Friday, May 09, 2008

PROPAGANDA Reviews: Marc Ellerby

Marc Ellerby is a young cartoonist from Essex, probably best known for his work with Jamie S. Rich on the Oni Press series Love The Way You Love. But I first noticed his self published books a little while back and wanted to share with you…..
Ellerbisms Volume 1:

Ellerbisms is a series of unconnected diary entry comics, all presented in Marc’s wonderfully open, uncluttered, simple artwork, highly stylised yet personable. The main problem with Ellerbisms is the very nature of it. Marc’s taken the idea of diary comics to the extreme here. Each page is a diary entry. With no reference to anything else at all before it. This makes the whole book a series of disparate events.

(A bit of cheating here. Ellerbisms Volume 1 features work in black and white, but I couldn’t resist sharing these images from Ellerby’s Flickr stream where he’s adding colour to his artwork - and very lovely it is too. Art by Marc Ellerby)
And the reason it’s a bit frustrating is because there are moments I’d like to have seen enlarged and extended. I want to see what Marc feels about some of the music he listens to and the bands he goes to see. I’d love to know more about the ageism between the 20 somethings on the walls and the teens in the mosh pit. And frustratingly Ellerbisms is full of little moments like that, when he immediately and quickly grabs your interest but then just as suddenly moves on, leaving you the reader a touch breathless and unfulfilled. Of course morbid curiosity makes me point out the last page and wonder what the hell led up to that moment? (And no, I’m not telling - you’ll have to buy the book).
But it’s only a credit to Marc’s writing that he manages to engage me so much that I really want to know what happens next.
Speed Trail: An Hourly Comic:

Another diary style comic, this time done as an hourly comic. I must admit I’d not realised that the famous format of the 24 hour comic, popularised by McCloud, Gaiman and others in the 90s had spawned a slightly less sleep depriving version, where the artist draws a page an hour for each hour they’re awake, but I’m glad to know of it now.

(Interior artwork from Speed Trail by Marc Ellerby)
It’s another staccato approach, this time necessitated by the format, but knowing it’s done hour by hour makes it less frustrating than Ellerbisms. Here, you don’t expect to get a whole story, just an overview of the day. So you get isolated moments of fun, comedy, boredom, work, the inevitable references to getting the book done in time and all the rest of the mundane and glorious moments that make up Marc’s day.
The Venal Muse:

In which Marc Ellerby tells us the tale of his Muse. This is a girlfriend who filled his thoughts (and his sketchbooks) throughout their brief relationship, but continues to influence Ellerby’s work throughout the production of the book. Her Venal quality comes from thoroughly enjoying the position as artist’s muse. But then again, who wouldn’t love the position?

(Interior art from The Venal Muse by Marc Ellerby, showing the more detailed, finer line in Ellerby’s earlier work.)
The artwork is more detailed and complicated than his current work, showing that Marc is capable of producing rich, detailed backgrounds to his stylish and simple characters when he heads into a much more detailed art style during the flashback sequences. But after an initial thought that I preferred this style, revisiting the works has made me realise that Marc’s right to go with his current, more open style. Not that The Venal Muse artwork is bad in any way, just that a thinner line and compex backgrounds merely clutters some of the simple beauty in his art.
Polar Opposites:

This is completely different in every way. 24 pages of 4 panel strips starring Penguin 1 and Penguin 2. All packaged up in a perfect, yet tiny format that would be a nightmare to sell anywhere but off a table at a convention I’d imagine.
Of course, a good gag strip has to be at least a little funny, and Polar Opposites is much more than a little funny. There are clever strips, silly strips, ironic strips and self-referential strips, but they’re all funny.

(Two penguins, identical and funny. From Polar Opposites by Marc Ellerby.)
With the exception of Polar Opposites, which should appeal to every adult with a working sense of humour, I imagine Ellerby’s stuff either connects with you and you really like it, or you dismiss it as just another autobiog style whine. Luckily for Marc, I’ve always had a fondness for Autobiog comics and found his style very much to my liking. The books are written in such a relaxed, easy-going style that you really get the impression that Marc himself is a likeable, thoughtful and interesting young thing. His art, whether the more detailed stylings of Venal Muse, or his crisper and cleaner simple style of more recent works is perfect for telling his stories. It’s characterised by his ultra-cool young things (and curse him, I just know he’s one of those ultra-cool young things himself) with sharp (literally) hair and big, round eyes and even though he’s dealing with the minutia of life, it’s engaging and entertaining throughout his work.

(More Ellerbisms from Marc’s Flickr stream. Simple, effective cartooning and great lettering.)
One final thing, without taking anything away from Marc’s writing or art, I have to mention his lettering. In Venal Muse he uses what I assume is at least partially computer generated font, but in all of his more recent books he draws in his own hand. And it’s lovely. Incredibly easy on the eye and a delight to look at. I’m not expecting you to buy his comics just for the font, but it’s worth mentioning at least.
I am, however, expecting you to buy his comics if you like your comics fresh, interesting, fun and packed with great artwork. Because any of these 4 books ticks all of those boxes. I’m really hoping at some point he expands Ellerbisms to document slightly more of his life than just the occasional snapshots he’s given us so far. If, as he promises on the back cover, this is to be an ongoing project, I’d love to see more detail of the life he’s documenting. I’ll be eagerly awaiting it.
Marc’s going to be at the Bristol Expo with Kieren Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and John Cei Douglas. He’ll also be at the Birmingham Con later in the year.
As is the case nowadays, he’s all over the web: Website, blog, Ellerbisms site, Flickr.
Email Marc to tell him how much you love his comics and he’s a git for making me feel old.
He’s also got the complete scans of two early works up online as well, rougher perhaps, but well worth a good look:Where Banished Eyes Haven’t Been (2005)
Egocentricity (2005)
Originally posted at the FPI blog here. There's also an interview with Marc here.

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