An Interview with Matt Kindt

In comics, the separation between writing and artwork can be difficult to pinpoint. Oftentimes the artwork directly informs the narrative, and vice versa. This is particularly apparent in the work of cartoonist Matt Kindt, whose unique comics play with everything from panel sequence to page number to deliver a dynamic reading experience. His comics may be fun to read, but they are in no way a passive form of entertainment.

Kindt’s work spans multiple formats, from graphic novels, web comics and monthly serials to the Super Spy “Treasure Box”, a collection of single panels whose correct narrative order must be pieced together with the aid of a map.  He has published many highly regarded graphic novels, including Super Spy, Revolver and 3 Story, which is currently in production as a film as well.

This May will see the launch of Kindt’s new series MIND MGMT, which promises a new set of puzzles and surprises. MIND MGMT is previewed in this week’s release of 3 Story: Secret Files of the Giant Man, a single issue comic that collects three short stories set in the same world as the 3 Story graphic novel. We took the opportunity to speak with this busy creator about his working process, multiple projects, and the connections between design, format and narrative.

You specialize in espionage-themed comics, in which both text and image are sprinkled with double meanings and hidden messages. What is your working process? Do you start with a story idea and create artwork to complement it, or do your stories grow out of your artwork?

MK: My process is something that I would describe as haphazard…or I guess to put it nicely, “organic,” in that every project I’ve ever done has started in a slightly different way and my process from beginning to end is always a little different.

Sometimes an idea comes fully formed and I just type out an outline and work on it. Other times I struggle with the outline and then jump to thumbnails and then build on it and add pages all over the place via thumbnails. And other times I just jump straight to thumbnails and then add dialogue when I pencil it. I can honestly say that every project I’ve done has been slightly different. It usually all does come together though once it’s penciled. Inking and painting and lettering are pretty systematic. But the path to pencils is always a little nuts.

Your style is fairly unique in comics. What are some of your artistic influences?

MK: I love Dave McKean and the storytelling of Darywn Cooke. But I also have deeper-rooted debt I owe to Dick Tracy (Chester Gould). But I would say that I read more prose than comics at this point in my life. I read a lot of different things. A lot of time travel sci-fi of all things and Catch-22 is my favorite book of all time. Philip K. Dick is another of my favorite authors. I just love ideas and I love ideas that are presented in a novel way.

3 Story pieces together the story of giant man Craig Pressgang’s life from multiple outside perspectives. One of the ways you do this is to incorporate different design elements into the narrative, such as pages styled after a gallery program or a vintage magazine advertisement. How big a role does design play in your storytelling process?

MK: I think it’s really important. From the cover to back cover I think everything needs to be considered. Even page numbers play a role in Revolver. Part of what I’m trying to build is a more immersive reading experience, so you’re not just glancing at art and flipping pages as you read — I like the idea that the book creates an experience and slows you down a little bit. But one of my pet peeves is big blocks of text pages that break up the comic — which is a way to slow the reader down, but I think there’s something your mind does when you’re reading comics — when you hit a big block of text, you tend to resist reading it…it’s more trouble somehow. So I’m trying to strike a balance there — keeping it comics but giving you more text to read as well.

The new 3 Story comic examines Craig Pressgang from three additional characters’ perspectives. How do these fit in with the graphic novel? What distinguishes them?

MK: Well, these are some of Craig’s “secret missions” that are alluded to in the graphic novel but I never really show. They were ideas I’d had but they didn’t fit the structure of the novel since it’s built around the POVs of the three main characters. So I decided to do a few stand-alone stories that break that mold, but keep them safely out of the graphic novel so it wouldn’t compromise it. And I felt like the novel has a lot of sadness to it so I tried to put a little humor into some of these stories as a sort of “pick-me-up” after you’ve read the novel.

 

Your work often plays with visual and narrative composition, such as in the nonlinear story sequence of SuperSpy, the parallel interactive universes of Revolver, and the use of scale in 3 Story to show the main character’s literal and figurative distance from other people. How do you challenge yourself to keep things interesting, both in terms of storytelling and artwork?

MK: I always put a set of rules or constraints on myself for every project I do. Sometimes it’s the challenge of telling a story of one person from three different POVs (3 Story) or in the case of 2 Sisters it’s more of a formal constraint where I decided to tell a story using no captions or scene changes. There are no “cuts” from one scene to another. In Super Spy, the biggest constraint was to make each chapter be able to stand on its own, but also work as a larger book. I usually just set up a constraint like that to help me look at a story or character or even the art of comic books in a different way…to try to stretch what comics are capable of.

Your new series, Mind MGMT, is coming out soon. How does creating a serial comic differ from a web comic or a graphic novel?

MK: It’s very similar to Super Spy, which I did as a weekly on-line comic before it was the book. The schedule is tight and I’m weaving a bigger story in installments, so there’s really no room for error when it comes to timeline and storytelling. The most fun part for me is trying to craft these 24 page comics into satisfying reads on their own, but still keep them part of a bigger story. And I’m designing these comics in a way that’s kind of going against the grain of what’s happening in comics currently — I want you to spend time with each issue, not just read it in 10 minutes and then wait for the trade. These issues are designed specifically to work as monthly comics. It’s going to be essential to read these in this format — for a lot of secret reasons — one of them being the back cover ads. There are some hidden puzzle pieces that you’ll have to…figure out. That’s all I’m gonna say!

What’s next for you?

MK: Well, hopefully 3 more years of MIND MGMT in addition to writing Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE for DC (starting in June) and I’ve got an original graphic novel from First Second that will be out in 2013 called Strange Crimes.

More information about Matt Kindt can be found at his website: www.mattkindt.com.

Artists You Would Hire to Draw Your Tattoo

First, we gushed out our favorite writers but no comic is complete or even half complete without the work of the artist. These illustrators can pack a story into one panel. Clarify relationships with one raised eyebrow. Transport readers to another world with color, light, and a carefully placed line. These are the artists that we would hire to design our tattoos.

Charles Vess

picked by Gail

I love his use of whimsy, colour, shape, facial expressions, the way his illustrations tell stories of wonder and danger without having to even be in context. My favourite work — Book of Ballads — but I could list an entire catalog of work here.

 

Ben Templesmith

picked by Allen

Templesmith’s artwork are nightmares come to life. If you were to give a possessed individual a pen and paper, chances are it will have the same level of nightmarish surrealism that Templesmith uses in all his work. He uses a lot of frantic lines and scribbles that come together to form familiar shapes and objects, but he is at his most unnerving when he puts in realistic-looking faces. This style was much more pronounced in Silent Hill: Dying Inside. He is also the only artist who made Star Wars scary with the short story, “Dark Journey” (available in Star Wars Tales Volume 5).

 

Frank Quitely

picked by Brazos and Jack

It has to be Frank Quitely. He has distinctive faces and figures but also really excels at panel construction. His most striking work for my money is We3 with his frequent collaborator Grant Morrison. He stretched the boundaries of comic panel construction in that one!

He does draw very human and expressive faces, but I think what I love about his work is that his characters are all obviously cartoons with strange proportions and totally unreasonable bulk, but he really pays attention to the way they take up space, filling in all these little wrinkled and details that they have a definite weight and substance.  It’s a neat trick, one that makes me think of Moebius more than anyone else.  My vote for definitive Quitely work is All-Star Superman, also with Mr. Morrison.  It’s a classic Superman story in the absolute best sense of the word.

 

 

Naoki Urasawa

picked by Robin

I firmly believe that Urasawa is just hands down one of the top manga creators working right now.  His pacing, editing, and narrative style are very manga, but his art shifts somewhere in between what people expect from manga and what they see as a Western art style.  Urasawa veers toward realism, with characters who look Japanese and feel weight and human rather than idealized, but he also excels at faces that are delightful, expressive caricatures.  His work relies on a fine-lined, almost sketchy style that nonetheless has amazing narrative weight when it needs to.  He knows when to deploy a double-page spread, and when to allow the panels and silence to convey emotion and detail.  In Pluto, he also uses color in short bursts, rare for manga, and to great effect.

 

Stuart Immonen

picked by Sheli

I find his cartooning second to none. He details his characters with just the right curve of line so that it’s expressive, but not overburdened. It’s a stand out style in a superhero field littered with house styles. In execution as well as in interviews, hes always expressed the constant need to improve. And while that is not uncommon in artists, it’s always fulfilling when you see the artist constantly improve.

 

Eduardo Risso

picked by Russ

His work is deceptive!  At first you think it’s just kind of all right, if a little on the cartoony side. But then you begin to notice the original way he frames his panels, or the fact that each and every ‘cartoony’ figure from every walk of life is absolutely,100% believable.  Also his backgrounds are somehow spare and detailed at the same time, and he uses them as both another framing device and to ground all the characters in their gritty world.  Every time I re-read something of his, like 100 Bullets, I notice another little subtle detail that adds to the storytelling.

 

Ursala Vernon

picked by Jennifer

She uses really simple lines but she captures so many emotions and she can be funny, sad, weird, uplifting, and horrorific all at once. I would say Digger is her definitive work (although I also think she does the best job ever at a blended text/comic book in her Dragonbreath series).

 

Phil and Kaja Foglio

picked by Michael

Their Girl Genius characters always look stunning and fill panel space very well. The outfits those characters wear are generally drool worthy and make me wish I lived in the 1800s or alternatively had crazy mad scientist powers. They have a stunning level of attention to detail. Nothing is overlooked, no panel ever looks empty and there are often some hilarious gags in the background. If I can tell the basic mood of a character simply by the shape of their speech bubble than that artist (or in this case those artists) deserve my respect. While the style and use bright colors can occasionally come off as cartoonish, the comic is easily able to carry itself in more serious moments as well, without seeming to change. And while the colors are amazing, the comic was almost as pretty in it’s early days of black and white. So while their colorist, Cheyenne Wright, does a superb job these two top my list for superlative art.

 

Hiraoki Samura

picked by Jenny

His use of infinitely varied panel perspective (bug’s- / bird’s-‘ / fish-eye views and more, all somehow without disorienting the reader) leads me to suspect he has a photographic memory and can astral project at will.  Also, I think he must time travel, so believable are his Samura-fied depictions of period architecture, fashion, and culture.  His figures seem to occupy three dimensions both at ease and in motion, have generally realistic proportions (though I will be the first to admit the ears occasionally get away from him and take on a life of their own–hee), and convey complex emotions.  He understands light and shadow and subtly uses simple screentones to provide shade beneath an overhang or substance to a cast iron kettle, but otherwise relies on his ridiculously detailed yet never busy or muddied linework to provide depth, contrast, and texture.  I love realism that still looks like conscious yet effortless art rather than a photograph.  His is some beautiful stuff and I could look at it all day, especially Blade of the Immortal, and never be bored.

 

Nicola Scott

picked by Matthew

She’s one of the most underrated artists to work at DC Comics in recent years, I’ve overjoyed that she’s back on a monthly book again with Earth 2.

 

Janet Lee

picked by Emma

I adore the art in The Return of the Dapper Men. The book includes an explanation of how she works in the back. The pictures are just so lush and full of depth!  I can’t wait for the sequel!

 

Raina Telgemeier

picked by Snow

Raina’s art is comforting. It’s familiar, it’s friendly, and, even when dealing with difficult situations, it’s innately cheerful. She uses a deceptively simple and cartoonish style to breath real life into her stories and she uses the medium of comics in a highly skilled manner. My favorite example is page 91 of Smile, where the addition of a heart and a slight blush of the cheeks are the only changes between the bottom two panels, but they tell you everything you need to know about the power of first crushes. It is a sign of true skill to be able to easily and in a non-condescending way speak clearly and comfortably about the life of a tween and young teen.

 

Craig Thompson

picked by Abby

The drawings in Habibi are gorgeous and pulled me in even more than the story.  He has a real talent for intertwining letters and images, and adds incredible detail to each page.

 

Rebecca Guay

picked by Bonnie

Her work reminds me of Charles Vess in the ways that they both use such a wide variety of colors and create a sense of depth.  Her figures are less whimsical though, and done in a more classical style.  The characters always feel as if they’re embedded in their surroundings, not apart from them.  There’s a strong sense of motion in all her work, like there’s a stiff breeze or water flowing around her characters.  And well… it’s just so pretty!  She’s better known for her work on Magic cards, but she’s gotten a lot of attention A Flight of Angels, which is visually breathtaking.  However, I’m more fond of the techniques she used for The Last Dragon.

Amy Reeder Hadley

picked by Andrew

I like her work because it’s so clean and slick and, well, awesome.

 

 

Who would you pick?

 

CLAMP

CLAMP, love ‘em or loathe ‘em, are a highly influential and powerful force in manga. Here we discuss the visuals of their work, how the elegant and decorative CLAMP style both contributes to and detracts from certain elements of storytelling, and the appeal this holds for different types of readers.

Contributors: Robin Brenner, Jenny Ertel, Caitlin Plovnick, Eva Volin and Shelli Hay.

First, a little background…

Robin: Full disclosure: a CLAMP title, Clover, was one of the first manga I ever actually sat down and read, so I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for them despite all logical criticism.  Their art is what drew me in and convinced me manga was a format worth reading, and that it was far more than I’d been expecting from the covers of other manga at the time (Mars and Peach Girl.)

Jenny: I put off reading CLAMP for the longest time just to be contrary.  They were popular and gushed about, and therefore I didn’t need to get acquainted with them.  (I said the same thing about Harry Potter.  And then I read them.  Now I own all seven in hardcover.)

Eva: Gah. As much as I want to be a part of this discussion, you two are already way beyond my, “Meh, CLAMP doesn’t work for me” attitude toward their books. Although, saying that, *some* of their books do work for me, so…

Caitlin: I’m not as familiar with CLAMP as I’d like to be, but I have some questions for those of you who are. First, what’s unique about the artwork in different CLAMP properties? Is there a recognizable CLAMP style?

Robin: And how! (yes, now I feel like a wise-cracking gent from the 1940s.  Period slang aside…)

Despite the fact that CLAMP is made up of four women, three of which are artists and take the lead on different series, their overall style is immediately recognizable.

Clothing is always very important and frequently elaborate.  From their first fantasy epic RG Veda to the latest titles, including Gate 7 and demonstrated vividly with XXXholic witch Yuuko’s gorgeous kimonos, clothing defines character and is beautifully delineated.  One of CLAMP’s members, Mokona, also designs kimonos (check out her Okimono Kimono book all about it!).In their earliest work, I always remember noticing the character design, especially the men: they’re all incredibly tall and lanky, with heavy eyelashes (almost the permanent eyeliner look), and their torsos are distinctly triangular.  Wide, WIDE shoulders go straight down to very narrow hips and long legs.  The girls are always very cute, with similarly long, thick lashes, and frequently not nearly as curvy as they could be, although in series aimed at older guys (like Chobits or XXXholic) they’re more buxom than in their shojo titles (as is customary no matter who the artists are.)

Caitlin: What do you find appealing about this style?

Robin: The precision of CLAMP’s character design and costuming has only grown more assured over time, and their recent series (particularly in the paired series Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles and XXXholic), their style has been whittled down to its streamlined, affecting essence.

Gate v. 1, p. 3 of preview at Dark Horse

That being said, what is most noticeable to me, and is the bulk of my reasoning for liking CLAMP, is their layout.  The progression of sequences, the edits between panels, and the layout of panels are all accomplished and occasionally breathtakingly beautiful.  They think cinematically (always a plus in comics!) and they are unafraid to break down traditions for artistic and emotional impact.  Shojo manga was and is still defined by a lot of artistic risks including breaking down the borders of panels, using petals, clothing, mist, stars, and symbols to indicate borders and placement.  This style was started by the Year 24 Group, the female artists who developed the style that came to denote shojo, but CLAMP are (I think justifiably) considered the current masters of shojo excess (the petals! the feathers! the sparkles! the screentones!).

Jenny: When Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle‘s first handful of entirely wordless flash-forward panels nearly made me cry the first time I read them, piquing my curiosity as to how things arrived at that moment, I proceeded to interlibrary loan them until I’d read them all, starting up with XxxHolic at just the right time so as to be reading the corresponding overlaps.  With their self-contained yet crisscrossing stories, these two series also share a style defined by dramatic use of solid black and white spaces, lo(oooo)ng, elegant lines and figures, and highly ornate elements (like Yûko’s fashions) balanced with simplicity (like the boys’ solid black uniforms).  Tsubasa‘s style is a little softer and more complex, XxxHolic‘s a little sharper and simpler, but they still clearly belong together.  For me, it was these two visually polished, paired titles, with their ridiculously complicated plots and intrinsically attractive characters, that pushed me from mere admirer to full-on fangirl.

Gate v. 1, p. 2 of preview at Dark Horse

CLAMP excels at converting imagination into two dimensions.  Graceful, swirling, giant fire griffins guard a library’s entrance (and exit).  Wild magic flies off fingertips and spell circles and takes on physical, sometimes deadly, form (such as all-encompassing blackness or smothering tar).  Delicate yet knifelike feathers hold years of memories and are absorbed into their owner’s body like a spaceship going through a wormhole or a boat sliding beneath the water.  And even when horrible things are happening– eye-gouging and sword-skewering and people disintegrating into those infamously lovely petals–the art never fails to be beautiful.

Caitlin: How does the artwork differ when the team is working in different genres?

Chobits v. 2, p. 2 of preview at Dark Horse

Robin: CLAMP are known for bringing shojo style (i.e. petals and inventive panel layout) to what are ostensibly shonen or seinen titles.  As I mentioned above, both Chobits and XXXHolic were originally anthologized in seinen magazines while Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles was serialized in a shonen magazine. X/1999, although run in a shojo magazine, had a more shonen edge of apocalyptic violence.  They stick to what suits the audience they’re writing for, so if it’s a younger girls action adventure, like Cardcaptor Sakura, the cute style, younger body types, and more innocent content reflect that.  If it’s for older teens, then the characters get more complex and amoral, the figures more mature, and the violence more explicit and unsettling.

Caitlin: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the artwork in terms of how it serves the overall stories?

Jenny: Repeated character-based images, such as feathers (Sakura), bats (Fei-Wang), butterflies and pipe smoke (Yûko), can be used directly or incorporated into the background (such as the architecture of a building or the design of an ornament) so that whether the characters with whom they’re linked are physically present or not, their traces remain and their influence (good or ill) is felt, consciously or unconsciously.  This can lead to some lovely imagery and to fun, careful rereads to pick out hints hidden in the panel details.  CLAMP may write themselves into complex corners, but they leave the most tantalizing bread-crumb trails, convincing you they’ll lead you out again if only you find them all.

One thematic motif that seems to be a favorite of CLAMP’s across many of their titles is that of exchanging eyes–voluntarily or otherwise.  Eyes contain one’s powers, so giving, stealing, or consuming them carries great significance.  Tsubasa, XxxHolic, Tokyo Babylon, and X/1999 all feature this fairly prominently, with characters sporting eye-patches and bloodied bandages or unmatched irises.  The latter effect can be quite arresting (and unsettling, depending on the intentions of the bearer).  The taking of an eye by force in Tsubasa is one of the most startling, effective tonal shifts I’ve come across in a manga.  And the willing sharing of eyes in XxxHolic defines one of its central relationships.

I think one of the reasons I’m so attached to Tsubasa and XxxHolic is because the art so skillfully incorporates and supports the story.  For instance, because they’re longer series (and Tsubasa involves a lot of jumping about in time and space), we see the characters physically grow, gaining inches and losing baby fat (or the opposite, as when in a memory we see a child we instantly recognize as the younger version of one of the adult members of Tsubasa‘s main cast).  In another example, both series often focus heavily on silent observation, with multiple characters surreptitiously watching one another as they attempt to interpret each other’s true needs, motives, and hearts–and the reader follows their gaze, picking up on the subtle emotions and actions of both the watchers and the watched, without anyone having to say a word.  That level of confidence in the art to tell its story and in the reader to understand it makes me love these all the more.

Robin: The weakness to CLAMP’s work, really, is that their titles feel frequently like they’re much more about the art and the style than they are about a coherent plot or satisfying character development.  They create notoriously complex plots where many things are hinted at, but never explained fully, and while the art is gorgeous, the plots are rarely cleanly executed.  As a very visual reader, even of comics, I find I don’t mind this, but I know it is what drives other people absolutely mad when trying to parse a CLAMP book.

Caitlin: I’m interested in how the artwork dominates the stories – on the one hand, it could be a problem of style over substance, with fancy artwork masking slight stories. At the same time, it sounds like the artwork uses certain motifs, patterns, details etc. to control the pacing, emotional impact and overall experience of the story, which sounds way more sophisticated than if it were just a lot of really cool and stylish pictures strung together for no particularly good reason.

So maybe these are stories that rely more on conveying an experience than following a plot? It sounds similar to dreams, where minute details stick out and everything else is kind of hazy, but it makes sense so long as you don’t try to make sense of it. What do you think?

Eva: I think that the “conveying of an experience” is what frustrates me about their stories. As many of you know, I’m a reader first. While I can now read the words and pictures almost simultaneously, it’s the words that carry the most weight with me, both intellectually and emotionally, when I’m reading. As both Robin and Jenny pointed out, much of CLAMP’s stories’ emotion, symbolism, and growth is conveyed through the artwork, with the narrative left hanging. The unresolved storylines, underdeveloped characters, and stream of consciousness plotting leaves me as a reader feeling burned. I don’t care how pretty the pictures are, if there’s nothing for my imagination to cling to, I’m not likely to read the next volume.

Sheli: Let it be known, I’m someone who loves visuals, so CLAMP has got me no matter what. Really, they could have no story, and I’d love their work.

To build on what Eva said, I think one of their biggest problems is lack of originality. For women who redefine an art style, that’s a really hard thing to type but the more I think about it, the more I agree with it. Their characters are usually very extremely one-way. This character is pure innocence (Sakura)! This character is very, very bad (Clow Reed)! Most twists that will humanize a bad character come at the exact end of a story, where they can’t affect the readers’ emotions anymore. Even with the few tricksters you may have thrown in, there are very few plot reveals that jar the reader. You can tell me something horrific about Syaoran’s past, but I know that that character will never falter, and that means at the end of 28 volumes the story will end happily ever after.

Surely, there is something to be said for the journey of getting to that ending, but most stories seem to rely on happenstance and guesswork. And when all else fails? Magic! For a lot of their plots CLAMP seems to start with a similar premise, “losing everything”. For which the characters then need to go on a journey to pay it back, get back memories, build relationships, collect cards. But since the inception of the characters story starts at the lowest point, there is no height for them to fall from for the reader. You know what was the worst thing that could happen to Syaoran and Sakura? Sakura losing her memory of Syaoran. That’s arguably a fate worse than death. We see that….right in the first pages. These ideas being the starting point isn’t bad at all. However, when you flavor that with the knowledge that no main character can die and that your characters are good so they’ll always win, you’ve got a mix for a pretty stale story.

All of this is masked behind gorgeous interludes and often large fantastical spreads. So when my eyeballs are being treated to lavish sky races, or giant monster battles, I don’t really care what the story is. I just want to read more.

Clover v. 1, p. 2 from preview at Dark Horse

Robin: I think that, in general, manga is much more focused on the emotional experience than the nitty gritty of plot (although they can get quite plotty, don’t get me wrong.)  Manga as a language is I believe more visual than western comics, even, precisely because early on as the current manga traditions were being cemented, Osamu Tezuka emphasized two major ideas: one, that manga could be cinematic in how it uses edits, space, silence, noise, and gesture, and two, that manga should go on as long as it needs to in order to tell its story.  That may be 30 pages, but most of the time it’s a lot longer than that, up into the thousands of pages, and that freedom from a page limit allows artists to pace their stories much more deliberately.  They may be paced slowly for a calm, meditative effect or lightning fast during a fight sequence, but ultimately their focus is on taking the time they need to provide the impact the creator seeks.

And, most of the time, manga creators, even if it’s a silly action comedy, want you to feel something more than almost any other goal. That’s why, to my mind, the majority of manga symbols are about telegraphing emotional states and messages.

CLAMP is just a particularly vivid example of this kind of storytelling, and in my opinion, some of the best showing how manga can proceed visually.

Let’s Judge Books by Their Covers: Snarked! #1

This month, we at NFNT turned our critical eyeballs to the artwork in Roger Langridge’s new ongoing series Snarked!. This is a great example of a comic in which the artwork tells the story as much as the writing does, particularly when it comes to character design.

In a faraway kingdom, the Red King has gone missing, leaving behind his children to deal with a trio of crooked royal advisors who want to rule the kingdom themselves. Fortunately, the children have allies to help them search for their father, including the enigmatic Cheshire Cat and the comical duo of Wilberforce J. Walrus and Clyde McDunk, a couple of con-artists with big hearts, “even if they don’t know it yet”.

Langridge’s singular style walks a fine line between old fashioned and modern, reminding fellow NFNT reviewer Allen Kessinger of E.C Segar’s Popeye and Max Fleischer cartoons. Like these, the artwork is both stylized and loose. It’s a neat blend of influences when you add Lewis Carroll to the mix, whose stories and characters crop up throughout the events of the series.

While characters are well established through text and dialogue, most of what we know about them comes from their appearance and body language:

The royal advisors are all disfigured in different ways, from warty noses to extreme overbites. Their faces are not designed for smiling. They are literally crooked, and clearly up to no good.

The Cheshire Cat’s face is designed for smiling. This is an instance where Langridge is putting his own spin on familiar characters, and the results work well. The Cheshire Cat in Snarked! is friendly-looking without losing the mysterious cool cat attitude of the original character. Aside from his famous grin, he has round eyes and a big huggable body. His power is conveyed through his size and confident body language, but he does not appear menacing.

The children, Scarlett and Rusty, are both bold and vulnerable. Scarlett stomps around with confidence and purpose, but she is still tiny. Rusty is too young to speak, but his facial expressions and body language communicate plenty without any need for words. The children are not overly sweet, pretty or helpless; but they are still recognizable as children. We know that they have the guts and the smarts to be the heroes of this story, but that they will also need help along the way.

The Walrus and the Carpenter, Wilberforce J. Walrus and Clyde McDunk, are probably the most fun to look at. They combine elements of both the good and evil characters; being both con artists but also decent guys. They are both less than beautiful in their own ways: Clyde McDunk is missing most of his teeth while Wilberforce J. Walrus is, well, a walrus, complete with tusks and fur. They do not appear ugly, however, because they are designed to be round and symmetrical, a look that is naturally appealing. The Walrus may scowl and put on airs, but he’s downright cuddly to look at, and his pompous bluster just makes him all the more endearing.

Langridge also does something clever with this character, which is to show him doing something selfless every time he says something selfish. He insists that the children will never get a warm welcome from him, while simultaneously crafting a tiny teddy bear and tucking it into bed with Rusty. This is a fun illustration of the Walrus’s true nature, while allowing him to maintain the surface behaviors that will keep his character funny and engaging.

Note: All images are from Snarked #1 from the complementary review copy provided by BOOM! Studios.

Snarked! #1
By Roger Langridge
BOOM! Studios, 2011

Costume Dreams

Since it’s almost Halloween, and last Friday’s What Making Us Happy This Week was chock full of costume admiration, I surveyed the team to ask which costumes from comics they love best. Some of these are the ones we love to wear ourselves, and some are those outfits that just perfectly suit the character and attitude that it makes us all wish we could have such talented tailors at our disposal.

Robin

My favorite upcoming manga-fied characters to cosplay: Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate series. I already have that skirt!  Too bad I don’t have a strapping Scottish werewolf to go with it…

Most likely, if I ever did cosplay this, I have a number of friends better suited to playing Alexia, so I’m likely to crossplay and don Lord Akeldama’s perfectly tied cravats.  I would adore that too. Here are all the character design sketches from the artist on the manga, Rem, and where I found the above teasers for the manga due out in March of 2012. Normally I’m not terribly excited about adaptations from books to graphic novels, but knowing how much of a manga fan Gail Carriger is and how in synch she and her artist seem to be, I have high hopes.

Allen

I’ve always loved the design of Two Face.

Abby

Thorgi!

Also, Doraemon is who I always want to be for Halloween.  It would be such a warm costume.  (I just heard my mother’s voice echoing in my head)

Andrew

Picking one best comics costume is pretty impossible, but I do love the costume Thorn puts on when she gets ready to kick butt in the 6th book of Bone. It’s not super fancy and doesn’t get a glamor shot reveal or anything but it looks good and corresponds to a strong moment for the character. The first time I read that scene I took a moment to stare at the costume and wish that I lived in a world where I could have the sort of adventures that call for one to dress that awesomely.

Anna

I love Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit (talk about a costume being integral to a character), and I also like Jean Grey’s Dark Phoenix costume. I guess I like red and gold. 🙂

Snow

I pretty much love everything that Yuko wears in xxxHolic. Unfortunately I will never be able to cosplay as her, being that I lack the necessary…attributes.

And, as I like to wear gothic lolita at comic cons (and at science fiction cons and at library cons and random Halloween parties and occasionally to the ballet), I have always loved Mitsukazu Mihara’s character designs. It’s really too bad that TokyoPop going out of business took her books off the market.

For superheroes, it’s the black with blue trim Nightwing costume that I think does the most justice to Dick Grayson’s figure. (Not the dorky one with the collar, though. That’s just bad.)

Jennifer

Practically every panel of Girl Genius cries out for costuming, but I would so love to be Mama Gkika…

 Jenny

I’m too torn to pick favorites! So many natty dressers out there….
So how about I go with silly and say Danbo, the money-powered robot (a.k.a. Yotsuba’s friend Miura donning her science project)?
What are your favorites?

Let’s Judge Books by Their Covers

We’re starting up a special feature intended to look at the visuals of comics. All too often the visual side of comics, including the skilled creators including colorists, inkers, letterers, editors, and designers, are overlooked in favor of the big two names — the writer and the penciler. That is a great shame, and we intend to highlight the best of the visual element here.  Like, check out the excellent splash page (on the right) for Faith Erin Hicks‘s fantastic online-to-print comic, Friends with Boys.

Not all visuals are positive, however, so here is also where we’ll discuss the unfortunate faux-pas (ahem, like Wonder Woman’s jacket…) of costume design, cover design, and just plain old “what were they thinking!?” panels from our favorite comics.