Friday, 29 July 2011

The Death of Comics

American comics as we know them are dead! Writers and artists with anything creative do write or draw had better start looking elsewhere. That's the message that I'm getting from a lot of my friends in America especially those who have attended the recent San Diego Convention. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Alarm bells really started ringing for me when Marvel and Disney got together, although by then the rot had already set in. Several of my friends in the US have simply confirmed what I already suspected. Comics as we knew them have gone and the big companies are now moe interested in films, merchandising and franchises more than they are in producing innovative and experimental comics which mightn't sell but which were worth doing anyway, Marvel seems to have thrown all its interests into producing films of which comics are but an afterthought and a way to make more money. And DC likewise. I wouldn't care all that much - well I would if I'm honest - if the films were any good. I looked foward for months to the new Green Lantern movie - I used to read the comic - and was vastly disappointed with it when I went to see it. The best thing I could say about Thor was that it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. X-Men First Class was one of the better ones but only because Michael Fassbender gave an excellent performance as Magneto. And as for Iron Man 2 - well most of it was roughly the same as Iron Man I. Where was the Mandarin? One thing about all of them was that the CGI was great - but terrific imagery does not a terrific film make. Many of the plots have been rather lame and predictable and to my mind anyway have lacked any real creativity. And films really place the power in the hands of the corporation. My son has desperately been waiting for Fantastic Four 3 featuring the Sub-Mariner that was promised but that's not going to happen. And I keep waiting for the Dr. Strange moie which was talked about but I doubt if that will happen either. Because everything is now being channelled into movies the cost is prohibitive and the choice is limited. Back in the 1970s and part of the 80s, Marvel and others tried a lot of new and interesting characters just to see how they did. Some failed but others were terrific. The 60s themselves produced a lot of creative stuff - I know, I worked on some of them - much of it one-shots but some of it went on. I like to think there is still something of that era in me but it's getting tougher and tougher to bring out. There was a feeling that we could achieve anything - that feeling was probably knocked out of us by the Reagan era in America and certainly by the Thatcher era in Britain. And it has culminated now. My friends in San Diego went there to look for what the "next big thing" might be and found nothing worth talking about. There are certainly some of the smaller companies looking for new stuff but their budgets are severely restircted by the recession. The Marvel/Disney axis has more or less killed any creative stuff off; the Manga which swept the world a few years ago also tied comics into the gaming merchandise market through things like Pokemon. At one time my children could tell me more about Japanese culture than they could about Irish. But the link was formed between game merchandising and comics. So where's the future for the ordinary comic? Some of my friends seem to suggest that it might lie in Europe. However Europe is such a closed shop and there are language problems - each country does it's comics in its own language which makes sales in other countries difficult. But there are interesting strips happening in the Netherlands, Italy, France and even Poland which is producing some very good stuff. It'll not happen in either Britain or Ireland I wouldn't think. Another area might be South America - there are some stirrings in Brazil which always produced some intersting artists along with Argentina. But all in all the future looks grim unless you want to storyboard for films. I've stopped buying comics - they're bland and without any real creative spark. There's nothing that you'd really want to sit down and read, nothing which would challange you. Where's that "Wow" moment when you need it? That's what 1949, Darke, Doc Lazarus and Hal McLean are all about but the process is slow and there's little outlet for it. So where's the future of comics? You ask me?

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Comics Scene

A number of people have been writing to me regarding my comments on the Quick Questions in the Ireland Comics website and agreeing with me on the need for some sort of co-ordinated mechanism for the comics scene here in Ireland - and possibly in Britain as well. Thanks Andy for your invitation - I've replied to you and I would love to sit down and talk with you and the others about this. Just get in contact with me, you have my address. Basically I think there's a lot of talent out there but it's all very disparate and what is needed is some sort of mechanism, whether it be a general comic, a website or simply a forum in which creators can show their work. Ireland, and in particular Northern Ireland, is something of a cultural backwater as far as comics and a number of other media ventures are concerned. I sense that the climate is changing slightly but it will be glacially slow and it will never achieve the level which occurs in places like the Netherlands, France or Italy. Of course they receive some support from their respective governments - Metal Hurlant used to recieve a grant directly from the French Culture Department. I think Eppo in Holland might get something but I know that Rob van Bavel who edits it had drawn down monies from elsewhere. Here in Northern Ireland the situation is very different. True, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure here is getting slightly excited over recent filming here in the Province - witness Game of Thrones and Your Majesty which was filmed at the Paint Shop in the Titanic Quarter as well as City of Emerald but how far their enthusiasm will take them is open to question. Probably not down the graphics road. About a year and a half ago Adrian Lutton and I applied under the aegis of Fool Moon Graphicks for a grant from the Creative Industries Innovation Fund to see if we could start and educationally based graphics package. The Minister for Culture then was the DUP's Nelson McCausland who was famous for his interference and rigid views on culture. Consequently the process kept getting delayed as the Minister kept getting involved and in the end we were turned down. The money went to all the usual suspects - such as Borough Councils and formal Arts bodies and we realised that the Government here were not interested in any form of creativity at all - at least a form of creativity which they couldn't directly control. Although Minister McCausland has gone to another department, I would assume that his Sinn Fein successor will be more interested in pushing through an Irish language bill than looking at graphic proposals. I did try another project, relating to comics in education but this too was turned down and I was directly told by a public representative that young people would be better served reading their Bibles than comics. So if we are looking for some form of public funding similar to the Continent then we are facing I would think an uphill struggle. That doesn't mean that such a struggle shouldn't take place and maybe other people know of other funding sources. I also think there has to be a change in mindset both here and in England - here comics are simply viewed as material for children, on the Continent they are not. In France and the Netherlands they are viewed as an important artform, hence the government funding. And it's the same in England - why else did the great Don Lawrence have to go to Amsterdam to have his work recognised and why is Sidney Jordan's work more popular in Italy than it is in England? - that sort of thinking has to be changed and it will take both time and effort to do it. But I think it is achievable. I'm willing to talk to anyone about it and see if we can work out a way forward and I would thank everybody for their interest in 1949 and Joachim Darke - I think there is the basis of something solid in Ireland and i these contribute to it, then I'm happy. They seem to be stirring up some debate anyway which is always good. O.K. soapbox over - I just had to get that off my chest. We're thinking of putting more comics up but as I said earlier there have been technical problems which aren't fully resolved. But keep looking. If you want to make any comment about the above then feel free. The ball's in your court!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Going Dutch

It's a while since I've written a blog - there are a couple of reasons for this. First I've been really up to my eyes in work, trying to get a number of projects cleared before the summer and I've also been in Amsterdam. My family and I decided to take a bit of a break when the children got school holidays and the Netherlands seemed a good place to go. My daughter has been doing Anne Frank at school and so we took ourselves off to see the house. It was a bit of a nostalgic trip for me as I lived in Amsterdam at one point. On the way back home I picked up a copy of the Dutch magazine EPPO which is sitting right in front of me as I write this. I remember the original - in fact I dropped them a couple of scripts - back in the 1970s. It went bust but then was relaunched in 2009 and it still looks well. I see that they still have Storm which was originally done by the late Don Lawrence but looks just as interesting today. Some of us over here had talked about doing something on the Continent but the Continental markets, as well as the Continental comics scene, is notoriously hard to break into. And of course in Britain, we're in the wrong place entirely. Comics in Britain are always regarded as children's material and in Northern Ireland it's even worse. Indeed I was told not long ago by a Northern Ireland politician that children would be far better reading their Bible than reading comics - so that gives a flavour of the general perception. Having said that however, I should be appearing in an Italian comic called Dark Matter sometime in October/November, although I'll be in Italian. The publisher involved is in Lucca, Tuscany and the strip is an old one which I did many years ago with David Lloyd who did V for Vendetta. I don't know how widely it'll be circulated but I'll let you know when it appears. We had hoped to have some more 1949 and Joachim Darke up - there are pages waiting to be uploaded - but we've been having troubles. I haven't been in touch with Adrian for a while as both his phone and computer are down - he lives in a rural area of County Down - and I haven't been able to talk to him since I came back. However, there are pages waiting to be put up so we'll get that done asap. So the Netherlands was great but back at my desk and I'm sure that it won't be so long until I do the next blog. See you then