Comics on iBooks – Maximumble

MaximumbleToday, I learned about Maximumble, a series of comics by Chris Hallbeck. Book number one is currently available for free on iBooks, which is something I found out from the man himself via Twitter. You can get it here: Maximumble #1 on iBooks.

After checking out the sample on my iPad Mini, and hearing that it was going to be free to download, there was no doubt that I should just get the entire book. I would recommend it to anyone who likes absurd, unpredictable and weird comics. Delightfully weird, that is. Some of them are a bit morbid (but hey… anyone who’s read The Far Side is no stranger to comics that are just a tad disturbing), yet others are cute and quirky. A few gems even have several  punchlines.

Hallbeck’s drawings are simple and features mostly stick figures and simple props, but there’s a strong clarity and expressiveness in his drawing style. The only thing I’m missing is some color or tone to balance out the panels, which are mostly white.

All in all, it’s a good collection of comic strips worth checking out. At the moment there are a total of four Maximumble volumes and two Minimumble (single panel comics) available for $ 2.99 each iBooks. There are also several volumes of Hallbeck’s main series “The Book of Biff”, which can also be found here, in it’s pure webcomic form.

(Maximumble #1 cover art from iBooks store)

Thoughts on “Iblard Jikan”

Like many others, I’ve got a certain fascination for Studio Ghibli. The animation studio’s somewhat abstract and experimental movie Iblard Jikan is certainly not their most popular and mainstream movie, but it’s definitely a work of movie magic that is a peculiar experience to watch.

Created by Ghibli in 2009 Iblard Jikan (translated to “Iblard Chronicles” in English) is both a wonderful and slightly weird movie. One might say that it’s wonderfully weird at times. In addition, it’s an extremely fascinating show of creativity. Every scene is like a highly impressionistic oil painting, with various bits and pieces being “alive”. Naohisa Inoue is the artist behind the paintings, and he is also the creator behind the fantasy world of Iblard (イバラード). In the movie, elements of various degrees of simplicity, like people and vehicles, are animated and added into the scene. Sometimes they freeze into the painting-like style, or jump out of the painting, drawing the viewers attention. At one time, one of the characters breaks the fourth wall and “looks” directly at the viewer.

Also, it seems like the aforementioned degree of weirdness increases according to how far into the movie you get. Suddenly there are floating and flying people, miniature planets hovering about and giant, Zeppelin-like balloons that grow from plants like fruits.

Iblard Jikan has been called an experiment in artistic skill that shows what Studio Ghibli is capable of producing. It’s only 30 minutes long, but serves as a large portfolio of different effects and animation techniques. To me, that’s one aspect of what’s interesting about this movie. The other is that by creating something like this, Studio Ghibli has made fantasy artist Naohisa Inoue’s world, which exists in his paintings, come alive to an even larger extent in the viewer’s imagination.

The visuals spark ideas and stories, and make the watching experience even more real. You simply accept that in such a world, things like this and that exist, and it doesn’t have to be a reason for it to do so. I find myself getting lost while looking in awe at the details in every scene, letting myself get tricked into believing that things that are not there, really exist. Because if you look at it with from a realistic viewpoint, it’s all just carefully assembled dots and strokes of paint. And that’s no fun.

The music and sound design works very well with the movie, providing a fitting atmosphere that suits the scenery, mood, occasional people and movements on the screen. The movie is divided into 8 segments, each with its own musical piece. The music consists of mainly instrumentals with sporadic voices, increasing in intensity accordingly to… yep, you guessed it – that lovely weirdness I’ve mentioned a few times by now.

Just as a side note; my favorites among the sound effects has to be the sound of old, rattling traincars through rainy weather.

Certainly, it’s not all good. I’ve got a habit of nitpicking, and there are a couple of things I would have liked better if done differently. Just to give a neat and quick review of Iblard Jikan, here are some good and some bad things that I’d like to point out.

The good: Watching this short movie is like taking a peek into another world or dimension, one which is saturated with imagination and color. The fact that there’s no real storyline, makes the viewer think for himself. What’s the story behind this place? How do the people in this world live their lives? The music works beautifully and adds feeling and good pacing to the different segments.

The bad: Sometimes the 3D-generated elements stand out too much. For example, some of the vehicles look very much out of place. The movie is also a bit on the short side. I would’ve liked to see more of this fantasy world. Also, people who’re not fond of surrealism might not like Iblard Jikan due to all of the weird things that happen.

Finally, if you’ve watched this movie, or I’ve somehow managed to make you want to watch it sometime, I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts. Maybe you totally disagree with me, and think it was uninspired and not interesting at all. You’ve read my review this far, now let me hear your opinion.

Oh yeah, one last note. If you’re an artist, or you’re just interested in how Naohisa Inoue’s works, there’s a pretty neat step-by-step article on iblard.com that shows his painting process. The website looks kinda old (notice the “copyright 2003″ stamp), but there seems to be a lot of good content available. Or, if you’re capable of reading Japanese, you could check out Naohisa’s personal blog, which is a lot more up to date!

PS: If you liked this review, you might also want to check out Thoughts on “My Neighbors The Yamadas“.

Thoughts on “My Neighbors the Yamadas”

First of all, these are my personal thoughts on the Japanese movie My Neighbors the Yamadas. I will have to point out that this is a great movie, and I hope to convince you to watch it if you haven’t already. My Neighbors the Yamadas is in short a movie about the daily life of a small family of five living in a peaceful town in Japan. It’s a surprisingly interesting movie, despite having such a mundane theme. The recipe is roughly as follows; a good dose of comedy, a nice sprinkle of drama, poetry and dilemmas, a cup of action and a pinch of sadness…

… and there’s also this dog, although he doesn’t show up much.

Style
My Neighbors the Yamadas (with the Japanese title “Hôhokekyo tonari no Yamada-kun”), was released in 1999, and was Studio Ghibli’s first 100% digitally produced animation movie. But at first glance, you wouldn’t think it was made digitally.

It has been described as watching a watercolor painting coming to life, the light colors sometimes spilling outside of the sketchy outlines and with simplistic backgrounds and environments. The style is distinctly different from what Ghibli had made up to that point in time, some examples being Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Whisper of the Heart, Kiki’s Delivery Service and the highly popular movie with the similar title, My Neighbor Totoro.

Story
However, My Neighbors the Yamadas’ style works incredibly well with the “slice of life” genre of the movie. It is is based on a four panel comic called Nono-chan by Hisaichi Ishii, and typical for the gag-type comic, there’s in fact no main storyline. Instead, there are a lot of segments varying in length, sometimes preceded by a title topic like “Marriage, Yamada style” and “Father and son bonding”.

Through these segments we get to know the strict, but loving father; the stubborn and sometimes lazy and forgetful mother; the teenaged son who’s studying hard, and the independent and energetic little sister. The 70-year old grandmother also plays an important role in the three generations household, being the eldest and supposedly the wisest. Some of the themes presented are household duties, the relationship between husband and wife, the responsibility of the head of the family and the troubles of a hard-working student.

Additionally, there are some treats for those who like japanese poetry as well. Some of the segments have haiku’s being read aloud at the end, giving them a nice level of philosophical depth.

Soundtrack
The soundtrack is usually light and playful, but it will occasionally turn very gloomy to add the necessary melancholy to the scene. Nonetheless, this is first and foremost a feel good movie, and the cheery piano and vocal music reflects that very well.

Summary
Although the daily life of the family is highly caricatured, there are a few interesting things to learn about Japanese culture and society. Having studied said topics (and some Japanese) certainly helps when trying to decode some of the humor and understanding certain jokes, but I think it’s certainly possible for everyone to enjoy and even learn from the many different episodes.

Moreover, there are a multitude of delightful dialogues between the characters. Sadly, some of the nuances are not represented well enough in the translated english subtitles (in this case, the DVD version from Optimum Releasing). My conclusion is; watch this movie, especially if you’re a student of Japanese or even the slightest interested in Japan.

(All images used in this post are screenshots from my DVD of the movie My Neighbors the Yamadas, copyrighted to Studio Ghibli, distributed by Optimum Releasing)

Tonoharu: Part One, by Lars Martinson

I was browsing the comics section of the local library for something interesting to read when I stumbled upon this, the first book in the Tōnoharu series of graphic novels by Lars Martinson. I don’t think I had ever heard about the title before, so it was a lucky find. Why, you might ask? Firstly, because the story is set in Japan, which is appealing to me because I spent almost a full year as an exchange student in Kyoto. Secondly, because I found Martinson’s style very interesting, thinking it would be fun to analyze.

This book is split into a prologue and a Part One. The prologue actually takes up about one fifth of the 105 pages of story, and it introduces a guy who I can only imagine is the man behind the book, Lars Martinson. He’s an assistant English teacher working at a junior high school in the rural town of Tōnoharu in Japan. The prologue introduces a little bit of his situation, how he’s the single westerner in the area, how he’s doing in the workplace and the general ups and downs of living in Japan. Before him stands an important choice; does he want to stay and work for another year, or has he had enough of Japan?

In the Prologue, we also catch a glimpse of the main character in the book, Daniel Wells, who is explained to be the predecessor of the guy I assume is Mr. Martinson. Daniel Wells (shown in the third panel on the sample page to the right) is a worried-looking, quiet kind of guy, and he’s just landed a job as an English teacher in Japan. In Part one, we find out that he has little idea about how to deal with his new job, and he tries to seek help from a fresh acquaintance; a girl named Constance living in a nearby town, also an AET. Daniel does his best to get to know her better. He is clearly feeling lonely, and his pursuit of her attention becomes a main topic. There are also a strange group of wealthy Europeans living in an old Buddhist temple in Tōnoharu. It is said that they’re an unwelcome bunch, but it also happens that they’re the only foreigners other than Daniel living in that rural town.

This graphic novel is an entertaining and very quick read. Furthermore, it made me want to read the next book, just to find out what will become of the lonesome protagonist. The pace of the storytelling is steadfast and on the slow side, which can be very relaxing, with only a few deviations from the most observed 2×2 panel layout per page. Art-wise, it’s expertly drawn with a lot of thought and detail going into backgrounds environments. The characters are drawn simplified with very simple body language, including such subtle changes like shifting the direction of a character’s eyes ever so slightly, or going from a tiny smile to a tiny frown. When you first notice these subtleties, the character emotions seems to convey even stronger.

I would highly recommend picking up this graphic novel. It’ll surprise you with its clear, yet complex art style. The environments Lars Martinson draws are simply impressive. The story also gives an insight into how being a foreigner in a strange land can be both confusing and challenging, not to mention lonely.

Touch Twin brush marker review

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a company called Global Hobby. Their main business is import of art and craft supplies, and they distribute a wide range of products to various outlets in Norway. They asked if I was interested in a few product samples, to which I answered something along the lines of “Free art supplies? Of course I want some!”

The main samples in question were the Touch Twin markers from ShinHan Art, specifically the new kind with a brush nib. Just as a side note; I get the impression that the ShinHan Art brand is a new addition to the arsenal of Norwegian art stores, as I was first introduced to the Touch Twin marker just last year. I hope someone will correct me if I’m wrong…

The markers are available in 168 colors, and the marker itself looks professional, has rounded edges and feels good in the hand. Imprinted on the flat, colored area of the caps on both sides are the color name and number. As a downside note, it’s not possible to “click” the cap from the tip you’re using onto the end of the opposite cap. This might not matter much, depending on how likely you are to make a mess with loose caps when using several colors at the same time. The brush tip is very enjoyable to use. It provides enough suppleness to give a wide variety of brush strokes, but it’s also very handy for small details. The chisel end is useful for coloring large areas. The ink flow seems to be generous, but luckily not exceedingly so, and the color itself is lush and brilliant. Although the official product description says that the ink is odorless, it’s not hard to notice a smell from the alcohol based ink. But it’s not particularly strong and doesn’t bother me much.

Here’s a little test I did with the YR33 Melon Yellow I got (clicky for full size). It shows that the color gets richer and more saturated with more layers. To obtain a solid color without the strokes showing, I would recommend going over the area 3-4 times with the chisel nib. Alternating between horizontal, vertical and diagonal strokes also helps. The paper I used for this test was from one of the product samples I got; a pad of Fabriano 240g/m² drawing paper. The test also shows line variation and brush flexibility with light and hard pressure.

It’s pretty obvious that ShinHan Art’s markers are competing with Promarker and Tria markers from Letraset and Copic markers, just to mention a few of the currently popular brands. They’re aimed at fashion designers, illustrators, comic artists, architects, crafters and the like. There is a handful of videos on YouTube where the Touch Twin is shown “in action”. Still, the majority of marker coloring videos feature for example Promarkers and Copics. Personally, I really liked using the Touch Twin Brush. I could get used to the professional feel, brilliance of color and the versatility of having a brush tip.

I also got a few other products from Global Hobby; a few Micron fineliners and the aforementioned pad of thick 240g/m² Fabriano drawing paper. I might just have to compare the Microns and the Uni Pin fineliners I’ve been using a lot lately. But that’s another review…

Travelogues #2 – Burma Chronicles

I finished reading Guy Delisle’s travelogue from his year in Burma (Myanmar). The book is called “Burma Chronicles” (2008) and is the third book in the familiar, cartoony style of Delisle’s travelogues. If you’re interested in checking them out, you might want to read my review of the first two books.

I have to say that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Guy Delisle’s delightful observations. First of all, this book is an educational trip into how the situation in Burma was a couple of years ago. Secondly, there are a lot of comical situations and descriptions of the daily life of a small family (Delisle, his wife Nadége, and their baby, Louis) in a tropical country. For example, a power outage becomes a very specific problem when you’re not used to the blistering heat, and rely fully on air-conditioning to keep cool. The book is loosely partitioned into sections, with the upper left panel of a section bearing a title and an illustration of something related to the story. I like this way of telling the story in episodes, and still keeping it more or less chronological from start to finish. Delisle is nonetheless a master at using the possibilities of telling a story in comic form. During a side-story where he finds a long lost pen nib in his inkwell, we see him peering over the shoulder of a younger version of himself in a flashback. He then proceeds to loudly criticize the work he was working on at the time. His younger self retorts with a very fitting “Screw you. I can do whatever I like”.

A big topic which gets revisited several times is non-profit organizations, among them Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). It is also made clear that NPO’s like Médecins Sans Frontières are very much needed, as the health care system in Burma is one of the worst in the world. Delisle’s wife, Nadége, is a part of MSF. Delisle himself is given a chance to join her on a mission, and his account of the trip gives an insight in exactly how the MSF worked to help the population in rural areas of Burma. This episode also involves extremely uncomfortable bus rides, and an unfortunate incident of stomach sickness. Just to mention a few of the not-so-great experiences he has included in the book.

Delisle writes and draws what seem like very honest stories, which I also believe they are. I mean, it’s the small, trivial stories that make travelogues, and in particular Delisle’s, so enjoyable to read. In very related news, I’m looking forward to get my hands on Chroniques de Jérusalem (Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City) when it comes out in April…