Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dot dot dot

I've had a week off since the office closed for the holidays, and it's been a huge novelty for me: eight whole days with few real demands on my time. This has been my chance to do something that often gets squished out of my hectic schedule: play. By this I mean play with different arty media, experiment, mess around for an hour here and there, without trying to cram as much of a project as possible into each day.

I must admit though that my "play" has been quite directed. I've been experimenting with different styles and different media for my Hamlet backgrounds. My initial idea was to paint large-ish canvases with acrylic paint and use them as backgrounds, but I've now tossed around other ideas involving watercolour, colour pencil, drawing in Photoshop, and finally, liquid acrylic inks. The backgrounds are looking far less realistic and much more textural and strange as I go along... and I'm enjoying the process immensely. I'm especially excited by the way little dots or other tiny patterns of colour seem to vibrate with vividness when placed next to other colours.

Here's a sketchbook sample done with Aquarell pencils (no water), inspired by pointillism:
When I tried to scan this, I discovered just how appallingly useless my scanner is - so this is a photo. Come new year, I'm getting a new whiz-bang replacement scanner (rubs hands like a fly).

And here's the thing I've been working on today - some little patterns in liquid acrylic ink. The brand isn't called Magic Color for nothing - it's brilliant stuff, and fantastically opaque.
The paler pink consists of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of tiny little concentric circles painted with a 0-size brush. Took me hours, and of course it is nowhere near finished yet. Ah, joy! Is it any wonder I have eyes like a tarsier?

As of 3 January we are off on holidays for a couple of weeks, so I probably won't blog again until later in January. Happy new year, all, and may 2008 bring you many vibrating colours!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Armadillo

Whew! The Big Squid's present is finally finished, just in time for Squidmas. And here it is - a papier mache armadillo.

This was a tricky beast to construct. Its body was made of a rectangular bit of styrofoam with hoops of wire to make the shape of its back. The head was a cone of stiff paper stuffed with scrunched newspaper, and pulled in with a pair of buttons sewn on to indent the eyes. The tail is a spiral of wire stuffed with paper, and the legs are pieces of cardboard cylinder (from toilet paper rolls). Feet and ears are heavy cardboard, and the toes are made 3D with plasticene. All this was held together with masking tape before beginning the messy business of the papier mache. I did the first few layers using PVA glue and newspaper, but subsequenly found that flour-and-water paste dries harder and is easier to use - though it is quite disgusting to touch. Mysteriously, my container of hygienically boiled paste also began to ferment after a day and started to smell like old beer... but fortunately the finished product is clean and dry and smells sweetly of acrylic paint.

The armadillo is only my second papier mache beastie. The first was my bat, which I did a couple of years ago:
It's been fun playing with the acrylic paints again, and I'm hoping to spend some more time over this holiday break experimenting with acrylic, watercolour and coloured pencil to try and pin down the right media for my Hamlet backgrounds. Right now I'm thinking of very strange, otherwordly "sets", and moving away from the original, more literal scenes... but we shall see...

Well, happy holidays all - and if I don't blog before new year's eve, here's wishing you much inspiration, happiness and fulfilment for the year to come.

Friday, December 21, 2007

2007 Reading Roundup

For the last four years, I've made a list in the front of my diary of all the books that I read during that year. Looking back on these lists is a real pleasure - it brings back a particular kind of memory of the "texture" of the year. It reminds me of the reading experiences that tickled my brain, sparked ideas and furthered interests, but also of what I was doing and how I was feeling at the time.

So although the year is not yet ended, and I may squeeze in another book yet, here's my 2007 reading roundup - in the order in which I read them. Don't worry - there are no spoilers.

Tourist Season (Carl Hiaasen) - Holiday fluff picked up in Apollo Bay. Ok, fluff with shards of glass in it, but fluff nonetheless.

Take a Girl Like You (Kingsley Amis) - Teeth-grindingly dull, irritating and horribly dated. I kept on hoping it might get better, because I loved Amis's Lucky Jim so much. It made me laugh uncontrollably. No such luck with this one though.

The Ancestor's Tale (Richard Dawkins) - Love love love. Rave rave rave. This book is a "backwards journey" through evolution, showing how and when we humans link up with every other living thing on earth. Last year I read The God Delusion which was a life-changing book: I was already an atheist, but The God Delusion made me want to stand up and be counted. The Ancestor's Tale is all science but is no less engrossing.

Hamlet (William Shakespeare) - I've been reading this repeatedly throughout the year - of course!

Will in the World (Stephen Greenblatt) - excellent book about Mr Shakespeare. Very little is known about the life of the Bard, and much has been written about the little that is known. This book is fascinating because it builds up a picture of what English life and society was like in Shakespeare's time, and then muses on how Shakespeare himself may have experienced it, and how this experience may have shaped his work. Imaginative history, and extremely engaging.

The Secret River (Kate Grenville) - gripping, revealing, evocative and pretty damn horrific.

Rumpole Rests His Case (John Mortimer) - the Big Squid is a huge Rumpole devotee, and swears by a dose of him for relaxing the frazzled brain. Especially timely after reading The Secret River.

The Arrival (Shaun Tan) - Love love love love. Rave rave... Genius.

The Patron Saint of Eels (Gregory Day) - this book made me groan - and not in a good way. I thought it was sentimental, heavy-handed, tedious and obvious. Nice cover (I am very partial to eels), but what a spectacularly annoying book.

Men and Cartoons (Jonathan Lethem) - Have to admit I can't remember a whole lot of this collection of short stories. I am a fan of Lethem's novels though - especially The Fortress of Solitude.

Black Swan Green (David Mitchell) - Mitchell's Cloud Atlas blew me away when I read it last year, so I had to turn up the receptors a bit for this more low-key, straightforward story. It was very good though, and the adolescent narrator's voice was extremely authentic - as was the meticulously remembered early 80s setting. The recent film This is England reminded me of Black Swan Green quite a bit. A terrific, wrenching film, incidentally.

Old Filth (Jane Gardam) - wonderful writing, some unexpected twists, and a fascinating glimpse into the lives of "Raj Orphans", the children of well-to-do expats sent "home" to England during the war - a place that was not home to them at all.

We need to talk about Kevin (Lionel Shriver) - a huge book, which has come back to my mind many times. It is highly contentious, and forces the reader to take sides, whether they want to or not. Brings out our judgemental side, and then (hopefully) makes us question it. Very powerful. There was an aspect (which I won't go into because it would spoil it) that made me feel that as a reader I was being seriously manipulated - an experience I don't like - but I'd still definitely recommend this one.

Notes from the Teenage Underground (Simmone Howell) - this is a "young adult" book sent to me by my editor at Pan Macmillan. I haven't read YA fiction since I was in my early teens, and find it hard to comment on it. This one seemed pretty good - aimed squarely at teen girls with arty/rebellious leanings. Wonder what I would have made of it as a teen?

Gravity (Scott Gardner) - YA fiction aimed at boys: drinking, responsibility, what to do with your life etc. Not my style of book - I was more a Catcher In the Rye-reading kind of teen. (Ok, that's the last of the YA stuff for the year).

Let the Right One In (John Ajvide Lindqvist) - Ohhhhhhhhh I ADORED this book! It's a horror story with vampires, but emphatically NOT of the world of cloaks, chalices, castles and all the other cliched accoutrements of fantasy. I will declare my bias right away - I hate fantasy novels. Anything with a wizard, a dragon, an ancient curse, a magical book, or a goddamn ring in it in it makes me want to go on an elf-stomping rampage. But this book is set in the grimy, super-realistic setting of a dormitory suburb in Stockholm, and the vampire is a dirty-looking little girl, the object of desire of a paedophile... Oh, and it's a love story too. A brilliant book - funny, hideous and so close to the edge you wonder how the hell Lindqvist did it. I can't wait for the movie - it'll be a scream.

Hotel Babylon (Imogen Edwards-Jones) - Total waste of time. Not even worth criticising.

The Brooklyn Follies (Paul Auster) - Big thumbs up - really enjoyed it.

The Bay of Noon (Shirley Hazzard) – I think Shirley Hazzard is great. Her writing reminds me of a wonderful watercolour painting where the artist makes it all look free and spontaneous – lots of luminous washes and subtle hues.

Happiness (Matthieu Ricard) - Life changing! I read it twice, making lots of notes. Ricard is a French super-scientist turned Buddhist monk. He explores scientific and Buddhist philosophical analyses of happiness and sets out some very useful meditation exercises for training your brain to promote wellbeing. I find the techniques extremely useful. My mate Andrew once told me that Buddhism was almost exactly the same as Cognitive Behavioual Therapy - and this book does draw many parallels. Highly recommended. Good for the life of the mind, and not faith-based at all.

Dead Europe (Christos Tsiolkas) - very disturbing and confronting. This book made me want to meet the author and ask him a lot of questions. I needed another dose of Rumpole after this one. But instead I read...

The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger) - Wonderful! Amazing! Where did I put that box of extra-special superlatives? An instant favourite book, which is a big call.

The Fate of the Artist (Eddie Campbell) - I read this in a rush, as I was due to meet Eddie for the first time that week, and didn't want to arrive in complete ignorance. It was a bit unnerving to meet a person after just having read about various intimate details of his life! Bittersweet-funny. I especially liked the adaptation of the O Henry story at the end.

From Hell (Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell) - Part 2 of my preparatory reading. Took me a good while to get into this - I initially found it very hard to read. An amazingly detailed, meticulously researched and creepy book.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency (Eddie Campbell) - I really enjoyed this. Gorgeous painting in gouache, and a rip-roaring story.

Pyongyang (Guy Delisle) - Fabulous fabulous fabulous. I loved every frame. This is Guy Delisle’s cartoon diary of a few months spent in the ultra-weird world of the North Korean capital city. A revelation. Funny and shocking and very sharp and true.

Unpolished Gem (Alice Pung) – memoir by Melbourne lawyer and writer, about growing up between two cultures and experiencing the pressures of both, set in the Western suburbs of Melbourne. Alice Pung was in hear early 20s when she wrote this – impressive.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (Michael Chabon) – another instant favourite. You’ll think I’m just a big tart when it comes to favourite books, but seriously – it’s been a good year. Chabon is absolutely brilliant. Love love love… more love…

Shenzhen (Guy Delisle) – great stuff – though Pyongyang was even better.

After the Snooter (Eddie Campbell) – a little insect tells me this isn’t the last we’ll hear of this creature.

The Question of Hamlet (Harry Levin) – a slim volume packing huge insights. Excellent commentary, and invaluably helpful for my Hamlet adaptation. Yay for eBay, where I bought it.

Othello (William Shakespeare, adapted by Oscar Zarate) – an excellent cartoon adaptation. The faces reminded me a bit of Japanese masks – especially Iago. Rises wonderfully well to the drama and passion of the play. Some really nice layouts, and no annoying flashiness.

American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang) – I quite enjoyed this, though the interweaving of the “spiritual” monkey tales with a Christian bent didn’t do it for me. The slice of life parts were good though.

Understanding Comics (Scott McCloud) – I’d managed to put off reading this for years, and finally got down to it. Good stuff, which wouldn’t have seemed at all contentious to me until I encountered the Force That Is Campbell. It didn’t change my life, but then, I already do comics.

King Lear (William Shakespeare, adapted by Ian Pollock) – I’m still in two minds about this adaptation. The drawing style is wild and very creepy, and I like it a lot. But I think the interaction of the characters, and the “acting and direction” plodded a bit. My friend Greg described it as “claustrophobic”.

Rooftops (Mandy Ord) – see here for more.

Shakespearean Tragedy [part only] (A. C. Bradley) – apparently this used to be the standard school text for studying the Tragedies. Written in about 1909 (I think), it’s pretty stodgy stuff.

Persepolis I and II (Marjane Satrapi) – Great stuff – ashamed that I hadn’t read it sooner. It left me wanting to know more, more, more about the details and consequences of many of the episodes.

Modern Hamlets and their soliloquies (Mary Z Maher) – Fascinating. Again, an invaluable tool and a great prompt for looking at the character of Hamlet from different perspectives. Glad I read it when I was already well into the roughs though - it might have been overwhelming otherwise!

Now reading… The Human Mind [and how to make the most of it] (Robert Winston) – fascinating and thought-provoking popular science of the lighter, easier-to-read variety. Enjoying it very much.

So - any recommendations?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

From the control room

Well, my eyes are stretched completely out of shape and my hand is squinched up into a little claw, but I've done it - I've finished the roughs for Hamlet! The roughs come to 347 pages (all pencilled and inked!). The final work will be a bit longer, as there are a few parts I need to rework, but for the moment, I can end the year knowing that the roughs are sorted!

The last 13 pages were a killer - literally. This is where the Queen, the King, Laertes and Hamlet (in that order) all kick the bucket in tragic style. Hamlet took me more than five hours to die... it's no wonder I'm wrung out!

So, for a bit of recreation, here are a few photos of my drawing room (no, not a place for English ladies to take tea - I mean my little studio). I'm always fascinated to peek into other scribblers' workspaces, so I hope that if I post mine here, I might receive a few links to pictures of other people's messy desks, decorated walls and overflowing shelves...

Here goes:
Desk #1, where I draw. As you can see, no angled drawing board or ergonomic chair. I like a hard wooden chair to sit on. This is actually my first ever desk, which I must have got at age 6 or 7. Dad stuck a larger top on it when it became apparent that, even as a kid, I needed plenty of space to strew my mess over.

The enormous folder in the front is the Hamlet roughs. And at eye level on the wall is that lovely picture of Ginevra King.


Much-needed shelf space for all the odds and ends that don't fit into the bookcase.

The mysterious newspaper-pasted thing at the bottom is a work in progress, which I hope to complete before Squidmas. It's a large papier mache armadillo - I'm planning to give it to the Big Squid as a present. It was supposed to be a surprise, but you just try hiding a great big armadillo from your beloved... Actually, when Big Squid accidentally saw it he thought it was a pig - so there is still a small element of surprise involved.

And a couple of things from the walls...

Daisy with a lot of "test" nib strokes... and coffee! I love looking at roughs, tests and scribble pages, and try to hang onto as many as I can.

Here's part of my collection of saints, martyrs and other iconic-looking types. Bernini's Saint Teresa in Ecstasy (top left) is my favourite. In the middle and just to the left you can see that great tragic character, Withnail, as played by Richard E Grant. Sigh... Is it possible to watch him do Hamlet's "what a piece of work is a man" speech and not get a tear in the eye?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I tell thee, churlish priest -


Here's a snippet of one of my recent rough pages for Hamlet. It shows Laertes at his sister Ophelia's burial, pleading with the priest to give her a decent funeral service. The priest refuses, on the basis that Ophelia's death was "doubtful" - ie, she may have committed suicide.

In a subsequent panel we see Laertes lose his temper (just for a change) and tell the "churlish priest" that "a minist'ring angel shall my sister be when thou liest howling".

Noone really knows what Shakespeare's views on faith and religion were, but from his writing he doesn't appear to have been vociferously religious. Given England's merry-go-round of changes from Catholicism to Protestantism and back again that characterised his century, and all the attendant persecution of whoever wasn't on the right side at any given moment, I can imagine the clear-eyed Mr Shakespeare looking on and judging religion to be a terrible - and not very funny - joke. Though I would also accept the charge that I am at least partly projecting my own views onto him!

In any case, the priest in this scene gets no sympathy from Shakespeare. And I had a lot of fun with his portrayal as a dessicated, haughty-looking thing, obsessed with form and dogma and deaf to actual human suffering. Because my little creatures are actually actors playing the parts of the characters, I also decided to give the priest's role to the same actor who plays the second clown or gravedigger, just for a bit of fun. The gravediggers appear in the pages immediately preceding the funeral scene, so the rapid switch from "straight man" clown/workman to supercilious priest is all the more amusing. In rough form the gravediggers look like this:


The first gravedigger (who gets all the best lines) is partly inspired by my husband, the Big Squid. I like the idea that he is the only character in the play happily untouched by tragedy. But for the record, the Big Squid does not have three eyes, and is far more handsome than this!

Speaking of Hamlet adaptations, my mate Greg Gerrand, googler extraordinaire, recently sent me a link to yet another manga-style adaptation of Hamlet. Happily, it is better than the one that is out in the shops at the moment. The "Self-Made Hero Manga Hamlet is pretty horrible. It's set in the future/in space, which wouldn't necessarily bother me in itself, but I really cringed at how brutally it chops up the text. And the art... well, it's pretty ugly. Here's an excerpt from a review:

[the reviewer compares one of Hamlet's soliloquies with the chopped version in the Manga edition, and then writes:]

Shorn of the allusion to classical antiquity and the scathing critique of Elizabethean actors, Hamlet’s speech has been reduced to an action plan for gauging Claudius’ guilt. It’s a fair gloss on this very famous soliloquy, I guess, but one that misses the beauty and richness of Shakespeare’s language.

Perhaps these editorial decisions would be less distasteful if the artwork was well executed. Alas, poor Yorick, it’s awful. The panels are a jumbled mess; the characters’ appearances vary considerably from page to page; the figures are posed without regard for anatomy or proportion; and the backgrounds are virtually non-existent.

[...]

By now, I’m sure there are a few librarians, educators, or high school students who are reading this and thinking,
This woman just doesn’t get it. These books make Shakespeare accessible to students who might otherwise find the material too daunting. But to be useful as pedagogical tools, adaptations must illuminate an aspect of the original that’s difficult for modern audiences to understand. In the case of Shakespeare, it’s the language, not the basic plotlines, that poses difficulty for most readers. If your illustrations for, say, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech simply show him looking pensive, then you haven’t added anything of explanatory value to the original. [my emphasis - NG] Shakespeare is especially tricky in this regard because so much of the action takes place off stage. Reaction and reflection lend themselves nicely to soliloquies, but are difficult to capture in pictures. Students would be better served by renting a good filmed version of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet than reading these manga treatments, as a film not only shows us what’s happening, but allows us to hear the emotions and sentiments behind language that sometimes confounds modern ears.
I absolutely agree with this. The enormous challenge of adapting Shakespeare in illustrated form is to allow the incredibly rich language to sing, as it would on stage, and then to add something more in the visual interpretation - something that draws out the meaning of the words, conjures up ideas, and explores the allusions and echoes in the language. And of course, you want the characters to be personable and believable in themselves, in their emotions and in their interactions. This is a big ask - it's like mounting a stage or screen production, but with the huge limitation of being restricted to ink on a page, without the benefit of sound or real, continuous motion! To mention just two of the challenges, timing must be handled carefully, and layout and transition are extremely delicate juggling acts. There are, of course, ways in which an illustrated adaptation allows greater freedom than a stage adaptation, in that the "special effects" that you can add (showing what is happening inside people's minds, for example) are limitless. I am finding the process absolutely fascinating.

The new Manga Hamlet by Adam Sexton and Tintin Pantoja looks better than the Self-Made Hero one, from the few pages shown on this website. I must admit that the manga aesthetic is not really my cup of tea, but the art in this adaptation is definitely more appealing than the Self-Made Hero one. And the text seems to be less badly butchered. I'll be interested to have a read when it comes out.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Ord Ord Ord!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Mandy Ord's graphic novel, Rooftops.

Rooftops is published by local independent publisher Finlay Lloyd - and much kudos to them for doing a brilliant production job and presenting Mandy's beautiful work so well. The book is in an unusual format - not quite as wide as the usual paperback - which allows it to fit nicely in your hand, almost giving it the feel of a guidebook. And in a way it is like a secret guide to the Melbourne CBD, where most of the story takes place. Mandy's one-eyed protagonist scoots past landmarks big and little, from under the ground to high up above the rooftops, and her inky brush lingers on wonderful architectural details, giving them a chunky black, texture-filled feel.

Mandy is, of course, the queen of the mostly-black image (for those unfamiliar with her work - imagine a sort of woodcut effect, but done with a brush), and in this book the space around the panels is black too - an effect which I love. Far from looking claustrophobic, busy or gothic, Mandy's work always jumps off the page fresh and engaging and full of life, and this is no exception. Great cream paper and lush printing means that the black is really black too. Mmmmm....

The story is a curious one, dancing around questions of coincidence and what we make of it. In his joyously theatrical launching speech, Mr Bernard Caleo described coincidences as "the knots that tie the universe together", and those mysterious tangles are at the heart of Mandy's book. Don't worry - it's not mystic mumbo jumbo (Mandy also illustrates for Australian Rationalist!) but more a musing on the mysteries of connectedness - especially connectedness of the imagination/intellect.

A large slab of the book involves conversations between Mandy and her buddy Greg. Greg is rendered so extraordinarily true to life, that I was actually quite distracted by the unnerving accuracy of the portrait. As a result, I feel like I missed some important nuances in these parts of the book. This is no reflection on Mandy's storytelling - rather a compliment on her ability to capture a person on the page. So I think I need to give the book a few more readings so that I take better note of what is going on in these sections. I'd be really interested to hear how others (who don't know Greg) read these parts of the book.

All in all - recommended! And exciting, both in its own right and as another manifestation of non-comic publishers in Australia embracing the graphic novel form. Yippee!

While on the subject of mega-talented Melbourne artists, I've recently been enjoying the gorgeous blog of designer and crafty lady Sandra Eterovic. Since Mr Campbell's blog is "resting" at the moment, I've lost my favourite regular blog read - but I think I've now found a replacement. Sandra posts lots of pictures of her beautiful illustration and other art projects (textiles, collage, paintings, sculptures, drawings etc) and takes us through a little of the process of making them, including lots of pics of the various source materials that have inspired her.

Fabulous. More, please!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

That tattoo

Here's that tattoo again, now fully healed and less red raw. I finally got to see it in the flesh this week when I went up to Sydney and spent an evening hanging out in Newtown with the Fabulous Sebastian (pictured).

I would have used one of the other pictures I took, which don't include any rude gestures - but this is the only one in which my Human Canvas is actually smiling. We'll just pretend he's showing off his gold and onyx Victorian mourning ring, instead of giving me the finger for teasing him about his macho photo poses.

See - he's pretty when he smiles!

For the original tattoo drawings, check this earlier post.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jordan Baker


Over the past few months, it has been fascinating for me to hear people's reactions to my non-human interpretations of the characters of The Great Gatsby. In interviews and reviews, in questions after panels and presentations, and in emails from friends and complete strangers, I've received a lot of comments about how the various characters resonate with people. But of all the character portrayals, the one that has attracted the most surprising and varied responses is Jordan Baker.

Jordan is a bit of a mystery - a cool, jaded and casually dishonest golf champion with whom our narrator, Nick, begins a largely "off camera" romance. I've never felt very much for Jordan Baker, perhaps because she is so unemotional and distant. By contrast, Daisy captures my heart, despite her extravagant flaws, largely because of the maelstrom of frailties, charms, failures and human(!) warmth I see tumbling inside her.

So I drew Jordan as a squidlike creature: cold, inscrutable and sleek with her sinuous tentacles always under control. The interesting thing is that this portrayal has given rise to reactions that I did not contemplate or expect. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense though - Jordan is a rather "blank" character who presents a deliberately smooth, guarded face to the world. This means that we are almost obliged to paint our own interpretations onto her, according to our own feelings and predilections.

During one radio interview, the interviewer said he felt I'd dealt too harshly with Jordan Baker, making her more unpleasant than the original book intended. And it is true, I feel little sympathy for Jordan. For starters, she is an inveterate liar, which immediately loses her many points with me! So I can certainly accept that I've portrayed her in an unflattering light. Whether it is any harsher than Fitzgerald's depiction is hard for me to say.

What intrigues me more, though, is the people who tell me that they are attracted to my version of Jordan. One lady told me that her daughter, who was studying The Great Gatsby at school, thought that my Jordan was lovely - and "much prettier than Daisy". More startlingly, one gentleman asked if it was "wrong" that he "found Jordan erotic". This question was asked in a public forum, and I have to admit, I was not sure how to answer! I have always found Jordan's disdainful, downturned mouth and half-lidded eyes very unattractive (contrasted with Daisy, whom I find beautiful and sweetly seductive). But, as they say in Spanish, sobre gustos no hay nada escrito - when it comes to taste, there is "nothing written".

Perhaps the most thoughtful and most deeply engaged response to Jordan that I have heard came from the Australian poet, Robert Adamson. Robert has permitted me to quote his response here, and I do so at length because it is both lovely and amazing. Who would have thought that someone would relate so personally to Jordan the squid?

I forgot to mention you made Jordan sympathetic. I hadn't really thought much about her, in the novel or the two movies, until your version of her. She might even be my favourite character now!
Maybe it's because I love squid.

[...]

In your book I find Jordan more interesting, she seems interested somehow in Nick in a real way. I almost think that if I met her, in your book's world, I'd want to shake her, though also I think I'd want to show her that there's a more interesting life away from her crowd. I'd take her fishing and show her the swamp harriers circling, and the mullet jumping , I take her out on the river on a full moon, and then in the morning cook her a sand whiting in a campsite. I'm sure you could make her see the light and change her ways.

How fabulous! The thought of cooking a sand whiting for a squid tickles my fancy very much!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gatsby in the garden

Here are a couple of beautiful photos taken by the lovely Catherine Padmore. See, as well as being a novelist and super-academic (that's Dr Catherine Padmore when she's wearing her university hat), Catherine is obviously a great photographer. She sent them to me in an email because the delicate forms of these little garden treasures reminded her of my Gatsby creatures. What a gorgeous thought.

I especially love the photo below, because it suggests a fragile being, poised on an even more fragile sparkling thread. And if that aint a visual representation of The Great Gatsby, I don't know what is!
Catherine and I met at this year's "World Matters" conference, an annual event run by the Eltham Bookshop (check it out - it's great). She was chairing a panel of three very different authors - John Charalambous, Antoni Jach and me, and somehow managed to find all kinds of connections and parallels in our work and keep the conversation flowing at a vigorous pace.

As part of her closing words to the audience, Catherine read out that amazing final page of The Great Gatsby, where Fitzgerald's magic just leaps off the paper. I have to admit that, even after having read them so many times, hearing those words spoken aloud brought tears to my eyes.

(Boy, I really should create a label called "I am a big sap"...)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Here's my card!

Yesterday I spent an enjoyable few hours with my eyes jammed hard against the monitor, working on a design for my business card. My eyes now resemble those of the fish from too much screen goggling, but I've settled on this (left) as the final design.

The original design for the reverse of the card looked like this image (on the right):

I like this picture very much, but when I sent it to the Fabulous Sebastian for his comment, he suggested that, while it was nice to look at, it might compete too much with the front of the card. He then came up with the very clever idea of having the fish reversed on the back so that it seemed to go right "through" the card.

I liked this idea so much that I thought I might elaborate on it a bit, and have the text flipped as well, but partly obscured by clouds on the reverse. So the result looks like this:













Ah, Photoshop! Aint it a wonderful toy?

The fish is not my own drawing, of course. I got him from that favourite resource of mine, the Dover Animals book of copyright-free illustrations. He was a black-and-white engraving to begin with, and I made him colourful with much filter-fiddling and plenty of playing with my favourite Photoshop paintbrush, the one called "chalk". The chalk brush gives a convincing "scraped" texture, and looks much more natural than the other brushes I've used. Depending on the opacity etc, it can resemble charcoal, watercolour, ink wash etc. I used it here for the clouds as well.

Confusingly, there are several "chalk" brushes on the same Photoshop brush palette. My favourite is the one that is not grouped with the other chalks, but is tucked away on its own, further down the list. Its starting size is 36 point, which makes it easy to identify.

Ok, that's enough geekage from me. I'm going to go and play with my brush pens.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Vale Aquash


Bugger. After more than 220 pages of rough drawings, plus numerous character sketches, my beloved Pentel Aquash brush pen has died. As Marwood ("I") in Withnail and I says, referring to Danny the drug dealer, "his mechanism's gone".

I've washed it, soaked it, shaken it, blown into it - but alas, it is dead. The nice gentleman on the phone at Eckersley's tells me it's possible that they just wear out after a while. I suppose 220+ pages is reasonably good going - though after my record of doing all of Gatsby plus numerous shortie comics with just two nibs, I do expect a degree of stamina from my implements.

So today's Hamlet rough pages had to be done with the fancy-pants GFKP fountain brush pen which, while it has some advantages in delicacy and speed, is just not as satisfying to use - partly because it's not heavy enough in my hand. Prima donna, me.

I'm off to Eckersley's shortly to get a replacement, so that tomorrrow I can use my favourite toy again.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Some fine reviews!

Happy to report that so far the reviews of The Great Gatsby - a graphic adaptation have been wonderful.

The inimitable Chewie Chan gave the book a lovely review in Magpies Magazine (Childrens and YA literature mag). Philosophy and English teacher and graphic novel aficionado Blair Mahoney wrote a beautiful and very thoughtful piece in YA literature magazine Viewpoint (and check out Blair's list of 100 great grahic novels here), and there have been enthusiastic write-ups in various "general" media publications like Madison and Mx.

And here's a sample of reviews that have appeared online. All good. Very pleased!

o
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Big thanks to all these generous and enthusiastic reviewers!


Monday, November 5, 2007

An antic disposition

Here's a comic that I did in 2004. Click to enlarge, and it will look less like a bunch of inkblots, and more like... oh, wait on - a bunch of inkblots.

Its title, which doesn't appear here, is "Rorschach", named - of course - after the completely discredited psychiatric diagnostic tool, the Rorschach (ink blot) Test. The comic appeared in an issue of literary journal Going Down Swinging a couple of years ago, in a slightly different format - I had to cut it up and rearrange the frames so that it fit nicely on their square pages.

I pulled this out of the vault today after a brief email conversation on the topic of madness with the Fabulous Sebastian - one who wisely defies anyone to call him "normal". This theme has been much on the mind lately in any case, what with my work on Hamlet and his antic disposition. And as it happens, my Hamlet character grew out of the strange ink-cat whose first appearance was in this Rorschach comic. So it seemed apt to revisit it.

Funnily enough, there is an exchange in Hamlet where our man is taunting Polonius, pointing out imagined animals in the clouds, and watching the old feller tie himself in knots to agree that the same cloud looks like a camel, a weasel and a whale. He would have made short work of an inkblot-wielding shrink, would Hamlet.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ooow! My face!

My face hurts!

No, I haven't ended up in another comic artist smackdown. This time it's entirely self-inflicted.

I've spent the day drawing roughs for Hamlet, specifically the harrowing "closet scene" where the Dane confronts - and harangues - his trollop of a mother. This involves drawing a lot of angry faces - for example, this:

It seems to be pretty common ("Ay madam, 'tis common!") among cartoonists that when we draw a face, we can't help assuming precisely the expression we are drawing. I've tested this out by trying to draw one kind of expression while setting my face in another, and the result is a lot of terrible facial contortions in both places: the picture comes out looking all wrong, and my face starts twitching desperately in the manner of John Howard during the recent "great" debate (ugh!).

So of course I go with what works, and wear the faces as I draw them. Problem is, after doing nine pages of roughs today, in which Hamlet runs the gamut from indignation to rage through to extreme revulsion and back again, I've had my face set in those very attitudes for literally hours. If the wind were to change at some point today (and remember, this is Melbourne), I might have ended up looking permanently like this:
Not pretty. Not comfortable either. Imagine the terrible wrinkles I'm going to have after 350 pages of this... and that's just the roughs! That thing in my hand, by the way, is my Pentel Aquash brush pen - and it's the greatest thing since the invention of ink. Just thinking about it smoothes those lines right away.

I wonder just how common this "face mirrors hand" thing is. Talking with other scribblers recently has made me realise that many of the techniques and experiences and quirks that I assume are almost universal are in fact different for each person. For example, the other day I heard about a cartoonist who says that he is never surprised by how his work comes out. This is almost inconceivable to me. I am constantly surprised by ideas and forms that emerge while immersed in a picture. So I wonder - does everyone make the faces they draw? Are there people who can conjure up a lively, meaningful expression on the page without simultaneously doing it themselves?

And do cucumber slices on the eyes really work?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The inexhaustible variety of life

I'm taking a break from writing an article which is really giving my brain a good wringing. See, I've been invited by a magazine - whose main audience is journalists - to write a piece about, you guessed it: Graphic Novels. This is a task that I approach with extreme caution, and, I must admit, with a slight sinking sensation. That said, I also don't want to miss an opportunity to show "our thing" in the best way I possibly can, especially when the audience comprises the very people we hope will embrace, understand and write insightfully about it.

As a regular reader of Mr Campbell's blog, I know that this topic is a minefield. But the Bug is (relatively) unafraid! Let's see what I come up with... and whether my mate Campbell tears me into small strips afterwards, and then "does what he can to make the strips miserable" (with apologies to Raymond Chandler - see here for more quotes). I'm optimistically hoping that we'll all be happy with the result.

So I'm taking a breather from this arduous task, and thinking about another adaptation of The Great Gatsby which came to my attention recently, and which I would dearly love to see. It's a theatre production by a New York company called Elevator Repair Service, titled "Gatz" (which is of course Jay Gatsby's "real" surname). This is what their website says about it:

James Gatz - that was really, or at least legally, his name.

One morning in the low-rent office of a mysterious small business, one employee finds a ragged old copy of The Great Gatsby in the clutter of his desk and starts to read it out loud. And doesn't stop.

At first his coworkers hardly seem to notice, but then weird coincidences start happening in the office, one after another, until it's no longer clear whether he's reading the book or the book is doing something to him. . . .

6 hours long and with a cast of 13, Gatz is by far ERS's most ambitious endeavor yet — not a stage adaptation of Fitzgerald's novel but a verbatim reading of the entire book [my emphasis], accomplished by the staff of a small office in the midst of their increasingly bewildering business operations.

******

A verbatim reading of the entire book! In this mysterious office context! Extraordinary! The actor who plays the protagonist of the play actually knows the entire novel by heart. This fact alone thrills and amazes me - partly because it evinces a truly Gatsby-esque level of passion that I wholeheartedly admire, and can certainly relate to. But on top of this, the play sounds really fabulous - and it's certainly snared excellent reviews.

I've had a lovely exchange of emails with a member of Elevator Repair Service, John Collins, who is (of course) a huge Gatsby fan. And I'm delighted to report that he gave my adaptation of Gatsby an absolutely glowingly huge rap, and said that it moved him to tears. Beam!

Of course I am thrilled that the book resonated with someone as passionate and knowledgeable about The Great Gatsby as John. John has travelled far deeper into Gatsby geekdom than I have, and knows not only one version of the book but various drafts and edits inside out (whereas I was content to stick with my Penguin edition with the great intro by Tony Tanner, and certainly couldn't recite even that). One interesting snippet that he shared with me was this one:

Towards the end of chapter 2, when Nick is looking out of the window at the close of the tawdry drunken party with Tom and Myrtle and their friends, he imagines another observer looking up at them from the street. He says "And I saw him too, looking up and wondering". Apparently in one version of the text this reads "And I was him, too..." - and this was later corrected by the publisher. But in the context of the next sentence, I can't help but wonder which is the right word:

"I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life."

Oh, the gorgeousness of it!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Whoops! Forgot to mention...

...that I'm giving a talk about Gatsby tonight in Melbourne at the North Fitzroy Library:

North Fitzroy Library,
240 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy
6.30 pm
Bookings essential, please call 1300 695 427

...and also participating in a panel on adaptation as part of the Latrobe University / Eltham Bookshop "World Matters" program this Saturday 27th at 10.30 am. Here's the program for the World Matters festival.

And this time I'm going to tie my data stick around my neck.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Carne viva

Well, check this out! This is a still-throbbing tattoo that was applied just yesterday to the right arm and shoulder of punk DJ, wrestling commentator, sometime Vampire MC and all-round firecracker the Fabulous Sebastian. I designed it for him only a couple of weeks ago, and here it is already, en carne viva. Wow.

I've only know Sebastian for a short time, but he has quickly showed himself to be the human incarnation of a devilishly raised eyebrow. An irresistible conversationalist, and a very fascinating creature indeed. So when he asked me to design a tattoo for him, I almost tripped over my nibs to get to the brush pen and have at it.

The request was for a skull. He's already got a very different-looking skull on the left arm, courtesy of Devil's Candy designer Eva Collado. I'd shown Sebastian a couple of my preliminary Hamlet pictures, and he liked the twisted black lines of Hamlet's "hair", so I decided to incorporate a variation of those lines into the design. As it turns out though, the lines in the tattoo design are very different to anything I'd envisaged using in Hamlet. However, I like them so much, that I'm thinking up ways that they might be incorporated into the book. The brush pen lends itself perfectly to these delicate swirls and mid-curve kinks, and I found that it led my hand quite unexpectedly into a whole new style. This is what the first version looked like:

When Sebastian showed it to the tattooist, he was told that the very fine "white" areas within the black would not work well. Apparently tattoo ink spreads in the skin over the years, so very small spaces tend to get eaten up by the black. I needed to get rid of some of the tiny white dots (a pity - I like them), and Sebastian also asked me to add some more curls at the sides of the skull, so that the design would wrap around his arm more.

To do this without the risk of messing up the original drawing, I laid a sheet of tracing paper over the top and did the new lines on that. My new Pentel fountain brush pen came in handy here, as its ink is waterproof and sits nicely on the tracing paper (the Chinese non-waterproof ink in my Pentel Aquash breaks up into beads on the surface). I then scanned the new parts, made a couple of small changes and added them to the existing scanned image, so the result looked like this:

And that is pretty much how it went onto the arm - apart from the enlarged tears which Sebastian said reminded him of prisoners!

It does look a little bit different when it's wrapped around a three-dimensional body - and it gives me the absolute shivers to see it there, on a living canvas! I have warned Sebastian that next time I'm up in Sydney, I'm going to take so many photos of him flaunting the tattoo that the ink is going to fade under the flash-bulb onslaught.

So, we're all happy. Sebastian has offered himself as my Muse (and there is some sort of resemblance to the Dane, I have to admit), and I've offered to design as many tattoos as he wants to bear. He's already asked me about starting on a second one...

I'm hooked. How could I say no?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Folio Folio Folio!

Picture the Bug standing in the bright Brisbane morning, suitcase in one hand, paper bag of books in the other, with tears rolling out of her goggly eyes...

Why is this sleep-deprived scribbler crying?

Well, she doesn't want to leave (a) Brisbane, (b) her buddy mister J, and (c) Folio bookshop.

Folio (80 Albert Street, Brisbane) is the workplace of said mister - when he's not busy being a world-famous wrestling cartoonist and wrestling announcer. And after spending an hour there, I am convinced that the place defies the laws of physics. SO MANY amazing books... As I browsed (trying not to lick the merchandise) the shop seemed to unfold into more and more dimensions of wonder... To give just one example, there is an entire section of visual "source books" - volumes full of copyright-free images for artists to use as they will. For the last ten years my Dover Animals book has been a constant companion, providing inspiration and anatomical guidance for everything from squids to seahorses, and even my beloved papier mache bat:
Folio not only had the animals book (though I noticed that it was tucked behind the counter, on hold for some lucky customer) but volumes full of art deco fabric cuts, 19th century mechanical devices, Victorian decorative effects, flowers, costumes... Oh, the joy of it!

Me, I was in the market for a slightly different kind of source book. My graphic adaptation of Hamlet involves a lot of plants and flowers - mostly weird, creepy, carnvorous-looking ones. And I needed a book of old-fashioned botanical illustrations from which I could draw inspiration for those plants. The art section of the shop had some lovely books on botanical illustration technique and history, but none that were quite what I wanted... and then, up above the counter, I saw it...
The Taschen 25 Book of Plants. It's an enormous (and very heavy) hardcover book, 442 pages long, full of beautifully reproduced colour plates of German botanical illustration. The style of the drawings is lush and slightly creepy - all those fingery roots and grasping tendrils and snapping flower-heads... Exactly what I need. And only $75 ! A bargain, I reckon. I love Taschen books. The smaller, but also very beautiful, book of Piranesi etchings that I bought last week is also one of theirs.

One hour in Folio was definitely not enough - and seemed to whiz by unnaturally fast (even by bookshop standards) in the shop's time vortex. Not wanting to miss my plane (and so become a complete "graphic novelist" cliche), I tore myself away from the shelves, scooped up a copy of Shaun Tan's The Arrival as an "arrival-into-the-world" present for new baby nephew Ethan, and got ready to say goodbye.

And this is where we find the Bug, standing outside Folio, sniffling a tearful farewell to the shop and, more importantly, to her wonderful friend mister J, with whom she'd had so much fun watching wrestling DVDs and talking over cups of tea until 2 am that morning.

I'm such a sap.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Handbag??


Last night I did a talk about Gatsby at the Avid Reader bookshop in West End, Brisbane. It's a gorgeous shop, run by the equally gorgeous Fiona and her lovely crew (special thanks to Anna Krien and Ben), and I had a wonderful time.

The experience was all the sweeter for the fact that it came after an extremely stressful day. I am usually a very organised person. I am also not generally much interested in handbags (unlike my buddy Scootergrrl). But in a brief lapse of judgement when packing on Wednesday night, I decided to transfer all my girly junk from one handbag to the other. All dandy... until two hours into my (delayed) flight, I realised with a sensation not unlike unexpected turbulence that I'd left my data stick - with my Gatsby presenation on it - in the Other Handbag. Cue Lady Bracknell. It didn't just look like carelessness - it looked like a fkn disaster!

There ensued a epic scramble to convey this enormous file (100mb) from a handbag in Fairfield, Melbourne, to a data stick in Brisbane. This involved getting my neighbour to break-and-enter (well, sort of), after which our internet, then hers, failed. She took the stick to her husband's work (is this going beyond the call or what?) where he managed to upload the file to the publisher's ftp site (which took 2 hours) after which the wonderful people in the IT department of my work very, very kindly downloaded it for me and sent it to Brisbane. This entire process took almost seven hours. During which time I also had to do a full day's work at the office. At 5pm on the dot I had my presentation on a borrowed data stick, and I needed a drink.

I left the office, still a bit goggle-eyed and quavery, and who do you think was standing just outside the building? In a beautiful bit of Brisbane serendipity, I almost fell over my favourite cranky bastard, Eddie "thanks for roning" Campbell, patron saint of forgetting stuff when you catch a plane, along with his lovely wife Anne.

Eddie and I then walked to the Avid Reader, where the wonderfully calm and friendly atmosphere of the shop instantly smoothed the day away. I was really tickled that Eddie wanted to attend this talk. We've presented together a few times and both enjoyed it very much, but I've never done a solo presentation with my sometime sparring partner in the audience. Anne had previously said that if she were doing the talk, she'd have him removed from the room before it began, so I have to admit to some trepidation. One mention of the words "graphic novel", I feared, might send him into a frenzy of objection and correction - or worse, he might just look at me from the back row with that pained rictus of horror on his face.

But no. I was very happy to note Eddie nodding in agreement and smiling throughout the talk. Afterwards, over a much-desired glass of pinot gris at a lovely West End bar, he said "That was great. You talked about your book without saying 'graphic novel' once, or getting into the whole business about what these things are called". Well, of course! It's not a topic that I tend to talk about anyway (!), but with Eddie in the audience, well, I'd have to be completely stupid to venture into those waters!

A particularly delightful aspect of this event for me was that it was held outside on the back porch of the shop, in the balmy Brisbane evening. The audience was friendly and enthusiastic and gave some great feedback. I was especially touched by the super-excited reaction of the charmingly-named Lucia Bee of the Somerville School, who asked me if I'd like to be their writer/artist in residence for a few days next year. You bet I would. I love Brisbane.
***
PS - also received this lovely review recently. Beam!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Daisy

This post is a little overdue - it's a few weeks now since I promised Paul Macdonald (of The Children's Bookshop in Sydney) a few pictures of Daisy Buchanan as I first drew her... eight years ago, as a dirty, dirty bird. So, apologies, and here is the story of Daisy's evolution.

Daisy Buchanan, as she appears in my adaptation of The Great Gatsby, looks like this (on the left). She's fluffy, gleamingly gold-and-white, delicately - maybe even precariously - balanced and full of charm:
Of course she's also selfish, careless, and morally bereft. Which is why my original idea was to draw Daisy and her cohorts as dirty creatures, showing the prickles, the grot and corruption underneath their glittering surfaces. My first character drawing for Daisy looked like this:
As I played around (obsessively) with my needle-fine crow quill nibs, Daisy got more and more elaborate:
...and also less wire-haired and dirty-looking. Her feather-fuzz acquired a more sparkly feel, and her head became rounder and more coiffed. A dirty Daisy just didn't seem quite... right. The more I thought about the book as a whole, the more wrong my original idea felt. A character like Daisy had to look beautiful, I realised, because allure, glamour and the glittering surface of things are so central to the world that Fitzgerald immerses us in. We need to experience that world and its privileged stars as gorgeously alluring, even as we see the emptiness, callousness and corruption beneath the polished skin. Making Daisy a dirty bird was not only going to be heavy-handed and obvious, but it would destroy the gossamer cloak of glamour that Fitzgerald spreads out for us over his Jazz Age tragedy.

So Daisy got even whiter, even more soft-and-sparkly...
...and her accessories got excruciatingly detailed. The motif on that armchair took forever to draw!

The problem with this incarnation was the face. It didn't have the scope for the subtle expression, suggestion, flirtation and emotion that is so important in Daisy's character. Daisy has to be able to seduce you with a tilt of her eyelashes, ensnare your sympathy against your will with a shy bite of her underlip, and betray you with a smirk. This strange creature's face, with its feather-rimmed eyes couldn't do that. I decided that Daisy's face had to be drawn with fewer lines, and with features far more capable of a range of subtle expression.

It was in the process of drawing the roughs for the book that Daisy really assumed her current form. I was drawing the characters very simply to plan the book out, and these lightly-cast forms and faces just appeared so much more lively and expressive than the extremely laboured original character drawings. Here's an example from right at the start of the roughs:
And as you can see, Daisy ended up looking very little like all those painstaking preliminary drawings, but instead took her final form from the quickly-pencilled roughs. I ended up doing the final drawings with a much sturdier steel nib than the little crow quills, and simplifying the characters a lot. The result, I think, is much more inviting to the eye.

So, could I have skipped all the bother (and the many, many hours!) of the original drawings and gone straight to the simpler forms? I don't think so. My inky gut tells me that all that initial extravagance was necessary, even though much of it was ultimately discarded. A couple of weeks ago, Shaun Tan and I got to discussing this very thing - and it turns out that he does something similar when developing an idea. Shaun explained that his initial drawings are often wildly "out there", detailed and extravagant, but that as he develops the idea, the visual elements are wound back to a less extreme form, one which works better, with greater possibility for engaging/communicating with the reader.

And hey - if it's good enough for Shaun Tan, it's sure as hell good enough for me!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

brush pen + wrestling + comics + brisbane... it has to be good

Yippee! My new brush pen with ink cartridges (Pentel GFKP) arrived from Will's Quills in Sydney today. I'm still enjoying its less fancy sister, the Pentel Aquash, too. Mmmm... Very big thanks to Matt Huynh who put me onto this shop, which specialises in nibs and calligraphy brushes.

A bit slack with the blogging this past week, and we can blame that on mister J and the Fabulous Sebastian, whose emails are truly a force to be reckoned with. In between emails, I managed to turn 33 and the Big Squid turned 40. Food played a large part in our celebrating.

The next week includes events of all flavours:

Friday 12 October, 8 pm (in Melbourne)

The fun continues at the Aggressively Strange Fables exhibition, at North Bazaar, 222 High Street Northcote. North Bazaar is a great bar with good beers on tap, comfy chairs, pizza, and some very, very fine drawings on the walls.

This Friday night, the inimitable Bernard Caleo will chair a session about the new bloom of graphic novel publishing in Australia. His guests are the wonderful Erica Wagner, publisher at Allen & Unwin, cartoonist Bruce Mutard, whose book The Sacrifice is due out next year, and me.

Last Friday night, Bernard chaired a session on animation, where we were treated to some wonderful works by Pick Nick, Kirrily Schell, David Blumenstein and Mandy Ord. The films were spectacular (and sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes hypnotic), the conversation was scintillating, and Mr Caleo suffused the whole event with his characteristic warmth and enthusiasm. So I think this week's session will be fun too.

Sunday 14 October - all day (in Melbourne)

On Sunday, Station Street Fairfield goes carnival. This is our local shopping strip, and they turn on a fantastic street festival. Fairfield is a very food-oriented kind of place (for those not familiar with the area) and the eating side of things is well taken care of.

But the BEST thing about the fair is, of course, the wrestling! The past two years they've had a ring set up in the middle of the street. Dodgy costumes, trash talk, outrageous moves and hilarious commentary - it had me grinning like an idiot for days, and not-so-secretly wishing that I could do that. And not just on the page.

So I won't be in the ring this year either... just watching wistfully from the sidelines and trying not to drop souvlaki all down the front of my top.

Next week - Thursday 18 October, 6.30 pm (in Brisbane)

The lovely people at The Avid Reader bookshop have invited me to do a talk there about The Great Gatsby graphic adaptation.

The address is 193 Boundary Street, West End. I'm looking forward to this, because I love going to Brisbane, and the bookshop is, from all accounts, excellent.

Monday, October 1, 2007

This Is Not Art - Newcastle rocks out

Ok, before I forget, here's a link to Chewie's photos from the Sydney Kinokuniya gig.

I'm just back from Newcastle, and the carnival of delights that is the This Is Not Art festival (TINA). Once a year, Newie is overrun with crazy Young People - scribblers of all kinds, zinesters, music-merchants, performers, ranters, thinkers, bloggers, electro-gadgeteers, spectacular costume-wearers, and every other flavour of artist and fancier you can think of- and the result is... kaleidoscopic. Sadly, I took very few photos - too busy having fun.

This year TINA was organised by a very talented crew (Tom Doig, Nic Low and Kelly-Lee Hickey were the big three, I believe) who packed the program with an amazing array of fabulous stuff. Just as exciting was the social buzz of the fest - at every turn you end up bumping into old friends or making new ones. In amongst some much-needed aimless drifting in the sunshine, I caught some great panels. A real stand-out was one called "Untold Stories", featuring (among others) super-author Anna Funder (of Stasiland fame), super-sharp-penned writer/journo Anna Krien and super-dooper artist and writer, Shaun Tan.


Speaking of whom, in the photo above you can see Shaun and me, revelling in an exhibition called Taking Eye-Candy From Strangers. It was in a little shopfront-turned-gallery, packed with amazing comic art, much of it painted directly onto the walls, and I believe we are pictured having a good laugh at a piece by the highly talented Pat Grant. Shaun is speaking, which generally means that he is saying something fascinating, and opening up a previously undiscovered door in his listener's head - in this case mine.

Shaun and I did an "in conversation" panel on Friday, titled A thousand pictures tells a million words, and I found it a fantastic experience. It's quite rare that Shaun and I get to sit down for an hour together and have a proper talk, because we're often both rushing in seven different directions at once. So it was a real treat to have this chat, and share some thoughts about the interaction between words and pictures, the structure of strips and pages, language, suggestion and symbols and the process of working on a long, long graphic novel. I always learn something when I talk with Shaun, and this was no exception. We had a friendly, appreciative crowd, and the conversation felt almost as natural as if we were just yakking together over a cup of tea.

There was a very healthy cartoonist contingent at TINA, including such luminaries as David Blumenstein (whose latest Nakedfella comic is so hilarious, I made a complete fool of myself reading it in a cafe), Jo Waite, Pat Grant, Matt "Stikman" Huynh, Leigh Rigozzi, Sarah Howell, Ben Constantine and Mel Stringer. The promised event involving a comics jam with images projected live onto a wall never happened, but there were plenty of opportunities for impromptu jamming. Must admit that I didn't draw much at all. Mostly I was just chilling out after a pretty hectic few days!

On Saturday night the phenomenally energetic Tom Doig hosted the "Mega mega launch" in which 30-something (that's number, not age) participants launched their book or other baby into the world. I gave Gatsby its second launch, without any tears this time! The Mega mega launch was a great event, and it was fabulous to see how enthusiastic and generous and encouraging the TINA crowd was. Everyone got lots of applause, and there was a feeling of genuine celebrations of works of all shapes and sizes. Fuzzy warm glow all round - which pretty much sums up the mood of TINA.

Sunday was the zine fair, which is shorthand for "massive festival of cool art stuff on trestle tables". The zine fair was spread out in the park, with a stage for music, lots of picnicking on blankets (TINA was amply supplied with delicious vegie food at all times) and... zombies! Oh, joy! Those who know me, know that I looooove zombies. Those who don't, check out some of my zombie comics here. And here are a few of the stylish Undead, out for a day in the park:


And thank YOU, nurse!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Fabulous Sydney! Brilliant bookshops and fine, fine folk

It's been a very busy few days! I came up to Sydney on Tuesday for a combined work/work/fun trip: two days of work at the office, plus a bunch of bookshop-related events in the evenings and on my "days off".

Sydney has turned on the beautiful weather, I've met wonderful people, and the speaking gigs have gone off a treat. There's hardly been a moment spare in amongst all this activity, but I did manage to fit in an early (and I do mean early) morning walk through the Botanical Gardens, along the water and up to the Opera House. Yeah, I'm a tourist - and loving it.

On Tuesday night I entered the Den of Temptation that is Gleebooks. I wish I'd had a proper chance to explore this fabulous shop and get lost among the head-high stacks of books piled up on the tables, but I was rushing like mad, and made it just in time to do the presentation. Gleebooks runs a regular program of bookish events (big thanks to the lovely Morgan), and draws a terrific audience. There were loads of questions, lots of signings, and I had a great time. Can't wait for my next Sydney trip so I can go back and completely blow the budget in this great shop.

During the day on Thursday Allen & Unwin Publicist Extraordinaire and top chick Renee Senogles whizzed me around to a radio interview and then to visit a bunch of other great bookstores, including Better Read than Dead in Newtown (more temptation - and thanks for the delicious pineapple-mint frappe!) and Abbey's Bookshop in the city, where I met the lovely Sofia. Sofia was the first kind stranger to contact me "out of the blue" by email after Gatsby came out. She wrote me such a beautiful letter that I ended up sobbing in front of the computer. So it was great to meet her in person. We both managed not to cry like idiots.

At The Children's Bookshop in Beecroft (Beecroft - what a cool name) I met Paul Macdonald who owns the store and runs a whole raft of programs and workshops for kids, and also for teachers and librarians. We discovered a shared passion for The Great Gatsby, Hamlet, and T.S. Eliot's box-of-marvels-in-a-poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. What we didn't agree on was Daisy Buchanan. Paul described her as his most despised character in literature - whereas she is, of course, my favourite! We had a great chat about this, and I've promised Paul that I'll send him copies of some of my early "dirty" Daisy character sketches. I'll post them on the blog, too, once I get back to Melbourne. She started out as a really dirty bird!

Last night I did another talk, this time at wonder-emporium, Kinokuniya. The first thing I saw when I raced into the shop was the huge display of Gatsbys right up the front. The clever person who put this display together had also included little stacks of various editions of the original novel, which I thought was excellent. Again, a great audience, which included the fabulous W. Chew "Chewie" Chan, who is Kinokuniya's Comics/Graphic Novels Consultant (They have a consultant for this! They are so cool!!). Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Chewie nodding enthusiastically throughout the talk, which made me beam! Chewie has promised to put photos from the event up on Kinokuniya's Facebook page (naturally I left my camera at the hotel). I've resisted thus far, but I think I'm going to have to join Facebook now... As if the internet were not already eating my life.

After the gig I also had the pleasure of meeting the "Fabulous Sebastian" (this is his preferred name). This fine gent is the wrestling commentator sidekick of my buddy mister J, wrestling cartoonist extraordinaire. Truth in advertising - I found him to be fabulous indeed.

Something else quite mysterious and lovely happened at the end of the Kinokuniya presentation. A lady came up to have her books signed - and she'd bought four copies. We had a little chat, but she didn't tell me her name. After she'd left, Chewie appeared with a Kinokuniya bag, and told me that this lady had given me a present - a copy of Norton Juster's 1961 novel, The Phantom Tollbooth, with illustrations by Jules Pfeiffer. How sweet and generous! I don't know this lady's name, and I would have so much liked to thank her. If you are reading this, mystery gifter, thank you so much - and please do get in touch!

Now, Friday morning, I'm just waiting for Kinokuniya to open so I can snap a photo of that great display before hauling my overstuffed bags down to Central Station and catching the train to Newcastle for the National Young Writers Festival. It's going to be a BIG weekend...!

More - with pictures - soon.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sideshow Alley



Yesterday the Big Squid, Little Squid and I went to the Royal Melbourne Show.

I was amazed by the rides, because they were all so extreme. Apparently the thrill of swooping up and down on the Pirate Ship (always my favourite) or having your neck dislocated on the Zipper is no longer enough. Now almost every ride involves going up insanely high in the air then spinning in several different directions at once while plummeting at sickening speed, offering the illusion that you are about to be smashed face-first into the ground. The machines were spectacular - but I decided to keep my bratwurst inside my tummy, thanks.

Little Squid (who is taller than me, for the record) is not one for rides, even of the tamer sort. And being the smart young man that he is, he took the view that the showbags were "a world of crap" and was much more interested in the animals. Me too. The last time I went to the Show I was a very small kid, and my favourite thing there (and possibly in the entire world) was the baby chickens.

But the thing that interests me the most about the Show now is something that has largely disappeared: Sideshow Alley and the culture of the old-style Showmen. Last year when I was writing the second Antonia Cutlass Book, Operation Weasel Ball, I did some research into the very colourful - and largely hidden - history of carnival sideshows in Australia. Amazingly, there was almost nothing published on the subject, though there was plenty about the American equivalent. Luckily I did find one fascinating book called Sideshow Alley, by Richard Broome, which included plenty of first-hand accounts of life in the sideshows that, as recently as the late fifties, were the most popular feature of the Australian fairgrounds.

I loved writing Operation Weasel Ball, and it was a particularly enjoyable challenge to write the character of Big Tim, an elderly gent, under five feet tall, with a mysterious past as a Showie. Presenting the lost world of the sideshows - a world which modern audiences will inevitably view with some ambivalence - to a readership of eight- to twelve-year-old kids was a delicate business. But (and maybe there's a bit of the Showman in us scribblers too) I think I pulled it off.

So yesterday I tried to peer past the high-shine slickness of the Extreme Rides, and catch a glimpse of the old ghosts of Sideshow Alley. But of course they eluded me. I'm only a mug punter, after all, and those Showies guard their secrets well.

PS... apparently I am going to be on Radio National tomorrow (Monday) at 10 am, on the Book Show, talking about Gatsby. They pre-recorded it a while ago.