First line from this year's winner (Tor Freeman):
It's interesting to see what the competition organisers are looking for nowadays. Last year's winner was a milkman's desire to win his local Tall Milkman competition. This seems, I think, to show that Cape are currently after low-key, heartwarming stories about everyday life. Both stories are also illustrated in a style that's akin to a children's book illustration, making them accessible to a larger age group.
Sample line from last year's winner (Matthew Dooley):
I also really enjoyed the style and pace of the documentary. I do enjoy watching 'Ancient Aliens' now and then, but this earlier documentary's measured pace and calm reflection is a breath of fresh air compared to the 'whizz-bang-flash!' of many modern documentaries. It was aired in 1999 but it seems like it's from the early 80's! Love the beard…
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
It's by Sydney Padua and it's based on her web comic that ran for several years. Padua worked in Hollywood as animator for years before writing the webcomic and it shows; her illustrations are effortless, consistent, accurate and full of expression and life, which (take it from me) takes absolutely donkeys years and a bazillion hours to master. I must note that the book isn't a graphic novel; instead, it is a series of short stories about Ada Lovelace (seen by many as the first computer programmer) and Charles Babbage (seen by many as the inventor of the first computer) in an alternative universe created by Padua in which Lovelace doesn't die young and they both get to make the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine. Along with each page of these stories are a big pile of footnotes, showing how much research Padua has done on the subject.
As part of spreading awareness of the graphic novel and the ideas contained within it, I've posted an article on this website about a key piece of evidence that I unearthed while researching the story. As the title of this blog entry indicates, the key piece of evidence concerns the Great Pyramid and the year 2787 BC, when a crucial celestial event occurred. For a full explanation, do please read the article.
Here are eight great graphic novels, in no particular order:
This was a big game-changer of a graphic novel from Alan Moore, the writer of V for Vendetta, when it first came out. It is a story about flawed, real super-heroes. They are dissected, in fact almost vivisected and in the process, they are made both complex and realistic; becoming flawed human vigilantes or cold, distant superheroes that turn out to be entirely alien to the people they try to help. Very much an adult book and a venerable classic of the genre.
This is an example of 'graphic novel as travelogue'. The author, Guy Delisle, spent time in North Korea while working from a French-Canadian animation company. While he was there, he drew this graphic novel diary of his experiences. It paints an entertaining, startling and quite disturbing picture of the North Korean totalitarian state. Since then, Delisle has written/drawn about Shenzhen (in China), Jerusalem and Burma. All those stories are accessible, funny, perceptive, warm and revealing.
Maus may be the most important graphic novel ever written, in terms of its legacy, its impact, its influence on other writers and its ability to make a horrific subject accessible and readable without every diminishing the tragedy of what happened. Maus, originally in two parts, is about the Jewish Holocaust, based on the author's father's memories of surviving those years. Spiegelmann made an inspired decision when drawing the story to make the characters anthropomorphic, to give them human bodies but animal heads. The germans are cats, the poles are pigs and the jews are mice (as far as I can remember). Its a must-read book (a term that's often over-used when reviewing works but is absolutely true in this case).
Joe Sacco, like Guy Delisle, has used the graphic novel genre as a tool for investigative journalism, to tell readers about what happened to the author when he or she was in that place, a visual diary that gives immediacy and focus to a time and place in our recent history. Sacco talks about the Bosnian War and the siege of Sarajevo in this book, along with its horrors, tragedies, courage and, sometimes, high farce. It is a powerful story, eloquently told in Sacco's pared-down narration and clear, accessible artwork.
Blacksad is in more traditional territory for a graphic novel. It's a series of hard-boiled. fifties. detective-style stories very much in the mould of Raymond Chandler. The twist in this case is that the characters are anthropomorphic, i.e. human bodies and animal heads, just like Maus or Rupert Bear.
What elevates Blacksad above many run-of-the-mill graphic-novel murder stories is the sheer brilliance of the artwork. Guarnido was trained in fine art and has worked as a key animator for Disney in Europe. All the stories' frames are painted in watercolour. For beauty, dynamism, skill and atmosphere, they are without peer.
Does Shaun Tan do graphic novels? It's hard to say. They're not 200 pages long but they are visual stories, or sequential art. For me, the Red Tree is my favourite. It's a simple story that would appeal to children and adults and it is utterly beguiling. Each page is a large, single picture that creates a single emotion through an image. As the story progresses, the reader becomes lost in the tale, with its minimal but crucial text, until the tale ends with a low-key, resonant, beautiful finish. I get emotional just thinking about it. Highly recommended.
This is a graphic novel for youngsters (I would say 8 to 12 age group). High quality drawings, an engaging, dramatic story and there are five books to collect. The story tells of a family who move to a house in the country belonging to a deceased relative. The kids realise that there was much more to the relative than they expected. The daughter finds an amulet and is transported into a different land where dark forces are after the precious item now bound to her.
Amulet looks lovely, is lots of fun to read and is a great alternative for a parent wanting their child to enjoy graphic novels without, for example, having to deal with the somewhat dated style of Asterix (which I still have a soft spot for, but often deems wordy and tedious when I read it nowadays).
A visually striking, engaging, thoughtful and dramatic story about a young woman's life in Iran and her time in Europe. As in Sacco's work, the graphic novel format is again used to visually show a part of the world and a time in history that we don't hear much about in the west and about which we often have distorted and downright false views. Excellent.
The answer, I think, is to use a mixed media approach. I'm going to use gouache or watercolour for large areas and the brush pens for small areas and shading. I bashed out a quick sketch this way and it was both quick and easy.
I'm making progress. Hopefully there'll be a first chapter to show soon!
I mentioned in the last blog entry about creating a graphic novel with a 'clear line' style. I used Tintin as an example of this method. For those who are interested, there's a very useful article about Herge's methods on the National Maritime Museum website of all places. Check it out here. It's fascinating to see how the page develops; where the 'life' of the story appears and at what point it looks polished and professional.Read More...
After three weeks of working away (in between other bits and bobs), I've made some progress on the graphic novel. The first week or so was spent investigating whether I could do the work in gouache - a sort of paint similar to watercolour but less watery (I know that's not a very technical or accurate description but it'll do). I've done gouache illustrations before, I've popped one alongside this text.
I found though that it is a slow job doing the gouache. I think I'd need to spend six months or probably longer just practicing the gouache to get good enough to churn out an entire page of gouache illustration in one day (my target rate). Juanjo Guarnido - the Blacksad artist - has certainly found a way to produce his painted artwork at a viable rate but he's spent years doing fine art followed by more years working as a Disney animator. That's a lot of practice!
Here's what I produced: Read More...