Monday, 29 November 2010

Review: Cragmore, Pat Lewis (2010)

Pat Lewis | B&W, 150 pages | $12 (4 issues) | Available Now

“When W.P. Cragmore cheated death, there was hell to pay. 
Fortunately, he could afford it.” 

Apparently, the greatest mistake Faust made when dealing with Mephistopheles was simply settling for a bad deal. Fortunately, Pat Lewis’ unscrupulous billionaire businessman W.P. Cragmore knows better. When the devil comes to collect your soul, you assemble your lawyers, contact R&D, and have them construct a way for you to avoid the afterlife completely. Hell, it worked for Walt Disney, right?

After a near-fatal construction accident sees Cragmore visiting hell, he's given a second chance to escape his fiery fate when his highly-paid medical team manage to save his life. Rather than pulling an Ebeneezer Scrooge, and simply repenting, Cragmore proves he's made of stronger stuff, deciding that he's going to live forever by developing a cryogenic-esque deathless stasis unit in order to avoid eternal damnation. More so than that, he’s going to mass-produce the technology for the world’s rich elite. Ignoring the pleas of his son—a priest, and ironic black sheep of the family—ol’ W.P. soon finds himself in a world of trouble, with the whole of hell conspiring to off him before his plans can come to fruition.

The Don Draper of supernatural cartoon comedy, Cragmore, lays the Devil himself out. Whatta guy.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Vampires and Typewriters: an Interview with Jess Smart Smiley

The one and only Jess Smart Smiley in his natural habitat.

Jess Smart Smiley is a real piece of work. Not only does he have the nerve to produce wonderful, engaging comics for readers’ worldwide, he then turns around and treats people with genuine friendliness and respect. I know, right? What a jerk.

In all seriousness, he’s a great guy, and we’ve been eager to interview him pretty much since we reviewed his awesome graphic novella A Map in the Dirt earlier in the year. Recently having his all-ages vampire story Upside Down snapped up by Top Shelf for release next Halloween, we thought now would be the perfect time to take advantage of his gentlemanly nature and collar him for a chat.

Immensely creative, Jess currently supplements his funnybook work by writing and performing music, and is even undergoing the herculean task of writing a novel. Infuriatingly multi-talented, with an obvious, deep love of storytelling, read on for Jess’ thoughts on Upside Down, his upcoming all-new self published comic, his process, his love of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, as well as an anecdote featuring the most charming act of plagiarism you’ve ever heard of.

Firstly, congratulations are in order! Both on getting Upside Down signed up by Top Shelf and on the (very) recent birth of your daughter! It must be a pretty good time to be Jess Smart Smiley.

Thanks! Delivering the book was much easier than the baby. Top Shelf has been a favorite publisher of mine for years and I'm still reeling to have something that I've made in their catalog.

'Upside Down': don't mess with Vermillion if you value not being a newt.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Review: Gang Bang Bong (2010)

Inés Estrada & Ginette Lapalme (Editors) | 20x25cm, b&w, 56 pages | $4 

The problem with reviewing any anthology is that it’s often impossible – or just plain inconsiderate – to coherently summarize a collection of individual works into a neat little byline. Barring the most restrictively themed compendiums, to attempt to reduce the individual works of contributors into an approving or condemning distillation is not achievable with a clear conscience. The upside of this for anthologists is that the vast majority of collections are buffered critically by the de facto virtue of variety. Much the opposite of a single-author review, the bias of taste (subjective scourge that it is) actually works in favour of anthologies, as the self-appointed loser blowhards that critique them will almost always find something to rave about. 

Gang Bang Bong, edited by international avant-garde comic wonderkids Inés Estrada and Ginette Lapalme (of Wowee Zonk fame), is a strange and wondrous beast that defies traditional anthology logic. Completely unconventional, if you’re the kind of reader looking for a selection of straight-ahead comic vignettes, you won’t find any here. The result is that the reader’s taste in comics becomes more important than usual in their enjoyment of an anthology. Like it or not, this collection is very much about the exploration of the comic form and the joys of subverting its established conventions. Consequently, it will no doubt find greatest success with people interested in the mechanics and (de)construction of visual storytelling. If that sounds like something that rings your bell, you’re in for a real treat. Ding ding.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

One Question Interview #17: Britt Wilson

'Sewer Shark, or, They Can Smell Boredom', as seen on Britt's blog.

When you fall in love with someone's work when they are at their most hurried, you know that you must be onto something good. That's what happened to us last February when we spotted Britt Wilson's fantastic (and slightly ahead of schedule) 2010 Hourly Comics Day strips. One Google search later, it became fairly obvious we were yet again fashionably late to the party, and were but a couple of fuzzy pixels in the LCD static of her burgeoning internet fan-base.

In order to rectify our mistake, and restore the smug feeling of being totally cool dudes, we invited Britt to talk a little bit about the influences behind her comprehensive talents. Equally brilliant in lo-fi hourly comic mode and the hyper-crafted illustration style that can be seen currently jacketing the excellent Inkstuds book, we were eager to lay down the oldest and goldest interview question for her answering pleasure:

The Wu Tang Clan once described Old Dirty Bastard as having "no father" to "his style". Who do you consider the fathers (and mothers) of your style to be?

First of all, let me start off by saying that is the best wording of "what are your influences?" I have ever read. I love pictures. I love looking at pictures, I could do it all day long. This is good in some ways, I have a good grasp of what is going on in illustration and comics and I have a very clear understanding of what I like and what I don't. The drawbacks, of course, being that I spend way too much time looking at other people's pictures instead of making my own, but also that I end up paralyzed (artistically). Because I like a wide variety of styles, I can't figure out what I want my own to be, as a result I sometimes feel very scattered. As a child I read a lot, so book illustrations have always had a big impact on me, artists like Michael Martchenko, Dr. Suess, Marie-Louise Gay, and cartoonists like Bill Watterson. More recently I've been pouring over blogs by French animators, illustrators and cartoonists. In general, animators have this ability to capture motion in still images that I find fascinating and I'm trying to incorporate into my own work. The character design is also something I'm envious of, and have been working on. I don't know why the French in particular, I just noticed when looking through the blogs I follow that most of them are French. Probably has something to do with more arts funding or something.

I think it's the wine; drunker artists are better artists, right? Just ask Ian MacKaye. A big "thank you" to Britt for giving us a little of her time to answer us; we appreciate it greatly. If, like us, you want to be totally cool dudes and dudettes, you should immediately follow her on Twitter and also jam her blog into your RSS feeder for all kinds of great illustrations, cartoons, and, of course, pictures of her adorable cat Panties. And, no, that isn't a typo.

Monday, 1 November 2010

One Question Interview #16: Brooks M. Williams

As the very first person to claim our Featured Creator spot, it should come as no surprise that we're big fans of Brooks M. Williams' swagger. As stated way back when, his online strip Facebrooks turns the often-mundane autobiographical strip genre on its head by pairing the everyday social mechanics of college life with hyper-bizarre visuals and character design. 

Because of this, one of the most impressive things about Facebrooks (for us, at least) is how it manages to re-invigorate the diary strip almost entirely through the virtue of design. In a devious attempt to derail his frankly inhuman work-rate, we invited Brooks to talk to us about the decisions that inform his design work on the strip. What resulted was an interesting insight into the process behind Williams' illustration and how he marries the visual with the conceptual in his work. Fantastic.

How would you describe your process and perspective when designing characters?

"When a series has nothing going for it and there’s no growth or memorable events happening for large spans of time, there’s a certain quality to these series that keeps a reader around. It’s the same sort of quality that makes Facebook interesting or Twitter more than a momentary waste of time – it’s a chance to step into someone’s shoes and stop being ‘you’ for a second. It’s an option to judge somebody's rawest form. We all have those cravings; it’s what makes us human, and what feeds into why even the worst autobio comics have this certain pull to them.

I wanted to take advantage of that without wasting the reader’s time, to take that autobiographical pot and stir some more seasoning into the stew; to make it familiar but a new sort of experience. What I mean is, most autobiography series rely on day-to-day happenings and little inside jokes, no overarching story or memorable ‘characters’ to keep track of aside from the girlfriend or wacky/weird pal and party animal friend. There was a conscious need to get away from that kind of stuff while at the same time taking what made those aspects fun and interesting and adding my own twist into it while still being true to my life and the events that have taken place within it.

All of that thinking went into how I crafted the ‘look’ of the comic. I wanted something strange and wacky to look at, something that could be crazy one panel and very human and emotional in the next, so the strips I created would still be interesting to see even if the content in them was actually very bland and text-heavy. You’d be amazed at what you could get away with story-wise if you have a character that has a very interesting design or in a very odd or ‘wacky’ position. It makes a very nice balance for the reader. No matter what, they’ll be entertained somehow, it’s just a matter of ‘what's more interesting: the drawings or the story?’ – either way, the combo will be a winner.

I have a very large and varied group of friends I like to spend time with from all over my state, of all sorts of races and creeds, and I wanted to capture that with specific designs for each one. I didn’t want any two looking similar enough that people would start to get them mixed up, so I kept a strong hold on making each one have a completely different silhouette from the ‘character’ before it, and trying to give each one something iconic and memorable to stick in the reader’s minds.

For example, the stand-in for me has a ‘horn’ of hair on his head and a Mickey Mouse-shaped body. My friend Rod has oddly-shaped ears, a space-themed belt, and moon boots, and another friend, Brandon, is crafted with a nesting doll-esque design and wears a different shirt in every strip with a dumb pun written on it. Some designs don’t look entirely like the people they’re supposed to be, but they all manage to capture and contain the personality of the person they are representing, so at the end of the day, it all works out.

My persona is supposed to represent a lot of the qualities and ticks of trying to be a ‘man,’ so it’s only fitting that things are sharp and pointy on my character with a soft middle, just like how I am.

Rodriguez is a little bit ‘out there’ so of course the guy is decked out in space-themed attire, and Brandon is a character of many layers and pasts, so his matryoshka doll similarities really fit in with what he is all about. Other people like Nick, Leigh, and Eric have this sort of reasoning too; they all do. Each one goes through a long creative process when I go about designing them, and the last result never looks like what I start with. Sometimes a person only takes a day to nail down, and other times it takes a few months to really get what I want out of the look of a character.

The one thing I wanted to avoid was making everyone look too crazy. There’s a thin line between funny, interesting, and believable and strange-looking, Spumco wacky, and hard-to-identify-with. There had to be a way that I could walk a tightrope between both without losing a section of my audience or ruining the constant growth of the comic by making someone unbelievably, obnoxiously cartoony. I'm not sure I have it down to a 'T' yet, but it's something I work towards."

This is exactly the sort of thing that makes our nerdy hearts swell up with love, and we're so grateful to Brooks for answering us in such detail. You absolutely should go over to the Pow Pow Comics website now to check out more of his super-charismatic work. How many times do you need us to pressure you? Do it already!