Irish Week: Why Everyone Ought to Read An tEachtaire

It’s that time of the year again, when everyone pretends to be Irish and the real Irish milk it from the American tourists for all it’s worth. St. Patrick’s Day is on Thursday so until then, this post is part of a series on Ireland and Irish-related animation. You can browse the full series here.

Via: Leabhar.com

For those of you who aren’t Irish, the title of this comic won’t mean a thing. For those who are and who had Irish hammered into passionately taught to them, they know that a tEachtaire means messenger in Irish.

So who would happen to be the messenger in an Irish comic? Why St. Patrick himself of course!

The comic in question is written by Colmán Ó Raghallaigh and illustrated by…….Tomm Moore! It centres around the life of St. Patrick as he is kidnapped from Wales as a young lad and forced to mind sheep on a mountain. After he flees, he has a series of dreams where the Irish call him back to teach them the Gospel. Patrick does so and spends the rest of his life converting the heathens pagans into Christians.

That particular version of the story is a bit boring for a comic, so Ó Raghallaigh has spiced it up a wee bit with a focus on the drama and some marvelous illustrations by Moore. There are plenty of displays of agony, torment, confrontations and Celtic imagery, as can be seen below.

It’s not overly long, although as you get into the story, length become rather irrelevant as your mind begins to wander as the illustrations come to life inside your head. Both authors have managed to create a very cohesive comic that simply could not be anything but Irish in origin.

I found my Irish had become rather rusty after a few years away from home although there is an English translation available so you’re not left completely in the dark.

I must say it was a very pleasant surprise to find this under the Christmas tree (kudos to my girlfriend for knowing me better than I know myself) and I found it re-awakened an awareness that Ireland has a rich and varied history that is more than capable of being translated for modern audiences.

Weekly Weblink: Why Cleopatra in Space Is Awesome and Why You Should Read It

Cleopatra in Space cover

Cleopatra in Space coverEven though this is an animation blog, the link between comics and animation is obvious. So it’s not surprising that I dabble a wee in the other side.

Cleopatra in Space is the creation of the very talented Mike Maihack. While I could (and do) recommend checking out his regular blog for tons of awesome illustrations and sketches (I have three on my walls here at home) it is his current work that I am focusing on today.

Cleopatra in Space is Mike’s latest webcomic that focuses on, you’ve guessed it, Cleopatra. It’s not set in ancient Egypt however, but far in the future (hence the ‘Space’ part of the title). With her sidekick Kenshu, she gets into all sorts of mischief that require quick thinking and lots of blasting with laser guns.

What I like best (besides Mike’s excellent handiwork) is the fact that the characters are well-rounded and believable and their flaws make them easy to relate to (c’mon, we’ve all gone through the trials and tribulations of school at some point).

Cleopatra on MondayMike has been putting up one page every Monday and the always get my week off to a great start. He’s up to chapter 2, page 32 so there’s plenty of stuff to read back through but not enough to put you off doing so (you can always start from the beginning). So head on over and start reading now. You will be rewarded for your efforts!

Weekly Weblink: Eclectic Micks

Admittedly, when I first heard of Eclectic Micks, the first vision that popped into my head was a pub band along the lines of Mungo Jerry. I guess I was a bit off because it’s something much better, a colection of awesome, Irish artists!

I must have been visiting the wrong circles because the blog has been around since 2009 with the basic concept that there is one topic per week with each member posting their work on the designated day. Naturally as one would expect, the level of quality is extremely high and with such a group of talented folks, that is not surprising in the slightest.

Last week’s topic was The Secret of Kells (so you can see how I discovered the site) and as you can see below from this one sample, you are guaranteed not to be disappointed if you follow them.

How I Fell Head Over Heels for Scott Pilgrim.

Yes, as the headline clearly states, I really like the creation of one Bryan Lee O’Malley. How did this come to be? The only comics I had read on a regular basis before were the Uncle Scrooge comics I read as a kid (an after all those years, it was still a big thrill to see Don Rosa at a comic convention last year). Being not your average comic book fan but at the same time engaging with comic book fans on an almost daily basis, i could not help but be aware the the 6th and final volume of the Scott Pilgrim series was coming out.

A few people who are known to me were already fans and they were trumpeting the fact that this awesome series would be coming to an end with this volume. However, I brushed off such claims as the hypnotic cries of the brainwashed. Why would I ever be interested in a comic book that looks like it could have come from Japan (seriously though, I have nothing against manga, I just don’t happen to read it myself).

Perhaps fate was working late one night, but long story short, the girlfriend got a 40% off coupon for Borders. So I says to myself, what they heck, let’s mosey on down to the one around the corner and see if this comic is even barely worthy of the hype. I figured I would read a few pages and if it intrigued me, then it might be worth spending the few bob.

A somewhat larger chunk of change later and I finished the final volume, at work, on a Wednesday morning with the bosses permission I might add. How did things manage to do a complete flip in between? Is the series really that good, or did I simply manage to find a comic that appealed to me? Perhaps a bit of both, so it makes sense to elaborate more on the many strengths that attracted me to the series.

Let’s start with the entire plot itself. If you wanted to date a really cute girl and you had to defeat seven of her evil ex-boyfriends, wouldn’t you have an interesting story to tell? I’ll admit, it took till the end of the first volume for me to appreciate the scale of the entire story-arc. it was only in later volumes did I appreciate the complexity of it as well.

The plot however, is only one aspect. The way that O’Malley (ah, a good old Irish name if ever there was one) tells the story is even more important. If you look past all the video game and pop-culture references (and there are many), there is plenty of genuine humour extracted from the characters themselves. The series therefore doesn’t really rely on any crutches for comedic relief. Now granted, there is plenty of self-reverential jokes and indeed more than a few instances where the fourth wall is broken and that causes no problems at all. In fact it makes the comic less serious in and of itself. It is after all, not meant to be taken as seriously as say, Batman or most other ‘traditional’ comics.

The drawing style, simple as it is, does work towards the comics benefit. Some may find it too simple. but I tend to think that combined with O’Malley’s style of layout, it works quite well. The last thing we need is for a full page-panel to be over-bearing in its detail. The character design is almost too simple. I will admit, it took me a while to be able to readily distinguish everyone, but once I became familiar with everyone, that ceased to be a problem.

The characters themselves are what sealed the deal for me on the series. I tend to favour strong, complex characters that, while flawed in one way or another, are still complete overall. Of course, Scott Pilgrim represents one of the most complex characters in the series, who is developing all the way up until the final volume. In contrast, Ramona is already developed, it is the layers of her character that are peeled away as the series progresses that take her from being the most intriguing to being the deepest character of them all.

The wider cast are all unique. It’s also fun to see how they all mesh together or on occasion, clash spectacularly. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how they interact with each other outside of Scott or Ramona. Of all the outside characters, perhaps my favourite is Kim Pine. Not really sure why, she just seems the most down to earth of the lot, despite her constant bickering with Scott.

A good story is nothing without a requisite villain and in that, we have not one, but seven! I’m not going to go into too much detail, but suffice to say, they are a eclectic bunch, and add their own flavour to each one of the volumes. The head honcho is of course, Gideon, a sinister fellow if ever there was one. sadly, I can’t say much about him without ruining the ending.

Which leads us to Scott and Ramona. Both are characters with very complex pasts. Both have said histories revealed throughout the series, although in Ramona’s case, it is revealed a stage at a time, whereas the reader is left to piece Scott’s together until the end when everything is wrapped up. This makes the two of them immensely fascinating characters. Scott, the loveable eejit, Ramona the downright mysterious American girl.

So why the heck should I care whether they get together? I’ll be damned if I don’t have my own relationship to take care of first. That, I’m afraid is a tricky one to answer, because that is the key to the entire series’ success. Just why has everyone (including Hollywood) taken an interest in this pair? Perhaps it is ingrained deep in the human psyche to find that lifelong mate. The fear of loneliness if one doesn’t. We don’t want to see Scott end up alone, (it’s made quite clear in volume 1 that even after a year, he still has not gotten over the fact that Envy Adams dumped him). He is us, and by us, I mean me, as I read the comic. I sure as hell want to see him succeed, because I know that if I were in a similar situation, I’d be fighting my ass off too (and you wondered why they were called the Fighting Irish) if there was even the slimest of chances that I could get the girl of my dreams.

In the end though, the characters made all the difference for me. Sure I loved the humour (both gratuitous and non-gratuitous), but I fell in love with everyone in the series, and I guess that is why I like it so much.

Bryan Lee O’Malley deserves a hearty slap on the back for creating such an awesome series of books. Will the eejits in Hollywood screw it up? The folks at the Comic-Con say no. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. In the meantime, I will be reading the series again from start to finish because there is so much take in, one reading does not do it justice.

Scott Pilgrim is the first comic series that I have collected, period. If that does not speak volumes about it’s quality, I don’t know what does, because I can be a very discerning person when it comes to the entertainment I love.

Dennis The Menace Versus Bart Simpson

I am referring here, of course, to the British Dennis the Menace of The Beano fame and not the American creation of Hank Ketcham.

On the one side, we have a naughty little boy who stirs up trouble every single week. On the other side we have a naughty little boy who used to stir up trouble every single week. What separates the two, well, age for one. Dennis has been running in The Beano since 1951! Bart Simpson on the other hand has only graced out TV screens for the past 20 years.

Both characters share many similarities, both being boys for a start, both having dogs that engage their shenanigans (Gnasher with Dennis and Santa’s Little Helper with Bart) and both seem to revel in creating mischief for pretty much any figure of authority.

Disregarding the fact that Dennis is older than my father, it is clear that his character is immensely popular and has endured the constantly changing shifts in consumer tastes and contemporary culture. Why has Bart Simpson not followed suit?

The reasons are many. Bart is a cartoon character as opposed to a comic strip one. He therefore has to be so much more whole in the eyes of the audience. Comic strips are dependent on the reader filling in the gaps between panels and using their imagination to bring the characters to life. Animation on the other hand tricks the mind into thinking it is seeing a moving image and requires little imagination.

The other reason is that an animated TV show has a much longer plot than a comic strip, whose stories can be read in about a minute as opposed to a cartoon which lasts upwards of 20 minutes. This however, does not explain how Bart’s character has become as flat as it has.

Dennis interacts with adults only when he is about to get into trouble. His parents are to some extent rarely seen in the comics. Bart’s parents on the other hand are all over the place. In fact, in the early stages of the shows development, it was perceived that Bart would be the main protagonist. Once the show was broadcast, that role was rapidly transferred to Homer where it has remained to this day. This move had the result of pushing Bart into a secondary position within the series. Today, it is rare for a plot to centre around him and him alone without at least some interference from Homer (in fact, nowadays Bart often acts as Homer’s sidekick).

One could argue that the intended audience is another reason. Dennis the Menance’s target audience remains firmly in the children’s age range with a few dedicated adult fans. Bart on the other hand has had to please audiences from those same young kids all the way up to folks in their middle-ages. That’s hardly an easy task for the best of us!

The Beano is still as enjoyable today is as it’s always been. Sure the style has changed and it’s now in full colour, but it has moved with the times, updated the lifestyles of the characters and stayed fresh with the storytelling. Bart on the other hand has been allowed to stagnate while the rest of the planet has surged ahead. As noted by Seth McFarlane, the notes he receives from the network are of a far more serious tone than those that were given to the Simpsons back in the day.

The point of this post is not to beleaguer the point that The Simpsons is past its prime, it’s just to illustrate that it is possible for characters to remain popular over a substantial period of time. South Park is a show that has managed to stay fresh and relevant, whereas Family Guy has started to turn a wee bit stale. Other shows like the original Nicktoons still seem as fresh today as they ever have. The proof is in the pudding, strong characters and a willingness to make them interesting and relevant to contemporary society can give them very long lives indeed.

Should Comic Films be Animated Rather Than Live-Action

A really quick post because I’m literally getting ready to head out the door for New York.

Just throwing out the question, but does anyone else think that the upcoming Scott Pilgrim movie could have been animated instead?

I know I am perhaps jumping to some conclusions here seeing as the film isn’t even released yet, but I seem to have an affinity for comics done as animation rather than live-action. I feel animation retains more of what made me like the comic in the first place you know what I mean?

Sure live-action movies have been made of comics for years, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, all the usual suspects. Some have been good, some not so good. However, dare I say it, I would rate Batman: The Animated Series higher than say the Batman movie by Tim Burton. On a side note, that movie was far closer to the comic than the Dark Knight. That move (good as it was) was pretty much just a guy running around Chicago in a bat suit. Burton on the other hand, made Gotham out to be the dark, foreboding metropolis that its supposed to be.

That’s all I want to write for now. I’ll bide my tongue until the film comes out. Who knows, maybe it’ll change my mind.