29 January, 2012

Unrealism exhibition photos and sketches.

Following on from my earlier post with the footage from the Unrealism exhibition, I dug up some photos from the opening night, 30th June 1993.
I remember this night as also being the first time I was interviewed for radio. I have an audio tape of that somewhere. Maybe one day I'll be able to digitise that too.
Thanks to Stuart Hale, one of the exhibition curators, I've been given the name of the fellow I couldn't remember before who was part of the Cyberspace gallery where the show was put on – David Lawford. These photos have reminded me that Brendan Boyd was also one of the organisers of the show.

Sorry about the poor quality of the photographs/scans.

Michael Michalandos and I proudly in front of some work from Greener Pastures #1. Yes, that's four Cerebus badges and five Astro Boy badges that I'm wearing on my denim jacket! And yes, that is a ponytail I'm sporting.
Also in this photo are partly obscured art from the brilliant Clint Curé (left) and brilliant Gerard Ashworth (right).

Stuart Hale prepares to give a welcoming speech. In the crowd you might spot David Lawford, Doug Bayne, Tim Danko, my beautiful then-fiancé now-wife Anne-Maree, Paul Rebec, and David James.

Brendan Boyd also had some words of welcome, with Stuart Hale standing by.
Art on the walls belongs to Jason Paulos, Clint Curé, Tim McEwen, Gerard Ashworth and Sam Young, as well as another I can't place.

A bit of on-the-spot drawing. I'm not sure what the date of this was, but it probably wasn't opening night. I have a feeling it was the 3rd of July.
At the table, besides the few kids, is Gerard Ashworth, David James, Tim McEwen, a fellow I'm not sure of, and Brendan Boyd.
From what I can tell, there's art on the walls in the background by Jozef Szekeres, Clint Curé, Tim McEwen and Gerard Ashworth. The other stuff I can't quite make out. Feel free to fill in the gaps in the comments.

More drawing! At the table, amongst others, are Trudy Cooper, Doug Bayne, Gerard Ashworth and David James.

My famous sketchbook collection had already been started by this time, and here are some pages from it, some from opening night, some from after, all done on A6.

Peter Galmés.

Dave Owen.

22 January, 2012

Review: DC: The New Frontier

DC: The New Frontier
By Darwyn Cooke with Dave Stewart.
Published by DC Comics.

Cooke's New Frontier is quite a good comic, but it's not as great as it should have been, nor as great as I think everyone wants it to be. I read the two volume collection of this story, and the first volume was very disjointed. The overall impression, especially from this first half of New Frontier, was that Cooke had a great idea, a wonderful love and knowledge of the oeuvre of 40s/50s America and what that felt and looked like, but either didn't have the writing skills, was too lazy, or simply didn't want to, weave a smoothly flowing story from everything he wanted to include in it. Instead, it feels more like a series of character sketches and story ideas for an alternate DC history. In all honesty, I could almost see the change in writing style when Cooke decided to really get the main driving plot more involved with the story. Generally, I think it would have benefitted from a more focussed narrative, possibly from fewer, or even a single, point of view.

The saving grace? These 'character sketches', as disjointed as they may be, are really cool and a very interesting take on the familiar heroes.

The art is perfectly suited to the story and the period that it's set, with a loose, brushy feel reminiscent of some illustration styles of the time it's set. The colouring by Dave Stewart is the icing on the cake, also leaning towards the same styles of illustration. It all looks really lovely, and is probably the most alluring part of the whole package.

Cooke's page layout choices are interesting. I would estimate that 90% of all pages are approached with the same layout; three wide panels stacked on top of each other. My assumption here is that Cooke was going for a "cinematic" feel with almost every image having a Cinemascope-like presentation. This has it's good and bad points. I think it certainly helps serve the overall feel of the period piece, but surely it gets in the way of pacing. Luckily, Cooke isn't completely slavish to it and decides on several occasions that the pace of the story does indeed require more than three panels on a page or just one panel per tier. Of course, there's also a liberal use of splash pages and double-page spreads.

Despite my misgivings about the choppy nature of the story and page design decisions, finishing the first volume had me really eager to see what happened next, and that's an obvious sign of a narrative that has engaged me. The second volume/second half is a lot more story-driven, bringing the loose threads together into a more cohesive narrative, picking up a significant amount of speed while it's at it. The epic nature of the challenge faced by our heroes is here to dwarf the political and personal issues that have been faced throughout the preceding pages. I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing, considering that it seemed to be what Cooke had been most interested in as the storyteller, and for us the main reason to want to continue following the disjointed narrative. Regardless, I guess that as the mandatory villain/threat of the story, it serves the purpose of not only fulfilling the super-powered punch-up quota, but also gives the plentiful heroes a focus and a hopeless-odds situation to throw themselves at. In this predicament at least, we see the bravery and selflessness of the heroic characters in their desperate attempts to stop a seemingly unstoppable force of nature.

Throughout, the characters, while appealing and interesting, aren't really given the time and space to be greatly fleshed out. Cooke is (I hesitate to say "shoehorning" but it may be appropriate) trying to include so many characters into his overall worldview and story, that most of them tend towards one and two dimensional cartoon personalities. Hal Jordan/Green Lantern is the biggest exception to this, and if there was a single character that the book was "about", it would be him. He's certainly the most interesting character in the book, with a nicely realised backstory, origin and first adventure. The Martian Manhunter gets a generous number of pages as well, and as such is also more three dimensional and interesting. To Cooke's credit though, the glimpses he gave me of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and especially The Flash, make me wish I could see much more of his take on all of them.

Similarly, the same holds true for the whole milieu. If this had been an ongoing series, running to 50 issues, and taking it's time with all of it's ideas, I probably would have been happy to be along for the whole, satisfying ride.

One last point regarding this being a "re-imagining" of DC history. The fact that this is not "canon" continuity frees the writer to not only present a different take on the standard material, but also means he is no longer beholden to the editorially mandated status quo. This charges the story with more tension and suspense than might otherwise be present as it becomes clear that maybe not all the characters are going to survive till the end. An added bonus in my eyes.

This is definitely a love letter from Cooke to the Silver Age of DC Comics, and as such is lovingly crafted. His fondness for the subject matter is evident throughout the art, writing and research for this 400 page story. I believe it does fall a little disappointingly short of being fully realised, though. That being said, it's still worth picking up for the very interesting take on DC's Silver Age heroes, and the beautiful artwork that presents it.

17 January, 2012

More on Theseus…

The last character study I posted here was of Theseus, who I said was a new character being introduced in Greener Pastures: The End. That's really only half true, as a fellow by the name of Theseus was the main character in Greener Pastures #7.5, and this is may be him again, or may be another aspect of him. Or maybe it's not him at all. It's hard to tell really. Our 'new' Theseus is certainly derived from the one that appeared in #7.5, at least visually, and perhaps thematically as well.

Anyway, here are a couple more Theseus sketches that I've done relating to GP:TE. They were done on a whiteboard and photographed as I was toying with some clothing design.

15 January, 2012

What I Watched Last Month…

Or rather, what I watched…
June 2011

X-Men: First Class. (at the movies)
What an enormous let down! Best X-Men movie ever?!? Hardly!
I guess my biggest problem with the story is summed up by the word "motivation". Or lack thereof. Aside from Magneto, and Shaw, the main villain, I don't know of any mutant in the film who has the motivation to do what they do in this story. This is probably the reason why Eric (Magneto) is the most compelling and interesting character to be had here. I have great problems with the way his motivations have been retrofitted compared to X-Men and X-2 as well, where now it looks like he's really just taken on the teachings of the villain that's come before him, rather than being interesting enough to originate them himself. Disappointing.
Why does Charles, as he's taken directly from his graduation, never give a second thought to what ever he was planning to do with his life before that CIA agent appeared? I'm sure there could be thousands of reasons, but none are articulated in any way. The same goes for the crew of young mutants they round up — they're demonstratively in mortal danger, why haven't they run back home to safe anonymity? Never explained.
For that matter, why have Charles and Eric only managed to round up teenagers? They were obviously also looking at other mutants as well, as evidenced with the Logan cameo. Poorly written, plotted and executed. The audience, time after time, are simply asked to not question what is not shown or explained, and please accept it instead and move on. Lazy.
The movie looked fine, with high production values and good special effects, but nothing that broke any ground. The acting was all fine too.
In the end, I felt no connection to just about any of the characters except for Eric and maybe Mystique, as the rest were never presented as anything more than 2-dimensional scenery. Even Charles, whose personality we got to see more of than just about anyone else other than Eric, is underdeveloped and flat.
I'd love to know what everyone else was so impressed by, because for me it was very lacking.

Bridesmaids. (at the movies)
What a pleasant surprise this turned out to be! I was expecting low-grade, boring, chick-flick, rom-com, but it was so much better than that. I went with my wife, and she was expecting something like "Sandra Bullock starring in Hollywood-slick The Hangover Part 3 for chicks". Instead, what we got was something much more a near-indie, well acted, well cast, witty comedy with a good heart.
There are charming performances, with what seems to be some nicely under-rehearsed, more natural and/or ad-libbed scenes. Once again, not Hollywood-slick and so, for me anyway, more interesting, real and much more human.
It's not earth-shatteringly insightful, it's a little obvious and predictable in places, but definitely good fun. There's some good physical comedy, just enough cringe comedy, some good banter and even a touch of screwball comedy here and there. Amazingly all mixing well and all living happily side-by-side, scene-by-scene. Well worth watching.

Super 8. (at the movies)
It's hard to talk about Super 8 without giving too much away. It's a fabulous movie — great fun to watch, with brilliant performances from the cast of kids/teens, enormous heart and emotional content, great tension and suspense, wonderful frights and starts and a rollicking adventure. That being said, it's so unashamedly from the Spielberg mould of summer holiday, semi-coming of age, bunch of misfit kids, small American town, adventure films, as to be almost embarrassing. That is, if it weren't so incredibly well done, so slickly produced, and then turned up to 11. JJ Abrams certainly is mastering the same ability as Spielberg had in his 70s and 80s films to manipulate suspense and to deftly push emotional buttons, but as long as you leave all cynicism at the door to the cinema, this is one brilliant popcorn movie!

Kung Fu Panda. (on DVD)
This is the second time I've seen KFP, the first since the cinema release, and I did so in prepping for KFP2.
I loved it. Again. It's an extraordinarily well made animated movie, with nice, fun character design, likeable characters with interesting personalities, and absolutely fabulous production design and colour design.
The interesting thing about KFP is that it's really thin when it comes to the actual story. Sweet as it is, there's not a lot of depth or breadth to it, being quite straight forward in plot and execution. No matter though, it's presented so wonderfully and with such wit and fun that it's too good a ride to look for complexity or unnecessary cleverness.
One of the standout aspects of KFP for me are the exciting fight scenes and training scenes. They're very clearly presented, regardless of their amazing complexity and imagination. There's constant camera movement, numerous participants, and often many props and changing landscapes, and yet we're never lost as to where to look or what's going on. Very difficult to do but done brilliantly.
The other good thing about these action scenes is that there's plenty of them, and always done in such a way that they progress the story, never thrown in gratuitously.
Similarly, although it's a very funny movie, it's never at expense of the story, only ever in service of it. I laughed truthfully and often.
There's absolutely no boring sections, even in the quieter scenes. There's wit and charm and interest throughout.
I thought the acting was fabulous, especially from Hoffman and Black. This is Possibly Black's best, as he was actually a likable, sympathetic character!
A brilliant, fun movie! Loved it! I could only hope that KFP2 can be as good.

Kung Fu Panda 2. (at the movies)
This had a lot to live up to in my eyes, being the sequel to Kung Fu Panda, and unfortunately it doesn't make the cut.
It's weighed down with muddled story telling and theme (are we saving Kung-Fu? China? Finding out who Po is/where he comes from?). It had a rushed, awkward beginning to the story and was definitely less skilful in depicting the fight scenes, which this time are not so easy to follow. Nor were they as useful in progressing the story, this time feeling much more gratuitously placed because it was time for an action scene, rather than being a good and fun way to progress the story.
It was good to see some effort, in the right direction, to round out one of the Furious Five characters (Tigress). It would have been nice to have see even more.
Unfortunately KFP2 also had nowhere near as many laughs as KFP either, nor was it as memorable.
In the end, a disappointing sequel.

12 January, 2012

GP TV. Ep01.

I have a collection of (I think) every time Greener Pastures has ever appeared on TV. The following story from a July 1993 episode of Good Morning Australia is the first time images from Greener Pastures were ever broadcast. They really only flash up for a moment and don't actually appear until about three minutes 21 seconds into the piece, but the whole five and a half minute clip is definitely worth watching from an historical point of view anyway.

The story covers the Unrealism Exhibition which showed in the Sydney suburb of Glebe in early July 1993. It was organised primarily by cartoonist Stuart Hale and another fellow whose name I can't remember (though he does appear briefly at about the 1:15 mark). A couple of pages of Greener Pastures #1 featured in the exhibition before that issue had even been printed.

Unfortunately it looks like some footage is missing from the beginning of the story and a little cut off from the end.

Cartoonists interviewed:
Sam Young

Cartoonists also filmed:
Paul Rebec
Gerard Ashwood

Cartoonists work also shown:
Bodine Amerikah
Bill Flowers
Tim McEwen
Glen Lumsden

Cartoonists and/or their work I can't recognise or can't remember also appear. My apologies for any omissions.
Reported by Susie Elelman
Hosted by Bert Newton
Aired July 1993
On Channel 10

08 January, 2012

Review: Kookabarry: The Collected Strips.

Kookabarry: The Collected Strips.
David Follett.

I don't usually buy books that are collections of comic strips. In fact I almost never do. I don't have anything against strips as such, but I'm definitely a comic book (or graphic novel) kind of guy, not a comic strip kind of guy. I bent that rule at a Supanova Sydney by picking up a copy of David Follett's collection of Kookabarry strips from the cartoonist himself. I was buying just about everything else he had for sale, so I thought I may as well get it too. I'm glad I did.

The reason why I was buying up everything Follett had on offer was the brilliant quality of the artwork. As a cartoonist he is world-class, with slick, inky brushwork that invokes the feeling of classic 'toon illustration but still has as a very modern style to it. His art is, in a word, tops!

However, the reason I don't often buy collections like this is that I'm not a fan of the gag-a-day, stop-and-start feeling of reading such things. That being said, Follett had me amused through most of this book, especially with attempting to produce continuing 'story lines' at various times, while effectively gaining multiple laughs from the one situation. That's not a new technique in comic strips, but certainly one used well here.

The strip follows the antics and interactions of a group of outback animals. Louise the koala, Sebastian the platypus, Grub the witchetty grub, and of course Kookabarry the kookaburra, to name only a few of the largish cast. It's one of those strips where, despite the naturalistic setting, playing cards, picture frames and other human props are on hand if needed. Some of the punchlines may be a little obvious, but most of the time Follett delivers the funny, and often he does so with a slight pinch of satire or commentary.

The other notable point is the lovely Aussie feel to the art and writing. I know the animal characters are all obviously Australian, but there's something beyond that in the line-work and dialogue which also marks this as plainly, but not obtrusively, Australian in a great, positive way.

This 52 page book (printed on recycled paper) collects everything that was printed in Sydney's Sunday Telegraph as well as a run of strips not seen before (a satirical dig at modern art), and has a cover price of $8. I'm not sure that you can buy Kookabarry: The Collected Strips by itself, but there is an option to buy it along with some of Follett's other fabulous work on his blog here: davefolletto.blogspot.com (look for the 'COMPLETE COMICS PACKAGE!' in the sidebar). Or drop him a line through his website. It's well worth the read.

Above: An illustration I did for the heck of it featuring Barry, a goanna, and of course Greener Pastures' Trevor.

04 January, 2012

Character study…

An A3 character study.

I really enjoyed pencilling this character study of another of the new characters for Greener Pastures: The End. I was lucky enough to have a sleeping, leather jacket wearing life model on the bus the evening prior during my regular commute sketching session (see here), and that really helped in rendering this fellow's jacket.

03 January, 2012

What I Watched Last Month…

Actually, I'm SOOO far behind on these that it's not what I watched 'last' month as such. They're all written and I'm going to catch up with them over the next little while. Enjoy…

April 2011

(at the movies)
I had such high hopes for this that it's not surprising I wasn't blown away. That's not to say it's a bad film — far from it. It's just that I knew it had so much going for it, and when it was a really good action superhero flick, it wasn't quite enough for me. Really though, that's just me being difficult to please. I'm sure that on a second big-screen viewing I'll simply relax and enjoy it so much more.
I did find the movie a little clumsy. I felt the overall tone was a little rushed and undercooked. It had a real sense of 'this is only the beginning', which is fine, but lost some of the epic I was hoping for because of it I think. The pre-fab town that was the Earthly setting for most of the film, was far too obviously built just to be destroyed — I could tell that even in the trailers. I found the romantic subplot between Thor and Jane far too simplistic and presented as "everyone knows these two will get together, so let's just skip any real relationship development and go straight to the big juicy kiss at the end". Very very lazy, and a little insulting to the audience. Loki was another character that I thought kind of missed the mark. I wished for a truly malevolent and conniving half brother, but instead got someone who turned out to be mostly misguided, seeking his father's approval. It seems that maybe this was supposed to be a precursor to his truly evil downfall in The Avengers movie.
The acting was all good. Hemsworth is Mjolnir-worthy. Portman is convincing as smitten/lusting/crushing Jane. Loki, Odin, etc., all well cast. I would have rathered a much fatter (yes: fatter, not just larger) Volstagg.
My favourite part? The battle with The Destroyer. I could have had twice as much of that. The Destroyer looked absolutely awesome, but was polished off far too quickly, probably for budgetary reasons is my guess. Instead of having a protracted exciting knock-down-drag-out fight, the whole thing was wrapped up kind of boringly in a tornado.
Overall, a very good addition to Marvel's movie universe.

Summer Heights High. (on DVD)
I'm not a big fan of 'cringe comedy', of which this is a perfect example, but my wife was keen to watch the whole thing through, so I thought I'd have a look as well.
I'm not really sure that Chris Lilley is the genius everyone thinks he is. I think he's a really great observer, and that he's able to distill his observations down to their most powerful stereotypes. I think he's very good at presenting what a lot of us have encountered and which we recognise and then laugh uncomfortably at, but I don't think he's giving us any great revelations or insights in what he's presenting to us.
That being said, I was really surprised by the distinct shift in tone that happened in the second last and last episodes for the Jonah character. Once again, it wasn't any amazing skill in doing so, and really it was probably the natural and obvious path for his story arc, but it was surprising at the time, and perhaps even a little brave, rather than going for what could be more cheap laughs considering the tone of the rest of the series. What this really did for me though was throw light on the fact that the other two main characters really had no development whatsoever over the course of the eight episodes.
I think Lilley did a good job portraying these caricatures, but to a great extent they fell into being stereotypes, which he only gets away with by saying it was satire and social commentary. As far as I could see, such commentary was extremely thin on the ground if it was present at all.
I don't think he's a terribly good actor either. He's not even a very good impersonator really, with the same tics and mannerisms appearing across all the acting for all the characters. These characters are painted in very broad strokes too with little in the way of nuance.

Big Fish. (on DVD)
I feel like describing this film as "little", but really, it's not terribly little at all. In fact it's actually quite sweeping, taking place over something like 60 years and quite a wide ranging set of locations. I guess what's making me think this way is that it's really a very human film, and quite quaint and touching in its storytelling and depiction of characters and relationships. You wouldn't necessarily pick this as a Tim Burton film, regardless of mainstays like Helena Bonham Carter and composer Danny Elfman. It's much lighter and more colourful than what I've come to expect from Burton, and although it's obviously fanciful, it's not a fantasy in the way most of his films are. There is a humanity and groundedness to this much more than usual for him, and a wonderful romantic feel.
This is possibly my favourite Tim Burton film, and it might be overlooked by a lot of people because it doesn't seem like typical Burton but it's really well worth the time. Lovely movie.

02 January, 2012

Progress Report 001

Although it's been a while between updates here, rest assured that we are working on the new Greener Pastures story. I guess at this point I'll let you know that the working title for the project is Greener Pastures: The End, and until we settle on something more concrete and suitable, that's how I'll refer to it here.

So what have we been doing on GP:TE? The photo above answers that: writing, scripting, working out what we're going to do to and with Trevor and his cohorts. That photo shows The five part story as it currently stands in its first draft. I reckon we'll do at least one more draft before I start drawing actual pages and then continue to refine the script as we go from that point on too. This year, 2012, will see a lot of progress I'm sure. Stick around and check in here often to see it happening.