Archive for February, 2009

An Interview with Paul Duffield

Posted in Interview with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by comicmole

Note: this interview was done before FreakAngels volume one was released in print – a print version is now widely available to buy, and the webcomic remains free-to-read online as well.

freakangelsposter

Comic Mole:  So, to start where it all began, were you always into comics (and drawing comics) from a young age, or did the comics interest start later?

Paul Duffield:  I’ve always been into comics, and drawn from a very early age (I can’t even remember not drawing), but comics was just one of the many things that I tried when I was little. I don’t think my real interest in them began until I was about 13, and I discovered first anime, then manga through a friend. From then I constantly tried to write and draw my own stories in various forms, but it all came together properly in College, where I met Kate Brown who introduced me to online comics and drew her own. (Mole Note: Kate Brown was the artist for SelfMadeHero’s Manga Shakespeare ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and the creator of ‘The Spider Moon’ for the DFC)

CM:  Who, or what, are some of your biggest influences and inspirations nowadays?

PD:  My influences are a pretty scattered bunch that span animation, illustration and comics. As far as animation goes, I’m greatly influenced by a Japanese production studio called Studio4°C, specifically two directors, Tatsuyuki Tanaka and Koji Morimoto.

I also love the golden age of illustration, which encompasses artists like Rackham, Beardsley, Kay Nielsen, and others of a similar style.

In terms of comics, I love a type of manga often called ‘nouvelle manga’ (because of its French influence), which includes Taiyo Matsumoto and Jiro Taniguchi, two of my favourite manga artists. I also love artists such as Erica Sakurazawa, Moto Hagio, Osamu Tezuka, Miou Takaya, Maki Kusumoto, Joshua Middleton, Craig Thompson, Becky Cloonan… (I could really go on for a long time).

tempest

CM:  At the moment you’re working with writer Warren Ellis on ‘FreakAngels’ – how did this collaboration come about?

PD:  A long while ago now, I posted on Warren Ellis’ old forum, The Engine, just saying hi and putting up a few pieces of my work like other people in the thread. After that I got an email from Jacen Burrows, who works as a penciller for Avatar Press (among many other things), saying he liked my work, and asking if I wanted an introduction at avatar. I leapt at the chance, and it turned out that my work suited the Freakangels project which was in search of an artist at the time. From there it was the normal process of submitting designs etc…

CM:  Why was it decided that ‘FreakAngels’ would be a free webcomic rather than a print comic?

PD:  I think this question would be better directed at Warren Ellis. Freakangels as far as I’m aware is a bit of an experiment in terms of publishing, to catch a different type of audience, and just to present a webcomic with professional production standards.

CM: What tools or media do you use to produce your webcomic pages?  What are your favourite media to use?

PD:  The lines are all done in pencil, then scanned and coloured in Photoshop, with photographic tones added to give a grittier feel. Pencils are definitely my chosen medium, and I rarely use inks (or even touch pens in fact).

CM: You have worked on several pieces for print including a winning Rising Stars of Manga entry and Self Made Hero’s manga version of Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’ – how does working on a webcomic compare to working for print?

PD:  It’s very different for a number of reasons. First off, there’s the nature of the deadlines. Instead of having an overall project deadline, there’s a feeling of being ‘chased’ by the release of the comic itself (I’m working ahead of the actual release schedule so there’s a buffer there if things should go wrong), which makes the pace of the project feel very different. In terms of the visuals, Warren has very deliberately chosen a straight forward layout format which suits the web. You’ll notice the comic is normally presented in two tiers (of one or two panels each), each of which can be seen on the screen independently of each other. More complex layouts don’t naturally suit the web, and it gives us a chance to really focus on the filmic nature of the story telling (it’s really an extended storyboard when you think about it), and the detail and observation in each panel as its own illustration.

Finally there’s the technical details. Since Freakangels is actually ultimately intended for both print and the web, you’d expect these to be similar, but actually it works on classic American comic format, whereas all my previous work has been in a classic Japanese format, and the differences couldn’t be greater (the size of the paper, the use of gutters, the different bleed margins, the technicalities of CYMK printing etc etc).

CM:  What’s the best thing about working on ‘FreakAngels’?

PD:  Probably the excitement of getting each new script in before I start working on it, since I’m also reading and experiencing the comic as it goes along! It’s also fantastic to see people’s reactions in real time on the forums, and very encouraging when that reaction is a good one.

CM:  And the worst thing?

PD:  Probably the way the creative process in handled. There’s a substantial feeling of ‘distance’ between me and the rest of the parts of the project that I don’t work on. This is partly because of the literal distance between the publisher in the states and me and Warren in the UK, meaning that the script has to go overseas to the editor, then come back overseas to me… but also because of a more ‘American’ way of doing things, where each step is kept very isolated from the last. It’s a less extreme form of the production line style script writer, penciller, inker, colourist and letterer who never see each other or speak about the project… the only difference being that I’m the penciller, inker and colourist combined.

CM:  Who is your favourite ‘FreakAngels’ character so far, either in personality or to draw?

PD:  Ooh… hard question. I quite enjoy drawing Arkady because I can really go wild with her mannerisms, but she’s also very tricky to get right because she’s so thin! (anatomy becomes tricky to get right once it’s not the sort of anatomy you’re used to). I like them all though, and it’s good to flick between different characters, almost like going to visit a friend for a while.

CM:  What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to start making their own webcomics?

PD:  Depends if you want to go in for a series of funnies, or an epic story, but for those who are planning that epic, stop there! Start SMALL. Do a short, self-contained comic (10-20 pages is ideal if you want to work In that format) that people can easily digest, and that you can test your skills on, and get used to the medium with. Once you’ve whetted their appetites, you can go back to your epic with more experience and more readers.

CM:  Any plans for the future? (or are they all top-secret?)

PD:  Mostly top secret I’m afraid, but I can say that me and Kate Brown have been trying to do several projects together including Deck http://spoonbard.deviantart.com/gallery/#Project-Deck and Rolighed http://spoonbard.deviantart.com/gallery/#Project-Rolighed ever since we left university, and we’ll be damned if they’re not published in the future. Unfortunately we don’t know when that will be because we’re both now engaged in other things.

CM:  What is your favourite dessert?

PD:  I like Ice Cream :)

An Intro to FreakAngels by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield

Posted in Column with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by comicmole

Disclamer: this is an old column I wrote for IndieReview last year and since then FreakAngels has grown and flourished – there are many more pages available in webcomic form and also a printed volume one available to buy in bookshops or online.  Before I write a more up-to-date column about the comic I want to get hold of said printed edition in order to review it properly.  However, funds dictate that I won’t be doing that any time soon, so as not to waste a column I’m going to post this one up as it appeared last year rather than tweaking it to update it (it wouldn’t be tweaking anyway, it would be a complete re-write).

Nevertheless I think this post will still be useful to anyone who has not discovered FreakAngels yet, which is why I’m calling it an introduction.  So without futher ado, here we go…

freakangelscover

“23 years ago, twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment. 6 years ago, the world ended. This is the story of what happened next” – FreakAngels page one

FreakAngels is a gritty, adult, post-apocalyptic steampunk comic with at least its first few episodes set in London. It tells the tale of some of the survivors of an unknown disaster, and in the story so far it has been revealed that a few of these have gained new abilities.

Just in case the genre is new to anyone out there, ‘steampunk’ stories typically feature a world that is inspired by the technological developments of the Industrial Revolution era (roughly the 1800s). The difference with steampunk is that there are usually lots more fantastical inventions featured than there actually were back then, such as the steam-powered helecopter that KK uses in the first Episode of FreakAngels. An anime example of the genre is Katsuhiro Otomo’s film ‘Steamboy’ whereas a comic example would be Moore and O’Neill’s ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’.

When compared to most other offerings of the genre, FreakAngels is unique.  This is because it is set in a future where technology has regressed, rather than in a past with futuristic levels of technology. Unfortunately I will have to leave my explanation of the story there, as the comic has not been running for long enough for me to give any more detail. But wait! Don’t go away just yet, as there is method to my madness!

And that is this: FreakAngels might possibly be the biggest UK webcomic out there, even though it only began in February this year. Award-winning artist Paul Duffield (aka. Spoonbard) is handling the visuals – Paul won first place in Tokyopop’s Rising Stars of Manga (2006) and also got the Overall Winner award for the International Manga and Anime Festival (IMAF) in the same year. Alongside him doing the writing is UK comics guru Warren Ellis, who has written for Marvel and DC (amongst others) as well as having several of his own works published, and winning several Eagle awards in 2007 (including ‘Favourite Comics Writer’).

So far the internet is the only way to sample the pair’s offerings and there don’t seem to be any plans for a print edition of FreakAngels, at least not at this early stage. Instead there are free weekly updates of six pages a pop, entitled ‘Episodes’. Each one seems to look at a particular situation or conversation, so readers get a manageable chunk of story but are still left wanting to know more. It’s quite an experimental format, but it seems to be working so far over the first five episodes.

What’s also exciting and new about this comic is that there is a great juxtaposition here between manga and western comic influences. Warren Ellis is a renowned western comics writer and Paul Duffield cut his teeth on the Rising Stars of Manga and Self Made Hero’s ‘Manga Shakespeare’ version of ‘The Tempest’. The new challenge for the artist here though is the use of full colour visuals on every page.  Appropriately, each page is drawn in Paul Duffield’s signature style, using fine expressive pen lines rather than the technically drawn look you get in a lot of manga. The quality of the linework and use of muted colours complement the London setting very well. The artist often brings out the beauty of his characters (especially the lead, KK), however what’s really special about his work here is that he doesn’t shy away from including character flaws and uglier moments to illustrate their personalities and the harsh situation they have found themselves in.

However, much as I love the character designs and beautifully stark London backgrounds, I did find some of the panel layouts on the pages to be a bit repetitive as there are a lot of pages that are simply split into four equal panels. This may have been an editorial decision to bring across a steady pace to events, but as someone who is used to reading manga where panel layouts are different on every page I found this to be a bit sluggish.

Inextricably linked to the panel pacing is the writing style of the comic. In general, I found the setting and characters to be very intriguing and the writing to flow well from panel to panel. Unfortunately though, I found some of the writing a bit lacking (I’ll duck and cover before going on…). These are real characters living in a harsh environment, therefore they swear quite a bit. I have no problem at all with swearing, especially if its in context as it is here, however I think perhaps they might banter with each other in more elaborate ways than just putting the f-word in at every second sentence.  Also, in Episode Two we meet Alice, a girl from Manchester. She swears with a northern accent, however nothing else she says is accented at all – this seems a bit inconsistent.  The rest of her words aren’t put across with dialect, so why that one?

Anyway, niggles aside, this is a compelling comic and there are also a few extras on the website too: before Episode One there are four standalone promotional poster-style images, there is an RSS feed available, and also a forum to discuss each episode as it comes out.

In conclusion, this is a very exciting comic that I feel has a lot of potential. It may not be 100% perfect but its still early days so I’m hopeful that the plot will become gripping and that the characters will each become more unique and individual. This comic will appeal to fans of Warren Ellis, those who are following Paul Duffield’s work, fans of the steampunk genre, those who like a good post-apocalyptic tale, those who appreciate manga and fans of western comics alike, so I’m eager to see it gain more readers and keep bridging that gap between manga and western comics fans – oh and remember, its all free!

I’m looking forward to re-visiting FreakAngels in the future, once the plot and characters have had a chance to develop.

Cold Sweat and Tears, an Anthology by Sweatdrop Studios

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2009 by comicmole

coldsweatandtears-_mole1

Cold Sweat and Tears is an anthology by Sweatdrop Studios which was first published in 2007 and is available to buy from their online store.

The book is a compiled collection from 2 previous anthologies: ‘Love, Sweat & Tears’ and ‘Cold Sweat':

lovencold

As a few readers might already own the original anthologies, firstly I will be looking at the differences between ‘Cold Sweat & Tears’ and the originals, and the pros and cons of buying this book in addition to the other two.  After that there will be a run-down of the actual comics (if you want to skip to that section, scroll down the post and it’s just after the photo of the book).

A Little Bit of History

‘Love, Sweat & Tears’ and ‘Cold Sweat’ were Sweatdrop Studios’ first and second anthologies. They were both released in a simple stapled format, so it seems to make sense to bind them together as a collected volume for future sales.

Saying that, if you are interested in the creators’ newest work then this is not the book for you. This is a good buy however for anyone who is interested in UK manga in general (especially UK manga history), those who are just starting to create their own comics who are interested in seeing what some of the Sweatdrop members were producing when they were also first starting out, or for those who are specifically following the work of one or more of the artists in question.

Additional Material in Cold Sweat & Tears

Introduction (by Dock): this explains where the book came from and why it has been produced.

The History: some freshly written information about the original anthologies, along with a reproduction of the original introductions by Keds.

‘About Us’ Section: there is about a paragraph of information on each creator, positioned towards the end of the book (similarly to the notes about the creators in a Tokyopop Rising Stars of Manga anthology). This covers the achievements of each creator since the original anthologies were printed and makes for an interesting read.

Illustrations: new black and white illustrations of some of the characters from the original comics, produced by the creators specifially for this volume.
– 2 new illustrations by Emma Vieceli, based on ‘Love Senseless’ and ‘The Politics of Tears’
– 2 new illustrations by Dock, based on ‘Out of Reach’
– 1 new illustration by Laura Watton based on ‘Black Peace’

Comic Strips: 10 strips from ‘Rabid Monkeys’ are printed towards the back of the book.  This was webcomic by Fehed and Shari that ran from 2002-2004 but has now ended. One strip from it had appeared at the front of each of the previous antholgies.

Trivia: there are 2 pages of trivia at the end of the book covering the production of the original anthologies. They range from stories of printing mishaps to some of the cameos and references present in some of the comics.

Ads: a few pages of ads for books the artists are now appearing in.

csntphoto1

Lineup of Comics in the Anthology

Note: ‘Biomecha: Thought’ by Laura Watton, which originally appeared in ‘Love, Sweat & Tears’ has been removed from the lineup for this re-print, however it is still in print and now appears in Biomecha volume 1 instead.

‘Love Senseless’ by Emma Vieceli

Love Senseless is a moving 20-page story about how a chance encounter changes two people’s lives, and how we should cherish the things we have as we might never know when they might disappear.   As this was Emma’s first comic there are quite a few inconsistencies in the artwork, however the writing holds up remarkably well – the story fits well into the page count and has a very satisfying (if not completely happy) ending.

‘Simple Love’ by Hwei Lim (no longer a Sweatdrop member)

Simple Love takes a look into quite a grown-up situation regarding love – losing someone you once loved through divorce.  A man is taken on a trip through some of his memories by hearing the words to a song.  The comic is only 6 pages long but manages to portray the situation well.  The art is also well thought out, switching from stark black and white for the present time to softer tones for the memories.

‘Out of Reach’ by Dock

Similarly to ‘Simple Love’, the 7-page comic ‘Out of Reach’ also looks at adults dealing with a separation.  However, this time there may be hope, as a memory jogged by a playful child might help to bring the couple back together.  The artwork uses some uncommon camera angles in some of the panels, adding interest to a simple story.

‘A Message to You’ by Keds

17-page story ‘A Message to You’ shows some definite Japanese influences.  Even though the artist has challenged himself by tackling lots of different character poses and backgrounds, he had not quite found his own style and rather seems to more directly reference Japanese manga.  Also the characters’ names are Japanese, which just reinforces this influence.  That aside though this is a sweet little story which is easy to understand and wraps itself up well within the page limit.

‘Faded and Torn’ by Fehed Said and Keds

‘Faded and Torn’ is an interesting short piece which very much reads like it came directly from the mind of its’ young writer onto the paper.  This 6-pager questions the place of creativity in our modern lives – asking that, if we live like drones going from 9-5 work to inane socialising day-in, day-out, are we any better off than being dead?  Its easy to see how the creators, just beginning on their professional adult lives, would worry that their imaginations might be crushed by the monotiny of everyday grown-up life, and how they might believe that if they ever stopped expressing their individuality through writing and drawing, they might as well be dead.

‘Black Peace’ by Laura Watton

‘Black Peace’ is 9 pages of distilled Japan-influenced melodrama, from the Tokyo location through the gang member and gothic lolita clothing, to the Japanese names of the characters.  The artwork uses lots of screentone and heavy inking, but has a level of energy that complements the dramatic subject matter, even though sometimes it can be a little wonky.  Most of the content will seem very fannish nowadays, especially as UK manga artists are striving to find their own identity outside of a direct Japanese influence, but at its heart this comic is a glimpse into the not-too-distant past of UK manga creation, and an entertaining one at that.

‘Eine Kliene’ by Selina Dean

As the title suggests, ‘Eine Kliene’ is a very short comic – just 4 pages in all.  The artwork is simple but punchy, as is the story.  It just goes to show that not all dreams end well…

‘Caveboy Bink’ by Monkey-X (no longer a Sweatdrop member)

‘Caveboy Bink’ is a cute little 4-pager about a cave boy, a small dinosaur, and an intrepid snail.  Its a slient comic with no text apart from sound effects.  The art is sometimes a little wonky, but the pacing and panel layouts work well, and it brought a smile to my face at the end which is always good.

‘The Politics of Tears’ by Fehed Said and Emma Vieceli

Comics where the text is a poem, accompanied by images, are often interesting as they can make it easier for the reader to interpret the text.  This time, I think that Emma’s story illustrated a certain interpretation of the text using a particular story, but the poem itself I believe is meant more generally than just to refer to the events portrayed in this comic.   The poem paints a pretty grim view of humanity (well I guess this is the ‘nightmares’ portion of the book), and unfortunately the artwork is a little hard to follow, with confusing panel layouts and oddly placed screentone – although readers should be aware that this is some of Emma Vieceli’s earliest work, and doesn’t really compare to later projects.

‘Bunny’ by Selina Dean

This comic is a rare opportunity to see some of Selina Dean’s non-chibi-style artwork, however it is one of her older comics in print so the art is not as polished as newer projects.  The story is a mildly disturbing one about a girl who treats a bunny like a baby (or perhaps she gives birth to a bunny, its never clearly stated which and anything can happen in comic land…). As with several of Selina’s newer one-shot projects, the plot fits very nicely into the page allowance and gives you a nice little punch at the end.

Conclusions

If you have never seen the 2 original anthologies that this book was compiled from and you are at all interested in UK manga, then you will probably find this an interesting (and possibly even essential) addition to your manga collection.

However, if you aleady own the originals and are not someone who is very into extra content you are not going to find any new comics here.

So, having thrown scepticism about buying a volume full of comics I already own aside, the extra content needed to be examined. Luckily it has had a lot of thought put into it, and on the whole lends more depth to the experience of re-reading the comics. Should I want to re-experience these short stories again, I would most likely pick up this book from my shelf rather than the originals, as it is a neat microcosm of comics and extras.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.