Dragon: 02 to 06

I’ll embed #2 just because:

The rest are all available over on flickr. I don’t think anyone wants me to put these all on the blog – do you?

In these episodes you meet Zappy the Trigger-Happy and Gizzard the Naughty Wizard, which google assures me remain unused character names to this day. PWNAGE!

You also gain a clear appreciation for how I was getting bored with the actual drawing bits, so lots of heads floating in blank space and big lettering and that sort of thing.

And the jokes get stupider.

Nevertheless, this continues to make me smile, so i inflict it upon the world 🙂

Read the whole series here!

Dragon: 01

I am delighted to have finally scanned in a comic I made waaaay back when I was 10 years old. (If I remember right, I completed these early episodes at the start of the year, before my birthday.) Here begin the adventures of Nogard the Dragon!

Dragon Comic 01

This was, I think, the first strip comic I ever created and it actually shows some ability to work with panels and pace gags. Any semblance of technique was of course hoovered up from the comics I was reading at the time. These were Marvel’s Avengers (at this point, deep in the Roger Stern era) and IPC’s 80s revival of Eagle (firmly into its decline), of course, but of more relevance: the legendary British humour comic Oink!, whose humour I was eagerly trying to emulate, and the backmatter strips in the gamer mag Dragon Magazine: Larry Elmore’s Snarfquest and Dave Trampier’s Wormy. If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.

Note that some skills weren’t picked up so readily: for example, I couldn’t draw or letter for tuppence. I remember some of my classmates who were just so talented on the cartoon front. Luckily this didn’t hold me back. And also, I couldn’t actually structure a story for tuppence either. That dramatically-named “Scarlet Castle” in the first panel? You’ll never hear of that again. That mid-strip fight-sequence? Complete filler. And that weird interstitial creature talking directly to the audience? Well – there is a reason for him but lord knows what I was thinking at the time.

So, here it is. The remainder of the story will turn up on Flickr in due course, and will be linked in a future post or two. Unsubscribe now!

Yknil Linky

The great shift of medium for the comic form, from paper to digital, passed its tipping point sometime in the last few years. Over the same period, the market for “literary” comics-as-books has grown enormously, the economics that supported the popular “pamphlet” comic book format have utterly collapsed, and (with ironic timing) the primary content of those dying pamphlets has become the biggest moneyspinner in the Hollywood arsenal. This makes for some interesting times.

Popular webcomic “Order of the Stick” is running a crowdfunding campaign to gather $60K to fund a *reprint* of a print collection of its freely-available online strips. As I write, it has beaten its goal sixfold, and there are almost three weeks still to go.

Wholesome all-American Archie Comics, one of the few pamphlet-style lines that seems to be in decent financial health, has not just introduced a gay character, they put a mixed-race gay military wedding on the cover. And the latest news is that Archie will be covering the Occupy movement. It wasn’t so long ago that the Archie characters were spouting God’s word on-panel, and spun off a whole sub-line of Christian comics where the Archie gang learned about prayer, scripture and the fires of hell.

The Avengers film is going to launch a new trailer during the Superbowl, the most expensive advertising spot there is. It will do huge numbers at the box office (+ more if it’s any good). Probably 99.5% of viewers will never have read an Avengers comic book, and never will afterwards either. (The real secret of success here: Comics people teaching Hollywood how to do a crossover with film properties. Comic books figured out how this works back in the 30s. Hollywood never did until Aliens vs Predator – which was of course a comics adaptation.) (Although Freddy vs Jason came out first.) (And no, those Abbot & Costello films don’t count.) (True fact: Hollywood has never really understood IP, even while it fights furiously to defend it.)

Comics from around the world, particularly Europe and Asia where the medium is thriving in print as well as digital, are also more available to the English-speaking world than ever before. Two Euro examples:
Billy pointed at this marvellous strip that takes advantage of screen presentation in an absolutely stunning way, and tells a heck of a story as well.
And various comics types have been delightedly sharing this amazing 24-hour comic by Boulet – created from nothing to completion in (just over) 24 hours. Fantastic!

Every single one of these items is just amazing to me. (I won’t talk about Before Watchmen, because after six months of rumours I’d already resigned myself to its existence. And besides, the Alan-Moore-devised role-playing adventures provide all the prequel content I need…)

Maire just found a neat bit of research on what happened to that slave who wrote a letter to his old master. (Here’s that letter – really, really worth a read.)

This one’s been popping up all over, because it’s marvellous: a girl who can say words backwards. I love this video not just for the party trick itself (which is lovely and fascinating) but for the details: the girls in the back seat conferring as they try to come up with the hardest words they can, the guy looking around for inspiration and naming everything he can see which tells you a lot about where they are, the fact they are in a car in the first place, and best of all the way the video ends. (Oh crappers.) It’s all so damn genuine.

What’s wrong with “First Word Problems” (Via Ms Scarlet)

ALIEN linky now: Jones the cat’s view of Alien (Via qarl) and the wonderful ALIEN AGE 11, which is a comic adaptation of Alien made by an 11-year-old who had only read the novelisation and never seen the film (via dritchie).

Shakespeare in the original pronunciation transforms the work & reveals previously-hidden puns. Great! (via Sonal)

Lance Reddick from Fringe and The Wire reveals a new side of himself.

Classical concert performer interrupted by ringtone, and handles it very well indeed

Your wow photos for the day: Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival

And finally, via Mike Sands: cats 4 gold

White Man’s Akira

Don’t worry folks, even though lots of really big things in the world are going wrong, there’s still room for some very small things to go completely wrong too.

The script for the Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures live action adaptation of anime artist Katsuhiro Otomo’s 6-volume graphic novel Akira has been sent to a short list of actors… I’m told that for Tetsuo, Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy have been given the new script. For the role of Kaneda, the script has been given to Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake and Joaquin Phoenix. The two leads are expected to come from that group of actors.

[They’re not actually going to have Robert Pattinson playing a character called Tetsuo. The Deadline link says the action has been moved from Neo-Tokyo to New Manhattan. He’ll be Theodore. Justin Timberlake will be Kevin. I guess they won’t be teenagers any more either.]

Death of Comic Book Guy

From memory, this was the first issue I bought at the local comic shop, coverdated July 1987

A few weeks ago, my brother closed off our file at the local comic shop. This is a significant development. We’ve shared that file between us since 1987. I remember many happy train journeys in those early years, sitting by the window looking at fresh issues of Avengers, Aliens, Dark Horse Presents… Then over a decade later, a regular Thursday visit to pick up a few issues then settle into Eva Dixon’s to read the latest creative madness from Marvel (which, under Jemas and Quesada, was pushing the boundaries in every direction). Good times.

But those days are now done, and not just for me and bro. Comic shops are dying out. This has been going on a long time – industry-watch blogs have tracked the steady closure of comic shops and the shrinking of the market. And despite the occasional surge into this or that channel, comics retail is still mostly locked up in the comic shops. A whole creative industry seems to be dying on the vine.

Predictably, a lot of folks point at content to explain this downspiral. Inward-looking massive crossovers in the big superhero lines are eating the consumer base! But I think it’s obvious on its face that this is insufficient as an explanation. The biggest retail years ever were the continuity-ridden low-quality 90s, and the non-supers scene remains as vital and challenging and innovative as ever.

In fact, while the stores close, comics have finally gone mainstream. Bookstores carry graphic novels and trade paperbacks, from the dumbest supers collections to the navel-gazingest indie tome. Comics movies are big news (and the supers ones cross-market to toy stores and restaurant promotions and more). The Walking Dead tv show is about to launch with top-tier creative talent and major buzz. Decades of talk about how comics deserve greater appreciation have finally been fulfilled. Heck, the best sign of all is that newspapers no longer need to launch every comics-related article with “Biff! Pow! Comics aren’t just for kids any more!”

But at the exact same moment that comics content is has gone utterly mainstream, the retail channel for the artifacts themselves is going down the gurgler.

One big culprit is obvious: price. Comics are resource-intensive and modern quality demands are high. Comics hit the $3.99 US price point a while back and that was breaking point for a lot of people. With an already shrinking audience, economies of scale and increased production costs had devastating results. Industry death spiral. The value proposition just doesn’t work at that $3.99; it was barely holding at $2.99.

Yet all is not lost. Comics are going digital, in a big way. The big companies have been putting footprints down for a while; Marvel’s iPad app was a clear sign that comics are shifting focus to the screen not the printed page. This, again, is not a new development – Scott McCloud foresaw some of this a decade ago in his Reinventing Comics, and many creators have already gone to online publication. (Shout out to Dylan Horrocks, whose serial Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is on fire as a free online publication, after starting out in print.) Sales numbers for digital are promising, where even bookstore sales are showing a remarkable drop.

But – and here’s the thing – my brother and I aren’t shifting to digital for the content we used to get on paper. A general digi distribution model isn’t in place yet. Reading paper-format comics on laptop screens is still a frustrating experience. Tablets like the iPad are great, but they don’t have much market penetration yet. And what, to keep my conscience clear on the piracy front my brother and I now have to buy duplicate issues in digital form?

So it’s strange times for an industry. Just as it hits the big time in terms of cultural capital, the bottom collapses out of its infrastructure, while the lifeline of digital isn’t ready to take the weight. There’s some irony for ya.

Me? I’m gonna sit tight, wait things out, and see where we are in a few years. Comics stores won’t die, but they will need to change (and the good ones are already well on-track for doing this). I’ll still pick up the odd single issue, as long as they keep makin’ em -what can I say, I like my slabs of culture. But the old model is history for me personally, and soon enough will be for everyone.

And thinking about it again, it does blow my mind a little bit. “Old model” = the entire infrastructure for a creative industry. A whole medium’s falling over. That doesn’t happen too often. (And, just quietly? Broadcast television should be watching verrry closely.)

(N.B. Statements about comics industry here don’t apply to manga or to European b-d, which are both in a much healthier state by all accounts – not least for their use of formats very different to the 24-page “floppy” that has been standard in US-derived comics for 75+ years).

Frank Sidebottom RIP

I didn’t know what the hell to make of this when I was a kid reading Oink! comic. One of those inexplicable British things that, as a Kiwi kid, you encountered from time to time in the UK’s pop-culture output.

Frank Sidebottom was the creation of Chris Sievey, and it was somewhere between comic genius and outsider art. Sievey died last week, only 54 years old.

Frank Sidebottom was punk. He was, he really was.

Lew Stringer discusses Sievey’s Oink! work.

Google also turned up this lovely story.

What a weekend

Pic by Eric, from his blog post about Armageddon

This weekend had so much packed into it, but it all came out pretty well.

Went to Armageddon Pop Culture Expo with Eric. Every year I say I won’t go back next year, but they keep bringing over people who played the Doctor, and occasionally cool comics guests. This year, 1996 Doctor Paul McGann (Eric describes that) and comics team Mike & Laura Allred. I was wearing my only comic-book t-shirt, which features the meditative and romantic Concrete character by Paul Chadwick, and Mike & Laura complimented the shirt and we talked about what Paul was up to these days (answer: commercial work, mostly, though I see from his blog he’s started on a new Concrete piece). They signed my Wolverine of Fame, and I walked Mike over to the NZ comics table where Dylan Horrocks was lurking so they could meet.

Saw more of Dylan at my real highlight of the weekend, the NZ Comics Weekend, which was absolutely buzzing with creative energy. I think I’ll talk about that in a different post, even.

Apart from that, caught up with a bunch of people who all chose this weekend to come back to Wellington for a visit, got stuck into some packing, lined up some more work, watched the new Doctor Who, and did a few quiet things for my birthday. Really nice, overall.

Experiment have seen linkys!!!!!!!!!!!

Happy April Fools Holy Thursday linky. I was all keen to do an April Fools Pantheon of Plastic entry, following DavidR’s suggestion, but after far too long clicking through action figure custom galleries and flipping the pages of Tomart’s Encyclopedia & Price Guide to Action Figure Collectibles, I still hadn’t found any photos that felt like they could play. No doubt I’ll have a great idea as soon as I post this, but oh well.

I did find this great action figure of DavidR though.

To continue the action figure theme, via DavidR’s gene-brother HamishR, here are 20 action figures with unusual careers. Also, the ten most baffling action figure accessories.

Flatlander pointed at this interview and response with a young right-wing politico on the subject of Earth hour. It is hilarious, and we should all seize the rhetorical flourishes on display for future use. Everyone likes “I think my argument is so powerful that it’s not necessary to talk about it” but I am fond of “it fails on three fun-loving levels”, which must be an actual talking point for him because he repeats it in both interviews. Outstanding.

The Large Hadron Collider hasn’t destroyed the universe yet, but it did give us a Tweet that will be remembered long after Twitter has faded away.

Elyssa a.k.a. The Moon Whispers, late of Wgtn and now home in Italy, has released a bunch of free music, including a new track Tutto Intorno e Ombra. (You have to subscribe to her email list to get the download link.) From the site: “Elyssa writes enchanting dark ballads with evocative vocals and a storytelling slant. ”

From Rodger: Polka Face! Wunnerful.

Seen the Scarface School Play yet? As a hoax it was never gonna last more than five minutes, but as a piece of wacko guerilla pop-art, it’s something amazing.

Weird, the Weird Al biopic. Am I the only one who genuinely would love to see a Weird Al biopic? A doco would beeven better.

Two linky from Dylan Horrocks: 1. What the tea party rage is actually about (See also: teabonics) (And Doonesbury!) (And Polatik! Oh man, so much wacky.)

2. The real scandal in climate change research – uncovering the small company backing lots of sceptic propaganda

And a round-up of linky about Dylan, interviews at BoingBoing, newsarama and more. Tomorrow I’ll be going to the NZ Comics Weekend opening, and hopefully on Saturday too to see the Wgtn launch of the first NZ edition of Dylan’s classic work, Hicksville. Bookman Beattie writes about Hicksville here. Dylan is a lovely chap and a great creator, and is currently serializing new work free on his blog: hicksvillecomics.com

Sitting next to my computer for the last few months has been an issue of Cerebus, the long-running nearly indescribably series by Dave Sim. I picked up a stack of them in a ten-cent sale a decade ago and have finally been working through them. Sim was a champion of the comics form and provided a showcase for plenty of up-and-coming creators, and a back-up in this issue (#177) is by a woman named Nina Paley. She, I remembered instantly, had written and drawn some great funny strips for Dark Horse Presents back in the 90s (and indeed, Sim’s intro mentions Diana Schutz, editor at Dark Horse). What, I wondered, had become of her? Well, it turns out she made a movie: a full-length animated feature called Sita Sings the Blues. Roger Ebert gives it an extensive and glowing review here. Ebert:

“By this point, I’m hooked. I can’t stop now. I put on the DVD and start watching. I am enchanted. I am swept away. I am smiling from one end of the film to the other. It is astonishingly original. It brings together four entirely separate elements and combines them into a great whimsical chord. You might think my attention would flag while watching An animated version of the epic Indian tale of Ramayana set to the 1920’s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw. Quite the opposite. It quickens.”

It’s back in the circuit because it’s just been made available, free, under a Copyleft license. An interview with Paley at CBR tells the fascinating story.
And you can watch the film here. I haven’t, yet, but I will, because it looks AMAZING. And now I can put that Cerebus issue away!

And finally… Death Metal Louis Armstrong