Masamune Shirow

Masamune Shirow
Masamune Shirow (pen name for Masanori Ota) is one of the most popular and influential creators of manga (Japanese comics). He is best known as the creator of Ghost in the Shell, which most Westerners know more from the 2 Anime movies (directed by Mamoru Oshii) and TV show than from the original manga they were adapted from. His other well-known manga include Appleseed and Dominion.

Ghost in the Shell is essentially a cyberpunk (computer oriented science fiction) story and the anime adaptation of it was very influential on popular films like The Matrix. The story is that the Wachowski brothers were running into resistance from the studio when pitching the idea for the original Matrix movie. The Brothers W couldn’t seem to get across to the studio execs what kind of a movie they were trying to make until they sat them down for a showing of Ghost in the Shell and said “We want to make a live action version of something like this.”

Masamune ShirowIn addition to manga stories, Shirow also creates highly-rendered “calendar art” specifically designed to appeal to the prurient interests of young men. It usually features scantily-clad or semi-naked women with exaggerated sexual characteristics, (who may or may not be robots or androids), wielding large high-tech weapons amid gleaming sci-fi trappings and futuristic settings.

Many of his images will be unappealing or downright offensive to some women. Ironically, strong women are the central characters in his comic stories. They are the heroes, the movers and shakers, the ones who make things happen. The men are either supporting characters or the villains.

Shirow’s drawings, even his highly rendered calendar images, have that “anime” cartoon-style look to the faces that many western viewers have trouble accepting: large doll-like eyes, tiny pointed noses and exaggeratedly small mouths and chins. His comics storytelling, however, can be fairly straightforward for Westerners when it has been translated and the images have been “flopped” so the panels read left to right instead of right-to left.

I don’t know of an official Masamune Shirow website, although there is an official Ghost in the Shell site. Here is a Masamune Shirow fan site with information and links, and another Masamune Shirow Hyperpage with info, articles, reviews and fan forums.

Here is a Shirow Gallery of his highly rendered calendar art as part of this French Web magazine Black Hole (see my notice at the end of the post).

Here is an About Shirow page on a British site, and another informational British site on The Art of Shirow.

To read Shirow’s actual manga, start with Ghost In The Shell Volume 1. The recent Ghost In The Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface is also good, but quite different from the original and his other work.

Note: The sites linked here contain sexually oriented material and nudity. Avoid them if you’re likely to be offended.


Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham
British book illustrator Arthur Rackham, who was active from the late 1800’s to the 1930’s, was one of the all time great illustrators and one of my favorites. He was particularly noted for his illustrations of children’s books. Whatever he tackled, Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Rip van Winkle, The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens…, Rackham would own it. His unique vision and amazingly strong images became an integral part of the experience of reading the story.

Of the many artists who have tried to illustrate Alice in Wonderland in the footsteps of the amazing Sir John Tenniel, Rackham is the only artist I can think who doesn’t disappear into Tenniel’s shadow like a Cheshire Cat fading into the gloom.

Rackham’s fairy tale worlds are sometimes steeped in gloom and mystery. His misty forests are inhabited by elves and goblins peering about twisted roots, massive gnarled trees, mushrooms, ferns and sinuous, tangled undergrowth. I think his fairy tale illustrations were one of the main starting points for modern fantasy illustration, influencing artists like Frank Frazetta and Roy Krenkel and the generations of fantasy artists behind them.

Rackham was a deft pen and ink artist and most of his paintings started as pen and ink drawings into which he worked layer after layer of transparent watercolor glaze, a painstaking method associated more with classical painting than modern illustration.

The Arthur Rackham Society site has a good selection of links to Rackham’s illustrations online (pop-up warning: Angelfire hosted site).

There is a nice selection of images from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens here.

There are complete facsimiles of his illustrated versions of Aesop’s Fables and English Fairy Tales available online as part of Project Gutenberg. (For the quickest view of the material, go to the “Format” section, choose “HTML”, Compression: “None” and look to the index of illustrations.)

Here is a beautiful set of Rackham’s Alice in Wonderland illustrations courtesy of good ol’ Doc Ozone.

The link I’m suggesting below is to a nice broad cross-section of Rackham’s work on the Art Passions site.

Mark Goerner

Mark Goerner
Concept artist Mark Goerner has done conceptual illustrations for props, sets and environments for films like Minority Report, Constantine, X-men 2 and The Terminal, as well as upcoming films like the new Superman and Battle Angel Alita (for James Cameron).

Goerner’s site contains concept art from many of those movies as well as some of his other professional work and even some of his student work. The Superman section is interesting in particular because it showcases sketches and alternate versions as well as some of the finished design renderings. The “Student Work” section has an interesting variety of work, including product design, sketches and figure drawing.

His sleek futuristic designs remind me a bit of master concept artist Syd Mead (who I profiled in last November).

Goerner has done three training CDs for the Gnomon Workshop, for whom he is in instructor. There is an additional gallery of his work on the Gnomon Workshop site (images above). There is also an illustrated interview with Goerner on the CG Channel.

Kawase Hasui

Kawase Hasui
Kawase Hasui was a Japanese printmaker, active in the first half of the 20th century, who created wonderfully subtle and entrancingly beautiful woodblock prints of landscape scenes.

His images were sometimes brimming with light and the brilliant colors of Spring or Autumn at other times almost monochromatic, depicting scenes at night, twilight or in the rain or fog.

He had a fascination with the play of light and shadow, the subtle patterns of dappled sunlight or moonlight, and the strange highlights created by late morning or early evening sun. He also often composed his scenes near water, adding reflections to his fascination with light.

Even though there is no overt similarity, I feel like he has a kinship with the impressionists in his pursuit of the qualities of light and the visual characteristics of the natural world. He sometimes created multiple images of the same scene at different times of the day or in different seasons, much as Monet did.

At times he takes a solid outline filled with color approach that is suggestive of comic book art. At the other end of his stylistic range, his linework is minimal and almost overpowered by the colored inks. He traveled extensively in Japan making watercolor sketches of his subjects and many of his prints have a watercolor feel to them.

The site linked below is to the listing about Hasui on the Hanga Gallery site. The gallery site contains a remarkably complete representation of his work, containing images of almost all of his nearly 600 extant prints, arranged by publisher and year or by series. I’m particularly fond of his work from the 1940’s.

There is also a nice gallery here, with click-through navigation and a good article about Hasui here.

Link via Illustrated Ideas.

Electric Sheep Comix (Patrick Farley)

Patrick Farley
Electric Sheep Comix is a blanket title for a site featuring several webcomics by Patrick Farley. (“Electric Sheep” comes from the title of the Phillip K. Dick novel, Do androids Dream of Electric Sheep, from which the movie Blade Runner was adapted.) Electric Sheep Comix includes three main comics and several older ones. Some of them are drawn traditionally (ink on paper) and some use various digital image creation techniques. Some of the comics are augmented with bits of animation, (something that comics purists seem to object to, but I obviously don’t since I’ve always done it with my own webcomic).

Delta Thrives: set the controls for the heart of the sun (image above) is my favorite, a sci-fi short story done with images created in Poser and Bryce and then heavily manipulated and digitally painted in Photoshop. The comic is read in a long horizontal scroll, a format I’m normally not fond of, but Farley uses it to advantage here as his panels and background elements blend continuously into a horizontal band, creating the effect of one continuous graphic.

The Spiders is a much longer, traditionally drawn sci-fi comic about an alternate war in Afganastan, and Apocamon is “the manga version of the New Testament Book of Revelation”.

There is also a assortment of older, usually shorter, works, as well as a prologue for a new strip called Mother of all Bombs that is reachable only from the home page, not from the table of contents. I’m unsure of how recently the site has been updated. I do know that the site depends on donations to keep going; there are PayPal and BitPass links to make it easy to make a small donation. (I used BitPass, which also allows you to access or donate to a number of other online comics).

Note: the material contains nudity, sexual references, strong language and violence. Avoid it if you’re likely to be offended.

Mark Hallett

Mark Hallett
One of the most difficult challenges in paleontological illustration is making it naturalistic. That sounds like a contradiction. Dinosaur art is, after all, natural history illustration; but by naturalistic I mean that the animals need to look like they could really be alive. They need to stand and move like real animals.

It’s one thing to do that in paintings and drawings of modern animals, for which there are living examples and photographic reference; it’s quite another thing for animals that have been extinct for millions of years and must be painstakingly reconstructed from the evidence of fossilized bone and a knowledge of animal anatomy.

Paleo artist Mark Hallett has been doing it superbly for over 30 years. His giant sauropods look as though they should walk right past you, as if you should feel their footsteps vibrate the ground under your own feet. His Staurikosaurus and Compsognathus look as if they should dart out from the bushes as quickly as a bird.

Hallet’s work has been in major publications like National Geographic, Smithsonian, Natural History and Life magazine. His paintings have been on view in museums in the US, Europe, Australia and Japan.

Hallett’s site doesn’t have nearly enough of his art for you to get a real feeling for the scope and richness of his work. Consider the site a taste and look for some of the books he’s illustrated, some on dinosaurs, like “Seismosaurus”, with writer David Gillette (image above), and some in the series on prehistoric mammals with writer Barbara Hehner: “Ice Age Sabertooth : The Most Ferocious Cat That Ever Lived” , “Ice Age Mammoth : Will This Ancient Giant Come Back to Life?” and “Ice Age Cave Bear : The Giant Beast That Terrified Ancient Humans”.