The reaction ranged from calling Tommaso 'entitled' and 'arrogant' to solid support for his rant and empathy for his view. While there may have been a little truth to some of the criticisms (not including the ill-mannered name-calling) I could also sympathise - literally years of intensive work resulting in pitiful financial returns is why so many creators can't make a living from comics alone, or even spare the time to make them.
Of course the negative reaction to this view is because artists and writers are supposed to be grateful for even being able to touch the hem of a career in art, let alone get paid for it. There's still an attitude that such vocations should be done 'for the love of it' (as if you can't get paid for something you also love), even going so far, sometimes, as viewing any financial remuneration as a form of 'selling out'. Little understood among many outsiders is the fact of the increased burden on mental health that goes with doing something you are so passionate about, often resulting in an extreme love/hate relationship with the thing you're supposed to comfortably enjoy. Making comics is rarely a comfortable occupation.
It is true that no one is owed an audience. There's a market out there, and success in it can largely depend on whether you've made something that large numbers of people actually want to read. But first that market has to be made aware of the art in question and there are many stories of wonderful comics dying on the vine thanks to poor awareness or marketing. It's a challenge for both creators and publishers.
Thankfully, Tomasso's post, as well as opening a useful discussion, helped to heighten awareness of Spy Seal and resulted in an increase in sales, eventually leading to the publication of four issues and, in January 2018, a collected album.
It's a great book and I heartily recommend it. The drawing is very clean, almost severely clear line, but still retains charm and enough character to feel alive with movement. The design aesthetic is lovely. It's funny and mysterious in just the right measures and, while the obvious comparison may be with Hergé (there are numerous direct nods to specific Tintin adventures), it also put me in mind of the super Michael Crawford film, Condorman. Tommaso cites Danger Mouse as another influence, and I can see that too.
Spy Seal - The Corten-Steel Phoenix is published by Image Comics, runs to 96 pages, and retails for £11.99. I hope there'll be more to come.
I also want to give mention to Colin Mathieson's latest collection, Moments of Adventure 2. This was published through Accent UK last year and collects some of Colin's contributions to their anthology titles such as Robots, Pirates, Monsters and Remembrance Day.
I really love Colin's short stories, they always work well and contain a lot of heart, the theme often lingering beyond the closing of the covers. The colouring, this time by Aljoša Tomiĉ, adds a lot to Colin's art style and I hope there will be more work to come in this vein.
Moments of Adventure 1 and 2 are available from the Accent UK website.
And if you ever find yourself near the National Army Museum in London, make sure you check out Colin's work in their 'Story of British Military Comics' display, for which he worked on several pages (with colourist Matt Soffe) - a fantastic thing.
On a personal level, I'm pleased to see Corben recognised - he has long been a favourite of mine, though I must admit I have not been following his work over the past 18 years or so. I was, I think, 16 when I first came across his art - seeing just a tame panel or two from his 1978 "illustrated epic adventure of fantasy and magic", Neverwhere, I put it on my Christmas list and my younger brother bravely bought it for me. Seeing the full book for the first time was a bit of a shock for this rather sheltered young lad - most of the characters went around totally naked, baring their weighty anatomy without so much as a blush.
But once I got over that (and making sure my Mum never saw it), the main aspect that struck me was the solid vivaciousness of the art - the painting was incredible (how could someone produce so many pages of such detail and intensity?) and the characters were alive, squashy flesh, elastic muscle, poses I hadn't seen in comics before, expressions that conveyed everything, all bathed in light and shadow that made the drawings feel like tactile models.
The fight scenes in particular stood out - they were bone-crunchingly real, enough to make you wince while reading. Faces concertinaed under the weight of a fist, leg bones snapped from the force of a thrust kick that looked as though Corben must have studied martial arts at some point.
Corben quickly became my favourite artist (a panel here and there in my comic Realm of the Sorceress was directly copied from his work) and I sought out more of his stuff - not easy in that pre-internet era, when much of what was available was sold by specialists far away across the Atlantic. I got hold of the Complete Underground volumes, as well as Mutant World, Werewolf and Bloodstar. I discovered a sequel to Neverwhere, Muvovum, a work I found difficult to digest due to the unflinching physical detail of the monsters depicted.
Another to keep away from my Mum was The Bodyssey, though I preferred some of his more mainstream adaptations such as The Last Voyage of Sinbad (with Jan Strnad), Vic & Blood (Harlan Ellison), and, produced later, one of my favourite novels, William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland.
I've no doubt some of his work could be described as quite sexist, though perhaps it could also be argued that the men had equal rights when it came to nudity, and, contrary to what Le Figaro says, many of his female characters were intelligent, strong, and usually got the better of the often simpleton men - but you have to read the stories to see that. Then again, perhaps it doesn't help too much when viewed within an industry (comics) that already overwhelmingly objectifies women within its most visible genre (superheroes).
Another favourite, from the Collected Underground volumes, was Rowlf, the tale of a girl and her pet wolf - the Japanese genius of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, liked it so much he started to adapt it as a possible film project. One can only dream what that would have been like!
I drifted away from Corben after a while - perhaps much of his work was more suited to the male psyche when in its late-teen and early-twenties, and my interest in horror, especially graphically violent horror, quickly disappeared - though it really was his art that astounded me more than any attraction to the titillation or story content (a mixed bag) - and that has stayed with me to this day, particularly in the way I think about fight scenes in my own comics.
So, congratulations, Mr Corben - I should perhaps go and see what changes the new century has brought to your amazing work, and I hope there are many more projects yet to come.
Partly this was because I did get a handful of comments of the 'who does he think he is?' kind, and I fully agree with that. I am no big name, no famous dude, and no wise guru. But the second 'thought' on my list was:
You can learn from anyone, no matter what their level of expertise, no matter what their age is. Stay humble and be generous.
And while it's difficult to be both humble and promote a self-written blog post, I am publishing a follow-up in the spirit of hoping others might find some of these thoughts resonate with them in some way. It's quite likely you'll agree with a few and disagree vehemently with others. This is a personal list.
As I said last time, these are extracted from a file I've kept on my desktop for a number of years that I add to whenever a thought occurs that I want to keep. Some are born out of my own experience, and some are from observing fellow creators. All of them should be taken with a pinch of salt, and none are any kind of gospel!
The great thing about making comics is that if you do a not-too-good drawing then there's another opportunity with the very next panel.
Comics - the art is the page, not the panel; the reason is the story, not the art.
Personally, and generally, the fewer creators who have worked on a book the more interested I am. The optimum is one.
There is no quick fix to success. You need kung-fu - effort!
Once your book has been released into the wild, it must fend for itself. Let go.
What your peers think about your work is of interest, but what your readers think of your work is of value.
Don't 'write women'. Write people
Getting bad reviews as well as good ones is a sign that your book is reaching people outside the comfort zone of your friends and family. This is a good thing.
Don't give away your comics - people don't appreciate free stuff as much as the stuff that they've paid for. Give a discount, maybe, but your work is always worth something.
Publishers paying creators for original new comics, made to be comics, shows the health and value of a national comic industry.
To keep an artist going, give praise at least once a week.
If you really want to know a subject you mustn't just read about it, you must write about it.
In my comics the 'camera' is generally an observer, not an active participant, but this is just a preference, not a law.
Don't believe anything a publisher promises unless it is in black and white in a contract. And sometimes, even then ...
If you're drawing an interior scene, draw a little plan of the set, even if you don't see everything in the comic - it helps to keep the background consistent and you'll know what should appear in each view.
If there's something you find difficult to draw, make sure you include it in your story.
Every time I finish a story I want to out-do myself on the next one.
I favour the 'Victorian ankle' theory of drama and excitement. If you show too much, so much of the time, then dramatic events have less impact. Use action well.
The primary purpose of a publisher is not to be your friend, but to make money out of you.
It can take ten good reviews to wipe out the taste of a single bad one.
I want to make stories for swimming in, not paddling in.
Dialogue can be just as compelling as action.
People often say "it'll all be worth it - one day they'll turn your book into a film!". I'd rather they said "what a brilliant comic - it's just right!".
Would you like to know the magic ingredients that go to make a wonderful story? There are three: blood, sweat, and tears.
It's not the kind of pen you use that will improve your drawing, it's the kind of brain you use. How do you make your brain better for drawing? Draw, and keep drawing.
Children are not the next generation of comics readers. They're comics readers right now.
When people are critical of your work you either want to give up or you want to work harder and do better. Choose the second option and you'll have a greater chance of success.
You have to put yourself in luck's way in order to be lucky. Get your work out there.
Sometimes you have a wonderful idea, full of possibilities. Then you tell someone about it and it turns to ashes.
Yes, I do manga. I also do fumetti, bande dessine, manhua, historietas, strips, chitrakatha, serier ... Comics!
It doesn't matter how little it is, just make sure you do something productive each day, even half-an-hour. You'll feel better.
Gamers, stamp collectors, comics fans; these are not tribes, they're groups of individuals each with a hundred different other interests too. Don't lump.
There's great satisfaction in making a new story out of old facts.
No one sneezes in a story unless it means something.
Nostalgia and tradition are wonderful things - but don't hang on to them too tightly. Use them when you need to, but let them go just as easily.
You don't have a 'strong male character' so let's get rid of the 'strong female character' description too. We're all brave, cowardly, strong and weak. Actions should define character.
No one is owed a readership. Every single reader you gain is earned by the daily effort of creating your comic. If you have them, they are deserved.
Even your biggest fans will forget you once they put your book back on the shelf.
Don't be your own enemy with negativity and self-pity. It's difficult enough to have any kind of success without holding yourself back. Be your own best ally.
The less you charge someone, the more work they'll ask you to do.
Be an awkward author sometimes - be nice, but care about the details of your work.
Don't wait to be 'in the zone' before you start drawing. It won't happen. The only way to get 'in the zone' is to start drawing, usually when you're not 'in the zone'.
Is that artist better or worse then you? It doesn't matter, but I'd suggest you get off their path and get back on to your own!
My mission is to find people who like my work, not to force people to like my work.
To keep the fire burning you have to feed it with pages of art. It will keep going for a while without being fed, but before too long it will go out. Then you you have to make a big effort to rekindle that fire - it won't just happen. Best to keep it going.
Too many opinions can dilute an idea to almost nothing.
It's not how good you are at drawing, it's how good you are at ideas.
If you need to draw an animal, don't just look at still photos but look at videos of how they move as well - it will give you a feel for the creature and the drawing will be better.
Uphill: plotting, scripting, roughs and pencils; downhill: inking, colouring and lettering.
My favourite comic pages, from my own pen, are all due to storytelling, not the art. Even just a little success on the page makes it for me.
Art is exposing your vulnerability, and what's more human than being vulnerable?
Don't dismiss the power of understatement in comics, not everything has to be overacted with extreme gestures.
There's no such thing as a 'boring layout' for comics - it just has to be clear. If you think the layout is boring then the story is not doing its job.
The background is the Fifth Beatle. By that I mean sometimes it helps to think of environment as another character in the scene.
Don't fight the world - just do the best you can, with the things you're good at, in your own little corner of it. Lots of people doing that will have a greater effect than one person trying to do everything.
See part one here.
Jacobs had drawn his last book, Les 3 Formules du Professeur Satō, in 1972 (album, 1977) but the second volume of this adventure remained only in rough form at his death in 1987. It was completed by Bob De Moor and finally published in 1990.
Dargaud bought up the rights to publish Blake and Mortimer in 1992, and within a year writer Jean Van-Hamme and Benoit were meeting at Angoulême to discuss the scenario for a new book. Benoit found the work enjoyable but gruelling, and took three years to produce the album. Their next book (L'Étrange Rendez-Vous, 2001) took five years, and they were beaten into publication by a second creative team, drafted in to keep things on schedule, when Yves Sente and André Juillard brought La Machination Voronov (2000) to the public.
Benoit turned down the invitation to draw another book, though he did offer himself up as a writer, sketching out the plot for an immediately post-Swordfish adventure with the working title of Resurrection (2006), which Dargaud declined. Sente and Juillard went on to produce five more Blake and Mortimer volumes, while Van Hamme teamed up with René Sterne, Chantal De Spiegeleer and Antoine Aubin for two more (a further volume was authored by Jean Dufaux and illustrated by Aubin and Etienne Schréder in 2013).
Benoit did not have to make a great leap to put himself into the style of the series' originator, Edgar P. Jacobs, as he had been a devotee of the ligne claire since the 1980s, inspired after seeing the work of Joost Swarte and joining a new wave of clear-line stylists such as Floc'h and Yves Chaland. Before that he'd been a film student and assistant TV director, turned onto comics by the art of Robert Crumb, and passing through heavy Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Jacques Tardi phases. His clear line creation Ray Banana let him indulge himself in his passion for 1950s Americana.
Ted Benoit's Blake and Mortimer books are masterful and meticulous and he was a very worthy successor to Jacobs' legacy. I saw him speak at the Institut Français in 2008 where he spoke with passion for his love of the comic art form, though I do recall him seeming somewhat weary of the time and effort it took to produce an album, but determined to identify himself as his own man, not merely a supplicant to the might of the likes of Hergé and Jacobs - and he was justified, I think, in having that attitude.
His two Blake and Mortimer albums are published in English by Cinebook as the Francis Blake Affair and The Strange Encounter (both 2008).
It's been enormous fun and a really interesting project (you can read a little interview with me over at the beframeus Facebook page). I've learned a lot from doing it, but overall it's been a success, I think. And there's been some really nice feedback - a big thank you to everyone who tweeted, shared or commented, and especially to all those who took photos of the screens - it's been great seeing them out there.
Here's a few of the screens, as photographed by a variety of Tweeters and Facebookers (as credited). Arni's Epic Adventures runs until the end of November - let me know if you spot him!
Follow Arni's adventure on Twitter with the hashtag #ArniStory.
Arni is a little red bird (a Pine Grosbeak, actually) who was having a lovely snooze in his favourite tree when he was rudely awoken by the sound of a chainsaw and his tree was carted off on the back of a lorry. Arni loves that tree, so he's decided to follow it, but that turns out not to be as easy as he'd hoped, and a series of exciting little adventures ensue.
The strip was commissioned by JCDecaux - "the number one outdoor advertising company in the world" and provider of those digital screens you see everywhere at railway stations, shopping malls and airports. The basic concept and the character idea is theirs, while the realisation of the idea (script, design and artwork) comes from me. He's appearing on JCDecaux screens across the UK, one strip per working day (with catch-ups at the weekend) throughout all of November - twenty strips in all.
As I write, I've still got the last few pages to draw - a little nerve-wracking as the story began its run on Monday November 2nd - but I'm really enjoying it. Even as I wrote the script I knew I was setting myself a challenge with a fair number of testing environments to draw, including depictions of lorries, ships, cranes, and city scenes, many of them from unusual angles - and all with a rather tight deadline. But nothing gets you to do your best like a story that pushes your abilities - and a tight deadline!
A further challenge has been that JCDecaux have two different screen formats ... the Digital-6 is a portrait screen and the Transvision is landscape. As D6 screens vastly outnumber the TVs, I've drawn primarily for that mode, but have then had to re-compose the artwork for the longer, narrower format, often having to cut away some of my artwork (wince!). For me, the definitive versions are the D6 pages, but it's the more screen-friendly TVs that are being published online.
JCDeacux host thousands of screens across the country, many at major railway stations, roadside locations and big shopping complexes, reaching half of the UK population (they reckon 30-40 million). The strip is wordless and appears on screens for 5, 6 or 20 seconds and is being billed as "the first graphic arts story to be commissioned for digital screens" (the big ones, anyway!).
A big thank you to Russell Gower and his colleagues at JCDecaux for giving me the opportunity to work on such an exciting project. I hope you'll come across Arni on your travels throughout the following month - you can follow the strip's progress on Twitter through beframeus and ArniBird - and if you see a screen, do let me know, and tweet a photo if you can!
This idea first entered my brain back in 2011 when I saw some beautiful photos of an Asterix exhibition and noticed, not necessarily the extra detail, but the amount of space available to draw in each panel. I always felt a bit crammed-in working at A3, especially when putting down 10 or 12 panels per page. And when drawing smaller full-length figures, and buildings, detail and accuracy does start to get a bit smudgy.
I've also been moving away from the ever-reliable Hunt-107 nib and have become quite attached to the Tachikawa Maru, a finer stylus, a little more flexible, but also allowing for a much more comfortable holder.
With the increase in paper size (actually I'll still be drawing on A3, just landscape in two parts) I have had to update my little set of home-made tools.
The first of these (above left) is what I call a marginator. It's a bit of card cut exactly to the width of my page borders, allowing me to quickly mark up the drawing area of the page without having to count the millimetres from a ruler. I know that's not exactly an arduous task in itself but, when you're doing lots of pages, anything to speed up the repetitive bits is a help.
My first version (for A3) was straight - this new improved model has a 90-degree angle on it, so I can place it in the corner of the page and mark two measurements at once.
Next to that (above right) is my balloon space guide. When I letter the completed page it is at A4, but I need to know how much room to leave for balloons when drawing my bigger original art. This allows me to measure the depth of balloons at A2-scale according to how many lines of text there are. I know how many lines to allow for because I do A4 roughs and letter them first.
I have a little print-out of all the measurements I'll need for working at A2 (above), just so I don't have to keep working out how big half or quarter of a page is, and also so I can quickly reference my basic panel sizes (third, quarter, fifth of a tier, etc). I rarely use those exact measurements, but it's a starting point from which I can go bigger or smaller, depending on what I need. My old A3 measurements are on the left.
The first scene of the new story is three pages long, and though I won't be doing this with the entire book (you'll be relieved to hear!) I am going to be blogging the process of this scene quite closely - just to get things going. Here are the thumbnails ...
One - MULP: Sceptre of the Sun. This is an adventure comic crossing the territory of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain ... all that lovely stuff, but with an extra unique feature - all the characters are mice! The story is intriguing and exciting, and the artwork is detailed and gorgeous. It's written by Matt Gibbs, with art by Sara Dunkerton and lettering by Jim Campbell. There's lots to love in it - 1920s cars and motorbikes, archaeological mysteries and clues from the ancient past, mice riding lizards, beetles as beasts of burden, wooden aeroplanes, a classy villainess, and lots more (including a background appearance by a certain Julius and Lily in mouse form). It's right up my street. The first issue (of five) will be released on 7th May 2014 and you can find out more at the Mulp website.
Two - Kurt Dunder. Perhaps you recall that I wrote a review of the only Kurt Dunder book to be published in English - Kurt Dunder in Tirol - back in 2009? Well, now Danish author Frank Madsen has made the very first volume available in English too, Kurt Dunder in Africa, in digital format from Comixology. This is terrific news, and as soon as I get my mitts on the family iPad I'm going to download it for myself!
Three - Unfinished City. This is a detective thriller set in the criminal underworld of Former Yugoslavia and it looks very nice. You can read the first 20 pages here. The art, by Robert Solanović, is wonderful and gave me a hint of Simon Gane, and a pinch of Paul Harrison-Davies - both favourites of mine, but it's all its own thing. And the story is enthralling and very readable, by a UK writer who I have long-admired as an excellent story maker, Ben Dickson, this time in collaboration with Sylvija Martinović. Please support the project's Kickstarter campaign - I want that book in my hands!