Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The process: Thumbnail page from Dark Detective #8

*Spoilers*....kinda. Don't pay too much attention, and you'll be fine ;)

2011 Recap: "The Soldier Legacy" and my goings on in a nutshell.

I'm going to take this opportunity to get a little personal here, Soldier fans. This time of year somehow forces you to take a moment in your own head to reflect on the year almost gone: the successes, the failures, the good choices, the regrets and the possibilities that lie ahead.

12 months ago, I was working on Soldier Legacy #2, really not having any idea as to whether it would see the light of day. Some drama had occurred, and though I wasn't involved directly, I had to make a choice as to what I thought was firstly the more healthy option for me mentally, for friendship, and for any chance of reaching my career aspirations. I couldn’t sit around and wait for business promises to never eventuate, or the constant feeling of being put down or forgotten. Plus, at this point, I could clearly see who was the more helpful and encouraging people from it all. So, from that instance, I was full blown self-publishing (not just footing the bills for it), and ready to try and work on myself as a viable artist.

Really, up until I had professional and editorial feedback in San Diego this year, I constantly thought (and in a way, deep down still do), that my style of artwork didn’t have a viable, commercial use. In my opinion, everyone from what I could see had their eyes on guys who could draw "realistic", or almost photographic. Or Super detailed, massively ripped, cheescakey etc. So, I was worried I couldn’t play in the big pool. My love has for the last few years been in guys like Kirby, Ditko, Romita Jr etc. I'd much rather delve into the crazy poses and storytelling composition of a single panel/page than rip out a high detailed, ripped image that serves no purpose but to make someone drool. Sure, I'd drool too over the technical aspects of the image, and be envious of the ability, but as my uni research was showing me, it was the telling of the story and discovering the methodologies behind this that was more appealing to me in my art process.

I am constantly reminded on a daily basis that "there's always someone better". This was true in my fighting days, and also true in terms of my comic pursuits. And this, I believe, is a good thing. I try to remember that it's the constant trying and the aim to be better the next time out, and learn from the mistakes that makes you more of a chance to win the next bout. This saying should also always be remembered in how one conducts themselves in public in their art, but not necessarily a crippling thought when trying to produce the art. It's a fine line that I struggle with as the days progress on a long project, particularly through those gruelling panels that need to be done for the sake of the story, but are difficult to pull off. I guess what I'm trying to say (to myself, really) is I'm competing only with myself. Of course look at the best: they're called that for a reason, and have many lessons in their work. Look at the worst: you can learn from them too. But if you can top yourself each time you set out, then that improvement will be more evident as time progresses.

So anyway, I had some goals kicked this year that has brought me up my own personal ladder to success. I had a piece of artwork featuring my character published in Supanova's first comic book publication "Tides of Hope" which raised money for the Queensland floods. It featured some of the biggest names in international and national comics, and was over the moon to be asked to contribute. I also released 2 full colour comic books continuing the Soldier Legacy series (#2 and #3) and have re-released # 1 and 2 under the Black House Comics banner (get to that in a minute). I had the chance to attend many conventions this year, up and down the east coast several times (and I'm subsequently over flying now ;P), meeting new friends, talking to some great fans, scribbling commissions and speaking one on one with some of the biggest names in Australian and American comics (and some of my personal heroes, such as Dan Slott, Greg Capullo, Paul Jenkins, Nicola Scott, Gail Simone, Chris Claremont, Billy Tan, Tom Taylor, Colin Wilson etc. ), and attend the biggest comic convention in the world, San Diego Comic Con with some of my best mates and mentors in this crazy business, Chris Sequeira and W.Chewy Chan. Meeting my childhood and adult comic book idols over there too was just an amazing experience (including John Romita Jr, Mike Royer, Mark Waid, Walter and Louise Simonson, Jamal Igle and Bruce Timm just to name a handful), plus catching up with John Higgins and the very encouraging Nicola Scott was great. I met some new friends and important contacts there too, who are still encouraging me in my own comic making career. (I got to thank Jan Sherpenhuizen too for a great start to the year as my table mate in Brisbane and Melbourne, Black House comics, Baden, Bruce Mutard for organising Melbourne Armageddon too, and Jason Franks and Jason Paulos for keeping me sane in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane respectively.)

Also this year (thanks to Baden Kirgan) my little comic series was picked up by Black House comics, which has allowed the book to not only be released at the various Aussie cons, but also online and via comic book stores around the country. My re-releases came midyear, plus an opportunity to work in their flagship Newsstand series "Dark Detective: Sherlock Holmes" with good friend and mentor, Chris Sequeira. Chris throwing in the idea of doing an 1880's Soldier Legacy tie in was just awesome to me, as it instantly deepened the mythos. Plus following up with Soldier #3 before the end of the year, with more to come, and not having to be worried about printing cost and distribution thanks to Black House's online store and recent "MACQ" magazine initiative is just one extra task I don't have to stress over. (There's serious talk of the Graphic Novel being green lit, so I'll have to get cracking on the pagination for this as soon as I can bring my head up for air!)

The Australian Society of Authors did a little interview for their "Comic creator of the Month" section of their website/e-zine, just after their wonderful Comics Masterclass with Colleen Doran, and I am very thankful for this. Little things like this just make me feel a little bit legit. Otherwise, I'm just some guy writing and drawing comics in my spare time, rolling them in a bottle and launching them into the pop culture ocean without any indication if anyone likes them. We don't do this for praise, but in any job, it's very nice and encouraging to get feedback or acknowledgement of the work. For this I need to also thank Youi Insurance/FilmSmiths for wanting my character for their commercial (more in a sec). And I have to thank the kind people at the conventions that come by and tell me they've been hanging out for the next issue (or build me Captain America shields...very cool fans who know me too well :D), or even cooler, they buy copies for their relatives/friends serving in our armed forces overseas for our country. That is particularly humbling to me; to have real soldiers (past and present too) enjoy the work. And when comic stores tell me the books are selling well, or sold out, particularly in stores with no Aussie section, so I'm on the shelve against Spider-man and Batman? I get a small sense of triumph, despite the anonymity.

One of my biggest wins for the year was seeing my created characters and concepts used in a nationwide Television commercial for an Aussie company, Youi Insurance. I was blown away by the support of not only Baden at Black House, but also the other Black House guys, my close friends, my university (Griffith Uni, Queensland College of Art), the ASA: Comics portfolio, and some wonderful creators in the Aussie comics scene and overseas (and even an article on "Bleeding Cool" website :D). And academically, it only aids in helping my research in trying to discuss whether an appealing Australian hero character can be developed in our comics industry when the US market is clearly dominated by long established American heroes. This is tangible proof ;D. Landing the scholarship midyear to try and focus less on the day job, and more on meeting my illustrating obligations was very helpful, but also a constant reminder that my thesis work has to get cranking quicker, beginning in January :P

Oh, I almost forgot: the icing on the cake too was the Soldier Legacy images from issue 2 appearing at the Gympie Regional Gallery as part of the 'Drawing And Animation' Exhibition earlier this year, alongside Griffith Uni Professors and Doctoral degree holders, and shortlisted pages at the 5th Jilin International Animation and Comics Exhibition in China. Comics in Art galleries? Win :D

But it hasn't all been up and up.

Around the same time as the TV Commercial, Soldier #3 release, Dark Detective #7 and the last two conventions of the year, I lost two people very close to me. One,was a long term relationship. The other, was an old friend of mine. To this day I'll never know if he knew, that I felt he gave me the first leg up to come to Queensland, to study my degree (which has lead to my current Doctorate research) and set me on this path with the skill base to do comics. I did tell him this after the accident, and got to read some comic books to him. I even had the chance to say goodbye, though deep down I wanted my old friend back. I wanted him to see what I'd been up to these last few year, to understand exactly what I was saying, to hear him poke fun at me for something, or give me his advice (the only "right" advice ;P) on what I should be doing. It's been a few weeks now since we lost him, and though I did say goodbye, I'll regret for a very long time not touching base sooner before it was too late.

I guess the silver lining of all this is that these few personal low points have shown me I can still produce- somehow with all this I got Soldier #3 out in time for the last cons of the year, and I'm still wading waist deep through my commission images, design jobs and sequential work, albeit the hiccups of life around us all (and the craziness that is Christmas time). It has also allowed me to explore some emotional paths I wish to convey in the next instalment of "The Soldier Legacy". In any point of a story, be it film or comic book, that low point of the character occurs around the end of the second act in order for a more emotional resurgence of the character of the climax in act 3. Or so the theory goes; it will be tough to pull off by April, as I have the part 2 of the Dr Nikola vs. The Soldier story for Sherlock Holmes #8 due in January, plus other pending projects with collaborators I can’t go into...yet (;D), but I'm somewhat optimistic at this point. Although, the academic writings I need to get a move on completing are building too. If anything, I need to thank my close friends and some new friends, for their recent support both direct and indirect, and my small but very loyal readers (plural!) who stick with me. I will have at least #4 ready for Gold Coast!

So what else?

I guess deep down, there's still a little bit of frustration. Despite my good fortune this year, I still feel extremely anonymous in my comic practice. And that's OK, I'm still new and I guess doing a action/adventure style book , unashamedly Superhero in its approach, isn't everyone's "cup of tea". I guess this just forces me to attempt to be more vigilant, to not "rest on my laurels" and strive to bring out new stuff, even if it has permanently hammered my sleeping pattern :P (we all have day jobs after all too). I don't want to be a 1 strip every 5 years guy, or make promises books are coming out, that never do. Or, demand praise/notice for something I did a long time ago. The Soldier books, if nothing else, aims to teach myself the many lessons this medium has to offer, and also prove to myself that it's not BS if I say "well, I could do that IF I had the time." No one has the time. I have to MAKE the freakin' time. I figured if I want to be professional, I will act professional, and thankfully I can say, yes I get paid to do some work that I love, and haven't had the need to chase down paying commissions for a long time, which I'm very thankful for too. I don't set out to be a big shot here, either (clearly, my bills and my almost invisibility prove that) and I really don't want to sound like a "wanker", too. I treat the book as not only a way to honour our culture's heroes, or our own stories in this American dominated superhero landscape, but also as an artistic expression and a way to have a voice, to show how I feel. Perhaps touch on some things that I find awesome in the works I read, or tragic, funny or frustrating about things I have experienced. It's still early days in the series, and I'm not trying to "Mary Sue" the damn thing, but I simply want something that will appeal to a broad audience and work on what I have as an artist so far. Everyone has their opinion on what a comic book "should" be. I'm interested in the basics- tell a story with clarity; which is entertaining, that allows me to grow. I'm no Todd McFarlane, John Romita Jr., Greg Capullo or Jack Kirby in any stretch of the imagination, but I believe in their work ethic, ability to tell a story, be dynamic when needed, quiet when needed and to engage the reader visually. That's the aim.

So that's my waffle for the year almost gone in somewhat of a nut shell. I get uncomfortable speaking from the heart. I don't like doing this. I don't like sharing much; it feels like a weakness, or at least showing kinks in the armour. Or, it feels rather pretentious. Honestly, does my opinion truly matter on things? Who knows? If it makes me feel better in the end, then I guess that's all that matters, right? I usually confine this sort of thing to my best mate and mentor in all this crazy stuff. He gets it because he's lived it, and still living it too. And he’s an optimist. You have to know at least one; otherwise you'll fold pretty damn quickly on this planet. In this case though (blogging), I feel whenever you lay emotions down for the world to see, you'll tend to always bore people, offend at least "someone", or far worse (and much like how I feel with my artwork), you get nothing. No response. Indifference. I think this plays on my mind more than it should. I mean, we all have our own lives and worries too, yeah? But if anything, this was meant as somewhat of mental exercise. I had the urge to do this. I don't know why. I guess the comic creating process is such a solitary endeavour, sometimes you just get this unnatural urge to share or unload. Maybe not totally unload. I'm more of a physical person in that regard, and would rather sock a heavy bag or lift something heavy over my head if I want to release some tension. But this has allowed me to reflect a little on the way I've felt lately, and look at how I will try to further my goals in the New Year.

Starting now :D

Back to the drawing board. Merry Xmas. Safe New Year. Yes? Yes. Good.

(P.s.: For some crazy photos from this year, I'd suggest check out the Soldier Legacy Facebook page, or go through the Blog Archives :D)

'The Fighting Fool': Australian comic hero in Captain America Comics (1942)

So I'm reading Golden Age Captain America at the moment, and I come across this first (and only) appearance of this Australian Soldier character. Needless to say, I was stunned, as I'd never heard of this Timely/Marvel character before. And once I read it, I saw why :P A nice idea to have an Aussie Anzac Solider represented in what were essentially War time propaganda pieces (and sadly, at this stage Simon and Kirby were no longer working on the title, but consolation prize was Al Avison doing his best S & K riffing), but could be seen by the story that very little to no research was done on the story. Which is totally understandable- realistically, they were virtually young men thrown in the deep end (Stan Lee was fetching coffee for Simon and Kirby merely a year before becoming Managing Editor at Timely)and putting together books at breakneck pace for young kids and US troops to read.

Still hilarious to see the Soldier is talking to his commanding officer at the 'ANZAC headquarters' ;P

And here's another one, this time written in the 60's and featuring in 'Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos' (#49 and 50), and the poor man's 'Howlers'- "Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders" (Check the name ;P)

Just goes to show how iconic that Slouch hat really is, huh? :D

Thursday, December 15, 2011

...And now for something completely different. Again ;P

I was very bad this week: I have many, many deadlines at the moment (hence the lack of posts until today), but chose to have a time out and scribble up a Spider-man drawing for the OZComic weekly Drawing thing. Come one, it IS Spider-man, after all ;)

Soldier Legacy #3 page/Simon and Kirby Cover

Comics MasterClass photo: With Colleen Doran

Aussie comic writer and Terra Magazine Editor Jason Franks, Me and international Comic artist/writer Colleen Doran.

Rest In Peace, Joe Simon (1913-2011)

Today, I was sad to hear that one of my biggest heroes in comics passed away. Joe Simon was the man who not only co-created one of my favorite characters (Captain America), and countless others (Fighting American, Stuntman, Private Strong, The Fly, Bullseye, The Boy Commandos, The Newsboy Legion, The Guardian etc.) but also pioneered the Romance Genre (with Kirby), and was on the cutting edge of every genre in American comic books for 20 years.Other publishers could only attempt to emulate the greatness of Simon and Kirby's work. They were the best.

Here, I will attempt to put together my rambling tweets on Mr Simon, so they can be read a little clearer. But really, I urge you to track down some books. The first, is called 'The Comic Book Makers', co-written by his son Jim. The second is Joe Simon's recent Autobiography, written with help by Steve Saffel. The third, is the Simon and Kirby Superheroes Hardcover. It contains not only unpublished material and carefully crafted restorations, but also all of Simon and Kirby's superhero work that wasn't Timely or DC. It was pure creator owned. I still hope to chase down all of the 10 issues they did on Captain America and their DC work too, plus their wonderful work on Western books, war, Sci-fi....Hell, anything these two did in those pre-Silver age was wonderful.

So,here's my tweets below. It's ramble-y, but at least in some sort of order.

I am sad to hear one of my biggest heroes in comics passed away today. So I'm just going to take a moment to tweet some thoughts.
Joe Simon was huge in comics. This was the guy who even Stan Lee did, and even today, still calls "Boss".
I had the fortune to meet the man who helped Joe Simon write and develop his autobiography, including all the Simon and Kirby reprint HCs...
We chatted for a while in San Diego, where he told me a few nights before SDCC, he''d taken Mr Simon to see "Captain America" (a Preview)..

...he said Mr Simon loved it. Remember now, Mr Simon had first come across the "Captain America" film waaaay back in 1944, while he was....
...with the US Coast Guards. He and Kirby had basically created the character in 1940 for Timely (pre Marvel) Comics, and blown the ...
...competition out of the water, outselling DC's Superman and Batman. After 10 issues, they left Timely and were wooed to DC, where they...
...again led industry sales with Boy Commandos, The Sandman and Manhunter. But then they were sent to War, Kirby to Normandy, &...
...Simon to the Coast Guards. Meanwhile, Timely Publisher Martin Goodman had been approached by Republican Pictures to Licence...
Captain America into a 12 eps film series. The character would be used as a shell only, where Steve Rogers in the film was replaced by...
District Attorney Grant Gardner. The Uniform was used (without the little head wings from memory), but he carried a pistol instead of shield

...that's the only resemblance to the character! The script was written BEFORE they bothered to get the character Captain America...
...and the price Timely charged for the licence? $1...So, Simon was walking down an empty boardwalk one night on patrol, looks up to see...
...the movie poster to one of his characters! And of course, it was terrible. And the next few incarnations in the 70's and 80's was...
...just as bad. So it's fitting to know he was able to see, and enjoy, a rather faithful interpretation of one of his biggest creations...
...before he passed away. I will treasure the copies of his Autobiography &the oversize HC of his Superhero reprints signed by him....
...don't forget, this guy was on the cutting edge of American comics for over 20 years. No including his 70's concepts...
...He and Kirby invented the 'Romance Genre" in comics in "Young Romance". They knew the value of getting the female readership too.
...When Superheroes died off after the war, they worked on Western, War, Funny comics, Horror, Romance, even some fantastic...
...pre-Silver age heroes, such as my favourites: Stuntman and The Fighting American. Also, The Double Life of Private Strong, and the Fly.
The Fly was the pre-Spider-man concept. You guys know that Spider-man was Joe Simon's name creation, yeah? Without the Hyphen.
Spider-man is said to be created by Lee and Ditko. They were the guys who did the FINAL work on the concept, but it was Joe Simons' first...
CC Beck even worked on a few pages of the concept (The original Captain Marvel artist), before Kirby reinterpreted the pages....
...back then, 'Spiderman' was changed to 'The Silver Spider", before the concept was shelved, and retooled for Archie Comic's 'The Fly'.
It was only that when Lee and Kirby were creating new books which was the development of Marvel's Silver Age, Kirby brought...
...Joe Simon's original logo to Stan Lee. Kirby even did the original concept and a few pages before the idea was handed to Ditko...
...Ditko of course added his own unique spin on the visuals and threw out some of the Simon and Kirby concepts (with Lee), to have...
...the "Spider-man" we see today. Well, I've clogged Twitter big time, my apologies. I just lost an inspiration today, and wanted to ...
...share some rambling thoughts. Maybe I should have blogged it :S Honestly didn't think I'd take up much time. Woops :P
Pssst! Wanna know where some of the earliest examples of Double Page spreads came from?

My thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and friends. As someone who just lost someone recently who was a man who helped me on my career path, I can imagine the loss right now.

Update! Sherlock Holmes, New Soldier etc.

Just quickly updating, Dark Detective: Sherlock Holmes #7 hits Newsagents this week, with the first part of the Dr Nikola backup story, featuring "The Soldier Legacy" of 1887! for only $5, this book is very cool :D I also have commenced penciling for both part 2 of the story, which will feature in the next book due out the beginning of next year, and Soldier Legacy #4, which is aiming for an April release. Stay tuned for previews :D

I also wish to announce a Black House Comics initiative called 'MACQ' which is the only Australian made 'previews' style magazine for Retailers and customers to view some of the best comic books and graphic novels Australia has to offer. The first issue (avaialbe via PDF on the website), showcases both Black House comics, and Gestalt publications- the guys who have produced some awesome Aussie books such as The Deep, Torn, Changing Ways etc. For more info, click here . More publishers and independents to be added as issues progress for sure. And as you can see, both "The Soldier Legacy" and "Dark Detective" are available to order anywhere in Australia! See your local Comic book store for more details.

I also wish to announce that all current Soldier Legacy issues are available online or via order for only $5 each! For 32 pages full colour, why not?!

Gotta go, more updates soon :D