Friday, May 4, 2012

Word Balloons 14, April 2012

This will probably be only issue of Word Balloons produced this year, with the next slated for March/ April of 2013.

“George Miller would introduce me as ‘Head Geek’.”
An interview with Wai Chew “Chewie” Chan.
Conducted by Philip Bentley, March 2012

Since making his home in Australia in his late teens, Chewie Chan has set about working in a number of different capacities across the graphic story spectrum. Receiving his initial break as a storyboard artist on Happy Feet he has subsequently worked on more films, as the Graphic Novel Supervisor for film director George Miller, and in main-stream American comics. But Chewie has always paired his creative work with that of a comic advocate. He super-vises the extensive graphic novel section at Sydney bookshop Kinokuniya and, more recently, has set him-self up as a ‘comic consultant’ advising librarians and booksellers on how to establish a graphic novel section, and talking up the medium at conferences and universities. Chewie is therefore well placed to make informed comment on the medium as well as having an entertaining story to tell.

PB: How much of a difference is there between comics and storyboards? Clearly there is major difference in the purpose they are being put to. Comics are designed as entertainment, storyboards have a more functional purpose to explain to the director, cameraman, actors etc. how the action is going to flow.
CC: There is quite a difference. They both come from the same source, namely the visual language, but as they have different purposes you produce them differently. Having done comics I spoke the language, but how you express it, the images you choose are totally different. I used to think with comics you would have a sequence running in your head and you would grab freeze frames from it. I have ultimately decided that was the wrong way to go because you end up with a static work. So in comics you need to amalgamate action so that it appears to be fluid and in the moment all the time. Whereas in storyboards it is very much about grabbing freeze frames.
PB: Is this notion of fluidity for comic breakdowns more applicable to dynamic action work as opposed to an interior drama say?
CC: No, it is probably needed more in quieter works to keep the reader involved the whole time. The reader needs to think that it’s a moving narrative. Storyboards aren’t about ‘good’ or finely rendered art, they’re about communicative art. But like any language the better you speak it the better people understand it. So the better you draw the more communicative your ‘boards will be. And I have to say that the ‘boards for Happy Feet looked amazing, even if I do say so myself. [Laughs] But it wasn’t just my work, there were eight of us involved. But, you know, it was an academy award winning film, so I took that and ran with it. And not long after that I got work on Superman Returns (2006). I was there for over a year ending up being the longest serving ‘board artist on it. I also got to do the opening credit sequence, which again was unfortunately deleted. [Laughs] That was done as an actual comic which was used in a sequence where a kid was shown opening it, much like in the original Superman movie. After that I used my Superman Returns credit to go to the States, to Marvel and DC, and see if I could get work from them as a result of it.
PB: So what are your feelings on the future of comics?
CC: I think our best days are ahead of us.
PB: What will be the fate of floppies [traditional pamphlet-style comics]? Are they dead in the water?
CC: Umm…no. The format will have to change, but the monthly nature should stay. We are actually lucky to have that monthly schedule built-in to the format. It’s monthly advertising we don’t pay for. It means that people think of comics every month. We don’t have to remind them. Someone like Tom Clancy, even if he brings out a book every year, will still need to do a certain amount of advertising to reintroduce himself to the market. So in order to keep the monthly schedule you would need to keep things cheaper. Either as a floppy or a short app. It needs to be short and quick so people get it. That’s why TV shows work. What DC have done with the app for The New 52 [the relaunch of DC’s superhero line comprising fifty-two titles that are released as print and digital versions simultaneously] is I think brilliant. It’s the sort of thing which will bring people back to the market. The biggest challenge is to grow the market because it is so tiny compared to its potential. Once we get a billion people in the world reading comics then we can tap into other things and not worry about relying on the monthly schedule. To get there we need the app. More people will be brought in by the app than any other method I can think of. But as you still need to produce the work you may as well produce a printed version.
PB: What about print-based graphic novels?
CC: Always going to stay. Certainly in our lifetimes. Even with iPads. Their main use is if people want to travel light. Hands down people still prefer books.

The rest of the interview can be found in Word Balloons 14.

“It’s about being creative. Who cares if it’s a comic or a painting.”
An interview with Trevor Weekes.
Conducted via email by Philip Bentley, February 2012

For a brief period of time in 1980 Australia had not one but two adult-oriented comic anthologies.
After a couple of decades of little comic publishing activity the debut issue of Minotaur’s Inkspots had been released in June then, later in the year, mainstream publisher Angus & Robinson made their own pitch with Outcast magazine. Comprising seventy pages, with twenty-eight in colour, Outcast was a bold attempt at a quality product. But as it turned out the early ‘80s were not a particularly advantageous time for publishing this sort of magazine. Inkspots, largely financed by its editors, ran at a loss for four issues before expiring (see next article). Outcast, produced with harder commercial expect-ations, lasted but the one issue.
In an attempt to learn more about its brief tenure I tracked down one of its principal contributors Trevor Weekes. As I discovered he is someone who has had a greater connection to the graphic story medium than I was aware, whilst forging a distinguished career as a painter, sculptor and academic.

PB: Your recollections of the beginnings of Outcast?
TW: The year after I finished art school (1979) I shared a house with Louis (Luciano) Silvestro who was doing the “Eric and Douglas” comic for Revs motor-cycle magazine. [A fairly outré full page strip in a style vaguely reminiscent of British cartoonist Leo Baxendale about a bike rider (Douglas) and his side-car koala sidekick (Eric). It appears to have run from the late 1970s to early 80s. There was a collected edition in 1983. Ed.] I think Tony was the editor and Louis introduced me to him. Tony moved to A&R and had an idea about an adult fantasy & science fiction comic magazine. He pitched the idea to his boss Richard Walsh. He went for it, so we started doing stories. Originally it was just Louis and myself, but gradually others were added.
PB: Where did you draw your inspiration from?
TW: Heavy Metal had a big influence on us at the time and Outcast was based on that format. [Heavy Metal began in 1977 mainly reprinting European strips in translation. Ed.] I was also aware of Metal Hurlant, Pilote and other publications coming out of Europe. I guess my persuasion toward European comics came out of the interest in drawing and the fantastic characters the French artists had developed. Arzach was a single story basically and that was it. It left me wanting more but there wasn’t any. So I would move on to another story and another character. But the source of inspiration was always Moebius
PB: Thoughts on the completed work then and now? From my perspective there is a shared stylistic quality of a storybook/surrealist bent which helps the overall unity of the mag, but may have made it less saleable to comic fans weaned on superheroes and barbarians.
TW: I think it was an adventurous move and as you have so rightly pointed out perhaps misguided in terms of the projected audience. I think Australia was a hard market at that time and is still not an easy market to release comics in. I think there is an audience out there but it remains small in relation to other countries. So it was a brave move.
PB: How was its cancellation broached to you? Your reaction?
TW: My recollection of that is quite vague. I think there was disappointment but as it was an experiment I was rather casual about its success. If it was successful I would do more, if not it was a matter of getting on with other projects. I did do some more comic strips that were done for nothing in particular and in just the last few years I have returned to doing stories, graphic and animation, not only for Scribble [a comic anthology edited by Trevor and published by the University of Newcastle] but for my own solo graphic novels. I feel I do them better now. At art school I was hassled for being too illustrative and too graphic. I don’t see the division. It is all about being creative and who cares if it is a comic or a painting. If people like it they will want to read it or buy it or even just appreciate it.

The rest of the interview can be found in Word Balloons 14.

My Life in Comics
Addendum– Inkspots: the final reckoning
Philip Bentley

Regular readers will recall that as part of my personal reflections on the Australian comic scene over the past forty years, I detailed the circumstances surrounding the publication of Australia’s first adult-oriented comic anthology Inkspots, in the 1980s. At the time I wrote these articles (WB 5 & 7) my sources were mainly my memories, augmented by diaries and letters from the period. Most of the documen-tation from the publication had ended up with fellow editor, Greg Gates, whom I assumed had disposed of it long ago. However during Greg’s move to Adelaide (referred to last issue) much of this came to light enabling a more accurate picture to be constructed. It is my eventual aim to revise all ten chapters of my recollections into book form This is more to enable late comers to access the information without having to buy all issues of WB, rather than expecting loyal readers to have to double dip to access the extra information. So I present some of the extra Inkspots related information here. Whilst it may be a bit too fine-grained for some, I know there are readers who appreciate this level of detail.

The rest of the article can be found in Word Balloons 14.

Plus reviews of Terra 1 (Black House, 2011) by various, Keith McDougall’s The Many Faces of George Grosz 1 (Degenerate Comix, 2011), Hidden by Mirranda Burton (Black Pepper Press, 2011), Ubby’s Underdog’s: The Legend of the Phoenix Dragon by Brenton McKenna (Magabala Press, 2011), Frank Candiloro’s The Testament of Dr Zeitpunkt 1 & 2 (Franken Comics, 2011), Ballantyne: Where hidden rivers flow, and The Return of the Night Eagle by Peter Foster (Pitikia Press, 2012)