Sunday, December 25, 2005

Osamu Tezuka - Phoenix

I really should be better at updating this blog! The initial idea was to actually pop in every now and then after "comic book day" (ahhh those lovely Wednesdays!), and do a little rant on the titles I picked up. Alas real life tends to cramp this plan a little, so now my next post is 2 months later! Anyhow, I just wanted to spotlight some books I've been picking up from one of my favorite artists: Osamu Tezuka

I've always been a fan of tezuka's Astro boy since I was kid. And I believe seeing the end credits where Astro ("Mighty Atom" for the purists out there!) is slowly being animated frame by frame made me want to jump into doing animation! Suffice to say, I've picked up the classic series (the color ones not the B&W) as well as the recent revamp DVDs. I've always thought that Astro Boy was my favorite work that Tezuka ever did. It was just such and amazingly fun concept, fun world and his designs were so solid.Then Lo and Behold, I finally got a chance to start reading Phoenix.

Wow. This series is absolutely stunning stuff. From The scope, the depth, the amazing art to the utterly genius layouts that Tezuka employs in the service of his story, it all knocked my socks off. Really. My socks. Off. At first I didn't want to read it because the character to me looked like a chicken version of betty boop. I'm a fool! Tezuka's ability to tackle different genre choices, character types and storytelling pacing is showcased to the fullest in this series. The Astro Boy comic books have nothing on how the Phoenix books are composed and laid out. Tezuka is given free reign in this Graphic novel format, so he can eat up as many or as little pages as he wants in order to slow down and speed up the action, mood or emotions he wants to convey. Add to this is Tezuka's impeccable draftsmanship and compelling stories and you have a killer series of books. I've only read the first 3 graphic novels, and I'll be sharing some of the pages here with you (so watch out! Spoilers!). First, I'll give you a quick summary of what the 'Phoenix' series is supposed to be about. Sorry if I geeked out so early, you probably have no idea what I'm geeking out about!

It's mainly supposed to be Tezuka's life's work. The story spans from the early, early beginnings of Japan's History all the way to the very very far flung future, where humans have colonized outer planets. Tezuka gets ambitious and every book actually jumps from differing time periods. The first book starts at the very dawn of Japan, then the second book occurs at the end of the world. As the series progresses, he keeps alternating between past and present until finally at the end, the series is in modern time, tying all the plotlines together and painting the big picture. Sadly, I read somewhere that Tezuka passed away before he finished the series (He finished twelve of the books... and that's incomplete???).

Tezuka's character designs are so good throughout this series, I definitely will have to swipe some of them! His influence is so strong in modern day Japanese pop culture, it's hard not to catch glimpses of him. Check out this design on the right from a
Japanese Playstation 2 game called Remote Control Robot Dandy SF. (on the right is the video game design and on the left is a snippet from Tezuka's book)

Take a look at the girls' anatomy from her thighs to her foot, how they just almost taper to a point. Very similar treatment in Robot Dandy's girl character. Also the very delicate hands and the nice graphic hair, all traits Tezuka nails solid, is very evident in the character designers choices in Robot Dandy. Great stuff! I just love how Tezuka draws this character! Let's take a look at a page early on in book 2. Heh. Can't get enough of that girls' thigh to foot ratio!

His use of blacks to balance out a page or to draw attention to story telling points are great. And his storytelling flow is at it's finest in this series. Look over to the left. Panel 7, here is great, as it does 2 things. One, it breaks it's borders, giving the gun draw a more agressive, violent action. And two, it goes right into panel 8 and into the man's mouth, emphasizing his anger and intent to shoot the poor girl. Then just for kicks let's go to panel 9 when he frames the man's white glove (with the gun of course!) with his own shadow, striking the highest contrast to the focus of the panel and furthering the point of the sequence.

Okay, soak it in and now let's move on to another page. Here's a technique he uses that we don't see so much in comic books nowadays. He depicts emotion, feeling and sound, as an image, In this page on the right. A young boy is playing a musical instrument for the Phoenix. Instead of having a narrator or an outside listener cue us in that the music sounded "beautiful, full of texture and melodic..." well Tezuka DRAWS it! And the effect becomes more powerful than the written word. Our imagination fills in the blanks and the mood of the story isn't bogged down by our 'hearing' a narrator tell us it sounded beautiful. Our brain fills in what it may have sounded like through the visual cue. Tezuka also chooses a big panel to depict this in. Giving that event serious importance as well as making the instrument's sound a whole lot more... grandiose.

Now I'm just gonna flood you with some absolutely stunning panel layouts. These can be found in volume 3 of Phoenix. This first one (below this paragraph) is the at the beginning of the story, where the crew emerges from their deep sleep. What Tezuka does is he 'breaks' general comic book reading flow by having each individuals' panel sequence be laid out vertically. But for us since the reader is used to reading left to right (or right to left as in it's original form) we're getting a slice of all these sequences, from different points of views happenning at once. We have a pretty omnipresent view of the whole crew as they emerge from separate compartments and MEET in one space towards the bottom. Hard to explain in words, better to just read it! Go ahead! Click on it! It looks good big too!

When I first saw this sequence, I cried. Okay not really, but I cried on the inside! Absolutely amazing stuff. Simply done, and done all throughout and pushing the story forward by doing this. It's Tezuka absolutely show-timing it. And it's stunning.

Here's another page where he starts using 'reader flow' to his advantage. This sequence is basically set up to give the reader a 'group memory' of a character that the crew is reminiscing about. Instead of showcasing the memories one by one sequentially, Tezuka throws all the thoughts together and gives us a big view. It's also great how he has a little picture of who's having which thought on the character, and 'seeing' it from their point of view. Great stuff. Wish I did it!

And that's it for me for today! Tezuka is the man! Till next time, Adeeeyos, God Bless and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Frank Robbins


How about them apples? My sites been up for ages but I've always been neglecting this part of it! And what is 'this part of it', you may ask? Why, it's a place where I can absolutely rant inncessantly about one of the greatest loves of my life: comic books. I figure it's much safer for me to dork out here about the Frank Robbins Shadow books I picked up at San Diego Con than to some absolutely random poor schlob on the streets! Honestly, I find I have to express my thoughts on some of the comic books I get, otherwise I feel like I might blow up! Once I get my sequential art rantings and geek- outs off my chest though, it's safe for me and innocent bystanders to walk the streets once again! So lemme start it off!

If you came in here through my website, you may have noticed that the characters on there are some superheroes I made up when I was a kid. Gunman, Vaser, V-2 and Captain-T were just some of my favorite childhood superheroes that I made up. I've just found recently that's it's been pretty liberating and actually very joyful for me to TRY to think like how I did when I was a kid and add that into my work. Apparently I was pretty prolific in my young age. I was spitting out tons of comics and ideas. Thank you very much to my Dad who always took home some paper for me to draw on from work, and my Mom who kept all my comic books all these years (who knows maybe I'll do more of these "revamps")! Maybe visiting my old comics also brought back a sense of nostalgia? Of the good old days? Back when I didn't have a care in the world and I would submerge myself in the fictional world bound together between folded pieces of paper and 2 strips of stapler wire.

So when I went to the SD con this year (2005) it's no surprise that some of the comics I sought out there were a mix of nostalgia and respect. I've been recently getting into Fr
ank Robbins' art, or better still I've been starting to understand it. One of the very first comic books I ever bought was the DC comics run on The Shadow. Now, in the Philippines (that's where I grew up by the by), original US comics are expensive. So I believe this book company in the Philippines called National Book Store did reprints and sold them there for cheap. Of course there were only a few select comic books. So I never really could 'follow' an on-going series. Anyways! The first comic book I can remember buying was The Shadow #7. Can't remember how old I was, but I do remember plowing through a huge batch of piled up comic books to get it! Never really knew the Shadow then, nor really knew of Frank Robbins' work, but I guess I must've liked what I saw somehow!

It's just recently that I've learned that I would appreciate an artists work when I'm able to 'understand' it. Can't quite put it in words but it's a certain point in my aristic understanding that I start to get and appreciate another artists work. Otherwise people could recommend it to me or say someone was brilliant, but I'd think it looked bad. For instance, I didn't like Charles Schulz's work. I didn't like peanuts. I didn't like the way it looked. Yeah, I was a moron; I didn't 'get' it. But when I did? My brain exploded. It was mess. Serious.
Here's another example: I hated Jack Kirby's work. Hold on, hold on don't freak out on me! Hated it because I didn't understand it, my brain was too small. Lockjaw? Dude, looking at that thing made me wanna puke. Something about the line weight of his moustache! Nowadays I LOOOVE Kirby's stuff (this'll be another different post!). Something clicked. Same deal with Alex Toth. And now with Frank Robbins (I haven't understood them yet but I'm making my way to Milton Caniff and Noel Sickles!).
Frank Robbins' stuff is amazing! At the San Diego Con I bought his DC Shadows #5, #7, #8. I simply am awestruck with his shadow stuff, it's so loose, so free and dynamic! I love his inkwork, the brusyness of it all. My artwork gets way too tight and if I could even get a fraction of the confidence he has when he lays down his blacks? I'd be a pretty happy camper! On the sides are pages 5 and 12 from The Shadow #7. Take a look at page 12's last panel where the S
hadow shrugs the cops off by acting " a steel spring uncoiling...". That line and this specific panel burned itself into my brain when I was a kid! I loved the imagery and the wording of it! On my nostalgia trip, reading through the issue, I even went so far as to read the letters page in this book (c'mon you do it too!). Apparently, people back then HATED his work on the shadow ( and apparently they still hate it now!). I guess everybody loved Kaluta's prior run, that when Frank Robbins filled in, they got all thrown off by it! Here, I'll quote you statements from letters in The Shadow #7:"As usual, the writing and the story were good. I wish I could say the same about the art. I own a Detective comic with Frank Robbins' art for The Batman. I dislike that art. On The Shadow, I dislike it even more.
In order to make up for issue#5, issue #6 has to better than the masterpiece Mike Kaluta promised" -Michael A Berger

Ouch. As an Artist by trade I can tell you nothing hurts more than people wanting ANOTHER artist to make up for your horrible art . Here's another fav of mine:

"The magazine hit the stands Wednesday. I picked it up and glanced through it between fits of uncontrollable rage. After I brought it home and knocked down a Dr. pepper to regain control, I read it. Boy was I wrong! I liked it!! Granted , it was a different artist with a different style, but it was actually good enough to relate the stories occuring in the "dirty thirties". And When I got back to the letters page and read that Kaluta would be back with a masterpiece, I screamed with joy.
Don't get me wrong - I want Kaluta permanently on The Shadow. But if you can't keep him, then I want Robbins." -Robert Kovalski
Double ouch. My favorite line: " was actually good enough ..." wow what a compliment. And with Roberts last line I'm sure he meant well but lemme tell ya, it absolutely SUCKS to be someone's second choice! Take it from me I'm pretty good at it! Hmmm, I wonder if this is what Larsen felt when he took over after McFarlane on Amazing Spider-Man? :)

Mike Kaluta's the man. You can't mess with him. But dang! Frank Robbins deserves his props too! Over to the right are some of my favorite drawings Robbins did of ultra cutie Margo Lane in jungle safari mode, and a seriously cool looking mummy! Looking at Robbins' other works in Shadows 5 and 8 is just so much fun! This panel on the bottom from The Shadow #7 is another image that my subconscious just latched onto when I first read it. How cool of a drawing is that?!
I also took a leap and bought some of Robbins' Johnny Hazard stuff. There was this nice man at the SD con selling compilations of this stuff and I bought some off of him for relatively cheap. I got volumes 1, 15 and 22. And they are a blast to read! I think my favorites are actually the latter storylines when Hazard's not quite as involved with the war. Anyway if you're interested in looking for some old Johnny Hazard's (or even just old reprinted comic books in general) here's that guy's info:

Tony Raiola Books

And before I go, here's a strip from one of my favorite storylines in Johnny Hazard.

So that's my rant for the day! Til next time! Aydeeeyos and God Bless!
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