Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Review: Fairy Tale Comics

 When Nursery Rhyme Comics was released by First Second at the end of 2011, editor Chris Duffy knocked it out of the park. Duffy and company have returned with Fairy Tale Comics and utilizing the same elements that worked for it's predecessor this book looks like it should achieve just as much critical success.
  Just as in Nursery Ryhme Comics, Duffy has put together a broad cast of illustrators and storytellers displaying a broad swath of stylized art and story selection. The approach to the story material itself is unique, like in Raina Telgemeier's (Smile) take on Rapunzel where the setting is quickly set with little explanation, the action moves quickly and the resolution is done even faster- a funny take to  what is an authentic model of a fairy tale when you think about it.
Snow White (and the evil queen) by Jaime Hernandez.
 The book is full of the classics, Hansel and Gretel, Puss in Boots, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears to name a few. But there are stories in there that may not be familiar to many readers, giving them something new to discover and enjoy.  Stories like Give Me the Shudders, Azzolino's Story Without End, The Boy Who Drew Cats and The Small-Tooth Dog. Of these undiscovered gems, two stories stood out to me. The first was The 12 Dancing Princesses, a story of  trickery, a noble prince, wisdom, princesses and an element of danger. Done by Emily Carroll, the story has a colorful, painted look to it, with a look reminiscent of - but not copying- artists like Ben Towle and Faith Erin Hicks. The second newly-discovered fairly tale that stood out to me was The Prince and the Tortoise by Ramon Fradon (creator of DC's Metamorpho) and Chris Duffy (the editor of this collection). Fradon makes the story look like an Archie comic, which is a good thing, because it is about beautiful women marrying handsome young princes and the women's efforts to out-charm, out-cook, and just plain out-wow a tortoise.
Graham Annable's take on the three bears.
 The brevity of the stories, the variety of art, and the humor captured in the stories gives the reader something new and different to each page, making this a thoroughly enjoyable book from beginning to end for practically anyone of any age. And you will find something new to enjoy with a second and third reading and- well, hopefully you get the idea.
Brett Helquist's beautifully penciled colors.
 Another great aspect of the book is that eight women contributed to this project- showing a continued broadening of the comic book and graphic novel market.
 Fairy Tale Comics hit the shelves on Sept. 24 with a cover price of $19.99 for 176 pages of color.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Star Wars Day is Drawing Nigh!

 The official Star Wars Reads Day II is Oct.4 for schools, and Oct. 5 for libraries and bookstores. But if you live in Union County, NC, chances are, there will be no events in your area on those days. I have not heard from any schools or seen anything from them. There are no bookstores in the area. And only one librarian is brave enough to take on a task this exciting and monumental- me, and I'm not scheduled to work those days. So if you miss out venturing into Charlotte or other surrounding parts during that weekend, do NOT despair!
 Friday, October 11, from 2:30 to 5:30 at the Union West Library in Indian Trail, you can get THE Star Wars experience! There will be character standees, artwork on display, crafts for the whole family. But wait! There's more! There will be members of the 501st Legion proudly representing the best of the Empire in their amazing uniforms! The Lego Store is going to have one of their expert builders on hand to show kids how to make UFOs and space ships! Comic artists Derek & Niki Davis will show off their Star Wars related art from their web-comic, The Ered Adventures! And for a few brave souls, their will be a lightsaber challenge! And the library will, for that one day, have the largest collection of Star Wars literature available for check out anywhere in the Union County galaxy!
  Kids are strongly encouraged to wear their costumes and have a TON of fun! For more information, check out the flyer in this post or call 704-821-7475 or go to the library, located at 123 Unionville-Indian Trail Rd.
 We'll see you then!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: Battling Boy by Paul Pope

The right of passage. The test of manhood or bravery or worthiness. History is filled with such rituals, and to some extent, it continues today in ceremonial occasions like the Boy Scouts' Order of the Arrow and through more common matters like getting a driver's permit. Paul Pope's story, Battling Boy is such a story. Battling Boy (that is the only name he is given in the story) is part of a small community of god-like people who live in a dimensional gap between worlds. As the kids of his realm approach their 13th birthday, they are sent away to other worlds to survive and utilize their skills. Battling Boy's father is a champion of the realm, a defender of worlds. Battling Boy is expected to follow his father's lead and so he is sent to a world- and specifically, to Arcopolis - a city that is being besieged by monsters. The city is reeling from the loss of their own heroic protector when Battling Boy arrives.
Battling Boy's father introduces his new home- the city.
 What makes Battling Boy an interesting heroic figure is that while he has strength and a degree of imperviousness, his t-shirts are the source of the rest of his power(s). Each shirt is embedded with animal attributes- one with the elephant, another a fox, one with a mouse, another with a tyranosaurus. There are several shirts, so Battling Boy must choose wisely which shirt will suit his needs for that day. Being other-wordly, Battling Boy is also equipped with a cape, a small suitcase of survival gear, a bank account and the keys to a fully furnished apartment! He also has an emergency link to his father. Otherwise he is completely cut off from his old life and home as he tries to discover what he is capable of physically and intellectually.
 The city, which geographically makes Los Angeles look like a suburb, is at a loss of how to deal with the monsters which wreak havoc on them night and day. They come in a variety of sizes and different capabilities and methods of operation. The worst part is the monsters are abducting the children of the city, and no one knows why or what becomes of the children.
Sadisto and his minions grabbing some kids.
 During the course of the story, we encounter a mayor who seems deeper than just being a stock politician, a daughter trying to live up to her heroic father's legacy, an emerging leader among the monsters (who for some reason reminds me of Cobra Commander!) and an open-ended  conclusion that leaves us with more questions.
 Pope's artwork is clean and tight, but not smooth which works well in depicting the misshapen, grotesque and fantastical monsters, rough fights that destroy lots of drab scenery, a battle-worn father who is confident yet cautious, and a city that is losing all hope.Through the coloring, Pope creates a desolate landscape and a sky in perpetual twilight for the city. No bright colors on the buildings or sky. Battling Boy's home world is depicted as a smaller, cozier, more intimate space. A great contrast between the comfort of home and family and the feeling of being out in the world on your own. I wasn't sold on the look of the book at first, but Pope's style quickly won me over, coupled with characters that aren't run-of-the-mill and a story that makes you want to see more! And while I have a good idea what the answers to some of the questions are, I learned things aren't always what you would expect them to be in this story.
 Battling Boy is 202 pages, full color for $15.99 and is published by :01 First Second. Pick it up at your comic shop, book store or library!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Spectacular follow-up on WOlly McNair's visit!

  Last night, after fighting traffic and traffic congestion and more traffic and traffic tie-ups, WOlly McNair arrived to our Cartooning Club armed with his portfolio, paintings, his iPad, Black Panda comic books, and a lot of information and creativity.

 WOlly talked about how what he does is more than just drawing comics all day. "If you want to get into art as a job," he said, "you have to learn to do a lot of things. Don't limit yourself to doing just one kind of art."

 WOlly said his tasks range from doing comic books, to storyboards for cartoons and shows, to paintings, to projects that he freelances on and commissions to do a private piece of art for a fan or collector. He even showed off a short work-in-progress animation he is doing.

 The Cartooning Club got to play a part in the creative process for one of the future storylines of WOlly's Black Panda comic, when he allowed them to come up with a new animal or anthropomorphic creature for his hero to go up against. The choices were narrowed down to tiger, shark and gryffin, with the gryffin winning the most votes. WOlly had kids design their own gryffin and the ideas went wild! There were gryffins with spears on their wings, guns in their beaks and laser eyes! There was a gryffin drawn as a powerful, towering beast. Another was more human shaped with dark feathers and big claws on the hands. One young artist decided there was more than one gryffin and they protected a temple. Still another decided the gryffin who was to fight WOlly's hero would be a mercenary hired for the job.

 WOlly signed some of his prints which were then given out. He also gave away two copies of his Black Panda comic.

 If you are a teacher, reading specialist, or librarian I would strongly suggest sending an email to WOlly. He is extremely accommodating. He stays in communication with you in the days leading up to his visit. He is prepared (he left early to get to us, which was a good thing, because of all the accidents and traffic tie-ups he had to get around or wait on). He is very professional and he engages the kids in what he does. In about 30 minutes time the Cartooning Club had come up with a character, submitted designs for that character, discussed story elements to flesh out the creature, gave it a setting of its own and determined the creature's motivation in the story. In this day when year-long budgets are being cut in art programs, a workshop by WOlly would fulfill many elements of an art course and show real-world applications of different types of art. With a couple creative exercises, he would leave a group of kids with material to continue and expand upon for weeks, maybe months!
If you would like to contact WOlly about a visit to your school or library you can email him at:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

TODAY! Comic and Creative Artist WOlly McNair! 5:30!

That's right- comic illustrator on titles like Fairy Tale Knights and Black Panda is coming to the Union West Cartooning Club today at 5:30! WOlly's art blends the traditional with the technological, and incorporates a variety of mediums from paper and pencil to aluminum and spray paint, along with some skillful digital flourishes added in.
 He is also one of the hardest-working people on the convention circuit hitting big shows like C2E2 in Chicago and DragonCon in Atlanta, but also smaller events like The Return of Mini-Con held last year at the Union West Library. As a testament to his hard work, WOlly is bringing prints he has done, rough animation and storyboards for a new project that ties in with Black Panda, and a fast-draw lesson for the Club! Heck, he's even bringing a TV!
 You can see more of WOlly's work at

 The Union West Regional Library is located at 123 Unionville-Indian Trail Road in Indian Trail, between Highway 74 (eastbound side) and Indian Trail Road and also between Kate's Skate and Johnny K's Restaurant. Call 704-821-7475 ext 4  for more information. Everyone who is interested in art, drawing, comics, animation or storytelling is welcomed to attend. You can bring your own pencil and paper or we can provide that for you!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Comics Resources for the Starving Artist

Last month in the Cartooning Club, I handed out a sheet full of freebies on the internet to help an aspiring comic artist get equipped (better) for the 21st century. I am always keeping an eye out for things, seeing what professionals and hobbyists in the industry are trying out or recommending, and then giving these things a try myself. Below, you will find plenty of things to look for. Just type the name into a search bar and you will find it easily. I promise.
 You can go out and spend hundreds of dollars on software, scanners, Wacom pads, tablets, drafting desks and on and on. And of course many of these things are the industry standards, meaning they are used by the overwhelming majority of the pencilers, inkers, letters, colorists, editors and writers out there. But if your bank account looks like a picture of a doughnut (I'll give you slower people a moment to let that one come to you....) there are options to fit your budget out there!
 First, start at blog! It's free here on BLOGSPOT (just click that orange square looking thing at the top to get started). Why? You might want to let people know you are here, what you like and don't like about comics, animation, actions films, video games and crunchy jelly (again, I'll give the slower members of the audience a few seconds to catch that one....). You may want to review older comics, do spotlights on favorite artists or characters, or even showcase your own work as a daily sketch blog. This will hopefully lead to people who want to share their input with you, and when it is someone who is or was involved in the business ALWAYS listen to what they have to offer. This is free information that other people pay money for in books, courses or private lessons but this person is impressed enough with you to share this information.
 Another way to get input on your work and interests is to put your work up on an art gallery. Some of the best ones I have found that involve zero cost are:
Fine Art America. Here everything you put into your gallery can be turned into a picture of varying sizes and textures, greeting cards, mouse pads, etc.
Deviant Art. This is maybe the world's largest art community, similar in many ways to Facebook with the favorites and comments on people's submissions. Being the biggest is a good thing and a bad thing. The bad: EVERYTHING that could be called art is out there. EVERYTHING!!!! The good: there is a lot of good, quality artwork and tutorials there to look at and use. There is also plenty of free stock images to help with your art, and you can filter your settings to avoid unsuitable content. Plus, many professional artists are there and they are accessible to answering questions. People like Jeremy Dale, Liam Sharp, Tim Townsend, Nei Ruffino and Robert Atkins just to name a few. I have asked questions and gotten responses and feedback that is insightful and helpful from every one of them.
TalentHouse. I just found this one recently, and I like the layout of the pages and downloading artwork to the site is easier than anywhere else. A bigger part of the program is that as artists generate more support and "likes" for their art work, the attention could potentially lead to money for the artist. I'm not clear on how that works, but I'm all for it at this point!
The rest of the best-
Art-3000. Not quite as much "community" to it as Deviant Art, but you can still put a ton of pictures on your gallery.
ComicArtCommissions and ComicArtFans. Both of these sites have lots of professional artists on them. The free sites are very limited in what they provide, but you can always go back and re-edit your page to keep it fresh. The benefit is you gain contact with a bunch of people who do this for a living every day!
Instagram/ Facebook. Everyone knows these!

Of course, you need to have some artwork to show and that means getting the tools you need. Assuming you have a computer you can do art on, there is plenty of freeware and other tools to put on your computer. It may not be Photoshop or Manga Studio, but it is free and it is a great starting point!
 The best software, in my opinion, is GIMP. It is free, and it is open-source, meaning that programers continue to add to, update and refine the software, so I check back periodically for updates. There are also forums and tutorials on the internet to help you learn how to use GIMP. Gimp is great for painting or coloring scanned art and word balloons and lighting effects can be added. Like Photoshop, it uses layers, burn and dodge, magic lasso and other features. It works in Windows and Mac (and maybe Linux, too).
 For 3-D rendering, help with drawing in any perspective you will need, and for creating consistent layouts of places you will draw over and over again, Sketchup Make is here to save the day. Billed as the easiest to use 3-D model program, without instructions I managed to build a house and a modest castle. Think Minecraft, but much more high tech and with curves.
 PrintablePaper carries a wide variety of ready-made templates for comic pages, manga and newspaper strips.
 Another great template site for helping you design, plan and organize your work is ComicBookGraphicDesign, which includes word balloons, sketchcard sheets, videos on how-to, and a glossary of comics and art terms.
 Finally, you'll probably want some top-tier looking fonts for your comics instead of something that looks cute on an office memo. Head over to Blambot. There are lots of free fonts for speaking, sound effects and creating a title or logo. Check back at least once a month as some free fonts move into storage or go to the pay side, and other new fonts are rolled out.