3/29/12

"Ivy" by Sarah Oleksyk

Ivy Stenova is a difficult person to like. She fights with her mom, she interrupts Math class and yells at the teacher, she ignores her friends and talks too much about herself, and on top of everything is getting into drugs and sex.  She seems like she has somewhat of a brain. I mean, she’s pretty good at Jeopardy, and she’s talented at drawing and she seems like she wants to explore the world and learn something – she just doesn’t know what it is.  But she’s so moody, and yells all the time, and if I didn’t know her very well, I wouldn’t want to hang out with her. I mean, why should I, if most of her friends don’t?

In fact, Ivy is the hero of the eponymous book by Sarah Oleksyk.  It tells the story of a small town girl who’s about to graduate from high school, and is going through some issues, hoping for what most people hope for: a chance to do what she loves to do (draw), to meet someone she likes and who likes her back, and to have some self-determination over her destiny.

Ivy, as a person, isn’t very much fun to be around. It’s a testament to Oleksyk’s skill as a story-teller that I finished the book “Ivy.”  She brings the reader into Ivy’s world quickly and gives her enough sympathetic moments that you start to feel for her as a living person, rather than lines and words on a page.  As Ivy begins to fall further into a potentially dangerous situation you’re hooked, and you have to read the rest of the book to find out whether she makes it all right.  Similar to life, the story doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, it just has a satisfying resolution to this phase that Ivy’s going through.

In the story Ivy goes to "Portfolio Day" where she shows her work to various art schools. She's told repeatedly that she needs to learn her anatomy and work on drawing the human figure. I don't know if this is drawn from Oleksyk's personal history, but she seems to have mastered the art of conveying the human figure in her book.  She makes the layouts look effortless while the characters are not only consistently rendered, but with a spark of life in them that makes them believable.  I especially liked some of the wordless sequences, such as the page where Ivy receives the acceptance letter from DeVere University. It's rendered as a wake-up slap, and then we see Ivy's excitement, and eventually her glow as she realizes she's literally been accepted.  In this sequence we see her from all different angles: sometimes just her feet, her hands, the back of her head.  The frames are nearly all the same size, but the camera shot is varied so we get the full impact of Ivy's astonishment, excitement, and then calm.


Bottom line, I liked "Ivy," but it was a hard time liking Ivy. My wife liked the character a lot more - she said that Oleksyk hits the target with this teenage girl. Maybe I just don't have the same perspective. But, by the end of the book I cared for Ivy, and that's a testament to Oleksyk's skill as an author and artist.

"Ivy" by Sarah Oleksyk has been nominated for an Oregon Book Award in the category of best "Graphic Literature."  You can learn more about Oleksyk's at her website http://www.saraholeksyk.com, although it looks slightly abandoned.  As an added bonus, you can read the first chapter of "Ivy" online here. Oleksyk's twitter handle is https://twitter.com/#!/sarahohmygod.

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3/14/12

"The Book of Grickle" by Graham Annable


's "The Book of Grickle" isn't about a particular person, although it has been said that Annable may look like his cartoons, but about a state of mind. The author worked as an animator for most of his professional life, but as more movies became digital he missed the chance to draw on paper.  This book, nominated for an Oregon Book Award in the category of "Graphic Literature," is a culmination of Annable's drive to bring pen to paper.  As he mentions in an interview:

"I started creating short comic stories on the side as a way to keep me drawing something daily. Eventually when I had enough stories I collected them into a little booklet and called it "Grickle"..."The Book of Grickle is a collection of my selected work over the past ten years. It’s published by Dark Horse and it’s all hardbound and definitely the best book to start with for anyone unfamiliar with my work."

"Grickle" is a collection of short stories with subjects bouncing like a superball between science fiction, fantasy, slice of life, romance, murder, and existential crises.  Yet, in all the stories the characters shine much more than the plots.  Through his simple line drawings Annable has distilled the personalities of the characters into fine movements, probably some economy learned as an animator, but also a powerful way to breath life into lines on paper.

If this were a collection of prose stories the closest comparison would be Etgar Keret's book "The Nimrod Flipout: Stories."  For example, in a shorter piece the narrator finds a "wee man" in his car. The wee man is driven to drawing.  As the narrator says "he only stopped for baths and cupcakes." While telling the story Ananable cuts from image to image, dropping two or three words per panel, making a comic book equivalent of a film montage covering many events, days.  Yet, it's done in a way that's most effective as a comic.  It's a classic short story, focusing on the epiphany of the character, cutting to the bone any fat in the narrative.

Another story, "by necessity," rests heavily on a joke about a dead dog, but before you realize it you've been sideswiped by the real story of man unwilling to commit to anything.  I like the small touches: the dog's name "Billy Joel", the way the hero procrastinates yard work by worrying that the rake prongs are bent -- "won't rake properly."

Even as sparse as the art may be, Annable has a distinctive style.  I'd read "dead weight" before, but out of context of "Grickle." It tells the tale of two guys, one desperately trying to get to a party, while the other less-invested dude acts as the negotiator for their ride.  The story was immediately recognizable, and even though I remembered it in a vague way, I had to read it again. The unfolding of the tale to its inevitable end is like picking a scab to see it bleed.

These stories aren't epics. Even when two men go ice fishing and one decides to transcend existence the narrative focus ends with the guy who catches all the fish. "Grickle" can be read as lightweight stories, but the images and themes stick in your head, and re-reading brings more depth.  I suppose that's why the closest comparisons that spring to my mind are the cartoons in the margins of Mad magazine, the eternal struggles of Spy vs Spy, and the reruns of The Simpsons -- they're all just great stories worth seeing again and again.

For more on Graham Annable check out his blog at http://gricklethings.blogspot.com/ or the Grickle website at http://grickle.com.  He's got quite a few little animated shorts posted.  Annable now works for Laika Entertainment in Portland and was a storyboard on the movies Coraline and the soon to be released ParaNorman. Additionally, he worked with Telltalle Games to design a videogame called "Puzzle Agent," roughly based on the Grickle stories.  His twitter feed is http://twitter.com/grickle.

"The Book of Grickle " by Graham Annable has been nominated for an Oregon Book Award in the category of best "Graphic Literature."
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3/8/12

Am I Feeling Lucky?

I'm digitizing some of my older comics so I can read them on the iPad.

My basic process is this:
  • Use a copy stand with cool lighting
  • I have a Canon TR3i digital SLR
  • Photograph each page
  • Copy the files to my computer and use Picasa to apply the following
    • Crop the page
    • Use the straighten function if necessary
    • Click on "I'm Feeling Lucky"
    • Export all the photos as 1600 pixel JPGs with Automatic quality
  • Make sure the image files are named sequentially. For example, for Detective 117, the cover is called Detective117-00.jpg, the inside front cover is Detective117-01.jpg, first page is Detective117-02.jpg, etc.
  • Compress these files into a .zip file named after the comic (Detective117.zip)
  • Then rename the file so comic book readers will recognize it: Detective117.cbz

So far I don't have any problems. The comics look very nice on the iPad. The only thing troubling me, however, is that I'm losing some of the sense of age of the comic. Most people would think this is a good thing -- all the better if it looks brand new.  But something is lost there if Batman is too brightly colored on the page.

This leads me to my question: Should I use Picasa's "I'm Feeling Lucky" button in my process, or just leave it?

Here's a split image - the left side is without the "I'm Feeling Lucky", while the right has been slightly brightened.  Which is "better"?

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