Monday, December 22, 2008

Try before you buy

Another piece of DFC news, especially relevant to those of you who are curious about it but didn't manage to pick up a copy in Tesco. There's now a site where you can browse pages from several DFC stories (rather than have all of them up at once, the previews available will rotate over time). A great resource for people who want to check out the content before committing to a subscription!

Monday, December 15, 2008

"What leads a grown woman to draw kids' comics?"


The BBC interviewed me about drawing comics 'n stuff, as part of their "Kids' dream jobs" series:

I'm still just a bit envious of the chocolate taster, though.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

DFC on the High Street!

Attention citizens! The very yummy DFC - as mentioned just about every time I update this blog - will be available in your local Tesco for ONE WEEK ONLY, between 26th November and 2nd December, for the bargain price of only £1.99! If you've been curious about the DFC for a while, but been shy of committing to a subscription, this is an unmissable opportunity to see what all the fuss is about. It's only in Tesco, mind you - no other shop. But that's over 600 branches to choose from, so it shouldn't be too much of a challenge to find one. This issue's got six pages of the Mighty M in it, as well! SIX, I TELLS YA!! Buy it or be a big stupid-head! Thank you.

Over and out.

(PS. This is the Tesco special cover to look out for, which is different from the subscriber edition. The insides are the same, though).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Return of the M

Looks like it's time for another piece of news. The Mighty M (see a couple of entries down) is starting its re-run in the DFC as of issue 26 (dated November 21st.) The strip was apparently well-received when it appeared in the Guardian Comic earlier in the year, and you can expect to see the band in more kooky adventures in the future. Woot! But, for the moment, I'm pointing your eyes in the direction of the past, to take a look at the characters in an embryonic stage (kinda).

Gosh! Well, according to my file data I scanned these images about two years ago, and they were at least two or three years old at that point, so let's say the band have existed in some form for a good five years now. At this stage in their development, the Powerpuff Girls influence was much more obvious (others have crept in over time, such as HiHi Puffy AmiYumi and Um Jammer Lammy), but the three basic characters are very similar to their present day incarnations.* As far as names go, Mandy was always called Mandy, but Moz was called Roofus and poor old Mimi didn't have a name at all - nor did the band itself! As you could probably guess, those little problems resolved themselves pretty quickly when I made the decision to give them all names beginning with "M". Let's fast-forward to May (another M - must be an omen) this year, and one of the sketches I sent to the DFC when I pitched the series:

The whole not-having-drawn-them-for-about-four-years thing meant there were no in-between stages - this is pretty much immediately how they came out this time round, based on my memories of the earlier pics but with a lot of new drawing experience crammed into those intervening years. Of course, I had to decide on a colour scheme for them at this point too (not to mention an actual story - and let's not mention that, as it was a pretty torturous process!), which also fell into place pretty easily. Mandy's theme colour is red, for energy; Mimi's is pink, for gentleness/cuteness; and Moz's is green, for calm. And there's a tip for you, kiddies - when you're designing a gang of characters, give them each a theme colour that reflects their personality in some way. There's a generally accepted list of the psychological connotations of all the colours, which you can Google if you're not sure.

So, yeah. Here's the end result of those scribblings from 2003ish: the band as they appear in The DFC.

I say end result, although actually the characters will continue to evolve and change a bit as I draw them more - this inevitably happens over time, as you get more used to the forms. So, check back in another five years' time and we'll see what shape they're in then! In the meantime, if you haven't got a DFC subscription yet, might I tactfully suggest you get one before issue 26? (I've done the cover of issue 27, too... but I can't give anything away about that one ;)

*I have no idea about that dude/girl with the jacket and glasses. Quite a nice character design, though - I might try and work him/her into a future story...

***EDIT!*** I just realised, I've inadvertantly lied to you all! When I first created in 2006, I did the proto-Mandy image below as a temporary frontpage image. This is a true Missing Link in the development of the Mighty M!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Website update

Hi all

A more meaty entry coming soon, but in the meantime I thought I'd alert y'all to the fact that I've finally given my website a much-needed update. A couple of new sections of art, including The DFC, and new artwork added to several other categories. Check it out!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More news is good news

Doesn't time fly when you're busy, um, not maintaining your blog? Ah me, the road to Hell etc etc. But as usual, I have a series of feeble excuses lined up. Events since the last post include attending the 2D Comics Festival in Derry - (excellent, write-up and pics hopefully to follow), the launch of The DFC, and an unexpected but rather cool opportunity to contribute to the Beano's 70th anniversary issue... with a character I've never drawn before but who many of you will recognise... oh yes... but more about that one in due course ;)

However, for the moment my major news is I have a comic strip starting a six-week run in The Guardian on Saturday's Comic supplement from July 12th onwards. The DFC have been running these serialised strips on Saturdays for about eight months now, and it's my turn to step up to the bat. Am I nervous about this? Well sir, I am, as they say, bricking it. I've produced (no, *still am* producing) this strip under the tightest deadlines I've ever worked to, and I just REALLY REALLY hope the final product holds together. Because quite a lot of people are going to see if it doesn't. Ahem. So, what's it about? That would be telling, but I will say it's called "The Mighty M" and it features cute animals. Because I like drawing cute animals and I don't get to do it nearly enough. Want an eensy-weensy sneaky peek? Go on then...

(If you're not a Guardian reader or you don't have £1.50 to spare, you can read it as PDFs on their website in the "Family" section - hint hint! All the previous Saturday strips are archived there too).

Also, all you DFC subscribers out there may want to know that "Sneaky" starts its run in issue 10, which will be out in four weeks' time. That issue features cover art by me as well (my first ever cover! Squee of excitement!)

Anything else? Probably, but right now I need some sleep. I'm off to make a hot, milky drink for bedtime. 'Night!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Three months in the life

Wow! It sure did seem like a good idea starting a comic blog last year. That is, it seemed like a good idea until my workload suddenly went into overdrive and the LAST thing I found myself wanting to do when I exited Photoshop for the evening was remain sitting at the computer and think about comics a bit more. However, it seems irresponsible to start a blog and then leave it to rot, so I'm going to take this opportunity to talk just a tiny bit about what I've been working on lately (since I'm now in a position to - a lot of it was hush-hush until recently).

1) A 13-installment (that's nearly 40 pages, folks), full-colour serial for The DFC, a brand new comic from David Fickling books that's launching late May 2008. I'm not able to say too much about the story yet, but it's written by YA author Peadar O Guilin and features images not unlike this:

2) Starting from issue 116 (114 is currently in the shops, so in about three weeks' time), TOXIC magazine will be running an all-new comic strip drawn by me and written by TOXIC regular John A. Short. If I tell you it's called "Robin Hoodie", I think that's all you need to know ;) I'm pleased with how the strip's looking so far, and the writing's been consistently funny, but the best thing about working for TOXIC is having my work in the same publication as one of my all-time Brit-comic heroes, Lew Stringer. Yay! Here's another little something to whet your appetite:

3) The Beano work continues. Johnny Bean is running weekly and, although I'm no longer inking Ratz, I still write it and indeed draw it on the odd occasion when Hunt's indisposed. I've also been writing a few episodes of London B412 lately (still drawn by Barrie Appleby), which should start running within the next week or two.

4) I've just completed a new Gilbert and Sullivan story, which you can find nestling in the pages of Best New Manga 3 in October. In colour, too! (well, I say colour - it's shaded in sepia tones. Close enough.)

5) Oh.... other stuff! I have a Doctor Who illustration appearing in an anthology which should be available at the Bristol Comics Expo on May 9th-10th, but I don't have many details for that at the moment.

And that's it. I'm in serious need of updating my website, but I had a computer meltdown a few weeks ago and still haven't installed an ftp client on the new machine. It's on the to-do list. In the meantime, keep watching this space - I'm determined to get into the habit of regular updates, even if my eyeballs melt from excessive PC usage (actually, no, that would be a very bad career move - I'll just do my best!)

Friday, January 4, 2008

From Witch to Minx: Aaron Alexovich

Happy New Year, and apologies for the lack of updates, it's been pretty insane in Real Life lately. But enough excuses, let's forge boldly into 2008 with a timely look at the work of one of my current comic heroes, Mr Aaron Alexovich. Those of you who move in certain circles of animation fandom may be familiar with his design work on Nickelodeon's Invader ZIM and Avatar: The Last Airbender. However, Aaron's self-stated first love is comics, for which we should all be grateful - because from his "spookycute" series Serenity Rose for Slave Labor Graphics to his latest work on DC's MINX line for teens, a writer/artist with such a knack for intelligent, elegant and - yes - funny comics is a rare and precious thing. If you've never seen any of his comics (shame on you), you can find a handy link to his website at the end of this article and indeed, on panelbeat's link list. In the meantime, here's a cheeky little taster of what to expect (all images copyright the people they should be copyrighted to, blah blah):

Serenity Rose, Aaron's five-part series about the complex life of a reclusive twenty-something witch, gorgeously rendered in pencil and black marker.

"Confessions of a Blabbermouth", Mr A's first entry into DC's MINX line for girls. Writen by Mike and Louise Carey.

Kimmie66 is Aaron's latest MINX title, released in the UK in December 2007. Set in a 23rd century world of hyper-sophisticated Virtual Reality, it's been garnering glowing reviews from many quarters.

Wanting to find out more about what makes Mr A tick as a comicker, and not being a fellow who's well-represented on the interview circuit, I eagerly took him up on his recent offer to answer any five questions eager cyberspace-dwellers would care to lob at him...

L: Let’s start with a little about your creative process… do you tend to start with an idea for a story, or an idea for a character?

A: I'd have to say story and character usually develop at exactly the same time for me these days. They're kind of the same thing in a lot of ways, I think... The best stories always start out as "what if this peculiar kind of character got into this peculiar kind of situation," you know? And it's kind of hard to say which kind of peculiarity came first. They sort of build on each other, interesting characters suggesting story ideas, and interesting story ideas bringing up more character possibilities. That's how it works when I'm brainstorming, anyway.

Serenity Rose definitely started as a character in search of a plot, though. In fact, that was the title of the first animated short I did with her back in school: "Character In Search of a Plot." That's kind of a unique situation, though, because Sera is so autobiographical. Back then I knew I wanted a character I could use to talk about things like social phobia, lack of direction, etc., but I didn't really know exactly how to talk about those things. Hopefully I've figured it out a bit since then.


L: Your characters have a strong sense of looking highly stylized yet also completely believable as people you might know. What's the main influence on your character design?

AA: Thanks! I think the biggest influence on my character design sensibility is probably Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away). The amount of expression they get from so few lines is just... awe-inspiring. They say that's a big part of relatability, too... The simpler the character, the fewer the lines you use, the more the reader can project him or herself (or other people they know) onto that character. I'm not sure if that's true, but it's a really cool idea.

L: DC's MINX line was partly created to attract teenage girls who read manga but not necessarily “traditional” comics. Do you think there are certain elements a comic needs to lure in female readers?

AA: I'm not sure, honestly. It's probably death from a creative standpoint to even think about it, though. "is this interesting?" is really the only question you ought to be worrying about while you're trying to hack out a story, you know? I think so, anyway. Maybe "Are these characters believable?" too. But trying to tailor your story to a specific audience (especially an audience that does not include, y'know, YOU) just feels like pandering. People can usually tell when you aren't really into what you're doing.

L: It’s a fairly well-known fact that earning a living from indie comics can be extremely tough. What’s your view on non-profit esoteric personal projects versus work-for-hire?

AA: I think if you're living exclusively on work-for-hire projects, you absolutely have to find time for personal projects, esoteric or not. I seriously think the worst thing you can do to yourself as an artist is to give all your time and all your creativity to someone else. Self-expression isn't an indulgence... it's the whole point.

If we could all get our bills paid doing nothing but our own personal work, it would be a beautiful world. That seems sort of stupidly obvious, but it's easy to lose sight of that goal when you're toiling away on other people's projects.

L: And finally… there are several ideas/themes that recur in your stories, ranging from the supernatural to philosophy and social commentary. What do you think is the core “Aaron A theme”?

AA: Well, I mentioned introversion and lack of direction earlier, but... I'm not sure I'm the best person to pick up on all the themes in my own work, really. Themes kind of bubble out of the stories you're working on whether you're aware of them or not, and a lot of the time, you're so close to it you can't see what's bubbling. Any fan could probably point out my "core theme" better than I ever could. That's part of the fun.


Thanks Aaron!

Of course, to make Damn Good Comics you've got to bring more than pretty pictures to the table. Aaron Alexovich has this ill-defined "more" in spades, but one thing in particular sticks out for me. Speaking as a laydee comics reader, I'm always receptive to, and appreciative of, any creator who can "do" good female characters. And by "good", I mean ones that can't be summarised in a sentence that contains the words "boobs", "sassy" or "headstrong". Girls that respect other girls, instead of envying their shoe collection or cat-fighting with them over some guy. Probably called Ethan. Girls, in other words, like the heroines of Japan's acclaimed Studio Ghibli films - absolutely no surprise that Aaron cites these as an influence. Commentators who grumbled prior to the launch of MINX that female creators were poorly represented in the line-up of artists and writers could do worse than to sit down with a bunch of Ghibli DVD's then spend a while musing on the utter irrelevance of Miyazaki's Y chromosome...

But you certainly don't have to be a girl (or a Goth, or a Manga reader, which are the sections you're likely to find Aaron's books in your average comic shop) to appreciate his dark, beautiful and cynical stories, just a reader with a brain and an appetite for a good story. That's a big 'ol percentage of the comics community right there. Are you prepared to stand up and be counted among them? Well, good! Here's some linkies to get you started:

Heartshapedskull, Aaron's website. Lotsa art, including actual pages for sale. will sort you Brits out for all the titles mentioned above.

DC's Kimmie66 page.