Friday, August 26, 2011

Twilight of the super-heroes?

Since the mid 1980s, comic books have become more sophisticated (although it can be argued that many have become sophmoric and pretentious), reflecting the influx of creators who were weaned on them, as well as the maturing audience. While publishers like Archie and Harvey kept their characters more or less timeless, Marvel and DC took the approach of having their heroes grow and change with the times.

While this certainly lead to exciting, thought-provoking work, it ended up alienating the core audience that super-hero comic books should have been directed at: kids. Instead of continuing to appeal to successive generations of young readers, the suits at Marvel and DC focused on appeasing the fans that started reading decades before.

As a result, super-hero comic books have dwindled to a tiny niche market, with repetitive gimmicks and decompressed storylines milking the wallets of the few readers (and occassional speculator) who manage to find a given issue at some specialty store.

I recently stumbled across colorful drawings I did as a teen; I created a bunch of generic super-heroes and villains, all quite lame (but cool to my adolescent eyes, of course). As I got older, my ideas began to evolve outside of the super-hero genre, or trying to find a new spin on the conventions of traditional super-heroes. Instinctively, I geared my concepts toward younger readers, not because it was a hot demographic, but because comic books and kids are a natural fit.

I admire folk who produce 'graphic novels', with avant-garde artwork and intense, adult themes; that being said, they're not really my cup of tea, and I'd rather produce work that will appeal to my own kids.

Super-hero comic books have mutated very far from the innocence of the first issue of Action Comics in 1938. I figure that if you read a comic book and are hung up on why the hero doesn't trip on his cape, then perhaps you've outgrown the genre. I still find charm in super-heroes, specifically the notion that folk choose to do good simply because it's the right thing to do, not on account of some deep and 'realistic' motivation.

Hopefully my love of the medium in general, and super-heroes in particular, will shine through in the concepts I try to get published. Although I've become pessimistic about the survival of the medium, I hope people will flock to comics born from a distinct admiration and respect for the magic possible from the genre.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A problem with 'spandex'?

When I discovered comic books as a young teen, I became instantly and irrevocably hooked on super-heroes. I'd previously been exposed to them in blurry Saturday morning cartoons (our rabbit ears had a hard time picking up the Saturday morning NBC Fun Machine) or French translations of the campy Batman live action series. I disregarded other genres like horror, mystery, or funny animals, focusing on the four-color heroes.

I remember clearly that I never questioned why they were wearing costumes; I took it for granted that being a super-hero involved a specific attire, often including domino masks to obscure secret identities (although when I discovered the Fantastic Four, I realized that was a non-issue for them). I wasn't distracted by the number of radioactive accidents causing super powers, I wasn't worried how capes might hinder crime-fighting, nor did I find it weird that Batman, Flash, and Aquaman were flanked by teenage side-kicks who kicked ass.

The thing is, I was subconciously made aware of the 'rules' of super-hero comic books, and went along (happily) for the ride. Creators were carrying on the tradition of Golden Age super-hero stories, filtered through a 'modern' lens.

A new breed of creators gradually replaced the old guard: Frank Miller turned Daredevil into a ninja-fighting thug at the mercy of a city run by gangsters; Jim Starlin dealt with theology and the meaning of power in Captain Marvel; Chris Claremont and John Byrne turned a cancelled series featuring mutants into a soap opera of epic proportions. Super-hero comic books were growing up, and the old rules were slowly being ignored.

It all came to a head in 1986: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons released Watchmen, a maxi-series that helped spiral super-heroes into a grim and gritty period that lasted years. Watchmen was a highly realistic portrayal of super-heroes; not only were the logistics of certain conventions dissected, but character instabilites (to explain the need to dress up in a costume and fight crime) were dredged up.

Critics hailed it as a masterpiece, but unfortunately, it was, in retrospect, a big nail in the coffin of modern super-heores.

Next week: to be continued (what else would you expect?)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Concept 5: The Temp

One of my concepts is pretty well developed, but ironically is one of the least advanced. A few years ago, I came up with a comic series set in an office environment (reflecting some personal experience). I thought it could be fun to have rejected or unemployed super-villains working a call center, and recycled some character designs that suddenly fit in really well.

Over time, an interesting plot took shape in my brain, and I found my 'hook': a slacker gets a job (thanks to his Dad) at a down-on-their-luck super-villain call center, run by a very crabby supervisor. While getting to know his fellow co-workers, he starts getting suspicious about the purpose of the center itself, and manages to thwart a devious plot by the boss behind the scenes.

Originally, I considered having the lead character fall for a co-worker; recently, I've decided to keep romantic shenanigans out of the first story (which I figure would work well as a finite graphic novel), maybe to be used in a possible sequel.

Although I found it easy designing the co-workers, I had a hard time fleshing out the look for the main character. I was never happy with my sketches, something was missing; one afternoon, an individual ambled in front of my car, and I thought to myself excitedly: There's my temp!

I've whipped up a bunch of design sketches, as well as an ad that will appear in my soon-to-be printed ashcan:

I hired an artist a few years ago to take a stab at a few pages, but I really didn't think his approach fit the concept at all. I'd been intrigued by the samples of work he'd done in the past, but discovered he'd selectively showcased pages that were strong. Unfortunately, the work he gave me would have to be completely redrawn, so it's back to the old drawing board.

This concept has recently moved to the front burners; my goal is to have a solid synopsis and preliminary script completed as soon as possible. Next will be finding the perfect artist to fit my vision, but that'll be down the line. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this brief glimpse into the world of The Temp.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Character design

When I started as a clean-up artist at Cine-Groupe (a local animation studio) a decade ago, I sat near a character designer. He'd receive written notes on characters required for a given episode, and would whip up drawings that blew me away. Although I've always enjoyed designing my own characters, I recognized early that it wasn't my forte. Design is incredibly challenging; coming up with something distinct, expressive, and visually interesting can be a long, difficult process.

Some characters I've created sprang from my pencil sketches almost fully formed. Others required alot of tweaking until I felt satisfied. My fish-wearing-armour super-hero (who is now a turtle), went through many revisions over the years:

1 My first idea, a fishbowl that walks. A bit boring.

2 Reworked as a deep sea diver... interesting, but awkward.

3 Looking a bit robotic, but getting closer to what I was going for.

4 I like this guy and his fish-cycle, but felt it a little too cute.

5 Star design element creeps in, and the suit is starting to look sleek. At this point, the character started to look heroic, and the concept firmed up from there.

6 At one point, I replaced the fish with an electric eel, hence the lightening effects. I still like that idea, but eels are dull to draw, visually.

7 Trying to figure out how to make the character move, this action-figure design was an inspired solution. The belt and guantlets are looking good!

9 Almost there; the shoulders flow better and fins pump up the arms and legs.

10 A stylized sketch that I really like.

11 A flying manta replaces the fish bike; shield and staff give him a knight vibe which I enjoy.

The design hasn't evolved much from this one, although I've replaced eel with leatherback turtle.

And there you have it. I think the many years of sketching were worth it, ending up with a cool character I love to draw, and hopefully readers will enjoy as well!