The Internet age is a wonderful time to be an animation fan. All manner of behind the scenes material, industry insider news, and the personal musings of some of the greatest artists working in the medium are available to anyone who cares to see it. As it does with almost any subject, the Internet has a lot to see for the animation enthusiast, which can make finding a good place to get started tough. These are three of my favorite animation blogs that offer just a taste of what’s out there.
Andreas Deja is one of those aforementioned greatest artists working in the medium. A former Disney animator who helped give life to characters ranging from King Triton to Scar to Hercules to Lilo, Deja is currently working on an independent animated film. His blog offers a few glimpses of that and some insights into his own time and work at Disney. But the majority of the posts are appreciations of the work of other artists – past animation masters or great illustrators whose work has inspired Deja. Just seeing some of this artwork is amazing and getting to read thoughts from one of the top modern animators about what makes them so special is a true treat.
A pencil test is a stage in hand-drawn animation where the animator’s rough drawings are filmed in sequence to make sure the animation is working before the drawings are cleaned up. I’ve always loved the feel of these looser drawings with their strong sense of the artist’s hand. Pencil Test Depot collects these early stage of animation from a wide variety of sources – well known features to more obscure gems and demo reels. Unfortunately, the site is no longer being updated and some of the videos have since vanished from YouTube. But it’s still a great way to enjoy tons of beautiful pencil tests.
Story artist Mark Kennedy’s blog is chiefly about storyboarding for animation. It’s also an absolute must-read for anyone with even the slightest interest in narrative in film. While some posts are focused on the specifics of animation, many can be applied to live-action or any kind of visual storytelling and cite examples from all different kinds of media. The most current post as of now is about a scene from The Big Lebowski. This isn’t a blog I visit often, only because I can easily lose hours learning about more and more nuances of how to tell a story with moving images. Like so many sites devoted to the craft of animation and filmmaking, it helps you to gain a new appreciation for elements of movies you love.
Share your own favorite blogs about animation or any of your passions in the comments.
I’d like to start by congratulating us all on surviving the holidays. That last stretch of December into January can be tough on the best of us, regardless of how much fun we may or may not have had during the holiday season. Now that we’ve pretty much hit mid-January, most of us are back to our regular routines and buckling down to brave through what is often the worst part of the winter.
So other than waiting for the next exciting Ladies of Comicazi event, how are we supposed to beat the deep dark winter blues? Well, perhaps I can share with you a few ideas.
It’s been quite a while since I last talked about podcasts I enjoy and explained why Welcome to Night Vale wasn’t on that list. (Short answer: because you’re all listening to it already.) And you know what I never hear anybody saying? “Cartoon Sara, I do not need any podcast recommendations.” With that in mind, here are four of the many podcasts that are on my current list of favorites.
The premise of I Was There Too is simple: comedian and actor Matt Gourley interviews actors about their experiences on a particular famous film or films. The twist is that these aren’t the stars of the movies who constantly get asked about their famous roles, but actors who played smaller parts or who aren’t as frequently interviewed. The result is a series of unique and intimate looks of the making of movies that range from critical successes to cult classics. Ever want to know what it was like watching Daniel Day Lewis perform the “milkshake” scene in person, how it feels to be yelled at by Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules in Pulp Fiction, or the challenges of acting while wearing a turtle suit? Then this is the podcast for you.
Recommended Episode: If you’re having trouble picking an episode to start with, I highly recommend the interview with Jenette Goldstein, best known as my personal hero Private Vasquez from Aliens. Turns out she really did think they meant “illegal aliens.”
December is upon us, which means – like it or not – the winter holidays have arrived. It’s once again time for walking through winter wonderlands, roasting chestnuts on an open fire, and desperately trying to ensure that all three gifts for your fellow Ladies arrive in time. (Maybe that last one is just me.) It’s also an excellent time to get your Muppet fix. The Muppets have been making Christmas appearances on TV shows since the 1960s and started their own catalog of Christmas specials in 1970 with The Great Santa Claus Switch. Over forty years later, Muppet fans have a lot of holiday themed Muppet material to choose from. These are my three picks for the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, and Muppetational Muppet Christmas specials.
While paper comics are my first love, since I was a wee Menace in the early ages of the internet I’ve also enjoyed the storytelling bounty that it provides. It’s hard not to when there’s such a wide variety of great tales and art out there, much of it provided for free. Certainly, that very benefit has its downside – often the best artists get jobs that allow them to create AND pay the bills, and that can mean that a story you’ve been invested in doesn’t get finished. But the risk is minimal, the rewards can be great, and you can find some really great tales that you might not see in the comic shop.
So without further ado:
Monster Pulse by Magnolia Porter
Update schedule: M/W/F
Plot: Okay, this is going to sound a little crazy. Monster Pulse is about a group of kids who get exposed to a top-secret chemical that’s been developed by a shadowy government agency. When the chemical comes into contact with a human body, it changes one of that person’s body parts into a monster that can act independently of that person (though they seem to be connected to and protective of them.) The kids team up to fight the shadowy agency and try to prevent any more folks from losing vital organs. I told you it was weird.
Of all the Ladies I might watch the most current TV. A dubious distinction, but TV is a great knitting companion, especially on those long tedious scarf projects I always seem to get involved with (but that’s probably another post-or not). I’ve been pretty vocal about not watching The Walking Dead anymore, so what am I watching these days? Apparently, Bromances! So here are three shows featuring guys who solve mysteries, stop crime, and challenge each other to survive.
My three fellow Ladies have all shared three of their favorite comics series, so it’s high time I did the same. Many of the comics I enjoy come out infrequently, have gone on hiatus, or ended already, but that just means you can catch up or enjoy the entire story in convenient collected form.
Leave It To Chance
Plot – Fourteen-year-old Chance Falconer is the daughter of the renowned protector of Devil’s Echo, a city crawling with magical and supernatural beings. Chance is eager to follow in her dad’s footsteps and isn’t about to let his refusal to train her as the city’s next guardian stop her.
Why you should read it – Even if this sort of urban fantasy, magical creatures in the real world story is something you’ve seen before, you’ve seldom seen it executed so well. The magical aspects of Leave It To Chance are beautifully incorporated into the world of the comic while still retaining all the menace and wonder you’d expect to feel when the classic Hollywood monsters come out of the movie screen and start attacking people. Chance herself is a fantastic heroine: brave, smart, and resourceful. While her father’s refusal to train her simply because she is a girl does figure into the story, it doesn’t dominate the narrative or even make him an unlikeable character. Paul Smith’s appealing artwork is a perfect fit with James Robinson’s top-notch writing.
Leave It To Chance ended after just twelve regular issues and a double sized thirteenth. Two of these have never been collected, but once you get hooked on the series, you’ll want to track them down.
Bonus – Chance’s pet dragon, St. George. Fans of Kitty Pride’s pint-sized purple pal Lockheed will definitely enjoy having another miniature dragon to love.
Plot – With no knights in shining armor coming to her aid, Jain saves herself by escaping from an abusive home to the legendary safe haven of Castle Waiting.
Why you should read it – The Red Menace already covered this one in her Great Comics for Kids post, but it’s an equally good read for adults. The series has been described as a feminist take on fairy tales, the story of what happens after “happily ever after,” and any number of other things that are certainly true, but can’t sum up everything that makes this series such a joy to read. The focus is on character rather than action, with each issue revealing new details about the denizens of the titular castle through flashback, storytelling, and the day-to-day happenings around the castle. Linda Medley’s artwork alone makes the book worth reading and her style – reminiscent of classic children’s book illustration, complements and enhances the story.
The publication schedule for Castle Waiting is somewhat irregular, but that just gives you more time to catch up on the two tomes of stories that are currently available.
Bonus – You don’t have to be familiar with the fairy tales Medley is referencing to enjoy Castle Waiting, but if you are, it’s an added layer of fun. The stories Medley alludes to range from the well-known to the incredibly obscure. St. Wilgerfortis the patron saint of bearded women, for example, is a “real” saint created by a misinterpretation of a piece of artwork depicting an unusually feminine Jesus.
Plot – Usagi is a samurai rabbit. After his master falls in battle, Usagi wanders through a feudal Japan populated by anthropomorphic animals, creatures of legend, and no end of adventure. (The title can be translated as either “Usagi the Bodyguard” or “Rabbit Bodyguard.”)
Why you should read it – I’m nowhere near caught up with Usagi, but seeing Stan Sakai give a talk recently reminded me how great this series is. Sakai is a master cartoonist and his appealing artwork makes every issue a pleasurable read. But what really sets Sakai apart from so many other comics creators influenced by Japan’s past and culture is his attention to historical detail. The series contains enough real facts about life in feudal era Japan to fill a textbook, though it’s all in service of the story, so it never feels like you’re reading a textbook. Usagi also avoids some of the common pitfalls of “funny animal” comics; it’s neither strictly for kids nor desperate to prove that it’s not through gratuitous violence (though there’s plenty of violence) or sex (though it’s at least implied). Over the 27 collected books worth of stories, Usagi’s adventures have ranged from classic samurai battles to short comedies to thoughtful character pieces to encounters with a young Godzilla. Yet somehow, it all still feels like part of the same world and remains a joy to read with every issue.
Usagi Yojimbo has been on hiatus for a while, but there’s plenty to read in anticipation of the upcoming miniseries, in which Usagi and his friends go up against the aliens from H.G. Wells War of the Worlds.
Bonus –Gen, a rhinoceros bounty hunter and sometimes comrade-in-arms of Usagi, is one of my favorite characters. Gen’s cynical attitude and pursuit of personal gain are often a refreshing contrast to quintessential samurai Usagi. Despite his apparent selfishness, Gen is a skilled warrior and a loyal friend, though he’s not above finding ways out of paying for his share of the meal when the bill shows up.
Like the other ladies, I am going to share 3 things I am reading/have read. Also, you will note I am posting a day early so you can go out and grab these books for reading during your post-Thanksgiving food coma!
Locke & Key
Plot– After the murder of their father, the Locke children and their mother move back to the Keyhouse, the family estate located in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. There Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode soon discover that keys of Keyhouse hold their own powers, and that Keyhouse itself is the home (prison?) of something even more sinister.
Why you should read it- Why shouldn’t you??? Suspense, fantasy, mystery….excellent storytelling and beautiful illustrations. Joe Hill creates his own mythos with the keys of Keyhouse ( the Head Key is horrifying and covetous at the same time) and Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is rich and lush. Make sure to spend some time with the cover galleries in the back of each trade paperback-I got the very affordable and very nicely done hardcovers (they come with a build in bookmark-so classy!). The Goog started reading this series first and suggested it for Comicazi Book Club. It was a huge hit, with many people, myself included, quickly picking up the next book to continue the story. There are currently 5 trades out. I believe the 6th TPB will be the final of this story (the issues for the final arc have just become available, so if you can’t wait, you can get those). Though word is there will be a 7th, which looks at the the larger universe that has been created, there are a lot of stories in Keyhouse.
Bonus– There was talk of a television series. A pilot was shot but Fox never picked it up. For funsies, you can see the trailer that was shown at the 2011 San Diego Comicon here. AND…This just in…There will be a movie trilogy!
Since Smalerie has gotten us rolling on the comics front, we’re all gonna share our favorite series. Since I read everything in trade paperback I can’t strictly promise they’re all still ongoing (and Smal snatched up Fables!) but you should still be able to get your hands on ’em. Here’s my take on three series to sink your teeth into.
And speaking of teeth:
Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Plot: Tony Chu is a cop. He’s also a cibopath – he can take a bite from anything and get a psychic impression of everything that happened to it up until he took a taste. He tries to keep it under wraps, but when he uses his powers to solve a case, he ends up in a web of conspiracy that reaches from the North Pole to outer space.
Why Read it: Chew effortlessly sets the scene for an alternate America by changing one tiny detail about how we live that is totally brilliant and follows the logic of that detail the way out to the moon and beyond. And it’s really very funny, to boot, and a little bit gross, and super clever. It’s also a really great example of the integration of art and story that makes comics the rich and versatile medium that it is. Guillory’s style is cartoonish in a way that may not be for everyone, but adds little nuances, details, and Easter eggs that enhance the prose that Layman provides.
Bonus: Food. Granted, given his powers and his position as a cop, Tony eats a lot of things that are…unpleasant…by any definition. But! There are many more food-related powers in this universe, as it turns out, and as a food-loving lady it is exciting to learn what they are – and the inevitable consequences of each of them.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Plot: There are several books in this series now, but the gist is that several figures from literature (originally Victorian literature, but the scope was later expanded) are brought together to form a super-team ala the Justice League. Characters like Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, and Mr. Hyde fight off alien menaces, expose government corruption, and generally get up to all sorts of hi-jinks. If you’re familiar with the other work of Alan Moore, such as Watchmen or V for Vendetta, you can probably guess that this league is a bit more controversial than the ol’ JLA.
Why Read It: Well, for one thing, if you’ve never seen the abomination of a movie that they made out of this book – don’t, it’s horrible. If you have seen it, the book is nothing like that. This is a good thing. The book is instead an amazingly detailed love letter to literature, with every tiny throw-away character and detail being a reference to something. And yet, you don’t really need to know any of those references to enjoy the books – the stories have their own momentum and work even if you have no idea who Mina Harker or Allan Quatermain is. And speaking of Mina…
Bonus: Feminism. One of the things that drew me so much to this book is that the group is led by Mina. She gathers the bunch of misfits together, she tells them what to do, and they listen to and respect her (for the most part). And she does it all in a high-necked, flouncy Victorian dresses.
Starman by James Robinson and Tony Harris
Plot: Jack Knight is an antiques dealer – and loves it. He doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of his father, Ted Knight, who was once the hero known as Starman – he’ll leave that to his older brother, David. But when David is killed by the son of The Mist, Ted’s nemesis from the old days, Jack may find that he doesn’t have a choice…
Why Read It: Okay, so this book isn’t technically “ongoing.” It ran from 1994 to 2001. But! It is absolutely one of my favorite series of all time, so I’m sending you forth to read it anyway. The story is a familiar one – the reluctant hero finds his way – but Robinson has such a good ear for story and dialogue that it feels new again. This was one of my earliest introductions to superhero comics (I was more of an indie kid) and the book is also a great way to learn about some of the less-known characters of the DC universe. The art by Tony Harris is gorgeous, too, especially the skyline of Jack’s home base, Opal City.
Bonus: Elongated Man. What can I say, I love the Dibnys!
So there you have it, three series I really enjoy. What books do you love? Tell us in the comments!
In the interest of getting to know each other better around these parts, I thought that a nice way to introduce myself would be to share a few of my favorite ongoing series. Here goes!
Fables by Bill Willingham
Plot: Fairy Tale characters find themselves exiled in New York after a mysterious evil adversary begins taking over their original homelands.
Why read it: I know it seems silly to be recommending this, since it is so popular that it has 3 spin-offs and a tie in novel, but this is one of those cases where its popularity is for good reason. Willingham can write. In the series he has managed to take characters that we are already familiar with and flesh them out into complicated and interesting characters. Yes, we are familiar with their stories to a point, but according to Willingham’s book, what really happened is a lot more complicated and often darker.
Bonus: The female characters in Fables are a force to be reckoned with. They might be pretty pretty princesses, but they are also community leaders, business owners, and spies. Pretty is skin deep, but kicking ass is something in the blood.
The Goon by Eric Powell
Plot: The Goon is muscle for hire in a town filled with zombies, voodoo priests, and God knows what.
Why Read it: The Goon is funny, well drawn, and filled with some truly bizarre characters. I admit that there are times when I find that the humor goes a little too far towards the crass, but if you are a fan of foul mouthed orphans and jokes about butt-holes being a main ingredient in hotdogs (and really, who isn’t?), you should do just fine. The first few trades are a little shaky, but once Powell begins to really develop the main story, it gets hard to put down.
Bonus: Feelings. I know, you wouldn’t expect it, but this book has made me get misty eyed. Full disclosure: I have cried at almost every Pixar film and have been known to curse the name of Sarah Mclaughlin when those gut-wrenching ASPCA commercials come on. That being said, The Goon, despite his outside appearance, feels a sense of responsibility to his community and to helping those who need it. His Aunt Kizzie taught him right…mostly.
The Unwritten by Mike Carey, art by Peter Gross
Plot: Wilson Taylor, the author of a famous children’s series about a young wizard, disappears at the height of his career. His son Tom, who served as the inspiration for Taylor’s boy hero, is left behind to sponge off his father’s fame. After finding himself embroiled in a scandal regarding his true identity, Tom is kidnapped by a madman who claims to be the evil Count from Taylor’s books. Suddenly the line between his father’s stories and the real world begins to blur. Is Tommy at the mercy of a delusional madman, or is there real truth in the written word?
Why Read it: This is a good comic to shove in the faces of those who don’t think that comics can be literature. In fact, The Unwritten is in many ways a love letter to the written word and the art of stories. This one is possibly the hardest of the three to describe as it contains a lot of moving between the real word and the world of stories. If you are familiar with Mellville, Dickens, and Kipling, this series is for you. If not, it is still both completely accessible and in my opinion, pretty satisfying. Carey is very good at giving you enough to keep you interested while still holding a lot of its mysteries close to the chest.
Bonus: Not what you think. I started reading this story thinking that it was some kind of play off Harry Potter, but it has taken a few turns that I really didn’t expect. As an additional bonus, I am a huge fan of Yukio Shimizu’s cover art for this series. No really, check it out.