The Secret Lives of Villains #246

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Drawing Blood

Normally this blog is reserved for obscure, small time artists and creators looking to fund a project that would have a very difficult time getting attention from a major publisher.  That’s the spirit in which sites like Kickstarter were created and it’s a spirit that we appreciate and aspire to.

However, today is the day where we attempt to sell out in a blatant attempt to gain more views and popularity.

Today we’re looking at a project called Drawing Blood.  It’s a biographical graphic novel detailing the rise and fall of a humble comic book creator named Shane Bookman.  The project is headed by Kevin Eastman, David Avallone, and Ben Bishop.

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As of the time of writing the project has already reached over $40,000 of it’s $75,000 goal and ends in 24 days.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2073065927/kevin-eastmans-drawing-blood-vol-1-a-graphic-novel/description

Why I like it

I like it because it’s a biography about indie comic book legend Shane Bookman and his journey from the highest highs of success to the lowest lows of fame and fortune.

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What, you’re telling me that you’ve never heard of Shane Bookman?  The creator of the 1992 hit comic “Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls”?

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You know, the comic that started off as a darkly humorous parody of the grim and gritty comic books of the time and was spun off into a merchandise and tv empire that remains a pop culture phenomenon to this day?  In fact, it was so successful that there are rumors there will be a big budget action movie produced by some super Hollywood director named Daniel Flay, who really likes explosions and movie series with a seemingly infinite number of sequels.

Ok, so you probably know that Shane Bookman doesn’t exist.  In fact, those of you in the know probably recognized what this project actually is when you saw who was creating it.

For those of you who don’t know, Kevin Eastman is one of the co creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,

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You know, the comic that started off as a darkly humorous parody of the grim and gritty comic books of the time and was spun off into a merchandise and tv empire that remains a pop culture phenomenon to this day and has been turned into another Michael Bay reboot that will probably churn out sequels until the day we die.

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Drawing Blood was created to be a fictitious, semi autobiographical, darkly comedic look at the creation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the rise and fall of a great artist.  It looks like it’s going to be grim, dark, violent, and promises to go behind the scenes of the creation of one of the most famous and popular comics of recent memory.

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I love this sort of stuff.  Call me weird but there are few things more satisfying than watching a success story pan out with all the trials, tribulations, thrills, chills, and potential for violence.

Why you should donate

Because being a comic book creator is hard, and while a select few creators do get to enjoy the fruits of their labor and create characters and stories that are enjoyed by millions of people,

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there are hundreds, if not thousands more men and women who put their heart and soul into their work and got screwed out of their righteously deserved credit.

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Ok sure, Alan Moore isn’t the best example but when it comes to talking about creators getting nothing for their work (although while he has made a lot of money you could make a strong case for him getting shafted by watching Hollywood butcher some of his greatest work like V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) but the comic book world is a special case when it comes to the discussion of creator’s rights and credit.

In the very beginning comic book artists and writers didn’t own anything they created.  Their work belonged to the companies that employed them and the only money many o them would see from their creations would be the page rate they received on a work for hire basis.

This is why legends such as Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster,

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who created the iconic Superman had to sue Warner Brothers in the 1970’s for the credit and recognition they justly deserved, and why Shuster died in debt.

The struggle of the creator for the rights and recognition to their work is a long and often tragic tale and it’s problems are still being worked out and argued over today.

Some creators, such as the founders of of Image Comics,

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have made it possible for creators to have greater control over their work and how it’s used, but it’s still a sensitive and complex issue that’s still being talked about.

I bring all this up because I think that a project like Drawing Blood is important to this discussion.  Audiences see the end result of the hard work and sacrifice that goes into creating stories and characters, but not a lot of people pay attention to the stuff that really goes on behind the scenes.

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Sometimes the creation of a story is just as import as the actual story itself, and if a project like Drawing Blood can draw more attention to the world behind the story than it is a story worth reading.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2073065927/kevin-eastmans-drawing-blood-vol-1-a-graphic-novel/description

Comics that deserve more attention: Valerian and Laureline

So I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets this week.

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Now, the reviews have been not that great and it looks like this movie is going to be a massive flop at the box office, but I thought it looked fantastic, it had some really cool ideas and set pieces, and I wouldn’t really mind seeing more of it.  In short, I thought it was basically a retread of director Luc Besson’s other science fiction movie that didn’t get the attention it deserved,

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Like most science fiction movies that are made today, the Valerian movie is based off of a comic book series.  The books in question are the Valerian et Laureline series, which was written by French writer Pierre Christin and drawn by Jean-Claude Mezieres.

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The series started as a comic strip in the French magazine Pilote  in 1967 and published its final series in 2010.  It was published by French comic book publisher Dargaud.

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The series is an epic space opera starring the titular character Valerian and his colleague and co agent Lauraline as special agents working for the Terran Empire across time and space.

To go into any sort of detail about the adventures of these two would take hours, long story short it’s good enough that you should go read it, like right now.  But if you’re still here and need more convincing the real treat of the comic is its art.  Now, I’ve never fancied myself as an art lover and I tend to focus on story over art in my comics but…

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Yeah, I can see why the director wanted to make this movie.

So the comic is a long running, absolutely gorgeous, and thought provoking epic that was good enough to inspire at least one famous movie director to adapt it but how did it get here?  How did it remain so popular and long lasting?  and why was it so unknown to most comic book reading Americans?

To answer that question I did some research and decided that today we’re going to run through a very, VERY brief description of

The history of Franco Belgian comics.

 What a lot of people may not understand is that the idea of using words and pictures to communicate ideas has been around for a pretty long time.  In an age where most people couldn’t read, it was easier to convey ideas or stories through pictures.  As a result, the first comics were strips or single page stories that were owned and published by newspapers.

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In the early 20th century comic strips started to separate themselves from the newspapers to create their own comic series.  Two of the most famous were, Pieds Nickeles 

and the very first female protagonist in comics: Becassine.

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What’s really interesting is that during the 1920’s and 1930’s even the Catholic Church was getting involved in telling stories with pictures with publications like the Belgian Zonneland creating morally upright and decent stories for the children to read.

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Side note: it’s worth mentioning that a lot of people lump France and Belgium together when talking about comics since French is spoken by a healthy chunk of the Belgian population and French and Belgian comics often share the same readers.

France and Belgium had a very strong tradition of graphic storytelling through the 1920’s and 1930’s the art form took off in popularity, and publishers such as Dargaud rose up to meet the demand.

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This time also saw Belgian artist Herge would create a comic series that remains one of my personal favorites in 1929 with the publication of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.

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This particular title is a bit simplistic and has some really uncomfortable caricatures in it, but it was popular and provided a good jumping off point to one of Europe’s most beloved characters.

The art form was so popular that the French gave a name to it: bande dessinée.  A rough translation would be “drawn strips”.

Now, while the French and Belgian comic book industry did manage to produce some original work it was being rapidly overshadowed by a flood of American comics that could be bought and printed at a lower price.  After all, why spend all the time and money making your own stuff when you can just pay someone else to do the work for you.  However, in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s Europe had a bit of a problem.

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There was a war on and the Germans clamped down on American imports, including comics and animated films.  This cut off helped Europe develop its own stories and characters free from American influence and after Paris was liberated and the war was over, it was local artists and comic book creators who filled the gap.

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What’s really interesting is that even when the war was over, American comics never really came back in France.  This was epitomized by a law passed in 1949 that slowed the import of American literature, a law that was pushed by the French Communist Party who sought to limit American influence in Europe.

Free from the cultural behemoth of post war America, artists like Herge would go on to give Tintin his own comic magazine, and it remains incredibly popular to this day.

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Tintin’s success, coupled with the demand for more comics, resulted in a boom of magazines being published in post war France.  Eventually the market stabilized and Herge’s Tintin magazine and the French magazine Spirou became the dominant magazines throughout the 1950’s.

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It’s worth mentioning that France never had the backlash against comics that America went through in the 1950’s, so while American readers were doing this,

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French comics spent the fifties expanding, diversifying into different stories, and never lost their appeal as an art form.

Some of the highlights included the future 1980’s cartoon fodder The Smurfs, created by comic book artist Peyo and published in 1958 by Spirou,

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and another personal favorite of mine Asterix and Obelix, published by the Belgian magazine Pilote in 1959.

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The 1960’s and 70’s saw a more mature type of storytelling, with the debut of Valerian and Laureline in 1967,

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and tripy and far reaching sci fi art from artists like Jean Giraud (better known as Moebius) and Bilal making their way into a comic magazine called Metal Hurlant.  

That comic would eventually go out of business, but not before it was brought to America where it became the comic Heavy Metal, which is still around.

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The French and Belgian comic traditions have continued to this day.  They’re remarkably different from their American counterparts because while many Americans do tend to think of comics as reading material “for the kids” (no offense to the readers of this blog but come on, everyone knows at least one person who turns their noses up at comics) the French view it as a form of literature that is just as important as the novel or poem.

A modern example?  One of my favorite modern graphic novels created by the French-Iranian writer and artist Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

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Franco Belgian comics are also reknown for their artwork, with many of the older French artists divided into three distinct schools of comic art, including the realistic, which was popularized by artists such as Moebius,

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the “Linge claire” style, which favored more angular and simplistic character designs set against realistic backgrounds and was popularized by Herge and the Tintin books,

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the “comic dynamic style” which featured a more cartoonish emphasis on characters, movement, and action which was popularized by the Asterix books.

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So there you have it, a simplistic, generalized, and far too brief look at the comic book culture that inspired the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  If this piqued your interest at all I highly recommend checking some of the titles out that I posted above and if you haven’t seen the movie yet…please go see it now.