Friday, 28 September 2012

Two more Transformers

The real G1 Ironhide

Listen, as far as I'm concerned, the toy is gospel. Never mind all this cartoon "Ooooh look, I've got a face" malarkey. Ironhide has no head. End of discussion.

Not really, but it always makes me laugh to think of how poor the toy of Ironhide (and, I guess, Ratchet) was. I owned it as a kid and I remember how flimsy it became. The robot could stand up without the aid of his futuristic zimmer frame and even then, he slumped like a drunk over a bin.

So... happy Friday!

You lack even Prime's courage...

Behold... Galvatron.

Always been my favourite Transformer design.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

My spare time

I don't usually post works in progress, but this is a personal piece which I started off playing around with and (hopefully) will be too busy to complete for a while.

When I was a kid, I had a set of square boards with roads and buildings drawn on them, which I could rearrange and create my own town to drive my old Matchbox cars around. Simple stuff, but I loved it. That wasn't in my mind when I started this - I just started laying down rectangles with no real plan - but it seems to be shaping up into a similar concept, however ill-measured in retrospect. As I developed this, I imagined it as an animated gif, with the truck and car passing by. Maybe I'd do a night time version in orange hues. I don't know. Which, I guess, is why I'm okay with showing the work in progress, as there's no real reason for its existence.

I know I like it though. I wonder how ambitious a project it would be to go back to square one and create a digital version of those square boards, with animated components? Maybe I could make a series. Or would that just be the original Grand Theft Auto game?

Whatever, this is what I do in my spare time.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Anna May Monger

Those who know me will probably be aware of my... shall we say 'ambivalence'... towards anime and manga as a whole. When I was a teenager, I became obsessed by the Japanese style of comics and animation, devouring everything I could get my hands on. If I recall, I had VHS copies of Akira, Fist of the North Star, Venus Wars, Judge, Patlabor 2, Street Fighter II, Armageddon, Panzer Dragoon, and I'm sure quite a few more (despite not really having any money). I collected a few issues of Dark Horse's Manga Mania magazine, which serialised Akira, Godzilla, Appleseed and Dirty Pair amongst others, with reviews of upcoming releases. I was even in the Manga Club for a time.

Then... something happened. It was like my favourite band had suddenly become huge and I wasn't happy. Not because I'm too cool, but because the stuff which really seemed to be popular was so generic and dull. Dragonball Z, for one. I gave it a chance, I really did, but it was a series of half hour distance shots of two people looking at each other from cliff tops, with maybe one punch thrown, then a preview of the next episode (which was just as cliff toppy). Poke-sodding-mon. Don't even try. It was garbage.

So the band analogy, I can expand on. It was like my favourite band had recorded a single with Rhianna,  sampled Tubthumping and convinced Peter Kay to star in the video. Then said video had gone viral, sending the band in a new and horrific direction and inspiring other bands to make more like it. The current popularity of anime and manga in the western world seems to me to be based on a foundation of the worst examples. This is, of course, subjective. However, let's not forget that every other entertainment industry is dominated by very poor examples. Chart music, reality TV, YouTube vids of cats, Fifty Shades of Grey... so this shouldn't be surprising.

I've mellowed now and then, going through phases of enjoying a bit of anime. When I was subscribed to Netflix, I discovered Redline, 50 Centimetres per Second (visually lush but dull as dishwater), The Sky Crawlers, Robotech (yes, discovered it in 2012...) but this week I re-read a chapter of the original Akira manga, by Katsuhiro Otomo and it absolutely blew me away. Here's a sample page from the chapter:

My old band was called Tetsuo. Just so you know.

To me, this is the gold standard of comic book (and manga) storytelling. Not this particular page, per se, but it's indicative of how Otomo approached the whole story. It's a rare page in that the panel count is low (Otomo was hardly a Rob Liefeld in this regard) but it tells the story at the perfect pace. Minimal dialogue because the whole thing takes place in seconds. Incredible detail and perspective in panel two. The thing which pushes it all over the edge for me, though, is that you get a sense of the physics of the sky bike. Fast, light, manoeuvrable and buoyant. The speed lines do a job beyond pure dramatic effect, they're crucial. This is the difference between the exceptional manga that I once loved and the meh which followed.

I'm overcoming my prejudices now, looking at the (what is it? Genre/industry/movement?) with new eyes. I'm seeing a lot of merit in the artists who practice restraint. I've also got to deal with the fact that I entered this world via what is still widely considered the best example of anime and manga, so of course others would pale in comparison to some degree. Happily, I now own DVDs of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Sky Blue (I know it's Korean) and, naturally, Akira. They have their weaknesses, animation restrictions and habits which make them unique, I guess, but they show a lot more invention than most western animation, particularly since we all went CGI gaga over here.

In fact, this just reminded me of the last time I tried overcoming prejudices towards manga. It was as part of a writing/storytelling exercise set up by Jason Rodriguez on the Digital Webbing forums when we first started to put together Once Upon a Time Machine (buy it now, folks!). We were given three adaptations of the classic Star Wars scene where ***SPOILERS FOR PEOPLE STUCK IN 1977*** Ben Kenobi is killed by Darth Vader.

These are the pages:

This was my assessment:

The 70s Marvel adaptation is far too clunky and unnecessarily wordy. The dialogue seems to have been expanded upon merely to fit Marvel's house style at the time and the whole scene (I imagine the whole book) suffers greatly as a result. The emphasis is on all of the wrong moments. By filling the fight scene with captions and dialogue and leaving very little room for the action to breathe, the pacing is exactly the same as the Han/Luke et al part. Across the four pages, there's no real sense of drama. It has the same effect as somebody verbally telling the story using the tried ans trusted "...and then... and then..." approach.

The Dark Horse adaptation... meh. Even less room given to the scene. I don't know if there was a strict editorial mandate regarding page allotment but Christ, this is Star Wars! Do it justice. I'd consider this to be pretty much by-the-numbers storytelling. The angles seem to be taken directly from movie stills, except with occasional cropping and in the case of Vader's fatal blow, an implausible zoom out? Possibly to save the effort of Luke's reaction being awarded its own panel. You know, nothing crucial. Only one of Luke's major turning points... sheesh. The dialogue is obviously lifted directly from the movie which is fine, I guess, but the pacing doesn't fit.

Now. The manga. I'm going to have to admit here that I'm not a fan of manga, but this adaptation is streets ahead of the first two. The first thing that struck me, other than the huge grin on my face, was that the scene was given its due. You can't do a movie adaptation shot-for-shot, and this has been duly noted. Every mark has been hit. The crucial elements are there, as they were in the other versions, but the drama has been well and truly amped up. A crazy kinetic lightsabre duel which wasn't present on celluloid (does that matter?), altered pacing which makes the most of the big moments. God, this is good reading. It shows how the same dialogue can be ultilised to far greater effect when you control your pages. The art has been given free reign here. The killing strike, far from being dealt with in a single panel, is given a double-page spread and feels more important. Even Ben's knowing glance immediately before is dealt with better here than Dark Horse's lifeless panel (he's just looking to his left. If I hadn't seen the film, I wouldn't have caught the significance from that panel).

Although the manga art style isn't my cup of tea, I'm honestly going to start reading more after seeing how they handled this scene. To me, the whole approach was the biggest difference. Marvel's seemed constricted and bound by superhero conventions and is very much a product of its time. Dark Horse was too literal and sterile and unfocused. The manga was a comic telling the story of Star Wars.
Maybe I should remember this.

Finally, here's some awesome manga-style art I've come across in the last couple of days:

The backgrounds and detail in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex are insane
The aforementioned Redline
Again, stunning setting, detail and lighting. This is 50 Centimetres Per Second
An art book I want to buy more than I want to buy food

An amazing illustration by William Gibbons. Check out his brilliant work here:

Friday, 14 September 2012

Too far?

Not in terms of subject matter, but I'm comparing this to the Chad Kroeger illustration I did which started this whole portrait spree I've been on recently and it's gone from a pretty quick and very geometric approach to (what seems to me) a more accurate representation of the subject. It could be that I'm a perfectionist, or that because I'm submitting a lot of these portraits as portfolio pieces to publishers and whatnot but as per usual, the initial idea and the charm that goes with it has developed into something else.

It could also be artistic growth, I guess! Frankly, not every person's face lends itself to caricature (as I found out to my disappointment with my awful attempt at Ainsley Harriott) and some require more attention to detail. Whatever the reason and whatever the resulting style, it's a positive step in that I couldn't draw a recognisable caricature to save my life last year, so that's good.

Thursday, 13 September 2012


A quick warm-up based on a public domain photo of a dam. This is simplified as much as I dare.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

American Idiot

Moving onto portraits of music types for a few days. Mostly influenced by what I've been listening to recently. Although I was listening to Green Day's Dookie, the version of Billie Joe Armstrong I went with was the (only just, I suppose) more up to date eyeliner-wearing American Idiot look.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Friday, 7 September 2012

Final Chef

My Ainsley Harriott portrait was frankly a bit poo, so I tried for the weird experimental Heston Blumenthal as my final chef.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Morrissey Operating System 1.0

Morrissey. Personally, I'm not a fan. One of the major reasons being that almost every song I've ever heard him sing has the same melody in it.

So, I made a little Garage Band project with said melody, knocked up a (fairly accurate, though I say it myself) profile shot of Mozza in silhouette and animated it in Photoshop. Just for a laugh. Imagine if Morrissey actually had his own OS. It'd refuse to work with anything.

I'm a hero hunter. I hunt heroes.

Haven't found any yet.

70s Bowie

Been listening to a lot of Bowie songs from the 1970s and finally became inspired to draw this. Makes a change from chefs.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Monday, 3 September 2012