38 posts categorized ":01 Stop: Watch"

October 08, 2013



I'm very, very, very happy for this book to be released today.


It's October 8th, 2013, the day Paul Pope's BATTLING BOY is cut loose into the world. 


Years ago, before launching First Second Books, before I knew Paul's work, I was at Jim Hanley's Universe, one of America's greatest comics shops, at the foot of the Empire State Building, with Jessica Abel. She was introducing me to some of the luminaries of the indie comics world, some of whom would become star authors under First Second. Among the books she piled in my arms was a self published set of "THB" and "100%" and "Heavy Liquid"—and for me, the revelation of Paul Pope.


What his fans already knew was my thrill to discover. This strangely incandescent, charismatic brushstroke, the high-octane, crazy kinetic energy of it, and the oddly familiar sense in his characters and his storytelling, even when they involved First Contact with an alien life form through an addictive ink drug... I was hooked.


What mesmerized me with Paul's work, everything I could find, was the magical confluence of the three great schools of comics: the American, the European, and the Asian, in some new blend I had never found before. Here was the heir of Jack Kirby, but infused with a Manga sensibility owing to Tezuka, and an artistry steeped in Hugo Pratt and Moebius. And then of course something unique and fresh, reverent and rebellious and exciting of my senses.


I'm writing this some years later, late on October 7th, 2013, in a hotel room in Chicago. Down the hall, Paul Pope is in another room, typing up answers to an interview for The Hollywood Reporter. Tomorrow morning, I'm taking him to three rapid-fire school visits before we head to Atlanta and then to DC the next day, and then head back to New York in time for Comic Con. Paul is at the start of his author tour, for his magnificent BATTLING BOY.


Yes, there's plenty of hype surrounding this one. But tonight at dinner, that's not what Paul was interested in. He was wrestling with a story problem in the later part of BATTLING BOY 2, involving a magical T-shirt, and a relationship development between two characters. 


What a treat to work with someone like Paul. Comics are being transformed, superb pictures are taking form, heroes are being born. And I'm so very, very, very happy you get to start reading them.



August 18, 2011




We have FIVE PAIRS OF FREE INVITATIONS to the New York City private screening of GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE—Joann Sfar's first feature-length movie!

WHEN: Wednesday, August 24th @ 7 PM

WHERE:  New Museum — 235 Bowery (between Stanton + Rivington), NYC

 This is a private, invitation-only event. IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE FIRST FIVE TO RESPOND (in comments, below) you will receive an invitation for yourself + a companion. Be sure to leave your name in your response.


(A Serge Gainsbourg-Brigitte Bardot scene)

 GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE opens in NYC on Wednesday, August 31st at Film Forum.


February 28, 2011

Lost (but very neat) Things


I know that this is a train I should have caught months and months ago, but at least I have caught up appropriately now!

Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing.  Go and watch it now; it has the cutest steampunk teapot/cthulhu you will ever see. 

Also it won an Oscar last night!  A surprising example of something good and original and lovely actually winning a major media award!

July 14, 2008

The Dim Glow

[From the Drawing Board of Leland Purvis]

A visual trope in comics graphics is the ‘glow, or ‘halo’. Some artists I know simply like the effect. Many aspiring comics artists seem to use it, and over-use it, simply because they never thought not to.

This thoughtlessness, however, has caused a great deal of trouble and distress to the nefarious historical figure Bill Rattlecane. This is Bill.


Bill had been a playwright and actor in 17th century London until a scandal forced him to change his name to Rattlecane and flee to the high seas for the more respectable life of a pirate.

For a better look at Bill, obviously he should be inked. (Actually, Bill is not blind in his left eye, the patch is simply part of his disguise, and part of this illustration, as you will see.)



Following Bill onto the deck of the pirate ship Desdemona, we come upon the scene of his first night watch. We realize the background would be black.



As you see, the thick-to-thin lines that gave Bill’s head such definition and weight are gone. Also, with his black scarf and eyepatch, he seems to have been carved into floating pieces. To avoid this, artists often use what is called the glow, or more affectionately, the halo.



The problem for Rattlecane was that both the readers and the pirates may become either confused or fearful. In the fantastical worlds of heroes and magic, among auras, spells, pipesmoke, and crimson bands of sikoryak, it’s not always easy for the uninitiated to recognize the halo as simply a studio solution. The pirates may be fearful that Bill has magical powers, or worse, that he is cursed. They may knife him in his sleep and throw him overboard. 

To avoid this evenuality it behooves the artist, for the sake of the readers and Bill’s own lifeblood, to devise a different solution. If we return now to the initial drawing, one possibility is that as Bill comes on deck for the late shift, we ink the night sky first. Only when darkness has fully embraced him do we apply inks to the figure without crossing into the night . . .




With this solution we find that nefarious Bill Rattlecane, who was far from deservng a halo in any case, has neither been decapitated by thoughtless brush and ink, nor fenestrated by his fellow scallywags.


In fact, it was the glow than had given him away one night while leaving a certain courtier’s apartments and initiated the scandal which forced him into a life of piracy. If a cartoonist had helped Bill early enough, the course of English history and the high seas might have been changed forever.


May 26, 2008

Vampire Creator

[From the Drawing Board of Warren Pleece]


Reading some of the reviews for my new books recently, First Second’s very own Life Sucks, with ultra talented duo, Jessica Abel and Gabe Soria (buy, buy, buy) and Incognegro, written by the very talented Mat Johnson (DC Vertigo-buy it now, too), I felt a little put out that I was described as an “old stalwart” and in one case, “veteran Pleece”. There’s no pleasing some people. Until I realised that maybe after 20 years making a living, more or less, on the outskirts of the comics mainstream, that maybe even I had something to add to the mentor-like blog, plug my new book as a First Second creator and tie it in with the Vampire month thing all in one shebang.

I can’t offer any great philosophical exercise here on comics and graphic novels; there’s been a lot of good stuff already that says it better than I ever could. Also, I don’t think I can make something as compellingly interesting as my old mate Nick Abadzis’s sketchbook diaries. What I can offer to young pups and old sea dogs alike, is a slightly different take on drawing comics from the outside insider.

One of the first and most important things I figured out quite early on, is not to be afraid to stretch yourself and your abilities and to make a load of mistakes; I’ve made/am making tons. Still if I hadn’t I wouldn’t and couldn’t improve on what came before. Horses galloping was always a pain for me, but if you want to be an artist worth your salt you’re going to have bite the bit, chomp the nosebag, or something. Being into old films, I’m always thinking of mad and interesting angles, aerial shots, knee high angles, not for the sake of it, but to add drama, suspense and interest to the storytelling. Go ahead, draw that impossible angle. You can do it, or maybe you’ll nail it the second time round.

I’ve always been very critical of my own stuff and I’m always looking for better ways to do things, but I reckon that’s healthy. I still cringe over the long chin phase I had in the mid-90s and as for the sausage fingers phase in the early Velocity days, well, that’s legendary, but maybe my glory years?

The thing is, if you spend too long perfecting your craft at the expense of any one seeing what you do, you’re just going to become one of those artists spending too much of their time falling in love with their own cross-hatching and missing out on life.

That was my other tip: get a life. Drawing comics/graphic novels is great, if you get the chance and even better if you can make a living from them, but don’t forget to get out there, see people, have a laugh. Drawing Life Sucks, I became haunted by the endless rows of cigarette packets I had to draw in the Last Stop convenience store, yeah, thanks Jess and Gabe. In fact, the self-portrait on the creator’s page is actually drawn from life and not some spoof, mock vampire tie-in kind of joke. My skin colour was that pale from lack of sunlight and being chained to the desk at the bequest of the evil Abel, the blood on the neck from reckless shaving due to tiredness and the eyes red from those bloody cigarette packets. Don’t ask about the teeth. If you look closely, you’ll see a longing in those ruby red eyes. Just like a dog that needs his walkies, all us arty types need to get out take life in.

I hope from telling you this, you’ll appreciate even more the vampiric screwball fest that is Life Sucks if you’ve still yet to buy it and the poor state of the artistic animals that went into it’s creation for your appreciation.

Final tip, reflecting on Nick Abadzis’s recent blog about always sketching. If you don’t happen to have a sketchbook at hand and after 13 years of looking after kids, it hasn’t always been a priority when stepping out the door, though it’s always a pleasure, just keep on looking. Over the years, I seem to have developed a photographic memory for life’s background detail that’s much healthier than traipsing through Google every time you want to draw a telephone pole, an interesting face and, not forgetting those galloping horses.

May 19, 2008

Do Something Boring*

[From the desk of Gabe Soria]


"The Rut" – it sounds like an epic boogie rock instrumental, doesn't it? A real choogly Leslie West-meets-Billy Squier jam. Well, I wish it was. To me, though, it's a daily challenge that I have to strive to get over. Most of us "creatives" probably have a similar story. Hell, that's arrogant – most people, period, have ruts they have to get over in their daily lives to allow them to continue what they're doing and keep on keepin' on.

But right now, as I start working on my next book for First Second with St. John Frizell and Simon Fraser, I'm concerned pretty much with my own Rut, my creative one. It's the impulse that drives me to distraction and frippery when I'm sitting at the old typing machine, trying to pound out some inspiration. The only REAL answer to the Rut, at least to me, is discipline – turn off that internet connection, don't check that email or that movie blog and just put nose to grindstone for hours on end.

Unfortunately, I'm a bad disciplinarian, and the Rut rears its ugly head again and again, from day to day. And when discipline doesn't work, I have to look to other avenues to help spur the creative impulse, and that's what this blog entry is about – things I use to inspire and push myself to actually get good (should that last word be in quotes) stuff done. And in the interest of brevity, I'm just going to drop one of the many methods I use.

One of my favorite techniques to spur creativity is to use Oblique Strategies, a method for spurring creative thought developed by one of my heroes, Brian Eno, along with the artist Peter Schmidt in the mid-70s. Taking the form of a deck of cards with a cryptic zen-like koan printed on each, the Oblique Strategies are little, gnomic pushes in directions you may or may not want to go with your work. Meant to be taken as seriously (or un-seriously) as you'd like, they're pretty neat little things – kind of like having a deck of tarot cards crossed with Yoda and a hyper-intelligent record producer in your back pocket. I was introduced to the cards through a scene in Richard Linklater's 1991 film Slacker, which is one of my favorite films ever and which might explain a lot.

Unfortunately, "real" decks of Oblique Strategies can cost quite a bit of money. You could make your own, if you're so inclined, but I just use an elegant little Dashboard widget for my Mac, available here:


But I'm thinking that soon I might have to switch to a completely analog version of everything – notebook for writing and real deck of Oblique Strategies for inspiration, because constantly going to my Dashboard to pick a card… well, it can be kind of distracting sometimes.

Gabe Soria

*(The title of this blog post is the motto on the Oblique Strategy card I pulled when trying to figure out what to write for this entry.)

More information about the Oblique Strategies:


Another Brian Eno creative inspiration game, in which he invented William Gibson/Neal Stephenson-esque sci-fi alter-egos for David Bowie and his band during the recording of the latter's 1995 album:


PS: Um, can somebody out there please do a comics version of the Oblique Strategies? Please?


May 12, 2008

Why Sketch?

[From the Drawing Board of Nick Abadzis]

A cartoonist friend of mine once told me about another cartoonist friend of his who sneered at the idea of spending time doing life drawing. This isn’t from the horse’s mouth, you understand, so it could be a wind-up, as I have difficulty imagining a cartoonist who would be boring enough not to like sketching or drawing from life. My friend reckoned this guy would rather use the time to plan a story or ink some pencils and while I understand the motivating force of beating the clock (creating comics is such a labor-intensive art) I think it’s just as important sometimes to bug out and do a bit of doodling, or sketching from life.


Sketching is like play -- it exercises certain creative muscles that would otherwise either atrophy or snap from overwork. It’s important. It frees up the mechanism in your brain that usually stays focused and produces tight drawings as part of a comics narrative, and I think it’s wise to allow it some downtime, so to speak. Otherwise, you run the risk of going stale.


Indeed, for me personally, there’s little that’s more pleasurable than sitting out on a summer’s day for a couple of hours, sitting in a park or somewhere and catching a few likenesses of the passing people. You never know what you might see, or what it might inspire. I have a whole sketchblog (http://nickabadzis.my-expressions.com/) that’s more or less devoted to sketches of people that I do while traveling on the London tube or bus service. Those sketches are a valuable source of potential character types to mine later.


Often, sketching generates story ideas -- most of my sketchbooks are filled with little notes and reminders, germs of stories to be retrieved later in the studio and worked into something larger. Sometimes, it also takes your mind off a storytelling problem and when you come back to work, the solution to that problem miraculously pops into your head. It’s quite meditative like that – one’s subconscious seems to appreciate the downtime too. Above all, it sharpens your sense of observation and contributes to an overall looseness that you just can’t manufacture.


The best advice I could ever give is not to take any, just follow your own heart -- but if there’s one piece of wisdom that’s worth imparting, if you want to be an artist or writer of any kind, keep a sketchbook or notebook.

Here are a few great blogs that I admire that contain a lot of the artists’ sketches, preliminary drawings and doodles. Or just plain wonderful drawing:






April 21, 2008

Over My Shoulder

[From the Drawing Board of Leland Myrick]

Illustrating a biography is different from anything else I've done -- exhilarating and frightening at once. Usually when I am writing or drawing, I feel quite alone with my work, sitting or standing at my drawing table out in my studio. But the project I'm working on now, illustrating a biography of physicist Richard Feynman, is different.







April 14, 2008

There's No Such Thing as a Graphic Novel

[From the drawing board of Cyril Pedrosa]


That was probably a bad way to start my blog entry. I already regret it bitterly. I would've been better off talking about the arrival of spring or rambling about French trains. Telling you that I'm uncomfortably seated on seat 27, aisle side, heading towards a small town on the Atlantic coast of France where, with the pretext of signing some copies of Three Shadows at the local bookstore, I'm mainly hoping to stretch out as much as I can the pleasure of having lunch at a restaurant facing the port, praying that they'll still have some room for smokers on the terrace…

But what can I say, I got myself stuck in this argument about graphic novels being non-existent.

Before Three Shadows came out in France, I was a comics artist in the specifically European sense of being an author of bandes dessinées. For most people, especially in France and Belgium, that would mean that you tell stories in 46-page oversized (8¼" by 11.7") hardcover books produced on high-quality paper with beautiful colors, and that the main purpose of these stories is to entertain readers.


And for a long time I too believed that my job consisted of telling colorful and entertaining stories in that format of 46-page oversized hardcover books. Perhaps it was because I had fond memories of escaping as a kid in the pages of Asterix, Le journal de Mickey or Gaston Lagaffe, or because my studies were in totally different fields (mathematics, advertising and animation), but whatever the excuses the sad truth is that, when my first books came out, I hadn't given much thought to the form of comics.

I had no particular viewpoint, so I focused on my drawing, wanting to make it as pretty and attractive as possible, but with a hint of originality that would mark my territory and create a style of my own. I produced books the way a carpenter might produce chairs, with a love of good craftsmanship. In the eyes of my French-speaking peers, I was a comics author, since I published nice attractive books in the format I've just described. But I saw myself more as an illustrator of comics, something in fact quite different, though I didn't realize it fully at the time.


But as I worked on my first books based on scripts by my old friend David Chauvel, I was carefully following the work of Blutch, Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, David B, Nicolas de Crécy, Emmanuel Guibert, and many others, and I had to admit to myself that I was an idiot — a nice, friendly idiot, I hope, one who worked on his books with care and diligence, but an idiot nonetheless.

Those talented, thoughtful, inventive people had an artistic maturity far greater than mine. They burst out of established forms and came up with a wealth of innovative ways of drawing and radically new subject matter. In the end their books changed my life. They managed to make me understand that comics are a language, a language with rules that you can and should break, and in which you can and should invent your own words, your own syntax. A language that can encompass everything, as long as you take the trouble to think things through until you find the form, new or old, that suits what it is you want to express — a language that doesn't want to be confined to any mold, like that damn 46-page glossy hardcover format.


Since then, little by little, book after book, I try, with varying degrees of success, to be less an illustrator of comics than someone who plays with the language of the comics medium. In that, I’m convinced that graphic form has to contribute as much to storytelling as do the well-known narrative tools of angles (close-ups, reverse angles and so on) or the skillful use of ellipse. I think we need to subject our drawing skills to intense questioning, not with the thought of “what’s my way of representing reality?”  — which only points you to something a bit vain, called a “style,” that’s usually nothing more than a fancy name for our tics and bad habits in drawing — but rather “taking into account my limitations, my tools, my knowledge, my ability to invent and improvise, what would be the best way of representing reality in that scene, at that specific moment, with that specific emotion?” That language, that subtle interplay of forms, that delicate and invisible art of placing as much in the empty space between two panels as in the panels themselves — called comics or bande dessinée —  is something I treasure, and it’s the only one I know how to use to tell stories.


Being an author of comics is just that: telling stories through the use of that language. But it's not less than that, and I hold the language and those who use it with talent in very high esteem.

But in the past few years in France, as soon as a book of bande dessinée is something other than the 46-page color hardcover format I described, the book gets called a roman graphique, borrowing from the US term of graphic novel. I don’t know who the clever marketing whiz was that came up with the idea, but it’s clearly designed to lend a stamp of cultural approval by associating with novels, i.e. with “serious” literature for real readers, those with brains. 


I can’t judge whether there’s same association in the US, but in France the term is used very consciously, by publishers, salespeople, bookstore owners, critics and even sometimes the authors themselves, to highlight to potential readers that this book is a quality product that will stimulate their neurons and not some trashy little comic book. Since Three Shadows came out, I’ve been awarded, probably temporarily, the title of graphic novel auteur. One reporter who interviewed me explained that the book had to be a graphic novel, since its layout and number of pages gave it "the look of a novel." I replied that I could show him some cookbooks that look a lot like Three Shadows, but nobody’s suggested calling it a “graphic cookbook”!

Saying and thinking that gives the idea that this constantly evolving language we use is not enough, that it isn’t rich and elaborate enough, and that it needs some literary stamp of approval to have full value. It’s true that it’s easier to say that than to explain how Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan is a “total comic,” to highlight the complex representation of time in the work of Frédéric Peeters, to describe the interplay of abstract and figurative representation in the books of Hugo Pratt, and so on. Yet these “graphic novels,” as the term is used in France, owe nothing to the novel or to literature. They are pure, and often beautiful, comic books: the language they use, regardless of how inventive the forms used may be, is the language of comics. That’s what gives these creative works their power, and that’s what explains the very distinctive pleasure that their readers take in the process.


So, as far as I’m concerned, there are comic books – good or bad ones, ambitious or mediocre ones, small, thick, large ones, Japanese, Korean, Belgian or American ones. They might contain a lot of pages or just a few, color, black & white illustration, paper cutouts, digital pictures or whatnot. But all of them draw upon the same language, a language so subtle that a number of readers will only stay in the doorway of those books and won’t see the jewels inside.

But there’s no such thing as a graphic novel.


April 07, 2008

How I Write Non-Fiction Comics

[From the desk of Jim Ottaviani]

People sometimes ask me how to get started, and how to finish. So, because in comics it's better to show than to tell...


click for a larger version


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