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!

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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.