Comics, Conventions

Going APE, part 1

I nearly did not make it to the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco this Saturday, thanks to Birdy Nam Nam. The band was due to perform at a French music festival in LA on October 1, and I loved them enough to consider staying back for their show. Unfortunately, they ran into visa problems, and Etienne de Crecy headlined instead. The universe, it seems, really wanted me to be at APE. And since my name isn’t Scott Pilgrim, I do not fight the universe.

The universe also put me in a mild state of euphoria when I got off the BART at the UN Plaza/Civic Center station. I flipped through the last page of The Last Colony, the third book in the Old Man’s War trilogy that I was yapping about a few days ago. Random deus ex machina plot points aside, it was a very very satisfying finish, and it also helped that ‘Saadda Haq’ began playing on my earphones that exact same minute, acting like a closing coda to my week-long read sprint.

My primary agenda of the day was to meet Craig Thompson, he of Blankets and Habibi fame, and get a bunch of books signed by him. Entering the convention center, I tried to mark out the signing spots – the CBLDF booth said that they would have Thompson at 2:30 PM, which meant I could amble around at leisure until then. Which I did, studiously avoiding eye contact with the artists selling their minicomics and prints. No offence to anyone, but I’ve blown quarterly comic/art budgets in the first few hours of a con before, and the most I can do now is to learn from my previous mistakes. No contact = no caving in to temptation.

Until I got to the Lee’s Comics booth. Lee’s happens to be one of the most well-known comic-shops in the Bay Area. I had visited their Mountain View store in 2007, and my I-am-from-India spiel had earned me a hefty discount back then. I wasn’t too confident about pulling that off right now, but as I was gazing through their well-selected con collection, I happened to look more closely the guy Lee was talking to. And realized, with what a pulp fiction writer would call ‘a lurch’ – that Craig Thompson was in the house, yo. Craig caught my eye, called me over and said he recognized me from SDCC – I think it’s more likely he saw the fandom-lust on my face. He was talking to the creator of Zahra’s Paradise, I do not remember whether it was the artist or the writer. As it turned out, Craig was signing at Lee’s comics first, and I was technically first in line, so yeah, whoopee. I told him, as he signed and sketched in my books, how much I had enjoyed reading Habibi, and how it was ironic that Holy Terror and Habibi came out the same week – both centered around Islam, both after years of anticipation and with completely divergent world-views. (A separate post on Habibi and its joys will follow soon, I think)

Just for the record, he was totally nice about my getting multiple books signed. I also bought another book from Lee’s Comics, just to not be a dick and support those guys for getting Craig over. Even went back to the end of the line to not make others in the line wait too much.

Once that was done, I began walking through the other end of the hall. And then the second serendipitous/happy moment of the day – I came across Steve Oliff’s booth.

Who’s Steve Oliff? One of the most well-known colorists of the 80s, Oliff brought computer coloring to comics by working on what would arguably be the most renowned manga of the time, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. How did he do that? By creating color guides using airbrush, watercolor and acrylic, which were sent to the computer coloring team in his studio for reference. This was before Photoshop made pixel-pushing lens-flare junkies out of everyone in the industry, and the results were quite unlike anything being published in the market at that time. Otomo himself approved of the project, and Epic comics milked the hell out of it, making Akira one of the best-selling manga runs, ever. (Read this for more information)

I had met Steve in Super-con 2007, where I bought one of his color guides from him, and he introduced me to the work of Tony Salmons in course of our conversation. He had been a hard man to get hold of, since then. A good friend, on seeing my color guide, wanted to buy a few of his own, and none of Oliff’s online contact information worked. He wasn’t at San Diego this year (he was there as a guest this year, he said, and did not have a booth set up. Ugh!) and we weren’t even sure if he did cons any more. So yeah, meeting him, and seeing the pile of Akira pages in front of him, I chuckled to myself, thinking of my friend’s reaction when I told him that I met Steve at APE. I spent a pleasant hour there, looking through the Akira pages, marvelling at the lovely techniques, chatting with Steve about Otomo art, his experiences and comics in general. I got three pages from him, one of them for my friend, and Steve mentioned that he enjoyed working on that particular page a lot because it had a ‘mist’ effect on it.

It was 2 PM. And Kate Beaton was due to sign at the Drawn and Quarterly booth.



ATC, Akira – vol 1, and Medulla

Bamp babamp.

Bamp babamp bamp bamp bamp babamp.

Ab Tak Chhappan: The Soundtrack has crawled into my mind, and now refuses to check out.

“We wanted to capture the staccato mood of the film and in the process ended up using unconventional instruments like the sitar, to chill the audiences. The music overall is a blend of Atmospheric world music with psycho rhythms featuring the Armenian Duduk and Sarangi singing a duet together.” – the cd inlay cover says, and features a photograph of the composers, grinning away to glory.

If you look at it as a whole, ATC is highly skewed. The main theme, the short riff that I sung at the beginning, pops up throughout the soundtrack, and it is good enough to overwhelm the rest of the tracks. It serves as a very good reminder for the mood of the movie – crisp, brisk, with just the hint of on-the-edge feeling. But, ah – the combination of Niladri Kumar’s sitar, Naveen’s flute, Shekhar’s cello, and the composers ( I presume!) on the piano proves its finesse on the concluding track ( “Sadhu Agashe”), and track eleven – “Nirvana” comes a close second. “Run Sadhu Run” is the only track that comes close to chaotic orchestration, but I guess the situation it. One of the main personal gripes against the soundtrack when I heard it in the theater was that it was too in-your-face, and loud, but listening to the cd does not make it seem as cringeworthy as I thought it would get.

All in all, worth listening to, even if you insist on ignoring all the bits other than “bamp babump etc”, which plays at all keypoints, on different instruments, ranging from the lower keys of the piano to vibraphones, slap bass, and the cello.

* * *

I read the first volume of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira today, the limited edition colour version that now costs a fortune ( 200$ for volume 3, last time I checked in Mile High Comics ) The book I read has “This is number 1247 of a limited edition of 2500 copies” inscribed on it, which is kind of awe-inspiring. Except of course, the copy I was reading was a digital version. Bless the guy who scanned in the 176 pages of his book.

Otomo-san, as I have repeatedly stated before, does not disappoint. The book is surprisingly unfaithful to the movie, which is rather unexpected ( he wrote the damn book! And he drew and directed the movie too), and also expected (after all, when does a movie stick to the book?) but what is strange is – the movie actually goes into more detail than the book, so far. The beginning of the book is somewhat abrupt, and the relationship between Tetsuo and Kaneda ( one looking upto the other, with a faint sense of resentment, and the other being an elder-brotherly figure), so nicely slotted in the first five minutes of the film, have yet to develop in the book.

The artwork is stunning, and the colour (by Steve Oliff) fits the dystopian look of Nu-Tokyo to the hilt. I am kind of worried, because someday I will be buying Akira, and I do not want to feel lost if I buy the Black and white versions. Otomo-san excels in scenes of mass-destruction – the level of detail has to be seen to be believed. Thank you, brainz, for getting me this ( and the Lone Wolf volume, and the Hellblazer series, and the Elektra collection, and ….wait, I need to catch my breath. )

Enough blabbering. I have a mild headache, which I am worried will mutate into something huge and of planet-shaking proportions if I loiter around the Internet too much.

But I (ahem!) forgot to say that Bjork’s latest album Medulla, which was released two days ago in the United States, and which has been residing in my hard disk for the past two weeks, is an experiment worthy of hosannas. The lady decided to have her album with voices alone, and no instruments. While some tracks ( Show me Forgiveness, Oll Virtan, Desired Constellation) are straight-out acapella songs, some (Pleasure is All Mine, Who Am I) are experimental, with voice-samples used as bass-tracks and layered to produce outrageous sounds; some (Oceania, Mi├░vikudags) are downright creepy!!! What am I saying? ALL of them are creepy – that’s why I listen to Bjork in the first place.

Note: I promise to buy this album as soon as I find it here. Feel rather guilty downloading it before it’s release date. I didn’t know it hadn’t been released yet, swear.

Sasi was a little depressed yesterday. So we went to Basheerbagh and he bought eleven DVDs. I bought four.