Monday, January 30, 2006

Things to look forward to in 2006! 

Publisher's Weekly reports that Drawn & Quarterly will be publishing all of Tove Jansson's Moomin newspaper strips in English for the first time! I can't wait to get hold of these! What is unclear is whether the books will be only the strips by Tove herself, or also include those by her brother, Lars. Either way, they're essential! The Moomin books have been read aloud at our house repeatedly (they work wonderfully well this way) and Jansson was definitely an influence on my early drawing style. I've also collected a number of sets of Moomin figures that the children enjoy playing with. Thanks to Greg G for the heads up on this one! The following strip is shades of Lost! :)

Image (c) http://www.muppetcentral.comLately we've been enjoying the first series of The Muppet Show on DVD, particularly Rowlf's musical numbers (he remains a favourite character). Introducing The Muppets to J and L has been interesting. They also enjoy Labyrinth, and the "making of" documentary on there is exceptional for showing puppet design and operation at its most masterful. The latest Muppet news (with them having been bought by Disney) remains the upcoming pseudo-reality show, America's Next Muppet mini series, now in development. Illustration Friday this week is "Glamour" - I hope someone will think to draw Miss Piggy!

On a completely different note, Pink Floyd guitarist/singer David Gilmour has a new album coming up, On An Island. This sounds promising indeed! Gilmour's previous two solo efforts are pretty decent albums (as are quite a few other solo PF efforts). And what is it with birds lately (ie: Kate Bush's Aerial)? Who cares, it's apparently a good thing!

All this and new Doctor Who as well. I look forward to David Tennant's spin on the Doctor in the same way as I had complete faith that Christopher Eccleston was going to be brilliant (he was). The most recent series reinvented the show really well, while managing to retain most of what was important about the original. Currently, J and I are sitting through the repeats of all the earlier series (nearing the end now). For some weird reason this run has skipped nearly all the Dalek episodes (to do with licensing issues at the time of purchase?). It's hard to know when Doctor Who jumps the shark in those early series: I used to think it was when Romana 2 and K9 left, but Peter Davison was so much better than I remember! Colin Baker's episodes were blighted by nasty scripting, repellant characterisation and a weird format, but Sylvester McCoy makes rather a good Doctor, even if the scripts are still a lot more unpleasant than they need to be.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Cats for Illustration Friday 

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When I came to tackling this topic I felt like I wanted to do something a bit geometric. While I initially planned to draw it by hand on paper, I found constructing the shapes in Paintshop worked a lot better. I also discarded the idea of colour, in favour of pure black and white (closer to how cats see things :)).

As I worked on this I remembered the cat illustrator/cartoonist, Louis Wain, who succumbed to schizophrenia (as it was then called), and whose mental illness was reflected in his increasingly abstract work - there's a Gallery here that shows a range of his work, but not from the far end, when the cats had nearly disappeared amid swirls of colour. From what I remember, Wain lived with a sister who had a lot of cats, and was rediscovered after many years of living in an Asylum, by someone who recognised the pictures he was working on. Sadly, he's probably most known these days by students studying psychology, but his work is well worth discovering.

I thought about scanning some sketches of the cats we used to have in addition to the cat design picture I've posted, but maybe some other day...


Monday, January 23, 2006

The Big Heat 

This hot weather is useless for drawing (and not much good for sleeping either)! We're having a little respite tonight, which is a welcome change, but apparently the heat is coming back in time for Australia Day. These 43 Celsius temperatures are tough enough, but thinking that this could be an average lower temperature in 50-100 years (even if we do manage to reduce emissions) doesn't bear thinking about. Apparently, there's still nothing more important than making money for our Government, who are doing their absolute best to scuttle the Kyoto Protocol (which they and the U.S. Govt are still trying to pretend doesn't exist).

Last night the winds rushed in, promising a change that didn't quite come, but we heard trees cracking and were blacked out almost immediately. When we went walking we saw a huge gum snap in the middle and come crashing down on someone's shed. There were quite a few branches down around the place - some lying across the road. I was unable to register that our area was out with our fine power company - their machine listed many other areas, but then apologised for being unable to take any calls and cut the call off. Weirdest of all, calling the other power company diverted to the same message - so they're evidently outsourcing to the same people. That's what I love about the free market: so many alternatives, so little actual choice!

L and I went driving to see how big the blackout was, and it was immense, covering all our neighbouring suburbs, almost as far as could be seen, with businesses and houses alike in darkness. I'm not complaining this time though - today I got a letter saying they will animal-proof the leads on that lower power-box - yay!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

E is 4 for Illustration Friday 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThis week's Illustration Friday topic is "E is for..."

I figured there were going to be enough elephants in the sitting room for this one, so I decided to go for a really literal approach.

The initial black and white sketch took me 5-10 minutes max (it shows :)). When I scanned it in I decided flat colours would make the message a lot clearer, and I had to change a few things that didn't work in flat colours, such as the classic cartoon gloves.

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Silly topic = silly picture! :)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Rock 'N' Roll Fairies Part 6 

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Here's a couple of frames from the latest episode of the Rock 'N' Roll Fairies - the latest issue of Total Girl hit the stands yesterday!

Things are really hotting up as the Fairies do battle with a gigantic purple snake! I love the colours (and they match the cover of TG :)). Dillon's story is taking some unexpected turns and I'm thoroughly enjoying getting the script and drawing each episode - I'm currently drawing ep. 9, which is a turning point for this tale...


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Truly peed off with power company 

Tonight there was a kind of zap sound in the distance and an instant blackout, accompanied by all the cockatoos screeching and dogs barking (some are still going).

I didn't need to wonder what had happened - as previously recorded here in January and April last year, animals and birds regularly fry the power-box that supplies our area. Sure enough, I hiked up to the power-box in the neighbouring street and found a dead cockatoo under the box, burned through to the skin on its front and leg (it's now in a box awaiting burial tomorrow).

So I rang this truly unimpressive power company and reported that the cause of the blackout was the same old thing - so business as usual (only this time at least it didn't cost me the price of a DVD player). I'm sick of it, so I got a number to ring someone tomorrow to complain. Truly, I figure he'll try to weasel out of it by saying how expensive and difficult it is (same as last time), but the cruelty to wildlife and considerable disruption to residents on a regular basis is getting ridiculous. Then there's the other blackouts that I don't mention here - last week we had another usual blackout (for some other reason).

Truly ludicrous!

P.S. I rang the power company today (12th Jan) - apparently the Complaints section was unattended this morning, so I spoke to a sensible-sounding staff member in Maintenance, not that it helped. Our area has had 6 blackouts in the past 12 months - bird, bird, animal, bird, broken flex, tree branch (not necessarily in that order). The cause is broken fuses or transformers, generally caused by bird or animal, and it is possible to limit the problem by animal-proofing with insulated wire (cost $5-6,000). Any transformer that has been active more than 3 times in 3 months gets moved up the list, and will get done when an upgrade is required, ie: 3 fried animals in 3 months might get a result.

As these power-cuts have already cost us a DVD player, and were probably responsible for destroying our hard-drive (replaced under Warranty) - not to mention the cost to wildlife and inconvenience - I do wish this company could get a bit more excited about electricity than this!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sea for IF / Melbourne Aquarium 

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On Thursday, we went to the Melbourne Aquarium, which we’d been meaning to do for a while. The children took sketchbooks, so I thought their pictures would work nicely for the “Sea” theme of Illustration Friday this week.

J’s pics shown here are the Humboldt Squid, and some stripy fish (one of which is called “Old Wife”), and L’s are the Leafy Sea Dragon, Port Jackson Shark, Grey Nurse Shark and Turtle.

As we were queueing up to go in, there were videos playing showing various sharks and sea creatures, which we discussed. It was interesting to see the skeleton of a dolphin, with residual tiny bones indicating the place where back legs existed in their ancestors.

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There was a height chart for kids to measure themselves against the length of various sharks from the aquarium, from the really little ones (Port Jacksons and banjo sharks), up to the largest held, the grey nurse sharks. L wanted to know if grey nurse sharks were dangerous (they certainly look dangerous). I told her how people had thought they were, and had wiped grey nurse sharks out locally and driven them to near extinction everywhere else, with only a few hundred surviving here and there further North. This amused the guy queued in front of us, who was apparently still of the opinion that the only good shark is a dead shark, and said as much to his girlfriend.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWith it being the School holidays, the crowds were pretty full on, even though we got there early. The first section of tanks was very crowded, but I knew it was worth making an effort to look carefully through this section, as a lot of the most fascinating creatures would be there. I have fond memories of going to the aquarium in Sorrento years ago - my favourite was the Cuttlefish, and there were some fine cuttlefish right here in the second tank. They’re wonderful to watch, with their ability to change colour, their strange alien eyes, and their curiosity (they're reputed to be as intelligent as a cat). They came up to the glass and put their tentacles against it, looking as though they were expecting to be fed. Also, in this section were corals, anemones, eels, seahorses, sea dragons and an amazing array of sea fish.

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The next level up had a good range of freshwater life, followed by a rock pool tank where children could handle some animals, and a deeper mangrove tank containing lots of friendly rays and small sharks of various sorts.

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Going back down, we got to a section with lots of tanks of assorted sea jellies (jellyfish), some deep water creatures, and the current star exhibit – a frozen Giant Squid, looking suitably impressive. J drew the picture from a video of smaller Humboldt squid shown in this section.

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Arriving on the bottom level was a bit of relief, as the crowd had room to disperse a bit inside the Main Oceanarium (making it better for sketching). The enormous tank here goes above the walkways, so sharks, rays, fish and turtles are actually swimming above your heads. We were there in time to sit and see divers feeding the animals in the tank, and a girl gave a talk about them, mostly focusing on the history and plight of the grey nurse shark (along the lines of what I’d told L earlier - I wonder if that guy stuck around for it :)).

Image hosted by Photobucket.comLastly, there was a simulator ride (which oddly seemed to be set in an ice station, and had nothing to do with the sea) and a shop with all kinds of aquarium related toys. I think the key to getting the most out of the Melbourne Aquarium is to spend plenty of time at each individual tank, looking closely at the wide variety of creatures – it's well worth visiting!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe 

While this is a good film overall, it is definitely as overlong as the title, and in need of an edit. J and L enjoyed it thoroughly, and have both heard the book read aloud. J has spoken to a number of her friends since seeing it and they also enjoyed it, apparently without having read the book. As a film on its own, it is certainly a success, though my (major) reservation about the ponderous length stands. I’m not sure why every film these days needs to be of epic length!

Throughout the entire film there are numerous reaction shots – closeups of the faces of characters as they look long at each other, or some bit of scenery. This adds considerably to the length, particularly in the pre-Narnia sequences. The morality of all the children in the film seems questionable, with their hiding (after accidentally breaking a leadlight window) here being their motivation for getting into the Wardrobe, and their consistently selfish and indifferent attitude to the denizens of Narnia often leaving a bad taste. Maybe this is modern religious morality at work, as opposed to the higher morality clearly espoused by Lewis in the books, but it works against some of the positive elements.

The casting of the four lead child actors is excellent. Their ages have been separated further than in the books, but all four carry their roles well and with conviction. Mr. Tumnus the faun is performed with vulnerability and warmth. Tilda Swinton is in fine form as the Witch, able to be charming or coldly repellant by turns – a brave piece of casting that pays off.

The creatures are beautifully computer animated, with the Beavers being an absolute triumph (particularly in contrast with the costumed travesties of the BBC TV adaptation a decade or so ago). Aslan is a mixed success – at times coming across as the required iconic spiritual leader, and at other times coming across as a slightly awkward composite of CGI lion and Liam Neeson’s voice, which seems to want to drift off towards a narrative role.

There is a failure to really build the relationship between the children and Aslan, particularly where they walk with Aslan (a key passage in the books). This sequence also leads to one of the most oddly abrupt jump cuts, from their concealment to the gathering monsters.

Susan has (as in the books), the most thankless role – while well-acted, her character is awkwardly set up. Her line about a “man in a red suit” makes no sense at all, given that Father Christmas in this film is in more traditional (non-red) costume. And her intitials (SP) on the quiver he gives her can only be regarded as cheesy in the extreme. The conflicted Edmund, by contrast, is well-developed, and the sibling dialogue between all four children is convincing.

The changes made from film to book sometimes serve the plot well enough and sometimes not. Having Edmund encounter Mr. Tumnus - and the consequences of his actions - in the Witch’s dungeons, makes complete sense.

However, the protacted and invented scene involving crossing a melting river, slows the action, makes no logical sense (the wolves cross on the rocks above and actually get ahead of the children), gets bogged down in nonsensical dialogue and leads to some bad jump cuts, setting up cliched “near-drowning” sequences. In particular, Maugrim, the Chief Wolf, is ineffectual in a way he never is in the book, failing to dispatch Mr. Beaver while he can. The protracted conversation with him seems to only serve to showcase the screen cuteness of the wolves (a problem in any case), and the fight with Peter couldn’t be more Hollywood, or different from the vivid description in the book, both in feel and meaning. (I’d also like to know how The White Witch gets her war chariot from an overlooking rockpile onto the battlefield.)

The soundtrack works well, forming a tight synergy with the pacing and direction choices, being willing to cover broad musical ground (it even drifts toward ambient rock at points - something Howard Shore’s humourless and conventional orchestration on “The Lord of the Rings” films would never do).

In every other respect, the film of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe tries to be literal to the book. It works hard to establish the gritty reality and dark rooms of a world that I never imagined as gritty or dark. The houses of Tumnus and the Beavers lack any sense of warmth at all, and the stony countryside where Aslan’s army gathers seems far from the beautiful green hills of an imagined Narnia. The influence of Pauline Baynes (illustrator of the books) is felt in many respects, such as the decision to make Lucy brown-haired rather than blonde, and the composition of many images, but the warmth and lightness of her touch is absent. Also lost is C.S. Lewis’s distinctive leavening humour.

While this is a fine film featuring strong casting and set pieces, and very entertaining, it somehow falls short of capturing Narnian magic. A tighter edit could well consolidate its many strengths.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Packed letterbox! 

Today a whole bunch of stuff arrived by mail!

Jill heard the Postie say "Fair dinkum!" as he beheld a highly decorated envelope from Jase Harper, containing a copy of his fine collection of comics work, Guh!.

My package from Lulu arrived, containing Platinum Grit graphic novels and comics, a collected Hairbutt the Hippo Funnies and a Maggie McFee compilation. Australian comics rock! Lulu still has "Super Saver" (free) shipping until February.

A copy of the magnificent The Book of Ballads, edited (and largely illustrated) by Charles Vess also arrived and it contains so many of my favourites, adapted in graphic form - possible review soon...

On the music front, I received a compilation sampler CD from my mate Paul in Belgium (thanks!), which I'll be happily listening to while I draw. I've started on that Portfolio piece and am working up the background as collage, which is a journey of discovery...

We went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe on New Year's Eve, and I will try to review it soon. Maybe the fact that I didn't feel compelled to write about it straight away is a sign of my ambivalence about it :).

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Flavour for Illustration Friday 

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This frame from an upcoming comic story, featuring Moth & Tanuki, seemed somehow appropriate for this week's Illustration Friday topic.

We're currently trying out some ideas and recipes from The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet and this isn't in there :). Apparently, everyone else is also trying this diet right now, as the row for Tandoori paste in the Supermarket was completely empty.

This topic didn't do much for me. Overall, I'm pretty fed up with the glut of affluent cooking shows and books, and the amount of time, money and attention devoted to attempting to cook and eat every living thing on the planet (think Tim Flannery's The Future Eaters, which is pretty relevant right now).

Healthy eating is definitely of interest, though I'm not making any resolutions about being strict about it.


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