Thursday, April 19, 2012

Something left of field: A quick review of "No Map but Not Lost".

Ok, this is a little different, as I'm not one to actually DO reviews. Sure, I'm studying postgraduate in comic books (albeit Superhero books), and could, (given the proper amount of time, sleep and brain-function) string together a half-decent, coherent comic book review if I chose to. But, at any given point of a day, I have that many stresses and odd jobs pulling me AWAY from creating my OWN stuff, that even now as I type this I know I'm avoiding the pile of drawing I need to complete tonight and before the convention on Saturday. Add to that the constant slight feeling of inadequacy I'm sure many artists feel when producing work (be it for personal gratification or for public consumption), and the fact that I know I'll have to ditch another mind-relaxing gym session to get back on top of things, means this review is less of a proper review, and more like a "rambling thoughts on something I liked".

I guess in this mindset, this is the reason why I found somewhat of a connection, or more like what resonated with me, in the reading of a wonderful book by Melbourne's Bobby Nenadovic (or pen name 'Bobby N.'), entitled "No Map, but not Lost: The Self Published Comics 1995-2001" (published by Milk Shadow Books 2012). For a start, regular readers (all 3 of you, including me)or anyone unfortunate to get stuck talking to me at a convention about comics, would know that if it's not Jack Kirby, chances are I'm not reading it (a big exaggeration, but not far from the truth). This week, I read two Milk Shadow titles (the other being Ben Hutchings's beautiful silent work "Walking to Japan"), but a number of things stood out for me regarding Bobby's work, which I'd like to touch on.

Firstly, I'll get this out of the way that I was a fan of Bobby N. the person before I'd properly read any of his work. I had seen his images from "Digested" (his series published by Gestalt Comics) from Bobby's website , and very much dug (an academia term) his sense of design, line work, composition and overall mise en scene of the worlds he created on the page. Overall though, after meeting him, I became a fan of Bobby himself. A very nice guy, no B.S about him. He seems to listen, and gives opinions which come from a basis of knowledge of the artform, but with a realistic awareness of the comics scene in general.

But, in saying this, I tried not to let this influence the way I read someone's work, or my opinion of it. In that way, I can still enjoy an old school Frank Miller story or a Mel Gibson movie without feeling overly guilty, or that the text is tainted because of the "jerkness" that comes from the person in a degree though, I'm only human ;P. So I'm saying I don't like to let the person influence my reading of their material.

In Bobby's case though, I still feel "No Map but not Lost" was such an enjoyable reading experience, and such a personal book, that I feel as though it was quiet journey that you take with him, spoken and unspoken. What I mean by that wanky statement, is that the commentary at the end of each chapter gave you the reader insight into the creative process, skill progression, comic methodology (good or bad in whether he completed the story) and overall personal thoughts into each strip he unashamedly or proudly included in the collection, but at the same time you get this unspoken journey, which demonstrates the growth and development of emotion and themes within the artwork of this fantastic cartoonist. Sure, he probably alludes to this in the commentary, or that they slowly go from "What the f$%^ was I thinking?" to one of the comments at the end of one of my favorites from the book ('Withheld') " story I could proudly stand behind and say 'this is mine'." But like any good sequential story teller will say "Show, don't tell", Bobby's work certainly shows, and the connection and afterthought you will develop from reading this book will certainly resonate with you too. Not only in the development of storytelling and pace, the wonderful use of scale, panel size or shadow to convey a mood or manipulate the pacing, but even in the themes of the story. Again, from 'Withheld', I'm still trying to figure out plot points/find the hidden meaning long after reading the strip.

(Maybe all those bombastic, silver age Kirby stories have melted my brain to a point where the quiet stories are both a lovely change of pace, but have destroyed my ability to "get" things ;P)

Perhaps, (and most likely why I've chosen to procrastinate more by ignoring my own work to do for this spontaneous ramble) the reason I liked this book very much was that it speaks to me as a comic creator myself. Booby N. alludes to life experiences and events in his comics and commentary that I too share, as well as the same mindset towards them (though he can probably express these thoughts better and more eloquently than I can). He also reminded me (through including the first few strips such as "Assassinator pt1 &2") of the mainly action-only strips (with no context or plot) I first started drawing as a kid. I find myself nodding my head or finding something very much in common with any points in much the same way as I connect with some of the comments 'The List' creator Paul Bedford has made in the past regarding his own comics making drive and upbringing. Particularly as I mentioned at the start of this article, many of us on the Australian scene have to sleep very little in order to fit in time around our "day jobs"/study/commutes/eating/showering etc. to be able to produce work which competes with larger, international works, produced by teams of people who do that as their only profession, with characters of unlimited marketing/cross media channels and 50-70 year publishing history.

It's a hard slog.

Often you doubt why you bother at all. And yet, Bobby N.'s book reminds me that on some level, it's important to remember that you're suppose to ENJOY the work. And, that like the lessons he learnt from Dave Sims, it's important to keep 'climbing that mountain'- I guess in a sense not just for the general public who may or may not enjoy reading your comics, but on an artistic level, for YOURSELF. In the day to day grind of life, and all its problems that pile up and threaten to crush your spirit, you need that "oasis", as Bobby N. best puts it.

I appreciate the reminder, Bobby. Thank you.

"No Map, but not Lost" is available from various comic book retails (inquire online) or from Milk Shadow book's website
(Photo above: Taken at Melbourne Supanova 2012 L to R: Chris Sequeira, Bobby N., and me. Colin Wilson's awesome car on the LHS too ;) )


Bobby.N said...

Thank you so much for the kind, kind review, Paul.

It's a book I'm a little nervous about being out there, not only because I'm showing my warts, but because much of the work inside seems amateurish to me now... but I keep reminding myself 'why' i put it out... that is, its a book about my modest journey in getting started and not a new collection of my latest comics... so I'm glad you understood it's intent... But I'm not surprised Paul, for as you've mentioned, we seem to have the same drive and respect for the work itself. Keep swinging man... I'll be doing the same.

Again, thanks mate.

- Bobby.N

melaleuca said...

Nice one mate!

viva la N

Paul Mason said...

Thanks for the comments, guys :)

Bobby, thank you too for the kind words. I never do reviews, but it just hit me to the point that I HAD to say something about the work. Very inspiring. Plus, it's always good to look up on the battlefield to see another tough bloke in the trenches.

Clint Fisher said...

Hi Paul, I enjoyed reading this article and felt the need to comment. Your words resonated with me- the feeling of "why do I bother with this" etc. It can seem like a lot of work for zero payback, if you look at it in ther wrong way and expect massive financial reparation, limosines, champagne and groupies. But like you say, if not done for the love of the craft and the process, it shouldn't be done at all. Yes we have a million other things pulling us away from the desk, but when we do make the time to sit down and draw, we reconnect with that meditative state, that childlike wonder and enjoyment. That's what keeps me pumping out the panels and loving it. So anyway, there's my two cents, and now you know Paul, there's at least four people reading your blog. Keep it up big guy :)

Paul Mason said...

Thank you mate ;D For the comment, and for putting up with my jibberish.