Wednesday 30 October 2013

Why The Complete Don Quixote?

Q: Why did you call it the Complete Don Quixote?

A: So many readers have failed to complete Don Quixote,  this book advertises the possibility on its cover. Now you too can "Complete Don Quixote"! And because I finished my adaptation of the book, something that seemed unlikely at times. Other adaptations have failed to complete Don Quixote, not naming any names, you know who you are.

Q: But you missed some bits out so it's not complete is it?

A: Yeah, yeah, shut up. It's nearly 300 pages of comics, you could knock someone out with that lush hardback edition (only £19.99 from good stockists and a paltry £15 for a signed one at Thought Bubble!). And I have added as much as I've taken away, this is the graphic novel not the novel novel. Cervantes would have loved comics as they can demonstrate his crazy ideas with an ease that cuts through  age gap. Given how different shaped our brains are now*, one could even claim that the Complete Don Quixote will give one a more complete experience of the story.

*There is no science to support this assertion.

Q: How so?

A: Here is an example from Volume Two, Chapter Four (a personal favourite)...

The mad knight, having escaped a wedding punch up, uses his idiot squire who has consumed much of the wedding feast for ballast as he leaps into the dreaded Cave of Montesinos. 

After half an hour, Sancho drags his friend back up.

Quixote's tale is rather abstract, we switch to his point of view with a change in style.

As you can see, there is some discrepancy between Quixote's version of events and the probability that he just fell asleep. 

This experience has changed his mission.

Brilliant! A true knight's adventure! Sadly they are immediately distracted by a man dragging a cart who tells them of an impending war. Again, the switch of style lets us into the polite farce that began this war. Now whether we're in Quixote's imagination, Sancho's imagination or the storyteller's imagination matters not - by now we are familiar with the comic clues to a story within a story.

And back in the inn the man completes his story in person. 

Or at least he would do but for the arrival of another storyteller in the shape of the Puppeteer, Master Pedro, and his psychic monkey. 

And once again we enter the comic story within the comic story as Master Pedro's puppets play out the story of another brave knight who would also rescue his fair maiden. But this time the comic page is a puppet theatre and the characters are puppets.

Turn the page. 

Hmmmm. Quixote breaks the fourth wall. The comics break their own rule. This could be getting a bit meta if it weren't for the gift of comics to help it all make perfect daft-sense.

Q: Fair enough. So what happens next? Does Quixote rescue Dulcinea from Merlin's evil clutches?

A: I suggest you read the book. And so does the title.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Don Quixote Volume II

Yes, Volume II is here! Well, not here exactly, it's in a warehouse in London somewhere. But on Saturday April 20th it will be available for the first time at the COMICA Comiket in St Martin's College.

That's right. You can find out what happens next to our hapless heroes as they confront reviews of Volume I (including one by the dastard Paul Gravett), donkey thieves, demons, wise monkeys, old foes in new clothes, new foes in old clothes, death, cats, holes and humiliation. Not necessarily in that order.

A monkey

Some humiliation
The devil.

Hopefully I will be there on Saturday afternoon to deface your copies of Volume II. At this moment in time I can't even afford the train fare due to an oversight by some people who were supposed to pay me for some drawings. I shall keep you informed via twitter or facebook. 


Friday 12 April 2013

Don Quixote in New York.

"Thou hast seen nothing yet!" Quote from Don Quixote.

I've just returned from New York where we launched the Complete Don Quixote on an American readership. I was there with a SelfMadeHero posse promoting some of the first SelfMadeHero books available in the US. Along with Emma Hayley (the brains behind everything we do) and Sam Humphrey (Sales and Marathon Man), were fellow creators JAKe and Robert Sellers (with their fabulous collection of drinking stories from Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole - HELLRAISERS) and Glyn Dillon (creator of instant classic Nao of Brown). Were there as guests of Abrams who sell our books in the US and who were all very cool. Below you can see us sharing a table with them at MoCCA (the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art convention run by the Society of Illustrators).

Whilst there we did a panel with the wonderful Mr Jimmy Aquino, you can hear the interview he did with me on his Comic News insider podcast here . Jimmy wanted to know what the differences were between British and American comics and, quite frankly, we struggled to answer that.* Historically there are differences and for some of us (of a certain age) that history has shaped the way we see comics. But what struck me thinking back over the reaction to our books at MoCCA was the sense there is such a broad readership  of comics in the US. Many of the attitudes about comics we have in the UK today come from the fact they aren't read across the board. Readers fall into factions and look suspiciously at each other; creators either belong to faction with its own support network or crave ways of reaching the 'common people'. To some degree this affects the way we make comics. What I felt watching the reaction to my work in the US, and talking to people there, was a sense of being freed from that.
I may be wrong, but I watched a lifelong Marvel fan take nothing but SelfMadeHero books home. Marvel was for another day.
I always say that questions about comics as a genre (especially ones that presume that genre is about men in tights and capes) crush me. The crowd at MoCCA dispelled that notion, for a while at least. Why not see comics as a medium and switch over every now and then to see what's on the other side. A pleasantly surprising, open-minded attitude.
Hopefully, whilst we wait for that 'growing UK market' to get big enough to pay the rent, some of our current UK comics will find a readership in the US and those of us who aren't big fans of Superhero comics won't feel obliged to don a superhero costume for the privilege.
There's been an emptying of talent from UK comics to US comics in the past, what I hope we'll see in the future is a US discovery of UK comics. Rather than talented artists and writers dropping their tools and jumping onto franchises in the US we might see more original stories and ideas from the UK finding a readership there. I think that would be better for both parties.

Of course this may just be me tilting at windmills again.

*Hannah Means Shannon did a great job of summarising that panel here.

Saturday 2 February 2013

I know nothing about Manga but...

I got a stack of Manga for Christmas, so I'm going to do a quick review of what I've been reading.

MW - Osamu Tezuka

It's Tezuka who got me excited about Manga. There's something about the tone of his books that is pitch perfect. The dark stuff doesn't need to wear a cloak and be painfully serious, the sex doesn't exploit the characters in a pornographic way,  the humour comes from the goofiness of the personalities, the horror comes from the situation not from gore and shock, and the style... the style bends like a reed to suit all of these aspects. I have no idea what his books were like to read in context and I'm reading books of his from the 70s or 80s without factoring that in the way I would if it was a western comic from that period. This stuff just reads itself, it doesn't need me to make adjustments or allowances. The man was a genius.
MW is supposedly the anti-Tezuka, the darkest of all his books, it's hard to imagine a darker book - child molestation, rape, mental torture, genocide... it's like an attempt to batter every last grain of humanity from your characters (and readers) and see if there's still a human being left behind. 
The plot is a loopy 70s action movie/thriller affair with government conspiracies, a corrupted priest, a long haired detective, a serial killer and a secret weapon. The bouncy 70s art styles and immaculate storytelling make this fun to read and horrific to consider.
The story was originally serialised between 76-78 and was Tezuka's reaction to new violent adult comics (Gekiga) appearing in Japan at that time. Tezuka was Japan's Walt Disney at this time. Can you imagine Walt Disney deciding his next story will be about a homosexual serial killer, a homosexual priest and government genocide with chemical weapons? That Tezuka is as happy to write a thousand pages about Hitler or Buddha says everything about him. He created Astro Boy, but y'know, so what? You need to keep growing as an artist. If you need a touchstone for what an artist working in comics can achieve, Tezuka' your man.


I read the first book in a number of different series.

The Drifting Classroom - Kazuo/Umezu

I didn't know this was from way back in '72 until I finished it. The series ended in '74, it's 11 volumes in all so I have a long way to go. The plot: a school disappears and reappears in a mutant wasteland, the kids go mental and the teachers go mental. This is supposed to be one of the great 70s horror comics, what may horrify some readers in 2013 is how the teachers deal with the hysterical kids. Mr Nice Teacher takes to thumping as many 6 year olds in the face as is needed to calm the mob, and Mr Not-so-Nice Teacher grabs a kids, smashes his glasses and uses the broken glass to stab him in the arm. But it was ok because the kid was his own son. Phew! I'm not sure if this stuff was intended as the horror, it seems mostly consistent with my own memories of childhood in the 70s. I guess the mutant landscape stuff follows in later volumes. I don't know if I'll finish this series but I loved its hysteria, it's like putting your head in a pit of screaming kids.

Uzumaki - Junji Ito

Now this is the stuff. This is a horror comic. I read in bed and this book actually gave me a nightmare.
It's all about spirals. Forget vampires or monsters or serial killers, I can assure you - spirals are the real horror. The plot: kids on an island notice their parents and others becoming obsessed and then consumed by spirals. Spirals in art and nature. They're everywhere! A boy's mum gets so terrified of them after they take her husband she tries to destroy them all - slicing off her fingertips because they're spirals and attempting to stab out her inner ear to get at the cochlea.

This book came out in 1998, eight years after I was terrified by a fibonacci cauliflower (Romanesque). That's a story for another day, I'm just glad I read this 20 years after the cauliflower incident. Will continue reading this series, with some trepidation.

Death Note - Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Obata

I imagined this would be a gripping Horror/fantasy thing, and in a sense it is, but as with Tezuka it relishes getting tripped up by the realities presented by the plot. Boy finds Death Note - anyone whose name he rights on Death Note dies, the Death God who owns the note haunts/hangs around with the boy. Great set-up. That the boy sets out to reshape the human race with the note gives it a grandeur, that he is constantly beset by the logistics of carrying out such a plan makes the whole thing credible and so much more fun. The art is really tight, veering between brilliant and stiff. I can imagine this book being popular with teens the world over. I may eventually get the rest of the series.

Children of the Sea - Daisuke Igarashi

A girl who thinks she saw a ghost in an aquarium finds herself captivated by two kids raised by a sea cow. These 'Children of Sea' seem to understand the 'mind' of the sea and struggle to live on the land. This book is a mystery, an immersive mystery. Not a mystery in a whodunnit sense, or immersive in a page-turner sense - it offer no easy answers and immerses you with its naturalistic storytelling and fully realised settings.  Everything unfolds at its own pace and much of Igarashi's effort goes towards creating a naturalism with a loose but persistent style. In fact the drawing is almost quirk-free and achieves moments of great atmosphere without stylishness to the line or hatching. I'd say I was intrigued rather than captivated so far.

Blue Spring

Worth it for the art. Something un-manga about it to my eyes. The usual ingredients are missing to the faces, but the storytelling is excellent and the short stories here have a British 1960s kitchen sink quality. All the tales centre around a bunch of bored teens waiting for the summer to come. And it can't come soon enough. Recommended.


Couldn't make head nor tail of this, I really wanted to read it after scanning the blurb, but I found it utterly impenetrable. There are some cutesy drawing and some bits of dialogue and I'm sure they connect together somehow, but...
Apparently this was a TV show, so maybe it makes sense if you knew the Anime first... I dunno... it was like looking at doodles on the back of a sketch book and trying to connect them together to make sense. If anyone can help me with this book please do.

And if anyone wants to offer further suggestions based on my thoughts here I'd be happy to hear them. I plan to scoop up another haul as soon as I can. Manga is just more readable than most Western comics and I feel I should go away and think about all the reasons why it is so readable and apply them to my work. 

Hourly Comics Day 2013

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