Archive for Sarah Burgess

‘Legends’, an anthology by IndieManga

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2010 by comicmole

‘Legends’ by IndieManga, 130 pages, A5, black and white with colour covers, £6


“What discerning eyes have you,

to notice here our humble book,

now there’s just one thing to do,

open it and have a look!” - Legends

And thus begins my adventure into Legends, the newest anthology from the comic circle IndieManga.  This book contains five short comics revolving around the central theme of exploring fantastical tales, and in some cases their ties to the real world.

Every member of IndieManga is featured here: Kate Holden, who was one of the winners of this year’s Manga Jiman competition, Anna Fitzpatrick, who writes and draws Between Worlds, Sally Jane Thompson, who created Little Thoughts, Rebecca McCarthy, who’s writing also appeared in IndieManga’s first anthology ‘Origins’, and this time they introduce a new member in the form of Sarah Burgess, who also writes and draws the webcomic Far-Out-Mantic.

Below I’m going to give an example of a page from each comic in the anthology to show their different art styles, and also say a little about what I took away from the story in each short as well.  First up is the 23-page Lucky, by Sarah Burgess:

Lucky is about a lowly squire who loses his pride and joy – his silver-haired horse – to some otherworldly thieves.

The story overall is well-paced, carrying the reader through the fantastical events with ease.  The ending could possibly have used an extra page, just to slow it down and give it more impact, though it closes out with an interesting resonance to the real world.  Similarly to her webcomic, Far-Out-Mantic, Sarah’s art for Lucky has a sketchy, emotions-first-accuracy-second, kind of feel to it.  This means elements like her characters’ expressions and the organic flow of a lot of the pages, are practically perfect.  However, some parts come across as rushed or even just anatomically wrong, which jerks the reader out of the story a little.

But what will bring you back in though is the hand-written text.  Hand-drawn speech bubbles settle comfortably into the layout of each page, and parts where the text breaks free and takes your eyes all around the page as you read are really quite special.

Sharing Lucky’s page count of 23 is the next comic – Vitality, written by Rebecca McCarthy and drawn by Anna Fitzpatrick:

Apothecary shop assistant Bryther had been drinking a vitality elixir to keep herself going thorugh a day’s work, but when the shop gets demolished one day she gets a lesson in how much of a good thing might be too much.

Unfortunately I didn’t quite ‘get’ this story.  It felt very much like it was trying to say something, but I’m still not entirely sure what that thing was.  The plot begins in quite a slice-of-life way, focusing on the main character and her shop, but then introduces a lot of characters and big world events in quick succession.  The reader does not really have enough time to digest all of this information before being taken back to a focus on the main character again for the ending.  It seems like this story either needed to be much longer, with time given to introduce world events and the significance of these characters within them, or more stripped-down and simplified to fit into a shorter page count.

Art-wise, this comic has a painterly feel brought about by a use of flowing organic shapes to portray real human anatomy, rather than reducing the forms down to a more graphical style.  Backgrounds are present and correct, and range from a riot of sketchy detail that can be hard to follow, to some wonderfully balanced and atmospheric scenes.  It seems like some of the pages were a labour of love for the artist, and some were more rushed through.   As a lover of small press endevours, I feel that the atmosphere brought out by the tighter, more considered, pages in Vitality makes this comic worth reading.  However a more mainstream audience would probably expect the entire comic to be presented at this standard.

The impact of popular fantasy stories is considered in the next comic from the Legends anthology: A Walk – or a contemplation on fairy tales, viewpoints, creativity and growing up, by Sally Jane Thompson:

A Walk is 11 pages long.  The story follows a young girl, who at the beginning is being read to before bed.  As she hears the tale being read to her, a beanstalk begins to grow out of the book, and take her on a journey where she encounters lots of the stories and artistic styles that inspire her as she grows up.

These inspirations range from simple fairy tales to sparkly romance, into realism, and even some tinges of menace.  As she interacts with each scene the girl visibly grows up, and at the end of the comic she clicks the lid back onto her pen as an adult artist.

This comic is obviously a very personal one that portrays several stories that have been inspirations or influences on the creator’s own development as an author and artist, perhaps also as a person.

Many different artistic styles and drawing media are used throughout this comic.  The girl herself is always drawn with Sally’s trademark brushpen strokes, which both links her character to Sally as a person and brings all of the disparate art styles used in the comic together as one piece.  As she takes her walk we pass panels drawn in a shojo (girl’s) manga style, simplified cartoons, patterns inspired by art nouveau, use of natural media, ink and screentones.  Its a completely wordless comic, but you won’t miss the words at all.

Also making quite a sparing use of text is the next Legends entry: the 15 page 5 Finger Discount, by Anna Fitzpatrick:

In 5 Finger Discount, when a girl tries to steal a transformation potion from an old witch, an amazing transformations occurs…that could get her into a lot of trouble.

Stand out characters here are the old witch and the horrible blob monster you can see on the page above.  They’re gloriously grotesque!  The entire comic is of course drawn in Anna’s signature painterly style, but compared to Vitality, which she also drew, the screentones used here are of a larger scale (meaning that the dots are larger and further apart than the screentones used for Vitality).  This means that some of the forms of the characters and backgrounds are a little bit less solid and more confusing to the eye, but it also gives the comic a lighter, more airy feel than Vitality, and thus its own personality.

The digital text used for the lettering in 5 Finger Discount is certainly very readable (which should be the first priority), but its also a little jarring over such natural-feeling artwork as Anna’s.  On the other hand, the hand-written sound effects used here (such as the ‘wugableeugh!’ in the page above) are a real high point of the comic – perfectly legible throughout, balanced very nicely with the artwork on each page that they are used on, and suiting the unique personality of the story extremely well.

Showing yet another side to the personality of IndieManga as a group is the final entry in the Legends anthology, the 17 page Adventure, by Kate Holden:

At a foreboding castle in the desolate mountains, a group of three adventures goes toe-to-toe with an ancient foe and his army of automaton minions.

…did I mention the foe had epic flares?

The story and chracters in Kate Holden’s Adventure are pretty simple and archetypal: plucky heroine, brutish warrior, semi-naked elf…but the injection of Kate’s own personality makes it into a fun quirky parody piece.  Her villain here is a good example: you can tell that he’s an epic foe right out of a fantasy story or RPG, but he also has a bit of a shonen (boy’s) fighting manga look to him.  On top of this he wears a superhero-style mask, but forgoes the cape-and-tights for 60s style flares instead.

You might think that all of these influences would make for a bit of a muddled comic, but nothing could be further from the truth – its a very streamlined reading experience.  The only thing holding it back is that, though the experience is fun, it is perhaps not quite hilarious enough as a parody comic to surmount the use of the very stereotypical characters and setting.

But setting aside,a high point to look out for throughout Adventure is the creator’s proficient use of solid blacks and whites in her artwork, giving a punchy, eye-catching finish.  The only hiccup in the art is that, with such a structured style, it seems like buildings and interiors in the backgounds would need to be drawn with straighter, more confident, lines in order to make the best use of accurate perspective and have more impact alongside the characters.

Presentation:

Legends is a tidy and good-looking little book.  Its perfect bound with black and white interior pages and full colour covers.  The covers have a matte finish which gives a high quality look and feel to the book.  A unifying, tongue-in-cheek, graphic design style throughout the book really brings the creators’ different styles together and makes this anthology into one cohesive volume.

The price was a bit hard to find as it wasn’t printed in big friendly numbers on the front cover like you get with a lot of comics.  This may have been a conscious decision not to mar the cover design, and the price was mentioned in the blurb on the back, but something a little easier to spot would have been helpful.

If you enjoy UK manga, or dare I say it even small press comics in general, then I think you will find ‘Legends’ by IndieManga to be a rewarding pickup.  As their name suggests, the group is inspired by manga, but certainly not a slave to stereotypical ‘manga’ art tropes.  Barring some confusing sketchy pages pulling the reader a little out of the experience, overall I was struck by the unique personal creativity on show here – something that is hard to find in the mainstream, and I’m sure one of the reasons why us avid readers love the small press so much.

More books are available, including their first anthology ‘Origins’, on the IndieManga website.

Sarah Burgess has an ongoing webcomic, ‘Far-Out-Mantic’, and more of her work can be found on her portfolio website.

Kate Holden’s ongoing webcomic is Fan Dan Go, and she also has a portfolio website.

Sarah Jane Thompson also has a portfolio up online, plus an art blog.

Rebecca McCarthy has a website/blog.

Anna Fitzpatrick regularly updates her webcomic Between Worlds, as well as keeping a portfolio site and an art blog.

A review copy of this comic was provided.

New comic: Legends, from IndieManga

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2009 by comicmole

legendsCover_CM

Debuting at the upcoming October MCM Expo in London, ‘Legends’ is the latest anthology book from UK manga circle IndieManga.  It will be a black and white book of 130 pages with a price of £6.00.  It will feature work from

  • Kate Holden, who should be familiar to Comic Mole readers as the multi-talented creator of the webcomic Fan Dan Go, as well as writing our recent literary article on Hamlet from Manga Shakespeare
  • Rebecca McCarthy, a writer who’s shorts ‘The King’s Silver’ and ‘Rake’ appeared in IndieManga’s first anthology ‘Origins’
  • Anna Fitzpatrick, who’s hauntingly beautiful comic ‘Between Worlds‘ will also be seeing a new release at the October Expo.
  • Sally Jane Thompson, who created Little Thoughts and had a story in Leek and Sushi’s Manga Show: 150 Years of Friendship, amongst other things.
  • IndieManga’s new member! Sarah Burgess, who also writes the fantastic webcomic ‘Far Out Mantic’

So all in all a pretty exciting new anthology title from some proven independent talent! More information plus preview pages can be found on IndieManga’s website.  The comic should also be available to order online from the website shortly after the event, for all those (like me) who can’t make it to the show this year ^_^

Far-Out-Mantic by Sarah Burgess

Posted in New Comic, Review with tags , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by comicmole

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Far-Out-Mantic is a unique full-colour webcomic by Sarah Burgess.  It can be read on her SmackJeeves account and at the time of writing this post it has pages numbering into the mid-60s and continues to be regularly updated.

Recently, Sarah has also self-published a printed ‘Book 1′ of the comic which will debut at this weekend’s London Web and Mini Comics Thing (28-29th March 2009), so look out for it if you’re going to be there! She doesn’t have an online shop but if you would like a copy to be posted to you (with payment probably via cheque), you can contact her on her email address which is on her profile page at SmackJeeves.

(As with Sammy Borras’ comic ‘Late’, which I covered in my last post, do go and support Sarah via the comment system on SmackJeeves if you like her work.  You don’t have to be a member of the website to comment so there’s none of that annoying account-setup business to deal with.)

So onto the subject at hand! The comic begins with Penelope, a somewhat scatterbrained young woman who is not so lucky in love, but has an utter adoration for a certain hip hop band: Far-Out-Mantic.  After she is jilted by the rascal Billy, she bumps into a mysterious book-reading stranger, who later turns up again in her life at the space-wear-only 24-hour disco called Meteor Flo, where the band Far-Out-Mantic are playing to a packed house.

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The comic can get pretty fantastical at times but the overall pacing fits into the ‘slice-of-life’ genre quite well.  We follow Penelope for the first two chapters, but switch our focus in chapter three to different characters.  Rather than being told about events with narration or overly verbose pages, we are taken along for the ride and shown what is going on, as if we were standing nearby peeking in.

The setting of Far-Out-Mantic is a wonderful slightly off-kilter version of the real world, one where 24-hour space themed discos exist, but above this its the characters that really bring this piece to life.  Penelope herself is a girl-next-door with a shot of determination and a heart full of dreams.  Book-man is a mysterious stranger with a quiff and some good advice.  Characters you meet later include some air hostess lookalikes, some evil musicians and an utterly charming man who sports a green afro with yellow stars in it.

These off-the-wall designs might sound a bit throwaway to some, however each character has his or her own unique personality and these are well-realised through their individual facial expressions and body language.  A loose and sketchy style drawing style, coupled with delicate washes of watercolour, complements this expressiveness.  Each chapter of Far-Out-Mantic has a different predominant colour which has been chosen to fit the mood (trivia: the creator says in her comments that this was inspired by Chloe Citrine’s webcomic ‘Rainbow Carousel‘, which also changes colours with each chapter).

A reason for the creator’s emphasis on expression and flow over tightly inked figures and ruler-straight panel boundaries can be found in her comments printed in ‘ The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga’ Vol. 3 (in which she has an 6-page short entitled ‘Purikura’).  Sarah states that when she draws, she wants to ‘…back away from the obsession with symmetry, accuracy of bodies and form…’ that she prefers ‘…to give a natural life, movement and expression to my characters…I always try to make my comics flow rather than look stiff, wishing to put my heart and tears into every stroke’

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So, whereas a lot of comic artists begin by focusing on perfecting drawing human bodies and environments very realistically, Sarah has chosen to explore how to bring her characters and their feelings immediately to her audience via the flow of their emotions.  The strengths of an approach like this are that none of Sarah’s art becomes wooden or overdrawn; everything flows very well.  Sometimes characters and backgrounds even verge on the abstract, as although characters’ bodies may not always be proportionally correct, the artist may use this to her advantage to improve the pacing of a page (for an example of what I mean, take a look at the singer on the right hand side of page 29).

Fortunately the comic does not break down into complete abstraction and is easy to read throughout.  Although pages may look quickly drawn, the panel layouts throughout the comic are well considered: little explanation is required for readers to know what is going on other than simply by following the flow of images.

For these reasons I can imagine how some readers will fall in love with this comic’s art.  However, others may find that the drawing style is not accurate or considered enough for them to enjoy it completely.  Personally I feel that some of the art could benefit from a little more accuracy, however too much tightening would ruin the delicate hand-drawn feel of the comic.  For example, the vertical lines in the backgrounds sometimes trail off diagonally, but rather than stamp ruled lines all over it, if the artist could just keep in mind that all of these lines should normally be parallel to the edge of the paper, it shouldn’t affect the flow of the piece but would help the solidity of the backgrounds.

Art style aside, probably the most interesting thing about Far-Out-Mantic is the wide range of influences that have inspired Sarah to draw it: music, fashion from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and of course the retro futuristic sci-fi trend which also spanned those decades.  She talks about her influences in the comments that she writes on some of the pages, making them an interesting read.  Perhaps the overarching inspiration for the comic though is the album ExpoExpo by the Japanese hip hop band M Flo, so I will leave you with one of the links Sarah posted in her comments, to a YouTube video of the song ‘Prism’, which captures a lot of the fun space-pop feel of the comic – enjoy!

‘Stardust’, An Anthology by Sweatdrop Studios

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2008 by comicmole

This review was written a little while ago but thankfully the book is still available to buy from Sweatdrop Studios’ online store.  Many of the artists whose stories appear in this book have since gone on to even better things, so keep an eye out for newer work from them too.

stardust-s1

This is a collection of short stories that were originally entered into Tokyopop’s ‘Rising Stars of Manga’ competition (Sept 2005). They may not have won, but each short story reflects the artist’s best work at that time, and showcases these creative individuals’ talents.

Stardust is a chunky little book

Strange Harmony by Johanna Zhou (Scorpio)

This is a sweet story based around a country girl (Melissa) and her cousin from the city (Jazmine) who comes to visit. Some funny moments come from showing their differences, like when burying a hedgehog (as Melissa often goes out and gives roadkill a proper burial) Jazmine drapes her necklace over the grave, saying it can enjoy some bling in heaven. The characters are slightly cliched, but they work for the story. The artwork and pacing is very strong, at least on a par with the year’s winners of RSoM.

Dollhouse by Jaqueline Kwong (Marbles)

A dark short story with a gothic lolita style, Dollhouse is about a girl and her relationship with one of her dolls, who is more than she seems. The characters and dialogue bring across the gothic lolita style very well, being well spoken in a slightly disturbing way. Some might say that the scary doll story has been re-trodden quite a bit lately, but then again what hasn’t? The artwork is strong – especially the detail on the figures, faces and clothing, although the placement of the text and lack of backgrounds means it falls short of some other stories in this book.

On with the Show by Rebecca Burgess (Bex)

A heartwarming tale about a rich man who throws it all away to become an actor in the West End. There are a few ups and downs in the storyline (in terms of what happens, not how good it is), but ultimately it is a happy tale about following your dreams. The characters and art style both reflect the Victorian era English setting well. The artist had obviously studied the clothing, buildings and transport of the time before putting pen to paper, and bravely includes a lot of relevant visual information in the panels. The busy line and tonework means that sometimes the reader will have to think about what is going on in a particular page, but that does give you time to appreciate the passion that went into producing this story.

Bad Luck by Selina Dean (Buu)

A slightly creepy short story about a girl who sees a strange dog one night and from then on has terrible bad luck. The story fits very well into the page allowance and has a snappy ending. The characters are not explored in a lot of depth, but this does not harm the story in any way, in fact it makes it nice and easy to get to grips with as a short. The artwork is uniquely styled and has a chibi look, which contrasts well with the more grown up storyline. It could possibly use more detail, but the simple style does make it easy to read and understand. The pacing is well carried out and some interesting camera angles are used in a lot of the panels.

New Year’s Kiss by Sarah Burgess (Denji)

New Year’s Kiss is a shonen-ai short with a little bit of angst and a little bit of fluff. It involves two guys who work in a cafe and war over the affection of the new girl, only to find out their real feelings once she shows her true colours. The characters are slightly stereotypical: the artist, the playboy and the hot new girl, but their motivations are delved into which makes them more unique. The artwork has a sketchy style, which shows promise in a lot of instances but sometimes is difficult to understand. However, the pacing is good and the writing has a strong manga feel to it.

Reya by Sergei and Morag Lewis (Moonshadow and Sun Kitten)

A fantasy tale of a girl from a distant land and her encounters with a group of magicians and their dangerous pets – tigers. The narration has a gentle pace and is written in quite an olde worlde style (not old English, but not completely modern either). Characters are believable and the cast is diverse and well thought out, although they are not particularly quirky or emotional. The art style suits the story very well, having been drawn with a nib pen. Some of the depth may be lost to readers as lineweights do not vary much from foreground to background, however there is a lot of detail to be savoured.

Different for Girls by Laura Watton and Jake Laverde

A manga with an English edge, this story centres around student life and romance here in good ol blighty. It about Angie, a student who’s looking for her perfect man but doesn’t realise he might be right under her nose. Its a sweet little tale -you may work out whats going to happen almost straight away, but enjoy the ride as some quirky elements have been thrown in (like featuring the lyrics from a song which complement the story). The characters are easily identifiable. Some might say they’re quite sterotypical, but the story is somewhat using this to its advantage with a message that stereotypes of ‘perfection’ are possibly not that great after all. The artwork is professional and at least as strong as the winners of this RSoM competition. There are also some little Japanese manga moments which are a nice touch.

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