Dave Gibbons

Practitioners 48: Frank Miller (Part 2)

With the monumental success of the Dark Knight Returns at DC, Miller himself had returned to Marvel as the writer of Daredevil. Following his self contained story ‘Badlands’ pencilled by John Buscema in #219 and writing #226 with departing writer Dennis O’ Neill, Miller teamed up with David Mazzucchelli, crafting a seven-issue story arc that redefined the character of Daredevil. Miller often takes his marks from his previous projects and this was no different. Having offered DC’s Batman a dark and brooding future in the Dark Knight Returns it came now for Miller to obliterate Daredevil’s present. Daredevil: Born Again (#227-233) chronicled the hero’s catholic background and the destruction and rebirth of his secret identity, Manhattan Attorney Matt Murdock, at the hands of malevolent Wilson Fisk, also known as the Kingpin. Taking Murdock to the edge by losing his job, his identity, his ability to continue as Daredevil – Miller had Murdock do something unexpected. Cope. Rather than destroy Murdock completely and have him fight back from the bottom, Miller proved him a different type of hero. Not unbreakable and ultimately vulnerable but unflappable. This wasn’t the last time that indominitable trait has surfaced in Miller’s central figures. All others afterwards have stood defiantly in the centre of battlefields against unstoppable numbers or survive being hit by cars amidst rain mottled gunfire on a darkened street. Though Murdock was the last of these figures that could exist in the real world, a lawyer and a reasonable human being. Whether it be Leonidas of Sparta with his unbounded rage, Marv with his alcoholism and violent compunctions or Robocop with his unrelenting pursuit of the law the other characters are subjects of their worlds, also created by Miller. Outside of them they would be redundant. As such, Miller’s work on Daredevil is probably his most subtle.

Miller and artist Bill Sienkiewicz produced the graphic novel Daredevil: Love and War in 1986. Featuring the character of the Kingpin, it indirectly bridges Miller’s first run on Daredevil and Born Again by explaining the change in the Kingpin’s attitude toward Daredevil. Miller and Sienkiewicz also produced the eight-issue miniseries Elektra: Assassin for Epic Comics. Set outside regular Marvel continuity, it featured a wild tale of cyborgs and ninjas, while expanding further on Elektra’s background. Both of these projects were well-received critically. Elektra: Assassin was praised for its bold storytelling, but neither it nor Daredevil: Love and War had the influence or reached as many readers as Dark Knight Returns or Born Again.

Miller’s final major story in this period was in Batman issues 404-407 in 1987, another collaboration with Mazzucchelli. Titled Batman: Year One, this was Miller’s version of the origin of Batman in which he retconned many details and adapted the story to fit his Dark Knight continuity. Proving to be hugely popular, this was as influential as Miller’s previous work and a trade paperback released in 1988 remains in print and is one of DC’s best selling books and adapted as an original animated film video in 2011.

Miller had also drawn the covers for the first twelve issues of First Comics English language reprints of Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub. This helped bring Japanese manga to a wider Western audience.

During this time, Miller (along with Marv Wolfman, Alan Moore and Howard Chaykin) had been in dispute with DC Comics over a proposed ratings system for comics. Disagreeing with what he saw as censorship, Miller refused to do any further work for DC, and he would take his future projects to the independent publisher Dark Horse Comics. From then on Miller would be a major supporter of creator rights and be a major voice against censorship in comics.

Miller, like many of his colleagues had had enough and declared that he would only work through Dark Horse, preferable because it was an independent publisher. Miller completed one final piece for Marvel’s mature imprint, Epic comics. Elektra lives again was a fully painted one-shot graphic novel, written and drawn by Miller and finished by his long term partner Lynn Varley (who had coloured the Dark Knight). Miller has had a complicated relationship with Elektra, having killed her off once but brought her back several times since – of which this is the first in a story of Elektra’s resurrection and Daredevil’s attempts to find her. Released in March 1990 it marked the beginning of a decade of great change for Miller. This was the first time that Miller had inked for himself, dispensing of the brilliant Klaus Janson.

Meanwhile Miller was working on an amazing piece of pulp comic book artwork, Hard Boiled. In it, Carl Seltz, an insurance investigator, discovers he is also a homicidal cyborg tax collector who happens to be the last hope of an enslaved robot race. Drawn by the inimitable Geoff Darrow, Miller’s script encouraged incredibly meticulously detailed design work and a happy nightmare for any eyeballs brave enough to brush over it. Effectively, Where’s Wally if you are looking for a robot nipple or a discarded bullet casing instead of a fool in a bobble hat, it is a visual feast. Published by Dark Horse Comics Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow won the 1991 Eisner Award for Best Writer/ Artist for Hard Boiled. A largely forgotten piece now outside of collectors, Hard Boiled was a diamond made of corrugated Iron and blasted with a blowtorch.

At the same time again, Miller teamed up as writer with another even more legendary artist, Dave Gibbons and produced Give Me Liberty. The story is set in a dystopian near-future where the United States have split into several extremist factions, and tells the story of Martha Washington, a young American girl from a public housing project called “The Green” ( Chicago’s Cabrini–Green). The series starts with Martha’s birth and sees her slowly grow up from someone struggling to break free of the public housing project, to being a war hero and major figure in deciding the fate of the United States. After three series, according to Dave Gibbons himself at last years Kapow! – Martha Washington is dead. But those three series allowed Miller to flex his satirical muscle, using it forcefully on the political structure of the United States and its major corporations.

Falling out of love with the movie making process during ‘interference’ on his script writing duties on Robocop 2 and 3, Millr wrote Robocop vs. Terminator with art from Superman artist Walt Simonson. In 2003, Miller’s screenplay for Robocop 2 was adapted by Steven Grant for Avatar Press’s Pulsaar Print. Illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp, the series is called Frank Miller’s Robocop and contains elements of plots from both Robocop 2 and 3.

In 1991, Miller started work on his first story set in Sin City. His time in LA had brought about the same effect as his time in Hell’s Kitchen New York, only this time with an imaginary city populated by every dreg and lowlife you can think of. Every corner now a dank shadow for a mugger or rapist to wait, every street a setting for a murder, a shooting or a car chase. This was noir darker and with only two colours consistent throughout. Sharp black against a savage white. Using innovative silhouette techniques by colouring in the shadow to form figures, buildings and compositions.

The first Sin City ‘yarn’ was released in 1995 under the name The Hard Goodbye. Sin City proved to be Miller’s main project for the rest of the decade, as, responding to demand, Miller continued to put out more Sin City yarns. With it, Miller helped to revitalise the crime comics genre – giving way to other sprawling crime epics like Azzarello and Risso’s excellent 100 Bullets.

Teaming up with John Romita Jr, an artist comparable in style to Miller himself, Miller returned to the Daredevil canon. This time rewriting again the creation story of Daredevil and provided additional detail to his beginnings. Miller also returned to superheroes by writing issue #11 of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. In 1995, Miller and Darrow on Big Guy and Rusty the Toy Robot, published as a two-part miniseries by Dark Horse comics. in 1999 it became a cartoon series on Fox Kids. During this period, Miller became a founding member of the imprint Legend, under which many of his Sin City works were released, via Dark Horse, Miller did any number of covers for many titles in the Comics Greatest World / Dark Horse Heroes line – immeasurably valuable as one of the most recognisable and popular artists in the world.

Written and illustrated by Frank Miller with painted colors by Varley, 300 was a 1998 comic-book miniseries, released as a hardcover collection in 1999, retelling the Battle of Thermopylae and the events leading up to it from the perspective of Leonidas of Sparta. It played on the most basic Miller themes to great of success – those of honour, self determination and bravery in the face of great adversity. 300 was particularly inspired by the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, a movie that Miller watched as a young boy. In 2007, 300 was adapted by director Zack Snyder into a successful film, with Miller and Varley’s visuals the basis of the look of the entire film. Entire panels were effectively populated and animated digitally in a way that saw it leave an indelible mark on cinema goers minds. Even now, 5 years later, 300 is the film that prolific actor Gerard Butler is asked about most – most notably because of the notorious ‘eight pack’ on his stomach developed in order to match Miller’s incredible artwork.

Finally putting aside his dispute with DC, Miller picked up the pen once more for the giant and wrote the sequel to The Dark Knight, Batman: Dark Knight Strikes Again. Released as a three issue miniseries it was universally panned by critics and fans for beinga shadow of it’s predecessor and introducing too many obscure characters. In 2005, he took on writing duties for another alternative universe Batman story for All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, with Jim Lee on pencils. This also proved to not turn out as intended – somehow the characters unsympathetic and uneven – the Dark Knight himself unpredictable and aggressive. Jim Lee’s visuals also struggled to put across the hard edged nature of Miller’s script which hindered the expression inherent in it. A rare team up, it was perhaps ill advised – although both are clearly at the same level in their careers, neither had worked with someone like the other.

Miller has said he opposes naturalism in comic art. In an interview on the documentary Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman, he said, “People are attempting to bring a superficial reality to superheroes which is rather stupid. They work best as the flamboyant fantasies they are. I mean, these are characters that are broad and big. I don’t need to see sweat patches under Superman’s arms. I want to see him fly.”

Miller’s previous attitude towards movie adaptations was to change after he and Robert Rodriguez made a short film based on a story from Miller’s Sin City entitled “The Customer is Always Right”. Miller was pleased with the result, leading to him and Rodriguez directing a full length film, Sin City using Miller’s original comics panels as storyboards. The film was released in the U.S. on April 1, 2005. The film’s success brought renewed attention to Miller’s Sin City projects. Similarly, a film adaptation of 300, directed solely by Zack Snyder, brought new attention and controversy to Miller’s original comic book work. A sequel to the film, based around Miller’s first Sin City series, A Dame to Kill For, has been reported to be in development.

Miller is no saint. In the renewed scrutiny over his existing projects, popular culture has balked at his depiction of female characters in particular. In Sin City almost every female character is a prostitute, victim, psychologically damaged or a killer. His depiction of women in his books is reminiscent of Noir conventions – and the men represent those conventions just as clearly. However, in the case of the female characters those conventions have perhaps become outdated and have less place in popular culture as a result.

With the poor critical response to his two most recent books and the furore throughout the comic industry over his statements about the Occupy Movement in the US, Frank Miller is perhaps a practitioner for his time. However, equally his work is, almost completely, a perfectly timeless collection, that may fall out of favour at times and find great recognition at others. Regardless, at the time – almost every comic book fan knows the adventures of Leonitus of Sparta, Robocop and Marv and in comic book stores all over the world copies of Martha Washington and Hard Boiled sit, hidden and waiting to be discovered by someone in that way that all great literature should be. But no one moves through the comics world can say they aren’t aware of The Dark Knight Returns, a book that will outlast Miller himself in terms of bringing generations of future readers, if not joy, a steady dose of gritty, hard won realism. And really, you suspect, that’s just the way Miller wants it.

Practitioners 47: Alan Moore (Part 2)

Having conquered (and irritated) the British comic book industry with his time on 2000AD, Captain Britain and Warrior, Alan Moore was about to cross the Atlantic. DC Editor Len Wein offered him a place in the DC lineup – though reserved judgment carefully and only offered a minor, formulaic, failing title.

Swamp Thing was a stereotypical monster title quite a distance from the mainstream legends of DC. Whether Wein offered it as a low priority title that mattered little if Moore failed or saw the potential in Moore’s alternative and original work in the UK, but nevertheless – few could’ve anticipated the work produced. It remains difficult to know if it is because of Moore’s current reputation retrospectively illuminating old work through association or if the Swamp Thing under Moore really represents timeless writing but along with artists Stephen R. Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben, Moore revolutionised the character. Taking advantage of the low importance of the title, Moore created beautifully experimental storylines addressing environmental and social issues alongside the horror and fantasy, supported further still with research on Louisiana – where the storyline was set.

Moore recognises comic books as a as a mature medium – potentially as influential, challenging and intellectually stimulating as books, theatre, films or television – when at their best. He recognises that there is no limitation to the content that can be applied to any character or situation, whether they wear a spandex jumpsuit or a psychic formation of roots and swamp vegetation with regenerative powers. He elevated the subject matter and the characters and trusts his reader’s intelligence as any writer should. Through Moore’s writing it becomes clear that the base material is not limited in its scope to be elevated and broadened to meet any audience or handle content thought previously beyond it’s remit. In short, Moore fails to recognise limitations. A comic book page is as alive to him as a page of prose, poetry or a painting in a gallery. In turn this elevated him above the rest of his fellow writers.

Using Swamp Thing as an experimental platform to revive many of DC’s neglected magical or supernatural characters, Moore resurrected a number of figures to greater status that even after 3 decades have not seen them recede back into the minor leagues, including the Spectre, the Demon, the Phantom Stranger and Deadman. One such figure was introduced by Moore. John Constatine is a working class magician based visually on the musician Sting, who later became the central character in Hellblazer, DC imprint Vertigo’s longest running title. From January 1984 to September 1987, from issue 20 to 64, Moore guided Swamp Thing to critical and commercial success. Thanks to Wein’s successes with the first UK invasion – featuring Moore and his soon-to-be-counterpart artist Brian Bolland, the doors were beginning to open for UK and European artists such as Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan and Neil Gaiman to continue in the same vein. Many were influenced directly by Moore and continued the tradition of brave and successful rethinks of existing titles – such as Morrison’s run on DC’s Animal Man some years later. These titles formed the foundation s for Vertigo comics.

Moore’s two-issue run on Vigilante furthered his credibility as a brave, alternative and unrestrictive writer willing to look at difficult and hard hitting stories. The central figure, Vigilante is rendered sidelined and shocked as a father, having abused his daughter, pursues her until he is chewed up in the back wheels of a vengeful young woman’s car. The daughter, having lost her Mother is traumatised and beside herself at the loss of her Father, offering a difficult, challenging and controversial conclusion more recognisable as literary conventions than the black and white moralism of comics.

Eventually, after consistent successes, Moore was offered some of DC’s most prominent characters, starting with Superman, entitled For the Man Who Has Everything, illustrated by Dave Gibbons, in which Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman arrive at the Fortress of Solitude to discover Superman overwhelmed by a plant that offers up his wildest dreams. Moore followed this up with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? – effectively the first example of A Death of Superman storyline – some 8 years before it was thought up by Jurgens and co, designed as the last Superman story in the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe and illustrated by Curt Swain. The final fates of Brainiac, Lex Luthor, Clark Kent, Superman and Lois Lane are decided, handled masterfully and with a typically deft touch by Moore.

In 1988 came a Batman story that helped redefine the character along with other titles such as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One but was cited as ‘a rare example of a Moore story where the art is better than the writing.’ This was The Killing Joke, a script developed based on artist Brian Bolland’s idea of developing a creation story for the Joker. Escaped from Arkham Asylum, The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon through the stomach, crippling her and then parades photos of her broken body, naked, lying in glass to her Father as part of a twisted fairground ride in a bid to drive him mad. It fails. However, while opinion differs on the effectiveness of the writing – a history for DC’s most famous villain was created, a second tier character was offered a chance to define herself as a central character as Oracle in following years and Batman was darkened and hardened further into the easily recognisable figure we know today. However Moore acknowledges it as not his greatest writing and upset Bolland by referring it to ‘just another Batman story.’ However, Moore had offered Bolland a platform on which to create a defining career project. He’d once again created a wave of success at an apparent low point in his own career. Something that illustrates the power of Moore’s writing and the influence of his involvement.

A set of panels from Tales of the Black Freighter - a comic being read by a character in Watchmen

Another artist gained global fame thanks to Moore’s writing. Dave Gibbons was assigned to a limited series known as the Watchmen, on which Moore asked him to maintain a consistent three tier, 9 panel layout. Collected as trade paperback in 1987, Watchmen is a seminal work and mandatory reading in understanding the history of comic books, cementing Moore’s reputation. A Cold War mystery in which the shadow of Nuclear War threatens the world. The heroes that are caught up in this escalating crisis either work for the U.S. government or are outlawed, all of whom are motivated to heroism by their various psychological hang ups. Using political and social climate to define the history and current state and status of the individual heroes it dealt with subjects like moralism, politicised ethics, loneliness, isolationism, mental illness, sickness, economics and capitalism among others seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly, interlacing the fates of characters defined by templates of central DC characters, but developed well beyond their original’s plotlines. Gibbons met Moore’s recommendations beautifully, allowing his vision to come to life. Watchmen is non-linear and told from multiple point of view, and includes formal experiments such as the symmetrical design of issue 5 ‘Fearful Symmetry’ in which the last page is a near mirror image of the first, the second to last the second and so on. Dr Manhattan, a character unrestrained by the limitations of the laws of physics allowed Moore to investigate the implications to free will if the constraints of linear human perception were removed. His most famous character, Rorschach, named after the basic visual psychological test sets the tone perhaps most effectively, bemoaning, pessimistically, a world entirely lost – to him most specifically. Isolated and increasingly unhinged and appearing early in the book as a seemingly inconsequential background figure, Rorschach represents most prominently the outsider aspect that all of the characters suffer from. A masterpiece, it is seen as Moore’s best work and the only comic book ever to win the literary Hugo Award, in a one-time category of Best Other Form. It is widely regarded as the best comic book ever written. Released around the same time as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets it has been seen as part of a movement in mainstream comic books of the time to reach out to adult audiences. Breifly, Moore became a minor celebrity, causing him, typically, to withdraw from the public eye and refuse to attend conventions. This is unsurprising perhaps as he was said to have been followed into the toilet by overzealous autograph hunters at the UKCAC.

Moore proposed a series named Twilight of the Superheroes in 1987, the title a twist on Richard Wagner’s opera ‘Twilight of the Gods’. A series set in a future DC Universe, ruled by Superhumna dynasties, including the House of Steel (watched over by Superman and Wonderwoman) and the House of Thunder (presided over by the Marvel family). About to combine in a dynastic marriage, a move that could threaten world freedoms, several characters, including John Constatine, attempt to stop them and save the world from the power of the superheroes. Perhaps because the proposition would reinstate the many worlds already eliminated in the Crisis on Infinite Earths it never saw the light of day, though DC retains rights to its contents. Many similar projects have appeared since, Mark Waid and Alex Ross of the most prominent of these, Kingdom Come, admitting to having read the notes but insisting that any similarity was purely coincidental and unintended.

Again Moore’s relationship with DC had deteriorated over rights as Moore and Gibbons were paid no royalties for a Watchmen spin-off badge set as DC defined them as ‘promotional items’. Reportedly, and rather appallingly, Moore and Gibbons earned only 2% of the profits earned by DC from Watchmen. Completing V for Vendetta for DC, which they had already begun publishing, Moore slung his bag back over his shoulder and made his way out into the cold wastes and warm embrace of independent comic writing.

Part 3 – Tuesday, 3rd December 2012

Kapow Comic Con Line Up Announced!

The official site for Kapow Comic Con 2012 went live today and with it came not only this rather groovy trailer but also some details of the first round of guests. Fans who make their way to the Business Design Centre in North London next May will be able to rub shoulders with the likes of Frank Quitely, Dave Gibbons, (Marvel head of talent) C.B. Cebulski and many more. Kapow spokesman Mark (Kick Ass) Millar has promised an even bigger show next year which, given how good this year’s show was, is a big promise.

There’s already some negative buzz starting to circulate regarding the lack (or rather total absence) of female creators on the initial bill but with the full line up not due to be announced until February, there’s plenty of time to rectify that. the real challenge for Kapow this year will be how it’s supposedly gold standard guest list fares against Super Comic Con’s impressive line up.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXLAFP1C1Co&w=853&h=480]

Needless to say, Beyond the Bunker will be there. So if you are thinking of giving Kapow a go (and you should, it’s fantastic) then be sure to drop by and say hi

For full listings, check out the KAPOW WEBSITE!

See you there,

D
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Practitioners 33: Ivan Reis

Born in 1975, Rodrigo Ivan Dos Reis was born in Sao Paolo, Brazil and is a penciller with projects under his wing for Marvel, Chaos! but most prominently – and most recently – DC.

Blackest Night

For three years, Reis worked under Mauricio de Sousa in Brazil. De Souza is a prominent cartoonist who has created 200 characters for his popular series of children’s comic books. His characters are more Jeff Smith than Alan Davis and Neal Adams (as recent collaborator Geoff Johns described Reis’ drawing style) but clearly this time under the tutelage of such a prolific cartoonist taught the young Reis lessons in productivity.

He began his international career for Dark Horse working on titles such as Ghost, starting with Issue 17 and acting as regular artist until the title ended at Issue 36. During his tenure working on Ghost, he also worked on The Mask, Time Cop and Xena. Later, he worked for Lightning Comics (a fairly shameless comic company from the mid-nineties that offered nude variant covers for their female character titles; Hellina, Catfight and other female heroines).

For Vertigo, Reis pencilled an issue of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. He became better known for his work on Lady Death for Chaos! Comics. Written by Brian Pulido, Len Kaminski and Bryan Augustin, Reis drew for the title for three years (from 1999 to 2002). Lady Death was a Previews favourite, enjoying large scale pre orders and carrying a lot of popularity from the success of the nineties. It was from this good girl art that Reis enjoyed popularity, however it would be in working on much more unconventional artwork for a mainstream title that Reis would find legendary fame.

For Marvel, Reis worked on the Thing & She-Hulk: the Long Night, Avengers Icons: Vision, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Defenders and Avengers. It was on Avengers Icons: Vision that Geoff Johns worked with Ivan Reis for the first time and formed a partnership that would literally turn a major publisher on its head and redefine the popularity of a 60 year old character.

It was with DC, after a series of short stints on a number of titles that Reis arrived at Green Lantern volume 4. A well known but slightly unnoticed character in the DC Universe, the number of Volumes was indicative of GL’s troubled past as a title. Consistently reinvented and repackaged, the story of Hal Jordan; test pilot and interstellar police officer with a magic ring had been transposed regularly. Driven nuts and killed in the 90s as part of the Return of Superman storyline and replaced by another character entirely noone was expecting great things from Green Lantern. However, under Geoff Johns the title was beginning to pick up considerable pace. The scope of the burdgeoning conflict and the introduction (after 60 years!!) of the idea that there might be other rings of alternative colour out in the universe that represented danger broadened the scope of the title considerably. Reis worked from Issue 11-38 alongside Geoff Johns, presiding over the introduction of the now famous Sinestro Corps storyline that kicked off the enormous Blackest Night storyline.

Throughout all of this Reis maintained an even tiller at all times. As Johns clearly became increasingly convinced of Reis’ capacity to produce highly detailed and dramatic artwork at incredibly short notice the scope of the title gained considerable pace. More than pure talent, Reis offered Johns a reliable and dependable creative crucible from which to expand the embryonic saga that would incorporate the entire DC Universe.

Not only in Green Lantern but in the Rann / Thanagar War mini series (written by Dave Gibbons) Reis demonstrated an incredible eye for detail, composition and anatomy. His grasp of an empty page allowed him to fill the page with hundreds of variant starship of a multitude of designs, realise the designs of almost limitless alien characters and still maintain scale and scope as a hole in the size of the universe was torn open by giant hands. The requests placed on Reis in the Rann / Thanagar war show a resolute faith in Reis’ capacity to complete the storyline and present it effectively. The complexity of what Reis has been continuously asked to do on behalf of multiple DC writers suggests that writers, if told that Reis is the assigned artist, know that they can let their imaginations run wild. In an industry that still relies on deadlines, even with increasing expectations being placed on artists in terms of quality and precision – that truly is priceless.

Reis simply makes it work. Whatever the script demands appears and is perfectly well realised. Features are precise and emphatic, representing the thoughts and feelings expected in any scenario. If thousands of figures are required they are provided in bold detail. Increased objects on a page in no way denotes how much or how little detail is applied either. In Reis’ work there are no shortcuts.

Green Lantern threw up yet more challenges. In order to create Red, Orange, Sinestro, Blue, Indigo and Violet corps/tribes each had to have all original characters, each with their own specific designs and detailing. Reis not only designed his own but then enhanced the work of others, adapting them into his own naturalistic style without losing the dynamism of the work being done in GL’s sister title, Green Lantern Corps. As the title that centred the epic, Reis was handling hundreds of different alien designs, at least 7 variants of uniform and insignia design which was then extrapolated and different for each different character of any shape in any Corps, as well as the introduction of DC’s Hall of Heroes as well.

It was with Blackest Night, the final part of the epic that Reis came into his own. 7 Lantern Corps, the entire frontline cast of DC, alien entities, dynamic twists, almost unlimited environments, all colliding on Earth. Reis didn’t miss a panel. Consistent, epic, engaging and faultless – cities collapsed, Lanterns were born, literally thousands of dead aliens fell from the sky, people turned to salt – all of it was incredibly realised at the hands of Reis. Whether it was stormy coastlines in battles against undead merpeople and sharks or porting into a Telephone call centre, Reis struck the right chord in every single scenario.

In Blackest Night his lack of ego and professionalism was there for all to see. It was never about quick tricks or advertising himself as artist but realising as perfectly as possible the best way to present an enormous, sprawling epic, incorporating literally hundreds of characters and incredible events. Reis proved himself a true Practitioner by being put in the spotlight and never missing a beat. His art is so advanced, every aspect of it so precise and well realised that it is impossible almost to fathom how he achieved it in the short time available to him. That is the mark of the true artist, to move beyond what can be done and instead extend to what is needed.

The cast of Brightest Day - Geoff Johns' and Ivan Reis' follow up to Blackest Night

Ivan Reis could’ve come from nowhere (as his Wikipedia profile suggests). His pencil work is now synonomous with the most prominent work being put into the public eye. Seemingly without faltering he has drawn every member of the DC Universe and incorporated a thousand different species into the Green Lantern Corps, a feat that the Green Lantern movie with literally hundreds of technicians and special effects experts are struggling to bring to the big screen. Ivan Reis is the epitomy of big thinking artists.

MCM In Pictures

Evening chaps,

Thanks again to everybody who came and supported BTB at the MCM convention this week. I’ve run the final numbers and it looks like we had a record show for sales of Moon! By way of thanks I thought I’d share some of the photos we managed to grab over the weekend, including one of a certain Watchmen artist.

The Excel Centre (the pointy white bits) as seen from outside my flat. I was tempted to walk to the show...but I'd have drowned.

 

Comic Village 2 hours before the doors opened on Friday.

The hordes await.

It's hard to describe just how many people attend MCM. This is just a small sample. It's overwhelming in a really good way.

Robots love Comics too!

I think pretty much everyone took a photo of this sign over the weekend. Awesome stuff.

Dave Gibbons picks up his Lifetime Achievement Award at the Eagle Awards.

Sunday night. All done and dusted.

MCM by night.

Well that’s the lot. Hope you enjoyed our little behind the scenes look. Guess it’s time to start prepping for the next one now!

D
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Practitioners 29: Goseki Kojima

Goseki Kojima is the artist of the stunning Japanese Manga Lone Wolf and Cub, written by Kazuo Koike. Kojima was born in Yokkaichi and began his career as a poster artist and painter, before finally settling in Tokyo in 1950. There he worked as an artist on ‘Kamishibai’ (illustrated stories) for a number of publications. In the late 1950s, he was also turning to mangas and created serials like Omnitsu Yureijo (1957), Yagyu Ningun (1959) and Chohen Dai Roman, a series of classic novel adaptations (1961-67), all distributed through libraries.

In 1967, he switched to a more conventional distribution and made appearances in several magazines. Tgether with Kazuo Koike, he created ‘Kozure Okami’, published in Manga Action form from 1970 through to 1976. The legendary series was finally introduced to English readers as ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ in 1987 and the influence of it should not be underestimated. Lone Wolf and Cub influenced a great many Practitioners globally. Its paired down, naturalistic, imperceptibly detailed ink line work has certainly and notably influenced Frank Miller in particular, Kojima’s sharp and emphatic black and white line work visible in works as disparate as Sin City and 300. The later works of industry leaders such as Jamie Hewlett have they’re basis Kojima’s work whether it is immediately obvious or not. The artwork for Monkey (Hewlett and Damon Albarn’s recent foray into media-opera) is toned perfectly with period material lifted from that referenced in Kojima’s work. Most artists working in the comic book industry (and most likely in Illustration as a whole) will know Kojima’s name as a global mainstay of the industry. Truly representative of Japanese Manga artists, Kojima is efficient, technically acute, lavishly artistic and truly prolific. Lone Wolf and Cub accounts for more than 8000 pages alone (completed between 1970 and 1976).

As well as ‘Lone Wolf’ Kojima and Koike cooperated on other series like ‘Kawaite Soroi’, ‘Kubikiri Asa’, ‘Hanzo Nomon’, ‘Bohachi Bushido’ and ‘Tatamodori Kasajiro’. In 1994, he became editorial consultant for the magazine Manga Japan.

Kojima teaches all new artists what it truly means to be a great artist within your own lifetime. The production of pages at the speed he achieved is almost unthinkable to western artists. Dave Gibbons is considered efficient at 2 a day but Kojima is representative of a different breed of artist, perhaps now gone. Personal design work and augmenting and introducing a distinctive or recognisable style was clearly never Kojima’s primary function. To introduce alternative or unusual visuals was not Kojima’s main drive. His compositions are drawn with clarity and an instantaneous sense of scale and visual communication. Basic, simple compositions are given focus and artistic value with the addition of a dropping branch from the top of the panel or his decisions in showing objects in part to allow the reader to be absorbed into the story.

Kapow Diary 4: Frank Quitely, the Guinness Book of World Records and the Trouble with Gibbons (Pt 1)

You should always try to meet your heroes. There is a reason they’re your heroes. Frank Quitely is a genius. Capable of mixing line work with beautific composition like a parisian master in between the erratic highs of victorian period heroin and a sharp dose of Absinthe. Man’s a magician of the highest order and I respect him greatly. He is an Alan Silverstri. One of those artists that you pull out of the drawer when you want to make a million bucks on a comic book. You could write about Ingrid Bergman’s feet – nobody cares because Silvestri or Quitely’d make them look better than Ingrid’s herself!!

It should also be said that there is a fine art in the meeting of your heroes. One of them is not to tell them loudly about your mate’s baby’s unnaturally hard head. But I did and that was the least of it. I didn’t even limit it to my all time hero, I scattered my absurd intros to any legend of comicdom that’d stop and listen. For f@ck’s sake don’t make eye contact with me – I’ll tell you my Nan’s name!

I arrived at the Kapow Comicon on Saturday with a zen-like attitude towards what would take place. As far as I was concerned I’d roll up with the kit, set up the tables, sell some books and make our way. But this plan was shot to buggery. Firstly, its important to understand that artists do enjoy a certain degree of anonymity as they move around these comic cons. People know them for their work but they don’t know them on sight. Some artists defy this by looking exactly like you think they will. John Romita Jr looks like he’ll plug yer as soon as look at yer on some newspaper strewn street, Dave Gibbons looks like the friendly old penciller you’d expect to see sitting quietly and calmly at a drawing board under a arm lamp finalising the finishing touches on his latest piece, Brian Bolland looks like a gentlemen who can’t let a page go ’til he has lovingly and caringly cross created it like a kindly Gepetto fashioning his wooden boy and so on. Simon Bisley looks like a biker etc, etc. But only when you know who they are – by dint of they’re career they are an invisible presence. They’re an unseen hand, leaving a slap mark on the rump of the comic industry without anybody getting a good look at them.

But they are also the bass guitarist to the Writers lead singer. The artist, at his height is what gives the fans what they need and drives the lyric and lead guitar forward. You get an action sequence, that my friends is the artists guitar solo. Pyow, Nyoooow, rooooooow. (Ahem). They have the capacity to enthrall and infuriate. Its on the strength of their work alone – except for extremely gifted autistics who can read a book front to back in a second – that a book is initially picked up. They’re the good guys who never say a wrong word – cos they never write one down. And I was about to run into a few of them.

The Guinness Book of Records event was being set up at the far end of the event, by the IGN stands and the entrance. An intention to create a comic book using the greatest number of artists in one day. The original script being written by Mark Millar and then possibly expanded upon, I later overheard, by other script writers. It was a great idea. The pages split into three panels, an artist taking on one each and producing a full length comic book to be printed by Marvel comics that afternoon.

Having missed the E-mail I went down to the stand it was all taking place at (by the IGN stand at the front) to sign up which I did. Up on the stage was Leinil Yu and Frank Quitely, quietly finishing their panels. This was a quiet sight with not many people around and the Guinness Book of Records crew oblivious to who was sitting there. They didn’t care. They don’t read comic books. They read the Guinness Book of Records and the Roy Castle Autobiography. Anyway, I found myself in a strange predicament as I was the only one aware of the importance of the two gentlemen sitting in front of me. These were giants of the industry. These were the poster boys for the industry I’m trying to break into. However, they were also practitioners of the art I want to be part of and so should be afforded professional courtesy right. Professional courtesy probably extends to not bothering them while they’re working on a taped off raised table but what the hell – this was Frank Quitely and Leinil Yu.

I said to one of crew ‘, Woah. That’s Frank Quitely and Lienil Yu.’
‘Oh’, he replied politely in a way that I would if someone had said ‘Woah. That’s Tamara Beckwith and Natalie Pong,’ (I made the second name up which gives you some perspective).
‘Who are they?’ The Guinness representative inquire, helpfully, realising he might need to know.
I did well here in keeping calm but I mentioned ‘All Star Superman, X-Men, Hulk, Wolverine’ ‘Geniuses, ‘ and ‘in awe’ at least once.
‘You should meet them.’ the Guinness representative said. What a prick. What f@cking unhelpful, cheerful, friendly prick.
‘No I shouldn’t,’ I said – thinking on some level that I shouldn’t.

In this discourse Leinil Yu stood up. signed off on his panel and started moving off the stage. As he did so Lucy Unwin, the organiser, moved in to shuffle him off. Yu seemed kinda placid and calm. I moved forwards with the intention of talking to him. I stopped short of saying touching him. What would I want to touch him for? Weird. Whatever. It actually wasn’t about touching but by now Lucy was very efficiently whisking Leinil away. However, still sitting unguarded by the surrounding Guinness Book of Records representatives, still oblivious to the pure legend they had sitting amongst them quietly unaware, was Frank Quitely. Now I could be properly mental. As the Guinness representative insisted ahead of me that I should introduce myself as he’s my hero – I felt that pull. The feeling I get when I’m entering uncertain psychological territory and the edges of my behaviour begin to thin. I focussed sharply, trying to occupy my mind on simply introducing myself to my long time hero. So I went the other way. Not wanting to be a fanboy.

So I caught his attention. ‘Vincent,’ I said.

The thing you have to understand is that I had written about Quitely, and Leinil Yu and many other of the other Practitioners present at Kapow (Mark Millar, John Romita Jr, Brendan McCarthy, Dave Gibbons) in a series of articles I’ve written for this site – never once thinking about what it would mean when I met them. I can tell you right now when you’re faced with a hero and hopefully, one day, a colleague you admire and respect the weirdest thing to know – and something I don’t usually – is what school they went to – or their real name. Frank Quitely’s is Vincent, Vincent Deighan. And I’d just used it like I knew him. And I don’t. Never met him in my life. And obviously, neither has he. And now he was looking at me wondering if I knew him.

So things had changed now. I knew Frank Quitely by name and he’d turned and expected a mate or a colleague but it was a man, scruffy like an ancient sheep who came to tell him he loved him. Using your actual name and then telling them you love him didn’t seem apt. So my brain opted for another angle. One that justified the use of his personal name…

BEN MORGAN! Ben Morgan was my partner on the original Beyond the Bunker and lived in Edinburgh. He had claimed a short while ago that he had been drinking with Frank Quitely. ‘If you’re lying Morgan I’ll fly to the South side of the Forth and nut you you bear tree mother f@cker’ I thought at that point. Frank acknowledged the association and said he hadn’t seen him since before he had his son. He then waited quietly while I told him that ‘ things have been rough for Ben recently, he’s only just got a job.’ Who the f@ck cares about Benjamin Morgan my brain was telling me on some level – give him your book, tell him you love him – his WORK – YOU LOVE HIS WORK (F@CK’S SAKE!)

This was supposedly enough of a connection for me so I asked if he was going for a drinks tonight and he said ‘yeah, he most probably would,’ and he asked where was good to go. I didn’t know. I’d been drinking round the area in recent weeks and had completely forgotten the name of any pubs. So now I was arranging to go for a pint with the guy on the basis and that he had had a drink with one of my mates in Edinburgh and a three minute conversation.

I chucked him Moon 1, saying we were making it available to legends (thereby swinging back into fanboy territory again). He seemed to like it, politely flicking through it and nodding occasionally saying it was good.

It’s hard to know what the right response you’re looking for is. ‘This is the finest piece of artwork I have seen for some time! I would like to mentor you and introduce you to the commissioning editors of DC,’ would be nice. So I accepted his acknowledgement that he could see a marked improvement in the work as the book progressed which was nice of him.

I maintained the pub talk and suggested I’d let him know where we were all going if I saw him about the place again. As I maintained the conversation I could feel the dread moment, I could feel mysef heating up as the steady realisation that I was maintaining a sensible conversation with one of my heroes began to dawn on me. I had to back out before I said something stupid (something I proved was an accurate concern later on) and I’m pretty sure my eyes went all boggly. I’m not sure its a visible tick but they were definitely wider than they were meant to be. So I legged it, booked in at 3.30pm to come back and do my stint on the Guinness Book of Records stand.

BE BACK HERE TOMORROW TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED AT 3.30PM

Day 1 of Kapow: Lesson Learned. Leave Frank Quitely alone.

Day 1 of Kapow came and went very well frankly. I have decided to leave Frank Quitely alone tomorrow and I will allay my suspicions that Dave Gibbons stole my pens. My suggestion that Brendan McCarthy doesn’t look much like his picture was a master stroke in introductory conversation. I will now appear in a Marvel comic book (by tomorrow) on a page with Dave Gibbons (artist on Watchmen) as well as The Guinness Book of Records (whenever that’s out). I was given a stick of rock by a child care assistant in a low cut top who got it from a burlesque dancer from the Isle of Wight. I gave it to a Scotsman. Oh, and we sold some books.

That is all.

GIVE ME BACK OUR PENS, GIBBONS!!

(None of this will make any sense until Monday when all will be revealed – possibly with pictures but needless to say its all going very well.)

Mark Millar Announces Major Comic Con in 2011!

Morning chaps,

I know we don’t as a rule cover breaking news here at BTB, but sometimes things happen in our industry that are worth talking about as much and as soon as possible. As of late many of these things seem to have started with the words “Mark Millar” and this is no exception.

This week, the creator of Kick Ass, Wanted and The Ultimates announced the Kapow Comic Con, a major international comic and film convention to be held in central London next April!

Millar’s been on a crusade to put Britain back on the global comics map over the last year. Clint was a nice idea which is showing some real long term promise (and is a fantastic read), but a convention of this size could well be a massive step forwards for British comic fans and creators. As with any new venture, we’ll have to see how it pans out, but with names like Dave Gibbons, Lenil Yu and John Romita Jnr already announced, this really looks like it could be a big one.

Colour us excited!

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