Manga

Practitioners 2: Katsuhiro Otomo

As a catch up for all new visitors to Beyond the Bunker, we’ll be representing the original Practitioners series 1-55 (Simon BisleyChris Bachalo and featuring the most influential comic creatives in history). Thoroughly incomplete but featuring legends like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller and Alan Moore already more will be hitting the site next year. For now though, sit back every Tuesday for a run-down of the men and women who created the comic industry we know today. (Or check the full list in the menus above). This week: Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo.

At the top of each book sold of Akira there rests a very impressive name in bold lettering. Katsuhiro Otomo. The 2000 page epic would not exist without his genius. Personifying his countries often distant ideals of constant devotion to practice, work and perfection towards a focussed life goal, Otomo marched onwards to completing his masterwork even as he was unaware that he was developing it.

Born in Miyagi prefecture, Japan in 1954, Otomo left school in 1971 to become a Manga artist and succeeded quickly – unsurprising given his unswerving diligence in perfectly measured linework coupled with highly detailed yet crystal clear characterisations. He worked for ‘Action’ magazine until 1979 diligently putting out work on behalf of others.

With the release of solo projects (most notably Fireball (1979) and Domu: A Child’s Dream (1980)) he revealed himself to be a true auteur, a position that can only be occupied when you have mastered all aspects of a medium and his body of work illustrates this perfectly. Katsuhiro is the epitomy of the short gap between an artist’s hand and mind when fully utilised. Fireball was uncompleted but is considered a milestone as it carries themes that were carried forward into his later work. Domu: A Child’s Dream saw a battle between a senile psychic bent on secretly murdering residents of his apartment building for pleasure with his powers and a young girl, Etsoku who stands defiantly against him with her own battery of powers.

Its difficult to imagine Katushiro Otomo as anything other than a genius. Writer, artist, draftsman, director, and unself-conciously and perhaps unexpectedly global cultural avatar. His work, one most specifically, speaks for him more than many other creative practitioner in the field as there is little that can be gleaned as to his character from it because his understanding of so many elements is so diffuse and wide reaching.

Domu: A Child’s Dream (1980)

His writing blends perfectly the spiritual, the cultural, the subtle and the brutal.

Any flaw visible in any work he has done before or since is overshadowed by Akira. Around bikers Kaneda and Tetsuo the world spins, never leaving the confines of the Neo Tokyo city limits in 2000 pages, as bikes blaze through neon streets, psychic children fight over broken buildings, people burst up walls and a general with a mohawk struggles to get an orbiting defence platform with a massive laser to explode a giant bug baby.

Tower blocks rise through panels with thousands of windows each as perfectly proportional as the last, even when they are upside down and falling into the sky. Broad themes of creationism rest perfectly next to action sequences involving tanks driven by amateurs through cluttered streets in Tokyo’s districts. Never has an artist been so adept at slapstick octane and subtle broad ideas, occasionally in the same panel.

Using his love of film as a benchmark for his artwork and his stripped down storytelling style, Anime was always a natural advance for Katsuhiro and he was working as a character designer for Anime Harmageddon one year before the beginning of his epic; Akira began. Helming Akira as an Anime in 1988, begun while the book was still incomplete, and creating one of the most (if not the most) far reaching Anime ever created and forever altering the standard to which western comic books are now held to.

A master who took a boyhood dream and worked diligently to see it happen, standing head and shoulders above an already advanced and crowded medium in the country that had long since mastered the form.

Dan's Blog: MCM Debrief

For my part, I spent Sunday cosplaying as white trash.

The very first year that Steve and I appeared at the MCM Expo the event fell upon the same day as a Millwall game. It’s not a detail that I would remember were it not for the fact that it meant that my first experience of the con was sitting on a packed tube full of confused skinheads and teenagers dressed as cats. There has probably never been a more perplexed railway carriage anywhere in the world and I found myself developing an instant fondness for this oddball of a con.

I mention this story first because really the teenagers dressed as cats (and Pokemon and cardboard boxes and pretty much anything else you can imagine) are the heart of MCM. That’s not to say they are the only audience there (in terms of floor space, it’s probably the biggest comic con in the UK) but at its very core the event is about people who say the word “random” a lot, cutting loose and having fun. As a result, MCM has always had a kind if energetic buzz about it that you just don’t find anywhere else and it’s this buzz that is the key to why this year’s event was so successful.

MCM has taken some flak over the years for its rather diverse (random, you might say) range of exhibits. While other cons focus on comics or movies or trading or whatever, MCM goes for a bit of everything but in times such as these it’s exactly that kind of diversity that you need. If you’re only going to go to one comic con then the obvious choice is the one that lets you see as much as possible. MCM is not so much a comic convention as a convention for the sort of people who like comics. It’s a subtle distinction but one that breeds the kind of extremely loyal fanbase that descended in droves upon the Excel Centre last weekend.

Shot of the convention floor. It’s very hard to convey the sheer scale of the event.

For our part, we were taken completely by surprise by just how busy the con was. We brought our usual hefty amount of stock, expecting it to last the entire event (especially given a slightly disappointing audience turn out at Kapow) but instead found ourselves completely sold out of copies of Moon by 5pm on Saturday. The result was that Steve had to scurry back to Essex on Sunday morning, while I tried to learn how you sell prints of characters from a book you don’t have (turns out, you generally don’t). By 11am we were back up and running however and went on to smash our all time sales record by some way.

Moon #1 completely sold out.

I should mention, in the interests of fairness, that we had a much better pitch than at Kapow, being as we were right next to the auditorium and the booth for ASDF (who I’d never heard of before the weekend but who I’m pretty sure most teenagers would readily kill for.) This naturally translated into better sales but the fact that we took more than twice what we made at Kapow and paid less than half for the table left me pondering whether we’ll keep Kapow on our calendar next year.

Organisation wise we’ve got no complaints. Comics Village (who run the comics side of the event) have gotten very good at pre-show communication this time around and having every table get a small blurb in the program was a nice touch. Despite the huge crowds, there was always a volunteer on hand when needed and they were (as has always been the case) extremely helpful and friendly.

The aftermath. Huge thanks to everybody who bought the book and to those who have sent us such kind feedback on it. You guys are awesome.

The one part where the organisation fell down slightly was in the execution of the Eagle Awards on Friday night. The Eagles themselves are probably a topic for another day but the very low audience turn out was a bit of a shame. Steve and I certainly appreciate being able to hog the free beer but I can’t help but think that if they were properly publicised and perhaps held on the Saturday night, the turn out would have been far better. We ran into only two non-comics industry people at the awards and they confessed that they’d only found the event by chance. Given the announcement about the demise of the Eagles, I wonder whether the lack of publicity was a deliberate move to send the awards off quietly with an eye to focusing on next year’s new “MCM Awards.”

The Eagles is but a small part of the overall event however and a low turnout for one small part is not enough to spoil the experience of what was in all regards a fantastic convention experience.

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If you picked up a copy of Moon #1 at MCM then we’d love to hear what you think. Send us an email at btbcomics@gmail.com or let us know on facebook or twitter!

Crazy Night in the Theatre : The Bee!

The Bee is a dark fairytale surrounding the hostage taking of a family-orientated business man’s wife and child. As the cops fail to protect his family and the pressure heightens, a reasonable man from a reasonable background struggles to make his feelings heard. Very cool, mad as a bag of frogs, fast, furious and smart as a switchblade shave it’ll excite anyone who goes and has a look.

The Soho Theatre in London has the Bee, featuring Olivier Award winner Kathryn Hunter (who you’d know from Harry Potter as Mrs Arrabella Figg) but is madly transformational as a Japanese Businessman pushed to the edge in modern day Tokyo.

Live action freneticism that should be beyond the experienced (old) cast it’s reminiscent of Manga and Japanese Kung Fu movies blended with fairy tale and crime stories. It’s a Japanese import featuring Japanese theatre legend Hideki Noda. Using only 4 cast members, characters form out of others in a second to keep the pace up.

Look out for it in Sydney, Tokyo, New York (as it’s just finished a run in New York). For now it’s definitely in London, Soho Theatre until Saturday 11th February. Tickets between £10 and £20. Well worth it, trust us. Or catch it if you see it surface any other time.

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 48: Frank Miller (Part 1)

Frank Miller is an American comic book artist, writer and film director best known for his brooding, dark, film noir depictions of famous comic characters and the development of noir dystopias, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City and 300, Ronin and Daredevil: Born Again. Batman : Dark Knight Returns is viewed as a seminal work in comics history, mandatory for any that want to understand what (along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen) changed the face of comics so dramatically in the 1980s. He is also, nowadays, a liberal hate figure after outspoken statements regarding protest camps in the US and UK against multinational corporations. This, among other things, has placed a pall over his previous work, calling into question his politics and views on women, crime and society.

Miller was born in Olney, Maryland and raised Montpelier, Vermont, the fifth of seven children of a nurse mother and an electrician/ carpenter father. He was raised as an Irish Catholic.

Setting out to become an artist, Miller recieved his first published work at Western Publishing’s Gold Key Comics imprint on the comic book version of The Twilight Zone, drawing ‘Royal Feast’ in issue #84 (June 1978), and “Endless Cloud” in #85 (July 1978). Jim Shooter, one-time Marvel Editor-in-chief recalled Miller’s attempt to join DC, emboldened by his sign up with Western Publishing. “He went to DC, and after getting savaged by Joe Orlando, got in to see art director Vinnie Colletta, who recognized talent and arranged for him to get a one-page war-comic job”.

Miller’s first listed work is the six-page “Deliver Me From D-Day”, by writer Wyatt Gwyon, in Weird War Tales #64 (June 1978). A two-page story, however, written by Roger McKenzie and titled “Slowly, painfully, you dig your way from the cold, choking debris…”, appears in Weird War Tales #68 (Oct. 1978). Other fledgling work at DC included the six-page “The Greatest Story Never Told”, by writer Paul Kupperberg, in that same issue, and the five-page “The Edge of History”, written by Elliot S. Maggin, in Unknown Soldier #219 (Sept. 1978). and his first work for Marvel Comics, penciling the 17-page story “The Master Assassin of Mars, Part 3” in John Carter, Warlord of Mars #18 (Nov. 1978).

Miller’s style was never super hero orientated but in an industry that was he had little choice but to pursue it, practicing the form and bringing Superheroes to life well enough to secure a position as regular fill-in and cover artist on a number of titles, including Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-man #27–28 (Feb.–March 1979) which featured a character that grabbed Miller’s attention. As Miller recalled in 2008 “… as soon as a title came along, when [Daredevil signature artist] Gene Colan left Daredevil, I realized it was my secret in to do crime comics with a superhero in them. And so I lobbied for the title and got it”

Although still conforming to traditional comic book styles, Miller introduced his noir style to the pages of Daredevil on his debut, joining on a finale of an ongoing story written by Roger McKenzie. Living in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1980s Miller sketched the roof tops of his surrounding neighbourhoods and imbued the title with a greater accuracy than fans had seen before. New York was now a more dangerous place. His work was cited as reminiscent of German Expressionism’s dramatic edges and shadows as the Red Devil fought mostly now at rooftop level, among the water towers, pipes and chimneys.

Miller’s run was successful enough to bring Daredevil back from being a bi-monthly title to a monthly one but that was far from the limit of the success. With the departure of Roger McKenzie, Miller took over as writer and penciller, with long time collaborator Klaus Janson on inks introducing a skittish, visceral feel. Art became to form. Violence bled (within the limited parameters of the Comics Authority), fear was felt, anger and danger were portrayed. Everything was comics +. This was a slightly more frenetic, powerful version of the superhero canon – the focus on the darkness in the lives of the bright tights. Issue #168 saw the first appearance of the ninja mercenary Elektra, who despite being an assassin-for-hire would become Daredevil’s love-interest. Miller would write and draw a solo Elektra story in Bizarre Adventures #28 (Oct. 1981). This further characterised Miller’s work on Daredevil with darker themes and stories. This peaked when in #181 (April 1982) he had the assassin Bullseye kill Elektra. Miller finished his Daredevil run with issue #191 (Feb. 1983); in his time he had transformed a second-tier character into one of Marvel’s most popular.

Gotham's skyline from Miller's 1986 Dark Knight Returns (with Klaus Janson)

Additionally, Miller drew a short Batman Christmas story, entitled ‘ Wanted: Santa Claus: Dead or Live’ written by Denny O’Neill for DC Special Series #21 (Spring 1980). This professional introduction to the Dark Knight was to prove a point at which the comic industry stopped being something and developed into another entirely. It was the moment that comics began to move into a more graphic, realistic, emotionally dynamic, engaging and challenging era. Elsewhere, Alan Moore was working on The Watchmen and would be asked in future to write The Killing Joke and further darken the world of Gotham and it’s central hero. But nothing that Moore was writing on the Dark Knight compared to one of the most important pieces of comic book literature in history. With Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley, Miller began to put together a fractured tale of a future without a Batman and a Bruce Wayne broken by the loss of Jason Todd. Now older and slower, a mournful Wayne is presented again with taking on the banner of the Bat. Only this time the world in which the caped crusader stepped into was very different…

Working with Chris Claremont at Marvel on Wolverine 1-4, inked by Josef Rubenstein and spinning off from the popular X-Men title, Miller used the series to expand on Wolverine’s character. The series was a critical success and cemented Miller as an industry star. Taking an older, curmudgeonly and effectively lonely character and dropping him into a world of greater brutality and violence proved very popular – the Wolverine series still continuing today, surviving the collapse of comics in the mid 90s and still going strong. While other great artists such as Adam Kubert and Marc Silvestri continued and concreted it’s success, Claremont and Miller set the tone. Brutal, fringe figures were quickly becoming Miller’s niche.

Marvel's Wolverine 2 by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller

In Miller’s first creator-owned title, Ronin, Miller had found himself with his original quarry, DC, and he was given the opportunity to further the concept of the isolated figure of violence on the edge of society. Ronin revealed most clearly the influences of Manga and bande dessinée artforms on Miller’s style, both in the artwork and narrative style. In the early 198os Miller and Steve Gerber proposed a revamp of DC’s central figures entitled ‘Man of Steel’, ‘Dark Knight’ and the frankly less inspiring ‘Amazon’. This proposal was rejected, however the first shoots of a seed of an idea were clearly being shown in those proposals. While the Man of Steel and the Amazon remained as they were, The Dark Knight was set to rise. In 1985, before the release of Miller’s finest work, he was honoured as one of the 50 honourees in the Company’s 50th Anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great. Had they left it one more year, Miller would have rocketed into the top 5 with the release of the Dark Knight Returns.

Having never left, in 1986, the Dark Knight Returned and was welcomed with open arms. A four issue mini-series it featured a Gotham gone downhill, unprotected by a figurehead crime fighter as it had been time immemorial in the wider DC Universe. This was the first Elseworlds, a parallel world inhabited by a familiar but substantially different set of characters who could now live or die without consequence. However, Miller was never going to let them off that easily…

At the age of 55, Bruce Wayne returns to the hilt and takes back his role of Batman, it showcased a more adult form of comic-book storytelling by heralding new waves of darker characters. Miller, much like Moore, absorbed a great deal of the world around it though Miller twisted his into a more immediately engaging shape. Punk Gangs and Neo Nazis rule the streets alongside older, more familiar foes – all now even darker than before. The smell of paranoia over the Cold War and the threat of Nuclear War is musky in The Dark Knight, increasing the pall of murk that has descended on Gotham. Simultaneously though Miller gave voice to both liberal and right wing opinions during the series, through continual talking heads on various invented TV shows. With the themes of media, crime, personal responsibility, federal control, public opinion and the futility of redemption, Dark Knight represents a dark and risible future. It was excellent. A timely chime on a bell of collective paranoia, it tapped perfectly into the state of mind of society at the time. Rather than the patronising resolution by brightly coloured gods – here the solution contains only glimmers of salvation but deep shades of absolutism. It satisfies fully as emotional resolutions are struck so rarely in the real world, rarely in conjunction with the resolution of situations. In Miller’s world there are no easy answers. His worlds roll on beyond the final panel, stories often unfinished, character’s unresolved. 25 years later the collected novel remains a timeless best seller.

But what was to come next would cement Miller as a legendary artist and writer but it will be his move to LA that will reveal him as a true auteur. Noir bleeding from every pore, Sin City was still almost a decade away…

Part 2 will be here Next Tuesday

Practitioners 46: Jim Lee

Jim Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea on August 11, 1964 and emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four, growing up in St Louis Missouri. In Lee’s St. Louis Country Day School his classmates predicted he would found hi sown comic book company. Despite this, Lee seemed resigned to following in his father’s profession of medicine, studying psychology at Princeton University, with the intention of becoming a medical doctor. However, medicine’s loss was certainly going to be popular culture’s gain as Lee became one of the most influential and well known artists on the biggest selling comic book of all time. One that founded movie franchises and supported an ailing Marvel in the late ’90s and found some of the most famous comic companies in the world to rival it.

Lee’s rise to fame with Marvel Comics was inevitable as it was undeniable. In 1986, as Lee was preparing to graduate from his psychology degree, Lee took an art class that reignited his fascination with art at a time when seminal work such as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen was reinvigorating the American comic book industry. With the psychology degree complete, Lee did something, with the reluctant blessing of his parents, that shows incredible courage and clarity of mind and self belief. He postponed his medical degree. The rest is without a doubt comic book history. He vowed he would return if he failed to break the comic book industry. Not something that should’ve worried him.

Submitting examples to various publishers, Lee did not see success until a New York comic book convention where he met Archie Goodwin, comic book editor (regularly cited as the ‘best loved comic book editor… ever), artist and writer who introduced him to Marvel Comics. Now it seems hard to believe that Lee was not snapped up immediately by the first commissioning editor to spot him but Lee exposes the nature of the industry. Retrospectively, artists are professional, passionate and confident in the style they work in and seem undeniable masters of their art but even the most capable artist can be subject to the pressures, misunderstandings, bad luck and bad timing of the industry. Lee began on Alpha Flight and moved over to Punisher: War Journal, his work there inspired by Frank Miller, David Ross, Kevin Nowlan and Whilce Portacio, as well as Japanese Manga.

Then came the crossing of two similar talents, one more senior than the other as Lee filled in for regular illustrator, Marc Silvestri on Uncanny X-Men 248, which was, due to positive response and Marvel’s own enthusiasm for Lee’s style followed up on issues 256 through to 258 as part of the ‘Acts of Vengeance’. The timing of this was key as X-Men, under Claremont was not only ground breaking and beautifully written at the time, it was on a meteoric rise in terms of popularity, beginning to challenge the more mainstream titles of Spider-man, Fantastic Four and Avengers. Eventually, Lee became Uncanny’s full time penciller, working for the first time with inker, Scott Williams, who would become his long time collaborator. To cement his position as an X-men innovator, Lee co-created the smooth talking mutant thief Gambit, with Chris Claremont. Lee’s popularity crystallised in these months, becoming more and more representative of what fan’s wanted. He gained increasingly greater control of the franchise and in 1991, Lee helped launch the second X-Men series, X-Men (Volume 2). He did so, not just as artist but as co-writer alongside Chris Claremont, giving the book a more broad and cutting edge feel to it’s perhaps more thoughtful predecessor. X-Men 1 was raw edged, fun comic book pinned with the wisdom and knowledge of an older and more restrained writer. Lee pushed Claremont’s boundaries while Claremont restrained the more inexperienced artist to just the right degree. The result was comic book history and rightfully so. However, Lee redesigned costumes, entirely successfully for Cyclops, Jean Grey, Rogue, Psylocke and Storm as well as creating villain Russian Super Soldier Omega Red.

X-Men 1 (Vol 2) remains the best selling comic book of all time with sales of 8.1 million (and nearly £7 million). This was confirmed in a public declaration by the Guinness Book of Records at the 2010 San Diego Comic con. While one aspect of it’s success was that it was released with five different variant covers as well as a limited edition gatefold edition that revealed it all in its glory, the success was thanks to Lee’s distinctive, modern take on a fan favourite and the development of the X-Men in an exciting new direction. The variant cover trick became a weight around collector’s necks in years following with Gold and Silver foil, holograms and gatefolds every few months for some titles, but this first incarnation was about piecing together a piece of art, mass produced and available to anyone who wanted it. Only Jim Lee and perhaps one or two other legends of the industry could’ve commanded such a response.

The success of X-men saw Lee hungering even more for greater creative control over his own work, and as soon as in 1992, Lee accepted an invitation to join six other artists (Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio, Rob Liefeld) who broke away from Marvel Comics to start Image Comics, which would release their own creator-owned titles. Lee’s batch of titles included Wild C.A.T.s, which Lee pencilled and co-wrote, and other series created in the same universe, including Stormwatch, Deathblow and arguably the more successful Gen13.

Lee and his close friend, Valiant Comics publisher Steve Massarsky, arranged a Valiant / Image crossover, Lee’s characters being used, alongside those of Rob Liefeild. Four central titles would exist – two from each company – in single edition format, each edition known as a colour rather than a number, plus a prologue and epilogue book. Wildstorm produced Deathmate Black, with Lee himself contributing to the writing, illustrating the covers of that book, as well as contributing to the prologue’s interior links. The assignment was given to Valiant creators against their better judgment, in particular Editor-in-chief Bob Layton, who complained about Image’s inability to meet their deadlines. Deathmate Black came out a few months after Valiant’s Blue and Yellow installments, which had come out on time, and Liefeld’s Deathmate Red was so late that Layton flew to California to procure that chapter personally, and ink it himself in an Anaheim hotel room. Layton see’s Deathmate’s lateness as one of Valiant’s ‘unmitigated disasters’ and views that project as the beginning of the spectacular collapse of the 1990s for the comic book industry. A collpase that would pull in Marvel and a collapse that comics has not, if ever, recovered from.

Wildstorm continued on, expanding it’s line to include other ongoing titles. As publisher, Lee later expanded this by creating two separate imprints for Wildstorm, Cliffhanger and Homage (to be replaced again years later to reform as a single Wildstorm Imprint, now owned by DC).

Moving back, with Rob Liefeld, to Marvel for the Heroes Reborn alternate universe storyline of the mid-late nineties, Lee was given the opportunity to plot the new Iron Man and wrote and illustrated The Fantastic Four. Both used existing storyarcs and developed them, bringing them more up to date. The innovations on these titles, however, were arguably greater than the more successful Ultimate Universe that has existed since as an Imprint of Marvel, though that is more subject to greater popularity of the industry as well as greater sophistication in art and writing in modern comic books.

Lee returned to Wildstorm, where he would publish series such as The Authority and Planetary, as well as Alan Moore’s imprint, America’s Best Comics. Lee himself wrote and illustrated a 12-issue series called Divine Right: The Adventures of Max Faraday, in which an internet slacker inadvertently manages to download the secrets of the universe, and is thrown into a wild fantasy world.

Sourced from HERE Check out the gallery there for more awesome images. Thanks to Alexandre Bihn for the awesome scan.

In a typically astute and decisive choice, Lee sold Wildstorm to DC in 1998 because he felt that his role as publisher was interfering with his role as an artist. In an echo of the choice made many years previously, he put his calling first. In 2003, Lee collborated with Jeph Loeb for a 12 issue Batman run. Introducing a new nemesis from Batman’s past, ‘Hush’ was a tightly packed and neatly executed trip through the Bat universe. Lee’s images were sumptuous, his design work intricate, emotive and innovative. Lee, the artist, through all the pitfalls and difficulties of publishing had lost none of the values and passion he had when working on X-Men 1 more than 12 years before. He followed this up with ‘For Tomorrow’ a 12-issue story in Superman by 100 Bullets writer (and Bunker firm favourite) Brian Azzarelo, although this didn’t achieve the same level of success, Lee’s work showed a maturity and stillness that perhaps wasn’t visible in his earlier career. In 2005, Lee collaborated with Frank Miller on All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, a series plagued by delays. Lee’s work was spotless throughout, in particular a redesign of the batmobile and a gatefold image that folded out from the book itself that revealed the full scale of this Elseworld Batcave. While Lee’s contribution was near infallible, Miller’s writing was unsophisticated and cynical in most ways and alienated a great many readers. During this period, Lee returned to WildC.A.T.S with Grant Morrison. The gap between All-Star Batman and Robin 4 and 5 was one year and to date, only 1 issue of WildC.A.T.S (Vol 4 has been published. During thsi time, Lee also drew covers for the Infinite Crisis series.

Lee was named Executive Creative Director for DC Universe Online MMORPG. This was released in 2009, with Lee responsible for concept art for the project.

Lee’s meteoric rise did not falter there, as he has now taken a position alongside Dan Didio as Co-publisher of DC Comics. Despite obvious concerns, Lee maintains that this will in no way effect his capacity as a creative. He cited two projects, Dark Knight: Boy Wonder – a follow up of the Frank Miller series he had worked on and also a painted cover for Giuseppe Camuncoli’s layouts in Batman: Europa 1. Neither projects have surfaced yet. The Wildstorm imprint was officially declared ended by DC in September 2010.

With DC’s enormous revamp of it’s entire line, A-List artists were brought to the forefront to work on the most prominent titles. With a Justice League movie in discussion /pre-production at present DC was always going to put JL first in their choices of creative teams. The illustrious team of Jim Lee as penciller and Geoff Johns as writer is certainly, still, a cocktail that no true fan of the artform can ignore. If anything that is Lee’s great talent. Enduring popularity. His art work remains so fresh and clear, and so respresentative of what people want from their books – in spite of changes in the industry itself – that Lee has proven himself a Practitioner who has wandered away from the thing he is most beloved for, but like a much younger, more south east asian Peter Cook, retains a place in every fan who ever saw his work. This is testament to Lee’s enormous talent. His offers to put out projects reveals a conflict of interests that has taken him away perhaps too much in the last two decades, however he is a brave artist who pursued greater goals. Without finding ourself in the same situation who are we to say we wouldn’t pursue those same goals…. however Lee’s example is certainly a cautionary one. Swathes of exceptional artwork, pages and pages of classic comic work haven’t seen the light of day. From the top down the industry runs on one thing – putting out the best books possible. While we can never undermine someone’s right to do whatever they want – what would we have given to see more Lee?

New York to Neo Tokyo: Wolverine and Iron Man Anime

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqPftBQ6mXY&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4Q7xgxDJh4

It’s finally happened. Not since Transformers in the eighties has american ideas and Japanese animation been combined so effectively. If your a fanb of high end, break neck animation and… well… Iron Man and Wolverine, this a must. Show me the way to the Manga section.

Practitioners 34: Masamune Shirow

Masumune Shirow (is an internationally reknowned manga artist, born Masanori Ota on November 23, 1961 in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

Masamune is a pen name, and a good one, based on a famous swordsmith, Masamune. Shirow is best known for the manga Ghost in the Shell, which has since been turned into two anime movies, two anime TV series, an anime TV movie and several video games. He is also known for creating erotic art, some of which finds itself in sparingly in certain sections of Ghost in the Shell.

Born in Hyogo Prefecture capital city of Kobe, he studied oil painting at Osaska University of Arts. While in college, he developed an interest in Manga, which led him to create his own complete story, Black Magic, which was published in the manga fanzine Atlas. His work caught the eye of Seisinsha President Harumichi Aoki, who offered to publish him.

Appleseed


The result was Appleseed, a volume of densely-plotted drama taking place in an ambiguous future. The series follows the adventures of ESWAT members Deunan Knute and Braireos Hecatonchires in in future cityscape Olympus. Like most of Masamune’s work, Appleseed merges elements of cyberpunk and mecha genres with a heavy dosage of politics, philosophy and sociology. The series spans four volumes, released between 1985 and 1989. It has been adapted into an OVA, two feature films and a series of video games. It was a global sensation, its themes broadening its appeal massively and won a Seuin Award for Best Manga. After a professional reprint of Black Magic and a second volume of Appleseed, he released Dominion in 1986.

Dominion: Tank Police was a two volume Manga series. Set in the fictional city of Newport, Japan, ina future in which bacterial air pollution has become so severe that people must wear gas masks when outdoors, the series follows a police squadron that uses tanks. Dominion has been adpated into three OVA (Original Video Animations – animated features specifically designed to be released in video format – you were wondering, I know you were) series: Dominion Tank Police, New Dominion Tank Police and TANK SWAT 01. Dark Horse Comics carried the imprint of the English translation. Dominion: Tank Police is deliberately wry and isn’t a completely serious dystopian scifi. The lithe image of Annapuma and Unipuma are the most prominent image of Dominion Tank Police; two beautiful android catgirls that develop beyond their artificial programming to become criminals. The central characters are the Tank crew, including Leona Ozaki, who is obsessively protective of her tank which she calls ‘Bonaparte’. It’s all pretty bonkers but the lighter and more deliberately aloof plotting made Dominion: Tank Police popular in the US, Australia and the UK as well as on home soil.

Two more volumes of Appleseed followed before he began work on his master work; Ghost in the Shell.

In 2007, he collaborated again with Production IG to co-create the original concept for the anime television series Shinreigari / Ghost Hound, Production I.G’s 20th year anniversary project. A lighter animation with more traditional themes, three boys with traumatic childhoods, Taro, Makoto and Masayuki, observe strange occurrences happening in their small town and cross over to the spirit world to resolve their childhood traumas.

Ghost in the Shell remains Shirow’s best known piece of work. A multimedia franchise it spawned two anime films, Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence; two Anime TV series, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIF, an OVA sequel of the TV series; Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. Solid State Society; and three video games on Playstation, Playstation 2 and Playstation Portable game.

Ghost in the Shell focuses on the activities of the counter-terrorist organisation Public Security Section 9 in a futuristic, cyberpunk Japan. Blending, again cyberpunk and mecha along with espionage and themes of creation and the nature of being Human. Ghost in the Shell used CG graphics, colour and B&W traditional ink work in an incredibly complex and detailed world. Multiple layered and densely plotted, GITS (as it will now be unfortunately known) is raw intelligence presented in a powerfully dynamic and intense package. Shirow was no doubt overseeing the publication from his writing and supplying his own artwork but GITS must be the result of multiple art teams working hard to achieve the final result. Because of the nature of publications in Japan it will always be hard to know. If it is just Masumune then it is a superhuman effort.

Masumune Shirow developed concepts a decade and a half before they were adopted by Hollywood. Things we’re seeing now as mainstream developments existed in the pages of Ghost in the Shell decades ago. A thinker miles ahead of his time, Shirow is a visionary. Even launching multi-media franchises years before that became a mainstream practice.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJi1F_AVmrc

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.

Practitioners 8: Joe Maduriera

A controversial choice this week with Joe Maduriera. Known to everyone as Joe Mad, Joe Madureira’s style combines Western comic book convention with the wildest and broadest Japanese manga style and has been creditted for helping the latter to influence the western comic book market in recent years – clashing the two in a way that has not been matched before or since. Most reknowned for his work on Marvel Comics Uncanny X-men he was a bold choice. His populist and cartoon-like visuals have made him a foil of ‘credibility-hungry’ critics throughout the years however the reason for his inclusion here is sheer, raw, distinctive talent, perhaps not his diligence on release of independent series as will be revealed below.

Few artists in the history of Comic Books (Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Frank Miller, Alan Silverstri all of whom will appear here) have had a bigger effect on the ebb and flow of the comic industry than Joe Maduriera with their own natural drawing style. He drew comics out of love of it and this is illustrated most clearly by how little there is to tell about his working history in the field. He arrived high up, splashed around – made his mark – and left.

Maduriera’s first published work was an eight page story for the anthology title Marvel Comics Presents featuring Northstar, a fringe character in the Marvel fermament. He became the regular penciller on Uncanny X-men in 1994 with issue 312, seeing through the formation of Generation X, the tenure of Sabretooth and the stuff of legend that is ‘The Age of Apocalypse’. His work even influenced the title itself. Archangel and Wolverine pitched headlong into an Eastern adventure in order to save the soul of Psylocke – an adventure that ran for three consecutive issues – involved none of the other characters, no Blackbird, no mansion and no other mutants. A complete departure from continuity that seemed in the reading as a neat excuse (as well as hinting at Psylocke’s oriental half-self’s mystical past) to showcase Maduriera’s distinctive and fun artwork.

Ultimates 3 (2008)

A hint at the effect his artwork would later have on the much later 2008 run of Ultimates 3 1-5 with Jeph Loeb. Critically and publically lambasted for its near total disregard for the conventions introduced and made popular by Mark Millar’s run on the series it was an enormous hit for Marvel. Its secret to longevity? The immersive and unabashedly shame faced comicdom taking place in every panel – the luxurious redesign of the character’s making the continuity jump worthwhile.

Battlechasers (2001)

It was his independent title, Battlechasers, published under the Cliffhanger label, which Madureira founded with J. Scott Campbell (Danger Girl) and Humberto Ramos (Crimson) that stirred the biggest fervour. Set in a high fantasy setting and utilising steam punk and sci-fi genres the story follows four central characters – most notably Red Monika and the outlawed War Golem, Calibretto. A simple enough premise but one that showcased Maduriera’s work faultlessly – which was exactly what he had in mind. It is this title’s production he has received the most criticism for, producing 9

Red Monika of Battle Chasers

issues in 4 years – constantly pushing up the value of the title rather than reducing it as fans anticipated the next instalment with ever increasing enthusiasm. He cancelled Issue 10 and placed the series on permanent hiatus after forming a game development company, Tri-lunar with Tim Donley and Greg Peterson.

Upon the announcement he would be returning to comics for Ultimates 3 he was asked about a conclusion to Battlechasers to which he replied ‘”one of those things that I think about every once in a while, and not having finished it bums me out… I would love to do it at some point, but it would be very far out.”

In July 2007, Vigil Games’ Darksiders was announced, of which Joe Madureira was creative director. It follows War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, on his quest to find out who prematurely triggered the apocalypse. It was released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on January 5, 2010 and September 23, 2010 on PC.
Madureira has also provided cover artwork for Capcom’s Marvel Super Heroes for the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation, and the Sony PlayStation game Gekido: Urban Warriors.

Battlechasers for Cliffhanger 2001