Friday, April 29, 2005

Are You Going to Buy That? 

I just ducked over to Are You Going to Buy That?, a small exhibition of "works by selected zine, comic book and graphic novel artists" - it was definitely worth getting to! If anyone is thinking of going, the Gallery is at the back of Hawthorn Town Hall, with entry from the carpark, and not that easy to find.

Boroondara Gallery Elipse - Picture (c) Alice Mrongovius The artists are:
  • David Blumenstein (mispelt as "Blumestein), complete with the animated Herman the Legal Labrador!
  • Sarah Howell (from "Vacant Lot, etc.") original artwork and very engaging
  • Alice Ames (fascinating installation type art - kind of comics in 3D, in terms of it being text and objects)
  • Dean Rankine (lots of tiny framed pics that will have you musing - what is "E" for, etc.?)
  • Edward Burger (full on comics artist - why haven't I seen his stuff before?)
  • Alice Mrongovius (some gorgeous original work, including the picture here - Elipse - spray paint, markers on corrugated cardboard, 56cm x 78cm)
  • Leigh Rigozzi (always makes me laugh out loud - hmm, that's a good place to find a piano)
  • Gary Lau (needs no introduction, but I finally got "Knight Edge" #2, instead of having two copies of #3)
  • Kirsty Altis (am I confusing her work with Alice Ames - probably!)
  • Daniel Reed (of The Crumpleton Experiments, here featuring some beautiful original drawings!)
  • Anthony Woodward (the printmeister himself! Big, little, experimental, all of it clever, exciting comics and art)
  • Paul White (ravens flying - contemplative, and good use of a photocopier)
  • Talitha Nonveiller (aka.. TalNON) (I wasn't expecting to see work of hers I haven't seen before! Very pleasantly surprised! Is "Delicacy" for "Escape" #2?)
  • Anonymous (haven't opened the paperbag yet... feel nervous about it)
  • Richard Warwick (another major comics artist I don't know!)

  • Many inaccurate observations above, I don't doubt. My only minor gripe is that I really wanted every exhibit to have something I could buy! I mean, given the title and all... If you're around, then check it out!

    Simpsons self-portrait & Criticism in Australian comics 

    One of the comics groups was having a challenge where we each had to draw ourselves as a Simpson - below is my hasty attempt (which is oddly accurate in a lot of ways :)). I definitely don't think The Simpsons is for little kids, but it's a brilliant satire (though there are way too many episodes for me to ever follow it closely).

    L had to dress as an Egyptian for school today, so Jill adapted J's Trojan tunic and I made and painted an Egyptian collar, by tracing an LP record (I knew I was keeping those for a reason) and fixing it with velcro to the outfit.

    I'm about to have a week off from work to try to get most of the next Moth & Tanuki done (an 8 page first half of a longer story). I'm about halfway through with the pencils, but always get caught up in background drawing. I also bumped into Oliver, who is a young manga artist I've been trying to get to submit something to OzTAKU. It looks like he's close this time!

    Criticism in Australian Comics

    There's been a lot of discussion about the nature of reviewing lately, particularly with regard to local Australian comics. As I'm one of the major local reviewers (though I've decided to do less of this for a while), I thought I'd put down some of my thoughts about literary/artistic criticism in general, and with respect to our local comics scene.

    What I wrote last week:

    Fri Apr 22, 2005 11:39 pm

    Criticism is a craft and a skill in its own right. As such, there is a need for substantial background, education and training, and for an apprenticeship period. It's no accident that the work of critics improves over time.

    An ideal (and well-known example) of masters of the craft are local film reviewers, David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz. When hearing their appraisal of a new work, one can confidently assume they have comprehended the nature of the work, where it fits in the ongoing scheme of narrative forms, the technical proficiencies exploited by the contributors, and the degree to which it has achieved its aims. No mere "fan" of the medium could bring so much to their review. There is a world of difference between this and an opinion piece - such as we often hear on radio - from some erstwhile young enthusiast (or potential trainee critic at the beginning of their learning curve).

    Every work of art we create, including comics, falls - whether we like it or not - in place in a long, continuing movement of narrative forms, which have progressed through distinct epochs (in all artforms) over time. It's no accident that the Renaissance that enabled our advances in literature and science, also enabled our ability to draw perspective properly. To fail to comprehend any of the context of a work is to be unfair in your appraisal of it.

    Where we stand in this industry, at this time, I think there is a need for a lightness of touch in public reviewing, particularly in print (which may even outlast the work itself), due both to the sensitivity of artists and the inexperience of critics willing to bother with this field. I think that peer feedback and exchange of ideas is of enormous benefit. Avi is a good example of an editor willing to not only continually work on improving his own performance, but to continually and quietly feedback to his contributors, contributing to their ongoing improvement, without humiliating them.

    For my own reviews, I believe my approach until now has been the correct one, and my main hope would be that it might have helped potential readers identify some new Australian comic they'd be likely to enjoy.

    If I've ever misunderstood a work, I would certainly like to hear about it. I don't see myself as an ideal "critic" by any means, and find being an artist myself can make for a difficult balance.

    Sunday, April 24, 2005

    Party games 

    Well, J's birthday party today was our best effort yet, and a real success! I think I'll put up a page on my website in the near future with suggested party games and activities for different age groups, because we've learnt so much over the years about what works (and what doesn't), and have improvised a lot, often adapting other games or even creating our own.

    Today we did the usual decorating crowns, pass-the-parcel, (many, many layers, and lots of unusual trinkets) and pin-the-tail (rabbit this time). The big hits were a balloon passing and popping game, which involved splitting the kids into two teams (that was a riot!). making bead bracelets, and the purple shark Pinata, which took quite a bashing and had bubble bottles as well as lollies in it. I also reused last year's fishing in a bucket game, which they still really enjoyed and we did musical statues for a closer. Phew!

    Wednesday, April 20, 2005

    J's birthday 

    Today is J's birthday. It looked like school was going to be miserable for her, so Jill said she could have the day off. I'm trying to get things organised for her party on the weekend, but unfortunately her best friend is in New Zealand. It gets tricky with older kids - I've been fine doing parties while they're little, but these almost teens could be difficult. We'll see...

    I was wondering what Moth should be wearing in the next Moth & Tanuki, but just saw a girl wearing exactly the right thing! Now if I can just figure out how to draw all the other stuff :). I'm hard at work on three current drawing projects: M&T and two others that I can't talk about right now.

    It's possible I may be winding down my reviewing activities, or at least cutting them back to just Inkspot for now. More on that soon...

    Friday, April 15, 2005


    Holidays nearly over
    I just spoke to J. and L. on the phone - sounds like they had a good holiday (at their Nana's) this week - a few leech-bites and a bit of sleep-walking, but fun anyway from the sound of it.

    Blacked out again
    Today I hassled the electricity company about the power-box that covers our area - we had another blackout on Saturday night, and this time there was a fried possum underneath it (last time it was a cockatoo). They didn't pay up for our DVD player from last time either! The guy said that 90% of their blackouts were from animals and birds doing things to the power-boxes... er, wouldn't it be worth doing something about it then?! One of the problems with the privatised power companies is that the users (as in our case) may all be with a different company, in which case there is no incentive for this one to fix the problem. He said they'd report it and consider putting changing it to more thickly coated wiring :-[.

    I'm reading Eddie Campbell's (evidently autobiographical) graphic novel, Alec: How to be an Artist and very fine it is! Other recent Australian (or related) comics I've read and enjoyed are Egg Story (bizarre, but inspired), and the Dave Hodson collection just out from Paper Tableaux, Truly Confused (wry, tragicomic and poignant).

    Monday, April 11, 2005

    Greg Gates 

    Today I had lunch with Greg Gates, the artist behind Strange Worlds: the Art of Greg Gates.

    I'd been desperately searching for Bristol board - an industry standard illustration board produced by all the usual companies, such as Strathmore, Winsor & Newton and Canson - but without success. Apparently, none of the companies are distributing this paper in Australia anymore! Anyway, Greg kindly offered to sell me a pad he had cheaply and it's much appreciated (particularly as I can now start on "Moth & Tanuki" 4).

    Even better was the chance to catch up! I hadn't spoken to Greg since the early '80s, when he was a co-owner of Minotaur Books & Comics, and he had given me good advice and encouragement about publishing Maelstrom, and also about illustration in general.

    Greg showed me some of his latest work, for an upcoming Phil Bentley book, and Greg's artwork, showing Regency era Jane Austenish characters, was beautiful. I recommend looking out for that one, but in the meantime, pick up a copy of Strange Worlds if you haven't already.


    Saturday, April 09, 2005

    Sporadic #5! 

    Yesterday my package of Sporadic #5 arrived from Jase Harper. I'm overjoyed to be in this excellent anthology and this issue is just packed to the gills with funny stuff (though definitely not all G-rated).

    While anthologies aren't about picking favourites I have to mention Rob's usual "Liff" strip, Tonia Walden's wonderful slice-of-life piece (with added zombies), Jase & Kylie's "Moon Fact Page" & "Tokyo Sushi" and Bram Jewsoure's increasingly fascinating "The Sky is Falling," which features some of the finest art I've seen in a local anthology book.

    My two contributions are "Head Full of Zombie" and "One Tiger Day." The former I've had around for a while. It was originally conceived as a follow-up to "How to Draw Comics" for OzComics Magazine #4 and submitted in Feb/March 2004, but they dropped their strip content with that issue, and it was looking for a home. Sporadic has turned out to be the perfect place for it, and I've received some good feedback. However, this piece has aged badly, given that it was drawn during the big wave of zombie films, and well before Shaun of the Dead, with which it shares a lot of sensibilities :). Jules Faber's "The Bacterial War of Terror" suffers a bit from the same time delay.

    I'm happy to be on board with Sporadic and plan to submit more short funny pieces in future.


    Today I've been helping L. stick beads on a jewel-box kit (a birthday present), and the degree of difficulty was approaching brain surgery at times! I decided to do this to destress from some fiddly drawing I was having problems with (not to mention a few more new character designs I'm trying to get right).

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    Thursday, April 07, 2005

    Melbourne Zoo 

    We had a lovely day for our trip to the Melbourne Zoo. The burgeoning throng of school holiday crowds thinned through the day. J. and L. took sketchbooks and drew lots of wonderful pictures of all kinds of animals, so I've included some here (Binturong, Cape Hunting Dogs & Ostrich cartoon by J - Bobcat, Red Pandas & Maned Wolf by L).

    There were the usual multitudes of uninformed comments along the lines of: "It's a rat," "It's a big rat!" to "It's like a weasel" (the red panda) and the eternal "It's a hyena like in The Lion King" (the African hunting dogs).

    Today's most inventive offender was a teenage girl at the African savannah exhibit (which had giraffes, zebras, ostriches and guinea-fowl): "It's like Africa, only with an emu!" and "Look, baby emus!" (pointing at flock of guinea-fowl).

    I'm perpetually astounded at people's non-knowledge of the most basic forms of animals. It's no wonder we've proved unable to conserve even the most wonderful and awe-inspiring beasts if the average punter can only classify them as "rats" or "birds" in the most basic way.

    The red pandas were the most fascinating and active I've ever seen them - on the ground and in the trees, even approaching the crowd - but one girl repeatedly insisted to her friend that her cat was much cuter. (Sigh!)


    Tuesday, April 05, 2005

    The Alan's Pastit Project? + Poe: More Tales... 

    The past year or so has seen new releases from Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons, the duo who comprised the continuing central hub of The Alan Parsons Project - an act who made ten albums together (and many individual albums since the split). These latest two albums arguably present the widest diversion in Woolfson and Parsons' visions, though in essence they still retain many elements in common (not least of all a spoken piece of Orson Welle's narration recorded for their very first collaborative masterpiece, Tales of Mystery & Imagination).

    Poe: More Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Eric Woolfson

    This is a beautiful album that's doing plenty of rotation at our house. As is typical with the APP albums (and indeed any music with enduring worth), it's a grower, getting better with repeated listenings, as the subtleties and depth of both lyrics and production are revealed. Essentially, the songs are the basis for a musical - a song-cycle on the tragic life of Edgar Allen Poe - produced here in a range of styles including theatrical, and even choral singing, but with an emphasis firmly on the AOR rock sound that defined The Project. Interestingly, these pieces form part of a longer song-cycle (the Rufus Griswold subplot has been largely removed for this album) which has been performed live at Abbey Road, and will hopefully be on stage soon.

    In the commanding presence of vocalist Steve Balsamo, Woolfson has found the perfect interpreter for these songs: not only does Balsamo have extraordinary range, he convinces as Poe, lending the material enormous emotional depth right across the board, from the anthemic spiritual songs to the more lighthearted pieces.

    The album opens with a familiar sounding instrumental - a minor suspended 7th refrain that strongly recalls the prelude to the Woolfson-fronted APP megahit, Eye in the Sky. The songs range between moving ballads largely performed by Balsamo, a few novelty songs and some large pieces performed by a choir. The novelty pieces are Train to Freedom, a black humoured number sung by baritone Fred Johanson, and The Murders in the Rue Morgue, which constrasts Balsamo's detective against a group of Woolfson voices who sound much like The Flying Pickets.

    The production overall is restrained - big, but not vast like some of the APP catalogue - and the tone always feels right for the songs. Probably the largest sounding piece is the choir sung, The Bells, which literally sets Poe's words to music to powerful effect (it's possibly my favourite track) - Eric Woolfson remains one of the greatest songwriters ever (certainly of living songwriters), bringing considerable insight into the human condition, but this piece of Poe's sums so much of it up so darkly and perfectly.

    If you like concept-type albums with wide ranging musical influences and a rock musical structure, then I strongly recommend this album. Fans of Edgar Allen Poe should also enjoy it. And J. likes it too - she's always asking me to put it on!

    See: Eric Woolfson's Poe website

    Alan Parsons - A Valid Path

    It's great to hear Alan Parsons venturing out into new sonic territory. He always had a curious and eclectic ear, with a commanding sense of how to bring out the best in a song, so it's fascinating to hear Parsons, one of the founding fathers of electronic rock, reclaiming his musical legacy.

    While there is a wealth of new material here, two of the pieces are reworkings/remixings of APP classics (still "The Raven" remains on Parsons' albums no matter how much we implore :)). It is odd that Parsons has chosen to include a piece based on the work of Poe, when Woolfson has written a whole musical without choosing to include this piece (he has included his APP songs in past musicals).

    This work is broadly collaborative, seeing Parsons working with many sonic innovators - names familiar in techno and current electronic music - Simon Posford (Shpongle), the Nortec Collective, Uberzone, The Crystal Method. Alongside these musicians/composers, there are some old friends: David Gilmour working his range of guitar sounds over Return To Tunguska, singer/songwriters David Pack and PJ Olsson, and son Jeremy Parsons doing most work on the reworked APP tracks.

    Probably the strongest song (as opposed to ambient instrumental) is We Play the Game, thankfully sung at last by Alan Parsons himself. His fans have often requested Parsons do this, and he has often toured and sung live in recent years, but this is the first time he has sung a studio lead vocal himself (the spoken bonus track on the Japanese version of The Time Machine notwithstanding). There are three songs with fairly traditional structures, and they're all good. These three help to subdue the air of menace that permeates most of the album, though they're still dark and expertly produced, with even the ominous vocoder putting in an APPearance.

    Overall, the rhythms are fairly bassy and heavy - this is definitely an ambient techno album - and the sound is possibly too compressed for my liking, but this helps to further the sense of menace that the whole album carries. The textures are multi-layered in a completely different manner to most APP, though they do represent a continuation of Parsons pop-length instrumental contributions to those albums (as does a lot of modern music).

    I have reservations about the extent to which this is collaborative, with Parsons contributions often appearing fairly minimal (I had similar reservations about The Time Machine) - but this misses the point, which is that he has alway been someone with a unifying musical vision, drawing disparate elements together. Possibly this is an "apprenticeship" album, with Parsons learning the ropes before moving on yet further in new directions. At any rate, it does bring things full circle, with those who learnt from this ever great producer/engineer/musician now returning the favour.

    This album has even been released here in Australia! Of course, it doesn't help that music shops insist on filing it with The Alan Parsons Project - I had to move a copy over the Dance/Beats, where it would feel more at home and might even get to the right audience!

    See: Alan Parson's Official Site

    So are these two distinguished old artists past it? No, definitely not!

    (These aren't meant as "proper" reviews - just musings that I've been chipping away at for a while about these two albums.)

    Monday, April 04, 2005

    April, cholesterol and mice 

    Kenny and Avi, the editors of Oztaku, decided to play an April Fool's joke on their various artists and board-members. Kenny started by pretending to resign, followed quite a bit later (Apr 2nd, 2005, 12:00am) by a post purporting to be from Avi's girlfriend, saying that Avi had reacted badly, stormed off and subsequently been hit by a truck, leaving him in a critical condition in hospital. For various reasons - including the timing and Kenny's name disappearing from the moderators' list - quite a few of us took it seriously. I even thought through my ongoing plans for Moth & Tanuki - what it would mean and whether to continue or not. Possibly I've just lost too many friends along the way to find this sort of stuff amusing.

    Writing vs. drawing
    I finished the best Moth & Tanuki script over Easter, though it came out a bit longer than expected. However, that April Fool's stunt stopped me drawing for a few days, and on Sunday I found I was writing instead. I scripted the second part of a comic serial I've been researching (the one I toyed with turning into a straight novel instead) and also put together the basic concepts for yet another one. Yesterday, I finally got a character design right that I'd been struggling with - I'd like to show it here, but for copyright reasons, I'll hang fire until that project is closer to being in print somewhere. I'm definitely now looking for paid comics work!

    The writing/drawing things are fairly separate activities, I find. There are patches where I seem to be able to do nothing but draw, and others where I seem to be able to do nothing but write. When I'm doing one I have doubts about my ongoing abilities in the other area, but fortunately the other side kicks back in at some point. It's probably no accident that my illustrator side has taken on a couple of collaborative projects with other writers :). The criteria (apart from time) remains the same as ever: if I'm collaborating with another writer they have to be able to write at least as well as I do - preferably better! Both these writers are strong.

    Apparently, I have high blood cholesterol. I guess when you get to my age you have to start thinking about such things. The pains in my calves were probably a warning that I spend too long staring into a computer or drawing, though I do try to get a few long walks in every week (bushwalking's always something I've enjoyed, but I don't seem to have as much time lately).

    I only go to a doctor once a year or so. The last one I went to (around Christmas) told me I didn't have whooping cough and lectured me on keeping going to work - from the blood test I just had, it turns out I did have it, and going anywhere would have been irresponsible (even if I could have)!

    Anyway, I went to Jill's doctor this time. It's funny - due to my cholesterol level she says I'll have to give up cheese, ice-cream, processed meat, fatty meat, etc. - but I already don't eat any of those things! On the upside, I'm thin, don't smoke and have low blood pressure. We've been thinking about going onto Pritikin for a while, but I think the time for me has come.

    The strange shufflings and scratchings around the house have revealed themselves to be tiny mice, mostly living in the back of the piano (aren't we playing it enough?). The kids seem to want to catch them and possibly make pets out of them, and it's not like I enjoy using mousetraps or rat poison, so I'll see if we can get a humane trap.

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