Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Road To Armageddon 2011 Part 2: New Zealand Comic Creators

Above: The NZ Comics booth from Armageddon 2010.

It's been a landmark year for New Zealand Comics in 2011, with three original graphic novels seeing print: Shaolin Burning by Ant Sang, Nice Day For a War by Chris Slane, and Kimble Bent: Malcontent by Chris Grosz. This weekend all three authors, along with NZ Comics mainstay Dylan Horrocks, will be attending the Armageddon Expo, appearing exclusively at the New Zealand Comics booth #90.

Ant Sang has long been a pillar of the Auckland comics community, producing one the best selling NZ comics series of all time, The Dharma Punks, which was published between 2001-03. It was this series that brought him to the attention of the producers of the animated TV series Bro'Town, who hired Ant as art director and production designer for the show, winning him several awards. Earlier this year saw the release of his first original graphic novel Shaolin Burning from HarperCollins, a kung-fu infused meditation on revenge and destiny in ancient China. It was an instant hit upon release, making the top ten NZ Bestsellers fiction list four weeks running and the #1 book for it's publisher that month.

Chris Slane is an award-winning cartoonist whose work has appeared in countless magazines and newspapers including: The Listener, The New Zealand Herald, Metro and many more. His editorial cartoons have won him the prestigious Qantas Cartoonist Of The Year award three times and the Qantas Editorial Graphics Artist Award twice. This year saw the release of his second graphic novel Nice Day For a War: Adventures of a Soldier in World War 1, co-authored with Matt Elliott from HarperCollins.

Chris Grosz has worked in a variety of creative mediums over the years, as an illustrator, political cartoonist, art director, teacher and animator in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. A collection of his political cartoons with writer Shane Maloney called Australian Encounters, for Australian magazine The Monthly, was published in December 2010. His first graphic novel, Kimble Bent: Malcontent was released this year from Random House.

Dylan Horrocks is the author of the seminal graphic novel Hicksville. Universally praised by the international comics community upon it's release in 1998, it has only recently been published locally for the first time last year by Victoria University PressHe also spent several years of the last decade writing for DC Comics, putting the speech bubbles in the mouths of such well recognised characters as Batman, Batgirl, Supergirl, John Constantine, Tim Hunter and more. After his corporate comics experience he was happy to return to creating his own comics, which he currently publishes weekly through his website hicksvillecomics.com. These include the two serials Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen and The American Dream.

All four authors will be signing and selling their graphic novels and comics Saturday and Sunday at the New Zealand Comics booth #90, so make sure you stop by for the best of homegrown comics! There will also be a special panel on New Zealand Graphic Novels, held Sunday October 31st at noon on Stage Two. This panel will give you an exclusive look inside the creative process of creating a graphic novel, from concept to script and finished artwork. If you're an aspiring cartoonist or have an interest in finding out more about New Zealand Comics in general, you won't want to miss this! It was one of the most popular panels at this year's Writers & Readers Festival and is available this weekend at Armageddon FREE of charge! So make sure you get in early for a good seat.

Above: The Inhabitants comic series by the Sheehan Bros. Copyright Sheehan Bros 2011.

The NZ Comics booth will also be showcasing a wide variety of NZ Comics from across the country, from DIY zines through to indie favourites, like The Inhabitants comic series by the Sheehan Bros.

Above: The cover of The Official Authorised Blastosaurus Super Happy Awesome Time Rainy Day Activity and Indoor Excitement Booklet ((whew!)). Copyright Richard Fairgray 2011.

Blastosaurus creator Richard Fairgray will once again be attending with a wide range of new titles, including: The Blastosaurus Hallowe'en Special,  The Official Authorised Blastosaurus Super Happy Awesome...etc (see above!), the Blastosaurus: A Wee Bit Special: A collected edition of the first four convention specials from 2009-2011, I Fight Crime Volumes 12-14, and finally, Richard and Terry's Animation Compilation: Special Burglary Edition DVD (!).

Yes, you read that right. Here's Richard to explain: 'Recently the Blastosaurus offices were robbed. The thieves took all our computers and all our back up drives and now the insurance company won't cover all the replacement costs. The only files we were left with (on a thumb drive in Richard's pocket) were our animations (though some had to be downloaded from Youtube to complete the set). As a fundraiser we are selling a DVD that contains all 62 episodes of Chewing Zombies, Stavros The Contractor and Jake's Never The One To Go Crazy for $10. Also on the set are a bunch of special features such as Audio Commentaries from Terry and I on all the shows, a second rap by Rapscallion, a Behind The Scenes look at Chewing Zombies, an animated Documentary about Richard and Terry, the trailer for Blastosaurus and a hidden Easter Egg.'

Blastosaurus is booth #38, so stop by and show your support by buying some comics and DVDs (I'm sure the DVD is worth it for the Rapscallion rap alone: you've been warned! And who knows what's on the hidden Easter Egg...).

Richard Fairgray will also be appearing next door at the Beyond Reality Media booth #39 to promote his webcomic The Inspiration Duncans with co-creator and BRM/Armageddon head-honcho William Geradts. The BRM booth will showcase their current range of webcomics on viewing tablets. Their current titles include: The Inspiration Duncans, Attica, Warden, The Red Star and Robert Rankin's EmpiresYou can read these titles for free right now over at the BRM website HERE. And as a bonus, here's a look at their first motion-comic for Warden:

As you can see, there's a ton of great locally produced comics available at the Expo this Friday to Monday, so make sure you come down and check it out! Armageddon Expo: October 28th-31st at the ASB Showgrounds. Friday Preview only $10 a ticket, Saturday to Monday- Adults $20, Student $17 (with ID), Child (5-12) $10 or FREE with full paying adult. For more details visit the Armageddon Expo website HERE.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Road To Armageddon 2011 Part 1: International Comic Creators

Above: The Mighty Avengers as drawn by Frank Cho. Copyright Marvel Comics 2011.

The Armageddon Expo returns to Auckland this week, taking a week's grace to avoid competing with the Rugby World Cup final. But now that that's out of the way, you can expect the usual masses of pop culture fanatics to descend on the ASB Showgrounds this October 28th-31st. Yes, you read that right: it's four days of none-stop geek overloading to make up for missing Labour Weekend (so now would be the time to fill out those annual leave forms, or start planning for a sick-day!).

The Expo is jam-packed with guests this year, so let's take a look at what's on offer for comic fans. Making up the guest list of international cartoonist are: Fred Van Lente, Frank Cho and Rob Guillory.

Above: Action Philosophers! by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. Copyright Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey 2011.

Fred Van Lente is currently one of Marvel's most prolific writers. He came to the attention of The House of Ideas with his self-published comic series Action Philosophers!, which won an American Library Association Award. His writing credits include: Marvel Zombies, Incredible Hercules (with Greg Pak), Odd Is On Our Side (with Dean R. Koontz), Taskmaster, X-Men Noir, Amazing Spider-Man, Alpha Flight (also with Pak) and Comic Book Comics with artist Ryan Dunlavey. He was also one of the writers for the Cowboys & Aliens graphic novel, which inspired the recent movie starring Daniel Craig. There will be a special writing panel with Fred Van Lente on Saturday 29th at noon.

Above: Liberty Meadows by Frank Cho. Copyright Frank Cho 2011.

Frank Cho is responsible for drawing some of the most attractive women in comics this side of Dave Stevens (check out his website if you don't believe me, va-va-voom!). He started drawing a comic strip called University2 while studying Nursing, before graduating to producing the syndicated comedy strip Liberty Meadows. Since then he has gone on to draw for Marvel on such titles as: Marvel Knights Spider-man, Shanna the She-Devil, Mighty AvengersHulk and Ultimate Comics New Ultimates. He's also written/drawn Jungle Girl and Savage Red Sonja for Dynamite Entertainment. His next creator owned project is Guns & Dinos from Image Comics.

Above: Chew, drawn by Rob Guillory and written by John Layman. Copyright John Layman and Rob Guillory 2011.

Rob Guillory began his comic art career during a four-year stint as cartoonist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. From there, Guillory went on to work on several indie comic anthology projects, such as Teddy Scares from Ape Entertainment and Image Comics' Popgun Anthology.

In 2008, Guillory began working on his first major comics work, the New York Times Best-selling Chew, written by John Layman and published by Image Comics. The book has gone on to achieve much success, being nominated for two Harvey Awards (including Best New Talent for Guillory), two Eagle Awards and winning an Eisner Award for Best New Series in 2010. There will be a comics panel with Rob 
Guillory on Sunday at 1pm.

Check back tomorrow for a look at the local comic creators attending.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Return Of Blastosaurus And The Fall Of American Original

Above: The new Blastosaurus series by Richard Fairgray & Terry Jones. Copyright Richard Fairgray 2011.

Back in 2008, local comics creator Richard Fairgray talked his way into the deal of a lifetime: one of his ideas for a comic-book series was to be picked up for American publication by rising media mogul/movie producer Jeff Katz.

Above: Richard Fairgray, with his Blastosaurus comics.

Katz and Fairgray met by chance through a mutual friend during the filming of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in Sydney, which Katz was over-seeing as a production executive for Twentieth Century Fox. Sharing a 'gift for the gab' they immediately hit it off, and Katz was impressed enough by Richard's diverse output of comics to offer him a development deal with his soon to be announced media company, the ironically titled American Original.

Above: Jeff Katz, head of American Original.

Katz had left his position at Fox to capitalise on what he saw as an opportunity to licence new characters and properties across a range of multi-media platforms: including comics, movies, animation and games. Fairgray's Blastosaurus - a high concept of a gun-toting mutant dinosaur, was a perfect fit for this business plan, with the promise of potential Ninja Turtles level licencing deals down the line. No stranger to marketing hype, Katz also had an angle on how to sell Fairgray's personal story too (referring to his legal blindness - Richard has 5% vision in one eye). As Katz told The NZ Herald in September 2008: 

"Once people get to know Richard, his talent and his back-story - and that's an incredible human interest story - they'll find out just how unique he is. I'm just thrilled to hear he's getting some recognition. I've got plans for him, I'm going to take his work and grow them across a wide spectrum of media. You know, I told him a month ago that my goal was to make him into a local New Zealand hero, that'll really be fun to watch."

That same year at San Diego Comic Con, Katz made his presence known, announcing a comics publishing partnership with Marc Silvestri's Top Cow Comics (ever the calculating deal-maker, this was no doubt a payback for Katz securing Silvestri an executive producer credit on Fox's A-Team movie). While a raft of upcoming comics and film deals were announced at that convention for American Original's production slate, a year later product had yet to materialised. For his part however, Fairgray had never stopped producing. While Katz's other hollywood partners dragged their feet on producing their promised comics, Fairgray was grinding out Blastosaurus monthly in New Zealand for over two years, while also prepping the promised American comic edition. 

Above: The American Original logo.

Back in 2009 I gave my own impression of how I saw the American Original deal playing out (you can read the full report HERE). Given Richard's indie approach and all-ages tone, I felt Blastosaurus would be an ill-fit at Top Cow, a company built primarily on comics featuring large breasted woman. Ultimately this was Katz's business plan, and Richard appeared to accommodate these strange bed-fellows as best he could: turning down a potentially lucrative first issue cover by Silvestri in favour of a more appropriate one by Transmetropolitan artist Darick Robertson (who Richard recruited himself). As for Katz, I made the following observation: '...I don't foresee him having the patience to nurture a comics line for the years it takes to successfully gather a loyal readership to create the 'pre-awareness' he values without giving into the temptation to develop the properties straight out the gate. I expect the recession and the continuing market shrinkage will cop the blame for the company's failure (to produce)..'.

Sure enough, in a video interview with Comic Book Resources from last September's Comic Con, Katz admits that the recession has temporarily delayed his publishing plans: 

"..the economics of the business (has changed) entirely. I am not made of money ultimately, fundamentally. I've got a pretty finite amount that I can spend, and so you have to be able to pivot at a point in time to where I could go and spend all my money and publish, and let's be very honest, based on the economics..not get any of it back, and be out of business in a year.." He goes on to say: "At the end of the day, if you can spend the same amount of money on a four issue comic or a Facebook App game that has downloadable content, one is all 'out money', (and) one is money that you get back..". 

You can view the full interview HERE, where Katz's talks about the delays of the American Original comics and Blastosaurus around the 7 minute mark. Blastosaurus finally made it's American debut at that same convention, but was ham-strung but printing issues, with the books arriving late to the convention and in limited quantities.

One year later, Richard has continued to produce seasonal Blastosaurus specials in New Zealand, while American Original's publishing progress continues to languish in 'development hell'. Speculation about the future of the American Blastosaurus material and rights was finally resolved this week, with Richard making the following announcement: 

'The version of Blastosaurus released in New Zealand was never intended as a final version for worldwide release, the first issue was produced at ridiculous speed in order to secure copyright and ownership of key story elements just in case anything went wrong for me in the future.
Unfortunately what I didn't count on was that people would actually like the issue (most people felt the same way I did about it but some did really latch onto the underlying concept, I'm grateful for this because I think it is a strong concept despite the end result), forcing me to quickly rush out follow up issues that were not to the standard of writing or art that I would aspire had I had more than 6 days to complete each issue.
This new version is the version that was intended for release at SDCC last year. While the launch did sort of take place it was hamstrung by printing problems and delays beyond my personal control. While it's taken me a while to get things back in order I think the time has done the comic good and I think this version shows exactly what I always intended the story to look and feel like. While I'd still like to see the comic find a home in print (because printed comics are what I love, despite what the market is doing) I am more interested in having people read and (I hope) enjoy it.
My parting with American Original was not ideal but by no means was it nasty. Jeff and I have different approaches and I think both work for different reasons and I think we will hear more from him both in terms of comics and other works.'

You can visit the newly minted website HERE. I've had an advance look at the revised material, now in full-colour provided by Tara Black, and if you were a fan of Laird and Eastman's original TMNT stories, I think you'll get a kick out of this. Obviously if you're a fan of the original Blastosaurus, this will be well worth the wait. Here's a video preview:

Richard may have been offered the opportunity of a lifetime, but it's his perseverance and dedication to his work which has allowed him to make a living from comics, rather than gambling on the ultimately empty promises of American dreams. They may not be making him rich, but at least they exist to be read and enjoyed. After all, isn't that the point of creating comics?

Something for Jeff Katz and his hollywood friends to think about while they broker movie deals and celebrity endorsements for comics they have still yet to create, or making a single dime from.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

EXHIBITION: Oranges At Halftime: Rugby and the Kiwi Experience

Above: A room recreation featuring Rugby memorabilia, including a rare Eric Resetar comic (pictured bottom left).

So unless you've been living under a rock lately (god know I've tried), there's a Rugby World Cup going on in these parts!

To coincide with the Rugby World Cup, there's a roadshow currently touring the country, Oranges At Halftime: Rugby and the Kiwi Experience celebrating the history of grassroots Rugby in New Zealand. The roadshow contains rare memorabilia from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Included in this treasure trove is a rare look at one on New Zealand's first comics, Crash O'Kane: All Blacks On Mars by Eric Resetar self-published in the 1950s.

Eric Resetar is believed to be one of the first self-publishing comic creators in New Zealand, starting in the 1940s while still attending high school! Crash O'Kane: All Blacks On Mars is one of his many comics blending the sci-fi genre tropes of the comics and pulps he was trading with visiting US sailors with his own touch of kiwiana (All Blacks playing on Mars was clearly a winning idea!). His legacy lives on (as does the man himself, currently residing in Auckland) in the biannual Eric Awards, celebrating excellence in New Zealand Comics, named in his honour.

If you would like to take a closer look at this rare artifact, and others from the locker-rooms of Rugby history, the Oranges At Halftime roadshow will be in Auckland this month at the following locations: Mitre10 Mega carpark, Lincoln Road, Henderson, Oct 4-6th; Bairds Road carpark, Otara, Oct 7-9th; Queens Wharf, Oct 10-14th; and Town Centre Drive, Botany, Oct 15-16th.

For more information on the roadshow and it's other stops across the country, visit the website HERE.


Monday, October 3, 2011

EXHIBITION: Monkey Shrine: New Works by Tim Molloy

Above: The exhibition poster by Tim Molloy. Copyright Tim Molloy 2011.

If you're currently in Melbourne, Australia, tomorrow night you should make sure you're at this gallery opening! Featuring new artworks from Tim Molloy, creator of Mr. Unpronounceable and other mind-bending comics goodness! The exhibition opens at 6pm and is located upstairs at The Old Bar, 74-76 Johnston St, Fitzroy, Melbourne.

If you're geographically challenged and can't make it, you can see more of Tim's artwork at his blog HERE.