Monday, 15 January 2018

You know, for kids!

This is not a rant about the good ol' days.

I am guilty of having read and watched tons of garbage (together with some pretty good stuff).

I gravitated towards narratives which had clear cut characters or conflicts (like good vs. evil).

Countless episodes or issues in cartoons and comics I loved were patronizing, pandering, schmalzy or conciliatory.

(not books though. Never read much kids lit.)

However, the things I always responded to in a story were:

1) a strong obstacle (be it an antagost or a situation) which had to be WORKED AGAINST, and with some effort.

2) relatable, recognizable, understandable BEHAVIOUR.

I understand the desire to promote role models, especially in stories aimed to a young audience.

I took some of the fictional characters as role models of courage, integrity, intelligence, coolness myself. From MacGyver to Peter Parker.

And I understand these were largely unrealistic characters either in skills or attitude.

So this is not a plea for totally realistic characters in fiction either.

However (again), what is the use of children stories where nobody ever gets mad, offended or nasty?

Where kids never lie (if only out of fear) or try to get even after being mistreated?

Where no real efforts have to be made to reach goals.

Where failure never occurs?

I suppose we want to present an ideal picture of the world to kids, but what about being honest about how the world and people actually are?

To present stories devoid of realistic human emotions and behaviour (even when not exemplary) is not only dull.

Is downright irresponsible.

Monday, 27 November 2017

HBO's WATCHMEN (part 1)

Sound like good news, isn’t it?
Damon Lindelof never hid his appreciation of Moore & Gibbons’ seminal comic book mini-series, which clearly influenced LOST (the non-linear structure, the mythology showcased through faux-documents, the multi-character perspective, often showing the same events from different points of view, the vonnegutian time-traveling consciousness and so on).

Besides, I didn’t dislike LOST at all, even the much-hissed last season.
I always thought the show was an experiment in story telling excess: how many twists can a plot sustain? How many double-triple-quadruple crosses are possible (both within the story and within the STRUCTURE of the story).

If the whole point was to create an almost endless series of mysteries, wrapped in riddles, inside an enigma (this is a quote), then the show delivered.

And isn’t a mini –series on HBO the natural fit for a story like WATCHMEN? Dark, edgy, detailed, ornate? Didn’t HBO produce THE WIRE, which Alan Moore publicly praised?

And while people can have problem with Zack Snyder’s turgid adaptation from 2009, doesn’t the fidelity to the details of that version bid well for any other future adaptation? Any other creative team will be forced to either approximate that level of accuracy at some level or at least replace it with something equally worthy.

Well: no, no and no.

As a general rule, any news about an adaptation of Alan Moore’s work cannot be good news.

1) I'm kind of wary of adaptations in general and particularly of works with a very high reputation or that are regarded as pinnacles in a particular art form.

It is possible that not all arts are created equal.

Some art forms do not have to put up with adaptations. Nobody will ever make a movie out of Beethoven's 5th symphony (now that I think of it, maybe someday someone will).

Other art forms, like the stage play, or the radio play, can probably translate very well in to other forms.

I suppose that fiction has an inherent "cross-adaptability" and the same material can be presented on stage, on the written (or drawn) page or on the silver screen.

But would anybody think of making a literary adaptation of Vertigo or Citizen Kane that would rival in WORTHINESS with the original?

Landmark works in art are usually not such because of the material or the plot, but rather because of the execution, and brilliant executions usually take advantage of the specifics of the art form in question.

Which brings me to point 2

2) Watchmen is such a work. It does things that are only possible in the art form of comics, making thus any attempt to adapt the work possibly pointless.

Unless, the original work is used as a starting point to build something different. If this is the case, then I have a lot less of an issue. This has happened repeatedly in history. Often such adaptation change a LOT from the material, even the title and that is a sign that the adaptation is something DIFFERENT.

Of course this makes only sense in a world where the WATCHMEN adaptation is happening for art's sake. If the writers and producers were simply attempting to create a great work of art out of another work of art.

But we all know that this is not the case. 
I will allow some bona fide intentions to Lindelof and the producers, but I think we all know what is the reasoning behind this upcoming series: we have a valuable IP and we want to turn it in to a hype, in the wake of productions like marvel/Netfilx series or Games of Thrones.


Why not, though? this won't replace or obliterate the comic book, on the contrary, it will probably rekindle the interest in it. And there is a demand for it, from fans!

That's another problem. I cannot stand this hunger for FILMED adaptation of comics or books we love. As if it is necessary to us. I do not need a movie to portray what's been in my imagination. If anything, the ones who should be attracted to adaptations are people who are NOT familiar with the material.


But anyway, the biggest argument against any adaptation of Moore's work has to do with the history of Alan Moore's relationship with DC/Time Warner.

Up until 2003 Alan Moore had no major issues with having his work adapted. Partially because he understood that it was the nature of the game in the writing business (any sensible writer will tell you that film options and film rights are one of the most substantial sources of revenue for a writer), partially because back in the day, comic book adaptations were not that big of a deal as they have become since. He thought there was little harm in getting paid for options and having a studio developing an adaptation, because most of the time the project would get stuck in development.

In those years he used to play along; back in 1990 he even gave Sam Hamm's first draft some credit, even though it changed a lot of stuff from the comic. I suppose he was just being nice.

Even after Moore's relation with DC had soured (not lastly because of DC's title trick played in order to keep the publishing rights on WATCHMEN) the author had no fundamental issues with adaptations, as long as he could distance himself and was not demanded to participate in the promotion.

One of the first adaptations to be actually produced was a Justice League Episode based on "For the Man Who Has Everything", a Superman annual story written by Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, which has always been regarded as one of the character's best.

Moore has reportedly been generous towards this adaptation. and furthermore it was a story involving a Character he himself did not invent.

Things started to get bad after the From Hell and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movies. They were both critical and box office disappointments, and deservedly so.

Moore probably started getting wary of his name being associated with bad movies rather that with the FAR FAR superior original material.

But still, he seemed cool enough, and quoted Raymond Chandler when people questioned him about his work getting ruined, showing them shelfs full of his books and saying: "See? The movies did not ruin my work. It is still here."

But then things got bad after the lawsuit.


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Ira Schnapp

Sounds like Gerhard Shnobble or one of those made-up names from Eisner's The Spirit.

He was the designer of the Superman comic books masthead/nameplate (admit I had to google for the right term: according to which side of the pond you live the masthead/nameplate is the "title logo" that magazines or other periodical publications sport on the front cover).

I was actually looking for the person who designed the definitive "S" shield logo.

One of the many thropes of the super hero genre started by Superman, was the idea that a hero's costume would implement some sort of symbol, emblem or crest, often boldly displayed on the chest.

I can only speculate where this idea could have originated.
Frank Miller proposed his theory in a conversation with Will Eisner (conversation transcribed for the posterioty in the must-read book "Miller/Eisner" - a book that still injects me with some residual respect for Mr. Miller, or at least for his past output, but I digress..) that the printing quality was so shitty that characters had to wear their name spelled out in order to be recognized.

The Superman symbol went through a number of permutation in its eighty-years history, and gets regular redesigns to this day with every new reboot, be it on paper or on the silver screen.

However, one version of the symbol got to be the "official" (or rather trademarked) variant and I wanted to know who did the job.

Unfortunately I was not able to find out. But in my internet scouting for an answer I stumbled upon Ira Schnapp.

Comic-books historian and man with a taste for flamboyant outfits Arlen Schumer has a full lecture on this lesser known artist, who helped shape so much of the DC graphic identity over the years.

Likewise, calligraph extraordinaire Todd Klein dedicated quite a few posts to him on his blog. It' all worth reading.

Comics are a visual medium. On the top of my head I can only think to advertisement as the only other discipline that worked that extensively on the cusp where words become VISUAL OBJECTS, with meaning emanating not only from the IDEA sealed in the word, but from its visual presentation.

But advertisement is not an art (a pretty big statement I do not want to unpack here, even though I anticipate some antagonism to it), while comics is (note the singular).

Monday, 19 June 2017


("kans"= chance, opportunity + "arm"= poor, low, lacking)
 A Dutch word literally meaning "lacking opportunities" or "disadvantaged"
It is the preferred word in the public discourse for low-income/lower class people, often immigrants (or children thereof).
For some reason this word sits uncomfortable with me.

It's like we do not want to say "poor".
Like, "they wouldn't be poor, if they only had the opportunity".
Like, we cannot call these people poor, because they have SOME money.
Or like we don't want to offend them.
"Poor" sounds more like a condition you cannot change.

Why don't call them "wealth-challenged"?
(I must say the term "underprivileged" is as much as lame. It's like "we are all privileged. Just, some are more privileged than others")

Well it does not take living under a bridge to be poor. It all depends on how your neighbors are doing.

I promise you, if you TODAY, with your current wage, your current house, car and family would move to Beverly Hills, between Brad Pitt and, I don't know, Miley Cyrus or whatnot, you would feel f***ing poor. You would look with CONTEMPT to your shabby l'il house, your cheap furniture and your crummy-ass garden half covered in weeds, half covered in burnt-brown grass.

I thinks it's denial.
Saying "She's from a poor family", is too definitive and confrontational.
It means poor people exist.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Big Decisions

Often what we call "big decisions" ain't nothing but small velleities.
Take me. I was chatting with my friend Fabio, in the typical internet hyperbolic fashion, and wrote "Sometimes I just want to get it over with everything and become a stand-up comedian!".
So this idea keeps hanging around in the back of my head for a couple of days and I think "hey, I should really get serious about it"
But you understand pretty quickly you ain't going to have much of a career in comedy when the first thing you do after making that decision is to google "how to come up with jokes".

Tuesday, 26 April 2016


Some new stuff, once more for a card/invitation (it seems it's all I do nowadays)

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

From Life

Spidey, Lee, Kirby, Chabon, factoids and pics

I didn't know about this interesting story appeared in the New York Post

Long story short: Spider-Man name and outfit could have been inspired by an Halloween costume produced by the company Ben Cooper, Inc.

Nobody actually claims it and it could be a bit of a stretch, but there are some clues that make this theory fascinating.

1) The outfit has a webbed motif, and the mask presents a spider-web centered between the two holes for the eyes.

2) The name Spider-Man was printed on the suit

3) The model was discontinued by the company, who replaced it in their catalog with an actual licensed Spider-Man costume, the first licensed Spider-man product (or maybe even Marvel's first licensed product) in early 1963, long before Spider-Man reached popularity.

4) In his book The Silver Age of Comic Book Art Arlen Schumer claims that the creation of the Hulk may have been the popularity of the Frankenstein 1961 toy, which displayed a green-skinned creature on the box (hence the mandate to color Hulk green, instead of its original grey) - This as well is an assumption, not supported by any evidence, but if true, it reinforce the idea that Marvel was not shy of picking up ideas and trends from toy producers

I must stand with Ditko, who rebuts the "accusations" (if we can call them) and says that clippings alone do not equal proof. Besides, Spider-Man suit design, however unusual, is very much in line with other Ditko stuff.


On the theme of creatorship and credit, I discovered Michael Chabon has written a short story about two ageing comic book creators, who essentially are a thinly-disguised fictional version of Lee and Kirby.

I haven't read the story... yet.

More on it soon.


It was John Romita's idea to kill Gwen Stacy.


This Supergirl illustration is beautiful.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Best of the worst

Friday, 8 April 2016

A long essay about INKING

Still swamped by family and work obligation that keep me away from the drawing board, I try to move things along anyway.

I had plenty of story ideas, didn’t need a new one, but a friend of my challenged me by passing me a short poem and challenging me to make a comic out of it.

I took the challenged and scripted the thing in a couple of days.

I did some preliminary sketching and now I’m off to the actual drawing.
Funny thing is that the opening panel (that has now become the opening splash page) is the hardest thing in the whole story.

So I’m taking my time with it, not wanting to mess it up right off the start.

And of course I’m already fearing the moment I’ll have to ink the mofo.

I’m a pretty bad inker. My good friend Taiyo still satirizes me about it. And for a reason.

I tried to look at the masters to see what I can pick from them, but still I felt very much like a guy on a first date as described by Louis CK: “A blind dick in space, thrusting into infinite directions”.

And it’s not that I don’t know what style I want to work with (which is a problem, but a problem I do not want to solve by just picking one style and sticking to it, but rather through sheer perseverance to find MY style).

It’s that I don’t know what I’m doing when I ink. Am I tracing? Am I drawing? Am I improvising?

I often thought it was the pencils. Should they be tight? OR not? It’s the pen or brush I’m using?

So I sat down. And started to think.

And suddenly I think I have it.

It’s about RENDERING.

The comic art I grew up on and I still love, it’s as much a product of the artists as it is a product of the limitation of reproduction techniques (and I’m no longer talking about vision-challenged genitalia).

The solid black line art so typical of comics was dictated by the inadequate printing tools and the poor paper used for comic books and newspapers for many decades.

Because of this, artists had to develop this specific graphical language that could suggest reality.
Out of this necessity a sort of “grammar of the lines” was born, a grammar stillin use today.

This "grammar" was further advanced by the fact that comic books were printed in colors. Cross hatching, dry brushing and other visual devices were no longer used to represent different tones. This solid-black-lines-based style emphasize CONTOURS rather then TONE VALUES and somehow cemented in my mind the idea that LINES were the fundation of the art.
Well, WRONG.


I've written it large and centered, so I won't forget it.
I should put it on a cue card and place it above my desk.

Of course there are a whole lotta elements that need be there in an illustration or a panel: composition, anatomy, body language, use of negative space and so on.

Cartoonists should better be good at a LOT of things that do not always come together.

But when time comes to finish an illustration, rendering is vital.

Hair, tone, textures, reliefs, clothing. The ink drawing has to suggest the tone, rather than draw the contour.

So I have come up with 4 tips, four exercises for myself first, but hopefully for anyone who may be struggling with inking.

1) Practice ALLA PRIMA ink drawings.
Either copying other artists' stuff, or photographs, or out of your own head, practice drawing with no pencil drawing or sketch underneath (maybe just a few marks to get the proportions right).
This should help developing this skills
a) build up confidence, which usually translates in fresher, more appealing drawings
b) train you to think in terms of final inked art.

2) Copy the artists you like the most and whom you consider the best inkers IN PENCILS
Since my issue in particular with pencils art that does not instruct or even suggest much about the actual final inked rendering, I decided to do some reverse engineering and train myself to think in terms of final art FROM THE PENCILING STAGE.
Make the pencil pass not only about getting the proportions, the pose, the expressions right, but be mindful of what the final art will need.

3) Shamelessy rip-off shorthand ways to do stuff.
My shortcomings as an inker come across more blatantly with some aspects rather than others.
One way around this is locating those problem areas (rendering of hair, thickness of contour lines, placement of shadows) and JUST COPY SOLUTIONS from artists you think solve those problems brilliantly.
This approach in general can be applied to a lot of other aspects, not only the inks, but layouts as well.
I do not see much disgrace in borrowing or even stealing solutions from the masters. There is a downside, though: this way you do not think about how the artist came up with his/her shorthand way of rendering something in the first place. And lack of knowledge or awareness usually translates in poorer art and will limit your range when faced with a new problem you cannot find a solution for in one of your masters' ouvre.

4) Don't do anything.
Which seems pretty much a in contradiction with what I just written, but stay with me for a second will ya?
While my inking has been mocked since those distant school days, my skills as a draftsman received some praise. This is not the place to brag or even defend my work, but I think it's safe to assume I have some skills and that my sketches do have some value.
Since modern technology does no longer require inking in solid black and white, why bother? Why not just use the techniques I'm most comfortable with OR just do with INK what I do with pencils or any other tool, without the urge to learn how to render?
Play to my strengths.

I should give this a try.

I suppose I just need practice and that improvements will come as a result of all of the above.

I'm not certain this long rambling made any sense to anyone other than myself, but I really needed to put it down.

Here below some links.

this tutorial is so far one of the best I've ever found.
Even the greatest masters are often unable to deconstruct and rationalize about their own processes, making art teaching a very rare skill
MAD illustrator Tom Richmond has the ability to break it down in a very accessible and straightforward language and deals with the "pressure" element of inking with actual ink (the irreversibility of the process makes it often a bit scary) using tools like brushes and quills which we do not use much in "real life".

It is not like taking a class or practicing, but it provides some very good insights.

The following tutorial by Joe Kubert suffers from some of the flaws I was writing about: Kubert is not breaking down HOW he does it, but even only watching a master at work is of some help.

Comic Books Youtube Bonanza

It looks like the only thing left about the internet I still enjoy is browsing through YouTube looking for insightful video or audio documentaries.

here are some about comics:

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Just links

I'm terribly lazy and I have no time for a proper Blog entry.

Still these is pretty good stuff and I don't want to forget to share it