Friday, September 30, 2005

Rock 'N' Roll Fairies, etc. 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe October issue of Total Girl is out now, featuring episode 2 of the new adventure of Dillon's Rock 'N' Roll Fairies drawn by me. This story has lots of big setpieces and is a real Odyssey - I look forward to getting the script for each episode - the one I'm currently working on has been extended, so I'll find out what happens in the extra page tomorrow.

Our feeding of the local birds seems to be growing. J had a king parrot eating out of her hand yesterday (which they do at Marysville, but not usually here). We get mostly crimson rosellas, and the odd (non-native) turtle dove, but this morning there were a few white cockatoos. Others that show up are rainbow lorikeets, grey and pied currawongs (which we don't feed, because they drive out smaller birds), magpies and sometimes kookaburras.

J and L have been away for a week with their cousins and came back yesterday, but they're off again on Sunday with Jill. I'm tied up with both work and drawing stuff, but I really should take a proper break - I'm still sick, but back at work anyway.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Fresh for Illustration Friday 

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No explanations... Alright... I'm sick - no, really! I scrawled this out last night and did a dud scan of it, but you get the general idea.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Logging to Extinction 2 

Oops, those silly duffers in the Victorian logging industry. Look at that, they’ve gone and logged a major high conservation area and last refuge of an endangered species again! How could they be so unlucky?

The home of the long-footed potoroo, up to 400 square metres of Errinundra National Park has apparently been levelled by loggers. This small, rare member of the kangaroo family has a very limited range, and was only officially described in 1978, when the first live animals were captured. The 300 to 400 year old forest just logged was also home to other endangered wildlife, such as powerful owls and tiger quolls, similarly on their last legs, along with at least 30 other mammal species. The “error” was discovered by conservationists.

As mentioned in my previous post (Logging to Extinction) this kind of “mistake” - the logging of major conservation value, old-growth forest - seems to happen with remarkable frequency, and probably far more often than it is reported. The list of extinct Australian animals is already distressingly long and great care is needed to prevent further extinctions, particularly in sensitive locations.

(On a positive sidenote another related animal, Gilbert’s potoroo, from Western Australia, was rediscovered in 1994, having not been seen since 1879.)

  • Picture from Department of the Environment and Heritage.
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    Thursday, September 22, 2005

    Escape for Illustration Friday 

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    Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit 

    Today we saw the new, feature-length Wallace and Gromit film. It's a lot of fun, but in many ways doesn't quite work, though I'm at something of a loss to explain why. The plot, which revolves around Wallace and Gromit's company, Anti-Pesto, working at humane bunny removal, gets a bit bogged down toward the middle but then livens up considerably once the new were-rabbit plot unfolds.

    The characters of Wallace and Gromit certainly remain as loveable as ever, and seeing their surroundings more heavily populated with a full range of British eccentrics is entertaining. As usual, there is a multitude of brilliant gags, but for some reason they often fall flat here. How hilarious they are is easily demonstrated by seeing any of them in isolation (as I'd done earlier with the were-bunny bait and bridge sequence). Somehow, in context, there is a narrative seriousness at work that seems to dispel much of the humour, and I think the Hans Zimmer, Danny-Elfman-referencing score is partly to blame (though he is a terrific film composer in general).

    Two of my favourite sequences are the opening pan across framed pictures portraying Wallace and Gromit's history together, with its schisms and resolution, and the near-death experience vision of one of the bunnies in an early scene. The early sequences showing Wallace and Gromit's morning routines are unfortunately likely to be over-familiar to fans, but should have plenty of magic for those new to this pair's antics.

    There are many sequences referencing familiar films, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and King Kong, but these at times detract from the action itself. The romance between Wallace and Lady Tottingham-Smith is cute and does add a certain amount of depth, but many of the elements throughout echo A Close Shave a little too closely for my liking.

    It is delightful to see this amazing claymation on screen (complete with fingerprints) - replete with beautifully detailed backgrounds and diverse characters. It's well worth seeing for animation fans for the change of pace from computer-animated fare. Somehow the nature of Wallace and Gromit as characters fails to carry a feature-length work fully, whereas Aardman's previous movie, Chicken Run provided real heroism (particularly in the character of Ginger) along with considerable depth and much-needed pathos to help balance the humour. Nonetheless, it is undeniably enjoyable to have Wallace and Gromit back!

    J said it was "a bit silly" but still gave the film 4 stars (David Stratton on At the Movies gave it 5).

    As a nice bonus, there was a Madagascar animated short, featuring the penguin characters during a Zoo Christmas in New York, and this worked better for me than anything in that film :).

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    Monday, September 19, 2005

    Royal Melbourne Show / Little Oberon / Various 

    Royal Melbourne Show

    I'm having this week off and today we went to the Melbourne Show. It felt overdue as I haven't been since H was a baby, and J and L had never been so it was all new to them.

    Interestingly, not much had changed since I was a kid, which is comforting in a way, although the names of things are mostly different (ie: no more Hall of Manufacturers). We spent time looking at all the agricultural and craft pavilions, which are the heart of the Show, in addition to showbags, games and rides. We saw horses, cattle, poultry, pets of various sorts, even miniature ponies, alpacas, rabbits and donkeys, but no pigs this year... not one!

    On the showbags, we'd done our homework in advance, looking at guides to decide which main showbags to purchase, and I'd set a budget (which we stuck to pretty much), though it is expensive. It was gratifying to see that the Total Girl showbag included the latest (September) issue, featuring my Rock 'N' Roll Fairies debut!

    Little Oberon

    I watched this Australian telemovie last night and thought it was very enjoyable, with a lot of content and style that's really needed in local TV at the moment - a courageous move, all in all. I watched it because it was filmed mostly in one of my favourite haunts, Marysville (while I could easily tell the difference between the Marysville and Macedon sequences, I don't think it was readily apparent).

    This film had traces of The Shipping News in its sense of an isolated mysterious (and doomed) house as the main setting. There was also another, more contemporary, theme: the "who's my father?" of other recent productions (including the The Abba Musical :)). Actually, I liked the way this last question was answered: light-handedly, by incident and observation - the sign of a writer and director who trust their audience.

    The mythological elements - incorporating Norman Lindsayesque Dionyssian frolickers and Pan himself, along with Wicca - did rather disregard any indigenous heritage and suffered a little from the usual discomfort these transplanted mythologies feel - but this didn't detract.

    While this telemovie may be the pilot to a TV series, it was essentially complete in itself, and I almost hope it doesn't become a series, as that has the potential to diminish what was shown here. Most impressive of all was Brittany Byrnes, the haunted granddaughter central to the story.


    Waiting in the mailbox when we got home today were my copy of Heather Dale's recent CD, The Road to Santiago, and Bobby .N's new 40 page comic, Withheld. I haven't had a chance to listen to the CD yet, but the comic is like a short graphic novel and everything I would expect from Bluetoaster - powerful and showing real mastery of the medium, but also disturbingly dark and grim.

    It's nice to have a week away from work. While it's my one chance to take time off for a while, I've been called in for a job interview on Wednesday - just my luck :).

    I don't know if I'll do a picture for Illustration Friday this week. "Escape" is a great theme, but I want for inspiration and am busy with the next Rock 'N' Roll Fairies and Moth & Tanuki episodes, along with a short piece for an anthro anthology.

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    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Depth for Illustration Friday 

    This picture really takes me back. Yes, I didn't have time/inspiration to come up with something new so, as has been suggested to me, I've decided to use an old picture of mine. Actually, I don't have a lot of early material to fall back on, because of the long period (about a decade) where I more-or-less gave up on drawing.

    I drew this back in 1982 as part of a batch of illustrations for a children's book proposal. I've done quite a few of these along the way, for aspiring authors who were looking for a publishing deal. In the back of my mind I always knew that even if they got published, I'd probably be given the boot as illustrator, as that's generally the policy (in order to allocate illustrators from inhouse).

    The story was a short, fairly realistic tale about a family of ringtailed possums, which I illustrated in black and white in one of my more traditional styles. Unfortunately, I don't own the originals: as usual I gave them to the author! At least on this occasion I kept photocopies of them. This image is a scan of a photocopy of an old photocopy, which does little justice to the careful linework. Oh well, I think it still tells a good story.

    Illustration Friday

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    Sunday, September 11, 2005

    The Mostly True Story of Matthew and Trim 

    by Cassandra Golds and Stephen Axelsen

    This new children's graphic novel is a very welcome step by local (Australian) publishing!

    Author Cassandra Golds retells the historic story of great seafaring explorer and cartographer Matthew Flinders and his travelling companion, Trim the cat. Stephen Axelsen illustrates in a comic format, using subdued colours and a relaxed style with lots of expression and enough detail to really bring the story to life.

    To begin with Golds adheres to history, and the early episodes are tight and accurate, containing a lot of information, but interestingly told. Later in the story her imagination has full flight - oddly enough during the period of Flinders' imprisonment in French Mauritius - and the story really takes off. The episodic nature of the telling (I'm assuming this was originally created as a serial in a children's magazine) detracts a little, particularly in the early stages, but this diminishes as the chapters become longer and more easily connected.

    Overall, there is a poignant, elegaic feel to the story, with many unfortunate or tragic turns. I particularly liked the care shown in telling us what happens with Anne, Flinder's wife, his friendship with Bass, and Trim's encounter with a dodo. There is much in the story that is downbeat, but the charm of both the telling and the illustrations make it consistently a journey worth taking.

    The retrospective telling of the story by the ghosts of Matthew and Trim is a sometimes awkward device necessitated by the nature of the story, but does help connect the history to a current time and place, which is helpful for young readers. Axelsen's style is immediate and appealing, communicating a great deal of pathos, and his decision to letter in fountain-pen (using upper and lower case) both befits the context and makes it friendly for young readers.

    Penguin Books (Puffin) are to be commended for taking the plunge into a comic-style format and producing a beautiful book suitable to sit alongside Asterix and Tintin in school library and personal collections alike.

    More information (and sample pages) here.

    (While I've written lots of reviews of Australian comics for OzComics Magazine and currently review for Inkspot, I don't usually review comics online, but this one seems significant and hopefully will be the beginning of a new trend among local publishers.)

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    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    Roots for Illustration Friday 

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    This week's topic for Illustration Friday inspired me! I knew what I wanted to say, but wasn't quite sure how to say it at first. It's about how I feel about nature and this country in particular - the sense of how the earth flows up through the soles of your feet.

    When I was young I went through a phase of wanting to include elements of indigenous Koori (Australian aboriginal) elements into my work, but felt as though it was a form of cultural appropriation and so desisted. Recently, I found out that I am actually partly aboriginal - my great grandmother (my grandmother's mother) was indigenous! This information was apparently concealed by some family members :(. I always knew about my celtic, anglo-saxon and gypsy heritage, but I am very pleased to now know this part of where I came from as well.

    I've made no attempt at a perfect picture - I just scribbled out a foot in pencil then, on another piece of paper, inked all the swirly lines, combined the two in Paintshop and coloured it. With the colour, I tried to overlay transparent colours on the foot and the background, to get the sense of underlying colours coming through.

    "Let us all step lightly on the ground" - Rose Bygrave (Walking Home CD, 2001)


    Sunday, September 04, 2005

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 

    We just got back from seeing Tim Burton's film of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at our recently reopened local independent cinema. It was another movie I was prepared to dislike, but thought deserved a chance anyway - particularly considering the rave reviews it's been receiving. I think it's a qualified success.

    While Burton has been quoted as disliking the original film and intending to remain faithful to the book in his version, neither of these are borne out in the new film itself. In fact, visually and directionally, Charlie often recalls the original film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder, but also it curiously references Burton's own Edward Scissorhands repeatedly, although without the sombre pathos of that remarkable film.

    For anyone of my generation - many of whom rate Willa Wonka as an all-time favourite - it's hard to get past the original film version. There are a few omissions in that film - such as showing the children at the end - that are here redressed, along with a number of non-book additions, such as the subplot involving Wonka's dentist father (Christopher Lee in a role that somewhat parallels Vincent Price's in Edwards Scissorhands). There are new inconsistencies (Who are all those men on motorbikes who come out of the factory to put up posters?, What happened to Charlie's change?, If Wonka is reconciled with his father will he still need Charlie?*) and some new invention, certainly enough for the film to draw the viewer into this bizarre, marvellous world, at least at a superficial level.

    The flashback showing Wonka in Oompa Loompa Land, whilst enjoyable and direct from the book, does remove ambiguity from the childlike shiftiness of the Wonka portrayed in the original film. Danny Elfman's songs, which set words direct from the books to music, are somehow inadequate, with the exception of the introductory "Willy Wonka" song, sung by the puppets - the lyrics are largely unintelligable and very prosaic when they can be understood, which is a long way from the consistent classics of the first film.

    Scenery-wise, too many setpieces to recount appear directly reminiscent of the first film, but The Chocolate Room and The Television-Chocolate Room are probably sufficient to show what I mean, the latter being additionally saddled with a drawn out injoke referencing Kubrick's 2001.

    The child actors hold up fairly well for the most part, particularly Charlie (Veruca looks disturbingly like my niece!). The reintroduction of the squirrels in the Nut Room sequence is welcome, and also among the creepier, Burtonesque moments (thankfully, there aren't too many). This scene works well on its own merits, but it's impossible to beat the showstopper from Willy Wonka (though the squirrels are equisite and the set design perfect).

    Charlie's parents and grandparents are all excellent performances but overall, the other adult performances are subdued and unremarkable.

    With the exception of Johnny Depp, that is! Most critics commenting on this film have raved about his unbelievably odd performance. Wilder's inspired, nuanced and scary performance as Willy Wonka aside, Depp reinterprets the role in a disturbed, idiosyncratic and bizarre manner. Sporting a Prince Valiant hairstyle and a wide toothy grin not reflected in his eyes, this Wonka works by turns to distance and embrace both audience and characters alike - and this is compelling to watch. I do wish the rewrite had given him more depth and some better lines, but the added flashbacks with his father do add something, though it is ultimately inconclusive.

    On it's own terms Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an enjoyable, diverting entertainment. However, for those familiar with the original film, it feels at too many points like a remake, rather than something entirely new. J and L really enjoyed it (and also enjoy the earlier film).

    * SPOILER ALERT! Jill suggested I post my theory about part of the film here, with my review. I read the scene where Wonka visits his father, in a house standing alone, as him coming to feel at peace with his father, who is actually deceased. This echoes Wonka's father's threat about being "gone," and the disappearance of his house in the earlier scene. Very nice symbolism and an effective addition!

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    Thursday, September 01, 2005

    Dreams for Illustration Friday 

    The reasons why my entry for Illustration Friday this week took so long to post are:

    - the topic (again) didn't inspire me, as it's just too broad and esoteric
    - my dayjob is full on at present and keeping up with my normal drawing workload as well is difficult (for news on my latest project please see next post below)
    - I really don't like this picture and wasn't going to post it

    Actually, Jill and J didn't like this one either, and doing a substandard picture is a rotten thing to do to one of the finest books ever written. In my defence, I used time where I was too exhausted to draw anything else to do this, so it was drawn hastily under bad light late at night. I've also tried to experiment with working in a style other than my usual, because for me that's a big part of what IF is about.

    By the way, a theme I've suggested is "Alice." :). I'd really hoped to get away from Tenniel's or Disney's Alices, but I failed there as well (exacerbated by colouring her dress in a bluetone). What I do like is the white rabbit's front paw, which is drawn like a real rabbit's. Oh well - against my better judgment here's my picture for "Dreams." It's black ink line and coloured pencil.
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