Sunday, 11 January 2009

Random Roundup Renewed

Well, the second year of 2009's nearly finished so I thought I'd best post as I haven't done so in a while. The main reason for that is it's been too bloody cold! Even with the heating on, I've had to resort to huddling up under a duvet for warmth. Typically, there's nothing on TV again (although I caught another Studio Ghibli film today and will hopefully catch most of another tomorrow) so I've been catching up on my DVD viewing...In Bruges was quite fun (Ralph Fiennes was a revelation while Colin Farrell had fun plying Father Dougal), Mirrors was dull and the special features on the Dark Knight were extremely disappointing---what's the point of featurettes on how impressive IMAX is before showing the six IMAX sequences (already in the main film) AGAIN when it's in a home video format that you'll NEVER be able to appreciate IMAX in? To counter this though, the Hellboy II special features are superb and tonight I'll be watching 30 Days of Night, which I got for my birthday a few months ago but have not yet watched.

One on my New Year resolutions was to get more art done, something easier said than done when this cold snap makes it so hard to even hold pens or pencils. I'd have more chance drawing in my bedroom really as the draught from the window vents (which can't be shut to avoid condensation and mildew problems) cuts right through the living room. I have to try and race to get anything done before I lose sensation in my fingers! To add further complications, I should have cracked open new pens for what I'm working on and so I'm stuck with dodgy pens on this job. New pens will be opened for my next project, a Pjang script, before I start on some samples again.

Just finished reading The Flash Companion, giving me a nice lull before starting the last outstanding book on my shelf that I intend to use to catch up on some letters. I also have another art job for somebody at work which isn't as quick and easy as the caricatures I'm usually tapped to draw but could be more rewarding.

I've also been expanding my comic art history a bit by taking a chance on sampling some work by Milton Caniff, whose work has never really appealed to me but the huge enjoyment I got from discovering Hal Foster's work urged me to try. I found a cheap copy online of the first Steve Canyon collection (originally printed in 1947 following Caniff's departure from Terry and the Pirates to own his own work) so gave it a shot. Rather than hoping my tastes would have allowed me to appreciate it, I should have stuck to my instincts as I'm really struggling with the collection and I've not even finished the second of the four stories! Despite a bold use of black with lush brushwork, the art doesn't wow me like Foster's or Alex Raymond's.
I can see Caniff's influence on a multitude of other artists, most noticeably Frank Robbins, John Romita's 50s work and particularly Jim Aparo (look at the Steve Canyon faces above and tell me that isn't the spitting image of Aparo's Aquaman) but while his characters are varied and distinct, they are usually stuck with the same bored expression. He also gave women unusually Frankensteinian cuboid skulls for some reason.The strip also suffers from the ventriloquism effect of most shots of the characters blabbing incessantly with their mouths shuts and from constantly recapping the plot and using the bizarre habit of calling characters by their full name in conversation, resulting in dialogue like "But, Copper Calhoun, you invited Steve here".

However, I think the format of the Steve Canyon collection does it no favour: in a change from the lovely hardcover landscape-format collections of Flash Gordon, the comic-format Steve Canyon collections cram four daily strips per page but also include the Sunday pages which are sometimes run complete but just as often spread across two pages as dictated by the running of the dailies. The Sundays are much more comfortable to read as they are larger than the daily reprints, which are legible but perhaps too tense to comfortably enjoy.

I tried reading some of the Canyon strips and decided that--as nothing was on TV--to stick the Flash Gordon movie on in the background. I think I made it to the scene where Flash kicks off in Ming's throne room before getting too absorbed in the film and putting the Steve Canyon book down. Derided by many, I make no apologies for my love of the Flash Gordon film--the casting alone (outside of bland choices for Flash and Dale--although both looked great) would give any remake real challenges to top and the plot is a perfect condensation of the most integral elements of the opening years of the Flash Gordon strip. The film's title sequence, using much of Alex Raymond's artwork, made me peruse my collections again and I noticed a swipe!

One panel from 1939 served as the basis for the first appearance of the Golden Age Green Lantern (as above). Raymond's art improved dramatically throughout his work on the strip, going from a fairly grainy style to the clean, elegant style of the panel above that influenced Mac Raboy's 20-year run on the character. Raymond drew Flash for less than half of that but rather than just focus on one successful strip throughout his career would also create other long-running features such as Jungle Jim, Rip Kirby (lasting 53 years) and Secret Agent X9 (co-created by Dashiel Hammett and running for 62 years!).

I've also been poring over the sci-fi art of Wally Wood again and have found a UK dealer that has a cheap copy of an 80s reprint of some of his work, as well as the very last Steve Rude Nexus issue I need...however, there's a minimum order of £10 and these two items are just shy of £4 and I can't think of anything else I'm after! I'm gonna have to rack my brains to see if I can think of any other item...I'd like to search for some Euro comics but would need to see any before I ordered them...

Anyway, a belated Happy new Year and let's hope that February brings the end to all these fitness DVD and begging ads, whatever happened to the holiday and sofa ads, eh?

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