Friday, May 28, 2010

Talking about adapting Gatsby

Here is a short piece that I recorded for the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas a few months ago. The Wheeler Centre - wonderful people! - recently hosted a whole weekend of panels, talks and workshops about graphic novels. Unfortunately I had to pull out at the last moment due to a bout of vicious tonsillitis. By all accounts it was a fabulous weekend.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


..and completely unable to be cool and nonchalant about it! I am sooooooo thrilled!

Here's the Cartoon Lounge year-end cartoon-off where I get to play with four super-amazing cartoonists. Plus an interview about Hamlet and Gatsby. Oh my.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

New project!

Delighted to announce that there is a new project under way!

It's a picture book for very small kiddies, inspired of course by the darling Poppy and guided in part by the kinds of pictures she most enjoys looking at.

More details once it is all firmed up, but this photo of my desk and "washing line" of roughs gives an indication of the shape of the characters: two monkeys and a very mischievous chameleon.

It's so much fun working on something bright and lively and fun, and which I know will bring a smile to the little Popster's face. And 22 pages feels like an absolute luxury after the 427-page slog of Hamlet!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tango reflections

I'm feeling very sentimental. Last Thursday night saw a very special double launch here in Melbourne: the launch of Tango 9 - Love and War and of The Tango Collection.

For the uninitiated, Tango is an anthology of romance comics. And by romance, we mean the wonderful combination of love-plus-adventure. All kinds of love (zombie love, toaster love, cheese love, pigeon love - you name it) and every colour of adventure, all in magnificent techni-black-and-white. Tango is up to its ninth issue now, and for twelve years these beautiful anthologies have been lovingly tended, edited, brought into the world and distributed by the spectacular Mr Bernard Caleo. Twelve years is a really long time in comics, especially when you're publishing out of your kitchen, hawking it around to bookstores yourself, and doing it all on the smell of an inky rag.

But Bernard is no longer doing it all on his own. Enter the most marvellous and most adventurous of publishing houses, Allen & Unwin. Steered by comics visionary Erica Wagner A&U have published The Tango Collection, a rich, juicy volume of selected goodies from the first eight issues of Tango. Let me just spell this out: a big, highly respected mainstream publishing company has just published a collection of local comic artists, many of whom are totally unknown to the wider reading public. That is adventure! And that is love. (That is also great publishing karma, I would add. I hope they sell kazillions.)

The Tango Collection is fabulous. The comics are funny, moving, gripping, compelling, kooky, challenging, entertaining and mighty impressive. The editing choices are smart and beautifully balanced, thanks to Bernard and to A&U's Elise Jones, and the design by Bruno Herfst is great - inviting to the eye, with a clever nod to Tango's cut-and-paste kitchen table origins. And it's so perfectly in the spirit of Tango, that I have to wipe away a little tear just thinking about it.

Tango has always had a big, big heart - big enough to include the first shy publishings of many a local scribbler. Talk to any Melbourne comic artist, and odds are they started out publishing their work in Tango. And odds are those same scribblers are still submitting their work to Bernard every time a new issue of Tango is conceived. It's eclectic, it's open to play and experimentation, it's generous, and it's a damn fine collection of quality comics. It's very, very exciting seeing it dished up to the wider reading public in such polished and exuberant style.

Tango is also a community. My introduction to the Melbourne comics scene was through Tango back in 1998, and the friendships, inspirations and camaraderie are still going strong. It was a very warm feeling indeed to look around the enormous crowd at the launch and see so many wonderful people - wonderful people whose work I admire so much, too. My date for the evening, darling baby Poppy, wasn't quite up to the heat, noise and press of so many much bigger bodies, so I didn't get a chance to talk with everyone or really get into the swing of the party. But it was great just to see the launch, and one day when she's bigger, Pop Pop can say, "I was there when they launched The Tango Collection".

The launch has been blogged by Bernard here, with photos. Needless to say, I didn't even manage to even get my camera out of my bag!

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 reading roundup

Oh boy... the new year already... and I have been neglecting the blogging. Blame Hamlet, who has me in his terrible grip and is progressing nicely - I have now passed the half-way mark, and have a mere 200 pages still to do!

Hamlet is also responsible for the much shorter list of Books I've Read this year. Not because the drawing has been eating into my reading time, but because I've spent a lot of the page-turning hours with the extremely hefty (900-page plus) The Masks of Hamlet by Marvin Rosenberg. This is definitely one for the freaks and enthusiasts - it goes through every line and every moment in the play and looks at how different actors, directors, critics and academics have interpreted it, with a focus on performance. It's actually very conversational and readable, and allows a little peek into hundreds of performances that we'd never be able to see in real life. I'm still ploughing through it. But in between scenes, here's what I've been reading for fun:

The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory
Holiday fluff which I read in Byron Bay. It was very drawn out and probably quite formulaic (hard to say as I rarely read this genre), but I have to admit - totally unputdownable!

Prochownik's Dream - Alex Miller
I enjoyed this, especially in the way that it explored the creative process of the main character, a painter. It was one of those books where I didn't like any of the characters very much (apart from the painter's deceased father, whom the painter is a bit tediously obsessed with), but the writing was beautiful and the evocation of Melbourne was great.

Heartland - Neil Cross
I met Neil Cross this year at the Perth Writers Festival, and all too briefly. He seemed like a fascinating person, and very modestly described his work as "just writing thrillers". Of course he's actually a superstar. As well as writing books, he also writes for the British TV show "Spooks". So when he told me that his latest book was a memoir about growing up with a very disturbing family - and particularly his sociopathic stepfather - I was intrigued. I haven't read any of the growing mass of "my terrible childhood" books, and wouldn't ordinarily be drawn to that side of the biography section, but I'm glad I read this one. The book was gripping, engagingly written and completely un-melodramatic, though it was certainly quite disturbing. Something that really impressed me was how the writer survived all this not as a self-pitying, "deserving victim", but as a compassionate person of humour and wisdom - and talent. This wasn't just a book by someone who'd had terrible experiences - it was a book by an excellent writer, and that surely makes all the difference. I was impressed by how he could realistically show and examine the reactions of a young child - not of an idealised little angel, but a real kid - to the truly incomprehensible behaviour of the adults closest to him.

Mister Pip - Lloyd Jones
Very good, deserving of all the accolades - and also very horrible. Recounts atrocities in a terrifying clear, simple voice.

Requiem for a Beast
- Matt Ottley
Extremely impressive - see here for more.

King Dork - Frank Portman
Well, I'm in two minds about this one. It was a very entertaining and funny and sharp-witted look at the hideousness of the teenage social jungle. It had a fuck-you smart-arsedness that I really liked, and a wild ride of a plot. But it was also horribly cynical, especially in the teenage narrator's sneering dismissal of anyone who happened to be a baby boomer. Ok, the boomers have plenty to answer for as a group, but the relentless lack of generosity of spirit in this book left a bad taste in my mouth. I really couldn't tell if the intended readership (alienated teens, which I suppose is most of us, deep down) was supposed to look critically at the narrator or to side with him wholeheartedly. I couldn't help feeling that we were supposed to love this underdog unreservedly in spite of his obvious flaws, and that if we should take exception to any aspect of his snotty dismissiveness, then we'd automatically be on the wrong side, along with those contemptible boomers. I do recommend this one though.

With Nails - Richard E Grant
Wonderful! Richard E Grant's film diaries are a fabulous read, even if you have no great interest in Hollywood gossip. The best part for me is of course the chapter on Withnail & I - my favourite film of all time, and the one that made REG's career.

The Hamlet Diary - Mark Kilmurry
An actor prepares for the role and takes us through his process. Interesting adddition to my Hamlet reading.

Archy and Mehitabel - Don Marquis (illustrated by George Herriman)
Gorgeous - an instant favourite. Marquis wrote these poignant and funny and sad little poems as a newspaper serial in the 30s. Archy the cockroach dives head-first onto one typewriter key at a time to give us his musings on life, reports of his gallivanting alley cat friend, Mehitabel, and requests for something better to eat than stale paste.

Tales from Outer Suburbia - Shaun Tan
Another masterpiece from Mr Tan. Love love, rave rave. My favourite is the story called "Erik" about a very little exchange student. Go out and get a copy of this stunning book!!

Justine - Lawrence Durrell
This is a hot contender for the most tedious, turgid, dull and irritating book I've read in years. It was almost as dull as Take a Girl Like You (last year's clear winner), but far more self-important, self-indulgent and muddy in its prose. I will be giving this Durrell a wide, wide swerve from now on.

Hamlet: Poem Unlimited - Harold Bloom
According to Hamlet expert Professor Boom, not only is the play a work of genius, but Hamlet-the-character is a genius beyond Shakespeare himself. Bloom reckons that the character has such a life and mind of his own that he goes beyond his author and becomes bigger, greater and smarter than the man who created him, with insights beyond the author's own. This is a tricky proposition, but Bloom is a persuasive kind of guy - and one with opinions to spare. No fence-sitting multiple interpretations (or "polyphonies", as Rosenberg nicely puts it) for Bloom: he is dead certain about every aspect of Hamlet's character and behaviour. Perhaps a teensy bit arrogantly so! A stimulating read, and good for an argument.

Awakenings - Oliver Sacks
Fascinating stuff, and another reminder about just how fragile and subjective our experience of reality really is.

The Red Shoe - Ursula Dubosarsky
Aimed at kids / young adults, but definitely not a "kiddy book". Written with a light touch, haunting and subtle. Great cover by the fabulous Zoe Sadokierski.

The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard - Dan Best and Eddie Campbell
Fabulous! Wonderful! See here for more.

Moab is my washpot - Stephen Fry
A terrific memoir, very funny and self-deprecating and witty. Stephen Fry is a hell of a smart guy. The memoir covers his school days, just up to the point of embarking on his further studies, and it leaves me wanting to know more. Gives us a peek into the weird, weird world of English public schools. The book is full of little asides where Fry gives us his opinions on all kinds of things, in no uncertain terms.

The City of Falling Angels - John Berendt
A look into the intrigues and mysteries of Venice, based around an investigation into the suspicious fire that destroyed the Fenice theatre. I read it during our visit to Venice, and it did confirm my feeling about the place: that it is a closed city, whose "real life" is completely barred to the unwelcome strangers who come to visit. We felt completely shut out in Venice - even belligerently so - a completely different experience from any other place I've visited.

The Scheme for Full Employment - Magnus Mills
Hilarious! A satire on schemes to keep people occupied and working - no matter how pointless that work may be, and on attitudes to working and shirking. Even funnier when we realised that half the staff at Heathrow Airport appeared to actually be on "The Scheme".

The Ministry of Special Cases - Nathan Englander
Very distressing, but very very good. Brace yourself for this one - it is about young people who are "disappeared" under the dictatorship in Argentina, and their families' endless attempts to find them.

The Broken Shore - Peter Temple
A really goood cop/crime story set somewhere on the rugged Victorian coast. A great plot with a social conscience. The protagonist has two beloved dogs - large black poodles - and I was relieved that there were no cheap attempts at terror involving the dogs being hurt or menaced.

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
Oooh yes, this was excellent. I loved it. Very smart, and very revealing of the flip-side of Indian society and its economic boom.

The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas
A fabulous read - and extremely close to the bone. I have no doubt everyone will be talking about this one. Set here and now, in inner Melbourne (quite near our place, actually) it starts at a suburban barbecue where one man slaps a bratty child, who is not his own. The consequences unfold through chapters each told from a different character's point of view, and the thing about these characters is that you know them all. Ok, not precisely, but they all show traits of thought and speech and behaviour that you will recognise from someone you know - maybe even from yourself, if you're honest about it. Tsiolkas is amazing in the way that he gets inside these characters and show us feelings and attitudes and reactions that we rarely own up to, but which often lurk inside us. Many of the characters are unlikeable and behave appallingly, but Tsiolkas asks us to suspend judgement just a little and try to see how they got to be that way. Really great stuff.

What Was Lost - Catherine O'Flynn
Another terrific read - I gobbled it up in an afternoon. Evil doings, loss and loneliness and a really skilfully constructed mystery around a horrible English shopping mall. I have an absolute loathing of shopping centres (richly confirmed recently by my third ever - and definitely my final - visit to the Monstrosity That Is Northland) and this book strips the whole edifice bare, showing us the grim service tunnels behind and beneath the muzak and gleaming storefronts.

Two Caravans - Marina Lewycka
A great note on which to end the reading year. This one begins with a bunch of not-quite-legal migrant workers thrown together on a dodgy strawberry-picking job in the English countryside. They are from the Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Malaysia, China and Nigeria, and England is out to use, squeeze, and exploit them - and otherwise pretend that they don't exist. A wake-up call about where our cheap food really comes from - and also a funny and touching story about people just trying to get along and pursue their hopes in a new place and with one another.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

To be, baby, to be!

No, we didn't run off to Paris and never come back - much as we fantasised about such a plan of action. Between the killer currency conversion menacing us abroad and the little creatures awaiting us at home, a spot of absconding was not really on the agenda. The loveliest part about coming home (apart from the truly ecstatic reaction of the Pupster) is that I have somehow managed to retain the relaxing effects of a wonderful holiday. And it's Spring!

Not that this relaxation means any slacking off on Hamlet. Since coming back, I've been working madly, madly, madly on it. And as I've been approaching the whirlpool centre of the play, stuff like blogging tends to fall off a bit. Sorry about that. Thanks to Nathalie for reminding me to post!

So the Hamlet tally is: 181 pages (and four soliloquies) down; with approximately 240 pages (and exactly four soliloquies - three for Hamlet, one for the King) to go. The super news is - I've done The Big One. The most famous piece of dramatic speech ever. "To be, or not to be". The fourth soliloquy - the goddamn Question! Yowie.

It was thrilling. It really was one of the most exciting scribbling experiences I've ever had, if not the most exciting. I spent two and a half days (and by "days" I mean 11-hour marathons) executing the ten pages of the soliloquy - with frequent bouts of pacing, posing, gurning and grimacing, talking to myself, leaping about to let off steam and "yes!"-ing. But this was, of course, the tip of the iceberg. There was a hell of a lot of planning, roughs, notes, reading and so on that shaped it before I approached the final drawings. I'd come up with the basic idea about a year ago, but refined it and rethought it and changed my mind almost as often as the Dane himself, before I finally came up with just what I wanted.

"Performing" the soliloquies on the page is a fascinating process. As always, I want the pictures to add something significant to every phrase, so there is no question of just letting the character pace up and down making faces and gesticulating while he "speaks" the lines. What a waste that would be. There has to be something more - something that unpacks and illuminates and even interrogates the words of the soliloquy.

On the stage an actor can do so much of this with voice, delving into the inexhaustible toolbox of volume, emphasis, tone, modulation, facial movement, timing, rhythm, verse-speaking, inflection, and of course, silences or pauses. Add movement to this, and the on-stage possibilities are limitless. On the page, though, we have neither sound nor real time movement at our disposal. What a challenge!

So what I aim to do - and not only in the soliloquies - is exploit the special devices that are unique to the graphic medium, to achieve a different kind of drama. These devices can be very broadly bundled into two types, which are inextricably linked and overlap: composition (the layout of the page, the character placement, the shape and location of speech bubbles, the way the panels combine and interact etc) and content (including the cool stuff that you can do on a page, but which would be difficult or impossible to achieve in "real life" with its pesky space-time constraints). Tied up with this is my own favourite scribbling activity, which is all about making the structure of the book, the page and the frames themselves part of the storytelling. Characters use or push against the boundaries of the frames, objects (and characters) tumble down the page from one frame into another, and terrifying things menace us from the darkness outside the panel borders. In some instances, turning a page even shows you what is happening "behind" it. Ooh, I love that stuff!

The soliloquy is too fresh and "just-out-of-the-oven" for me to post any snippets here. In fact, I'm even coy about posting a picture of Our Hamlet at this stage. So instead I've posted a little peek at Ophelia being admonished by her pain-in-the-arse father - because I feel bad being such a tease and not showing any of the goodies.

This week Ophelia gets even more trauma as we get into what I consider the hardest scene of the play. The mad, bad, "Get thee to a nunnery" scene. Hamlet and I have to spend the next ten pages or so tearing this sweet Ophelia creature to tatters. Juggling love, disappointment, fury, disgust, sadness, betrayal, desire, judgement, confusion, suspicion, sexual nausea, self-loathing, regret - all this while toying with one's sanity. I am going to have to dig deep for this one.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Tomorrow we scoot off overseas for a month of marvellous adventures, so things will be pretty quiet here in the Ink Bottle until about mid-October. We leave home and beloved creatures in the capable hands of our good friend Toby.

It is truly a shame that Horace - sporting his new & extremely chic haircut - won't be padding the footpaths of Paris with us and communing with his poodle brethren in their natural environment: the inside of swanky restaurants. I'm sure he speaks with a French accent already.