The kids are on vacation this week, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stick to my regular update schedule. I’m also trying to use the time to tackle some house projects, so even my studio time might suffer.  However, I will give y’all at least this one Studio Stuff update to tide you over.


Two thumbs up, even. Waaaaaay up.

Sometime back in the early 90s, my dad took me (and probably my brother, I can’t quite remember on this specific excursion) to a comic book convention (I think in Boston). This was before comic book conventions became Cons with a capital C and were tailored to pop geek culture, movies, video games, and costumes. It was just a giant hall of comic book vendors and creators. I don’t think I saw a single costumed fan. Anywhat, crowds tend to overwhelm me, but I was distracted by all the aforementioned comics and creators. And then I saw a tv monitor on a table. It was playing this brief loop (a trailer) of some of THE most amazing animation my young teen self had ever seen: it was Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA. The level of detail, the colors, the cinematography, were all very different than what I was used to seeing from American animated films, and even the imported Japanese cartoons I loved so much. It was visually stunning. And violent. A number of years later, I finally got to watch the film with some high school friends. It was one of those “huh?!” kinds of movies because it was just so different from what we all grew up watching, but it was awesome and had a lasting impact (in the climactic battle at the end, former friends Tetsuo and Kaneda shout each others’ names as they try to destroy each other, which of course turned into the hallway greeting for my group of friends in high school. I seem to recall even yelling it out and getting the appropriate response as one of us crossed the stage at graduation).

I knew the movie had originated as manga, and in 2000 Dark Horse put together a beautiful English reprint that I finally got my hands on after many years of wanting to read it.


2182 pages of awesome.

The series originally ran in Young Magazine in Japan between 1982 and 1990. Set in the rebuilt Neo-Tokyo after a mysterious atomic-style explosion that set off World War III, the story centers on two street punk friends, Tetsuo and Kaneda and their motorcycle gang. At least at first. Tetsuo starts to develop some crazy paranormal abilities, which draws the attention of a shadowy military group seeking to prevent another disaster like the one caused by the paranormal juggernaut child Akira.


Oops. But, check out the detail!


The friendship between the two dissolves and things get crazy. And violent. And more crazy. But it’s such an amazing journey, with absolutely stunning visuals, that it has inspired and influenced untold numbers of creators.

This was one of the first graphic novels I got my hands on that exceeded the 100 page mark (there are six volumes of around 300 pages each, some over 400) and really opened my mind to the story telling and format possibilities. Up until then, I had envisioned maybe creating stories in the magazine format (the standard American comic). Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I thought it would be cool to create a several hundred page “comic”, inspired by the epic fantasy novels I read like The Lord of the Rings, maybe even hard cover and leather bound. Otomo made me realize it was a possibility.


The panels are chock full of detail and action.


The “sets” and back drops really set the mood of the story, again, the details are mind boggling.

I keep mentioning details. That’s because I’ve always loved them, often to the detriment of whatever I’m drawing. Otomo makes it work, though. Like most manga, the characters are looser, more expressive and gestural, sort of bordering on “cartoony”, but the solid, detailed backgrounds and environments ground the characters and action and help connect the reader to the story and drama.


Action, pacing, detail…


AKIRA really opened my eyes to what can be accomplished with precise, intelligent line work and half tones. It doesn’t need color.


Did I mention the story gets a little…weird? But still, check out the detail levels! I’m a sucker for details.


That’s not your monitor or my photo, Otomo’s masterful linework gives this panel a blurry, vibrating look that’s really cool.

So there you have it, another one of my visual and storytelling inspirations. Just like Nausicaa, if you haven’t read AKIRA, you should. Gripping, epic story with lots of subplots, intrigue, violence, betrayal, drama, action, weirdness, all wrapped in the visually delicious (yes, good line work is yummy) black and white art. Also just like Nausicaa, it’s always on my short list of “to re-read”.