Until a couple years ago, when a collection of sympathetic villains hit me like a ton of bricks, I did not think of myself as a 'villains' person. But there was one, a decade before, who stood out as appealing in some indiscernible way...

It wasn't even in the proper play that I was struck by Iago – it was in a production of Good Night, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet), a play about a Shakespeare scholar who finds herself inserted into Othello and Romeo and Juliet, respectively. Iago doesn't even have that big of a role, but he made an impression. I thought it was down to the actor: he had a very distinctive look and played the part with such twisted glee it was hard not to get on his side. But last week, Radio 4 aired a fantastic production of Othello, and Iago was fascinating in that as well. So there must be something to it...

Anyway, I drew this as a tribute to 'my' Iago ... various internet searches have not uncovered who he was, alas. I raise my glass to you, twisted conniving bastards of literature. As long as you don't come after me.

A Correspondence Between Gentlemen of Adventure

The second thing everyone knows* about the Scott Expedition is that Amundsen Got There First. What I didn't know until I read The Worst Journey in the World is that Amundsen left, for Scott, a letter to send to the king of Norway to corroborate his antecedence. This was so bemusing to me, a child of the late twentieth century, that a man could realistically expect his defeated rival to voluntarily go through the hassle of proclaiming his loss, and that said rival would actually do so rather than mutter a bitter 'screw you' and take no action at all.
*assuming one knows anything at all; the first thing is They All Died.

So of course I had to make a comic about it. Click for make biggar!

The Dentons

If I were to describe The League of Gentlemen to the uninitiated, I would start with 'Monty Python and The Twilight Zone get together to do The Simpsons.'

Grotesque though they are there is a place in my heart for the Dentons ... a musty, badly-wallpapered place, but a place nonetheless.

If your curiosity is morbid enough to wonder who the Dentons are, this is a halfway decent clip ...

A Look from the Doctor

I've been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, partly to catch up as I am way behind, and partly to fill the hole left by Frog. David Tennant has to be one of the most animated human beings in existence, and a lot more tasteful than many of his competitors. Here's to the trickster archetype, and being fun to draw!

Only nine episodes to go until I get to The Lazarus Experiment! (why do I always get that title wrong, and where did I get 'Quartermass' from? Oh, never mind, it's this ... curse you, British casting; your limited but awesome talent pool leads to so much crossover humour but also confusion!)

Freedom! Horrible, Horrible Freedom!

I am officially done on Frog. I handed in my last scene, have been removed from the mailing list, attributed my timecard to a different cost centre, and shaken hands with the associate producer. By Monday, the very last remaining scene in the film should be animated.


Words to Live By

If you are a brave man you will do nothing: if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery. Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, 'what is the use?' For we are a nation of shopkeepers... And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeepers: that is worth a good deal. If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin's egg.

– Apsley Cherry-Garrard

San Francisco via Sketchbook

It's been a criminally long time since I posted any artwork on here. There are two reasons for this:

1. All my energy, talent, and initiative have been channeled into work; on the rare occasion I draw outside of work I really struggle with it. I appear to be useless without a story and layout department now. Waa, waa.

2. At home, I moved my laptop from the desk into my bedroom, which has made scanning just inconvenient enough not to do it.

Anyway, the long dry spell is at an end! (For the time being, anyway.)

There was a slope in the Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park that was a delightful arrangement of shapes and textures. I'm afraid I turned it into a mash of pencil. With any luck I might learn how to sketch a location gesturally instead of agonizing over every detail...

One night my sister and I went to a neat little wine bar near Market and Rose. We caught an F-line trolley back and along the way it started to reek of a certain illegal herb. There were very few people in the trolley and neither my sister nor I could see anyone smoking. A few minutes after we smelled it, this fellow picked up the odour and looked around. He gave us a questioning eyebrow. I shrugged theatrically. Perhaps it was the driver.

I sketched for a bit inside the Eureka at the maritime museum, in the dying light of the afternoon, listening to a guy practise the mandolin. I think we were the only two on the boat. It was very relaxing, and quite an atmospheric moment.

The Champion of the Seas model at the museum's Visitors' Centre. She was a clipper with such a hubristic name that it should come as no surprise that she met her end in a storm on the Straits of Magellan. It was a fantastic model, to the point that I could almost see it battered by waves and wind. Don't remember what interrupted this one (lunch, probably) or what caused that smudge at the last minute...

These regard Muir Woods day but were drawn after the fact. The first is an entertaining couple we kept running into along the trail; the short guy did all the talking and was from New York, judging by his accent. His companion was attentive but quiet and was probably a Time Lord.

The guys to the right were examining an educational sign that detailed relatives of the Coast Redwood around the world. It wasn't what the dark-haired one said that was funny so much as the genuinely astonished way he said it.

We had coupons for a cruise 'round the bay, under the bridge and around Alcatraz. When the boat pulled away from the dock a voice came over the PA system, rolling off what I thought was the usual safety spiel until it suddenly went hokey. This is how it would have looked:
Inspired by Kate Beaton but drawn without actual reference to her stuff on account of being on the train ... and of course not nearly as funny.

Captain Nemo and the PA guy never stopped – it turned out the whole cruise was narrated, either by them or various other characters. It was the sort of thing you could never get away with in Canada, unless it was at an attraction where you could be fairly certain no Canadians would show up, because it would be heckled and/or eye-rolled nonstop. As the ship drew back to port the narration followed suit, so it was obvious that the whole thing was carefully timed out with the recording. I thought it would be funny* if something went terribly wrong and the artificially jolly actors on the tape just kept going ...
*using that word broadly

I now know why Ronnie del Carmen enjoys sketchcrawling so much – what a perfect city for drawing. I'd have liked to have done more, but that will have to wait until I go back alone and can take things at my own pace.

California Rail

I've finally got pictures up from the spectacular rail route between LA and San Francisco. Once I weeded out the ones that didn't turn out there aren't that many left, but I hope they give at least a diluted reflection of the trip. I really can't recommend this train ride highly enough. Aside from the scenery the train is great in itself, especially if you're used to flying. You can walk around as much as you like, visit the cafe car, get some really good coffee (with free refills if you keep the cup!), take it back to your comfortable seat with positively decadent legroom, and never once have to worry about falling out of the sky. If San Francisco weren't so awesome in itself I'd be tempted to say the trip's the best part – I would seriously consider taking a weekend, going up on Saturday, spending the night, and coming down Sunday, if I didn't know what I was missing by not staying up there longer.

Election Night!

If you did not watch the election on the BBC, you missed out. A grand time was had by all – well, most; there were some pretty glum people in Phoenix. David Dimbleby, the host, was brilliant – I admire his stamina and his delightful sense of humour, being the ringmaster for the circus that is a three-hour live broadcast with a rotating panel and disparate long-distance reporters.

After a certain point, when I'd given up on trying to get any work done, I tried caricaturing everyone who appeared onscreen for any notable length of time. Good exercise. Notable characters were the poor map guy who was so exhausted by the end of the evening that he was reduced to flapping at the graphics and yammering, the New Yorker who was apparently drunk when they cut to him, Simon Schama who was so excited to be there, next to John Bolton who most definitely was not, and Gore Vidal who had an entertainingly mad interview with Mr Dimbleby.

Some sketches from my own very Californian voting experience follow:
It wasn't actually a three-headed dog, it just looked like it.  Sexy young ladies calling for gay rights  A real live crazy California lady  I breezed right past the table where I was supposed to pick up the ballot sheet  The voting contraption

The Worst Journey in the World

There are better ways to beat the heat on a sweltering summer Sunday, but I attempted it by listening to Edwardian men pushed to the brink in Antarctica.

This week's Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4 was a dramatization of The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who was a member of Robert Scott's Terra Nova Expedition to Anarctica. Yes, that Scott expedition. Needless to say he wasn't part of the South Pole party because he wrote this book, but it's a gripping listen nonetheless.

All pre-1950 expeditions that necessitate coats and/or goggles default to Mignola style, by the way.

Dr Horrible's Stolen Ostinato

When I started this blog, I vowed it would be professional and sober and not a place for dorky fanart and stupid gags, but dangit, I just really like how this turned out:

This started out as a doodle when I realized the ostinato guitar behind that first song in Act II sounded a lot like the bit in 'The Island' by the Decemberists. That's Colin Meloy, see? Oh, my sides split with laughter! Well because it was that part I imagined it lit like that and the bare pencil sketch just looked bare. So, four hours later ...

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, if you haven't seen it, is available on iTunes ($4, bargains galore!) and is some Whedon kind of awesome.

Golden Silent

I've been told since starting animation school that you have to watch silent films. I'd seen bits and pieces here and there, we watched some Chaplin in class and I once caught a documentary on Mary Pickford on The Knowledge Network*, but while they were entertaining and excellent examples of pantomime, I never took more than a professional interest in them. I was never one of those people who professed that all the best films were made before 1930. The acting was stilted, the film sped up, the dialogue cards too intrusive and plentiful, the stories and gags intended for an unsophisticated audience** and it was all accompanied by some canned ragtime piano music that tinkled on irrespective of what was happening onscreen – not my idea of entertainment.

That was all changed by THIS MAN.

My sister and I went to see the annual Silent Film Gala put on by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, where the musicians, live on stage, accompany a classic silent film. This year's selection was Speedy, starring Harold Lloyd, with a fairly modern score by Carl Davis. It was Lloyd's last silent movie, made in 1928, and shot largely in New York, including Coney Island, the last horse-drawn trolley car, and Babe Ruth (really!). It was fantastic. The print had been restored, it was running at its proper speed, the orchestra was playing a score that had been written for the movie (quite well, I might add, and not some ghastly modern-sounding thing intended to 'update' it, either), and it was absolutely enthralling. The story was simple but solid, the characters engaging, their complications frustrating, the action exciting, the gags plentiful but not distracting, imaginative, and funnier than anything I've seen in recent memory. And the dialogue was surprisingly judicious – most of the time, you knew what they were saying without it being specifically stated, so cards were only used when delivering a specific gag line or important exposition. How flattering, for a moviemaker to trust the audience's imagination instead of assuming they need everything spelled out for them.
On top of that, the whole audience was incredibly involved in the film. I don't know if it was the setting, or the lack of an overpowering sound system, or the fact that you actually had to pay attention to the movie to get anything out of it, but there was much more audible reaction – genuine, unconscious, instant reaction – to what was going on onscreen than I've ever heard before. There was one moment at the very height of the climax where something goes suddenly wrong and the audience, as one, let out a tremendous gasp. It was amazing.

I left the theatre giddy, and with joy discovered that there was a wealth of Harold Lloyd material on YouTube as well as a 5-DVD set of restored films with new scores (most by the same composer as Speedy). Unfortunately it appears all the good clips have been taken off YouTube so you're left with the DVDs (which are better, anyway)... if you have access to a library and that library is blessed enough to have any of them (hint: try VPL downtown), I highly recommend you check them out. Speedy is still my favourite but Safety Last is probably the most famous and is surprisingly gripping while still being funny. You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't at least expose yourself to these movies, no matter how much you think you don't like silent film. Just make sure you give them your full attention; that'll be the most rewarding. Take it from a convert. If nothing else, marvel at how a movie can be both funny and charmingly sincere, the art of which seems to have been mostly lost in the quagmire of snarky dialogue and unsavoury characters.
*Last remaining bastion of integrity in educational television since PBS started making shows intended for resale to the Discovery Channel. Only in Canada, you say? Pity.
**as explained by my Animation History teacher when questioned as to why old cartoons were timed oddly slowly and not terribly funny.

Animator vs Reanimator

Look at this – look at this – I'm updating twice in one month! Watch out for further signs of the apocalypse!

I've been fully occupied banging my head against the wall at work, but we had an optional design class so I took the opportunity for a diversion and brought in a project that's been simmering on the back burner* for a while: adapting H.P. Lovecraft's Herbert West stories (PUBLIC DOMAIN!) into comic books, albeit fairly animation-looking ones. I didn't have much of a problem with Dr West:

His half-unwilling accomplice and the narrator of the stories was rather harder ... he's a bland enough personality not to upstage West but not so bland that he disappears completely, and he has to look at least moderately interesting.** I did three pages of thumbnails before I got something I liked, then a mediocre rotation, which I showed in class. Luckily the teacher that day was the incredible Andreas Deja and he had some good suggestions for ways to simplify and push him a bit more so I went back and did these:

That's something to be going on with, I think. They'll evolve a lot, I'm sure, before I'm done. Here's a test setup with the two of them ... the narrator's model hasn't been updated yet.

After the last class I realized what I'm trying to do with their shapes is basically this. Oh well.

*and will probably continue to do so until it boils dry and ruins the pot, to stretch a metaphor to the breaking point.
**He doesn't have a name in the stories but I came to the sudden conclusion that he can have no name but Howard Phillips.