look at superheroes in a “realistic” settings

And The Authority finally asked the question “Why are these heroes not fixing real world problems?”

And 10 more years passed and we saw a pleasant growth on what they become called “independent” publishers, that in my humble opinion, were just alternatives to the Big Two.

But the market trends still show a great love and market share for the staples of superheroes. Granted, all of this promulgated by amazing licensing in the 90’s and 2000’s, and more recently some great movie deals for Marvel characters, but where are the amazing sales figures for Torpedo, by Sanchez and Abuli, published by IDW???
Where are the blockbuster sales for Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido by Dark Horse??

I haven’t checked but I were to look at sales and discover that something like “Scott Pilgrim” had better sales than the two mentioned above, I would then know that the audience and the market is still going through some growing pains.

Ah… screw it! I KNOW “Scott Pilgrim” had better sales than the other two masterpieces because the work by O’Malley had a movie made. That creates momentum and expands audience reach.

So here I am, working on a personal project that’s been put on hold too many years, and I find myself liking the script (to a degree) but wondering if the narrative and the theme is not right for the average American comic book reader.

Brings to mind a recent interview Kevin Smith did with Neal Adams in his (very recommendable) podcast Fatman on Batman where Neal Adams tells of meeting with an European publisher who is ranting about not being able to afford the great Neal Adams, and where Neal asks how much they are paying per page in Europe is told about $300.00… while he ends up confessing that he is getting $50.00 in the US, and the editor doesn’t believe him.

Where are the demands for direct to Album releases? Heck, forget albums, direct to graphic novel!

The majority of our comic production seems to be disposable products, floppies at $3.99 (or so) that some kids treasure and bag n’ card, while some others do not mind leaving behind in the bus after reading.
Heck, I have a hard time seeing a hardcover album of Lieutenant Blueberry left behind in a bus by sheer forgetfulness, and even if that happens, the owner not spending the rest of the month crying for the loss…

Some attempts are being made, I know.

The good people of A Wave Blue World did publish American Terrorist ATcover_smalland if memory serves, it went directly to Graphic Novel.

And a few others went to collected volume, graphic novel format or so, but too few.

 

And Kickstarter does some very good projects direct to Graphic Novels. But where are the bets coming from the publishers?
Are the publishers still the problem after all these year, constricted and bound by market forces they barely understand and to which they react to late?

Is there any thrust behind this demand for Direct-To-Album, or is just wishful thinking on my part?

 

Well, my next entry will likely focus on reviewing some Kickstart projects.
Stay tuned!

 

Rant about what it means “To be an Artist”

•June 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

When I was 5 I wrote my first short story. I was lazy about writing, so I used something like morse code. “Terry likes Susan. Susan is dangerous girl. Fights with enemy, Lucy. There is a gun fight. Terry is wounded.” and so on…

Well, by modern standards that was art.

Why? Because everything anyone wants to call art is art, by modern day definitions.

That means we made  a lot of progress from what the school system defined as “Art” about 50 years ago, where works had to conform to more established and accepted cannons.

But back to my rant.

Later, growing up, I started getting into drawing. First with pencils, then charcoals, finally inks, brushes and rapidographs. And between my peers of 12 and 14 years old, I was an amazing artist.

Then I got into writing poetry to complement my teenage angst. It worked for me. Not only that, I did some interesting works that I still keep to this day, and when I re-read them some (very few) of them still hold up.

Then, in my late teens I got into writing fiction. Never got published by any of the big companies, but then again, I barely submitted anything.

Then I published a couple of short comic in Europe, for a now defunct comic magazine. I felt accomplished. I had made it!

Then, in my early twenties I joined a small indie music band.

Later, in my thirties, I finished a couple of unpublished novels. Didn’t care to go through the submission process. They are fine in the draw where they are, for all I care.

The few (very few) people that I hold close and dear to me and to whom I revealed and disclosed my artistic progress in life, they never call me “an artist”.
Why? They know I fucking hate to have that term ascribed to my persona.

Since art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination” everything we do as humans is art.

To me, saying “I am an artists”, is no different than someone saying “I am a mammal” or “I breath oxygen” or “I am a vertebrate”

A mother breastfeeding her kid is an artist. A gardener pruning some hedges is an artist. An accountant, completing a ledger entry is an artist.

See what I did there? I admit that all humans have a creative (transformative) streak in them, and thus we are all artists. I have leveled the playing field. Now, if you want to do graffiti on a wall, and call it something really distinguishable, you have to use another term, because “We are all artists”.

So, when I am doing a pencil sketch I ask the person addressing me to call me “A maker of drawings” or a “drawer”. Well, not drawer, because it sounds to close to the place where you keep your socks, but you get the idea.  “Illustrator” will do fine. And if I am writing, I am a writer, or a novelist, or a maker of fiction.

Therefore I call a guy who makes sculptures a sculptor, and a guy who directs movies a film director.

Because we are all artists. And calling someone artists, is the same as calling them persons, or humans.

The point of my rant is not merely semantics. It has a strong sociological component. Sometimes from an elitist perspective, like when someone farts and turns around to the rest of the museum patrons and says: “I’m an artist, behold my latest masterpiece…aaaand its gone!” or when the general population actually confronts the college kid in art school, and tell him “You can’t be an artist. You haven’t published anything I’ve seen yet.”

There are some people, (too many, actually) who also refuse to ascribe you the adjective to artist, not on the basis that they don’t believe everyone makes art, but on the basis that unless you are recognized by a commercial venue, then they won’t consider you an artists.
In other words, some people will not call you an artists, or recognize you as one, unless you have been published by a known publisher, or have enjoyed a showing in a re-known gallery, or have signed with a known record label, etc.

These people really mistake artists for commercial artists, and they have to stop doing that.

There is this Spanish comic book artist that I admire greatly, and who has had very little art production. Maybe 2 stories sold in the 80’s. I met him in person back then, when I was a starry-eyed kid, and in one of our conversations I asked why he didn’t push harder to get published and he plainly stated he wanted to focus on doing art, not selling his art. And if he wasn’t in demand, he was not going to be wasting time being on demand.

Few years later I visited him again, and he was earning a living as a driving instructor. But he showed me his latest portfolio, and he had continued drawing and inking, and had more than 50 amazing looking illustrations in his desk drawer.

I understood right then something important: The industry this guy wanted to work in was responding to market forces that created a very scarce market, where artists are not utilized properly. With so little demand in Spain in those years, artists were desperate to cut rates and were competing amongst themselves. So, this great artist could not make a living of his art, not because of his lack of skill, but because of his lack of business savvy. How is that related to making art?

Not related in any way shape or form.

But this comic book illustrator proved to me something I suspected as a kid.

A true artists HAS to produce art, whether he/she gets paid for it, whether he/she gets to work in that field, whether he/she needs to dig trenches to earn a living. Somewhere, sometime, the true artist, will need to type that story that has been buzzing in his/her head; will need to doodle with a pen on paper, to appease a unique twitch, will need to express what’s inside.

Some, very very few of us, will have their works hanged in a museum someday. Or played on orchestra halls, or reach the big screen.

But I reclaim the term “Artists” for humanity. No more seeing a dude juggling on the park and letting him say “Oh, I am an artist”. We have to remind him “yeah buddy, and I breath air too. So, you are a street performer, right?”

Now, whether you can make a living and dedicate yourself exclusively to the expression of your art, that is a topic for another conversation altogether.

And for those of you who are trying to make a living at the expression of your artistry, good luck. Steady does it, and be prepared with an uphill battle that has more to do with economic, sociological and circumstantial  factors than anything you are doing or in your power to change.

Luck has also a lot do with it.

For the comic book illustrator/creator usually it is first perseverance, and then luck. They need to persevere and stay on it until that one oppotunity pokes its head out, so they can grab it. It may take years of toiling at something you are not passionate about.

Just look at most greats, and you can trace an evolution on their art and style. I present to you John Buscema, and his brother Sal Buscema, Frank Frazzeta, Will Eisner, Alex Raymond, Neil Adams, Hal Foster, Russ Manning, Burne Hogarth, Joe Kubert, and the list goes on and on…. If they couldn’t get a job to pay for their living while they were perfecting their craft, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy their iconic works.

 

 

State of a Project (3) Character Designs.

•June 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Characters designs, and things to do while you finish a script…

Yep, not only did I finish the script of Book 1, but I also finish the first of many draft revision, so I guess I am in draft 2 now.

In the meanwhile I took some time to dust off pencils and inks and try to recapture the look of the main character, I guy I drafted almost 15 years ago, but stayed in the dark drafting draw for what it seems to be for ever.

Keep in mind, I did all these scans using a multifunction copier at an office, so the resolution are pretty sucky, and that little fact is not helped in any measure by the nature of being my own crappy art.

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I draft pages and pages in my sketchbook of character’s poses and looks in different angles and settings.

Funny thing is, some of them eventually become part of the script, because as I am drafting, I find a hidden story worth telling hidden behind the drafts.

Continue reading ‘State of a Project (3) Character Designs.’

State of a Project (2)

•June 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Now that I am about to reach the half-point of the first album I find myself drifting more into sketching. It serves me to digest the organic changes I made to the script, the ones that enhance the story beyond the original draft. And being something of an airhead, I need to stop and update my notes to keep track of all the ramifications my additions have created.

This project tales the story of an epic arch, and although it has a title-character, the story is about a place and its peoples, and the stories that take place in the background while the protagonist is receiving the spotlight.

I want the reader to be enamored with the secondary characters and look forward reading their stories and about their problems.

I strive to have the reader turn the page and realize in an Eureka moment: “Man, that guy in the background… what is the deal with him/her?? He must have an interesting story… they should’ve expanded on him/her”…

For that I need to fill the script with pertinent details about the backgrounds, like what some people are doing, or how some streets are laid out.

So far, I am finding inspiration in Horacio Altuna and his wonderful renderings of life in the cluttered and overcrowded city.

So far I am working on some heavy documentation on the urban settings for a dystopian city in the future.

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So, starting sketching ambiance for the settings, like the home of the protagonist…

 

I’m using my sketch book and go over lots of sketches I did when I was living in NYC, just to assist with some scene layouts.

Here are some low-res scans of the pencil sketches.

Continue reading ‘State of a Project (2)’

State of a project: (1)

•June 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I have to stop hanging out with my writer friends.

My stages of creation get divided (usually) in something like this:

1. CONCEPT. Takes the longest. in my head i create a plot, jolt some notes, and want to have a full story from beginning to end.

2. WRITING. This one takes place at the same time with the DRAFTING stage.  I have to write the script, the scenes, and the dialog, and the approximate page distribution.

3. DRAFTING. I put together character concepts, gather documentation, and draft some more settings, tones and styles of the ambiance.

4. PROOFING AND RE-WRITING . Give it to someone whose opinion I value and get all the criticism I can, and apply the changes I think are needed.

5. SKETCHING PAGES. Start Sketching the pages.

6. INKING.

Artist at his desk

So now that I am in stage 2 (and 3, sometimes) there are days that I hang out with some writer friends, and it pisses me off to no end how they just produce pages with barely any drafting. Or should I say how much it pisses me off my own shortcomings to be productive.

Truth is, I don’t write like a writer. I end up writing a bit like a critic, in the sense that if a segment looks boring, or lame, or tame, I keep it on hold till I find a way of resolve it in a way that I find inovative.

And a friend of mine says: “Dude, you can’t break new ground in comics at every page! Just write the damm story!”

And although my heart disagrees, my mind realizes that there is a bit of true to that statement, and I should also understand that the audiences are not going to make the comic popular if I don’t speak a graphical language that they can relate to and understand.

I do spend  a nice amount of time on the drafts and sketches.

I may start posting some up to see if I get some feedback on the concept art.

 

 
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