Joe Alterio's blog on illustration, comix, design, animation, and other bouts of total awesomeness.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tintin in the Land of Hollywood

The raiding of the temple happened slowly at first. A few keen-eyed grave-robbers here or there: a Philip K. Dick jewel, a Jules Verne bauble. Occasionally done right, more often done terribly, those of us In The Know could shake our heads and scoff, comforted in the knowledge that the true sources lay hidden, wellsprings that continued to delight those that cared to look for them. Then, the onslaught came, starting, oh, I'd say right around here.

I can't fault Hollywood for grave-robbing: I love movies. I went to film school, for chrissakes. And for every unmitigated disaster of a movie adaptaion of comic books or other imaginative stories, there's also some incredibly successful ones that make you love everything about it so much more. Unfortunately, Hollywood has a nasty tendency to recognize the brilliance if imaginative works, and then trying to substitute imagination for special effects. It takes a light touch , and an adding to the artistic effort, not just a rote copying with CGI, to make something like this work. And when it does work, when the creators do care enough to invest their own love and interests into it, it doesn't matter that the special thing you had to yourself now has a huge audience. So what if the douchebag in the next cubicle knows who Harvey Pekar is now: it was a great flick.

But this impending Tintin behemoth on the horizon makes me more nervous than anything that's ever been announced. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week, you prolly know that Steven Spielberg has tapped Peter Jackson to finally head up the rights he decided to exercise, that of the long-awaited Tintin movies, a 3 picture deal that either has phenomenon or debacle written all over it. And my jittering excitment is tempered by a fear, that seems to harken back to my teen angst days as much as my art snobbery of Herge's mastery.

Here's the rub:

I am a rabid Tintin fan, ever since a very young boy,when I found a battered copy of The Calculus Affair at a book sale at the local branch of my town's library (and I still have it!). Anthony Lane has a rather pedestrian article in last week's New Yorker about Tintin that really doesn't illuminate anyone that has vaguely paid attention to the life and work of Herge. The long and the short of the piece explains away most of Remi's life as an effort to make up for some of his more racist carictures and collaboration with the Nazis by ennacting the indefatiguable wunderkind reporter as a kind of soul scrubbing boy scout, righting wrongs with an innocence Remi lost long ago in 1938. And I just call bullshit on the whole thing. Not just Lane's article, which, while a bit vanilla, is more or less quite accurate with the facts. I call bullshit on the whole Deconstructing Tintin thing.

There are some wonderful books taking apart the books, the characters, the man, the life, the times. Even some incredible comics that do the same. But the thing is, it's just too close for me. It takes the fun out of it. It's like taking a picture of a long lost relative out and going on a four hour lecture about why light turns silver halide into images the eye can see. I guess I can see it's informative: but it doesn't make me appeciate the person in the picture anymore or less. And this is just the beginning.

Within 2 years, Tintin will be on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, and Rolling Stone, that scumbag lead singer from Coldplay will wear a Haddock teeshirt onstage during shows, and Paris Hilton will name her new dog Snowy. And the Tintin that I know and love, the Tintin that is mine and rests on my bookshelves, the books whose spines contain crumbs of crackers eaten over them long ago, the Tintin who prompts puzzled looks when I wear him around, but that gets a look of knowing recognition by 1 out of 50 Americans, that smile that spreads across their face, that wink and nod I get...that Tintin will be gone, and I'll be left to pick up the pieces.

-> As a less curmudgony aside, (finally) check out the Seoul pix here! Woohoo!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Homeward Bound: The Uncomfortable Journey

I'm sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Seoul, waiting out the time until I get a plane to come back home. All in all, a successful and enjoyable visit, I think. The presentation went well: there's wasn't as many people there as I had hoped, but that was kind of the theme of the SICAF this year: the poor chair, the former Korean trade ambassador to the US (super nice guy: we talked a lot about American football, which was cool) had this rictus grin of defiance on his face when it came to the numbers, so I can't blame them too much. The crappy thing was that we were a bit hurried with our talk because we had to make way for the SIGGRAPH presentation, who wants to create a SIGGRAPH Asia. I can understand: the Koreans really want SIGGRAPH in Seoul, so they're willing to rush along the stupid "artists" they invited to talk, but it still felt lousy. I'll tell you, though, these suits were an embarassment to the organization: lame jokes, shouting at Koreans as if louder makes them understand English better, and Powerpoint presentations in which every single they say is written out on the slide. It was like an Edward Tufte nightmare. But I got told by a professor Digital Storytelling at Tokyo University that my talk was "enlightening", so that was an ego boost.

In other news, I dunno if it's just because SICAF is in town or what, but the TV stations here are chalk full of American movie versions of Marvel comic books: in the past three days, after coming home from the bar, I've seen X-Men 3, The Hulk, and Spidey 1. Something struck me about them today, besides the over all lousiness. Jon Favreau, if you're out there, whatever else you do with Iron Man, this I decree: you CANNOT use a sequence of DNA or vaguely scientific macroshots in the credit sequence under goofy music. It just doesn't work. I don't know who's lame idea this was, or if it's next to the Stan Lee clause for all Marvel movies, but this baloney has GOT to STOP.

OO! DNA splicing! OO! Hypodermic needle injecting something green or blue into skin! OO! Some douchebag holding up a test tube to the light! Let's think outside of the box on this one, okee, Jon?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Im n yr Korea, eatin yr Kimchee

Hullo folks- still in Korea, still eating veeery mysterious food, still can;t gte my damn camera to upload photos to weird Korea blogger, and about to do my presentation today. (Fingers crossed.)

A few observations from yesterday:

•The Engrish here (or, as I was told by a local, Korglish) is pretty outstanding: besides most Western style restaraunts (pictures coming soon, I promise!) being named after English words (no surprise there), the words they choose are especially weird. "Delicious" , "eat", or "Burgerhouse" would be too obvious, I guess. No, the Koreans decided to be a little different and name their Western restaurants after English modifiers: I've seen "With", "Actually", and my favorite, "This". But the Outstanding Korglish Of The Week goes to a young girl spotted walking through a mall yesterday, who wore a tight pink teeshirt that said

"Happy? HIV!"


•Seoul seems to have an obsession with shopping malls: I can only assume that a burgeoning country, which 50 years ago was not a global economic player, that undergoes such a drastic economic jump is a bit in love with a newfound sense of consumerism. But the tourists maps here neglect temples and museums in favor making sure to list not only the all the megamalls and shopping complexes, but the 7-11s, as well. Huh?

•I was introduced to the practice of "booking" today, in which Korea youth with not enough time look for love in a very efficient manner. We stumbled across a booking club quite by accident, and I have to tell you, it seems to be a pretty smart way of doing it for the busy yuppie. The deal basically is that this club, with music and drinks and the usual accountrements, has a bevy on vested waiters. The guys come in and sit down, the girls come in and sit down, and the waiters are supposed to have a good eye at matching people. The waiters rush around, pulling and push the girls in front of guys, and trying to make matches like a giant game of Memory. Then, the two match-mades get to chat and see if the match is right, or if they pass, and wait for the next victim to be plopped in front of them. Apparently, really good match-making waiters, or bookers, who have a good eye for who is a good match for who, make a good living, and are in very high demand.

And who said romance was dead, eh?

I'll be presenting today and the coming back tomorrow, pictures and all. And then, back to the good stuff. New episode on the way! w00t!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Hello from scenic Seoul!

Finally landed and settled after a hellaciously long flight, and my first experience with SICAF. The flight was made mildy more entertaining by a bevy of South Korean businessmen. Let me say that South Korea is not a miserable country one needs to forget the plight of. So I really have no idea what these guys were drinking for. But let me tell you: South Korean businessmen (or at least these fellas) are like fratboys after winning the Rose Bowl. To say that they took advantage of the free drinks on flight could be considered an understatement. Suffice to say, 8 whiskeys later, when the guy closest to me fell out of his chair into the aisle and began to roll around and giggle, it was time to land.

I expected someone to pick me up, but due to miscommunication no one did, so it was a hectic few hours figuring out where the hell to go. But I'm here now, and having successfully managed to master the Seoul subway system (a breeze, natch!), I'm feeling better about my situation. I still kinda feel like an idiot American for not knowing another language like everyone else here. That's something to fix. Soon.

I visited the Seoul Expo Center, where they showed me the set-up they have for The Basic Virus, and it's all very professionally done and looks great. Thanks to Hong-Kwan Lee and his minions (seriously: he snaps his fingers and guys go running) for putting in so much effort for it. Also got interviewed by the South Korean blogosphere. I hope I didn't say something that might have gotten mistranslated:

"Seoul, South Korea: Comic artist Joe Alterio sez he puts mole rats in his underpants for fun and profit."

My camera is acting weird, but hopefully it will clear up, and I can post some pix soon. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

bOINGED to death.


What a weekend., after getting bOINGed and later written up in the Boston Globe's Ideas Section, took off like a rocket, forcing my hand to shut down donations earlier than expected. It probably also means that we cut off some additional funding, which breaks me up a bit, but I had to stop the insanity sometime: as of this writing, we raised over $8300 (w00t!) for the cause, from over 15,000 hits to the site, which is just stunning to me.

The consequences:

A.) We reached our fund raising goal, and then almost tripled it.
B.) I'm going to be drawing robots and monsters for a very, very long time.
C.) bOING bOING has a power heretofore unheard of when it comes to "underground" interests.
D.) This link gets me misty-eyed in Amelie-esque, sappy, I-guess-we're-all-connected- somehow-kind-of-way
E.) All of the above.

(Turn to next page for answers)

In any event, thank you to everyone for stopping by and donating to such a good cause. Rest assured, your 'bots and 'sters are on their way (Eventually. Those at the back of then line: well, they'll make great Christmas presents!). Check out a continually expanding gallery of them here, and keep in a mind that R and M will be reopening later on as a more expanded project, with different artists, different causes, merch, links, and a whole lot more, so stay tuned. Email me if you want to get put on the mailing list, or know an artist who wants to help out.

As a reminder, I'll be leaving for South Korea on Tuesday, for my presentation about mobile comics at SICAF. I'll be posting photos and updates of the trip when I get chance. Very exciting: I think I may actually get to meet Moebius . My nerd-heart is all a-twitter. 너를 빨리 보십시요!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Robots and Monsters and the 100th Post *UPDATE!*

This blog is 100 posts old today! Woo Hoo! I'd like to personally thank all of you for stopping by and saying hello, leaving comments, linking, and generally giving me the time of day. I know there's a lot of outstanding places to waste your time on the web: I'm humbled that any of it all is with me. So, thanks.

And what better way to celebrate such a landmark than with a charitable effort, eh? I'm proud to introduce my new project . As you may or may not know, I've undertaken running the San Francisco marathon in July to raise money for the SF AIDS Foundation and the Pangea Foundation, which help folks afflicted with AIDS in the Bay Area, as well as in the third world. This project is part of that fund raising efforts.

It's pretty simple: for a simple donation of 25 bucks, you can give me three words or phrases, out of which I'll draw and paint a robot or monster and send it to you. Hopefully, if enough people participate, we'll start getting some great breadth of imagination in the gallery. You can read more about it all here.

In the long run, after the marathon, I'd like to turn into a continuing source of revenue for charitable causes, with a whole bunch of artists contributing to a multitude of causes: kind of like a mash up between 700 hobos, Fist-A-Cuffs, and an NPR pledge drive. But cooler. So if you're a artist who wants to participate, or your a cause that might want to partner up, be sure to drop me a line.

Thanks, again, everyone.

**UPDATE!** Thanks for the link love everyone: BoingBoing, Drawn!,The Boston Globe's Brainiac blog, Suicide Bots, Kaiju Big Battel, Scatterboy, Continuity Concern and everyone else. I am eternally grateful. Now I just...have these...drawings... *sigh*

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I love maps. I love 'em. When the rest of family was busy arguing over who gave gramma too much to drink, I would be content on family vacations to pore over the maps of our destinations. Besides the information provided, they just are cool aesthetically. The infomation is arrayed is a visual pattern they we've all subliminally agreed upon: this dotted line means 'county line', this star means 'capital'. It's a nearly perfect intrepetation of what I'm always harping about, namely, using pictures and words in conjuction. And that certain blue they use for water is always a constant, isn't it? They have a swatch for that thing? "Cartographical azul"?

So I got maps on the brain this Saturday morning, and in that vein, a hermenautic group I'm a part of pointed me to this outstanding blog: pages and pages and pages of weird ass maps. And then, of course, there's my friend Francesca Berrini's reconfigured map art, an example of which is above, which is some of the best damn map art of the planet.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The internet as a force of destruction

Drawn today has an interesting post today on Stephen Beisty, the illustrator most well known for his cross-section series: I picked up the Man-o-War one when I was a 16 during my I-wanna-be-a-pirate-phase (before it was cool!), and have been hooked ever since.

You'll notice that I didn't link to his site above: that's because he doesn't have a site. (Gasps from audience, woman in front row faints). He's not part of a collective, he doesn't put his work on an agents site, and the shock, the horror, he doesn't even have a BLOG. Jaleen from Drawn makes a trenchant point, in that Beisty's work isn't something that translates well to the web, and Beisty is hesitant to put enormous files that show the true scope of his work on a site, for fear that it may be stolen or manipulated, and that is all valid. But I think that the issue reaches deeper than that, and I think this is one of the better examples of the web defining the ground rules rather than the other way around.

To define the web as anything other than an enormous potential canvas is intransigent, but to define it as limitless and completely freeing is also being a willfully blind to it's very clear guidelines. The web, like any other media, has rules that ease of use demands you abide by. You can experiment all you want, but if you're writing a book, and you don't place the paragraphs of a story in order, you can make an interesting art project, but your readers will have a tough time getting what your book is about. And the web is the same way.

To not exist on the web is to really be at a deficit in terms of whether people can find you or not. That is clearly still be processed by a great deal of people in the creative fields, and the sea-change is even greater than people realize. The repercussions are being felt throughout the creative world, across a multitude of industries. In the old days - my mom's days - an illustrator would get an agent by getting the gumption to stop by offices of illustration eps, after which, if taken on, the rep would send out postcards and place ads in illustration annuals, to get the work in front of art directors. Now, the reps are broke due to stock illustration, the postcard printers are replaced by Kinko's, no one reads the annuals anymore, and if an art director really does want to hire an illustrator for custom work, where do they go to find that illustrator? The web, of course.

As a burgeoning self-promoting force to be reckoned with, it's not a lie to say the creation of a presence online is a lot of work. Besides the basics of actually creating a site, a creative person who doesn't have the money or is too much of a control-freak to pay someone else to do it needs to immediately become a novice web designer and info architecture acolyte to be a part of the party. Beisty is lucky to be successful and well-known enough to not need this presence online. But Joe Schmuck (or maybe Joe Alterio), that unknown artist who's trying to break in to the worldwide junta of getting paid for art? He's up a creek. Jaleen argues that if you don't exist online, you don't exist, and tragically, that's correct.

So to exist, an artist needs to learn how to build a site. They need to figure out how to get their work posted. They need to get their numbers up. Make sure they come up first on a Google search. That means getting linked to, so they should have a blog to let people know what they're up to. And they really should syndicate that blog to track their readership. Getting featured on BoingBoing or Drawn helps. Better be letting them know you exist. And all this, now taking time away from the actual creating of work.

Is there any grosser word in the world than "usability expert"? Ugh. Just typing it makes me shudder. The "usability expert" is the beginning of the end for creative types. Placing these laurel wreaths of Web 2.0 around our brow is creating a system that rewards the processing and delivery of content, while being completely devoid of any real deliverables. That Beisty is somehow now at a deficit because he spends his time on his gorgeous craft, and less time dicking around with Dreamweaver, is a total disgrace. To think that in 20 years time, we'll all be "usability experts", figuring out the best way to hand off all our great content as quickly and efficiently as possible, is a joke to me. The internet as a self-defining cage is already a reality: already, 95% of blogs are just recycling what someone else already posted. Where's the breaking point? When will the day come when the entire web is just different iterations of the same single idea, processed and homogenized through one million and one linked sites?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Hijinx Ensue

As a former teenaged, pimply-faced usher at a movie theater, I'm well aware of how important a movie poster is to it's success. I don't have any solid data for this, but there's something about a good poster for a bad movie (even a movie with such promise!) that seems to be worth the investment: once you get people in the door, it doesn't matter that your story sucks and the acting is atrocious. You already have their 10 bucks!

Posters, like other design media, go through trends, and few are more mysterious or distinctive to me than the painterly, heavily-caricatured movie posters of the mid-70s through late 1980's. Fallen out of favor now, the movies they advertised regularly occupied one of two catagories, either the multi- cast-adventure-movie, or the Animal-House-inspired wacky comedy.

A little digging around (on my new favorite site) found that a likely progenator of this style is Drew Struzan. His site is kinda off the hook, because he seems to have had a hand in every famous movie on the planet. And this, folks, is why I love illustration. While the gallery artist makes a name for himself above all, the workhorse illustrator slyly burrows himself into the popular consciousness, a covert operative of style and aesthetic. At a certain point, if an illustrator is good enough, his or her style is almost taken for granted, like it's own school, so ubiquitous as to have imitators who don't even know who they're imitating. And when, like I did just now, one does finally find the creator behind so much of what you see before, it's like the ultimate reveal: you see, finally, the man at the controls, and are so much more awed by it.