Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Xmas One and All!

BMP is signing off for the year and we want to wish all our blog and Elf~Fin readers (as well as Black Mermaid followers!) a very Merry Xmas and a wonderful New Year celebration. Looking forward to talking to you once again in 2012!
Jozef and Julie

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mermaid Treasures 20

Somebody gave me this lovely smiley little mermaid bookmark a few years ago. I don't use her as such – I actually have her sitting in and peering out of the pen holder on my desk in my office. What a cutie ...

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Recommended Not-So-Christmasy Politically Incorrect Graphic Novel Christmas Present – The Sixsmiths

The Sixsmiths Volume 1Black Mermaid has been very very bad this year ... in the reading department that is. One of the things both Jozef and I like to do is buy new Aussie comic books and graphic novels offerings every time we hit the Supanova circuit. Alas, I got far behind in my reading this year. The result is a thigh-high pile of books by my bedside that I desperately wanted to read but couldn't through lack of time and fatigue. During those nights where I would actually start reading, I would often fall asleep mid-sentence or page only to wake up with a start when the book slipped from my hand and clattered onto the floor.

Now that the major workload is over, I picked up Jason Franks' and J Marc Schmidt's The Sixsmiths published by SLG Publishing (USA), which I had bought back in February / March of this year.

All I can say is I'm glad I did. What a great find.

Now the purpose of this blog is not to review books or comics, and indeed we're not in the business of reviews. However, occasionally we like to share a positive reading experience with our readers so that you may be inclined to try them out...

And I certainly had a positive reading experience with this Aussie graphic novel.

The Sixsmiths is the story about a loving family that goes through many of the same life challenges that we do – unemployment, first day at a new job and a new school, lost dogs in the park, church on Sunday ... it sounds mundane but it's not. The important detail I haven't mentioned yet, is that this is a family that worships at the altar of the Dark Lord. No, not Voldemort... but Lucifer. This is, in fact, a story about a family of Satanists.

Strange as it may sound because I am personally adverse to having anything to do with dark supernatural forces, this is actually a charming story that gently unfolds with a natural rhythm through sixteen digestible and some emotionally charged chapters. If I had to summarise it in a sentence I would say it's like " The Simpsons meeting the Osbournes!"

I started off with trepidation and there were some moments of rising tension where I felt afraid to turn the page – unsure of what I would discover but also aware that I could potentially be projecting my own prejudices on the story. I certainly did not want to be greeted by some unpalatable or traumatising idea or image. In the end I placed my trust in the intention and skill of the comics creators, as well as the black comedy genre. And indeed I was correct. The pay-offs were exceptionally funny – the Virgin Sacrifice (amongst others) for one thing. 

Indeed, I laughed in many places at Franks' gentle rollicking humour – his perceptive observations on life and humanity, as well as his intelligent play on words and ideas. For example, the joke in the first names of the children (Cain and Lillith – Biblically significant to both ends of the religious spectrum), as well as the family name where the devil's number ("6") meets the common name ("Smith") that could also be read as the "sicksmiths", made me chuckle.

But is this a sick family? No. It is a family that could worship at any altar.  Being Satanists is not the point. Being human is the point.

They are loving and affectionate with a robust sexuality who are also fierce about protecting their children and exposing them to the rights sorts of influences – I love the chapter about the way Mum deals with a missionary message about the corruption of children who play evil video games.

And what is is a Satanistic family to do when one of their children wants to become a Budhist nun?

Schmidt's art is a delight. The artwork is naive but there there is a great deal of sophistication in its visual humour. The tuckshop lady arms on the teacher, the fat vicar's expressive eyebrows, the satanic iconography (seek the pentacles and you will find!)

There are a few dangling plotlines at the end but it's my understanding that they will be answered in the sequel.

This is a great book and the creators should be proud of themselves. I believe it is one of the breakthrough graphic novels coming from a new age of Australian comics.

Thematically it may not be the ideal Christmas fare for obvious religious reasons, but we ask you just to have a little faith... 

Check out The Sixsmiths website for more info and a taste-test of the web comic strip.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mermaid Treasures 19

Christmas is nearly upon us and I thought I might show you a little stuffed mermaid soft toy I received as a gift a few years ago. She's not terrible sophisticated, but there's something charming about her. She hangs from the door knob in my mermaid room.

The Impact of Graphic Novels in the US Education System

We were recently sent a great online article from the USA – "15 Awesome Examples of Graphic Novels in Education". The writers have "compiled a list of some of the best, coolest and most successful ways graphic novels are playing a role in education". We certainly understand the value of using comics as teaching tools – Julie's mother emigrated at the age of 12 from post war Europe in the late 1940s. In Australia, she taught herself English by reading comic books.

The only thing we have to pull the writers up on – and this is a very common mistake – is that "comics" is a medium and not a genre. Check with Scott McCloud who is mentioned in the article. He drums that into his readers in his Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art book. He also recently talked on the subject at GRAPHIC at the Sydney Opera House. Colleen Doran also spoke about it at the Comics Masterclass, which was held in Sydney a few weeks ago.

Just so you know – there are many "comics" works published in all kinds of genres including superhero, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, crime and many many more.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"The Art of Jozef Szekeres" Exhibition Report

I'd never publicly exhibited my original artworks before. I had been in several group exhibitions over the years that showed copies or prints of my artworks, but never the originals. A solo art exhibition was due.

As a prize winner of the Out Loud art exhibition, I won a week of exhibition space in the window gallery at The Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst. But still I was not yet ready to exhibit. I had to find the right time.

I met Charles Heyen mid 2010. He had come to Australia from the USA to do a post graduate course in Sydney as a curator. He had been following my work for several years and met with me one week after he arrived. At that first meeting we discussed the possibility of us working together to put on a showing of my artwork.

My partner Todd Barry urged me to pick a time for the exhibition in order to make it real. I started looking at possible time slots, but I wanted it to mean something special to me.

I knew that our good friend Colleen Doran was visiting this year as the guest speaker at the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Comics MasterClass and I thought she would be the perfect person to launch it. After asking Colleen if she would be so kind as to be the guest speaker and open my art exhibition, and her heartfelt confirmation, I finally had a date. The day after the MasterClass – Monday 21 November 2011. I then had three months to put the exhibition together.

Charles and I looked over the collection of my original artworks that had been sitting in drawers for storage... some for 15-20 years. He was surprised to see so many originals to choose from. With his help to shape the look of the exhibition, we made our selections.

Stephen Frizza also supported me by helping me decide which digital artworks would best support the originals in the exhibition, then created the amazing collection of digital prints from my artworks on archive quality photo paper.

Three weeks before the show opened, The Tap Gallery informed me with some alarm that the window gallery space had been double-booked. We then relocated the exhibition into the middle gallery space, and the new larger dimensions allowed the numbers of artworks to be put on display to grow.

The Elizabet Bizelle and sister Kotalin Bizelle dolls I had created also had their place set for the exhibition.

Todd helped me by purchasing the frames for the art exhibition. All from IKEA. The many colours available helped group the original and print artworks into period themes.

The day of the opening, Todd's parents – Ken and Rhonda Barry– helped Charles, Todd and myself put up the artworks onto the walls.

It, of course, took longer to accomplish then planned. In total, 40 of my works were displayed at The Tap Gallery.

My sister Elizabeth arrived with food, while I ducked home to shower and get presentable for the opening that evening.

Elizabeth had offered to organise the food for the opening night. With her three friends – Christine, Barbara, and Vicky – the food she created and prepared was amazing. I wanted to grab a mouthful as I had hardly eaten all day, but I was aware that I would be constantly in conversation with my guests who attended the exhibition. Last thing I wanted was salmon breath, or food stuck in my teeth. Rhonda also created lovely slices and rum balls to the delight of the guests.

Todd had purchased white wine to share with the guests, and Ken and Rhonda looked after the wine glasses.

Julie set up the Black Mermaid Shop table where our Elf-Fin: Hyfus & Tilaweed Preview comic and Mermist Seas prints were available for sale.

When Todd, Charles, Colleen and I arrived back to the exhibition at 6pm, I was surprised to see about 20 people already there and milling about looking at my artworks. 

Then came a greater swell of people arriving through to about 7:15pm. The room became so crowded, it was almost shoulder to shoulder in the exhibition space. People spilled into the adjoining exhibition spaces to make room. It was so full of people coming to see my artwork and wanting to talk with me about the works, it was overwhelming for me. My knees started to feel weak and shake.

Finally, it was time for the speeches. Charles introduced himself as the curator of the event, and spoke of his experience of my artwork, how it had reached out to him all the way to America, and how when he came to Sydney to study, one of his first few tasks was to meet me. He explained how the artworks were shown right to the edge without matting, to further showcase the art.

Colleen Doran [pictured right with me and Charles] did a wonderful speech about how "... out of shit, good things grow". This was in reference to how we met – when we experienced a common publisher that gave us both grief. She mentioned that the colours of my work speak to her in a unique fashion, and that my work has significance in her home country of USA.

I did a quick speech to thank everyone that had helped to create this event, and to all who came to experience my first solo exhibition opening night. I dedicated this first solo art exhibition to my father, who passed away earlier this year. He had always supported my art, and it was his dream to see me exhibit. I didn't get to realise that while he was alive, but I felt his loving spirit in the room with me on opening night. (I am thankful that the last time I saw him awake he got to see the Elf-Fin comic book preview... it made him so very happy.)  I thanked my mum who had always been there with love, supporting me in my artistic journey and through all things beyond that. I thanked my wonderful partner Todd Barry who has been there beside me all the way with great love and without judgement in all things. I thanked Julie Ditrich and Bruce Love, whose partnerships in comics influenced so many of the artworks I had on the walls. I thanked Charles Heyen for his expertise in curating this event. I thanked Colleen Doran for her continued friendship and artistic and professional support in my career. I thanked my sister Elizabeth for constant love and support and with the help with the food, and I thanked my brother-in-law Michael Moor for helping me financially so many years ago with the loan to help me realise the dream of creating my own doll line. I thanked Ken and Rhonda Barry for being there with love and support. There were many more wonderful people to thank, but my mind was too overwhelmed to continue.

Several original artworks sold – one original WaveDancers piece actually sold prior to the event opening to an American collector. Many prints were also sold during the course of the exhibition. Thank you to those people that believed in my work and purchased my art. I'm extremely grateful of the support and interest in my work. As an artist, I earn money from the artwork I create so I can survive. These sales will help me get into the new year and allow me to create new work.

The Tap Gallery announced they wanted to extend the exhibition by an extra week at their expense. 

"One week is not enough time to showcase the extraordinary talents and polish of this internationally significant artists' work. Jozef needs to have a two week show" - Leslie Dimmick

Over the entire two week showing, I was present for all but one day, which was covered by Charles.

Several nights after the opening night, I apparently was talking in my sleep. I ended up waking myself up by my own words, "Thank you for coming to my exhibition". It was obviously a dream made a reality and then returned to my dream life.

I loved the experience, I had never seen so many of my own originals on display all at once myself... and all framed. It was surreal and wonderful.

I do intend to exhibit again, it was too good an experience to do it only once in a lifetime.

Thank you to everyone that was involved, some of those of whom I have mentioned in this retelling of the events. I hope to see you all at my next art exhibition.

Jozef Szekeres

Monday, December 12, 2011

Comics Masterclass Report

Well it took Black Mermaid Productions (BMP) and the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) over a year to organise the Comics Masterclass, which was held in Sydney on the 19 and 20 November 2011, and we're pleased to say it was an enormous success.

To recount the story...

BMP directors – Jozef Szekeres and Julie Ditrich – are the founders and current portfolio holders of the ASA Comics / Graphic Novels Portfolio, a special interest group that looks after the professional interests of literary creators working in the comics medium. The portfolio was started in mid 2007 and has since gone from strength to strength. We've introduced page rates, the Supanova Professional Development Seminar series, the Comics Biz marketing ezine, which is sent out to portfolio members, and lots of other initiatives. In September last year we applied to the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) Cultural Fund to help fund a weekend Comics Masterclass, featuring an overseas expert. We were thrilled to receive funding for one year which would go towards paying the speaker's fee. US comics creator Colleen Doran was our first choice for speaker and we were lucky to secure her in January of this year.

Then came all the project management. We had domain names and web hosting to secure, copywriting, web design and branding, the promo process, monthly ezines and all the minutiae in between. Of all the things on our project management checklist, the least of our worries was Colleen's presentation. We knew she'd deliver a powerful, somewhat controversial and content-rich session, which is exactly what came to pass despite one hiccup (and a painful one at that!) on the second day (more on that later).

The Comics Masterclass ended up with 100 participant from NSW, Vic, Qld, ACT, and SA, plus one US visitor and one working in China.

The event was held at the Aerial UTS Function Centre on Broadway in Sydney, which had great wooden doors, lots of natural light, and balconies with splendid views of the cityscape and Anzac Bridge. Participants had a choice of theatre style seating, tables or lounges along the back and side walls. Everyone who attended received a showbag and a raffle ticket for a number of draw prizes, which included three book packs donated by Books Kinokuniya, 50 free 32 page comic books printed to order by Jeffries Printing / Black House Comics, event passes and an artists' circle table at SMASH!, and weekend passes and an artists' alley table at any Supanova in 2012!  BMP had also donated a Colleen Doran A Distant Soil book pack which had been given out earlier in the year to one lucky early-bird who had booked into the event by the end of July.

ASA Executive Director, Angelo Loukakis [pictured in the photo on the left with Colleen Doran and Julie and Jozef from BMP. All photo credits except where otherwise stated: Ali Hand], made the opening speech followed by Jozef and Julie who did the house-keeping. 

Then Colleen did her "thang"... Over the next two days, she talked about how the comics visual language was developed before film and indeed had a broader range of expression. She challenged the notion of the infinite canvas when we have finite resources. She talked about the fancy gadgets being the distributor but the art being you.

She said that writing comics cannot be separated from drawing comics. She gave advice about working with publishers such as asking editors what their preferred writing / script style is. She distinguished the differences and explained the mechanics of full script, plot with dialogue, Marvel style, Shitagaki, adaptations and the emotional wave. She talked about the mystery of the redundant vase, as well as pacing and the wonders of lettering. She preached on the matter of "how thou shalt make a floor plan and keep it holy!" She spoke about how costumes are visual cues to the readers to identify each character when artists can't keep them on model, and how one builds worlds from the culture out. She recommended creating perennials – the evergreens – to build your backlist and keep those royalties flowing. She discussed the differences between mainstream and independent publishing (as well as their contracts!), and which one is best to keep the pesky stalkers at bay. She strongly advised everyone to be less forthcoming about sharing personal information with fans and publishers on blogs. She listed all the things you want in your contract. She talked about predators and editors. She recommended a US art convention where you and your project will be seen by talent scouts, which beats San Diego hands down (this secret information is reserved for Comics Masterclass participants only ... don't you wish you'd gone now?) and she showed us a Hollywood pitch document. We're only just skimming the surface here.

During both days, the UTS Aerial Function Centre spread out two fabulous morning teas for the participants, which included chocolate coated strawberries, brownies, assorted pastries and cakes, Swiss berliner doughnuts, spicy sausage rolls and cheese and tomato croissants. Despite the fact we over-catered, the food vanished in an instant so it was the quick or the dead around the bar area. 

We also arranged for several klosh-covered Aussie Tasting Plates to be brought up to Colleen through the day. She declared that she loved Vegemite! She also liked the lammington and the Tim-Tam. Alas, she never made it to the meat pie and sauce or the passionfruit and cream covered pavlova we had planned on the second day due to the aforementioned hiccup! (Yes, we're about to tell you what it was.)

On the Saturday evening, we announced the "win a private one-hour portfolio / project review with Colleen Doran" shortlist – Paul Mason, Jason Franks, Samuel McNair, Thomas Bonin, Jemima Trappel and the team consisting of Anthony Castle and Chad Ashby. Colleen then did a signing on the Books Kinokuniya table. We opened the bar for an hour and some people held back and "Moved Like Jagger" to the music we had playing.

Colleen then went back to her hotel to work on her and writer Derek McCulloch's upcoming graphic novel Gone to Amerikay, which will be published by DC / Vertigo in early 2012. Professional that she was, she had arrived the Sunday before and except for a quick trip to the city to attend the monthly Sauna Club Sydney Comics Creators Meet Up in the Camperdown Bowling Club, as well as a brief tech run at the venue on the Thursday afternoon before the masterclass, she had pretty much stayed in her room to work 12 to 15 hour days on her pages.

Jozef and Julie joined a group of other comics creators in Chinatown for the evening where we scoffed down lemon chicken and a multitude of other delicious dishes before grabbing a good night's sleep (we're speaking for ourselves not the other creators!).

The next morning, two minute prior to start time, we were wondering where our illustrious speaker was and Julie was frantically calling Colleen's hotel. A few moments later, she staggered in looking pale and clammy and clutching her abdomen. Food poisoning. Butter chicken. She'd been on the loo for most of the night.

Trooper that she was, she pretty much crawled on stage and started her presentation. Jozef ran off to the chemist to get some over the counter medication, and one of the audience members also donated some non-prescription anti-nausea medication to Colleen. 

We were given a few practical exercises to do in the Shitagaki method while Colleen dashed off to the bathroom. She somehow managed to make it back and pressed on despite her discomfort.

When the tasting plate came out just prior to lunch, we said it would be highly insensitive of us if we made her eat it so we asked the audience what they thought it was ... the plate was warm. They guessed it was the meat pie. When we asked if anybody wanted it, hands shot up all over the room. The fastest superhero hand in the corner scored it.

We sat on the balcony during lunch while Colleen lay on the warm concrete floor which eased the spasms in her back. A rainbow lorikeet flew in and she was entranced. But the day was warm, and heat and food poisoning are not friendly companions and her condition worsened. To say she was very crook was an understatement.

We asked Tim McEwen to do a break-out session on trends in the Australian comics market – a PP presentation he had done just the week before at the Australian Cartoonists' Association Conference – and he happily agreed and did a fabulous job.

In the interim, some of our lovely audience members began looking after Colleen– bringing her ice packs, supplying her with electrolyte drinks, putting cushions behind her back, and even checking her vitals (one of the participants was a nurse). One function room staff member brought in a milk crate lined with a garbage bag [see photo of Colleen who still managed to retain her sense of humour! Photo credit: Julie Ditrich on her iPhone] and again, Colleen recovered enough to take to the stage again. She ended up covering all the promised content including the Hollywood segment, except for the "Chalk and Talk" live drawing session, which would have demanded she be on her feet for an hour while her stomach was still churning.

Colleen then announced the winner of the portfolio review – Tom Bonin – who was thrilled! He ended up meeting Colleen the next day and she treated him to a sushi lunch while giving him feedback on his work. 

She finished the Sunday with another signing, and then went back to her hotel to recover and get a good night's sleep.

On the Monday night she launched Jozef's first solo art exhibition at the Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst (see upcoming blogpost) and on the following Saturday night she visited the Makeup Effects Group studio for a couple of hours.

Except for those two short trips, Colleen saw nothing of Sydney for the next ten days except for ten minutes at Circular Quay on the afternoon she set sail on a cruise liner to New Zealand. For those ten days she sat in her room, drawing her little heart out. A lesson from the ultimate professional to those who want to be just that in the comics world – deadlines before pleasure.

Her emails to us have said: "Must come back and worship Sydney."

Late but Great ACA Nominations News

BMP Director Jozef Szekeres was nominated for two Australian Cartoonists' Association (ACA) Stanley Awards last month – Best Illustrator 2011 and Best Comic Book Artist 2011. The final winners were Anton Emdin and David Follett respectively, both wonderful artists and friends. Jozef is both thankful and honoured to have been nominated by his artistic and creative peers at the ACA. For a full list of nominees and winners, just go to the ACA website.

Elf~Fin Leaks and Peeks 21

The first issue of Elf~Fin: Hyfus & Tilaweed is happening (it will be 48 pages in all and Jozef is currently working on finishing the second half that extends beyond the limited edition PREVIEW). This will give readers an insight into Jozef's creation process. We'e posting three pages in all ... two here and one on our FaceBook page.

We're back...

... from a brief hiatus.

Jozef had his first solo art exhibition a few weeks ago, and the weekend Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Comics Masterclass featuring Colleen Doran, which took us a year to organise, finally happened in mid November as well (blog posts coming up on both events). 

We became somewhat mentally zombified from burn-out after that, but a few gym sessions, some decent sleep, and some general time-out restored our energy so please check out our latest updates including MORE ELF~FIN artwork.