Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Revue June 25: The Book Of Lies


                         THE CHILLS!



Billed as a horror anthology, the Book of Lies is a loosely interconnected series of stories done by a rotating roster of artists, some beautiful and all terrible. The endings are invariably twisted, and often the entire story is. It's intriguing and repelling in equal measure, and if you're a horror aficionado it's definitely worth a read....but not if you've got a tendency towards nightmares or a sensitive stomach.

The Rating

Fascinating and frightening, but a little rough and in need of some polishing

The Raves

Some really creative things have been done with storytelling in this piece; a princess in a tower turns out to be put there for a VERY good reason,
a zombie tries to do a good deed that goes terribly wrong, a mother makes an ill-fated deal. A lot of creativity has gone into the storytelling, and the twists at the end of each tale really work to keep you reading. Cleverly designed to shock and disturb, there is a strong flavor of Crypt Keeper and 'Are You Afraid Of The Dark' in these tales, but unadorned with the campiness that softened the blow in those works.
The rotating lineup of artwork includes some really good artists, and each artist is well paired with the piece they illustrate. I was impressed! Monique Blaize did wonderfully dynamic things with 'City Of Demons', and 
It was a creative take on tropes and fairy tales of all genres.  

The Razzes

this story would grab readers a lot more easily if its introduction were improved on. Five pages of prose is a rocky start for any comic, and five pages of prose full of typos and misspellings is a BIG drawback. Every little typo is a tiny pang for a conscious reader.
Some of the artists could also work on improving their craft; Clarissa Fillice needs to work on her anatomy  style, which gets a little too stiff at times, and Henry Simon could work on the same thing and improve his sense of the shape of the human skull, though the woodcut style of his art does mitigate that problem somewhat. Pramit Santra's work is a little fuzzy and needs sharpening when it's scanned in, and Gabriel Rossman has some really interesting ideas and a neat color scheme, but facial features could use some work.
All in all, the artists did very well, I only mention these suggestions as ideas for improvement. What really holds Book of Lies back is that painfully ponderous and unexamined prologue. Clean that thing up and tighten it up too, and you'd have a real winner! Even add some more imagery; after all, it is the beginning of A COMIC.

The Revue

If you like to shiver, give it a read.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Backstage Pass July: Robin Childs

Hey, Wanna Get

Come On! 

You Can Come Meet 

Robin Childs!

Robin began her career as an engineer, but her true passion has always been storytelling.  In 2012 she started her own company with her husband, Cory Childs.  Moko Press, LLC was founded as a way to pursue their creative dreams.  Now Robin works as an artist, author, educator, and creative consultant.  

Main Projects 

When an irresponsible prince, his day-dreamer sister, and their adopted brother are given a mission by a voiceless goddess of dreams, they will be forced to choose between their future and their family.
Offering manuscript review, story development, and crowdfunding campaign planning to help creative people overcome challenges and realize their dream projects.

Other Hobbies and Obsessions

Reading is probably my favorite activity, when I'm not drawing.  And I'm a little obsessed about tea.  These days I'm trying to avoid most obsessions though.  I tend to become a fan of things very intensely, and there's a big danger in that when people are involved.  It's too easy to dehumanize someone when you're getting overly wrapped up and identified with what they do and how they do it.  So I am working to admire and
support people who are doing great work, without letting myself reach an obsession point.  

So, tell me about your early experience. How did you fall in love with telling stories in pictures?

It's hard to isolate something that's been part of my life for so long, but I'd say what first made me fall in love with the medium was a collection of Calvin and Hobbes that my father brought home after a business trip.  I always wanted desperately to be Calvin, as a kid, although I didn't quite have the courage for causing trouble that he did.  Adults would always comment to me on how advanced my vocabulary was, and I credit Bill Watterson for a lot of the words I was saying (and almost understanding) at the time.

How long have you been drawing comics?

The earliest works that I have, in comics form, are from when I was around twelve or thirteen.  Before that I would draw characters and maps, or write prose, but for some reason didn't jump into combining the two into complete stories until then.  

At that age, I did comics about my cats, or about my friends (and our "Evil Sides" that we would transform into) which usually ran about fifteen to thirty pages.  They were short and goofy stories, typically humorous in nature.  

The comic that I was the most serious about as an early teen was called "Forest Shadows," but I got caught in a common loop that I've seen a lot of young artists struggle with.  I'd draw the first thirty pages or so, grow as an artist and writer in the process, and then throw out everything I'd done and start over.  I probably started that project at least three times.  Re-creating the same character designs and refining the same plot.  

I think being caught in that cycle, and realizing how counter-productive it was, informed my personal resolution as an adult to always look forward when it comes to creative work.  Otherwise you never push yourself to do new things, and you get stuck telling the same stories over and over. 

Can you tell me about your typical day or drawing session? How does your working process flow? 

These days my process is constantly in flux as I learn new things, so I'm not sure if I have a "typical" day anymore!  

I do have several different phases to making a page.  Script, Storyboarding, Reference, Pencils, Inking, and Coloring/Lettering.

Everything starts with the script, but we'll talk more about that process in a bit.  

For storyboarding, I consider the order that people speak in, to arrange dialog and establish character location for a scene.  I want things to flow logically for the eye.  This includes maintaining a consistent direction for motion.  I also put a special emphasis on what emotion I want to convey.

Recently I've wanted to include more planning in this process for background elements and value, but I confess that I tend to forget when I'm in the middle of storyboarding.  I tend to see it in my mind, but I'd like to stop relying on that.  Planning something out on paper usually yields better results than assuming the final image will turn out the way I see it in my head.

Once I've storyboarded the scene, the reference phase starts.  I'll take photographs of myself doing whatever the characters are doing in the panels.  This might focus on expressions, camera angles, or movements.  Sometimes I'll also use costumes, if there are particularly challenging costume elements.  Pakku's glasses, Lu Pai's hat, and Tama's poncho are all examples of costume elements.  

Recently for backgrounds, I've also started building 3D models in Google Sketch-up to use as reference.  I really enjoy what this adds to the process.  Not only does building the set allow me to maintain more consistent perspective, but it forces me to think more about the space itself.  What objects make sense for this environment?  What do those things say about the person, or people, who live in this space?  

I'll also use the model to do my scene planning.  Being able to place stand-in figures in an environment and move the camera dynamically around them takes me out of the technical mind-set of a drafts-person, and into the more creative, storyteller's view of a director.  How am I guiding the eye?  Do the background elements contribute to conveying the feeling and emotion of the scene?  Does this angle convey the emotions of the characters?  Are we focusing on the people relative to their environment, or creating a more intense emotional moment close in?  

Having the dynamic model takes some of the load off of my brain to just process "What would that look like, and how would I draw it?" and instead frees me up to focus on what really matters, visually, for the story.

Once all my planning is done, then I start in on the pencils, using my reference and storyboards to help guide my work.
 I'll go through stages of reference-to-imagination ratios.  Sometimes, everything is very carefully planned.  Other times, I'll skip most of the reference stage.  Using a lot of reference can yield images that are very stiff, but not having any at all often creates freer images that look progressively weirder and safer (ie, easier camera angles, expressions, and gestures) with each page.  Usually when I get frustrated by one aspect of my work, I'll utilize a different technique for a while, until I get frustrated by something else.  I do generally find that my abilities increase faster when I use reference more than less.  

One of my current goals is to incorporate animation techniques to find a more in-between drawing style.  I'd like my characters to have more fluidity and personality to their lines.  If you study an animator's character designs, you'll often feel like they have a lot of life.  Even if the character is standing still, there's an implication of movement.  I'd love to start seeing more of that energy in my own drawing.

Once pencils are done, I scan in my chaotic scribbles, convert everything into a pale blue line, and print it out on cardstock.
Then I ink that with brushes for the figures and Micron pens for the backgrounds, and scan the result back in.  I used to work exclusively with pens.  Then, on feedback from readers, switched to just brushes.  Then, after more feedback, I settled into a mix of the two.  I love the personality and variation of brushes, but they tend to be too shaky for any precise background work.  Hard to use a brush and a ruler together.  So, when I need more precise background elements, I call in the Microns.

Once scanned, I send my inks off to my color blocker.  She sends it back with the character flats.  I used to do this part of it, and in truth it's usually not too long a process, but something about it I've always hated.  It became prohibitively time-consuming because I'd end up procrastinating what was one of the quickest parts of the process.  Working with a color blocker has taken a lot of anxiety off my mind!

After that, it's shadows, lights, bounce lights, textures, and any special effects I want to add.
Wrap it up with lettering and text bubbles, and you have a finished page.  Not counting the writing, storyboarding, or reference stages, the illustration of a single page takes somewhere between 8 to 16 hours.

Whew!  That was a novel.  I will try to answer your other questions more quickly.

Does your production process for a finished piece follow specific steps?

Considering I rarely do anything that isn't a comic page, the steps I just (exhaustively) outlined above are pretty much the process I follow every time.

What media do you work in to produce Leylines?

Cardstock and india ink, combined with Photoshop for colors.

Can you tell me about your storytelling process? Do you prefer to script your stories, fly by the seat of your pants, or somewhere in between?

As I've studied writing, this portion of the process has become more and more involved.  I used to only write four comic pages worth of material at a time.  These pieces rarely saw much editing.  If it felt good enough, I'd dive right in to drawing.  I started doing this because of my experience with that early "Forest Shadows" story.  On one of my many re-writes, I thought I should write out the entire story in one big script.  I got to the end, and no longer felt like illustrating it.  I thought that, in the process, the characters had become stiff and uninteresting.  I didn't understand the concept and importance of rewriting or editing, which would have solved that problem.  Not at age thirteen, at least.

I still think there is a lot of merit to the write-as-you-go method.  While it's difficult to foreshadow anything or develop themes that way, sometimes as a creator I need to stay in touch with that raw, creative impulse.  At the time, that method was what I needed to create.  And creating, doing the work, is what taught me a lot about storytelling.  I made a lot of mistakes in that process, but there's some gem segments in there too.  I don't think there's really a "wrong" or "right" way to write.  The only "right" way, is the way that gets you writing.

Although I now write chapters start-to-finish, I do still storyboard by scene.  So I guess that process is still alive today for me.  Just adapted a bit.

My current process usually involves finding my theme statement, developing an outline, writing, and re-writing.  

I've learned that re-writing is not only inevitable, but it makes for better stories.  My inner teen author is horrified by the idea that the first draft is somehow not pure, golden, genius, but it's true.  Refinement makes for a more polished result.

How long have you been working on the plot of your current project? 

Since about six months before LeyLines launched in 2011.  So…Wow, I guess somewhere between four to five years now.   

Has anyone told you that you'll never be a successful artist and you'd be better off studying a real field and/or getting a real job?

Haha!  Ahhh, considering my education is in engineering and I worked as a Mechanical Engineer for five years, I think we can safely say that, while those exact words weren't used, the message came across.  So I've studied a "real field" and I've had a "real job," and I can say with certainty that doing a "real job" that you hate is not worth it.  It was damaging to my mental, physical, and psychological well being.  

I learned a lot, and I was good at it, but ultimately I have no desire to be a good engineer.  I want to be a great storyteller.  I won't find that spending most of my time and energy on something that makes me miserable.

What keeps you devoted to telling the story you’re telling?

The first long-term project I did, I was still firmly in denial about how much storytelling mattered to me.  It was "just a hobby."  A hobby that I worked on for eight years.  All through college and into my first few working years.  When I finished that story, I thought, "Okay, I finished what I started, so now I can close that silly chapter of my life where I needed a silly hobby and commit to my real life and my real job and my real career."

It felt like I was drowning.

That's when I realized that this wasn't just a hobby, and it had never been a hobby.  It was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I'd never been able to admit it to myself because of the values I'd internalized growing up.  Once I challenged those notions, I started to invest in my creative career more strongly and consciously.  Cory and I started Moko Press, and I started working on LeyLines.  A year or two after that, I left my engineering job.  I'm still not working on art and storytelling full-time, but I'm doing so many new things in creative fields that I'd never dreamed possible before.

I'm devoted to telling stories in the same way I'm devoted to breathing.   It's a part of who I am.  I need it to survive.

What message do you hope your readers will come away with?

My current work focuses on claiming one's own identity.  I've struggled with embracing myself and my own dreams, coming into conflict between what I am and what my parents wanted me to be.  Every character in my story wrestles with this same dilemma in some way.  Sometimes with family, sometimes with society, sometimes with themselves.  

I also struggle with chronic depression, so while my external battle is with societal and familial expectations, there's also an internal conflict with my own negative core.  That also comes out with several of the characters in my story, and it's something I am open about in my blogs.  

Depression is so stigmatized in our culture, so it's easy to feel alone, which is in itself a trap, because depression thrives in secrecy and isolation.
 I try to share my experiences in the hope that it will let others know they're not alone.  I've had a few letters about how sharing my  difficulties online has helped other people get through their own darker days.  That's an amazing honor and gift, to hear things like that.  

The message I'd like people to take away from my work are that we all have to claim our own identity, but that doesn't mean we have to be alone to be ourselves.

Bravo, Robin Childs! I tip my hat to you, and read your future work with relish!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Independence Weekend Review #2: The Lady Skylark

Annnnnd Now Ladies And Gentlemen,
Let Me Introduce You 
To Our Second Independent Lady! 

Let's Give A Warm Welcome TO

The Lady Skylark Herself!

The tale of the Lady Skylark is one that begins with a mutiny, and doesn't let up from there. It's a wonderful wild ride through the seas and skies of another world, a world where there's intrigue on every side, treasure to be found, and treachery on every side.
This beautiful story is another creation of the lovely Jackie Musto, and can be found here

The Rating

A bold and saucy tale!

The Raves

Of course any time I'm reading something of Jackie Musto's, the first thing that arrests me is the artwork. Lady Skylark is no exception to that rule. Both the artist's vingette scenes and her land (or sky) scapes are undeniable treats for the eye. Their sense of action and movement is also a high point, beautifully dynamic and conveyed with wit and skill.
But the characterization is what really makes you fall in love. From the sleek and smoky Lady Skylark to her shivering deck hand, every character is well realized. The world may be a fun and tropey classic, but it too has been re-imagined and made interesting with at least one anthropomorphic species, several strange and unnerving social and religious movements, and more than enough to explore.
The writing style has also taken tired
concepts and made them fresh through strong writing and wonderfully created and byzentine plot; believe me, I've read the entire thing and I'm still not sure who's got the queen's treasure or who's cheating who! All I am sure of is that you DO NOT mess with the Lady Skylark!

The Lady Skylark is a true swashbuckler. She does her own fighting, her own scheming and her own thinking. She takes her place among the best of the strong women characters who actually deserve the name.

The Razzes

If I were the creator, I'd work on the drawing of cityscapes, which often look a little unfinished and give the impression of being after thoughts. I also might thin the lines just slightly when doing linework; sometimes the thickness gives a blurry quality. But other than that, I have very little to complain of. 

The Revue

Huzzah, my Lady! I tip my hat to you.

Independence Weekend #3: The Lady Sabre

Annnnnnnd NOW Ladies and Gentlemen! I Introduce You TO!

The Lady Sabre, That Is!

A swashbuckling salty and sordid tale, The Lady Sabre is a treat for the eyes and the adventurous mind! 
In the world of the Sphere, the Ineffable Aether is dotted with stars and floating Lands, plied by the airships that wander the starry wastes. It's a world of wonder and adventure, where magic and science fight like cats. And it's FASCINATING.
The work of Rick Burchett and Greg Rucka, this wonderful piece can be found at this link.

The Rating

I think I'm in love....

The Raves

To begin with, I'll let the art speak for itself. Beautiful, stylish, creative, yet harking fondly back to the pulp comics of another era. The art is perfection, one of the best indie pieces I've seen. The use of space and pose is meant to recall the Golden Era of comics in style, but when there's an action scene, modern know-how and sense of anatomy is in impeccable evidence.

Oh, and if you need wit and clever dialogue? Yep, that's here too!
The design work is as masterly as the art, some of the best I've seen in the Steampunk genre. Sometimes Steampunk simply looks thrown together, with wires and gears thrown on just for effect. Not so here. The world has the feel of a science evolving at its own pace, divergent but not all that alien to our own. Some serious thought has been put into the technological evolution of this world, and it shows in the best possible way.
And then, of course, there's the plot. In a word? Engrossing. It's an intricate storyline, but it never loses the breakneck for-the-hell-of-it fun of a good adventure. If Firefly was set in the Victorian era, this would be it.
The backbone of the story is the character of the Lady Sabre herself and her crew, a wonderful gang of rebels and mavericks. The Lady is another true heroine; clever, resourceful, quick, and while not afraid to fall in love, she's nobody's girl. She is a perfect adventure heroine.
And saucy too!

The Razzes

Every once in a while, story lines feel a little disconnected, jumping between places, times and characters, and you find yourself patiently waiting for the moment when they converge with the main plot once more. It could be a little tighter, but I won't complain too loud...

The Rating

I'll give this one my highest accolade: I couldn't stop reading. Put it on your list!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Independence Weekend Review #1: Delilah Dirk And The Turkish Lieutenant

And Now, Put Your Hands Together

 For Our First Independent Lady!

I've rarely read such a wonderful, swashbuckling tale as the story of Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. The story of Delilah Dirk is rollicking with prison breaks, attacking hordes, sword fights, things blowing up and being incinerated. And yet, through it all, it never stops feeling like the story of two good friends having an adventure. 
.....okay, to be precise, one of them's having an adventure. One of them's trying not to get killed. 
This amazing work, the first in a series, is the creation of Tony Cliff. You can read it and get your hands on a copy here.

The tale begins with Selim, a Turkish lieutenant. Selim likes a quiet life. He likes good tea, poetry, refined pleasures and peace. He doesn't like upsets.
Bad luck for him then that the guard brings in a very feisty prisoner: Delilah Dirk, the Lady Adventurer. Not long later, things get....Shall we say interesting?

The Rating

Best thing I've read in a looooong time

The Raves

The next time someone whines that they can't find good comic books for girls, get them Delilah Dirk. This book has everything a wildhearted girl needs: Delihah, for a start! But there are plenty of adventure stories out already; what makes this one stand out is the craft with which it was created, and the light heart it leaves you with come the finish.
To begin with, the art is beautifully atmospheric and amazing in its detail. 
The comic is set in the early twentieth century, and everything about it captures the sense of a new age of adventure and exploration. The clean linework, expressive character design and great attention to historic detail make you feel as if you're walking these streets. You can almost smell the dust and the salt breeze blowing up off the sea.
And then the writing kicks in, picking up right where the art leaves off. I have to say, Delilah Dirk has some of the wittiest, 
most amusing and most surprisingly subtle writing of any adventure story I've ever read. Cliff does a shockingly good job of getting across whole volumes of personal interaction in concise, dynamic scenes. And the personalities of the two main characters couldn't have been better matched for creating wonderful conversation; sometimes thoughtful, sometimes reflective, but often just plain hilarious. 
Delilah Dirk plays with a lot of the tropes of the Steampunk/ Victorian Adventurer Genre, but it does so with such wit and style that it manages to both pay tribute and poke fun at the archetypes it plays with.  But this time, FOR ONCE, we've been given a heroine who really is THE HERO, a heroine who gets to have ALL THE ADVENTURES. In fact, the creator goes so far as to give us three entire pages detailing just how adventurous Delilah is, and how she came by all her skills. If you ever needed a hero for a tomboy girl, Delilah is it!

The dynamics of the action sequences are also some of the best I've seen

But underpinning all these wild adventures is the subtle and slowly growing friendship she has formed with Selim. After reading the book, that relationship is one of the things that really stayed with me. As a reader, it was wonderful to see a writer pull off, especially in this genre, a true hetrosexual friendship that was mutually beneficial to the characters. For once, the characters didn't need to fall in love to care about each other, to stick together through thick and thin and do anything for one another, up to and including blowing up a castle. And using the eloquent and well-spoken Selim both as Delilah's foil and as the narrator has allowed the creator to transcend the overstimulated boredom that so often descends when reading adventure stories.

The Razzes

....yep, I got nothing.

The Revue

A true coup de grace. There are so many beautiful moments in this story I'd like to show you, but I think it'd be better if you simply started reading for yourself. It's the kind of book that makes your imagination take flight.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Independence Weekend!

Hear Ye Hear Ye Hear Ye!

Announcing The Weekend Of Independence!

Let Me Introduce You!

The Lady Skylark!

Lady Sabre!

And The Renowned Delilah Dirk!

To The Independent Ladies

Who Do It For Themselves!

So, this month something particular has been catching my eye. Lady swashbucklers, heroines, and adventurers in the steampunk sub-genre. I love the ladies of fortune, in prose and in comics. I really do.  Gail Carriger, Laurie King, Garth Nix, your ladies are so dear.


(Admit it. You knew there was a 'but'coming. )

As a woman reader, I get really, really sick of every swashbuckling tale, EVERY SINGLE ONE, ending or being hip deep in romance (cough, sometimes confused with lust, cough) Some specifically end with weddings. After a while, it starts to feel like the women are only in the story to be fought for and won. At best, they're becoming romantic heroines. At worst.....
(I told you there was a 'but' coming. Snicker)
.......there's this trope. Excuse the wincing....
Now you, my dear readers, know I'm no prude. I'm fine with sex. I am NOT fine with stupidity or sloppy writing. And I'm really getting tired of the sub-genre idea that all women are in the story purely to fall in love, as if they were incomplete as characters in their own right. Women characters aren't half of a matched set. They're people.
This weekend, America celebrates its independence. Therefore, I will do three reviews of three ladies who are truly independent characters. Enjoy!