Monday, 28 January 2013

Graphic Novels everything you need to know - a guide by Paul Gravett

The front cover image is from Caricature by Daniel Clowes

Paul Gravett is, along with Peter Stanbury and Megan Donnolley, part of "team Comica". Each year in November they organize a series of events in London featuring local and international comic and graphic novel creators (in 2012 they had Aline and Robert Crumb). Plus there is their wonderful Comiket - a great opportunity to buy books and meet the creators of comics and graphic novels. Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury are also co-founders of Escape Books

Paul Gravett is well placed to give an overview of graphic novels. He has written a number of books on this subject but Graphic Novels everything you need to know is probably a good place to start if you are new to this world. It is full of sample pages from a wide variety of creators along with Paul's informative descriptions and notes. It is a lovely book to leaf through and should give plenty of ideas about further reading.

You may like to visit Paul's blog, the Comica Festival website and to see the full list of Paul's books on this subject.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Most Beautiful Dog in the World - a webcomic by Scott McCloud

I have been dipping into Scott McCloud's website today. As you would expect (if you have read his books on making comics) it is packed full of information and creativity. It also includes some of his webcomics.

The Right Number is an "online graphic novella" that I found a little difficult to read because every panel zooms out from the centre of the previous panel in quite a dynamic and disconcerting way. Having said that it is definitely worth a look to see what he has done with the webcomic format. Zot, another of his webcomics, is a little more traditional – apparently dating back to Scott's early online webcomic experiments.

My favourite section of the website so far is Morning Improv. Scott says on his website: "From mid-2001 to mid-2002, and again from mid-2003 to mid-2004, I spent an hour or two each morning, seven days a week, making improvisational comics, nearly all based on reader suggestions. Each improv was drawn in a different style. Some were funny. Many were weird. Most seemed to end in death." There are 26 comics in Morning Improv. I haven't read them all but the one I have enjoyed most so far is The Most Beautiful Dog in the World.

The Most Beautiful Dog in the World is very simple in its storyline and execution. Scott has chosen to draw it in a black line style of illustration that harks back to 1950s, or perhaps earlier, America. I won't give away the story but for me one of the characters behaves as you would expect from the way he is drawn and the other transcends the character conventions of the era suggested by the style and the story set-up. I think that is what makes it so subtle, clever and funny. Plus it is a little bit silly and a little bit surreal - it made me laugh out loud.

If you visit Scott McCloud's website let me know if you discover any other webcomic gems.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Graphic Medicine - conferences and more

Once you start mooching around in the world of graphic novels and comics it is amazing what you find. I had no idea that many medics are using comics and graphic novels in their research, their academic papers and to explore their clinical practice. So much so that it has become a genre in itself.

At last Monday's meeting of Laydeez do Comics Dr Muna Al-Jawad gave a presentation about her PhD thesis. This quote is from a blog post about her on the Graphic Medicine website: "She sees comics as a qualitative research method, a way to explore difficult areas of practice". Muna gave a great talk, she is a natural presenter and what she had to say was fascinating. She has a comic alter ego that she uses to explore her clinical practice and how this impacts on her feelings. It was a rare insight into a world that is closed to most of us – unless we work in this environment ourselves of course.

From what I understand there is a lot of interest amongst medics and others in what they call "graphic medicine" – a wide ranging genre that encompasses the experiences, thoughts and emotions of patients and medical practitioners. They have a conference each year and in 2013 it will be in Brighton UK: Ethics Under Cover: Comics, Medicine and Society. Muna mentioned that there is a call for scholarly papers at the moment (deadline 22nd February 2013) visit their website to find out more.

I don't want to talk about my own work on this blog, I will be starting up a companion blog for that, but I feel that I should mention a graphic medicine project I had some involvement with. A few years ago the Royal College of Anaesthetists produced a series of booklets to explain anaesthesia to children. I illustrated and helped to edit the picture book style booklet for young children Rees Bear and scripted the comic for the booklet for school age children Davy the Detective. The doctors I worked with did a great deal of research as to the best way to communicate with children on this subject. It was interesting to find out that other medics have found comics to be an effective means of imparting information.

Laydeez do Comics – forums about Graphic Novels and Comics

The Laydeez behind this group are Sarah Lightman and Nicola Streeten. This is how they describe it: "a unique graphic novel forum with a focus on comic works based on life narrative, the drama of the domestic and the everyday". There are Laydeez forums that meet up in London, Chicago, San Francisco and Leeds - see their website for details

I've been hearing about their London meet-ups for quite a long time but my first experience of the group was last Monday. Visit the Laydeez website for more detail about what happened that night (I believe that there was a guest blogger recording it) and I am going to talk about the speakers - John Miers, David Jesus Vignolli and Dr Muna Al-Jawad - in future posts. But one thing I will mention here is that you don't have to be a lady to go, there were a lot of men at the meeting I went to. Although there is an emphasis, from what I understand, on autobiographical work, anyone with an interest in graphic novels and comics is made very welcome.

If you are thinking of going to one of the London meetings don't forget to book. They are free but fill up quickly, mine was a last minute decision to go and I was only able to do this because of a begging email and a cancellation.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Comics & Sequential Art – a guide by Will Eisner

Will Eisner is one of my favourite graphic novelists. He was born in 1917 and lived in New York until his death in 2005. He was amazingly profilic, you can read about his comics and books on his website and I will post about my favourite Will Eisner graphic novel A Family Matter another day.

Comics & Sequential Art is based on a course that Will Eisner taught at New York's School of Visual Art and is a wonderful guide for anyone who, like me, is interested in making comics. It is simple enough for anyone just starting out but I think it would also suit those who are more experienced. The book breaks down Will Eisner's highly individual approach to storytelling and page design, I am a huge fan of the way he would lay out a page of panels – genius! It is also a great opportunity to look at the range of his work and find out more about him as well.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Western Fairy Tales in Manga – a series of blog posts by Sally Poyton

Sally's manga version of herself.

One of the reasons I started this blog was in the hope that it would inspire others to send me information that I had not come across before. After I posted on this subject on Facebook, Sally Poyton left a comment about her love of shōjo manga and the influence on it of western fairytales.

It is probably fair to say that most of us have had some experience of manga – it has become hugely popular in the West in recent years and has a long history in Japan. I am more familiar with anime. When I was growing up in Australia children’s television was full of Japanese cartoons such as Astro Boy and the 2008 movie Ponyo was a recent reminder of the charm of this style of animation.

However, my experience of manga books is embarrassingly lacking. I have read the terrifying manga adaptation of Koji Suzuki's novel The Ring and a few other Japanese manga books but this is a poor effort when you consider the range and diversity of manga books available.

I’ll be looking for the shōjo manga titles Sally mentions on her blog and reading her posts on this subject in the future. I am also going to trawl my local library for books in other manga genres. Thanks, Sally, for the nudge in manga's direction.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Penguin Leunig – a book of cartoons by Michael Leunig

I bought this copy of The Penguin Leunig in London recently but it was published in Australia in 1974. The condition of the cover gives the impression that the book may have languished for many years in a shop or warehouse and when it first arrived the pages held tightly together as if they had never been parted to be read.

Michael Leunig is an Australian artist and cartoonist, his work is fairly well known there – while growing up in Australia I came across his drawings many times in the major Australian newspapers – but I am not sure that many people outside of Australia have heard of him. As stated on the cover there is an introduction by Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna) in which he says that he hopes the book will bring Leunig to the attention of a wide international audience. Did that happen? I don't know, perhaps someone reading this blog will be able to say. I certainly think Leunig's art deserves more attention.

Leunig's cartoons and sequences are always consistent in their style and immediately recognisable but his subject matter, themes and moods can vary quite dramatically as he illustrates the inner and outer worlds of his characters. I have never been sure what to make of the way he portrays relationships between men and women. Though his couples often connect on a physical level, emotionally they appear disconnected or worse – these cartoons can sometimes seem quite brutal. Then there are the Leunig cartoons that make gentle fun of Australian politics or the Australian way of life. I can't find it in the book or online but I remember a sequence he did of an Australian barbeque – a group of men gradually get drunk while their food burns (I am not doing it justice here, it is funnier than it sounds). But the Leunig sequences and cartoons that I have always loved best usually feature a lonely man, perhaps a duck, or maybe a teapot and maybe even Mr Curly. This strand of Leunig's art is restrained, sensitive and poignant. 
OK, it's not a sequence, but it is so loaded with emotion that it feels like one.

The drawings in The Penguin Leunig range along Leunig's spectrum. Somehow this strange mixture of earthiness, symbolism, humour, sensitivity, occasional violence and poignancy comes together in, what is to me, a particularly Australian way. Is that why he is not so well known elsewhere? I would love to have your comments on this.

If you do not have your own book of Leunig art you can see his work on his website or in a gallery on  The Age newspaper's website.

Leunig's artwork has been used in this blog post with kind permission from his assistant Nicola Germaine and is of course ©Michael Leunig.

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Secrets Come Out – a graphic novel in the Aya series by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie. Translation by Helge Dascher.

The design of most of the pages in this book is based a grid of six similarly sized frames (three rows of two) with text contained in speech or thought balloons. Before coming across Aya’s stories I found this format difficult to read. I preferred graphic novels that broke away from this design simply because I found them less densely packed and easier to follow.

Then I discovered one of the Aya books in my local library and was immediately hooked into her world – the characterization and the storytelling is so warm, so strong and so funny it just pulls you along. Something clicked in my head and I’ve never had problems with the gridded format again. I tell you this because I have heard other people talk of the same kind of difficulty and I suggest that, if this applies to you, that you persevere as I did because it will open up a world of wonderful stories for you. I was so completely won over by the first Aya story I read that, when I found my library did not have any of the other books in the series in stock, I immediately bought The Secrets Come Out so as to have another of her stories to read. Besides, sometimes I just need to own lovely things, you know how it is.
Aya’s stories are a wonderful celebration of Ivorian culture. The writer, Marguerite Abouet, was born in Abidjan and moved from Ivory Coast to Paris when she was twelve. Aya’s stories are set in an Ivorian village. They feature many wonderful characters, all highly individual and with their own take on things. Life is not always easy for Aya and has many complications but you can see from the cover of The Secrets Come Out that she is full of spirit, humour and intelligence.
Clément Oubrerie’s pictures capture Marguerite Abouet’s words perfectly. It is a magical creative partnership. Wikipedia claims that they are married and I would like to think that this is true though I haven’t read it elsewhere. Certainly, judging by his drawings, Clément seems to have a great understanding and affection for Ivorian culture and its people. I recommend a visit to his blog to see more of Aya and his other artwork.