Friday 28 June 2013

MAX ZING available now on Amazon

What if Ming the Merciless had Charlie Brown for a son?

What if Dilbert ruled a space moon?

Why,  it’d be just like Max Zing!

The greatest tyrant of the galaxy has retired and left the Ion Space Empire in the hands of his son,  Maximilian Zing the Not-So-Dread. Only Zing isn't interested in ruling: he'd rather read comic books and play video games.

Can the mighty,  all conquering Ion Empire possibly survive?

Or will Earth hero Jon Jett conquer the great warrior moon and bring peace to the solar system? Buy this book and find out the future before it even happens.

Now available from SLG Publishing on Amazon for your purchasing pleasure. Take a gander. Support your (virtually) local digital artist: give it a buy, five stars, glowing endorsements, and enjoy!

PS. I understand that buying things makes people happy.

Thursday 27 June 2013

The Beat on SLG at Comic-Con '13

The Beat has a brief article up about SLG's presence at the upcoming Comic-Con '13.

Dan Vado will be bringing along an impressive collection of artists, including Jhonen Vasquez, Landry Walker, Chris Wisnia, and Chris Reilly!

Not to be missed.

They even mention my new comic: Rebel Angels!


The walk away from explosions: Blunderbuss Cinema

Way uncool: Flailing about like rag dolls.
Lynda Obst writes that with the collapse of DVD sales, profit margins on Hollywood movies have fallen 50 percent.

According to producer Peter Chernin, the trouble started in 2008. Why do I keep hearing that year being associated with collapse? So odd. Anyway, the studios 'are paralyzed', their golden age of profits receding into the mists of champagne soaked memory.

3D surcharges are not enough.

The domestic market is not enough.

The studios have to look further afield.

Globalization, baby!

Enter Blunderbuss Cinema.

Semi-cool: Driving away from explosion at top speed on a sexy motorbike while wearing sunglasses. 
Mix explosions, bulging biceps, heaving bosoms, sex, cardboard characters, quick edits, chase scenes, gunfire, a pounding soundtrack, simple catchphrases, and lots of noise together, shake, and then blast it at the audience. Stun them into submission with sheer spectacle, overwhelm them with sound and fury that ultimately signifies nothing but box office returns. They'll be too shocked to care about meaning, or even notice its missing. They'll be more worried about their hearing loss.

That's what's coming down the pike. Rather than starting slow and building up, the new paradigm will start with a bang and keep on banging, rushing at break neck speed to a spectacularly senseless, dazzling finish. Yada yada yada, catchphrase, explosions, coolness, The End!

Plots will have massive holes in them (See Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Whatever) and exist only to link together massive, mind-blowing set pieces.

Ka-boom in every language.
The great thing about explosions is that they don't require translation. And the ultimate in cool is the slow, indifferent saunter away from the blast. See for yourself:

Never let them see you sweat.

Huge, lumbering 200-million dollar blockbuster monsters need a world wide audience to feed them. Nothing less will do. They'd starve, and no one wants poor Godzilla (such a cutie!) to go hungry. So dialogue will diminish while explosions and chase scenes multiply like rabbits.

Transformers I, II, and III are perfect examples of Blunderbuss Cinema. These films assault eye balls like they were the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. There's no finesse here, no SEAL team, no elite 007 agent, just brute spectacle and primal emotion run amok, completely untied from reason and logic, with cuts so quick you can't tell what the hell is going onIt's verging on abstract. Think Jackson Pollock painting with a flamethrower. FUWHOOOOSH!

Man of Steel, Oz: the Great and Powerful, Battleship, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mission Impossible, Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens, Wrath of the Titans, Total Recall, G.I. Joe, Fast and Furious, Terminator Salvation, Underworld, The Expendables, Hellboy II, Resident Evil, Prince of Persia, The A-Team, Suckerpunch, Battle: Los Angeles, and Star Trek: Into Alternate History? Blunderbuss.  

Avatar has many elements of Blunderbuss but is elevated by Cameron's superb command of craft. Still: unobtainium? Yeesh. Proof even a genius can slip. On the other hand, Avatar and Titanic are the two highest grossing movies of all time, and that which succeeds you'll see more of. Tranformers III sits at number 6. God help us. The bottom line is that Hollywood is a business, and what we patron is what they make. The Avengers witty punching-fest is third. At least there's hope.

Iron Man III
, oddly enough, rises above Blunderbuss thanks to the wit of Robert Downey Jr, the coolest special effect in the movie. He is the franchise. Well. Plus explosions.
Way cool: the slow saunter.
But will he be necessary in the future? Can he be replaced by a cheaper filter effect?

Has it always been this way? Yes, only now it will be much, much more so.

Personally, I love a good explosion. I've got nothing against beautiful bodies embracing in front of collapsing cities while aliens attack and flames gush out of the earth in the background. My real objection? Glaring plot holes as wide as chasms, terrible dialogue, and twists that make no sense whatsoever. Some logic gaps are going to exist, true, it's the movies, but they don't have to be big enough to fly a planet through.
Planet Explodes: Weak point of the slow saunter.
At least try to plug plot holes so it doesn't look like you have total contempt for the intelligence of the audience. A few fig leaves, at least, to cover that big, lolling narrative obscenity. Don't leave them out in public view for children to see.

Perhaps I'm outgrowing the blockbuster. The movies have left me flat.

As Humphrey Bogart once said, 'We'll always have indie film.' No, really.

For the mainstream, even Steven Spielberg is sounding the alarm, characterizing this as a time of extraordinary upheaval. Half-a-dozen megabudget flops and the industry will be changed 'forever'.

Cue dramatic music.

Thankfully, cable television is stepping into the gap. It's still directed at a domestic market, allowing for more complicated plotting and dialogue.

And the material on offer has never been better.

I can't wait for Game of Thrones to resume.

Can you?

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Take a Trip Back In Time

Tour Shackleton's Hut in Antarctica. It looks like they could arrive back at any moment, almost a century later. Just amazing. Thank you, Google Maps! You've saved me a trip.

Cozy cabin on an empty continent.


Bibliothèque nationale de France

You aren't supposed to take pictures in the library, but I managed to get two before being stopped by a French ninja librarian.

Founded in Charles V in 1368 at the Louvre, it was opened to the public in 1692. Woot!

By 1925 it had 4,050,000 volumes and 11,000 manuscripts.

It's a very impressive space, particularly the Richelieu site, as official photos reveal:

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Trans-Canada Railway

In green and in orange.

Was Michelangelo a Sell-Out?

Hundreds of years ago, Michelangelo Buonarroti lay flat on his back atop an enormous scaffold in the Sistine Chapel, slapping paint into damp plaster. He did this for months. Years, even. When finished, he’d created one of the world's greatest whiplash inducing frescoes. In the centuries since, the definition of what constitutes art has changed drastically. We impose a modern perspective upon Renaissance artists (Michelangelo, Botticelli, Perguija, Ghirlandio, and Rosselli for example) and forget that they worked within a very specific context.

Italy of the 15th century was divided up into dozens of piddly little warring city states, each pushing their own Renaissance art team. Think of a football league, only made up of painters and sculptors.

Looming over these puny fiefdoms was the saintly Catholic Church, which wielded a great big spiritual stick. Just to be on the safe side, it had a conventional army, too, as back up. From his posh marble and gold Vatican HQ, the Pope bullied about the petty, temporal rulers, threatening excommunication for those who failed to toe the line. Then he'd head off to an orgy (Popes were pretty hip back then). The sword of the Sacerdotium was greater than that of the Imperium; the little people knew which buttered their bread.

It wasn't all bad: the Church educated kids, supervised business conduct, governed interest rates, guided political theory, and buttressed moral values and conduct through institutions such as marriage.

Artist guilds slipped the Catholic Church kick-backs (called 'donations') in exchange for the right to work. And the biggest employer, the biggest ad account, was the Vatican’s.

Artisan ancestors of Don Draper were kept busy from dawn till dusk, pumping out everything from nick-nacks for doe-eyed pilgrims to massive, sculpture encrusted cathedrals.

Depictions of Biblical scenes were in high demand, as the population took events in The Bible literally. The Flood was just as real as Confederation, World War II, and the moon landings are for us. No one doubted the world would end in The Last Judgement with lots of explosions and expensive CGI.

Peasants couldn’t read text, which they distrusted, but they could understand iconography, and that’s how painters communicated with them. A whole library worth of signifiers, pictograms within pictures, were stuffed into Renaissance paintings. Modern viewers know little of these symbols, throwing the deeper meaning of Renaissance art out of the layman’s reach. An appended essay, translating symbols back into words, is required for the art to be fully understood.

Of course, back then there was no such thing as an 'aah-tist.’ Berets had yet to be invented and black was just Satanic. Painting was not a calling, but a craft, no different from being a plumber or carpenter, and the skill set was passed down from parent to child, family biz style. Picasso, Raphael, Rockwell, and Mozart were all sons of artists.

Kids didn’t make decisions. Parents did. Autonomy for teens would have struck Florentines as madness. Maybe they knew something we have forgotten.
The Sistine Chapel
Painters weren't sanctified, at least not until after Vasari. Unlike the modern cliché of artist as a moody misanthropic loner, Renaissance artisans worked together in open shops called Botteghe. Like animation studios, sans cubicles.

Artists today stick with it despite starvation and hardship. By comparison, Renaissance artists were a bunch of profit-oriented sell-outs. There. I said it. Leonard Da Vinci himself was a relentless self-promoter, famous for his boastful 'resume'. It was business, and staff would be added or fired according to market forces.

How gauche.

Each shop was run by a Master, who made the master designs and took on the more complicated painting tasks. They’d procure clients, oversee commissions, and organize promotional work. Each shop was carried by the prestige and style of The Master. He was The Brand. A Michelangelo isn’t the product of just one man, but an entire commercial studio. Like Pixar or BBDO.

Apprentices handled drudge work, such as mixing paint. Basically whatever the master didn’t want to get his lily-white hands dirty with. They copied the master’s house style until people couldn’t tell the difference between them. Then they ran off and founded their own studios.

Shops worked on shields and armour as well as altarpieces, keeping diversified, just as freelance artists today will airbrush canvases, T-shirts, vans, mugs, and whatever else you put in front of them. Banners, beds, chests, plates, and drapery are what kept many studios in business. Only a small portion of their work consisted of prestigious altar pieces or what would be considered 'fine' art.

Each altar piece was designed for a specific Chapel, and was meant to be seen in context. Bluntly put, The Master designed it to look good over the couch and compliment the colour of the drapes.

Sculptors made more than just statues of little boys urinating, although there was plenty of that. Sculptors created altar tables, altar rails, ciboriums, tabernacles, architectural decoration, furnished tombs, pulpits, statues, portrait busts, medals, private altars, fountains, and reliefs. Even then you had to diversify to survive. Miniaturists were employed in the illustration of manuals, books, chronicles, and Bibles. Some even stooped to designing fortifications and armaments for their patron Dukes and Princes. Screw peace, they had to make a living.

Studios were heavily regulated by the guild system. To do important commissions, you had to belong. On the plus side, guilds would arbitrate between patrons and artists when disputes arose. Always good to have a big gang armed with clubs when you go to collect. We should bring that part back.

The divide between craft and art begins with Vasari and the insufferable name dropper Benvenuto Cellini, who wrote an autobiography in which he portrayed himself as being a divinely inspired creator deserving of a special category. This attitude was held by many of the men in service to Popes, Princes, Emperors and Kings. Did I mention Cellini knew the Pope? Because he would. Over and over and over again, every time you met him.

The idea of art as a 'quasi-divine' calling met with a collective ho-hum, however, and did not capture the general imagination for hundreds of years. But aah-tists kept at it. Painters were eventually elevated by this change in perception, but craftsmen got shafted.

Michelangelo wrote, “True art is made noble and religious by the mind producing it. For those who feel it, nothing makes the soul so religious and pure as the endeavour to create something perfect, for God is perfection, and whoever strives after perfection is striving for something divine.” 

Quality is its own reward.

Back to the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. Did Michelangelo put a fresh slant on old ideas? Nope: the Catholic Church was not about to let its official line be challenged or usurped, least of all by someone without proper credentials. It’s a great work because of the exquisite draftsmanship, vibrant colours, and powerful composition. All hallmarks of craftsmanship.

And Michelangelo was a superb craftsman, standing far above his contemporaries and wagging his talent in their disconsolate faces. What he illustrated (and I use the word deliberately) were not original ideas torn from his anguished psyche, but scenes from The Bible.

It’s pro-Catholic propaganda, designed to exalt The Church and impress people with the greatness of said institution. Nothing wrong with that. Yet were Michelangelo to do an equivalent work for Pepsi, would it still be regarded as Fine Art, or would he be indignantly castigated as a despicable sell out?

True, Michelangelo believed in God, and there is a difference between product and belief. Yet artists who fervently believed in communism, such as Rodchenko or Melnikov, are derided as mere propagandists.

Jacopo Gallo, instrumental in hiring Michelangelo to execute the Pieta, wrote in 1498 to the cardinal of St. Denis, “And I, Jacopo Gallo, promise his very reverend lordship that said Michelangelo shall finish said work in the space of one year and that it shall be the most beautiful work of marble in Rome, and that no living master shall be able to make one as beautiful.”

Spirituality through the superficial?

Michelangelo began work when commissioned, while today artists reverse the order: they create and then sell. Commission work implies exterior control and influence; for a fine artist such a situation is obviously intolerable. And while modern artists disdain craft and technique, it remains important to their 'lesser' commercial counterparts. The purpose of the commercial artisan is to communicate ideas and emotions. They don't have the option of tacking an essay beside it. Renaissance artists did not use obscure, self-referencing language that confounded the general public. It was not the artists purpose to confuse or obscure, but illuminate.

Modern art is in danger of speaking only to itself, confusing obscurantism with sophistication. Yes, some work is magnificent and ground breaking. Everything fine art should be. No question. Yet there is a dark incestuous, self-referencing side to it.

Work must be evaluated by qualified, credentialed critics. Emphasis on credentialed. The people? The public? Not permitted an opinion, at least not according to decidedly self-serving university professors who combine Maoist self-criticism and art critique.

Art, as defined by the anthropologist Alexander Alland is "play with form producing some aesthetically successful transformation-representation." Art communicates information. Anthropologists have found art to be intimately related to both politics and religion. Marvin Harris, a prominent anthropologist, writes that, “In Western civilization a particular (work) is deemed artistic if specialists who make or judge art and who control the museums, conservatories, critical journals, and other organizations and institutions devoted to art as a livelihood and style of life judge it to be art.”

He goes on to state that the modern Western concept of art excludes everything that has a practical or commercial purpose: art must be strictly non-functional to be considered such.

A hat that can be worn is not art.

Art may be aesthetically appealling, but not too much, lest it become decorative. And the technical execution of a work should be sloppy, lest it be mistaken for craftsmanship.

The distinction between art and craft is a unique aberration of Western culture. Elitist art communities in Canada do not regard skilled wood carvers, basket-makers, weavers, or sandal makers as artists. Anthropologists, on the other hand, do. Sad to think a so-called primitive society has no art simply because their artwork is functional or decorative.

According to Harris, “Establishment art in modern Western culture is unique in emphasizing structural or formal creativity as well as creative transformations. This results in the isolation of the artist. Lack of communication may be caused by factors such as the reaction to mass production, commercialization of art markets, a rapid rate of cultural change, and the depersonalized milieu of urban industrial life.”

Renaissance artists bear little resemblance to today’s modern 'artist', but are remarkably similar to commercial ones. Commercial art is denounced as mere craft, but it should be remembered that it is a self-interested and self-appointed minority who affirm and seek to perpetuate this distinction.

Monday 24 June 2013

Political Factions of Hell

Levellers believe no spirit should ever be elevated over any other, a direct refutation of the apotheosis of The Little Enemy (Jesus). Leveller doctrine asserts the state should be organized in a non-hierarchial way. They spend a lot of their time arguing.

The Anarchists reject all order as inherently calcifying, and were banished to the outer wastelands for being a constant pain-in-the-ass; the Magisterium wanted to keep them away from Chaos and Night, their natural patrons.

Builders, led by Mulciber, work towards remaking Hell into a Paradise. 'Dream big or go home' is their motto. Attempts at weather control are ongoing, and Mulciber's engineers have engaged in endless large scale construction projects. They are funded by Mammon, the Grand Treasurer. Annoyingly optimistic in outlook, they see a half-full glass as an ocean in the making.

The Hydra Ascendant advocate open warfare with Heaven, reject all compromise as a form of weakness, and spend a lot of their time in bars picking fights. Not big on negotiation.
A mixture of technology is employed in fighting, which is incessant
The NOM (Non-Overlapping Magisterium) faction, led by Belial, believe that Heaven, Hell, and Earth should each be left to their own devices, and not interfere in the others internal affairs. Each should be left to screw those they already have dominion over. Tend to file lots of protest letters.
Swarm of demons prepare for battle, led by one of the dreaded Furies
Miscegenists advocate merging demons with humanity through interbreeding, making mankind indistinguishable from the Fallen Angels. Certain to piss of the Big Guy, and a lot of fun in the process. Picky about their membership, they hold the biggest and best orgies. Prefer to live in Hollywood.
Behemoth City of Leviathan, leader of the Levellers
Animists hold true to the original Animus Creed, and reject any concept of loyalty, honour, integrity, or altruism, even between demons. They are, justifiably, trusted by no one and rarely get invited to parties. Have trouble getting organized as their meetings inevitably descend into murderous brawls.

The Limitless believe that they were created by Divine Will, and that everything they do is Divinely sanctioned. They tolerate no limits on their wants or needs, and naturally attract lots of divas and celebrities. Prefer to possess movie stars and Kanye West.
Thermidor, Holdfast of Baal The Brute

Sunday 23 June 2013

Coffee Glyphs

Discovered in Meso-America, these glyphs are believed to have been created by an ancient civilization about which we know next to nothing.

Anthropologists are stumped as to their meaning, and thus this appeal to the public. Can you decipher these mysterious glyphs? What are they trying to communicate to us, across the eons?

Is it a prophecy? Or a warning?

Saturday 22 June 2013

Are they already here?

Or aren't they? Piece on UFOs and aliens and all that good stuff.

Friday 21 June 2013

Swiss Army Knife

Mährchen von der Katzenfamilie

In 1861, Johanna Andreae of Frankfurt published a children's book about a family of cats: Mahrchen von der Katzenfamilie.

She's my great, great, great, great grandmother. One of them, anyway. When I was a kid, my aunt gave me an english translation of the book. I promptly lost it. All I have now is the incomprehensible german version and an image of the cover.


Very cool nonetheless.

The book is listed on Amazon, although none are currently available, and it's likely to remain that way.

Johanna is not the earliest writer in the family. There's another who published a book in 1619.

How far we've fallen. I write comics, which rot the brain and corrupt youth, or so I'm told.

Before there was Garfield… there was Benedict.

Seems like a decent name for a five hundred year old cartoon.

These just scream out for captions. I'm thinking the tone is along the lines of Beatle Bailey.

Slapstick theatre

Thursday 20 June 2013


Illustration for Chatelaine.

Spaceship Design 101: Max Zing and Warlord of Io

I've always loved the work of Frank R. Paul, the man who almost single-handedly designed the Retro-Future.

As the cover artist for Amazing Stories and many other pulp magazines, he created candy-coloured universes of honeycomb  landscapes, bulbous space ships, and bizarre creatures that has never left me.

Enormously productive and endlessly inventive, Paul's work influenced concept design in film, television, and comics for decades after.
Frank R. Paul's magnificent alien landscapes.
When I wrote my ode to sci-fi, Warlord of Io (an obvious play on Edgar Rice Burrough's The Warlord of Mars), I was adamant that it should take visual inspiration from Paul.

It took several years of experimenting before I was able to develop a style that fit the Warlord of Io story. That's right: years. It went through half-a-dozen different looks (I didn't work on it all the time).

The result I think of as 'Vector Deco': it uses gradients to define form rather than line, which is hardly evident at all, anywhere in the book (not counting word balloons). It's a drastic change in approach from Nil.

The approach fits with Retro-Future design, with its smooth spheres and sweeping curves. Major relief! I scaled everything down into a cute mini-verse, where life's round and cuddly and slightly impractical. Or hugely impractical, the sine qua non of cinematic concept design.

That's right. You heard me. When it comes to movies, the cool factor is inversely proportional to the design's practicality. Form is at odds with function.
Retro-Future scene from Warlord of Io. You can see the Frank R. Paul influence.
But who cares? The results are better off for it. Imperial Walkers look awesome.

It's about making stuff that looks neat. It doesn't have to actually work. I mean, who wants that, anyway? Much harder to write.

Once I had a look developed for the characters, I plunged into backgrounds and had a blast. But I also needed spaceships, lots of them, for the numerous chase scenes. Nil: A Land Beyond Belief was very flat and graphic, and I took a shot at doing it that way, but discovered I needed depth. I was altering the viewpoint continuously, and the ubiquitous gradients emphasized volume.

Unfortunately, drawing complicated spacecraft from multiple angles and perspectives would be a grueling and time consuming process, and I was already trying to squeeze a great deal of work into what little free time I had available.

I decided to execute the ships in 3D. Once a design was complete, I could rotate and light it however I needed, reducing the work load and improving the integrity of the ships appearance from shot to shot.
Design of Maximillian Zing's flagship, The Terror. A mash up of Frank R. Paul, Buck Rogers, and a US Navy battleship. Must have been quite a collision. 
The Terror integrated into a panel.
3D programs are tremendously complicated, hurt my brain, and have a long learning curve, so I picked one that is relatively simple and can export vector format files: Swift 3D. It's a good basic program, and easy to get into. My inexperience proved not as much of an obstacle as it might have (Ten-year-olds are far more adept at 3D modelling), as the designs needed to be simple.

In this case, the child like simplicity of the designs worked for me.

Anything too elaborate wouldn't mesh with the mini-verse.
The Terror in colour; lense flares to cover my low end 3D models.
Unfortunately, the vector exports that I thought I'd be able to seamlessly integrate into the panels were not up to scratch: bezier points were placed haphazardly and there were odd artifacts. The shapes just weren't smooth enough. So I changed approach and instead rendered them as bitmaps. Left them untextured, so they had smooth gradients, just like the 2D art work. Again, the designs had to be very simple, too, and consist of basic geometric shapes.

Flagship of the villains: big, bulky, bulbous, and bad ass.
I was happy with how they ultimately meshed together; it isn't as perfect as I'd originally hoped for, true, but screw it. Many mainstream cartoons use 3D elements that are blatantly not hand drawn and stick out far more than my ships do from the surrounding environment. Think of the ballroom scene in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, for example. My ships go with the vector graphics like Elvis and sunglasses by comparison.

Colour test
Designing the ships was a lot of fun, a chance to play in the realm of pulp sci-fi. I established a number of common elements to unite the look of the ships (hydrogen scoops, antennae, gun batteries, sensor pods), and then set about creating the most impractical and ridiculous designs I could. 

Once I started work on Max Zing (for Maximillian Zing, the boy emperor from Warlord of Io), I needed ships in colour. That meant going back to Swift 3D and colouring the vessels. Max Zing was intended to be a 3 panel strip comic, however, and doesn't require changing camera angles.
Battlebrick and escorts come zooming out of the sun.
After some experiments (covering the extreme simplicity of the designs with lighting effects and lens flares), I decided it'd be a lot less bothersome to just do up some simple vector ships from the side and rotate them from shot to shot. The 3D models need more detail and textures to hold up when transferred into full colour anyway.

This is one of the unfortunate things when you experiment: you can lose a lot of time going down a dead end and wind up with nothing but experience and bruises.

The colour tests I threw together wound up not being used in Max Zing, although they may be at some future point.
More lense flares. It is the JJ Abrams era after all.
Test shot of Space Wiking ships. Each has free wifi connection to Wikipedia.
Warlord of Io was been described as "Rip-Your-Brain-Out-Of-Your-Head-Because-You-Won't-Need-It-Anymore-After-This Awesome!" by Michael May of Robot Six. You can check out the rest of his review here.

Available for sale from SLG Publishing here. Heck, it's on sale for only five bucks right now! The deal of the 25th century, I tell ya. Fire up your jet pack and get on over there for a dose of Retro-Future adventure!

UPDATE: And now there's also Max Zing, available online from Amazon.