Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Showing Your Work

Work on the new volume of Teuton is going swiftly so far. Like The Dark Knight was to Batman Begins, Fred and I want to improve every aspect of our continued series. That's right, I just compared our book to Batman.

Part of our mutual improvement plan involves speeding up my page output.

For most of the last volume I worked very haphazardly and didn't do much drafting at all. Many times I made my layouts lightly in pencil on the finished page. Sensible artists complete a series of drafts before working on the finished page. This isn't to say I'm some drafting maverick--more like a fool stubbing his toe in the dark, since I so often worked myself into corners, and either the page came out less than great or I'd lose precious time revising my half-finished page (in some cases I redrew the page entirely on another board.) What's maddening is that I knew better. I paid money to extremely knowledgeable and skilled people for the privilege of knowing better, and still, a good deal of the time I threw myself at the board without a plan. Or if you can stomach another analogy: like playing mini-golf blindfolded.

No more. No sir.

Anyhow, here's a look at the process of a page, from thumbnails to finished piece. Fairly elementary to most seasoned artists, but I still get a kick from seeing the development. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Comics That Were, Are, and Will Be...

Last night I attended the launch party for Infinite Kung Fu, created entirely by Toronto artist Kagan McLeod. It is an amazing work roughly ten years in the making. Top Shelf's production on the book itself is slick and stylish, yet the texture is still indicative of printed pulps and manga that no doubt inspired this work, but which it easily manages to transcend. The end result is a beautiful marriage of two cinematic genres (martial arts and exploitation films,) that looks and feels like nothing else on book shelves to date.

The art is energetic and tremendously fun. Despite the fact that for years Kagan's work has been seen in countless magazines and websites, my first exposure to his stuff was on the covers of Kill Shakespeare, another Canadian created comic that delivers a refreshing twist on the familiar. I'm thrilled that I can now dive into Kagan's finished product like the gluttonous art and comic lover I am.

The event was fine enough. A nice venue filled with interesting people that I could hardly hear or understand on account of the great music laid down by live DJ's. I had a chance to speak with the man of the hour as he signed and doodled in my copy. Perhaps it was the alcohol in our veins or the energy in the air, but I dare say he was pleased to see me. I killed a completely different conversation by talking about beards. It was awesome. After lamenting the loss of my beard to a pretty neat comic creator, he, who shall go nameless, nodded and said "O-K guys! I'll see ya..." and promptly lost himself in a sea of people. What can I say? I have the gift of the anti-gab.

I thought to myself on the drive home, "ten years? whoa." Perhaps not ten solid years, but years of work into a creator-owned labor of love. Impressive... inspiring. Although it's startling how time flies. I've worked on Teuton now for two years, and it's funny to count that time in pages produced (not that many: 112). Yet that's nothing compared to a story of my own that I've been harboring since my early teens. It's existed mainly as doodles on scraps of paper, in the margins of homework assignments, and every so often as sequential pages that are soon abandoned and re-tooled.

It began by taking a summer workshop at Sheridan college on the construction of the comic page. I think the year was 2000, and it felt like a big deal. I remember reading comics on the Oakville bus--Matt Murdock was exposed as Daredevil, and he was lying his way to (relative) safety--and watching Making Comics The Marvel Way on VHS.

In the end I had made my very first finished page of sequential story-telling. There it is on the left. I remember thinking, "I could do this every day!"

In fact, I spent the rest of that summer fully-charged and ready to make the comics world mine--by force, if necessary. Luckily it never came to that. I simply put pen to paper and got making what I then imagined was my magnum opus. I called it Century, and it was going to be awesome you guys!

The overall story followed a private organization called Century and its agents who were sent about the business of unlocking the crucial mysteries of the universe. Easy! I drew most of it in sharpie and sent photocopies to every publisher I could think of. I received a very tender rejection letter from Heavy Metal, which I thought was too bad at the time, as I believed it was the very thing they were looking for.

A few years after that, I decided to give Century another go, perfectly certain that "this" time everything would come together, and they should already begin engraving my name on the coveted crown to the comic kingdom. This just goes to show how much you actually know when you're 15. Anything is possible and attainable--which I suppose remains true, but I'm 26 now and am just getting ankle deep in the world of creating comics professionally.

Here are pages from the very first comic book I ever made, and the second comic I ever made:

I scrapped what I had done and shelved it away in my brain, all the while spawning little stories in the back of my head, imagining scenes and depictions of things I found thrilling. Essentially, I've been subconsciously writing a love letter to my very favourite genre: science fiction.

This story usually includes a gruff, animal-humanoid from race of interstellar barbarians; an outlaw space bandit in the form of a mischievous female; and a androgynous amnesiac who just might be the creator of the universe... if only they could remember. I've taken them to places filled with horror and wonderment, have pitted them against fearsome creatures and tossed them in explosive laser shoot-outs. And it almost always begins with imminent doom on a frozen landscape. It's all been terrific fun! Now, if only I could just put it all on paper.

My last attempt (but for from final) was nearly four years ago, when my good buddy John Lewis and I swapped ideas for a line of comics that would collectively be told under one banner: The Crown: A Princely Dreadful.

So What happened? Well John got married, bought a house, and became a responsible citizen with a real job at Pearson Publishing. I worked a handful of dispiriting jobs until I found work on
The Vampire Conspiracy. That imaginary playground still exists, and perhaps some day I will get around to finishing what I started three times already. Seeing guys like Kagan celebrate the fruition of a decades work is certainly inspiring, and I get to wondering what my trio of space-trippers are up to.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


It's now exactly a week since Fan Expo started. As I type this it's 10:54 AM, and I remember distinctly driving down a long and winding ramp to the convention loading bay around this same time last Thursday. I felt like a tie fighter zipping down that bright, cavernous tunnel. Pew! Pew!

Anyhow, I'm still flying high off the release of our first trade. I'm well and truly proud of it, as you can tell. More than that, I like the book Fred and I are making. It's grown on me. Several times on this blog I've written about first hooking up with Fred. I think so, anyway--I start entries and delete them after 30 minutes of typing. I've written heart-breakingly beautiful things you'll never read because I suddenly decided to toast Eggo waffles and watch Dragon's Den, but I digress... When Fred first pitched me his idea I was just excited that a cool pseudo celebrity wanted to make comics with me, and would pay me to do it. I was saying yes no matter what. But he said "knights" and a part of me winced at the thought of drawing horses and armor. That shit can get complicated.

That's all to say that I liked it then, but I love it now. What's always impressed me with Fred and his script--and indeed, anyone who hears Fred talk about Teuton concedes--the guy did his homework when it came to researching the history and the obscure Lithuanian mythology that serves as Teuton's backdrop. There's nothing random or arbitrary about the places and names involved in the plot. It's interesting stuff. As we carry on with our story, I would like to give readers a chance to compare our comic with the history and mythology it borrows from.

If you've read the trade, you'll know it ends with the arrival of a new character: Perkunas.

A fearsome and courageous being, Perkunas can easily be described as the Lithuanian equivalent of Thor. His great strength and power are akin to mountains and thunder storms--in fact, he is deity to both, as well as to the rain, the sky, and oak trees. Indeed, everything about Perkunas is elemental and way over our heads. He reigns in the heavens above and commands the trees and mountains that rise up to him. He is bad ass. We hope that was made clear when he lands on the scene in our two-page spread.

Perkunas' name has been dropped several times before his arrival in our story. Issue one opens with the raid on a Pagan village, and it is there the fabled Axe of Perkunas lies hidden in a shrine, protected by Lithuanian worshipers Aras and his foxy apprentice Asura. Charged with retrieving the axe is the Teuton Komtur, who is secretly working for Maras, one of three death gods in the pantheon. It's important to note that Perkunas' Axe is the most devastating weapon in all creation. Imagine wielding an instrument capable of such destruction, it could level mountains with thunder and raise them up again with an earthquake. That is why it's kept hidden from other power hungry gods in a shrine where only mortals can enter.

After the Komtur is unexpectedly killed in the ensuing melee, Olbert assumes command and sends the axe to Konigsberg for political points with his superiors. Aras, however, believes the axe to be taken to the hill fortress of Pilenai, which the Teutons have assumed control of. Believing he is doing the bidding of Perkunas himself, Aras performs a ritual before the Stelmuze Oak (an actual tree in Lithuania where Perkunas was worshipped. It's estimated to be 1500 years old.) and transforms Olbert into one of Perkunas' fearsome Oaken Sentinels. Well, it gets nasty for everyone inside Pilenai, but we'll get more into the plot in later posts.

As for my vision of Perkunas, I modeled him after Tom Hardy in Bronson. My reasoning behind it was simple: I just didn't want him looking much like the Thor we all know. I wanted my thunder god to look blunt and heavy, like a polish butcher. I've debated putting a cape on him, but am leaning towards the negative. Vakiris, one of several antagonists in the first volume, was given a flowy cape. Although I modelled him from 80's wrestling costumes and Flash Gordon. I always intended him to be a bit of a doofus in appearance, but takes himself very seriously. Perkunas on the other hand is the real deal. I'm excited he's here in our new volume, and I think it'll make for fun storytelling.

Stay tuned for more as this story develops, more will be revealed!