May 17, 2011

Graphic Novels, Comics & Cartoons at AWRF 2011

Tim Kidd from Readers Services is a comics reader, creator and appreciator, and the person who takes care of the teeming comics and graphic novel shelves at Central City Library. He is also the only person on our library quiz team who knew which creature possesses the largest eye in the animal kingdom. It's the giant squid. Here Tim casts his own eye (in black bakelike glasses) on the comics and graphic novels session at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, which was chaired by Adrian Kinnaird, cartoonist and writer of the New Zealand Comics blog From Earth's End.
The guests were Karen Healey, Dylan Horrocks, Chris Slane and Ant Sang. All four have had books published in the last year, which are available in regular bookstores around the country. Dylan re-released his major work, Hicksville, last year, with a new design, new cover and a lovely new comics-form introduction; Guardian of the Dead is Karen Healey’s latest, award-winning teen novel; Ant Sang’s Shaolin Burning is set in medieval China and tells the story of Plum Blossom, a young woman who is determined to be the best Kung Fu warrior in the land; and Chris Slane’s Nice Day for a War adapts the diaries of Cyril Elliott, a soldier who served in the trenches in France. A big year for New Zealand comics.

It was a nice hour, led by Adrian Kinnaird, who began by asking the creators to talk about their early experiences reading comics, accompanied by pictures of Spiderman, Casper, Tintin, Donald Duck etc. projected on the big screens.

Then Karen and Dylan discussed the role of women in superhero comics. Karen Healey had been involved in the Girl Wonder group that was concerned with rehabilitating the male-centric genre of superheroes for everyone. Dylan had written Batgirl for some time and so had some insights to bring to a conversation about the poor treatment of women superheroes in recent years (for an interview with her and Mr Kinnaird about this and more go to

But my favourite part of the talk was when the cartoonists showed some of the preparatory material that went into their finished comics. It was illuminating to see these private sketches and notes blown up large on the big screen. They are such good cartoonists that even what they might consider a throwaway working-drawing still looked great enlarged a hundred times the size. I could see that what might take just a few seconds to read on the page could take many days of work to make. And I liked seeing the very different approaches they took to construct their stories.

Slane was obliged to do historical research for his book and he certainly did not take any shortcuts. Images of the battle fields in France as they look today on Google Earth, tourist photos of the area uploaded to the internet (beautiful green rolling pastures, lovely vineyards, cyclists) were married to photos taken by soldiers of the time ( blackened limbless trees, shattered buildings, mud, holes) and maps of battle positions and trench layouts. These gave him the ability to place his characters into the landscape. He went on to show how he unobtrusively incorporated all this reference work into the finished pages.

It was nice to see his thumbnails (small, sketchy drawings made to plan the comic page as a whole and test how one panel flows to the next). He showed how these were tightened up into more detailed sketches to get the character placement right, the story information clearly shown, and to check for readability. I thought these sketches from him looked good enough to publish as they were. But there was a further version of the page to work out the balance of dark and light tones. Only then came the finished drawings- done in pencil and watercolour. The writing, for him, he said, was inseparable from the drawing.

Ant Sang's Shaolin Burning is a beautifully crafted story and I was excited to see that Ant had chosen to show us the plotting process. He used techniques adapted from cinematic writing and his book does have the feel of a great dramatic action movie. To see the way he diagrammed the plot and the characters' transitions and development was fascinating. He displayed pages full of tiny notes with scribbled arrows leading to other notes to other arrows to more notes. A pair of columns of writing side by side -- each one representing a character -- with arrows shooting back and forth; triangles with words at each corner. His writing was arranged in a very visual way.

Dylan showed the pages from the script notebook he uses for his new story The Magic Pen, as serialised on his website To see someone's handwriting blown up so large was very personal and nice. A cartoonist needs to be clear above all other things and he excels at this. I thought it was neat that even his hand-written notes are a model of clarity. Then he showed how a few sketches in the corner of a page could expand into a new character and then how that character could intrude into the story so much that the whole thing changed. It all seemed natural and fun.

-- Tim Kidd

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:00


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