Monday, December 31, 2007

New David Mazzucchelli release in December 2008!

Breaking news from the MLA convention:

At the Random House booth, a graphic novel checklist from Pantheon Books listed eight new releases for 2008. Mind you, a lot of their "new" releases are new editions of previously released material, though some of it hasn't been seen for a while, or not at all in English yet. In addition to paperback editions of Charles Burns's Black Hole(January) and Jessica Abel's La Perdida(May) are a second volume of Joann Sfar's The Rabbi's Cat(April) and the long-awaited Art Spiegelman collection Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! (October), which includes work long out of print (and expensive on the used-book market). All of this is great news—I prefer to assign paperbacks to students rather than hardcovers, and more of the Rabbi's cat in English is always welcome. I imagine volume two will go at least as far as to include the fifth (French) volume of The Rabbi's Cat (the first English-language volume comprises the first three French-language albums). That extra-long volume, Jérusalem d'Afrique, is at times shocking; it may be my favorite single work by Sfar (not that I've read that much by him).

The real shock, though, is seeing a work advertised by another favorite cartoonist. Coming in December: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, an artist barely seen in bookstores since his masterful collaboration with Paul Karasik on the graphic-novel version of Paul Auster's City of Glass. I'd link to more information about the forthcoming book, but it's not listed yet on either the Amazon or the Pantheon websites. Here's what it says in the brochure:
Mazzucchelli triumphantly returns to the graphic novel with this fascinating portrait of an accomplished architect who attempts to escape his past, only to find that it has long since shaped his future.
That's it. No pictures, no page count, no price listed, though there is an ISBN (978-0-307-37732-6 hc) and a phone number to call for orders: (800) 733-3000. No doubt more info will trickle out by next December, but this bombshell news was too good to keep!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Chicagoland Comics

If the blog has seemed kind of quiet lately, well, it's been that time of the year for Isaac and me both. Semester's end is always busy, but right after classes were done I also spent some time traveling with my family (one comics-related detail of that trip should appear on the blog in a week or two; here's a hint: "¡PLOP!"). And right after the trip came the annual Modern Language Association convention—or rather, I came to it, 'cause here I am in my hotel lobby in chilly but beautiful Chicago, IL, with one more day of the conference to go!

It's a pleasure to wander the streets downtown (cold as they are) just to marvel at the skyscrapers; it's doubly fun to do so shortly after having taught Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, which makes such rich and interesting use of Chicago's architectural history. At one point I caught myself wondering if I could spot the corner where Jimmy sees Superman jump off a building to his death; I suspect (but do not know) that Ware modeled that streetcorner on a genuine spot in the city.

Isaac had the further pleasure of giving a short paper on Chris Ware in a panel at the convention on Thursday. I should probably let him talk about that one (especially since I was sadly unable to attend).

The only comics I've seen in Chicago this visit are two minicomics that came up at the home of my friend (and contributor to Satisfactory Comics #5) Jenny Blair and her sister Lisa. Over Shabbes dinner, the sisters Blair showed me a delightful comic by the sometimes cantankerous comics critic Noah Berlatsky. Called Superheroes I Have Known, it's a charming piece of faux-naïvery featuring what look like a child's drawings of superheroes who are quirky in a very childlike quirky way, with each drawing accompanied by a handwritten description of what "I" knows about the superhero in question. It could easily have been an arch, self-satisfied production, but damn if it isn't actually charming—not least because some of those quirky heroes are Grade A funny. I for one wish there were more to read of Shellock Holmes, the crab detective, and his cetacean sidekick ("Elementary, my dear whale!"). The best part? It's priced to sell: 50 cents at Quimby's in Chicago, possibly still available from the author via the comic-title link above.

The other comic I read is not for sale, but you can read it for free right here (or in its original context on Lisa Blair's blog for November 8, 2004). It's an autobiographical page drawn by Jenny about Lisa's purchase of a suitable plant to serve as a Christmas tree. Like me, Jenny converted to Judaism (with a visual cue in her self-caricature: look for the small Hebrew "chai" necklace in panel six), and this page shows her peaceable ecumenical enjoyment of a family Christmas tree. I admit I enjoy seeing the strangeness of having an outdoor-style tree indoors, all the more when it's decorated unlike any natural tree in the woods. So in that ecumenical spirit, I hope those of you who celebrate Christmas are still enjoying your twelve days thereof!

More updates more regularly, and soon, I hope!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Page 10, Inked

Getting through the end of the semester is never easy, but I always try to submit my grades on the same day that I give my last exam, so I can get back into the other things I always have to neglect at the end of the term. (For example, there's the MLA paper on Chris Ware and "the grammar of diagrams" that I'm delivering on Thursday; I still need to write that.)

But now that I've had a couple of days to recover from the end-of-term grading marathon, I have been able to put a few minutes into redrawing Ipthorin in one panel, then a couple of hours into inking the page. It's not the best cartooning I've ever done, but it is finished (I think), which is what matters.

Please, I beg of you, click on this image to see how our story ends.

I invite you to notice that I have not merely satisfied Jesse's remaining two constraints—as long as you count the middle of the second tier as a panel, it's the third silent panel in a row; the third panel on that row is mostly swiped from Jesse's recent and awesome Bluefuzz minicomic. Not merely, indeed, for I have also chosen two constraints from each of the preceding four sets of constraints and nodded to these in individual panels: the Corrigan and the Reverse Corrigan; the shop-sign and the Passion of Joan of Arc; the Ditko and the Segar (also a little nod to the J. Chris Campbell in the transition to the last panel); a borderless panel and a reference to Duchamp; even (why not) a panel of pure silhouette. You can see signs of me planning this stunt on one of the thumbnail pages I posted back in November. I'm surprised no one commented on that.

We're planning to leave the whole story up on the website for a little bit longer, but we'll pull most of it down when we start coloring the pages and printing them as postcards. When that happens, you'll have the option to buy a copy of the story, either all at once in a single envelope, or serialized to you (or the recipient of your choice) in the mail one page per week.

Meanwhile, please enjoy it in black and white for free, while it's here. I encourage you to use the comments section to discuss overarching themes in the story. For example: what view does this story take of potentiality and the realization of a single potential? What does that imply about the authors' apparent unwillingness to "grow up"?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Elfworld Ephemera: Kalbi in the Kitchen

While Isaac takes care of the letters & inks on page 10 (pencils in the previous post, just below this one!), I thought I'd offer up a little bit of doodling vaguely related to the tale.

This drawing is dated October 30, and I'm not sure what prompted it; maybe the arrival of Hallowe'en put me in mind of kitchen witches, one of which dangles from the wall there, and I figured I'd better make my doodles vaguely useful by practicing a character from our story. So here's our faithful dog boy, whipping up some dog chow in a kitchen that looks a bit like the one in my old apartment...

Incidentally, those numbers at the bottom left puzzled me for a moment until I remembered why I'd staggered them: those toward the left indicate the pages drawn by Isaac, those on the right the pages drawn by me, and the slashes indicate which we'd finished by this point. Pity those last two pages both took ages to post!

Pencils for p. 10 (obstructed story)

Hey, here are the pencils for the last page of the Elfworld submission. Sorry for the delays.

You'll want to click this thumbnail to enlarge it. I mean, if you want to read the page.

You can see the fancy special effects I used to indicate the panel where Stepan steps into Serkja.

I'm planning to get to work on the lettering as early as tomorrow, and to work gradually on the inks over the weekend. No sense rushing this thing now. If you've got any comments, please let me know. There are a couple of panels where I'm not a hundred percent happy about the composition of the image, but I also feel like the page is at least mostly good enough.

Did I miss anything? Have I made any dumb mistakes? Does this count as an ending? Why do I feel less certain about p. 10 than I did about p. 1, when we had no idea what the comic would even be about?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Acme Novelty Datebook, vol. 2

I've finished the pencils for p. 10, and I want to post them tonight so I can get feedback before the inking starts, but the batteries in my camera are drained, and my scanner doesn't pick up pencils well. I'm recharging the camera batteries right now.

Meanwhile, let me note that in the past two days, I got a couple of books that promise to keep me busy in any spare minutes I might have between now and the spring semester. One is The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which I got on Amazon for a ridiculously low price (something like $58 instead of its $150 cover price); the other is the new second volume of the Acme Novelty Datebook, which is a powerful reminder of the value of keeping a notebook. Chris Ware draws and thinks like an utter genius, even in his moments of self-loathing or idle time. It's hard to think of a more impressive record of a cartoonist's working process, or a more impressive book of incidental drawings.

Like the volume before it (and like the final paragraphs of Gulliver's Travels which I happened to re-read this morning), this installment of Acme Novelty Datebook is a stern rebuke against pride.

If Chris Ware tells himself, every day, many times a day, that he sucks, then what can the rest of us think of ourselves?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Name our story and win a prize!

Now that we're almost done with our tale, we're really starting to feel the need for a title. Isaac thoughtfully left a space for one back on page 1, but that space is still blank, and we're having a hard time filling it ourselves.

It's not for lack of ideas; instead, we have too many! Of course, this confusing profusion of possibilities fits the underlying theme of our story: just as the shadowfolk resist the creation of a map that would fix their shifting contours into one shape, so too we don't want to decide on a single title that would foreclose all the other likely titles.
At least, that's what we've been telling ourselves. The other possibility is that none of our proposed titles is really satisfying enough to stand on its own, and each only seems plausible because it alternates with a bunch of other okay-but-not-great options.

Which brings me to our invitation to you, our readers: we appeal to you to come up with a better title than the ones we're working with! Use the comments to offer up any ideas you have. We do not guarantee that we will settle on a reader's submission for our title, but if we do, I will express our appreciation by sending you your choice of either the ultra-rare Tales from the Classroom or a finished drawing of the character(s) of your choice, up to a group shot of five figures. Still not interested? Well, we'll be really grateful! How about that?

Just so you know what you're up against, here are some of the potential titles we've been tossing about:

The Uncharted World • Unsettled Territory • The Unmade Map • A Map of the Possible • The Chart of the Possible • Stepan's Story [working title] • Vague Terrain • Border Dispute • Shadowy Cartography • A Map of the Invisible

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Streets of Serkja

Another one of my challenges in setting up page 10 is incorporating a panel's worth of "found" imagery. I'm going to bend the rules a little bit by superimposing Stepan over part of the image, but I'm working on a background for the panel where he walks into Serkja for the first time.

I'm going to post what I've got, partly because I'm not planning to spend a whole lot more time on this part of the project today (and posting this for feedback will keep me from tinkering with it this afternoon). I'm also curious to see what you think of the approach. It's not perfect, and I think I need a little more "crowd" in some parts of the image. But click this to enlarge it, and see how you like this background.

I can simplify, or enlarge, or shuffle things around -- it's all in layers still in my master document, so I've got some freedom to adjust.


Here's a version without the singers, and with some proportions and sizes adjusted, for legibility. (Remember, this is just one smallish panel!)

What do you think?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Model Sheet for Ipthorin

So, I'm going to try to work on those pencils for a while tonight, and it occurred to me that I needed to decide what Ipthorin looks like. I haven't heard any strong objections to the dinosaur head, which does explain why Stepan calls him an "old lizard" on p. 1, so I'm going to stick with that.

But I needed to figure out his head shape. Does he have a beak or not? How blunt is his nose?

Moreover, I needed to settle on a wardrobe. We don't see a whole lot of Ipthorin's body in most of these panels, and when we do he's at a decent distance, so I probably could have made things up as I went along, but I wanted to know what I was dealing with.

This first design doesn't quite work. The collar looks silly. Not sure what I was thinking, there, except maybe trying to conjure up some Dr. Strange, or maybe some Elvis.

This is better. Since he's an old man, I like the downward droop of his robe, as if he doesn't really have shoulders. And those squiggles on the front of his robe are meant to evoke magic, serpents, and whatever else Alan Moore has been worshiping lately. Actually, they're just a simple ornament: no sense getting all detailed if we're only going to see Ipthorin drawn very small.

I'm hoping to have more to show you in a day or so.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I'm Working On It

Hi. I know that I'm late getting those pencils for p. 10 finished. They're scripted. I'm working on them.

... but I'm also having the end-of-the-semester crunch, with a few things left over from last week. It might be a few days before I get the pencils posted. Sorry.