Sunday, July 31, 2005

War of the Worlds 

Today H and I went to see War of the Worlds (she turned 17 on Thursday so we got together to see a film, talk and shop a bit).

It was definitely as good as the reviews have suggested - a non-stop rollercoaster and amazingly compelling, though I had to remind myself that I was being "Spielberged" at times because I found this film so absorbing that it really distressed me. As people have said, Dakota Fanning's performance is wonderfully convincing to the point of being traumatic at times, and all the cast perform brilliantly.

It's also remarkably faithful to the original classic by H. G. Wells, even given the changed time setting (and some character amalgamation and additional connection of events). There's even successful use of an opening and closing narration direct from the text (though I must admit to being programmed to expect the refrain from Jeff Wayne's concept album*).

This was an interesting entry in the current spate of post-apocalyptic films around, and a reminder of just how powerful this genre can be. It certainly wasn't optimistic about mankind, but did successfully portray the way a variety of people might react in dire circumstances with expert narrative dexterity.

All in all very entertaining, but also extremely dark and moderately depressing. Highly recommended for adventure/horror fans.

* Soon to be available as a 7 CD 30th Anniversary Collectors' Box Set.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tranquility for Illustration Friday 

This is a rough watercolour over ink. The picture is actually part of a one page comic I did for the upcoming Cardigan Comics romance anthology, Tango #6. The theme for that book is "Love and Sex," so naturally I did a story about swans :).

The setting is Bundalong, on Lake Mulwala, which is up off the Murray River (the Northern border of Victoria). The Murray is back behind those trees and there are channels between the Lake and the Murray down this end. There's plenty of wildlife, with platypuses and freshwater shrimp (they nibble your toes) in the water, and lots of birdlife of all kinds - kingfishers, pelicans, rainbow bee-eaters, many different parrots, etc.

When I considered "Tranquility" this is what came into my head - the kayaks slowly and silently gliding across the water in the beautiful silence. Of course, the place gets full of morons on jetskis in the tourist season!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Karma for Illustration Friday 

This topic posed a problem for me, as I don't believe in any sort of Karma, mostly because it implies some form of magic, destiny or justice at work in the world, and I don't believe in any of those concepts. Initially, I thought about doing a jokey cartoon (ie: our Prime Minister behind razor-wire in one of his immigrant detention centres), but I decided on a different approach...

I started thinking about the cause and effect aspects that relate to the idea of Karma. In the end, I decided to think about it in relation to a story where a writer who had some belief in the idea dealt with it. C. S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew sprang to mind - I recently read it to J and L, and the scene where Digory rings the bell in ruined Charn and awakens Jadis (against Polly's wishes) has a real air of Karma to it, and it certainly has consequences.

I wanted to use a flat art Nouveau type style, with coloured outlines and no graduated colour, in the tradition of Louis Rhead or Aubrey Beardsley (even though he worked in black and white), though I think there are elements of Kay Nielsen there too, now I look at it. The drawing was done in three parts, which I then scanned as layers (300dpi 2bit b&w TIFFs), converted to colour, and finally combined when colouring was well-progressed.

Tintin and I 

The occasional really interesting programme shows up on TV. Tucked away at 10pm last night on the SBS Community channel was the excellent documentary, Tintin and I, about the life and work of Belgian artist, Georges Remi, better known as Herge. This fascinating film by Danish film-maker Anders Oestergaard, primarily made use of unaired audiotaped interviews from 1971, conducted by writer Numa Sadoul. These were often used in coordination with an oddly animated, but very effective Herge visual image (a figure done in a computer-altered line style from past footage of Herge, co-ordinated to match the audio track). Creating "artifical" visuals for the film in this manner could have been a disaster, but it worked remarkably well.

Having read Tintin: the Complete Companion, I was surprised at how much here was new, and the amazing insights into the angst of the artist himself, particularly with regard to his personal and political life, and also his working methods. I took great comfort hearing about his almost neurotic obsession with researching detail and getting things right, something I often get bogged down with, but not something to get wrong either! It serves to explain the magnificent and consistently impressive detail in the Tintin books. I also hadn't realized that Herge enlisted a full team of assistants to help on his later work (without relinquishing any creative control) but it makes sense.

While there seems little doubt that Herge had no Nazi sympathies, his decision to draw Tintin for the Nazi-controlled paper Le Soir, during the period of German-occupation, has been rightly seen as a questionable one. This film does a good job of defending his reputation by showing Herge's own views of Nazism in his work before the period of occupation (for a detailed defence see In Defence of Herge). For me, I have to reconcile this against other fine artists, such as Briton, Ron Embleton, who chose to enlist and fight during the war years. Herge has a certain humanistic idealism that often comes across as naive, but this is also part of the appeal of his central character.

Best of all, the film explained why Tintin in Tibet has long remained my personal favourite. The "white dreams" that terrified Herge at the time of the breakup of his first marriage, along with the painful transition of that part of his life - the sense of moral failure, even with this being his own choice - were all too easy for me to identify with. These are the forces at work in this particular Tintin book, lending it great emotional depth and resonance, along with Herge's need to rediscover his lost friendship with Zhang Chongren, the Chinese artist who advised and assisted him many years before on The Blue Lotus.

One more thing - shouldn't Tintin et Moi be translated as Tintin and I (which also happens to be grammatically correct)?

For more detail on this film, please see the Wikipedia. A fascinating film, and a must-see for anyone interested in Tintin, Herge, or the creative processes of comics artists in general.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Possums and Moby Dick 

It's been a quiet weekend, apart from our neighbours unbelievably loud music from about 5pm until about 3am on Saturday night.

J had a friend over Friday night so I went out to get fish and chips, and nearly ran over a ringtailed possum! I swerved to avoid it, but when I got out it was sitting near the tyre looking as though it might run under the car, so I had to talk to it to get it to go off the road and into the bush. The young ringtails in particular can be pretty silly - I remember J being tolerant of a really small one chewing her one time when I handed it to her (it had been stretched out on the road but was apparently unharmed).

This afternoon, we found ourselves watching a documentary, Moby Dick: the True Story, one of those Discovery Channel efforts. Whaling's always been a grisly industry, and just as bad in 1820, but this documentary worked a lot from records of the time, putting the story it told into context, with plenty of human (and whale) interest. My favourite part was the cute cgi reconstruction of the massive grey male sperm whale ramming the whaling ship, The Essex, complete with mathematical calculations of the damage :).

After that, I just knew it was going to end up with the guys in lifeboats eating each other - I tried to warn J and L off at this point, but it seems they're old enough now to deal with this stuff and find it interesting. Probably it's as well they know these things if they're going to read any maritime disaster or Polar exploration accounts, as most of them end up along these lines at some point. All in all, this film didn't have all that much to do with Melville but was an interesting enough tale, without too much Hollywood dramatisation. If you're interested in a different view to mine, see the Film Freak Central review.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Operation Funnybone 

Last night, I went to a Fundraiser at the HolliAva in Richmod, for Operation Funnybone, the huge upcoming anthology book with benefits to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Unfortunately, this get together was on the same night as Cinema Nova's Comics to Animation show, which is where most local comics artists, cartoonists and animators were last night. It was a tricky decision - at least one comics artist managed to get to both, by ducking in early at OF and going on.

It was nice to finally get to meet Glen Shearer and so many of the other Operation Funnybone people - artists, promoters, supporters. There was an exhibition of framed coloured prints with quotes from each artist, including my Moth & Tanuki colour page.

It's not too late for more Australian comics artists and cartoonists to join up, but deadlines are getting close, so I'd encourage anyone thinking about contributing to do it now! Deadlines are close (see OF site) and it's a fantastic opportunity to have some of your work - new or old - represented in a massive, well-presented compilation, without giving up ownership of your work, and all in a good cause.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Metropolitan for Illustration Friday 


Sunday, July 10, 2005


I just got back from taking J and L to see Dreamworks new animated feature Madagascar. It’s not bad, though it’s fair to say my expectations were fairly low, and I must admit I had reservations about seeing it at all, given the premise. Madagascar is a place that I’m keen to visit – an oasis of spectacularly unique and unusual wildlife - so for that reason, I was always going to find this film disappointing.

The focus of the film is a group of four African animals (albeit with some penguins and monkeys along for comic relief), and Madagascar seems to be merely a device, an incidental backdrop for some of their interactions. To have Madagascar, a fairly overpopulated island with massive overclearing problems, treated as a mythical last wilderness seems to me absurd, though the jungle backgrounds are beautifully executed with a high degree of research and detail evident.

The film opens in the depressing environs of the Manhattan Central Park Zoo, which has tiny barred enclosures that look like something out of the Victorian era but make no sense in terms of containing the animals (such logic apparently isn’t important to the film). The animals, particularly Alex the lion, are treated purely as entertainments and Marty the Zebra finds his 10th birthday a depressing and cathartic turning point. Gloria the hippo (the film’s only female animal character) and Melman, the hyperchondriac giraffe, perform the primary supporting roles to the volatile friendship of Alex and Marty.

Like all Dreamworks animations, this film is primarily a male buddy movie, though the main characters are unfortunately underdeveloped, with the emphasis being on wisecracks and slapstick humour (fairly well-done if that’s your thing). While the computer animation has a very artificial storybook look to it – Alex’s paws seem oddly as if they’re cut out of gingerbread at times – the character designs are excellent, and this stylisation works in the story’s favour.

The captivity aspect of the Zoo has some clever echoes, with the animals thinking themselves in San Diego Zoo’s leafy havens at one point, and Alex putting himself back into captivity at a later stage (a neat psychological touch). My favourite sequence is the imaginative crate scene, which finds the four main characters in effectively separate frames on screen – making clever use of the format and seeming like a living comic book.

Alongside this, the grouping of sundry lemur (and other) species into a massive conglomerate of partying morons, chanting “I Like to Move it, Move it,” is an unedifying spectacle. There are touches here that show what another film might have been like. The central team of a ringtailed lemur leader (thanklessly performed by Ali G), an aye-aye sidekick and a cute mouse lemur have a lot of promise, but little chance to deliver on it. Signs of both imagination and research are present, primarily in the streaked tenrec, geckoes and chameleon, but the film-makers' thoughts are ever far from Madagascar itself.

Possibly, the worst aspect is the casting of the “foosas” as hyena-like, ravening, speechless marauders, swarming in a ridiculously enormous predatory crowd. The fossa (or fosa) is a rather large member of the civet family, indigenous to Madagascar, always in low numbers and now critically endangered. It’s a solitary and wary hunter, always seldom seen (not to be confused with the fanaloka, a smaller striped civet which has the scientific name, fossa fossa). At any rate, “foosas” get a raw deal as the obligatory baddies in a scenario which is actually trying to raise questions about carnivores.

Worst of all, the entire film gives no hint of the desperate environmental situation of Madagascar and its remarkable wildlife. Maybe it’s too much to expect of a film, but somehow the title and setting seem to me expedient and meaningless. The central story – that of buddy team Alex and Marty – could as well have been told in the backwoods of some American setting with no loss to the story at all.

I’d hate to think this was people’s only impression of Madagascar. There are now many excellent books on the place and its wildlife. As a general travel book to start with, I’d recommend The Lonely Planet Guide to Madagascar.

All in all, Madagascar is an okay family film, with some fairly entertaining sequences, but far from a classic.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Sport for Illustration Friday 

Okay, this one needs to carry a warning - this image may upset some viewers, so if you think that may be you, please don't look!

For that reason, I'll carry on about the process and inspiration a bit first...

It was drawn in brush and pen on paper in black and white, then the colours were painted out on a separate sheet of paper, the two images were scanned (at the same resolution) and combined on the computer. I like to keep black linework looking sharp! Originally, it was going to be in black and white only, but I thought adding some colour would make it even more striking (not less so, as is sometimes the case). Unfortunately his face became washed out with scanning, but I'm not sure it matters.

I'm pretty happy with the way the composition came out: it's set up a bit like a horror image, but that's intentional. There were a lot more dogs at the pencil stage, but I removed them, because I thought they diluted it.

The inspiration for this picture came about from a very stupid story I was reading in a weekend magazine from a local newspaper. Just as this particular "sport" has been outlawed in the U.K., apparently some locals thought it would be a good idea to get it going here. While I recognise the problem of introduced animals in Australia (only too well), this is not the solution - one can only think some people are after an excuse to carry out such activities! By the way, it's a crowbar our sporting hero is holding in his hand - sorry if that's ambiguous.

Thinking back, maybe one reason I have such deep contempt for this "sport" is because I remember as a kid in Northumberland (when I was visiting England), seeing the badger holes all blocked up before a foxhunt, so the fox couldn't run down them!


Friday, July 01, 2005

Heroes (more-or-less) 

I did plan to do a proper Heroes sketch for Illustration Friday but it was not to be...

I had a few ideas, which gradually got more and more esoteric:

- The first was to draw my old friend, Maelstrom teamed up with Fawn, the female hero of Talnon's The Deerflame Legacy. It's a picture I'd like to do at some point!

- I thought about doing something based on the lyrics to David Bowie's Heroes involving a kind of romance and water and dolphins...

- A story I read about giant African rats helping to sniff out landmines also appealed as something to illustrate

- Finally, I settled on just drawing all the commuters standing in the cold waiting for an early train (everday heroism, I think). I tried to be organised to sketch this a few mornings, but stuff kept happening - I ran late, or where I wanted to sit was wet, or someone got there a second ahead of me and put a bag there. I still think this would make a great picture and a powerful image, particularly the Station I chose, drawn or painted on a foggy morning.

P.S. After "Anonymous" replied to the original pictureless post above, I decided I'd add a scan of part of an old Maelstrom cover painting (painted around 1981) here and send the link to IF - at least that way I'll have a place for if I ever do that last picture. I did want at least one woman in my picture for this topic, but oh well. Hope posting something old is okay...

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?