Category Archives: Culture

Comics Festival 2005: Free Online

Darwyn Cooke's cover to Comics Festival 2005!Lost in the crazy of one of my previous posts was the note that, in honour of Free Comic Book Day, we put the very first edition of Comics Festival! up online in its entirety. There’s lots of cool stuff in it, you should go check it out if you’ve got some time to kill reading comics…

Comics Festival 2005: Free!

– Christopher
P.S.: Just because I’ve already been asked: We don’t have plans to put this year’s Comics Festival online until sometime after TCAF. Sorry… :-/

Svetlana Chmakova Profile

Dramacon Volume 2We’ve done 3 or 4 events with Canada’s own Svetlana Chmakova at The Beguiling, and she’s always been a wonderful and gracious guest. In advance of Anime North, Canada’s largest manga and anime convention, The Toronto Star just did a profile of Svetlana and her work, including Dramacon for Tokyopop, Adventures of CG for CosmoGirl Magazine.

I… think… the print version of The Star actually has a comic strip by Svet in it, though I’m not sure? I’ll check when I’m at the store later today. But yeah, it’s a nice little profile and I’m glad Svet is one of the new creators really making a go of the OEL manga thing. Though I don’t talk about it as much due to drama my fears regarding the Tokyopop contracts are still there, and I’m really happy when it looks like a creator within that system is succeeding and branching out beyond it.

More at:

– Chris

So how did the Bryan Talbot event go?

Really well, actually!

We had a turnout of about 40 people I think? We sold an absolute ton of books too, which was nice. Bryan’s talk was mostly drawn from Alice in Sunderland, meant to be heard by an audience who hadn’t yet read the book. Despite having already read it, I enjoyed it, and the book too. Afterwards Bryan was quite gracious and signed book after book for all who’d attended, though I don’t think he was sketching…? You can check out a further review of the event by Bob from the Four Realities Blog, as it looks like he had a good time as well.

Also of note, while Mr. Talbot was in town he gave an interview to SPACE (Canada’s answer to the Sci-Fi network, for those of you not in the know). SPACE head honcho Mark Askwith wrote to let me know that the interview is now online! Head over to and just look for Bryan Talbot’s name in the right-hand column.

What’s an event-report without pictures? Thanks to customer Andrew Specht for taking these for us.

Mark Askwith and Bryan Talbot
Space’s Mark Askwith chats with Bryan Talbot during the short interview session that followed the lecture.

Bryan Talbot and Christopher Butcher
Me thanking Mr. Talbot, and announcing The Beguiling’s plans for Free Comic Book Day and our Scott McCloud event.

Talbot and his signing line...
A small part of the line of folks waiting for Mr. Talbot’s signature.

Bryan Talbot talks to a few of his fans.
Bryan Talbot chats with a couple of his fans.

Lorna Toolis, Bryan Talbot, and Peter Birkemoe.
Lorna Toolis from The Merill Collection, Bryan Talbot, and The Beguiling’s owner Peter Birkemoe.

Thanks to The Merill Collection at The Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library for hosting the event, and to Bryan and Mary Talbot for being wonderful guests.

– Christopher
(Photos Copyright 2007, Andrew Specht)

Afraid Of Cock.

Not me, of course, but take a trip around the internet lately and you’ll find that the poor, put-upon fanboy is being subjected to higher-than-normal ammounts of cock by the unfeeling bastards in charge of the comics industry. How’s that for the antithesis of the typical complaints about homosexuality and even male sexuality in comics?

It all started with Don MacPherson, talking about the images below:


“One has to give DC Comics credit, though, for sexualizing characters of both genders in its newest solicitations. Just check out the Alex Ross-painted cover image for Justice Society of America #7, slated for release in July. It depicts the newest member of the title team, Citizen Steel, a young man carrying on his family’s heroic tradition after he was altered by liquid metal excreted by a Nazi super-villain.

“That strange steel elixir has transformed him into an invulnerable super-hero, a man of steel. And if one looks closely, it’s not just his fists and flesh that are hard as a rock. Perhaps his red, white and blue costume has led him to believe he’s a postal carrier, because he’s looking down at a package… one he seems more than ready to deliver.

“Groovy… it’s a special delivery… for the ladies. Or perhaps this is DC’s subtle attempt to test of the waters in the yaoi fanbase.”
– Don Macpherson

Oh Don, you’re right, because whyever would a dude wanna look at another dude’s package? I mean, that’s solely the domain of ladies and yaoi fans, who are also mostly ladies.

So what starts off as a pretty ignorant comment in a well-meaning article by Don about the sexification of Catwoman et al. snowballs into Brian Cronin making a jack-ass of himself over at the CBR blogs. Take it away, Brian:

“So, just when I was about to expand DC Comic cover snark this month to include a discussion of two horrible horrible horrible horrible statues that DC solicited this week, Don MacPherson had to alert me to a piece he wrote on those two statues at his neat site… Don also made a catch that, admittedly, I do not think I would have noticed, regarding the JSA cover solicited for July…

“Notice anything creepily unusual? Look closer (as Don so ably does for us).

“How freaking creepy is THAT? My pal Jake said to me, “I think there are two equally creepy options – 1. Ross intentionally, on his own accord, drew a big bulge in the guy’s pants or 2. The model Ross had for Citizen Steel had a big bulge, and Ross decided to paint it in.”

“Pretty darn creepy.”
– Brian Cronin

Where do I start with that? First and foremost, there’s a reason that “Comics Should Be Good” isn’t linked from my site, and the above is a good indicator of why. Second, that’s what “Queer Fear” is, in case you were wondering. Brian and his ‘buddy’ Jake are ‘creeped out’ by a bulge in another guy’s pants (artistic or otherwise). The idea that an artist chose to give a character an impressively-rendered package is actually frightening to these fellas, and the idea that his model might’ve had a good-sized package in real life? And Alex Ross decided NOT to neuter him for some insane reason? Equally as creepy.

Men In Underwear 1The best, best part, is the comments section at Cronin’s post. Wherin a bunch of fanboys come to Brian Cronin’s defense over finding cock terrifying. My favourite bit is where “Jake” says:

“What weirded me out about it wasn’t that a bulge existed, but what must have been Ross’s thought process. It was his clear devotion to accurately reproducing what an erect penis would look like in a superhero costume. Either he planned on giving Citizen Steel a boner, or whoever his model that he painted from had one, and he made damn sure he captured a good likeness.”

Jake, buddy, on behalf of all of us who have made hobby out of studying the bulges in guys’ pants, let me state—for the record—that that is not what a good-sized cock looks like when it is erect, in form-fitting material. It isn’t even an artistic approximation therof. That’s just a good-sized soft cock looks like. I’m… I’m very sorry that you can’t tell the difference between the two. I’m afraid I’m going to have to recommend some remedial work for you in this subject. I recommend starting with the underwear section of for an hour a day until you can tell the difference.

While Brian Cronin appears to have decided his post doesn’t need defending (I’d submit that it’s, instead, indefensible) Don Macpherson is not one to take criticism lightly, and his defence of his original column continues in the comments section at Comics Should Be Good, and even spills over into the comments section at the Newsarama Blog. In response to a critic, Don offers up “You make it sound as though Ross has no choice but to include a bulge just because there’s one apparent on the model.” Did I mention that said critic is irate homosexual Dorian Wright from PomoBarney? No? It is:

“So, Don, is it the very idea of a bulge that you’re objecting to, then? Because, yes, if Ross is accurately attempting to portray the model, and say what you will about his art, he does appear to be meticulous in attempting to make it as realistic as possible, than he probably should show a bit of package if the model is. But most importantly, SO WHAT? It’s not as if Ross has lovingly detailed the outline of the shaft through the clothing. All he’s done is paint the shadows and highlights in such a way as to suggest that his model wasn’t a Ken doll. Honestly, from some of these reactions, you’d think comic fans were uncomfortable with the suggestion that men have genitals.”
– Dorian Wright

Image Copyright 2007, International Male.It’s always fun to see Dorian be bitchy, and here he’s fully justified. He’s playing politic here too, and not just out and out claiming that lots and lots of comics fans are entirely uncomfortable with the suggestion that men have genitals. They are. To be fair, it’s not just comics fans, lots of dudes are completely and utterly uncomfortable with their sexuality, but Comic Fans are pretty special in that regard, and comics characters have long been so artisticly dickless as to be concave where their genitals should be it’s not surprising that they’re a little on edge. As a commenter at Newsarama points out, the artistic focus of the piece is clearly the face and chest of the character, not the cock, but certain posters just seem mesmerised by Citizen Steele’s package (that’s his real name, by the way). Why is that, do we think? I’m sure the folks who have a problem with it—the commenters that find it ‘creepy’ or scary—would argue that you simply can’t avoid looking at it, it’s so prominent! I’d like to offer another theory.

Go check out this out. It’s a report on a study about “eyetracking” or seeing how people interact with the internet. It uses a set of goggles to measure where the eye is fixating on a page, and then turns that into visual data. It ranges from bright red, where the eye lingers for a longer period of time, to blue, where the eye barely scans. But yeah, let’s skip to the relevant part. Here’s me quoting a big chunk from the site.

–>Quoted from

When photos do contain people related to the task at hand, or the content users are exploring, they do get fixations. However, gender makes a distinct difference on what parts of the photo are stared at the longest. Take a look at the hotspot below.

Although both men and women look at the image of George Brett when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face. For the women, the face is the only place they viewed.

This image of George Brett was part of a larger page with his biographical information. All users tested looked the image, but there was a distinct difference in focus between men and women.

Coyne adds that this difference doesn’t just occur with images of people. Men tend to fixate more on areas of private anatomy on animals as well, as evidenced when users were directed to browse the American Kennel Club site.

<--End Quote. (Bolded emphasis above is mine)

It’s not Alex Ross’ fault, gentlemen. You just can’t help staring at the cock. Even when you’re afraid of it.

– Christopher
Note: I’m sorry that this had to be my first post of substance in days.
Edited to add: Pictures of dudes with big packages, for ‘comparisson’.

Catching Up: X-Files Movie?

Since my last “Catching Up” post went over so very, very well, I figured it was time for another. Here’s what the last 4 days of Google Reader have turned up: has David Duchovney confirming a new X-Files movie is in the works. According to Duchovney, “This week, they’re starting some kind of road towards doing it (the film). Gillian and I both want to be in it now. We’re happy to do it.” How about that eh? Time heals all wounds, as does a pretty thoroughly unspectacular post-X-Files career… On a related note, my employer has a ton of original X-Files art for sale by X-Files comics adaptation artist Sean Scoffield. There’s also art from the Queer as Folk TV Show, the movie eXistenZ, and the recent Underworld mini-series from Marvel Comics. Just Saying.


– Video Game website “Gameasutra” has an article up on being out and LGBT in the video gaming industry. The answers are very, very similar to what I hear from gays in the comics industry, so in lieu of any such articles on comics, I figured it was worth pointing out to the industry-watchers who watch this blog. Here’s a good quote from the opening:

Jeb Havens, probably one of the most visible and vocal LGBT developers, says, “It’s not like there’s only a handful” of gay people making games, “but there’s no presence or community. There’s no ‘gay’ face to it.”

I’d love to write a similar article about LGBT creators and industry folk in comics, particularly within the larger realm of blogging, but with no time to spare it’s not gonna happen. C’est la vie, but go read this one: it’s really well done. Thanks to for the link.


– The best part about my job is selling good comics to people. There’s a special kind of magic to selling someone the first volume of The Invisibles, or giving them Scott Pilgrim for the first time. It honestly makes all of the other stuff, like selling Civil War, totally worthwhile. I was reminded of this by Matt Forsythe back in the comments to my Taiyo Matsumoto post, as it looks like just went out and dropped a bunch of coin on Matsumoto books. Nice! This is why I was so pleased to see this nostaligic remembrance of comics retail from Richard Bruton at the blog Fictions, about his time at Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham:

“The rarest of prizes though, the really fun one was when a customer would come in and tell you that they’d read everything they wanted and could you suggest anything to read. That always made for a fun 10 minutes or so of chat and selling.

“I always sold the books to people with the promise that if they didn’t like them all they had to do was bring it back in and we’d refund the money, no questions asked. To me it seemed the only fair thing to do. After all, this wonderful customer is putting down good money for a book just because I’m telling them it’s wonderful. I’ve spent a little time asking all the pertinent questions to gauge exactly what sort of thing they’re after, but I could always misjudge their comic character and sell them something they hate.

“I’m very proud of the fact that in all my years of doing this, not a single copy has ever been returned. Not one.” – Richard Bruton, Fictions Blog

I don’t have that kind of track record, sadly, but I occasionally let what I think people should be reading get in the way of what they might enjoy reading. I’m doing my best 🙂 Tip of the hat to the Forbidden Planet Blog for the link.


I think that’s all for now. The contest details for the Garage Band contest are finished. They’re awesome. Posted later today.

– Christopher



Thanks to the heads-up from Matt Fraction in the comments section, we now know that PING PONG the 2002 film adaptation of the Taiyo Matsumoto manga we talked about yesterday opens in New York City. Edit: It might only be playing tonight?

The New York Times reviewed the film and mentioned where it’s playing, and they seemed to really like it. Maybe you will too?

Most interesting? It’s being released by “Viz Pictures”, which strongly implies a DVD release from Viz, and if that does well, who knows? EDIT: Who knew? Apparently, Viz Pictures has a website? Check it out at and see the info for more screenings, in Chicago and Seattle.


– Christopher

Taiyo Matsumoto: Public Service Announcement

Tekkon Concrete

So it occurs to me that my enthusiasm for Taiyo Matsumoto a few days back may have been met with blank, questioning stares from much of my audience. I realise I haven’t been going on quite as incessantly about Matsumoto-sama as of late, and what with the recent upswing in visitors, well… context! So, here’s some background.

Background: Taiyo Matsumoto (松本大洋) is a popular manga creator in Japan. Matsumoto started as a manga creator later in life and was originally interested in professionally pursuing sports, and specifically soccer. He spent time in Europe in his early 20s where he picked up artistic influences from graphic novel creators like Moebius, Enki Bilal, and Prado. He’s cousins with manga creator Santa Inoue, the creator of Tokyo Tribes. Nearly all of his work is published in Japan by Shogakukan, one of the parent companies of North American publisher Viz Media LLC. It is unlikely that his work will appear in North America from any other publisher besides Viz.

English Works: Taiyo Matsumoto’s work generally falls into the category of “Seinen” or “Young Men’s” manga, meaning older than the Shonen manga that totally dominates the sales charts in North America. Besides that, it’s pretty ‘artsy’ for Seinen manga, thanks largely to it’s European influences, and you add it all together and it historically hasn’t sold very well at all in North America…

Matsumoto’s first work published in North America is Black & White, which debuted in the first issue of Viz’s monthly manga magazine Pulp, a magazine dedicated to showcasing manga for an “Adult” audience. Features two homeless street urchens who beat the tar out of people while their city crumbles around them. Black and White was collected, complete, in three trade paperback editions, all of which are thoroughly out of print. You can read reviews of Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3.

Matsumoto’s next English-language work is No. 5 (“Number Five”), released straight to graphic novel by Viz in a size closer to standard-format North American comics (mirroring the Japanese collections, it should be noted). It shows deep influences by European creators in its globe-spanning science fiction story setting, but is probably the most relentlessly creative work I’ve seen from him in any language. Only 2 volumes of the 8 volume series were released in English, and they’re both out of print too, making this series incredibly frustrating to read and/or collect, despite how excellent it is. You can read reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2.

The most recent English-language collection of Matsumoto’s work is Blue Spring, a collection of short stories about the author’s teenage years. It’s an intense collection of work, with narratives that range from traditional to very experimental. It’s mostly very early work, but it’s really very cool and luckily still in print! Here’s a review of the book.

Last year, a short story by Matsumoto entitled “Kankichi” appeared in the anthology Japan: As Viewed by 17 Creators, published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon. It’s a short folktale and very different from most of his recent work, so far as I can tell. The book is great anyway though, and worth owning. Read Jog’s review.

Adaptations of Matsumoto’s Work: Despite being fairly commercially unpopular here, Matsumoto’s work really broke through to mainstream Japanese society thanks to a film adaptation of his manga Ping Pong (not to be confused with the raunchy comedy manga/anime Ping Pong Club). It’s sort of like the Frank Miller effect, actually, where a popular adaptation funnels a huge audience into the many existing works of that creator… Couldn’t happen to a better guy. There are several adaptations of Matsumoto’s manga available in other media.

Blue Spring (Aoi Haru): Based on two of the short stories from the Blue Spring collection, the 2001 film of the same name is dark and fucked up and doesn’t end on a happy note. As their high-school society crumbles around them, a gang of teenagers start to push at the limits of their despair. I really liked it, but I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to Matsumoto’s work… Apparently, this got a domestic U.S. release! Review.

Ping Pong: Based on the five-volume manga series, this 2002 film explores the changing nature of friendship and heroism. It asks the question whether it’s better to love something and try your hardest, or to be the best and not care? Utterly remarkable and wonderful film, the best movie I’ve ever seen about sports and competition, and utterly accessible to people who are afraid of Japanese film. This movie did get an official U.K. release but nothing in North America. Worse still, the manga that this film is based on are fucking awesome, but not available in North America. There are scans floating around if you look hard enough. Review.

Tekkon Concrete: A 2006 animated adaptation of the series Black and White. A malevolent outside force is remaking the city in its own twisted image, and only two ultra-violent homeless boys can stop it. Pure spirit, pure strength, beautifully animated! A U.S. DVD release is planned for the fall, and the film should be hitting a bunch of digital film festivals around North America this year.

Tekkon 2

Resources: Here’s a bunch of stuff about Matsumoto I was able to dig up on the internet:

Taiyo Matsumoto profile at Lambiek:
Taiyo Matsumoto profile/bibliography:
There was a great interview with Matsumoto online at one point, but it looks like it’s gone forever. :-/. In this thread you can see Abhay Khosla and a few other creators freaking out over how good it was, which is better than nothing:;read=24575&expand=1

EDIT: Yeah! Thanks to commenter Matthew for finding this:

Shogakukan’s Taiyo Matsumoto Mini-site (J):
Taiyo Matsumoto Manga available in Japanese:
Taiyo Matsumoto Japanese Manga at Amazon:
Taiyo Matsumoto Manga available in French:

Taiyo Matsumoto at IMDB:
Tekkon Concrete Movie Homepage:

Hope you enjoyed this brief overview of one of my favourite manga-ka. Rush out and pick up Tekkon Concrete (Black and White) when the new all-in-one manga version is released this fall.

– Christopher

Just catching up with a few things…

Kampung1. Tom Spurgeon posted his “50 Best Comics of 2006” before I did, just like last year, and just like last year, I wanna get up off my ass and actually get mine done (it’s currently in spreadsheet format). His top 10 comics are probably different than my own, though I think his appreciation of Kampung Boy in awarding it the top spot is good, and makes a lot of sense. As I said in my review (Nov 12 entry) of the book:

“Lat is Malaysia’s Will Eisner, a ground-breaking graphic novelist whose deeply personal stories about society, family, and religion, speak to us all.”

2. Do you people care about Video Game stuff? I do, but I don’t want to assume too much. Still, the Grand Theft Auto series had a serious impact on my personal life, and it’s done much to popularise crime-based narratives in the past few years in comics, so I figure the news of the new Grand Theft Auto 4 Trailer breaking late last week is of interest. It’s set in “New York” this time out, and the NY media are already over it with angry folks at City Hall pitching 3 kinds of fits. Sounds to me like the game is gonna be a hit!

3. I don’t like Project: Rooftop. There, I said it. I’m sick of seeing talented creators feed their time, creativity, and intellectual property into revitalising trademarked characters, and for free, no less. I understand the memes that this site sprang out of, out of the cultural response to and reclamation of popular culture, and I still think it’s a little misguided and unfortunate (it’s a short step from that to HAL’S EMERALD ATTACK TEAM) but at least memes aren’t institutionalised like this. I wasn’t going to go and strap myself to a target like this, but this morning Warren Ellis started up a similar thread on The Engine, inviting participants there to redesign Witchblade as an artistic exercise, and then pointing out that the Editor of Witchblade is on the forum, and it just gave me a chill. How fortunate that all of you artists get to be cheap research and design for trademark holders. How fun.

If you’re a smart and talented artist, first and foremost do whatever the hell you like. But if you’re here reading this and you give a shit about what I have to say, then please invest your creativity and skill into your own work, which you own.

– Christopher, Killjoy

On Entitlement

So today I broke a girl’s heart.

It’s not the first, despite my ‘delicate’ nature, and it probably won’t be the last. But this one was different, because the girl in question was only… 17.

“Do you want to see my sketchbook?” She asked me. “I don’t care, I’ll show you anyway.”

PopImage Volume 1 Book Cover - By Aman ChaudharyBefore I worked for The Beguiling, my job title at the last comic book store could more appropriately be described as “Comic Book Bartender” rather than “clerk”. This is because, in addition to dispensing the poison of the customer’s choice–Pokemon Cards, Action Figures, Warhammer, T-Shirts, Anime, or somtimes even comics–I was also the guy behind the counter that listened to your problems, offered you open-ended, non-comittal advice, and was a friendly face in a world that hated and feared you. Customers would spend quite a bit more time at that store, just hanging out. The boss didn’t mind as long as they spent money, and I provided a wonderful little co-dependent service for them. Did I mention I wasn’t very happy, in general, back then? Anyway.

Every once in a while, I would get marginally more involved with someone’s life. Either I would ‘make friends’ with select individuals at the store, or I’d actually give the tough advice that would be helpful, in the end, but probably a little harder to hear in the short-term. Sometimes I even picked up! At the comic store! Whoo! I’ve got a few really good friends from those days, people who I really love and treasure, but many of them? I feel like an asshole for saying this, but many of the people I spent hours and hours and hours talking to, I wouldn’t recognize if I passed them on the street. But yeah, I put a lot of time in with people, and one of the big areas of discussion was “how do I break into comics?”

At that time I had the excellent cache of being ‘an expert’. I’d been published as a colourist, I’d interviewed a bunch of big-name creators for PopImage, and I could draw. Not great, but a hell of a lot better than I can draw now. So, knowing this, people would show me their art, or story pitches, or whatever, and say “What do you think?”

  • Rule #1: No one ever wants to know what you actually think.
  • Rule #2: Only 1 in a 1000 artists is going to break into the comics industry without any formal training. It won’t be the person I’m talking to.

I never met an artist who ‘broke in’ without formal training. Most of the artists who showed me their stuff were convinced that they were going to be that one though, which was harrowing. So I did a lot of tip-toeing around the issues. I recommended post-secondary education, a lot. Life-drawing. Specific areas of improvement (“Draw Feet. And Hands. And Backgrounds.”) I tried to put people in touch with other people when I could. I tried to be open, and friendly, and supportive, but honest. And I was trying to steal as much as I could because I wanted to draw for a living too. 🙂

I never sent anyone out of the store unhappy, we always had a good conversation and, like I said, I developed friendships with some of them. Alex Milne and James Raiz were both friends from that time, and they’re both working professionally in comics today, which is great. We see each other at conventions every once in a while, and catch up on how things are going, career-wise. Let’s just say that the pages Alex was doing that Pat Lee was signing his name to, they didn’t come as much of a surprise to me, but unfortunately it wasn’t my place to say anything. I do have good memories from my employment there, mostly the time spent interacting with customers, and it did help me develop a lot of the skills I’d need for later in life. People-skills, mostly…

So against my will this girl flashes her sketchbook at me.

“I only need to learn to draw hands,” she says, handing me the book. “They’re hard. I’m really great otherwise.”

I’ve posted about fangirl entitlement before. Mostly it comes up in relation to yaoi, and the fans therof. Straight girls and women deciding to boldy stake a claim on homosexual sex, logic or cultural appropriation be damned. But I invite all of my non-manga readers to really spend a day visiting anime and manga fandom: It’s fucking monstrous. You’ll find many of the most reprehensible children imaginable, running wild across forae that encourage their stupidity and encouraging a sort of fake-drama-based high school clique system that rules every facet of their lives. I hate to say this, but the Newsarama commenters, as attrocious as they are, don’t hold a candle to some of the bullshit I’ve seen.

To say that this girl had an air of entitlement about her work would be something of an understatement.

The thing is, she was very good at what she was doing; she’d refined her one very cartoony character design with different hair styles bleeding off the bottom edge of the page so as not to draw feet/legs to a “T”. She did that for roughly 200 pages, actually, venturing outside of her niche to attempt a more realistic figure three times, and to do 4 or 5 pages of heads floating in space. True to her word, she could not draw hands, as they were most often circles at the end of arm-tubes. When she initially said she couldn’t draw hands, I recommended she check out the Bridgeman DRAWING DYNAMIC HANDS on the main floor. This was a mistake, as I should’ve just told her to try drawing her hand 4 or 500 times, just to get a start.

So, where did I begin? By flipping through every page without saying anything at all. Honestly, I wanted to see how long she’d had the book, and if she showed any development or variation at all, before I opened my mouth. She took that differentlt, as while this happened, her opinion of her work changed dramatically.

I draw cartoons for my school newspaper.”

“Uh, you don’t like these do you?”

“I’m not very good at faces.”

I didn’t get up this morning, looking to break some girl’s heart. She’s even a nice kid, a regular customer. But she’s really into the yaoi, and the online thing, and when she and a few friends are in the store the squealing and the decibel levels rise, and I realise the kind of fan community that she’s a part of. It’s one that is all-supporting, all-encompasing, and completely unlikely to give her any constructive feedback whatsoever. Obviously.

So I decided, then and there, that this would be the first customer in quite some time that I would actually help, like I used to. So I did. I offered constructive criticism along the following lines that I think might be helpful to most artists:

  • “You look like you’re Drawing all of the surface elements of manga and anime, without thinking about WHY you’re drawing them. Specifically, highlights in anime-style eyes, blush/form lines on cheeks, etc.”
  • “You’re not doing any under-drawing at all. No guidelines, no skeletons, nothing. That’s a huge problem.”
  • “You’ve totally written off your art classes as not teaching you anything, but it looks like you’re not doing any figure drawing, or backgrounds, or characters in a three dimensional space, or any non-people objects. All of that stuff is what art class is good for.”
  • “You’re not pushing yourself to get better. You’re comfortable drawing what you’re drawing, and you’ve done it for 200 pages here, but if you want to draw what you see in your head, you need to try and actually draw it.”
  • I then re-drew a picture in her book on a piece of scrap paper with a ballpoint pen in 30 seconds to show her how she could easily improve her drawings with a little bit more planning, and it was better than most of her work.

How to Draw Anime and Game Characters Volume 1I didn’t break her heart at that point, but I may have destroyed her whole world.

I motioned her to follow me over to the ‘How To Draw Manga’ books. She was nowhere near any of the advanced stuff, so instead I showed her How To Draw Anime and Game Characters Volume 1, which is probably the best intro-to-manga book on the market. Translated from the Japanese, and featuring all of the basics of figure-drawing, anime stylization, perspective, faces, posture, and design detail. It’s a solid book, and the only thing you really need to put into it is practice; it’s not teaching you anything wrong. I showed her how the under-drawings worked, how to use guidelines, how to move characters around three dimensionally. She seemed to be ‘getting’ it, and finally connecting the dots between what she was taught in art class, and what she actually liked to do with art. This is a HUGE chasm, by the way, for most artists.

“My parents really want me to go to Sheridan. I always thought I’d study history, but I really want to go!”

Sheridan College is a local school that has one of the top five computer animation programs in the world. They also have a highly-regarded illustration program. It’s a pretty top-notch school.

“I’m really sorry,” I said. “But I don’t think you’re ready for Sheridan right now. If you work really, really hard for the next 7 months, you could get in to their Art Fundimentals course, on the road to illustration, but I don’t think if you applied now, you would get in.”

Actually, I knew she wouldn’t get in. I was being nice. Her face dropped.

My friend Jim Zubkavich is the director of the Animation Program at Seneca College, another highly-regarded local school. Every six months or so, he posts his reaction to the portolios of work submitted to get into the Animation program. Every six months or so, we are treated to a truly hilarious, cringe-inducing post that makes you wonder how in the hell these people got as far as they did in life without anyone opening a window and letting the blinding rays of truth shine on their work. Selections from Jim’s most recent post include:

  • Having letters of reference from your high school art teacher, your school librarian, the manager at your part-time job and your family doctor is all well and good I guess, but when the actual artwork is extremely poor after delving through all that rah-rah cheerleading, it’s a bit comical.
  • Disproportionate limbed anime fantasy katana-wielding caped screaming Dragonball-headed dude: It’s a genre all its own.
  • I know you want your shoujo winged angel anime dude to look relaxed but the sword lazily slung over his shoulder looks like it’s impaling him in the head.
  • Writing ‘I have trouble with perspective drawing’ on your room drawings is honest, and I appreciate honesty, but it doesn’t bolster your case.
  • Tracing hand pictures from a sign language book doesn’t show me that you can draw hands.
  • I almost thought I was going to get through a whole batch of applications without seeing a bad drawing of a crying girl holding a rose while floating in empty space. Unfortunately not.

Heh. You really oughtta check those posts out for yourself. But the best part is in his post from a month or so earlier, where he talks about what the submission process is really like:

“The tough part comes in understanding how much hard work that will be for some people. If you work hard and you still aren’t making it, then a lot more hard work is required. There is no motto that states “Your hard work will be the same or less than anyone else who has ever succeeded”… Do the research, look at your work and be honest about where it’s at. I’m not saying this to be mean. I don’t think I know everything, but I have a decent idea of where my skill falls on the ladder and what I can and can’t do at this point. I wish my skills were stronger, but wishing alone doesn’t make them better. Blaming someone else doesn’t improve them either. It’s not like a I sit around cackling like Doctor Doom raising up or destroying people’s lives as they apply to get into this course.” – Jim Zubkavich

Once Upon A Time I Used To DrawSo I totally broke her heart. Lower-lip quivvering and everything.

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “I know my stuff isn’t good enough to get in.”

I’m not the devil you know. I’m not. I could see that, despite giving her the same talk I’d given dozens of times about paying attention and working hard, about the realities of being a working professional in art or illustration, gleaned from having roughly 250 friends currently making a living from art or illustration, not to mention knowing lots of people employed in art instruction, despite all of that, she’d just never heard it before and she was not taking it well.

Change in strategy!

“I don’t think your work isn’t good enough to get in right now,” I said. “You’ve shown a lot of dedication here, filled up hundreds of sketchbook pages in no time and the stuff that you like to draw, you do pretty well! You’re just not pushing yourself as an artist. You’ve got the dedication, now you really need to concentrate on improving all of the stuff that needs to be improved. I think that if you put the same energy into learning and improving as you do on drawing already, you’d be ready to apply for Sheridan’s art fundementals course by the winter, and that’s a good first step.”

“You think so?” Fighting back a tear.

“Yeah, I really do. You have lots of friends, get them to pose for you. Draw from life more, and see if it’s not too late to get back into your highschool art class, and learn whatever they’ll teach you, it’s a lot more useful than you think.”

“Okay, yeah,” she said, and I started to feel a little better. She even cracked a smile.

We chatted a little as she packed up her sketchbook, about things to work on in general and places to talk about art online, social circles and the like. I told her that I’d more-or-less given up on my artistic dreams, but she had about 12 years on me and could do whatever she wanted with her life, as long as she was prepared to work for it. She seemed in better spirits, and when I went to put the How To Draw Anime and Game Characters Volume 1 back on the shelf, and she actually snatched it from my hand, and then paid for it. That’s a pretty good sign, I think. Her heart might just be on the mend.

So how was your day at work?

– Christopher

References: PopImage Volume 1, How To Draw Anime & Game Characters 1.
Bottom art: I drew that 4 years ago.