June 11, 2024

Kalamunda Zine Fair 2024

I had a table at the Kalamunda Zine Fair held in Perth's hills on Saturday, May 11. It was held in the space beside the Zig Zag Art Gallery, and was the first time the event had been put on, so it was great to be there for the first of what will hopefully be a long running zine fair. Thanks to the Zig Zag curator, Gok-Lim Finch, who organized the whole thing.

Here are some photos from the day. They were taken by Emma Daisy, so all photo credit belongs to her (@emmadaisy.photo).

                                         The zine fair space. Great weather for an overcast day.

Inside the gallery was this table for people to make their own zines.

Elton D'Souza (@elton_d_souza_art), a talented illustrator and animator.

Some of Elton's A3 illustration work.

                                                                        And some more.

This is Dan Grant (@misterdangrant), who does zines, linocuts and prints, and stickers. Look at his little printing press! Just look at it! Isn't it cool. He told me where I could get one and how much it costs, but I'm old. So, naturally, two seconds later, I forgot.

Dan's table and a levitating kid.

Free popcorn and fairy floss. I scoffed the whole tub, despite my plan to save half of it for later.

Hey, it's Ben Yaxley (@no_faff_). We did a zine swap, and his 2014 zine Democratic Peoples Republic Of Yowiee is really rather good. The zine he got from me was Your Kids Are Losers, originally written in 1994. He was surprised to receive a zine that was made in the year he was born.

Ben's zine. Not to be confused with benzene, which is a carcinogenic chemical compound (C6H6).

Some of my zines. Jonathan Lennon Reviews British Albums From Beyond The Grave completely sold out. I wasn't expecting that. And everyone who looked at Your Kids Are Losers had kids, I noticed.

The 'no talent' area of the zine fair.

This is Natasha Provan (@wamgoozle), who was next to me. She lent me her chair, because for some reason they didn't give me one. She knows how to do a great table setup, I tell you.

Her full colour zine Space Thots is very funny. She got it printed at Snap. Well worth considering for the colour zine maker on a budget.

Inside the Zig Zag Gallery of Art Work and Associated Art Work Things, there was artwork, and also, it was where artwork was displayed. In fact in this gallery you could see some artwork.

Another family happily making zines entitled Your Kids Are Losers. Well, maybe not. But who is to say? You weren't there. I was.

The musical entertainment for the day, Simone and Girlfunkle. I never found out which is which.

Yes indeed. 'Make zines'. Make zines, you out there on the internet!

This was in fact the last photo taken by Emma Daisy on the day. Kind of apt, isn't it? I guess I did desert my post to sidle over to the zine making table and bash something out on the typewriter. Comment below if you want to see what I typed, and I'll post a picture of it.

Thanks to all who made this day possible. And to you, gentle reader.

Make zines.

May 12, 2024

Eurovision 2024: Don't break the trophy!

Oh, is it Eurovision time again? Can someone get the Swedes to postpone it to another weekend when I'm not stuck in bed with a really bad cold? No? That's a completely pompous request, you say? Then can you ask the CEO of Ikea? No? Management of Ikea is based in the Netherlands now? Since when? Well, that's just ludicrous. A totally wasted international phone call.

Eurovision is being held this year in Malmö, a city I didn't know existed until it was referenced in an off-colour joke in MAD magazine in the late 1990s. They designed a plus-sign-shaped stage with video screen and the artists' green room was actually behind the stage behind two vertically-rising panels which also serves as the video screen backdrop. If you're struggling to visualize this, here's a picture I nicked from some website. 

Ah, Sweden. I missed your irreverent and wacky humour. Petra Mede was once of the co-hosts, and as she did when Sweden hosted in 2013, she sang a song during the voting interval about how Sweden kind of feels bad about winning Eurovision so many times, but don't hate them for it as they just love Eurovision too much. The other host, Malin Åkerman, sang a line about how there's more to Sweden then "depression and Ikea". Of course for some people, depression and Ikea is the same thing.

The only country to improve on its best result was Croatia, who came second, with what was a pretty solid (and loud) song. So, who won? Well, guess what? France has not won Eurovision during my entire lifetime. And after today, that...is still true. But they came 4th, which is a good result for them. The eventual winner was Switzerland, who have not claimed first place since 1988. Their only other win was the very first Eurovision in 1956. It's always good to see a winning drought of several decades being broken.

Speaking of things being broken, Switzerland's singer Nemo broke the glass trophy during the reprise of the winning song. I didn't catch exactly how it got broken, but maybe put it down on the stage before singing next time? Oddly enough this isn't the first time that's happened – Alexander Rybak (Norway) did it in 2009 and I'm sure it's been done on at least one other occasion.

There was a lot of controversy this year, but the biggest item of note for me this year was that Luxembourg are back! A former Eurovision powerhouse with five wins to their name, they last won in 1983 and have been absent since 1993. Returning this year with what was a pretty decent song, they placed 13th in the final. (When Italy returned in 2011 after a 13 year absence, they were rewarded with second place, just as a comparison.)

The age range of the performers this year was 17 to 52. Another thing they did this year was for the first time, the so-called 'Big Six' (the five countries that automatically qualify for the final plus last year's winner) performed their songs during the semifinals, and not during the final only. "Yes, we've found a way to make this show even longer," said Malin Åkerman.

So, to the controversy. Just as the Russian invasion of Ukraine hung over proceedings in 2022, the Israel-Hamas war caused the same situation this year. So here and there you'd get performers or vote announcers advocating for peace and whatnot without directly referencing the conflict. I'm not sure what the penalties are. Cessation of booze rations in the green room perhaps? 

Anyway, there was a lot of booing, audience members turning their backs to the stage, walk-outs, and other things not shown by the cameras. You can read about that in your own time if you want to know more. 

Also, the Netherlands were disqualified. Booted out. Given the old heave-ho. Their singer Joost Klein qualified for the final with a song equally silly and heartfelt (something the Dutch pull off well), but after semifinal 2, the jury results were recalculated so the Netherlands would not receive any points. Their song, which would have been placed 5th in the running order, was skipped in the final – so there was no song in position number 5.

Klein's name was not even mentioned during the final. I could write up the reason why he was disqualified, but I haven't got the energy. So that's another thing you can look up yourself if you feel like reading anti-jury screeds from whiny malcontents.

Here's my annual map, with very few changes. Luxembourg is now blue!

And so...in a year with so much tension between certain countries, the neutral nation of Switzerland won. On a stage that was shaped like their flag. That's a huge plus.

April 30, 2024

Juliet Prime 25th anniversary

I first drew my characters Juliet Prime and Seymour (no last name) 25 years ago today. Usually when you create a character you don't imagine drawing them many years later. At the time, I was a 20 year old uni student who got the idea to start a comic strip about some sort of evil corporation taking over their fictional island homeland, and these guys were the protagonists. 

The first strip was drawn the next day, and I tried to follow a schedule of producing one full-page colour strip, nine panels to a page, on the first day of each month from then on. As you can imagine, this deadline often got ignored due to assignments.

Incidentally I visited my old uni campus two days ago and walked through building 13 where I used to have multimedia classes, and where I used a battered old scanner to scan the early Juliet strips which I would also photocopy, hand out to friends, and pin up on noticeboards around the campus. This was nothing new in the early years of the internet. A few of us had our own web pages on Xoom or Geocities or something, but scanning things in the classroom was tedious and slow (especially if you had to do it on the QT lest anyone notice it was for non-course-related purposes), so it was often more practical to just stick something up in case someone might see it. I remember dubbing off some of my songs I had recorded onto cassettes, putting them in plastic sleeves and taping them to trees in nearby Alexander Park.


Over the years, the focus of these characters shifted a little. Before the Juliet Prime graphic novel came along in 2023, there was the original comic strip in 1999–2000, a full-length comic in 2002, another full-length comic in 2006 and the beginnings of a third around 2011, all of which were also called Juliet Prime. The hidden colony scene is taken from the 2002 comic, and the villains being clowns comes from the 2006 one. The 2006 comic ended with Juliet being forced by the clowns to walk a tightrope while juggling bombs, a cliffhanger ending that was never followed up.
One good thing about planning the 2023 graphic novel however was cherry-picking the elements from the two previous comics that worked and fit the structure of the intended new story. Thus, Juliet cutting off the arm of the colony gatekeeper that had turned into an eyeless green monster, seemed an obvious bit to keep in! It's the only part of either of those two comics that was included. 

The designs of Juliet and Seymour haven't really changed much over the last 25 years, although some things took time to evolve. Eventually you reach a point when they get suited to their costumes and hairstyles and so on, and just look strange when drawn any other way. At that stage you can call the designs final. Depending on the number of characters, it can often be confusing telling who's who in a comic, so it helps drawing them wearing the same clothes all the time, even though that doesn't really happen in real life.

Still, if you've created a character that's many years old and you still want to draw them, it can be interesting trying out other art styles, colour schemes and ways to keep them interesting for you. Of the artists I follow on Instagram, I might see Tintin hanging out with Indiana Jones one day, and a Simpsons character painted as a realistic human the next. Personally I enjoy re-creating well-known images with my characters. In the above image you can see Juliet and Seymour on a high ledge just like Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters.

To finish, here's one last photo edit featuring Juliet — this is the uni lecture theatre where I did my first drawing of her during a Film & Video 3 lecture on April 30, 1999. And I'm pretty sure that's where I was sitting, too! I always used to sit on the left side, five or so rows from the back, in an aisle seat. Those aren't the original seats. I remember them being red. And they seemed a lot closer together then, too. It's like visiting your old school. You swear it used to be bigger...

February 6, 2024

One panel from... Calvin and Hobbes

It's been nearly two years since I did one of these — a look at a single standout panel from a comic strip or graphic novel.

Calvin and Hobbes (1985–1995) by Bill Watterson is one of the most successful comic strips of all time. I've read just about every Calvin and Hobbes strip ever drawn, because it was a staple in The West Australian when I was a teenager. It still is, even though the strip ended over 28 years ago. 

How many strips did Bill Watterson draw? Well, the complete three-volume hardcover collection published by Andrews McMeel contains a total of 1,440 pages, so you can work that out in your own time. Let's just say it's a lot, alright?

The dailies were your standard three- or four-panel gags, but where the strip really stood out was in its Sunday strips, with innovative and unconventional layouts and detailed renderings of things you wouldn't normally see in a typical gag strip: it might be two dinosaurs fighting, or a giant bee, or a speeding plane about to crash. 

The protagonist Calvin is a six year old boy who has no friends and so frequently escapes into flights of fantasy, which allowed Watterson to let loose with his cinematic visuals. Nothing was off limits (within publishing guidelines, that is) and it all made sense in-world.

So, you're probably thinking that the panel I've singled out is one of those Sunday strip colour panels. Probably one depicting space or a Martian landscape, or even a stately winter scene. Well, it is from a Sunday strip, but it isn't any of those. It is, in fact, this!

When you see this, you instantly know that Calvin's dad, who is being seen as a slug-like creature with one eye, is talking to Calvin in his regular voice. While his dad sits there reading, Calvin imagines his parents and objects in the room becoming various monsters. Except Hobbes, who is absent from this strip. Would he just stay a tiger? Anyway, this panel sums it up for me — the little kid whose life is usually so dull that he has to literally make something abnormal happen just to stay sane.

The whole thing is great. I particularly like how the mounted monster head (where a picture frame was before) has a different expression in the next panel, and that the creature the lamp and table has turned into is now holding a little umbrella. The dad's facial expression is perfect. Surreal and bizarre moments like these in newspaper comic strips today are pretty much unheard of.

Strangely enough, the book of collected strips that this strip comes from...

...is Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat, published in 1994. Calvin and Hobbes was on hiatus for most of that year, as Bill Watterson was taking an extended break. 

Well, my local library's copy of the book has an unusual label in it:

Hmmm. Well isn't that ominous.

January 31, 2024

Book cover designs of the mid-2020s

I was walking around my local Dymocks this morning, not looking for anything in particular, and thinking how much goes into book cover design these days. Not just the actual design, but the printing too – spot varnish, holograms, embossing and gold leaf weren't all that common in past decades. Here are a few that stood out to me. Although, will I look back on these in 20 years' time and think, "That looks so mid-2020s!"?

Let's Find Out.

You would expect a book about the moon to have a picture of the moon on the cover, right? That's No-Brainer Book Design 101. But the moon is just...a nondescript grey ball. Sorry, but it is. Don't get me wrong, the moon is a wonderful thing. In fact my niece always looks for it in the night sky and I've started giving it more attention than I used to. And this vivid colour treatment used here is pretty dynamic, with its high contrast and sense of gentle rotation and motion. Also, it's a good book, from what I read flicking through it.

A travel book that avoid the usual clichés, instead going for more abstract imagery and vivid colours. Bold typography and spot varnish on this larger-than-A4 hardcover book.

m    i    n    i    m    a     l     i     s     m

I like this one, with its bold orange (or "satsuma" if you will [no]) contrasted by the dark background, with the Eurostile typeface prominent. The only thing I don't like is the extraneous text, and this is far from the only example. Does "The number one bestselling author" really need to be there? Number one where? And when? And which? And also, "A novel" written under the title. Thanks for that, mate. I thought it was a board game, but thanks for setting me straight.

Old-style/vintage typefaces and iconography always score high with me! It's a crappy photo, but you get the idea. For some reason this treatment always works well when there's a character's name in the book's title. "Glorious Revenge" on its own just wouldn't cut it. Don't ask me why. More extraneous text here: I'm also not a fan of pull quotes cluttering up the front cover. No, I'm not particularly interested about what the Sydney Morning Herald had to say about this book. Leave me alone.

As a fan of The KLF and their bizarre antics in the world of late '80s–early '90s house music, I actually want to get this book! But, you know, times are tough. But the design uses the same Compacta Black typeface used on The KLF's cover art, and the lurid pink and yellow is redolent of Never Mind The Bollocks, so that's a plus point too. And the sheep. And just so you know, yes, they actually did burn a million pounds. More power to them.

A simple gold leaf overlay of a dinosaur skull, and simple sans serif typographic layout in a tasteful orang-utan green. The top half isn't actually dark, I just took the photo like that to emphasize the gold lettering. Not that I had much time to set up the shot in a crowded bookstore.

Not the best photo, but hopefully you can see the hologram effect on the book title and other design elements on the cover. Some designs overdo holograms but this one is understated and quite effective. It actually makes me want to learn more about phosphorescence. Well, no it doesn't. I can take it or leave it. But opposite this was a book called "Taylor Swift and the clothes she wears". Zzz. I know which one I'd rather read.

Depending on how long these books stay in print, it's fair to say that these cover designs will not be permanent. Unlike record covers that stay the same regardless of how long the album is in print, book designs are regularly updated and re-designed. (Why is this, I wonder? Can anyone tell me? Hello? Planet Earth, can you hear me calling...)