Saturday, August 11, 2012

Recharging my Batteries

A view of the west coast of the Azores, with the fishing village where we stay, Mosteiros, in the distance. It is built on  a lava plain that extends out into the sea, and the large rocks off shore, thought to look like a monastery, give the village its name.
We just got back from two weeks in one of the world's most beautiful corners, the Azores. Birthplace of my partner Esperança Melo, these volcanic islands located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge were discovered in the early 1400's by the Portuguese and are still an automonous region of that country.
This was my reward for finally finishing the art for Big Top Otto and sending it off to my publisher.
We have been doing this bi-annual trip to the Azores for the past decade, and it is, like all of our annual trips abroad, an opportunity to recharge my visual batteries. This trip especially I was able to get out with my sketchbook almost every morning and capture some of the bits and pieces of the small fishing village of Mosteiros at the far western end of Sao Miguel Island where we rent a seaside home. There is always a sweet familiarity to coming back to this place where time seems to stay still, where we sit and watch from our front porch the fishermen going and returning each day from the port, as they have for centuries .
 My sketches here were all fairly quick forays of an hour or so, and, new for me, I was trying to capture the scene directly with pen without going to a quick pencil sketch first. Usually I would take my much loved pen and ink with me on these trips, but this time I simply took a pack of various width Staedtler Fineliners, which facilitated the quick sketching that I wanted to do.
Here are a few of my more successful attempts.

This is a sketch of a ruin of one of the typical Azorean houses - stone walls and a huge chimney and oven.

A fisherman's boat stored in the yard of the abandoned house.

The narrow street that was our daily walk to and from the lava pools where we swam (not pools of lava, rather pools that formed when the lava cooled and that are refreshed daily with sea water).
Another fishing boat, shortly after it had returned to port. Note the bamboo fishing poles, still being used in the Azorean inshore fishery.
Our alternate swimming place at Mosteiros was the beach at the foot of this road, with the remarkable headlands that surround the village in the background.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Gold Letter Day - Last page inked and the best comic store ever!

Done inking! Page 85, with words removed as I really didn't want to spoil the end for you. (Spoiler alert: this is from the dream sequence Otto and Crackers have immediately after they are crushed by a run away train.)
Yesterday was a gold letter day. We were heading off to Toronto for our regular bi-weekly family visit, so I was up early to do some work before I left. Important work - inking page 85 of Otto Book 2. So that's the inking DONE!
I still have five pages to colour and then it's done done, but finishing the inking seems more like the official end. Colouring is something I have to do with this comic, and I've even grown to enjoy this work on the computer (somewhat) but the pencilling and inking are what I most closely identify with.

The other big thing was dropping in on Little Island Comics. I've known about this comic store since it opened, but, almost negligently, I've failed to visit during our frequent forays to Toronto. But yesterday we made room for this, and what a treat!
Little Island Comics claims to be the only comic store exclusively dedicated to kids' comics in all of North America - possibly the world! (This is fairly ironic given the frequent claim by comic bashers that comics are kids' stuff, but that's another story.) This store is a little gem, packed from floor to ceiling with thousands of titles (in retrospect, I'm not sure if there were any super hero comics at all!) with something for every taste. Walking in there reminded me of a recurring dream that I had when I was a kid (well 14 at least), where I walk into a comic store that is packed with Asterix comics that I had never seen. I would always wake up from this dream (as dreams usually go) the moment I tried to open one of these books.
This dream started after coming back from a trip to England, where I had been brought along as a fairly ineffective built-in babysitter by my sister and her husband for their two young kids. In England we would often visit bookstores (the trip was a book buying trip for their antiquarian bookstore back in Canada) and I'd find shelves and shelves of Asterix and Tin Tin. I had already been a huge fan of Asterix for years, as a result of another elder sibling bringing me back Asterix and Cleopatra from England years before and I was still hooked. But at that time in Canada Asterix was very hard to find - hence this dream of unrequited Asterix reading.
Little Island had just about all of the Asterix comics, and even more exciting for me, one title that I had recently seen at a nephew's apartment in Ottawa that I didn't even know existed - I had thought for years that I had read them all. I now own it, along with a delightful book, Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol. The second of these I bought for my niece Lisa, still an avid comic fan at 40 (I have quite a few now-adult nieces and nephews who oddly enough share my passion for comics) who insisted I pick up something for her when she heard I was going to Little Island. Anya's Ghost was recommended to me by one of the staff, Tory Woollcott (a comic book author in her own right, although she had to be pressed to show me her beautiful book, Mirror Mind), and I've read Anya already before passing it on. What a terrific graphic novel - I highly recommend it.
All the staff there, Tory, Rebecca and Andrew, were all so nice, helpful and extremely knowledgeable about their comics. They clearly love what they do. My partner Esperança and I had such a good time we went back with our ten year old niece Mia, and although the store was closed there was a light on and Andrew, working late, let us in when he saw our noses pressed against the window. We bought another Anya's Ghost for Mia, who was already hooked on it after five minutes' of reading my copy in the car.
So there's my plug. If you are in Toronto and want to see the best in kids' comics, (and possibly fulfill an unrequited childhood dream) drop in on Little Island just south of Bloor on Bathurst (think Honest Ed's) and get stimulated. You won't be disappointed.

( I also understand that it is a great place to hide out if you re a kid on the lam from a summer camp you hate.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Big City Otto Nominated for Joe Shuster Award

I found out this week that Big City Otto has been nominated for the Dragon Award, the Joe Shuster Award handed out every year for the best in Canadian kids' comics. I'm pretty pleased about this as the comic is in good company. You can see the full list of finalists here.

I have been a bit missing in action lately regarding my blog, but don't for a moment think that means things have stalled. Quite the opposite - I'm now inking and colouring the last 15 pages of Hometown Otto (possibly being renamed Big Top Otto). I thought you might like a snapshot of the book so far:

Oh, really, did you think you would get to see it full size?? Be patient.

And I suppose I should mention that Big City Otto now has its own Facebook Page. I'm told this is important. Honestly, I have no idea why. But here it is.

I have three "Likes" so far because I have yet to lean on my family and friends to go "Like" it. I asked my publisher why they simply couldn't be "me" on Facebook and do this sort of thing, but they said it wouldn't be authentic. I told them "authentic" is what they had - nothing. But now that is no longer true. I am now "authentically" half-heartedly engaged.

I think social media doesn't work so well for the anti-social …

Okay, I guess I should at least show what I was working on today. I really like this page - the half light effect was achieved in Photoshop by putting a 50% transparent grey/purple layer over much of the interior. It's this sort of thing that I love about colouring on the computer - doing something similar on my art board would have been almost impossible for me to puzzle out!

Page 69 of Hometown Otto (possibly to be renamed Big Top Otto).

Saturday, February 4, 2012

What a Circus!

I was feeling a little bit like Otto, the amateur clown, yesterday as I participated in the  OLA mass book launch! This is my pencil drawing I was doing this week for p. 75 of Hometown Otto.

I was part of CANSCAIP's mass book launch at the Ontario Librarians Conference in Toronto yesterday, promoting my book Big City Otto. 35 authors (with a smattering of illustrators) got up on a noisy little stage in the corner of a cavernous hall down at the Metro Convention Centre, and competed to have their voices heard over the noise, bustle and collective yammering of a book trade in upheaval.

The whole event left me feeling a bit bewildered. Not that I'm pointing fingers at the wonderful CANSCAIP staff and volunteers that made this event possible - it was a noble attempt to give authors a chance to try to get word out about their books. And we were all willing participants! 

But it did get me thinking about the duality of the creator's life, the making and selling of books, and how that balance seems to be sliding more and more towards the point where we have to become hucksters for our own creative output. There was a time when this was the publisher's job and I've been in the biz long enough to remember that. But as book sales dwindle and the way the word gets out around books changes on a daily basis, authors and, to a lesser extent, illustrators have had the responsibility for the success of their book fall more and more upon their own shoulders. Or perhaps shouldered it themselves out of a sense of desperation.

A lot of it centres around publishers pushing their creators to establish a presence on the web, through Facebook and Twitter, networking and connecting with fans and the industry. A great deal of time and effort goes into this communication and much of it ends up, in my opinion, to going out to a closed loop of like-minded individuals. 

Some are well up for the task of self promotion, but many are being asked to do something they are simply not hard-wired to do. Many creators, due to the introspective and solitary nature of their work, are, quite frankly, lousy at it, and shouldn't be feeling they have to do this. It is why there is a publishing industry in the first place - because it has been a long-recognized fact that the people who create books are not those best-suited to sell them. But whether publishers expect this of them or not, the people who make the books children read are being driven to wanton acts of self-promotion in a desperate bid to get their books "out there".

From a personal perspective I was struck with this odd duality that seems to be expected of us these days. The contrast between what I see as my real work - creating books - and this other odd job, selling them. Most of my days (and I'm lucky, because I still make the major amount of my dwindling income by sitting at my drawing board) involve working away, pencil in hand, in some sort of alternate universe populated by an elephant in a trench coat or — as you can see by the attached pencil drawing — a clown costume. The hours slip by as my mind inhabits a space out of time, and nothing intrudes upon this peaceful act of creation other than the need for an occasional bite to eat or cup of tea. This is my job.

And then, occasionally, it is punctuated by this frenetic attempt to let the world know about this book you have poured your heart and soul into, where the ego gets put on the line and the hard reality of learning that no one will ever care as much about your work as you do comes crashing in around your ears in a deafening cacophony of insecurity and not particularly useful self-questioning. 

In the cold hard light of day, once more sequestered in your solitary world, the question arises - how is this productive and why would you choose to identify with that part of your work? And the answer, as you pick yourself up and dust yourself off is so evident that you wonder why it need even be asked as you go back to your job. Your real job, of creating books.