Chrono Trigger, via Bryan Lee O'Malley

Bryan Lee O'Malley was signing copies of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe tonight at Brooklyn's Rocketship (my favorite comic shop in the area), and while that was exciting in itself, this might have been the coolest part of the night.

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That's Lucca from Chrono Trigger, one of the finest video games ever made (it's now available for the Nintendo DS in what is probably the definitive version). If you want to get a jump on my birthday present this year, go down there and rip it off the wall and run! I'm kidding, don't do that. But you should go down there and check out the little gallery of drawings and original Scott Pilgrim pages, if you're interested in that sort of thing. I could show you more of them, but my camera sucks a little.

Making a Comic, Part 1

As I explained in my last post, I'm two weeks into a Cartooning Basics class at New York's School of Visual Arts. I hope to share my progress pretty regularly for the next few months while I progress toward my finished eight-page mini comic.

This is the second time in my adult life that I've seriously tried to sit down and draw something. About six years ago, I bought a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, a book that functions really well as basic instruction as long as you ignore the extra coating of psychobabble. I was impressed by the progress I made after the first few chapters, particularly in the way I learned to start "seeing things like an artist." After drawing my own face, a Pooh Bear salt shaker, a little Buddha statue, and my left hand (rather well, I'd say!), I got distracted or got too busy at work - pick your excuse - and more or less abandoned drawing once again.

So basically, I'm coming into this as a raw beginner. Put plainly, I can't draw. In our first class, we jumped right in and started working, spending about two hours working on the basics of character design. The result of that exercise is the guy you see right here, which borrows pretty heavily from Bryan Lee O'Malley's artwork (particularly the shape of the face and the big manga eyes). I used an HB pencil on standard printer paper, then inked it with my Pentel Pocket Brush pen. (If anything about that drawing is attractive, at least half the credit has to go to that pen - it's only sold in Japan, but Jet Pens is a really quick and reliable retailer if you want to import one. It's a fun, empowering little piece of equipment.)

I liked the character just fine, but I wasn't convinced I wanted to build a comic around him. Our homework after that first class was to work on character sketches and have the basic designs for our project ready for the next week.

One of my favorite recent books is Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella by French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. It's a collection of journal-style comics Trondheim draws about his daily life (there's a nice sample here), substituting anthropomorphic animals for himself and the people around him. Funny and sneakily profound at times, it's kind of effortlessly great, and it makes you feel like you could do something similar. Basically, it was one of the comics that really made me want to try making my own. And since Trondheim draws himself as a birdlike man, I decided to draw some birds. Here's my very first sketch page:

Those dog-looking things at the top were just early sketches I'd done in class while I was trying to figure out what to draw. The figure that looks like a real character is Trondheim's alter ego, which I drew for a little on-the-page inspiration. The rest - the ones that look like they were drawn by a 5-year-old - those are mine. I really just knew I wanted something with a beak, so I was playing with shapes and lines, just trying to get a feel for things. It's mostly pretty assy, but I had better luck with my second page:

It's funny how you feel yourself working into a groove after a drawing for a little while. I think there's a pretty noticeable difference between those two pages - the second one could easily have been drawn by an 8-year-old - and they were done pretty much one after the other. Something about those two guys on the left kind of grabbed me, and I decided pretty quickly that I'd try to do something with them. I still didn't have a story in mind, or even a genre, but I had something to build on.

Up Next: Things improve!

Comics: MoCCA recap and loot pics

This weekend was the big Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art festival, aka MoCCA, and I started the weekend Friday night at Rocketship:

That's where Norwegian comics master Jason debuted his new collection, Pocket Full of Rain. A small gallery of original pages was set up at the front of the store, accompanied by a work Jason contributed just for the occasion. There was a great turnout; check out more pics and a weekend round-up over at the store's site.

I spent 45 minutes sitting next to Jason at a bar before the signing, and I didn't even know it (I'm sure he was relieved in retrospect).

One of the absolute highlights of Saturday at the MoCCA festival was talking to Lynda Barry, who was signing copies of her new book, What It Is. To be honest, I was more familiar with Barry's name than her work - I really only knew she had a great reputation as a teacher, writer, and cartoonist. That reputation is deserved, if you ask me; she was gracious and engaging, taking five or ten minutes to talk to everyone who waited in line to meet her. If you get the chance, go see her while she's promoting this book. Either way, try to check out What It Is, a scrapbook-style meditation on creativity that's absolutely overflowing with images and ideas. There's a good preview over at Pop Candy.

This one still cracks me up - it's a mini-comic called Kool Aid Gets Fired, by Tim Piotrowski.

That's Hope Larson signing my copy of Chiggers, and that's her husband, Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley, immortalizing the moment from another angle. He's showing his solidarity by sporting the fashionable Shasta bandana, which was also for sale at the table and which I may or may not be wearing as I write this.

A blurry pic of Hope and Bryan, but at least you can see the cover as she's working on it. She did a different ink-and-brush drawing for everyone who bought the book, and it was really fun watching her work - she's seriously talented. I didn't get a chance to ask Bryan for a sketch, but he was busy enough selling copies of Chiggers. Probably my only regret of the weekend. That, and not cramming my shorts full of ice packs. The billboard thermometer thingie outside on Broadway read 101 degrees when I left the show.

The finished product, and the coolest thing I brought home from the show. I hope this thing sells a million copies.

Did I mention it was hot in the Puck Building? It was bearable on the air-conditioned first floor, but up on 7, the ceiling fans weren't making much of an impact. That's where they stuck most of lesser-known creators, the for'ners, the LGBT crew, and Vertigo.

I addition to the stuff up there, I picked up a copy of James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems, which I've read a lot of great things about and which looks awesome (I'll read it as soon as I've finished Josh Cotter's fantastic, depressing Skyscrapers of the Midwest). I also grabbed all three Action Philosophers books and scored a free poster from the Evil Twin guys. Cartoonist and Spongebob writer Sam Henderson was at the show selling his Magic Whistle books (I bought two and should have gotten more) and wearing hospital clothes. I'm really looking forward to digging into the oversized Sundays #2, an anthology by students and alumni of Vermont's Center for Cartoon Studies. Oh, and my award for Best Cover goes to Paul Horacek and his collection of bleak, pessimistic gag cartoons, All We Ever Do Is Talk About Wood.

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My favorite cartoon in the book shows a boy sitting in bed with a broken leg, his cast signed with things like "Get worse soon" and "Too bad it wasn't your neck." At first it's hilarious, and then it sort of makes you want to cry. If that's your kind of thing, you can get a copy through the Drawn & Quarterly site.

MoCCA is a must-attend event for comics fans whose tastes lean more toward the artistic or literary or whatever you want to call it. The non-superhero stuff. The work on display was incredibly diverse, and I'm sure I missed at least a dozen great indie and small-press books. For a smaller show (compared to the bloated, cosplay-saturated New York Comic Con), it's incredibly dense, and you really need to attend both days if you want to take everything in. I surrendered to the heat and only left my apartment for about ten minutes on Sunday, and I sort of hate myself for it. To atone, I'll just have to buy twice as many books next year.

Michael Cera=Scott Pilgrim?

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Just a quick follow-up to my last post: This morning, news hit that Michael Cera is in final negotiations to play the lead in the film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, the first book in Bryan Lee O'Malley's series. I'm not a huge fan of the word nerdgasm, but that's about as accurately as my reaction this morning can be described. Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) is directing. I'm not sure my heart can take much more today.

Oh, and Bob Odenkirk and David Cross have a new HBO series.

And the cast of Battlestar Galactica will present the Top 10 List on Letterman tonight.

Defibrillator, please.

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Above: Kean Soo's spectacular fan-art tribute to Springsteen and Pilgrim, from ScottPilgrim.com.

Comic Books: I so love Scott Pilgrim

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The Scott Pilgrim series, written and drawn by Bryan Lee O'Malley, isn't the most philosophical or complex or beautifully drawn comic I've read since getting back into these things, but I can't think of one that I've enjoyed more. Four volumes of a planned six have been released so far (they come out roughly once a year), and I'm on my second reading of the set.

Scott, our protagonist, is a 23-year-old living in Toronto and trying his hardest to keep his life as uncomplicated as possible. As the first book (Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life) begins, he's dating a 17-year-old high-schooler named Knives Chau - the age difference does not go unnoticed by Scott's friends - but he soon becomes obsessed with Ramona Flowers, a rollerblading Amazon.ca delivery girl who doesn't exactly dig on Scott...at first. After some awkward interactions and metaphysical run-ins, Scott finds out that if he wants to date Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in combat. That pretty much sets up the series, and we're tossed into Scott's world of indie rock, video games, and the growing threat of emotional maturity.

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Although the series is based in real-world Toronto, its reality owes owes a lot to video games and comic books. Fights end with a puff of smoke and a loot drop, neighborhood bars have glowing save points in the corner, and rock bands have the ability to knock an entire audience unconscious. That's mighty difficult to pull off without seeming goofy or pandering, but O'Malley keeps his story grounded emotionally, allowing room for some of the more bizarre and broadly comic moments. In fact, there's a distinct melancholy that hovers over the books. It's never heavy-handed, and it isn't always immediately noticeable, but it gives the characters a kind of depth that catches you off-guard. For all his faults, you still can't help rooting for Scott: he's kind of thoughtless, but he's (generally) sweet and (mostly) sincere.

I can't think of any reason to not recommend this series, although I think some basic pop-culture literacy helps if you want to get the most out of it. But even if you don't catch that a chapter title was snagged from a New Pornographers song, or that fictional bands Sex Bob-omb and The Clash At Demonhead are old NES game references (Super Mario Bros. 3 and Clash at Demonhead, respectively), you'll find plenty more to love about these books. There are dozens of great little moments and lines that I could blabber on about, but I'd rather let you find them on your own.