Wednesday, December 21, 2011

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)

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