Tuesday, 31 May 2011

DC and the big risk

Hey hey. Been a while and all that.

So I just read this story and I'm posting this journal as a knee-jerk reaction to the news, as it tends to be when my passion bubbles to the surface. Bear in mind I know nothing other than the story in this link: USA Today - and the various comic book pros chatting about it on Twitter.


Starting this summer, the publisher will re-number its entire DC Universe of titles, revamping famous characters such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and others from its 76-year history for a more modern and diverse 21st century'

'In September, more than 50 more first issues will debut, introducing readers to stories that are grounded in each character's specific legend but also reflect today's real-world themes and events. Lee spearheaded the redesign of more than 50 costumes to make characters more identifiable and accessible to comic fans new and old."We looked at what was going on in the marketplace and felt we really want to inject new life in our characters and line," says Dan DiDio, who co-publishes DC with Lee. "This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today's audience."

This is MASSIVE. I know that nothing ever really changes for long in comics and it's already been said more than once that this initiative will last a year at best, but I don't know about that (and I'm as jaded as they come).

I am not a DC fan, not by any stretch of the imagination. Vertigo is cool enough, I liked Wildstorm back in the days of Casey/Phillips' Wildcats vol.2, but the main DCU has always felt so damned archaic to me. The artists, fine as they are, all seem to be of a certain ilk that harkens back to the glory days of comics (maybe not, but this is the impression I get). Jiminez, Van Sciver, Rags Morales et al are what I'd call VERY traditional comic book artists. Occasionally, an artist such as Jock or Eduardo Risso or Phil Noto draws something that I would consider buying, but then there's the baggage of the characters to put me right off again.

As a total outsider, every single issue of a DCU book I've ever read has left me bewildered except for Grant Morrison's first few Batman issues (once Andy Kubert left, I lost interest, incidentally). What I'm saying is that it takes an amazing writer/artist combo to get me to even consider a DCU book. Even then, I might hate the colours. Seriously, DC don't 'do' exciting in my head.

Anyway, I would have to assume that this major relaunch/re-branding/re-introduction of the DCU is intended to gain readers like me, ie: Marvel guys who see DC books as what their parents' generation might have been reading. Am I interested? Well... yes, actually.

It depends on how they do it. I'm kinda seeing this as a Heroes Reborn rather than Ultimate (sorry for the Marvel analogies...) deal, mostly because they have no backup plan to speak of. If the books tank, there won't be 'regular' Batman and 'regular' Aquaman to read instead. That is a ballsy move, my friends. But if it is a Heroes Reborn for the Distinguished Competition, then that would suggest that the books, nay, the whole line was considered as stale and redundant as the Marvel Heroes books wiped out in Onslaught: Marvel Universe.

Is that right? Am I then in the majority? To my eyes, DC had been experiencing an upswing in popularity recently amongst the core faithful, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the need for change was so glaring that every book needed to be re-introduced. That (not-so) silent acknowledgement goes a long way towards getting my pounds (I'm British, but even I admit that 'dollars' sounds better in that context).

Things will need to happen for me to stay, however. I'm sorry, but you can't have names like Scott Free, Edward Nygma, Killer Croc and Harley Quinn and not expect me to immediately sigh at the cheesiness of it all. Even Green Lantern. Yeah, there's a movie coming out and as a spectacle, it looks okay, so nothing's changing there, but he's called GREEN LANTERN. It's like calling yourself HOT SOFA or something. What might go some way to redeeming those bizarre (but in many cases, the product of creative minds from the 'daddy-o' era or earlier, so hardly surprising) choices would be a willingness to put unlikely talent on the books and have a different approach. It's what excited me about Marvel around the millennium, when Quesada started bringing heretofore unseen talent to their biggest books and finally we saw characters' potential. X-Men was amazing again, Daredevil became the best it had ever been, even JMS's Spidey was a great step forward (he screwed up later, though...).

If DC manage to bring that kind of revolution to bear, it might just let me forget there's a green character called Martian Manhunter who wears PVC bondage gear.

None of this explains why I think it'll last as a concept. Here's the part that made me spit my coffee:

In an even more important move in the competitive comics industry, DC is making issues of all the renumbered titles available digitally via apps and a DC website the same day they arrive in comic shops. It marks the first time a major comics publisher has done so with its popular superhero titles.

The general consensus seems to be that this should have happened a long time ago. Not just some titles, not just previews, but actually giving people with an appetite for comics, a phone/tablet and a dearth of comic shops in their area the chance to read the books that everyone spoils the same day.

This is an industry where the death of a major character and most often the payoff of a massive storyline shrouded in secrecy doesn't even stay secret until the day of the book's release. It's hard enough to avoid spoilers if you pick up your books at the store at lunchtime, unless you stay offline for 24 hours beforehand. The monthly release schedule isn't going to change, but the fans and comic sites have taken most of the surprise out of reading these ongoing stories. That's why I think it's very important to allow people access to these stories as soon as they're published and I applaud DC for taking this measure. It might finally answer the question of how much of a market there really is for digital comics. Good on Graphicly, too. I forsee their stock rising.

50 books, though... Jeez, that's a big risk and a big part of what's wrong with comics these days (in my opinion), but that's a topic for another day...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

B-Movie poster #1 - Death Spore


Lack of update caused by irregular sleeping pattern, life upheaval and logo design which I can't show. Just so you know.

Never mind excuses, though. I have a little something to show you. As a part of my ongoing efforts to diversify my skill set and not just rely on vector graphics, my new project is a series of B-movie posters (fake ones based on silly titles I think up, you understand) which I'm creating using traditional methods. That is to say, I'm using Photoshop, but at least the motor skills are traditional. In the spirit of "showing your working out" from school, I thought I'd update the old bloggerooski with the various stages of the process of the first piece in the series, 'Death Spore'!

After a few thumbnails with a number of different compositions (sorry, didn't scan them...) I settled on the image of a typical white American suburban couple in the 1950s preparing for a horrific experience in their own home. I quickly roughed out the poster on typo-detail paper with a thick chisel-head marker and a technical pen.
Happy enough with this, I looked into the kind of colours and styles used by movie poster artists back in the days of yore. There was a lot of vivid yellow, for some reason. I loved the gaudiness of the palette. Seriously, look into it. It's a lost art. My first pass was pretty much what I ended up with, with a few minor exceptions.
Okay. It's got some energy to it (in all honesty, I think the final image lost a little of the energy but that's par for the course) and now it's time to tighten up the figures. For the first time in a long time, I actually hand-drew the foreground figures and scanned it. As it was A3 and I have an A4 scanner, I had to scan in two chunks and mess around aligning them. Scanning sucks... 
Anyway, I put it into Illustrator and added the text.
Where's the titular Death Spore, you ask? Why, I decided to construct the monstrosity using a photo collage of various objects. I don't think spores look inherently threatening, and the 50s monster was often plant-based or hairy/scaly/slimy, so I needed to use elements of different things. This is a squid, cabbage, cauliflower and limpets all smooshed together (and posterized! Yay for cheap effects!).
That's the basic structure of the fella. I just needed to make him spore-like. At this point, I put all of the elements together and digitally painted the whole thing. I'm actually really happy with it. Obviously, it could be improved as any art could, but this is where I leave it. The jewelery on the wife looked a bit too fiddly so I left it out, except for the ring (in case you were wondering). Excuse the watermark, but as I'm going to be selling the prints of these posters in the near future, I'd like to retain some semblance of ownership in the meantime.

Hope you enjoyed this little insight into the process. See you all later!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Having Goals

Let's talk goals. I could probably pull a bunch of quotes out of self-help books or refer you to websites which will postulate and analyse this point to death, but instead I'm going to give you my perspective on this topic and the reasoning behind my perspective.

Nobody ever reached their goal without taking risks.

Nobody ever knew there were risks worth taking until they realised their goal.

Seems obvious now I've typed it out, but it took me three decades to understand it. Even now, I'm fighting the urge to just disregard it, but that's just my nature. For years, I thought the will to create art and the belief that I'd make it would carry me through to a successful career. To a certain degree, that can work for some, but merely the belief that you'll succeed without an actual goal is a fast track to nowhere. You can end up as just another of the many 'aspiring' guys who just keep ploughing through the work in front of them, with a vague plan, but no real direction in which to aim.

I thought I had a goal. Many people do. What I had was an ambition. I imagine many people make that mistake, too.

An ambition is "I want to be a race car driver."

A goal is "I will be driving in Le Mans 24hr by the age of twenty-five".

It's a definite point on which to focus. There's also no rule to say you can't amend that goal, but it should be sufficiently implausible that it constantly inspires you to try harder. Now, say you get to the age of twenty-three and haven't won a local stock car race yet. You might feel disheartened by this, but it's essentially dream-chasing and how many people achieve their dreams? The fact that you're stock car racing is a direct result of knowing the route you needed to take to get to your goal.

If you had stuck with having an ambition, you might still be spending weekends getting pulled over by the cops because you love to drive fast but can't apply it in a productive way.

That's not to say it's always the case, but look again at the two sentences at the top of this entry. Would you feel better about spending a pile of money on equipment, repairs, workshop classes, advanced driving lessons; hours/days/weeks/months of your spare time, sacrificing social activities and potentially a 'normal' life if you didn't know that when you reach your goal, it will all feel worth it?

Well, that's me. I come from a working-class background. Truth be told, I've never really had any money. I've always wanted to make a career from art, but I thought the reason I got to my fourth decade and still haven't made the leap to full-time artist was because of one of the following excuses:

You need lots of money to be able to network, travel, buy tools/equipment/reference, pay collaborators. 
Wrong. The internet makes networking and reference easy. Tools are an expense but you can write them off against tax, build your tools gradually or adjust your style to suit what you do have. Collaborators are people, and if you don't talk to them, you'll never know if you can afford them. Besides which, a skill exchange might be an option.
Nobody's hiring illustrators. 
Ha! So all those illustrations you see everywhere just appear? True, nobody seems to list job ads in the newspaper asking for a full-time illustrator, but think about it for a second and you'll kick yourself for ever expecting that to be the case. Illustrators are freelancers for the most part, so you find your work or make enough noise that it finds you.
 I'm not good enough.
For some things, sure. Right now, maybe. But it's up to others to tell you that. Success stories rarely start with "I applied for my dream job and got it first time". Far more common is the story of the guy who was knocked back by everyone and persisted anyway. While you're persisting, you're growing your skill set.

I'm not cut out for the freelance life. 
This is the big one. It may be true. But you know what? YOU HAVEN'T TRIED IT YET! It just so happens that necessity is the mother of invention. It's not by accident that the phrase 'sink or swim' is widely used. Sometimes you surprise yourself. Maybe the very thing holding you back from making a success of yourself is the safety net of a secure income (in a job you hate) and home comforts like TV to help you forget things aren't how you wanted them.

Well, how about that? I just got angry with my past self and his whiny attitude. If any of it rings a bell with you, I can only say that I'm coming around to the idea of taking risks that are worthwhile and I will keep this blog (and/or jam-wah.com when it goes properly live) updated more regularly so you can see how it all goes.

I have a goal. In fact, I have a short-term goal and a long-term goal.

Short-term: I will be working exclusively as a freelance illustrator by the end of 2011. I can't tell you how much that thought scares me. I'm about to up sticks and move house, which will cut down my finances by a huge margin and the last thing I expected to do was think about this as an option, but because I have a goal, I know that I need my online presence to be more regular, I need to spend money on materials, promotion and products (prints/posters, buttons/badges, stickers, t-shirts etc) in a way that is manageable. I need to take on more work that I know I can deliver quickly and with maximum quality. I need to build my brand. If I miss that goal, I'll move the posts further away. It ain't cheating if you keep to the plan.

Long-term: Jam-Wah will be a cutting-edge arts and media studio before I turn forty. This gives me eight years or thereabouts to develop the brand, learn new skills, form relationships with clients and fellow artists and generally make the best damn artwork, designs and products that I/we can muster. I know I can do this, and having the goal makes it something I can plan for accordingly. I may get into debt, lose my hair (what precious strands remain on my poor bonce, anyway) and end up sleeping under my drawing board in my pokey, ice-cold studio (at this point, non-existent) but damn it, when I land that massive contract and that Jam-Wah-produced animated action series premieres on Cartoon Network..

...that'll be a risk that was worth taking.