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8 posts from November 2007

November 26, 2007

Preparations for the Imminent Zombie Apocalypse

From the drawing board of George O'Connor

So, recently my spot on the rotating creators blog at First Second got bumped up a little and I was caught completely unprepared.I had been planning to illustrate an epic account of a day in the life of a stay-at-home illustrator guy, but somehow, I just hadn't gotten around to it. Luckily, I remembered this strange little comic I had made a while back. Some backstory: at the time I created this, I was living temporarily in Rome, Italy; meanwhile, stateside, my book Journey into Mohawk Country was due to come out while I was still living la vida roma. The fine folks at First Second wanted me to create a little something for the blog, to introduce me and my work to the First Second audience, and to basically set the stage for Journey into Mohawk Country. Inspired by my new surroundings and a lifelong obsession with the living dead I fired off this little four page comic. After the appropriate pause, First Second Head Honcho sent me an e-mail saying, very politely, that while the comic I had sent was very nice, wouldn't it maybe be a better idea to create something that was at least tangentially related to Mohawk Country. I had to concede him this point, and instead I created a series of sketchbook excerpts (still viewable on the site) that have served my book infinitely better than the old zombie comic ever would. It seemed my zombies would return to their grave, havoc un-wreaked, with nary a soul to mark their passing.

Still, if I've learned one thing from all those zombie films, is that the living dead don't go down easily. Sometimes, when  you least expect it, they come back. I hope people dig this little 4 page view into my world. I've since returned to Brooklyn, but to a new address, and I'm happy to report that this one would withstand a siege of the living dead very well, thank you very much.






November 19, 2007

The Graphic Novel graduates to THE SIMPSONS

I’d forgotten this was coming! Tuned in last night to a new Simpsons episodes called "Husbands and Knives" — featuring a new trendy comics shop and hilarious cameos by Tintin, Alan Moore, Dan Clowes, Art Spiegelman, and laughed my head off.

Then it occured to me: never mind about comics getting literary awards, or graphic novels reshaping Hollywood, or landing big features in the NYTimes — this episode of the Simpsons might be the real turning point that puts the graphic novel into the American household. If you’re on the Simpsons, you’ve arrived.


Four Color Rock and Roll

From the Drawing Board of Gabe Soria


Comics and music have been inextricably linked in my head since the beginnings of my fascination with each art form. Where did it begin? Nelson Riddle's goony score and songs for the 1960s live-action Batman series? Spider-Man's catchy themes from his Ralph Bakshi animated days and his later mute incarnation on The Electric Company? That first fateful day I read an issue of Heavy Metal while Physical Graffiti droned on majestically, coincidentally in the back ground? Whatever it was, I can't imagine NOT wanting to put on some sort of record to accompany kicking back with a comic, and I'm astounded that more comics don't have soundtracks.

The purists out there might cry that pure comics don't need music to complete them. Well, they're right. You don't NEED music to make a complete comic book experience, but the right mood setter can make a great comic book even better. Artist and writer James Kochalka's band James Kochalka Superstar makes music that could be the pop music his violent robots and horny elves listen to on their radios; Craig Thompson's award-winning doorstop graphic novel Blankets actually has a very commendable original soundtrack of atmospheric instrumental indie rock by the Oregon band Tracker; and many comics creators are hip to the idea of listing the records that have informed their work in the back of the newest issue of whatever they're working on (Paul Pope's comics, with their name-checking of Nick Cave and being titled after pretty good boogie rock songs ("Heavy Liquid" by Thee Hypnotics) come to mind).

But I'm digressing. My point is: Why not more? Why aren't there more original soundtracks to comic books? Why aren't more creators listing the records that inspire them? Why don't more comics come with suggested listening?

Well, there's no reason why, which is why I'm suggesting the following recommended listening for some favorite comics (I'm stopping at two, because otherwise this erstwhile music journalist would go on forever).

Jack Kirby Comics


Unsurprisingly, the heavy-duty head trip comics of Jack Kirby (especially, but not exclusively, his Fourth World stuff) lend themselves to being sound-tracked by prog rock, doom metal and the like. I have no idea why more of his art wasn't featured on the side of custom vans in the mid-70s. Vaughn Bode and Frank Frazetta won THAT battle, I guess. The great stoner rock/acid metal band Monster Magnet wrote possibly the greatest, most to-the-point rock lyric about the world of comics in "Melt", the lead track from their 2001 album God Says No:

"And I was thinkin' how the world should have cried/
On the Day Jack Kirby died/
I wonder if I'm ill"

How awesome is that? Monster Magnet rontman/songwriter Dave Wyndorf LOVES to sprinkle the band's records with not-so sly references to "classic" (pre-emptive quotes for the contrarians out there) comic books and characters, including the utterly bizarre Marvel Comics villain M.O.D.O.K. It's a great lyrical conceit, since these references tend to make one remember some comics more fondly than they deserve, perhaps, and in essence make the listener actually CREATE beautiful Platonic-ideals of psychedelic comics from the 70s in their heads. Hopefully one day this will come full-circle and somebody will actually make comic books inspired by this stuff. (For the record, the world SHOULD have cried on the day Jack Kirby died.)

Recommendations: In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson; Dopesmoker by Sleep; Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space by Spiritualized; Spine of God, Dopes to Infinity, Powertrip, God Says No, by Monster Magnet

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen


I'm currently reading the long-delayed hardback graphic novel The Black Dossier, the second and a half volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's history of the creative world/literary superhero opus and am marveling at its formal gymnastics and pure storytelling chutzpah. It's really a marvel, well worth the thirty dollar (!) cover price on re-reading value alone, but I'm feeling a little bummed upon realizing the promised flexi-disc of a faux fifties rock song was not included. I'm assuming the twin boogeymen of enormous cost and lack of readers actually possessing a turntable on which to play the thing scotched the idea. Anyway, here's to it appearing online one day, or being issued by a VERY smart indie record label as a limited edition seven-inch. In my mind, the LOEG musically lends itself to the theatrical, the baroque and the circus-like, so with that in mind:

Recommendations: Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards by Tom Waits; a nice recording of The Threepenny Opera, preferably in German and featuring Lotte Lenya; Working for the Man by Tindersticks; Vol 1: Soft Emergencies by the New Orleans Bingo! Show; Trouble is a Lonesome Town by Lee Hazlewood


November 12, 2007

Why Physicists?

From the Desk of Jim Ottaviani


Calculus. Most people who end up like me -- nuclear engineer turned librarian turned comics writer -- took it in high school. I didn’t, though not by choice. I don’t remember it being offered, for one thing, and I wasn’t ready for it if it had been available to me, but entering college behind the curve turned out great.

I didn’t think so at the time, of course. Every other first year was ahead and doing well and having a social life while I was struggling to wrap my mind around limits and integrals, and doing while additionally being bored by the classical physics we all had to suffer through. Let me at the cool quantum stuff so I can finally lick this teleportation thing once and for all!

In the end, I actually looked forward to the problem sets. Learning stuff is fun; who knew? But by the time finals crashed the party I still didn't know whether I understood enough to make the cut. And when I sat down to the physics exam I was sure I was done for. In later classes you got to bring in a sheet of notes, on the (justified) premise that having them wouldn’t do you much good. But not so for that first, basic class. I showed up with my brain, a pencil, and a calculator that could do square roots(!) and trig functions(!) and delivered the answer in glowing red LEDs.

And I also showed up with an urge to cower, made more acute when I promptly forgot all the equations of motion and how to calculate energy and momentum. Completely blanked. All I could dredge up from memory were force = mass x acceleration and distance = rate x time. Cutting edge stuff…if you’re Isaac Newton in 1687.

And, it turns out, I could dredge up calculus too. Also cutting edge Newtonian tech, but if you know the force and distance equations and you know calculus you can derive everything else you need for a first course in classical physics. (Especially if you vaguely remember enough of what the results look like to recognize the formulae when you're done.) And on the fly, under pressure, I derived ‘em.

Even if I’d flunked out then and there I think this experience alone would have made college worthwhile. It’s certainly one of the few moments I remember from a whole lot more higher education than I like to admit to.

Oh yeah, comics. 

I can’t replicate that revelatory physics experience any more, at least in context -- those mathematical tools have long since rusted away in the damp back corners of my brain. But I can replicate the panic: I still get it every time I sit down to make a new book, because I arrive at each project with my brain, pencil and paper (or rather, their modern analogue, a keyboard and a blinking cursor), and no clue as to how to solve the problem of writing a comics script. But I can always dredge up that fundamental image or idea that got me excited about doing the book, and that eventually becomes words and those words describe dialogue and panels and pages and spreads and scenes. And all of a sudden (well, actually many months later, and thanks to heavy lifting by an artist) there it is, a new world, fresh for me to marvel at and enjoy as if I were discovering how gravity works, a la Isaac Newton.

Who I really ought to write a comic on, someday. First Second has me doing Richard Feynman’s cool quantum stuff first, though. And Mark’s letting me bring my notes.


November 07, 2007

First Second email and web outage!

Hard to remember a time before email and web!

As many of you may have noticed, FirstSecond.com is going through a communication meltdown -- the website and our email is shut off at the moment. We're working on it. Thanks for your patience in the meantime.

Pony Express ... those were the days.

November 05, 2007

5 DIY ways that i promoted my book

From the Drawing Board of Sara Varon

i have some favorite hobbies that i save for when i'm not busy making or reading comics.  a couple of these are printmaking, baking, and making little products, so i put these to use and made book-related projects.

1.  my favorite project was baking cookies in the shapes of my characters.  i cut strips of litho plates (they're thin flat aluminum plates used for printing lithographs), about 2 inches wide, and i bent them into the shapes of a dog and robot, to be used for cookie cutters.  then i went to my local cake supply store and bought several food coloring colors, to be added to my icing.  and i used the 'rolled sugar cookie' recipe from 'the joy of cooking' (the handiest cookbook ever).  and i went to work.  it took awhile to figure out how to do everything, but the results tasted and looked better than i'd anticipated. i passed them out at a booksigning.




2.  making buttons.  everybody likes buttons, and they're super cheap and easy to make.  plus people put them on their clothes and bags, so they travel around advertising your pictures until they inevitably fall off.  making these kinds of things is always cheaper and easier than you expect.  my favorite place to make buttons is www.busybeaver.net.  you can make all kinds of things.  other cool things you can make and places that make them are (1) pocket mirrors (www.myfavoritemirror.com) and (2) patches (www.american-patch.com).  plus your stuff looks so cool and legitimate when it's on a for-real product.


3. silkscreened postcards. i work in an art school printshop, so i have access to printmaking facilities, but another way to make prints that is slightly different but just as cool and fun is a gocco printer.  there were rumors that you could no longer get them in the united states (i don't know if that's true) but i'm sure you can find a gocco printer on ebay.


4.  silkscreened tshirts.  also made at my job, but i think you can print on tshirts with your gocco printer too, if silkscreen isn't an option for you.


5.  offset postcards.  you can get these at 4x6.com or 4over4.com or a zillion other places, and they're pretty easy and affordable.  you just have to order a lot, like at least 500 (i think).  but you don't have to make postcards!  you can also make something promotional that is business-card sized (i did this for another book) or you can have your postcards cut in half and make them into bookmarks!

3 other (non-DIY) ways that i promoted my book:

1.  i did something called 'speed-dating' at the annual book expo at javits center in nyc.  i (and 19 other authors) spoke to 20 small groups of people (mostly librarians and book buyers), each for 3 minutes, making it a one-hour event.  it was kind of rocky at first, but in the end i was surprised how many different questions people could come up with in 3 minutes.

2.  booksignings at various stores.  so far i've been to portland, maine; nashville, tn; boston, and new york.  hopefully i'll go other places cause it's fun to travel.

3.  blogging on the first second site!


November 03, 2007

50 Years Ago Today. . . .

Fifty years ago today was the launch of the Sputnik 2 -- and the subsequent death of Laika, the rocket's only passenger. 

If you have time to toast the small dog who initiated planet Earth's exploration of space, please raise a glass in her memory.


November 02, 2007

A.L.I.E.E.E.N. Wins IHG Award

Lewis Trondheim's graphic novel A.L.I.E.E.E.N. has received the International Horror Guild Award for Best Illustrated Narrative.


Previous winners of this award include Clive Barker's Abarat, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, and Jhonen Vasquez' I Feel Sick

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