Image is publishing two books that are vying for the crown of best computer-aided comic imagery: J.U.D.G.E. and THE GEAR STATION. The former was Greg Horn’s first attempt and came out a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t very good. Heck, it was a mess.
The latter is the brainchild of Dan Fraga and premiered last week. It’s using the computer in a different way than J.U.D.G.E. Fraga is creating something along the lines of an animated cartoon, using CGI to put in the backgrounds and traditional pen and ink for the characters in the foreground. It’s no secret that most artists hate to draw backgrounds. If something like this were to break through, there would be plenty more lining up behind him to give it a shot.
This issue has its ups and downs, but I think the result is more positive than negative. For starters, Fraga doesn’t cram the book with talking heads. Even when the situation calls for two characters chatting, he varies his angle and his camera distance. After all, the backgrounds are already drawn in by the computer and are part of the draw of the comic, right? It’s almost as if having the CGI forced Fraga into creative uses of it, and as such improved his storytelling. It’s interesting to see. On the other hand, there’s one or two bits of forced blending between CGI and pen-and-ink. The early establishing shot of the Carter homestead includes some awkward-looking animals drawn over the background. They end up jumping out too much and looking painfully flat in comparison.
The next problem that would seem to come from this production is in the coloring. Do you keep the characters and their backgrounds as differentiated as possible, or do you try to blend them in? I think this books handles that question nicely. There are a couple of cases where hand-drawn characters should probably have been colored slightly darker to sit further back in the background, but the effect overall is nice. The characters belong in the world, yet they don’t blend in. They stand out the way an animator’s cel would stand out from the painted background.
|“There are a couple of cases where hand-drawn characters should probably have been colored slightly darker to sit further back in the background, but the effect overall is nice.”|
But all this discussion leaves only the question of the story itself. While parts seem painfully ripped from the original STAR WARS movie, I think there’s enough interesting-sounding stuff going on here. Unfortunately, there’s a ton of explanatory captioning to introduce way too many elements of the story right off the bat. Characters come and go every couple of pages to get their time in the spotlight. In the middle of all this madness, though, there’s a definite story developing. There are at least ten named characters – most of which not interrelated — in these first 22 pages and about half as many locations.
Hopefully, that’s all set up for us now and we can go straight for the story, which looks to be a mix of fantasy and kung fu. OK, I admit it – I could do without the kung fu and what little of it is in here seems uncomfortably shoehorned in, but maybe that will change.
So my final analysis on THE GEAR STATION: I’m not turned off. I’m willing to give it a few more issues to prove its worthiness.
(Oh, and Dan Fraga didn’t do it all alone. Janak Alford – who has shown up recently at the Pipeline message board – is credited with “story” as well as “Computer FX” with Fraga. Ford Lytle Gilmore is the scripter. Comicraft does the lettering, and uses a godawful computer tech font for the omniscient narrator part. The pixellation is painfully evident. UGH)
The next entry in this computer-assisted comics blitz comes in June with THE RED STAR #1. It uses a new computerized coloring system to wrap textures around objects. It sounds not too dissimilar from the technique Disney used in its TARZAN movie. I saw some of the previews of the book last summer at the San Diego Con. (It was right next to Erik Larsen’s booth.) The art was quite impressive. More info is available on their web site, www.theredstar.com.
I’m a huge 80s junkie. Loved the decade. Loved living my most early and formative years in it. Can remember just about every little detail you see in those “Children of the 1980s” e-mails that circulate around the Internet.
So when I opened up the first issue of GRENDEL: DEVIL’S LEGACY and took a look at the page designs, the backgrounds, and the fashions on the characters, I said to myself, “1986.” Shades of MIAMI VICE. I checked the indicia: This series was originally printed in 1986. Damn, I’m good.
The Pander brothers, who look to have been influenced by Michael Golden, draw the book. I even sense a similarity to some work being done at the time by Jim Valentino. It’s a stylistic thing, I guess.
I’ve not read any GRENDEL books before. This series looks cool and takes place early enough in the mythology that I don’t feel I’m missing all that much, so I’m giving it a shot. This first issue introduces us to Christine Spar, a book editor with a son. She meets up with a Kabuki troupe and weirdness ensues. This issue just introduces us to the characters and sets things up. Grendel doesn’t show up until the last page. It looks like it could be interesting.
Diana Schutz runs the letters column, and everything I’ve heard about her letters columns appears to be true. It’s friendly, informative, good-natured, and interesting. It’s nice to see someone put some care and effort into a letters column for a change.
SOME RANDOM WARREN ELLIS-RELATED COMMENTARY AND REVIEW
X-FORCE #102 is the first truly great issue of the Warren Ellis revamp so far. While I’ve enjoyed the others with some reservations, this one has a lot more going for it, and my reservations are just about nil. For starters, there’s an actual story here. That story is complete in this issue. It serves to reset the team for the readers, show us what the character relationships are, and whet our appetites for more. Yes, there’s also some teaser material for future plots. Ellis injects his sarcastic, almost mocking, humor into the story. The biggest laugh comes on the third page with Pete Wisdom explaining the reason for his newfound eye patch.
|“X-FORCE #102 is the first truly great issue of the Warren Ellis revamp so far.”||
Meanwhile, over at a post-Ellis WildStorm title: Something felt — weird — about the ending of AUTHORITY #13 and I think I’ve just figured it out. Warren Ellis’ run was always based on the premise of good guys against massive bad guys. Fleets of bad guys. One evil man. A sea of flying humans out to destroy the world. The end of Mark Millar’s first issue is good guy being threatened by singular super villain, in full blossom of his old-fashioned super-powered badness. It might be subtle, but it’s very much a change. As The Authority has come back to earth, they also seem to be facing something more along the lines of the stereotypical bad guys. Given the premise of the book, this isn’t to be completely unexpected. They’re not fighting sci-fi alien invaders anymore. They’ve returned to an earth littered with super-powered baddies. If they want to pro-actively change the world, they’ll have to take care of them, as well as the corrupt third world dictator types.
SOME RANDOM JMS-RELATED COMMENTARY AND REVIEW
RISING STARS #6 starts putting all the players in place, politically speaking. The upcoming war amongst the specials is being set up right now. And if you don’t mind yet another greedy religious amoral leader taking point in the storyline, co-conspiring with some slimy Republican senator, this’ll be your kind of book. If you’re bored by those usual clichés, then this might not be your book. Also, you have to get through JMS’ thick dialogue. This is a wordy book. I don’t mind it too much if I just tell myself it’s like reading a novel, but if you’re expecting something light and breezy, you won’t get it here. There’s a lot of stuff to be set up and explained here, and JMS goes through great pains to do so.
The only other sore spot is the art again. Christian Zanier’s pencils (with layouts from Ken Lashley) continue to look awkward, forced, simplistic, and unattractive.
But there might be hope-suddenly, JMS and Top Cow have decided that each “act” of the series requires its own artist. According to a recent article on Wizard’s web site, Gary Frank might be drawing the second “act,” for issues 9 – 16 or so. That would solve all the artistic misgivings I have with this series. On INCREDIBLE HULK, Frank proved he could be a great artist for Peter David’s often-talking head scripts.
In even happier news, BABYLON 5 moves to the Sci Fi Channel in September. It’ll be on 5 nights a week at 7 p.m. Finally, new viewers will get a chance to see the series the way it’s meant to be seen. No more early weekend mornings on TNT. Yay!
IN THE PIPELINE FOR NEXT WEEK
There’s some interesting stuff coming up in PCR and P2 next week. We’ll have a boatload of new reviews, a look at the Eisner Awards nominations, plus whatever else happens to come up between now and then. The following week Pipeline Commentary and Review celebrates its 150th week. How cool is that?!?
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