Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bill Jaaska RIP 1961 - 2009

The comics community is an interesting one, one of names, not faces, that flit in and out of our awareness with extreme rapidity. We end up discussing artists and writers and inkers as though we're on a first name basis with them, because, well, we kinda feel that after we read their work enough. How easily the names trip off of my tongue like I know these people! Loved Sam Rosen's lettering in that issue, enjoyed Bill Everett's work on that issue, or Jim Lee's on this issue. And I've met none of those people.

I can say that i worked with Bill Jaaska, but I never met Bill. Did one issue of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and that was that. Bill was doing a rather strange over-rendered pencil style that did not mesh well with my inks at the time. But that was what needed to be done so I did it. Since it was only a single issue I didn't have the editors give me his phone number so that i could call him. I turned it in, submitted my voucher and moved on to an issue Eternal Warrior.

Welcome to the disconnected world of comics. I've inked plenty of people that i've never met, and any one of them could easily be have died, alone, in a rented room like Bill did, and no one in the comics community or myself would ever know. And thats sad.

As artists, much of what we do it solitary. Many of us aren't great socially and so we retreat into the quiet shelter of our drawings. Its part of what makes us artists, being able to visualize alien worlds in our heads and bring that out on the paper. The internet has been a huge boon to us however, allowing us to communicate at 3 in the morning with people around the world via email and become more connected without having to be over connected.

Still, it took a very long time for the comics community to realize that Bill had died. The story, as it is, is in the blog here, and it makes for interesting and sad reading. While I didn't follow his career, it seems that Bill, after working on some fairly high profile gigs with Peter David on The Hulk, dropped off the radar, and stayed off the radar.

And that's pretty easy to do in comics back then. After inking Batman:Outlaws with Gulacy in 2000, I decided to stop inking professionally and do some other art, so it would have appeared that i dropped off the radar as well. But you could have found my graphic design on the web by Google, and then the blog, and then the web comic. Bill didn't do that, not that anyone can find.

And its sad. Go read. And think about all the comics that you've read and re-read, and start to wonder where some of those people are now.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Englehart: The Point Man and beyond

Great interview with Steve Englehart over at Newsarama today by Zak Smith, and I wanted to highlight it so that people will know that not only is the Point Man going back into print, but that the sequel, 30 years in the making, will be out next month.

Englehart is one of the great lights of the 1970's comic movement, and while less flashy than a piece of Jim Starlin or Mike Grell art, his stories, along with Steve Gerber's and Don McGregor's helped to truly take the next step from where Marvel was in the 1960's with Stan and Roy. People are still going on and using his concepts, especially his ideas for Captain America. Brubaker is his soul mate with the series that he's been writing for years now. His Batman, in both my eyes and in the eyes of DC Comics obviously, remains definitive.

Its comments like this that just confirm what we thought about how they approached the comics "back in the day":
The last stuff I did for Marvel and DC had way too much editorial back-and-forth. Once upon a time, editorial said, “These are your books, do whatever you want to do.” The story I’ve told a zillion times is that Roy Thomas said, “We’re giving you Captain America – if you can make it sell, we’ll keep you on, if not, we’ll fire you and we’ll get somebody who can.”

That was the sum total of the editorial influence! What I did and what Steve Gerber and those other guys did came from that. Now, editorial says “Here’s what we’re going to do with the line and the major books, and we’ll just get people to fill in the blanks.”
And from an editorial standpoint, I can see how that would make sense when you're doing a huge Secret Invasion crossover. From a writer's standpoint, that would simply suck unless you were the one behind Secret Invasion. Its one of the reasons that the only Marvel comics worth looking at are ones that are divorced from the current continuity: Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, FF. They even ruined the fun read that was Thor. Thanks a lot guys. You had me there for a little bit.

I still have my copy of the original pressing of the Point Man, and while its a bit tattered from the years, its still a fairly good read. I followed Steve to the paperback market after his Avengers and Batmans and enjoyed the novel. Not perfect, but i kept thinking, "That was just the first book, wait til he hits his stride." But he never did another novel until now. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Unvarnished Horror of "Spook Hunt"

A shout out to local filmmaker and good friend Todd Miro who is, over at his blog, detailing the process of shooting and producing and putting all the pieces together for his movie short Spook Hunt. Go over and take a look. He's got a great idea and and a great script and if any of the execution doesn't come up to snuff its only because he's got a amateur in front of the camera.

Yeah, I'm in the movie. sheepish grin.

This acting thing is hard. I can hear the inflection in my head that i'd like to use, but the voice, like any instrument, is only as good as the musician playing it, and as a bit of a novice I can't always get the instrument to do EXACTLY what I want it to.

As much time as I spend thinking about layouts and storytelling and variations of shots and all the different ways to present information on the comic book page, its fascinating to have someone else direct and edit and be the sole arbiter of how to tell the story. I'm a prop. I'm trying to be a damn good prop, but i'm still a prop nonetheless.

Todd is spending a great deal time documenting both the technical means that he's using to shoot the piece, as well as the aesthetic choices in picking shots, angles, takes. Its a great way, other than director's commentary tracks and deleted scenes, to see how a film comes together.

So pop on over to see some of the early scenes as we shoot them and he starts to assemble the footage into something resembling a real film!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Book of Genesis by Crumb: A Review

I was unaware that Crumb had his entire book of Genesis on display for a time at the Armand Hammer Gallery at UCLA, but I'm glad that Charles Hatfield was there to report back with text and photos. I've stayed away from reviewing Crumb's Genesis for a while to let the work sink in. With 4 years of illustration behind it, it deserves to be marinated on for a while as opposed to a simple quick reaction.

Hatfield comes in with a number of points in his review of both the exhibition as well as the book itself. One of the interesting ones was this:
The pages were traditional inked originals on Bristol board, maybe (I’m guesstimating) not quite half again as large as their printed counterparts, so minute attention was needed. I was able to seek out marks of correction, or adjustment, in the inking: for instance, Crumb’s subtle use of white-out, sometimes for texturing, sometimes because he apparently changed his mind about minute elements of the text. Evidence of “mistakes” or second-guessing was pretty minimal, though; Crumb’s facility and focus remain mind-blowing.
So all that ink detail is literally at a denser, small size in the originals? Wow. More impressed than i was a few minutes ago. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Crumb's work has always been problematic. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the dirty aftermath of the hippies, I've had no illusions at the golden era of peace and love. I rode my 10 speed past the burn outs on the sidewalk all the time growing up. So reading the Zap comics that were floating around? Revering Crumb and Sheldon and the rest? Difficult to read pot jokes when you're surrounded by people who got used to being stoned and lost the capacity to do anything with the rest of their lives.

Of course Crumb, like him or hate him, continued on to make statement after statement in the world. Like him or hate him, he's an artist down to his DNA. And he's a sequential artist to boot, which is an interesting difference to him, something that many artists can't say for all the interpretations that we've seen of biblical stories.

In the end, after reading through the entire Genesis book, I was struck that the project is one that stands more on its own merits as simply being completed, a four year marathon, than on being the sort of book that you can comment on in the usual terms (story, art, characterization, plot, etc.) Yes, it did get done, and I'm not certain how many artists would have taken those years to synthesize the different texts down to a single, cohesive graphic text. Crumb spends a great deal of artistic energy differentiating the faces and characters, so that he and we can have a visually identifiable Cain and Abel, but, and i suppose this is crucial to your enjoyment of the story, does he add anything to the fable to Cain and Abel? Should he add anything might also be a question that, depending upon your interpretation of the Bible, you might wish to add.

For me, I don't think that anything was really added. Yes, his women look rather like Crumb women, but that doesn't bother me. It doesn't add anything to my appreciation of the text either however. For all of my time invested in the reading, I only came away with an appreciation of the sheer amount of work involved, but not any new ideas towards the text of Genesis. Again you could argue that perhaps I shouldn't be asking anything to be added to stories, given that they alternate, in odd fashion, from the beginning of the Hebrew tribes to the creation stories, to parables, to extended family trees (intent most likely upon making sure that certain families allied themselves directly the originators of the 12 tribes). But,yes, I did want a little something more there. What more, I don't know, but a regurgitation or distillation of various texts in a graphic format doesn't really have a place in the "books I've been looking forward to".

I read a number of reviews of the book and have yet to run across one that really mentions a distinct benefit of having the book. And that bothers me. I'd like there to be a reason for it to exist, beyond just "I wanted to see if I could finish it." Is it an artistic statement to just finish the marathon?

Genesis will sit upon the bookshelf, but, like many bibles I'm afraid, will continue to gather dust rather than being referenced frequently.