Thursday, September 29, 2005

Cantankerous Mike--SPX Mini-Comic Reviews Part 2

Continuing on with the reviews I started yesterday, today I'll review two more of the comics I picked up at last weekends SPX.

I also want to make mention of some of the feedback I've been getting from people in regards to my reviews of not only the comics but the con. It's been gratifying to know i am not alone in my frustration with the way things are. To some I may come off a bit cranky about things, and I guess that may be true to a degree, and it's a crankiness brought on by a constant frustration I've had with not the medium of comics as much as the business of comics and the almost complete lack of co-heasion, co-operation, clear, forward-business-thinking and solidarity amongst the artist and writers who work in comics, the near rudderless and myopic, short term business practices of the big companies. Too many artists sit and wait, too many are not proactive enough in their careers, happy to just let the fates determine their careers. I have friends who are guilty of this too. And it's hard to do, but I don't see us as having any choice but to be more proactive and less reactive. And I'm not saying any of this is easy mind you.

I think we need more artists to be cranky, more artists to be mad and frustrated who then take some form of action. Too many artist in comics are complacent, too many are bad businessmen, too many are waiting for the good wind to come in and lift them out of the shallow dank waters of the babymen shops. The fact that there has never been a union or an organization of any sorts that has ever been successful in comics says a lot to me. The strip cartoonists have the National Cartoonist Society, the animators have the pretty shitty and toothless union, Local 839 that at least gives them insurance if they do 300 hours of work at a union studio. How many cartoonist have insurance? I myself don't right now as my union insurance lasped due to the fact i didn't do enough union work, so I am looking to join my local Chamber or Commerce, and get insurance through them. The failure of any positive movement to come out of the Pro-Cons, ( going back to the 70's when Neal Adams tried unsuccessfully to get a union going--partly torpedoed by Infantino's move to employ overseas talent) the lack of any real brotherhood amongst us comic book artists as a group of artists all working in the same medium, all seeking basically the same goals, readers=success=financial stability=the ability to continue to work is really pathetic. It seems you can't get more than 3 guys together to do anything.

I also see a real disconnect at times from our own history as medium. It seems a lot of lip service is given to this in a few circles, "Toth, yeah, Eisner, yeah...", but many younger cartoonist struggle in ignorance, unaware of our rich graphic history beyond the usual names mentioned, and I'll go even further out and say while they may know the name, they don't understand the art. Don't know the craft. Personally what I take from the very successful life of Will Eisner is that he was a successful businessman, conducted himself well, didn't have other businessmen dictating to him what he could do and his business was Will Eisner the artist. Joe Kubert also comes to mind as a successful businessman, who can still today do meaningful comic work and not have to turn to A.C.T.O.R. to buy a pair of support socks or a hot lunch.

I don't see enough sharing and passing down of business acumen as well as craft from one generation to the next. I see more divisions still. I tire of the dumb devisions between so-called mainstream and indy or alternative. In a pool this small I think that is really just childish, something that comics has at it's roots, and I wonder if the juvenile roots of the medium that appeal to us all, the kid inside who became excited and in love with the unique combination of words and pictures that can create these rich fantasies also retard, aid in helping some artists not mature into good businessmen? One might also say that the situation of men like Eisner or Kubert, growing up in tough times instilled in them a drive to overcome their station in life to become successful. We may not live in a depression like the 30's, but the medium, the direct market certainly isn't the healthiest, and everybody is suffering from the lack of real sustainable growth across the board.

Ok, now that I've tung lashed from the pulpit of my laptop, let's get on with the reviews!

First up is Love Is In The Air, ( 22 page + cover) published by De Plaattjesmaker and drawn by Gerrit De Jager. The book in is Finnish or Danish, so I can't understand the credits, but the book itself is another silent comic. By this I mean it has no word balloons of dialogue of any sort. This comic uses to great success the unique power of comics as it shows comedically what a man and a woman are thinking about at the same time while on a date. I love this type of strong clear cartooning! Jager's scrumbly ink line is clearly in the "La Ligne Claire" (The Clear Line) school of cartooning, often used by the Belgian and European cartoonists, most notably by Herge the Belgian artist who created Tintin. Jager's stylization of the human form is also great and it looks like he drew this comic in 2 hours. It reminds me of Shulz and even Ketchum at times.

Again that zip-zap kentic energy is conveyed from this pen to the readers eye and the speed at which he drew the panels also enhances the speed of the thoughts of the potential lovers indicated in thought balloons above their respective heads. If he had labored over this more, done a lot more detail I don't think the jokes would work, I think it would go from funny to PORN, like a Milo Manara comic, where you want to linger over each supple ass and perky boob for tittilation. I hope I am able to find more work by Jager in the future and this just goes to show how many good cartoonist are out there, overseas, in Europe, Japan, who knows where, that we in the states never see or rarely see. I picked this up at the Bries table at the con along with more comics I'll review in the coming days.

The last book I'll review today isn't a comic , it's a sketchbook, or a mini-sketchbook entitled Lunch Hour by artist Marc McMurray.

As much as I love finished art, I think my favorite thing is seeing other artist's sketches, doodles and their sketchbooks. Sketches reveal more about the artist thought process than the finished work. I love seeing the sketch that didn't make it, or was tossed in the trash. I love seeing the honesty in a sketch that is often missing in a finished work, the lessening of vitality as drawings are "purified" into a finished piece. I know that from the constant battle I have in that regard with my own work, I always love my sketch more than the finished piece. I picked up a few books from McMurray, all at 50¢, a real bargain. Lunch Hour contains sketches McMurray did at the M&M diner from 1991 to 2003 while on his lunch break. So you can see growth in McMurray's work from the beginning to the end of the book, something I think is really good. It reminds me of Wyeth's Helga series on a single subject over time, and Crumbs sketchbooks without the sexual overtones. McMurray's line is much more hesitant in the beginning, scrumbly, and more confident at the end, even sort of "Crumb like" in his rendering, favoring the odd, weird or ugly diner dweller. I share that affinity as well. Why is it so much fun to draw the off or ugly person? Must be the cartoonist in me. I'd love to see more sketchbooks by more artists of observed subjects instead of the usual "invented" subject.

On the spot drawing always improves ones skill in observation, execution/facility and empowers the made up or fantasy work with power ful doses of reality which hopefully will keep your work invigorated and not static, full of cliches. This is a handsome little sketchbook full of McMurray's honesty and love for his lunch spot, now gone from a fire. You can see more McMurray art at:


John Beatty said...

Hey Ole' Cranky...I took my leave long ago and didn't look back I just go out and do for myself...what more need to do.

I spent time and money to learn new ways of putting 20 years of comic art craft into other mediums for making a living.

I don't want to ever do another monthly book as long as I live!!!

I'm in a *happy* place right now and as you know that place isn't long exsisiting in the 'comic playground' of the BIG 2!

I'm having *FUN* again doing work and if I ever do another comic book...which I would like will be one that I do work on with friends and people I respect.

Hell...I even flaked when working with Rick on TMNT there for awhile...I had trapped myself again it seemed...I regret that Rick got caught up in my *final* phase of comic book depression...

Now I feel re-invented and enjoy doing work again!

I'm looking forward to what comes next and am happy for those who care to join me...and YOU and find our own ways.

Thanks for being and keeping it 'real' MM!


Mike M said...

Big John, Yeah I know the heartache of toiling in the mines. the pay can be good, but long term unless you desire only to do that and are willing to take the risk, it's a danger.

One day Curt Swan was THE SUPERMAN artist, the next some old guy who has no value and has to draw shit like M.A.S.K., if he could get that. He owned nothing, created nothing he owned, had nothing. That type of lesson should burn like an eternal flame for every mainstream cartoonist.

bustedacres said...

Mike--I'm very interested to hear more about this. In saying that many cartoonists are bad businessmen, do you mean that because they only did work-for-hire and never owned characters, they failed to provide for themselves in the future? Or are you referring to other aspects of the business.

I'm curious mainly because I've worked in several entertainment fields--I worked in Hollywood for several years, have put out an album, worked in the theatre, etc--but am particularly drawn to the (ahem) stability of a career in comics. I know that many folks have a great deal of trouble maintaining any stability in the business but have watched my childhood (and adulthood) buddy Joe Casey become quite successful and steady writing comics for a living.

In essence, I guess I'm asking you for advice--what pitfalls I should look out for as I'm getting started. How aggressively should I pursue the publication of my own properties versus trying to get work drawing Daredevil or something.

I love to draw and love to tell stories and I'm good at it, so any advice on how I can make a career of it is helpful. However, I'm not asking for general blanket advice but for specific ideas of how to avoid some of the issues you mention in this post.

It's a shame that Curt Swan couldn't work steadily on good projects forever. However, as a kid I thought his artwork was "boring" and "old-looking". Now that I'm older I can see the beauty and the structure in it. I wonder how he could have avoided falling into that trap without completely changing.

(Sorry for this super-long reply, by the way. . .) I'm fascinated to look at current artwork by guys like Rick Leonardi and Trevor von Eeden, two guys whose quirky styles were very unusual and exciting in the 80s. Now it seems their styles have disappeared in their monthly work, almost as if they decided to just give up and make the artwork more generic.

Any thoughts? As always, thanks for your blog. I enjoy reading your perspective on things.

Mike M said...

Busted, I'm refering to all aspects, creating, owning, planning for the future, etc.

I think the day of doing Dardevil are done. Really, Better to be Jim Rugg or Brian Lee O'malley,Mignola, Jeff Smith than do Darkhawk. The days when you could effecively ply your trade as a journeyman cartoonist and make a healthy living while making comics and developing some respect and maybe even a little consideration/loyalty at the companies are gone.

As gone as the fans of the 90's.
That's my advice, own it!

And who knows, I think today if you make big waves on your own you stand to get a better rate, a better deal and more respect from the big companies by establishing yourself before you enter the Batcave. Then they want you for you.

As far as Swan, and falling victim to market forces, styles etc, it's something we all have to take responsibility for and be more proactive with. Sometimes we will still get stung by things beyond our control. In any entertainment medium you have to saty up on the way things move and shift. Maybe if Swan had created something like Bob Kane did, he could have gotten a sweat deal and made money while a younger hipper artist took over. Eisner's estate will make $$ off Cook's new version at DC.

Nobody owes you a living in the commercial mines, can't cut it and you are gonna get ground under and out. Everybody knows that, so the smart artist works to set things up to avoid that, but most artist are lazy and not smart. Maybe Swan never had any ideas of his own? Who knows.

As fars as the other two guys you mentioned, who knows. the field is pretty goddam shitty and hard to find regular work in now for any guys I know and many contemporaries, it's one of the reasons I got out and into animation almost a decade ago now, doing boards and run my magazine. I have to deversify, and hopefully one of these ideas will end up being a big enough hit I will be set.

bustedacres said...

Thanks for the commentary, Mike. I suspect you're right--the idea of Eisner the businessman employing Eisner the artist is a very interesting and compelling one. It seems that the most exciting artists to me are the self-starters, even when they do work on non-creator-owned properties (Darwyn Cooke being a good example of that, actually; I suspect that he's harboring a really great creator-owned project).

I guess in all I'm glad to hear your perspective on this, as I've got a few things I'm developing that I think could work out and be successful. Perhaps finding some mainstream work will help to build a name for myself so that I can get a little extra attention for the things I really love. . .

Mike M said...

The longer darywn doesn't own what darywn does, the worse off I think he'll be in the long run. 50 years afetr the Spirit stopped publishing and after it's creators death, his wife, childrem, heirs can continue to beefit from his forward thinking and his efforst as he owns the Spirit.

They are reusing Darkhawk at Marvel, I don't see one ¢ from it. even if they relaunch his own title I don't know if I'll get anything as my deal was with the old Marvel, the company no longer exists. I don't want to create anything else for these companies, I just want to own it all myself now. I want to be like Will.

gur-B said...

Hello there! I just came upon your blog and have been going through your archives. Man what a bang on solid drawings you make!!! Nice to see your book review too. It is definitely worth checking out the other stuff De Plaatjesmakers produce for example and