Posts tagged comics

The Art of Hybrid Novels, Part One

I am currently immersed in the last few months of work completeing a hybrid illustrated novel. “Monkey Boy” (Scholastic 2014) is not a graphic novel or comic, but a hybrid of traditional novel and comic sections. As an author and illustrator it was a natural format for me to be drawn to as there are things that each art form does better than the other. But there are also things about each art form that really bug me. However, when I started working on this hybrid idea five years ago, I didn’t know that any such thing existed. In those five years (it’s taken me so long because I have too many other books to do) the art form has come a long way. In part one I’ll talk about some comic/novel background and in part two I’ll give you an exclusive glimpse into the world of my junior fiction hybrid novel “Monkey Boy”.

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I first encountered comics in the form of my dad’s Eagle annuals from the 1950s. These were a great source of entertainment when we visited my grandparents orchard in Twyford, Hawkes Bay. The artworks were (and still are) stylistic and sophisticated – especially the fantastic “Dan Dare”. And being post WW2, it was full of guns and violence with nary a hint of PCness. Eagle annuals were also my first exposure to the amazing Ronald Searle. The inside covers sometimes had one of his crazy scenes and, although I have never studied Searle specifically, those images must have had a subconscious influence on my work, especially the busy and crazy pages of my “Looky Book”.

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ABOVE: my “Looky Book” and Searle’s “Fall of St Trinian’s”

When I was about eight I discovered Footrot Flats, the wordless comics of Mordillo and the wonderful world of Asterix. The last has gone on to have a huge affect on my work. Not in style, but in the energy and action, the atmosphere and environment of Albert Uderzo’s art. One of the biggest influences have been the references in Asterix. The series pays homage to everything from popular TV shows, to Shakespeare and latin quotes, to famous events in history and great artworks. For me, this is something very important that keeps a book alive. As you get older you keep going back and discovering new meaning and appreciation of these books. It also helps keep parents enthused when reading over and over and over again – or just passing on their love of books to their children. This is something that I try to do in my work too.

I had a brief interest in 2000AD, but it was at the Auckland University of Technology that I was exposed to the serious world of comics, however, not through the arts faculty, who considered comics and film making to be nothing worthy of a degree in Graphic Design. Maybe that was why I ended up doing both comic and film studies! (contrary little tyke!). It was here I discovered an unknown young comic writer called Neil Gaiman (who has since gone on to become my favourite author), who along with Dave Mckean (the Picasso of comics) practically invented the genre of graphic novels. Gaiman and Mckean didn’t produce cliched superhero stories – but novels, told in comic format. “Mr Punch”, “Violent Cases” and “Signal to Noise” are among the finest examples. Mckean, along with other artists like Kent Williams and Bill Scienkiewicz made comic panels that looked like works of high art and whilst incorporating film editing ideas into their storytelling. Below is a panel from Gaiman & Mckean’s “Signal to Noise” about a film maker trying to make his last great film before cancer takes him (If you can’t read it – the guy in the first panel asks ‘how long have you got to live?’)

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But not all comics are as elegant. Basically I find it’s largely an form where each artform is in competition instead of harmony. Humans are trained to follow the words and they flick over the artworks to get to the next line (unless you have a lovely panel like the one above). Meanwhile, incredible bulging superhero artworks try to outshine everything else on the page. I personally read the two art forms separately. First I read the story and then I go back and look over the pictures – which I find is an unsatisfying combination. I feel bad when I read a comic, as I flick over the pages and worry about the poor artist who spent a week painting one panel which takes me 10 seconds to glance at. There are incredible graphic novels – but like any artform, 90% is fairly average. Then we have a work of real brilliance like Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival”, where the comic format is allowed to unfold, without the need for words. In this book I find myself lingering on the images and it can take 15 minutes just to ‘read’ one page.

So what about novels? I have to laugh when people claim that there is a NEW trend to put illustrations in novels. Pictures in chapter books have been around as long as the printing press. 100 years ago, some of my favourite artists like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Maxfield Parish were doing incredible work on books aimed largely at adults – I have a gorgeous “Romeo and Juliet” illustrated by Rackham a century ago. Today the tradition of novels with chapter illustrations has been largely confined to junior and teen fiction. In the best of children’s books and comics, words and pictures work together to fill in the spaces left by the other artform – but for some reason, as we become more sophisticated and move up to junior fiction and teen novels the relationship between words and pictures gets dumber.

My main problem is that often each artform repeats the other. That may be Ok when reinforcing words with beginner readers, but as a sophisticated art form I find it a bit shallow. In particular, I often find that English and American books have the strong hand of an art director telling the illustrator what to draw (usually something passive and inoffensive to the reader’s imagination). When I have illustrated novels I have pushed hard to inject something new in-between the lines of the text and capture some of the energy and action of the scene.

In the last ten years we’ve had a zeitgeist moment – obviously many artists across the world have come to the same conclusion, myself among them, that putting large illustrated sections into novels is a really cool idea. Hybrid novels are often the work of author illustrators and I’ve been thrilled to discover the variety of forms they can take. There’s Brian Selznick’s “Hugo Cabret” and “Wonderstruck”, where the novel and illustrations are clearly separated, allowing you to really ‘read’ the illustrated panels (as I mentioned with Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival”). What about Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” – I love the simplicity of his line drawings and how he makes great use of the two art forms. Often the pictures tell you another story than how our narrator sees things as in this hilarious page from ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dog Days’.

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Chris Wooding’s “Malice” is a great concept when a group of teens are transported into a comic world, with these sections naturally told in comic form (although I think it is let down a bit by the artwork). My own work on “Dinosaur Rescue” with Kyle Mewburn has been a great experience/experiment. There is often a great merging of storytelling with words and pictures each filling in the other’s gaps. One of my favourites hybrids is by one of my best-loved illustrators – Chris Riddell’s “Ottoline” mixes perfectly a sparseness of words which are completed by his magical illustrations. It is something that I believe can only REALLY be achieved to perfection by a single author/illustrator, and there are many others out there.

I’m thrilled that my “Monkey Boy” is being published by Scholastic as they are the natural home of hybrid novels (including several mentioned above). In part two I’m going to talk about my five years work on “Monkey Boy”, and what form I’ve tried to achieve.

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Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

Meet Timmy Failure.  He’s the founder, president, and CEO of the detective agency he had named after himself: Total Failure Inc., ‘the best detective agency in town, probably the state. Perhaps the nation.’ His business partner (and idiot best friend) is a 1500 pound polar bear, named Total, who is often not very helpful, and gets paid in chicken nuggets. There is no case too big or two small for Total Failure Inc., whether it’s solving the mystery of the missing Halloween candy or discovering who stole his mother’s Segway.  Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is the first book in the hilarious new series by Stephan Pastis.

Take eleven-year-old Timmy Failure – the clueless, comically self-confident CEO of the best detective agency in town, perhaps even the nation. Add his impressively lazy business partner, a very large polar bear named Total. Throw in the Failuremobile – Timmy s mom s Segway – and what you have is Total Failure, Inc., a global enterprise destined to make Timmy so rich his mother won t have to stress out about the bills anymore. Of course, Timmy’s plan does not include the four-foot-tall female whose name shall not be uttered. And it doesn t include Rollo Tookus, who is so obsessed with getting into “Stanfurd” that he can t carry out a no-brain spy mission.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is the funniest book for kids that I’ve read in a long time.  The story by itself is funny, but add in Stephan’s cartoons and you get a book that has you laughing out loud.  The funniest parts of the book are when Timmy is explaining something and then he draws a picture to show you what happened.  There is a part when Timmy visits Molly Moskins’ house and he meets Molly’s cat, Senor Burrito, that made me laugh so hard (you’ll have to read the book to find out why).

One thing I loved about this book was the weird and wacky cast of characters.  First of all you’ve got Timmy, who is the one who is supposed to be looking for clues, but he’s completely clueless himself.  He speaks like a detective and is always trying to convince his mother that his detective agency needs to upgrade their offices or get an administrative assistant to handle the paperwork.  Jimmy’s best friend, Total, doesn’t talk (because he’s a polar bear), but he provides some of the funniest moments of the story through his antics.  Molly Moskins is the weird girl that has a crush on Timmy who has mismatched pupils and a tendancy to use words that do not exist (like ‘wondermarvelously splendiferous’).  Then there is the ‘Evil One,’ Timmy’s nemesis and fellow detective, Corrina Corrina.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is only the first book in Stephan Pastis’ new series and I hope there will be many more to come.  I guarantee that you will laugh out loud at least once while reading this book.  I recommend it for anyone 7+ who likes a good laugh and quirky characters.

5 out of 5 stars

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Rainbow Orchid – from start to finish

Step 1: script notes

Step 2: full script

Step 3: thumbnails

Step 4: rough sketches with lettering

Step 5: pencil images

Step 6: ink images

Step 7: add colour

Step 8: Add lettering

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‘How to make a graphic novel’ with Garen Ewing

Hi again!  Yesterday I told you a little about my comic, The Rainbow Orchid, and why I love comics.  One question I get asked a lot is ‘how do you make a comic?’ You could ask almost any comic creator this question and you probably wouldn’t get the same answer twice, but here is a brief guide to how I make comics…

Once I have my plot worked out and written in note form, I start by breaking the story down into one-page chunks – detailing what has to happen on each page of the comic. The next thing to do is write the script, which is rather similar to what you might imagine a film script to be – I describe the scene in each panel and write out the dialogue said by the characters. At the same time as writing the script I’ll sketch some very rough page layouts which are called ‘thumbnails’, because they’re so small, just to give me an idea of how the panels will fit on the page, with perhaps some loose composition for the actual drawing in there too.

With the script written and the thumbnails as a guide, the next thing I do is draw larger rough versions of the page so I can work out how the drawings will look and where the characters need to be in each panel so they can talk in the correct order (speech balloons generally need to be read from left to right) and also to make sure their actions and the visual aspect of the storytelling is clear.

Those rough drawings help a lot when it comes time for the next stage – pencilling the actual artwork. I’ve already worked out, in rough form, the poses and composition, so now it’s just a case of spending a lot more time on the drawings to get them looking good. After pencilling (and lots of rubbing out along the way) I need to ink the drawings. This involves using a dip pen and a pot of Indian ink and drawing over the pencils to end up with a nice clean finished drawing.

This is the point I turn to modern technology and scan my black and white line art into the computer at high resolution. Using Adobe Photoshop I colour the artwork and also make up the speech balloons. Although I do the lettering in the balloons to make sure they’re the correct size, my publisher sets the actual final lettering onto the page so it is as crisp and clear as possible for the printer. The font used for the lettering is one I created myself based on my own hand-lettering.

When all this comes together you have a finished page! Depending on how detailed the page is, a single page can take me anywhere from two to four days of solid work. Making comics is a lot of hard work, but you get to play the part of writer, director, set designer, special effects wizard and actor, and it’s always rewarding when you see the finished book finally come together.

Tomorrow on the blog, you can see images of the process from start to finish.

Enjoy your comics!

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Graphic novels – just another way to tell a story

My name is Garen Ewing and I’m the author and artist for a graphic novel called The Rainbow Orchid.

Graphic novel? What’s that?

Put simply, a graphic novel is a term used for a comic (as in ‘comic strip’) that is published in longer book form. It may be a book that collects lots of shorter episodic comics together under one cover, or it may be a comic that is created and published as a book in its own right. Graphic novels and comics can be about anything – adventure, science-fiction, biography, superheroes, soap opera, comedy – it’s a medium that is able to accommodate any genre you you can think of! There are comics for boys, girls, children, teenagers and adults … everyone. It’s just another way to tell a story.

But what an excellent and compelling way to tell a story! Comics are a wonderful fusion of words and pictures that engage both halves of your brain and pull you right into the tale from the first panel. You can make anything you want happen in a comic and you don’t need a huge special effects budget to do it. Basically, comics are great!

So what is The Rainbow Orchid?  A few years ago I wanted to make a comic that would be the perfect story to suit my own tastes; a comic, basically, aimed at readers just like me. So it’s got everything in it that I love – a soaring adventure story featuring ancient mysteries, exploration and plenty of excitement and intrigue. Many of my favourite comics come from the ‘Franco-Belgian’ tradition, particularly those that are drawn in a ‘clear line’ style (such as Hergé’s Tintin, Jacobs’ Blake & Mortimer, or Chaland’s Freddy Lombard adventures), so that’s the style I decided to lean towards when I drew it.

The story itself concerns the search for a rare and possibly mythical orchid that takes the main character, Julius Chancer, and his friends from the south of England to France and then on to India and the hidden valleys of the Hindu Kush, with a bunch of nefarious villains in hot pursuit.

Read my next post to find out how I create a graphic novel.

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Reading Crusade Challenge – Week 6

Week 6 Challenge – Graphic Novels

Try a graphic novel, comic book or manga this week.  There are lots of different ones to choose from, whether you like Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke, Avatar: The Last Airbender, X-men or Spiderman.

Tell us about your favourite graphic novel and you’ll go into the draw to win Volume 1 of The Adventures of Tintin and a book about the author and characters behind the graphic novels.

See below for Terms and conditions  Read the rest of this entry »

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My new favourite graphic novel – The Rainbow Orchid

Cover imageI have just discovered my new favourite graphic novel – The Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing.   It’s an old-style graphic novel, similar in style to the Tintin comics by Herge, with loads of action and adventure, and that’s the reason I love them. 

Set in Britain in the 1920s, The Rainbow Orchid is the story of the search for a mythical flower that was last mentioned by an ancient Greek philosopher hundreds of years ago.  There is a huge cast of quirky and sinister characters but the main story centers around Julius Chancer, the assistant to the great historical researcher, Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey, who sets off on a quest to find the Rainbow Orchid which lies somewhere in the mysterious sub-continent of  India.  However, there are others willing to stop at nothing to make sure Julius doesn’t get his hands on the orchid, including the slimy Urkaz Grope and his sinister personal assistant, Evelyn Crow.   Their journey starts in Volume 1 and continues in Volume 2 with Julius and his companions in India, with Volume 3 is due out next year.

If you love old-school adventure stories, with detailed illustrations, quirky characters, narrow escapes and car chases, then you should try The Rainbow Orchid.  Garen Ewing also has a fantastic website where you can learn more about the characters and find out what it takes to create a graphic novel.

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