First the really good things. Comic creator Kate Brown has been awarded the graphic novel grant from the Arts Foundation Fellowship. This is the first time graphic novels have been included by the Fellowship (the other arts this year being cinematography, puppetry, textile art and jewellery design) and Kate is a very deserving recipient. Anyone opening up the first issue of The DFC would have seen her stunning work on Spider Moon and would have immediately understood why this new weekly comic was going to be so different and wonderful. If you missed it, her strip is being collected by David Fickling Books and will be available in April.
The second great thing is the impending publication by Blank Slate Books of Darryl Cunningham's Psychiatric Tales, compounded by the marvellous fact that Bloomsbury will be publishing it in the States. As I was reading parts of this book on Darryl's blog I remember thinking 'crikey, this could do really well', and I think it's going to. I've always thought that about Darryl's work - ever since reading his Uncle Bob adventures in Alchemist, and especially when reading his more recent Super Sam tales on the Forbidden Planet blog - I loved that so much that I sent it to Ben and David at The DFC and said they should be publishing him.
Both these stories are excellent news for British comics, and I'm really pleased to see two such talented writing-drawing comic creators get wider exposure for their work.
The bad part of this post is the news that legendary French comic creator Jacques Martin died in Switzwerland yesterday (21 January). He wasn't very widely known in the UK, (as far as I'm aware, only two of his Alix books were translated into English in the early seventies) but was a titan of Franco-Belgian comics, having worked as an assistant to Hergé and then going on to have his own work published in Tintin Magazine. While Alix was his biggest success, I was more drawn to the Lefranc books, though my lack of any recognisable French meant I had to make do with a very rudimentary comprehension of the stories - though that was good enough for me as the best I could get. I don't know if any of Martin's works are within the sights of Cinebook, but it would be wonderful if a wider acceptance of bande dessinée beyond Tintin and Asterix opened the door to that opportunity.
There's other comic interest in the issue with an article on the work of Fred Holmes, and there's some lovely art on show in an article on Pearson's Magazine.
While I'm here, a quick plug for three other good things you should check out... Jason Cobley has a brand new Keiko Panda story that he's previewing on his blog, with super art from super Mitz. And Sarah McIntyre and Gary Northfield are doing a sheep swap with their chucklesome woolly counterparts, Vern and Derek. You can see the results at either of their blogs - Sarah's or Derek's (who knew Derek had a blog!?). And lastly, Paul H. Birch has been running his Carter's Column strip over at the Birmingham Mail's Speech Balloons blog. I inked four of the strips in the early/mid 1990s which are now playing, pencilled by the most excellent Gary Crutchley. All worth reading!
The story tells of an elderly couple from a countryside town who make a rare journey into the capital to visit their children, all seemingly successful in the big city, but in fact a rung or two below the glamour that may have been hoped for. Another reality is that their children are too busy (or rather, use that as an excuse) to give their parents much attention, resulting in them, at one point, being packed off to a health spa for a few days. The only one who shows the couple any real amity is Noriko, the young widow of their son, killed in the war (beautifully played by Setsuko Hara).
The pace of the film is wonderfully slow and steady, giving you time to eat up the details of residential post-war Tokyo (almost all low-shot interiors), as well as to reflect on the scenes as you're watching them. Another technique that pulls you into the lives of the characters is the unusual view of people talking directly to you, as if you were the other person in the conversation. This is an Ozu trademark and can, at first, be a little jarring with the dialogue sounding somewhat staccato (because of the cuts), but you quickly become used to it and I find it engaging.
One of the things I love about Japanese cinema from this era is the restrained emotion under dramatic circumstances. I find it also in many classic black and white-era British films, and masterfully done in some of the later silent-era pictures, A Woman of Paris being an excellent example. There is so much over-acting these days and, to me, most television acting is rendered almost unwatchable as yet another character sighs heavily, stutters their words or rolls their eyes in order to hammer their emotions into the viewer. In films such as Tokyo Story, when real emotion does eventually spill over the barrier, it has veritable impact. The same goes for the camera, it just observes, it doesn't need to fly around all over the place, but when it does deviate, it has greater effect (a philosophy I adhere to in my own comic storytelling).
The NFT are currently showing a season of Ozu's films which runs until 27 February 2010.
Eric Lax: "... Do you see yourself as an artist?"
Woody Allen: "I have a very realistic view of myself. Some people think it's too much or even fake humility when I say I haven't made a great movie. When I dramatise my observations of life, they say it's cynicism. But in neither case is it either. I'm telling the truth. I don't see myself as an artist. I see myself as a working filmmaker who chose to go the route of working all the time rather than making my films into some special red carpet event every three years. I'm not cynical and I'm far from an artist. I'm a lucky working stiff."
It's not exactly what I was talking about yesterday, but it nicely follows the theme. And highlighting a problem with talking about this kind of thing, we're using the word 'artist' in a different way. Actually that might bring me back to Travesties, where Tristan Tzara says "Doing the things by which is meant Art is no longer considered the proper concern of the artist. In fact it is frowned upon. Nowadays an artist is someone who makes art mean the things he does. A man may be an artist by exhibiting his hindquarters."
That's enough of the quotes!
No, I'm talking about Artists - those who pursue Art with painting and drawing and who love to do so. I'm coming to terms with the fact that I don't think I really love it. I'm not putting myself down - I can draw quite well, but I feel it's out of necessity rather than the all-consuming passion you're supposed to have.
For a while now I've felt slightly inadequate among the artist bloggers community, guilty even, that I'm not providing daily sketches, little odd one-off strips and funny drawings. These are the things, after all, that that can really build your readership - cute or funny work that gets linked to and loved (by me, for one). I've tried to, every now and then, and almost always failed. In a similar vein, I am not in the habit of keeping a sketchbook and putting my life and all I observe into it. I look at my fellow pensmiths with benign jealousy at their glorious jottings full of characters and observations. "Keep a sketch book with you at all times!" the text books say. But it's just not me. I wish it was, because if I was that committed I'd be a far better draughtsman - and I'd like to be that.
Pages from my sketchbook - I take ages to fill them up, and when I have to sketch my figures are impatiently rendered and minimally functional, but quite lively.
It seems terrible to admit it, but I love not drawing. Drawing is terribly hard work. I only draw when I absolutely have to, and I only have the patience to draw exactly what I need to do to complete my own work. This is key, I think. I've never been a very good collaborator and have seldom indulged in making comics with others. Indeed it was the realisation that I didn't enjoy the commercial aspect of drawing comics (from someone else's script) that led me to create The Rainbow Orchid - if I was going to be drawing a comic strip (all that hard work!) then I'd want it to be stuffed full of all the things I loved - it would be tailored just for me.
I think I used to love drawing as a kid, but then we all do. I guess I carried on because I didn't want to lose that escapism - and though I didn't necessarily have talent, I probably did have some ability in the discipline (or maybe I had some talent, but not the ability - I'm never sure which way round it is). My school reports, where art was concerned, were generally lukewarm. I liked drawing, but could never get to grips with painting or any of the more arty disciplines (sculpture, ceramics, etc.). I wasn't interested. In my final exams, taking art at O-Level, I got a distinctly average 'C', and when I eventually applied to a couple of art colleges, I got refused at both. As it happened I lucked into a place at the second one after someone else dropped out - just because I happened to be there on the day as I was signing up for a part-time graphics course. I didn't last long though - I dropped out myself after six months of patchy attendance, not enjoying the arty stuff as I thought I should.
I'm very aware of my limitations as an artist, not only in ability (or talent, or whatever) but also as far as passion goes. Passion! That's what you're supposed to have, isn't it? I've known this for a while, but hadn't wanted to admit it publicly - what would my artist colleagues say! But actually, coming to terms with this has helped me to understand the kind of artist that I am, rather than the kind I am not.
This is not a negative or angsty post - not at all. I know I'm not a great original artist, but I do, after all, have a talent. It's where my drawing skills and my story-telling skills and my comic-making skills meet, and it's unique to me. I'm master of none of these disciplines separately, but I'm quite good in all of them, and they come together to produce something I'm very proud of, and that I do have a passion for. Enough passion that I will sit and do the hard work of drawing. Enough, even, that I'll get lost in that drawing and forget that I don't enjoy it, and find myself actually enjoying it.