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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Mining the Past: Nostalgic Moments, My Creative Influences and Shelf Life

Writing/Drawing Under Influence

On my Influences and Nostalgia


Webster's Dictionary defines Nostalgia as 'pleasure and sadness caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again'

If that's true, then for the past few weeks I have fallen prey to this one to many times. What's funny about my being Nostalgic is that the memories I have are fleeting, they seem to be flowing from my mind towards the skies. I fail to grasp onto anything that I dearly care for anymore. I remember my old house, but sadly lose its essence in minutes. I remember my childhood, but feel like a stranger in the details.

So it doesn't help when one of my favorite columnists, Ron Marz writes a post like this. It makes me question, why I do what I do/want to do. 

Why am I becoming a comic book writer/artist? Why am I so persistent in that dream? 

So for days on end, I have toiled with the jumbled and blurred memories of my life in order to find those things that push me forward each and every single day. It's been an arduous task, one that took a lot of research and thought. 

See I'm not a child of the 70's or 80's where comic books were at the peak of their brilliance, as a pop culture geek I wasn't born and brought up by the wonders of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Heck I was born in Kenya, a damn beautiful piece of Mother Earth no doubt but one where pop culture and especially comics weren't as profound as they were to me. I was the black sheep of the family, and I like to think I was a weirdly unique piece in my school of 12 years. 

I might not write enough, I might not read enough, but comics drive me to this day. So going back became as the definition says, a poignant moment of reflection. For the love of god, I couldn't find my greatest influences. 

I tried and tried and then I came upon a revelation. I'm a child of 1990's and 2000's, I'm a kid from urban Nairobi, a city that has just recently in the past five years picked up a thriving comics and animation industry.

I don't need to have the same form of influences that Ron Marz has, it's what makes me a unique and hopefully one day an excellent writer and artist. My influences as a child may not be as many, but as an adult I have learned enough to know how I want to shape and utilize my skills in both facets. 

So I got my memory jogging from present to past. I took everything I knew about my childhood, major things that formed me no matter how vaguely I remember them. I took the things I picked up many years later, the things I learn from today and most importantly those pieces I have kept tucked away in my heart no matter from which time they may be. I put them on a list that I will now share below. 

They might not be forming how I think or write for now, but I know that soon enough they will come in handy. So let's check out what I'm being influenced by...(Note: It's a lost of stuff)

1. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini

I'd also add in special credits for Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (Joker) and Tim Daly (Superman). 

Even though it debut months before my birth, subsequent years of my childhood during the sixes and sevens was when I became acquainted with the caped crusader and his friends; the big blue boyscout, the league and the plethora of Bat villains and friends. 

Till this day I fondly remember crying as a child when I caught a re-run of the Emmy award winning 'Heart of Ice' that told the tragic origins of Mr. Freeze. It's the memory that helped me latch onto the idea during my research through my past, that Bruce Timm and Paul Dini might have been the greatest influence in getting me into comics. 

I don't know them personally, but my 7 year old self and me owe them heaps of gratitude. Their work as artists, writers and directors on not just Batman: TAS, but Superman: TAS, Justice League, Static Shock and the whole wide DCAU is what got me into comics in the first place. 

Funnily enough, it's the only thing that kept me hooked onto DC until the late 00's when I picked up their comics.

Their work is a marvel (pun intended) to behold, and will feed my imagination for years to come. Hopefully I can do justice to one of my favorite villains, like they did years ago. Mr. Freeze's origin by Dini was co-opted by the comics, and a show of how far reaching their influence was and how well engaged Dini and even Timm were with the characters. 

It constantly pushes me to make real, 3 dimensional and complex villains that could be just as compelling and likeable as the heroes they battle. 

2. Toy Story 2/Pixar

Unlike other things that I had to catch through re-runs, I wasn't too young to miss out on a real experience with Toy Story 2. 

To me this is the best Pixar, hell best animated film of all time, period. The reason is simple and selfish; It's what got me to love animation. I wouldn't have been struggling with 3D models and confounding software's today if it weren't to replicate what the geniuses at Pixar did with Woody and Buzz Light-year and the gang. 

Pixar's rise to prominence came during my growing years, and it formed upon me the importance of great visual sensibility and bringing that and master storytelling in harmony to create a perfect piece of art. 

Even when I've left cartoons behind, and slightly given up on animation; Pixar reels me back in. 

On a much more specific note, Woody and Buzz's growing friendship forms upon me the ideas of using friendship as a key point of emotion in writing. Their love-hate camaraderie and their vastly different origins has given shape to many a hero-hero or even hero-villain relations in the comics I write till this day. 

As I write this I'm humming a soulful song that always stays somewhere in my heart; and indeed Toy Story 2 has got a friend in me.     

3. Spider-Man

There was the Spider-Man cartoon from 1994 that was a must watch for me every weekend or whenever it aired (I cannot remember properly). Back when I started getting into it, it was about 1997 and a lot was going down for old Peter Parker. The hard luck kid as I would know him down the road, was facing the uphill struggles of a regular joe while taking head on these awesome looking villains with mad-cap ideas. 

It might not have had the finesse of DC's animated works, but a one year head star gave Fox's show a permanent place in my heart and made me a Marvel fan boy for life. My first taste of this work of marvel (pun intended, again) was with a two part crossover with the X-Men, a show I wouldn't find out existed until a few years later. I recall Wolverine and Spidey fighting it out, etching them as my two favorite comic characters from there on and the funkiness that came with a giant Mutant (if I remember it clearly). After that it was a roller coaster ride as the likes of Punisher, Blade, Morbius and Kraven came crashing in. A long arc peaked with a mutated Spider-Man and culminated in an emotional victory for all involved. 

Luckily the show was recycling itself, long enough for me to catch up and enjoy some real gems such as the premiere episode 'Night of the Lizard' and then 'The Alien Costume' which introduced a character that would inform my legacy with comics.

That character would of course be Venom. 

I sadly don't remember the issue or even the comic whether it was Amazing, Web of or just plain Spider-Man. But Venom was the villain of the first comic I ever got, it was an issue where a jail breaking Eddie Brock sees Spider-Man swinging around in his black costume. Brock raging, let's the symbiote take over and becomes Venom to confront Spidey.  

If anybody reading this knows which comic it was please tell me. I nearly found it last year when I got the Amazing Spider-Man Todd McFarlane/David Michelinie Omnibus. I didn't find my first comic, but what I found was a stirring origin for Venom.

And then in the new millennium, along came a Spider. Sam Raimi's Spiderman was the first major motion picture I was actually excited for. Now I clearly can visualize sitting in the first row, staring at the huge screen and being in awe at the wonders Sony and Raimi weaved. 

The Spider-Man films might have lost their luster years later, due to the atrocious third film and the first two feeling campy and outdated, but they're still very special to me barring their merits. It's also why I really hate the third film and consider it the worst comic book movie of all time even more so than Batman and Robin. 

Sony decided to stuff in Venom to the film because they wanted more money from toys, Sam Raimi out of spite butchered the beloved character. He also messed up Spider-Man's origins, in order to make Sandman more compelling, he broke the reason that Spider-Man was born; guilt over Uncle Ben's death. 

For me, this was a big no-no. 

Still one and two I will always cherish.

Two was what then really captured me. During it's screening I was treated to a set of Spider-Man goodies by the local cinema, including issue 54 of Ultimate Spider-Man. This got me hooked onto one of the greatest modern runs in comics, Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley. 

I had already read much of Stan Lee's initial run alongside Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr, so I was able to draw parallels between the two ideologies of the alternate realities. Both runs encapsulate what Spider-Man means to me, and both feature the best moments in Spider-Man and even Marvel lore. 

From the budding romances, to the teenage drama and the amazing super heroics, these things are well placed in my mind when building my own hero-verse.

4. X-Men

As I said above, a year down the road from Spider-Man, I would become acquainted with a Merry Band of Mutants. The X-Men just blew my mind, from the killer opening sequence and tunes, to the form of storytelling and some awesome looking characters. Gambit, Wolverine, Rogue and Cyclops became old friends for me, while the nefarious Mystique stuck out as the epitome of creepy villainy.

Beyond that though I never really got any comics for this scintillating group until much later, so prior to any reading I met Singer's X-Men. I'd also like to mention that I watched the first and second after they were released, as such they don't hold the same regard as the Spider-Man films. 

It was the cartoon that really kept me tethered to these layered characters. Then soon enough early 2000's came the reading material for a generation of Mutants striving for their survival against a world that hates them.

Singular issues of Claremont's work were my first taste, a graphic novel adaptation of the Extinction Agenda became a lesson (to never let anybody borrow my books, since my friend lost it or stole it) and soon Grant Morrison's New X-Men a writer's awakening. 

I knew long before that I wanted to be a part of this industry, this world. But X-Men reenforced that idea in me, and Claremont's full run would invigorate it whenever I slipped. 

As much as I love Spider-Man, it's X-Men TAS and Chris Claremont's works that I owe much more in marking my love for comics and my want to be a writer/artist. The relationships he crafts with the team, and the method by which his characters deepened issue by issue are what I aspire to accomplish with my own character work. 

5. Pokemon 

For close to a decade Pokemon was everything and anything I could really think about. In class and I fondly remember this, I was the Pokemon Master; the be all end all about these wacky monsters. Till this day I am proud to admit that I keep in touch with this side, playing Pokemon at some point in the year at least once. 
It started with stickers from lollipops, my first being a Ditto. Then it went forth with the books, adaptations of the animated series. Finally I got my first game in the form of Pokemon Gold and Silver, with my first pokemon being Chikorita in Gold. 

It took me long, over three years from 2001 to finish the game. I was idiotically confused about the puzzle in Ice Cave. 

From there on I've gone backwards and forwards and at least played every other game, completing Emerald, Blue, FireRed, Platinum, Pearl. 

Pokemon is the thing that I've never forgotten, and a concept that keeps me intrigued till this day. Not many people realize this (because I guess it's a game), but it was such a great pioneer for me in understanding how to build a complex, dynamic and organic world.

6. Harry Potter

I discovered Harry Potter in the early 2000's as the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire had released. The book itself is still my favorite, and the other volumes are just an epic adventure altogether. I haven't yet gotten to that point where I've taken obvious inspirations from it, but it was the core foundation of my reading beyond comics that I had to give it a mention.

Over the years, the books have accumulated a massive fan base and some harsh criticism, but for me no matter how small a fan I maybe I know these books will be big influences in my writing going forward.

7. J.R.R Tolkein

Unlike Harry Potter, I know where Tolkein's books in particular his Lord Of The Rings come to my aid. 
The hero's quest is a great story telling device, and it embodies many aspects of my different created heroes. Themes of corruption, friendships and kingship are littered through this adventurous trilogy also encompassing works such as The Hobbit and The Silmarillon to this day have profound importance in any of my own comics.

8. Satya and Goodfellas

My fascination with gangsters and crime fiction was hard to place. 

At first I thought it might be the film Company, released in 2002 and the first really good gangster film I remember watching. It was one my dad really liked, and I imagine that's where my liking of these morally grey characters came from. 

But as a writing influence, I kind of swayed towards another Ram Gopal Verma film; Satya. Co-Written by Anurag Kashyap, one of my favorite modern auteurs and one of the best Hindi film writers. The film is a masterpiece on crafting a crime epic, with the right filmy elements. Crackling dialogues like 'Mumbai Ka King kaun...Bhiku Mhatre!' to killer songs 'Goli Maar'. The film's iconic status resulted in the creation of 'Mumbai Noir' and I owe it big in inspiring my ideas for my own works 'MUMBAI' and 'Mafia City'. 

The same year (2007) that I saw Satya, I watched another important classic. It became the introduction to the golden years and works (after having seen Aviator and The Departed before) of one Martin Scorsese. The Goodfellas opened floodgates of intrigue for me. From the beginning I was hooked, from there on Scorsese has been my favorite director and Goodfellas one of the most awesome films I have watched. 

All this formed the basis for my liking of these men who rise from obscurity to becoming larger than life criminals, and fall into their own created abyss. It's a template from many Scorsese films and crime films as a whole, and I constantly find a way to incorporate this onto my characters.

There's other mentions to make in this genre/sub-genre; Once Upon A Time Mumbai, Gangs of Wasseypur, Black Friday, The Sopranos, Casino, Boardwalk Empire, Godfather I and II

9. Jim Lee

More than a writer, I guess I want to be a comic artist (though I don't seem to point it out, I guess cause I'm not a good one).

The first time I laid my eyes upon Lee's work was in X-Men: Extinction Agenda, and like anyone with eyes I was vowed. There's a lot of criticism put towards his work for some obvious reasons (his women for example are like most male comic book reader fantasy). 

Yet I still adore his art, it's typical modern comic book style but at the same time hold the artistic vision it wishes to convey. Jim Lee's work just blasts off the pages, it's so damn vibrant and fluid in motion that I can't not enjoy it. It's one of the reasons I always enjoy reading Batman: Hush, even though it's a bad trade by writing. 

10. Darwyn Cooke

Cooke is another artist I like and also will not dare emulate. His work is fascinating in the sense that (and I hope I'm analyzing this write) it has that whole cartoonish feel yet keeps itself realistic in terms of figures and proportions. It's simple art that is hard to draw (trust me I've tried) and just a wonder to look back, another thing that makes you nostalgic because of how it echoes older comics.

Cooke's New Frontier will always be my favorite Justice League story (even though it wasn't actually one), and it's his art work is why I champion it to be the basis of the first JL film. See if the film is from that story, then the comic will gain recognition and in turn Cooke's marvelous work. 

Beyond that I own the first three volumes of his work on Spirit, and I plan on picking up his Parker and Batman Ego as well as Catwoman once I have the means. 

Even though I never extensively tried Cooke's style, what it taught me as a cartoonist is that going simple (when in my case your not good at the complex stuff) is not a bad idea.


11. Alex Ross

No offense to Lee and Cooke, but if I don't dare copy their styles, then I don't think I am even worthy behold the beauty of Ross's work. He is a master of photo realistic work in this medium. The spectacle his work creates is just on another level. 

I have to admit that I tried just this week to paint his picture of Joker and Harley though I didn't copy his style. 

Still Ross's work...well, it leaves me speechless.

These three artists don't directly influence my work, but they define my love for comics and make me want to be a part of this world. 


12. Frank Miller's Daredevil

With 50 years of old horn head, I don't fear to say this is according to me the best writing Miller has ever done (yes even better than Batman) and my favorite runs of all time. My Daredevil reading began with non chronological readings of Ann Nocenti, Stan Lee and Miller's issues online. Eventually I got hold of a chunk of Miller's run including the whole Man Without Fear mini. 

Soon enough through some illegal means I got to read his whole run. Finally last year an opportunity came across with the SuperMooc class I took part in. It got me a chance to collect his whole run in trade and I did. 

What a thrill it was to read the work again and be mesmerized by Miller's then storytelling ability. An instant classic in my books, this run gave me the deep ideas for the prototype angst ridden hero and the obstacles that can help well rounded and complex character. 

13. Geoff Johns's Green Lantern

I've mentioned this couple of times, Johns run on GL was my door to DC comics. A couple of issues of Re-birth led to online search at his work on the character and then from there picked up towards every arc that Johns wrote. 

I'm adamant that I will pay the dividends back by buying his whole run. His world unprecedented crafting of mythology and concepts of profound magnitude are an amazement to behold. 

My first major superhero comic Halo owes a lot to the grand designs that he created for Green Lantern. 


14. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

My dad always spoke of this movie when I was growing up, I never really understood why until I was fortunate to catch on TV one fine day. It took me long to remember, but I'm 100% sure it was this movie. 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly made me a lover of the western genre. The whole outlaw thing seems so awesome and to this day pops up in a lot of my works. 

Especially of course my western comic, obviously named; The Outlaw. Of course mentions of inspiration to not only the above movie but the other two films in the Dollars Trilogy, Unforgiven, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, 3:10 To Yuma and more.


15. Hindu Mythology

One more thing I remember as a child is viewing Ramanand Sagar's Ramayana on TV, it grasped me like nothing else. 
Even though I'm an atheist, I have such an uninhibited fascination of Hindu mythology. According to me, the Mahabharata is the greatest text ever written and rivals and defeats the works of Shakespeare in themes of tragedy and internal conflict. 

So much so that the idea of the god Shiv is the main concept of one of my own comic heroes Mahashankar. As well as my adaptation of the Mahabaratha into a modern crime epic being my first attempt at a novel, showing my reverence to the subject. I know it doesn't sound like that, but I assure you I am faithful to the scriptures. 

Hindu Myth is a surprisingly deep area that hasn't been mind or made worth of in modern Indian pop culture.

16. Hrishikesh Mukherjee

My initial discovery of the works of Hrishida came at the beginning of my appreciation of fine cinema. I joyously remember the day when I sat down with my father and watched one of the greatest films of all time; Gol Maal.

The Amol Palekar classic was a sweet, sincere laugh riot that has been copied again and again without holding onto what made it so great. That is Mukherjee's heartfelt sensibility that gave his films such a superb essence.

The other film of his I would soon watch is his Rajesh Khanna starer Bawarchi, a whimsical family friendly comedy that also managed to touch my heart without reverting to cliche Bollywood melodrama.

I never really followed up on his works until late 2010. I came across Chupke Chupke on TV and then got the dose of his more dramatic works from Anand to Namak Haram and my favorite Abhimaan.

While he's not technically a writer, the gifted director has such a mastery over visually constructing a narrative that it's unparalleled. His films inspired the conceptualization of my characters and their relationships.


17. Dibakar Banerjee and HIndie Cinema

To discover why I loved/love cinema I had to go back to the begining, which for an Indian kid is basically watching Hindi movies. But when did that affinity spark, when I watched one of the classic films by a pioneer of modern Hindi Independent cinema; in Dibakar Banerjee's Satire Khosla Ka Ghosla.

By far my favorite Hindi movie of all time.

Somebody once wrote somewhere that Dibakar was a new age Hrishikesh Mukherjee with a darker edge. If that's so, then it makes sense as to why I love his films and consider him a much better director than the godfather of HIndie films; Anurag Kashyap.

Dibakar's works are a marvel to behold, from the quirky Khosla to the rocking Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! then the sadistic LSD and the deeply ideological Shanghai.

Like with Mukherjee, Banerjee is also not a writer for all his films at least, but he also has such a grasp on the viewers by the way in which he tells the story on screen that it's hard not to be inspired by his works.

Banerjee is the reason I truly got into cinema, and a big chunk of why I am interested in my creative side today.

These are all the influences that I have.

'Nuff Said

Aneesh Raikundalia


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