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Sunday, 21 December 2014

Princeless volume 3: Interview with the artists

Today's post is a little different from our regular reviews. 2 years ago i reviewed volume 1 of Princeless (here http://paipicks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/princeless-save-yourself.html) and in January volume 3 will be released. To honour this, and to do more promotion for a series I absolutely adore, I got an interview with the two artists for volume 3. I took the opportunity to ask them about the technical side of making comic art, with the idea that it would help new readers understand the creation process more, and also because I love hearing about that stuff.

We also talk comic recommendations, how they got the job and visual puns.

To recap, Princeless is about Princess Adrienne who is locked in a tower by her well meaning but not very good parents and told to wait until a Prince comes to rescue her. Stuff this, she thinks. She rescues herself, befriends the dragon and decides to go rescue her sisters who are also stuck in towers. Adrienne also befriends a female blacksmith who is quite exuberant about anything, battles demons protecting her sisters and in volume 3, rescues Raven, the Pirate Princess, who is also stuck in a tower. Raven is also known as the Black Arrow. Obviously, I like her a lot (I like archers).

Read on!
What parts of the art do each of you do?
Ted: It's a completely collaborative work, honestly. We have pretty complementary strengths, so it works out pretty cleanly, at least most of the time. In theory, I do the layouts, Rosy pencils, I ink, Rosy colours and I letter, but it doesn't always quite work out that neatly.

Rosy: Ted pretty much summed it up really. It's a lot of juggling about, there's a lot of suggestions to each other about things that could be improved or need fixing. We keep each other on our toes.

Ted: We are doing all the art for volume 3; it's all been handed in and approved, so all that's left is to solicit and get it into stores!

Rosy: We really hope the fans enjoy it. There will be 4 issues and I think issue 1 comes out January 28.

So, after a few years I've just got the joke in the action lab logo..... Can you describe to me, or link me to, your favourite visual pun? Or draw me one....

Ted: I can't find a link to it now, proving my Google-fu is weak, but I always loved that Alex Ross line-up of the Justice League, with the whole “picture with flash”/”picture without flash” that saw the latter both dimmer, and missing Barry Allen.
Rosy: I'm quite fond of this one.

How did you get the Princeless gig?
Ted: We got the gig mostly by luck, honestly; I was following Jeremy's tumblr, when I saw him say that the third volume was going to be delayed as the scheduled artist was having difficulties. Since we both wanted to get into comics, I suggested we ought to get in touch and offer our services!

Rosy: We sent an email saying how much we'd love to be a part of Princeless and asked if we could get some sample scripts to show off what we could do. Jeremy liked our stuff and our approach and we got the job!

How much guidance did you get from Jeremy for panel lay out, new character's design, mood of the comic etc?Ted: The great thing, and the challenge, of Jeremy's scripts is that they're very open to interpretation. It means that as far as the layouts go, it’s an open playground, which is as terrifying as it is freeing! The mood of the work was fairly evident from the scripts; it comes organically through the characters and their exploits.

Rosy: As for the character design stuff, for the main characters we're given a name, a race and a brief physical description which is again very open to interpretation really. For the less significant characters we can go wherever we want, unless there’s anything specific that Jeremy had in mind and even then it’s usually only suggestion. Jeremy is very trusting of us for that kind of stuff.

How long did it take you to do this issue of Princeless? How many redrafts did you go through?

Ted: The first issue took…a little longer than we would have liked. It was our first professional issue, our first time collaborating together, and our longest comic to date. There was a steep learning curve!

Rosy: A very steep learning curve, yes! I'd never done anything on this scale before and it took a little while to get into the swing of things. It’s quite a test of stamina!

Can you explain the job of the inker to someone who doesn't know anything about comics?
Ted: I've never inked anyone else outside of my collaboration with Rosy, so I can't speak for the job as far as others go. For us, it's about clarifying, really: as the penciller, Rosy creates all the expressions, body language, and all the other details that breathe life into the comic and the characters. It’s my job as the inker to create a purer, condensed version of her lines so that they're neat and consistent, without taking away the spark that she gives them.

Rosy: Ted also corrects any mistakes I make, most frequently he makes hands look like hands rather than some kind of weird root vegetable.

I really appreciate the art of lettering but I don't know much about the technicalities of it. Can you explain how you decide on a font and placement of the letters, and how you make the lettering work? Do you draw the panel first then fit the lettering on or do you work out where the speech bubbles go and then draw the panel around it?Ted: Lettering is a grossly underappreciated art in comics. I didn’t even realise how underappreciated it was until I started lettering this book and realised how many critical choices letterers make. For the fonts I use, they are mostly made by the excellent Comicraft font foundry - there simply aren’t any better out there.

The lucky thing about this book is that I do the layouts as well as the letters: it allows me to take into account how much speech is needed in the panels before I design each page, which means I can shape the panel sizing as well as the layout to make sure that our art balances with Jeremy’s dialogue, neither treading on the other’s toes. That said, I'm still pretty new to this, so it’s definitely a case of learning as I go!

Is comic-ing your day job? If not, how do you fit the comicing in with the day job?
Ted: It is! This volume has been our first outing into the world of full-time comics work. It's always scary leaving the regular world of work behind, but I'm pretty sure we'll have more fun this way.

Rosy: We're really lucky to be in a position where we were able to take this job on. I feel very privileged to have this opportunity.

Any advice for Brits wanting to break into comics? Do you feel like you've broken into comics?
Ted: I'll probably feel more like I've broken in once our first collected volume is out in print. Once we have our first book in our hands, it’ll all feel more real!
As for advice: chance favours the prepared mind. If an opportunity does arise, you need to not only see it but be ready. That said, take those chances! Fail upward!

Rosy: The chance to work on Princeless came completely out of the blue so I'd advise anyone wanting to get into comics to always keep an eye out for opportunities and don't be afraid to make a grab for them when they turn up.

What comics would you recommend to new readers and to long term readers?
Editor's note: Links are to the Comixology or Amazon storefronts but don't forget you can get the issues in your local comic shop too!Ted: Lucky you asked! There are a lot of great books out there right now. Superhero-wise, I'd recommend Marvel’s Captain Marvel (editor's note - I reviewed the first volume of Captain Marvel here), Ms Marvel and Thor; from DC, the revamped Batgirl and Gotham Academy are both flawless. All of the above are pretty all-ages friendly, fun, and wicked-smart; perhaps most importantly, they're all new enough to be new reader-friendly.

I’ve tried to pick ones that worked for new or longer readers - they all are new enough that there's not a lot of catching up on the specific stories currently being told, while (in the case of the superhero books, at least) still having plenty of characters and references that longer readers will appreciate.

Independent book-wise, I was bowled over by the first issue of ODY-C, loved Gail Simone’s Red Sonja, and am waiting very impatiently for Kelly Sue DeConnick’s new Image book (Bitch Planet).
ODY-C might be more suitable to long term readers simply because of the way the pages are constructed - they're as much design pieces as comics pages in a lot of ways, so I can certainly see that being intimidating for people who are new to the medium in general. Content-wise, however, it's a new book, so accessible to all. Bitch Planet and Red Sonja are both suitable for new readers, though may be less suitable for younger ones.  I'm not reading much that's mired much in continuity generally; while I can easily get it, I generally find that stuff that's accessible to new readers is more entertaining.

While I'm not reading anything really non-accessible continuity-wise right now, older series are a gold mine for that kind of stuff. Final Crisis is definitely fantastic (editor's note - for non comicers I explain Final Crisis here). That said, DC's Multiversity is definitely steeped in continuity - not just in terms of DC, but in terms of Morrison's work there: it stands as the final piece of a story he started back when he first took the reins on Batman, and including Final Crisis, his run on Action Comics, and more.

As to the other part of your question, looking for comics recommendations for books that are less accessible to new readers in terms of being new to the medium, well, that's harder. Jason Shiga's Meanwhile is a great example - it's a fantastic comics version of a make-your-own adventure with an alarming number of stories to be told. David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp is similarly challenging in its storytelling, but is possibly the most intelligent book I've ever read. Semiotically speaking, Asterios Polyp is active on every level, with each line and colour imbued with meaning that may not be obvious on immediate inspection.

Rosy: For someone who wants to work in comics I’m actually really, REALLY bad at reading them. To be honest I'm not even really that big a reader. Unlike Ted I don’t like to get individual issues because I'd end up losing one of them and then wouldn't be able to follow the story, so I prefer to get the trade paperbacks. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to pick up any in a while so I'm really behind

on the books I do enjoy. My favourites being Image’s Chew and Invincible and Daniel Way’s runon Deadpool. Actually pretty much any run on Deadpool…I wouldn’t recommend you read those with your kids, though.
I guess I'd recommend anything Stuart Immonen has worked on, because even if you don't completely get everything that's going on you'll still have spectacular visuals to look at.  (Editor's note - I review two Stuart Immonen books here).

Oh, and absolutely everyone should read Princeless, obviously.

Question to Rosy: May I ask how you find drawing comics/storytelling when you don't read that much of them?Rosy: The truth is that Ted is the one who sorts out where everything is going on the page, blocking out not just the panels but the general positions of the characters and how everything flows together. My job is to flesh out his ideas. It's sort like he's the director to my actors.

My background is that I learned to draw through watching cartoons. I initially wanted to be an animator; I found out I lacked the patience and stamina for animation during my first year at university. I did, however, really enjoy doing storyboarding and animatics and thought comics could be an avenue to go down. I ended up transferring to another course at another university specifically for graphic novels, which was where Ted and I met.

Now, to find out more about Princeless and these guys' work, follow these links:
Rosy's tumblr: Unassumingpumpkin.tumblr.com
Rosy's twitter: https://twitter.com/RosyTintedSpecs
Ted's tumblr: Tenbandits.tumblr.com
Ted's twitter: https://twitter.com/ten_bandits
Action Lab website: http://www.actionlabcomics.com/
Release date for Princeless vol 3 issue 1: January 28th 2015
View all Princeless available issues here (and go buy them!):

Thanks to Rosy and Ted for their time!

This interview also appears on my Pai blog - www.paiwings.blogspot.com - which normally contains ramblings on comics, bits about music, some crafty stuff and other meanderings about my life.

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror

Writer and artist: Junji Ito
Publisher: Viz Comics

What's it about?
From the Viz website:
Kurozou-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed.  According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral: the hypnotic secret shape of the world.  It manifests itself in everything from seashells and whirlpools in water, to the spiral marks on people's bodies; the insane obsession of Shuichi's father, and the voice from the cochlea in our inner ear.  As the madness spreads, the inhabitants of  Kurozu-cho are pulled ever deeper into a whirlpool from which there is no return!

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Chicken Thief

The Chicken Thief
Writing and art by Beatrice Rodriguez
Publisher: Gecko Press

What's it about?
This is sold as a wordless book where children can invent their narratives to go along with the illustrations.  It's really a comic - sequential art where the entire double page is given over to the art, and there are no narrative boxes, speech bubbles, or sound effects.

It's only about 10 pages long and is pretty simple - fox grabs chicken and runs off, chicken's friends follow in hot pursuit through forest, sea and sand.  There is a twist at the end!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

A new reader does a video review of Powers and Yakitate

A friend of mine, Jenny, has uploaded a video review of her first time reading a comic - Powers volume 1: Who Killed Retro Girl?  Powers is a crime comic set in a world where everyone has superpowers.

Watch her review here:

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mike Avon Oeming
Colour art: Pat Garrahy
Separation Assists: Ojo Calhente Studios
Letters: Pat Garrahy and Brian Michael Bendis
Publisher: Image Comics

Powers has been on my list of things to review for a while, but I haven't got round to it.  Thankfully, this is a review by an actual new reader so may well work better  for all of you :D

There's added bonus discussion of Yakitate Japan which is a battle manga about bread.  And there's a very cute springer (?) spaniel rumbling about too.

Sunnysweetpea tweets here and has a lifestyle blog here.  Her youtube channel is here.
Thanks to Ang (@appletreeang) for supplying me with the credits and suggesting the book to Jenny.  Ang blogs here.

If you like the sound of superhero cops you might also want to try Top 10.  It has a very different take on the idea.

Monday, 27 October 2014

A note on variant covers

The wonderful Women Write About Comics (WWAC) site recently wrote a piece on variant covers which I thought was so marvellous I had to share it with you.

Variant covers are limited edition covers sold as an alternative to the more widely available usual cover.  They are usually done by a different artist and are meant to be more desirable than the regular cover.  WWAC has this to say:

"Variants are often produced in limited quantity by publishers, and many cannot be ordered by comic shops without meeting a minimum order. Ordering all (or any) variants is a difficult task even for large retailers. Many comic shops that order variants may also take advantage of their rarity by selling them for more than cover price, even going so far as to bypass the shelf altogether and put them in their online stores first. This is a controversial practice, but it is no different than a speculator buying them for cover price then selling them online for more based on demand. It’s every retailer’s right to decide how to sell “retailer incentive” covers (as variants are also called), and not ordering them at all is also an option.
Every major publisher offers variant covers, some more frequently than others, and there are many different kinds of variants."
The full post is much longer than that so I urge you to go across to the site and read the full post.  The rest of the site is pretty good too - they cover comics, movies, games, fashion, books and loads of other nerdy things.  Enjoy :)

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Secret Invasion: Black Panther

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jefte Palo
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Virtual Calligraphy's Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics

In 2008 Marvel Comics did a big 'event' called:

How pulpy.

Secret Invasion's premise is that a group of shape shifting aliens - the skrulls - have been infiltrating Earth society and are now poised to launch a full scale (secret) invasion.  The skrulls can replicate powers so have replaced key superheroes on earth:
N.B: This is a teaser image and is not necessarily the actual heroes the skrulls replaced (no spoilers here, Jimmy).

The skrulls are undetectable and so it's very hard to know whom to fight.  Whilst the main mini series was a bit dull, a few of the tie-ins were great fun. The 3 Black Panther issues are some of the more enjoyable ones.

The Black Panther, also known as T'Challa, is the King of Wakanda.  Wakanda is a small African country that has never been defeated, not once in 1,500 years.
The Wakandans have always had far superior technology to the rest of the world.  They retain their African identity, culture and dress.  It is unusual to read about a culture with better tech than the Western capitalist world, who dress in both tribal and business clothing, and revere an animal god (in this case the Panther God who gives T'Challa his abilities).  The Wakandans are pretty darn intelligent but not greedy.  They are nationalistic but do not seek out conflict.  They do aggressively defend their borders should anyone seek to invade.

Now, the skrulls have infiltrated the Avengers and the Fantastic 4 and replaced many earth heroes and villains.  They decide to go for Wakanda.  What do you reckon the chances of them claiming control are?

What's good about it?
Ahh, everything about this is good.  Reading the story, seeing it unfold, is utterly delicious.  We know that the Wakandans have never been conquered, we know how good T'Challa is, but the skrulls don't know it. They think that it will be easy to conquer this small nation of puny humans.  They are wrong, so so wrong.
There is mayhem and big battle scenes, thunder and lightning (due to T'Challa's then wife, Storm of the X-Men).  One massive skrull takes on T'Challa, one on one.  It's dramatic and it's glorious.  The pacing is superb.  The Storm and T'Challa scenes feel real and romantic (insofar as you can be romantic while skewering your enemies), unlike other issues in this series where their relationship feels forced.
The story is narrated by one particular skrull, a general of sorts, who has served in the skrull army for many many years.  He wants to get home to his wife but he has this one last battle to serve.  Sadly for him, it doesn't end well - but his viewpoint serves to add pathos and humility to the story.

What's bad about it?
At just 3 issues long, it is a pretty short story.  However, the pacing is superb and three issues is the right length for this short story arc.  The back of my trade includes a historical overview of the character and interviews with previous writers.  This isn't something I'm particularly interested in, but others may like it.  The character and in-progress sketches at the back are great though.

What's the art like?
There's a danger when I write about books for this site that I describe the art as just 'beautiful'.  That's not very helpful to readers as it's just my opinion - I tend to think something more objective is helpful.  But for this book I do get stuck on adjectives like mesmerising, beautiful and glorious.
I can drag out descriptions like the pencils, colours and letters work in harmony together.  Nothing is too heavy.  The art complements and strengthens the script.  The characters are treated with dignity and grace - even the skrulls.  All of this is true.  Yet still I just want to describe the art as inspiring awe.  If you like the panels I've shown, you'll like the art.
More information
Price: £9.99
ISBN: 0785133976

So what's next?  Although this trade is good, this particular series of Black Panther is not great overall.  The first trade, 'Who is the Black Panther' is bloody glorious, politically and storywise. Black Panther: Bad Mutha creates a black superhero team who go to New Orleans and deal with the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.  Black Panther: Four the Hard Way deals with the Civil War, and is pretty shoddy.   Little Green Men is forgettable.  The trades where Storm marries T'Challa and the two directly after (The Bride, Black Panther: Civil War and Back to Africa) are awful.

Black Panther: The Deadliest of the Species and Black Panther: Power see T'Challa's sister Shuri take on the Panther mantle.  These trades are great. She's a very different leader to T'Challa and the stories play out very differently when she's in charge.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

House of M

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Olivier Coipel
Inker: Tim Townsend
Colourist: Frank D'Armata
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What's it about?
Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch, is a mutant with magical, reality-altering powers.  After a traumatic event wherein she kills some of her fellow Avengers, the X-Men decide that she needs to be reined in.  Her brother Pietro, aka Quicksilver (he's a speedster), and her father Magneto (the X-Men's main enemy), want to save her and so spirit her away.  The Avengers and the X-Men go in search of the missing family but before they find anyone the world turns white and changes.  Suddenly, mutants are in charge.  They are running things and aren't victimised.  Magneto is a sort of benevolent leader and homo sapiens (us normal humans) are the oppressed.

Only Wolverine can remember how things used to be, so he sets out to put things right.

What's good about it?
This story is particularly good for fans of Wolverine and Spider-Man.  It's a really good character study for Marvel's major heroes.  How could their lives be different and how can we use these different events to see what drives them?  

It's pretty emotional.  From the get go we are watching colleagues, friends, lovers and family try to work out how to keep the world safe from Wanda, and how to help her heal.  They are desperate, but know the only solution may be to kill her.  Could you do that to your child?

And then imagine the fury when you find out what's happened to you.

The creative team have a lot of love for these characters.  They get inside their minds and simply and easily show us honest reactions.  If you don't know the characters before you read this, you will afterwards.  For example, upon regaining her memories, Emma Frost's fury and indignation at having been treated like this leaps off the page at you:
In particular, Peter Parker's story is one of the cruelest things I've read, but one of the most affecting.  It's fast paced without being rushed and you get a decent introduction to many Marvel characters.

What's bad about it?
It's possible that you won't get as much out of the story if you don't know the background of all the characters. The pages where we see Wolverine running through his memories probably won't make much sense if you don't know his history, for example:
You can see that he's fighting Captain America and the Hulk, but the significance of it might be lost.

However, even if you've only seen the X-Men, Avengers or Spider-Man movies you will have the gist.  It's not important to know all the details from this particular universe as the general idea is the same - the X-Men are feared and hated by non mutants; Spider-Man loves Mary-Jane; Captain America was frozen for 50 years after WW2; Tony Stark is a successful and rich businessman.

What's the art like?
The panels are composed well and the pencils do a great job of showing us the characters' emotions.  I haven't included many examples in this review because it's best to come across them within the story - they have more impact that way.

On the negative side, Coipel's delicate pencils are somewhat overshadowed by heavy inking and flat colours.  For example, this scene where Wolverine meets the human underground resistance:
It's very moody and serious, but the overemphasis on shading and dark detracts from the feeling of the scene.  The drama is over egged and so we lose some of the power.  The colours are washed out and don't have much depth.  It makes the art very shiny and modern, but it loses subtlety.

This page featuring Cloak and Hawkeye (the archer from the Avengers films) is really nicely arranged.  The composition of the panel and the positioning of Hawkeye's fist, right in the foreground, make it a powerful image but the digital colouring does let it down.  It's just not a great example of what comics can be.

On the other hand, the art does tell the story effectively and there are pages that are more delicate, like this one:
The sentinels have been drawn with a lot of detail and the inker doesn't drown this out.  Pages like these are more attractive and arresting, I feel.  However, this book was never intended to challenge comics' artistic boundaries, so perhaps I'm being too harsh.

More information
The House of M main series and tie-ins have been collected in numerous different editions.  The main story, collecting issues 1-8 of the main series and issue 10 of a comic called The Pulse, is available here.
I'd suggest getting the paperback, not the hardcopy, as it's about £13 not £75.

There were numerous tie-ins to this series but most of them are fairly forgettable.  The five Spider-Man ones were decent though, and if you are a Spidey fan it's well worth checking them out.
Second hand copies look to be fairly cheap: House of M: Spider-Man.

I would also recommend getting the Captain America issue, which is number 10 and has this cover:

Search ebay or comixology for it by entering 'Captain America 10 House of M' into the search box.

The first scene in the first issue of House of M is of a woman giving birth to twins.  It's not particularly graphic, but could be hurtful to some.