Friday, January 05, 2007

Influences: Fil Barlow

In the discussion of influences on drawing and writing style, there are some obvious cartoonists that have been covered over and over again, but I'd like to talk about some less well-known people that have influenced me over the years. Over the course of time, we'll cover the obvious ones as well, but in a more specific way, pertaining perhaps to just one piece of work.

Fil Barlow

Fil Barlow is an Australian cartoonist who created a comic in 1986 called "Zooniverse". Not really a big seller, I expect, and no one else I knew bought it, but after the first page of the first issue, I was hooked. His ability to fill a world with detail and depth, and still create beautiful, bizarre, and entirely un-cute aliens had me stunned.

When Zooniverse #1 came out in 1986, I was 13 years old, and every drawing I made suddenly underwent a drastic change in uniform. For about 6 months, I drew all of my characters that I'd created up to that point as adventurers on an alien planet, clad in dusty leather uniforms that had interesting seam patterns.

I also started drawing my characters' faces with a bony, well defined features. I didn't know enough at the time to try experimenting with the types of pens he used (presumably a flexible nib for most linework), but when I began doing a comic strip in college and getting serious about using the so-called proper tools for cartooning, I gravitated to that kind of pen for its ability to create subtle textures and sharp, bony elbows.

His writing also made me start to think that the formulas used in comics
at the time (revenge-driven vigilante, parody of revenge-driven vigilante, ninja, anthropomorphic parody of ninja) were perhaps not all there was to comics. His story was a galaxy-spanning adventure of which the Kren Patrol (his three heroes) were only a tiny part. There were governments at odds with each other, well-connected crime lords, mercenary outposts on lost planets, and a powerful matriarchal galactic army.

Fil Barlow has also done a great deal of animation design for shows such as "Ghostbusters", "Alf", "Starship Troopers", and "The Chronicles of Riddick". I got to meet him in LA about ten years ago, while he was working on "Extreme Ghostbusters" for Columbia Tristar, and while I was sitting in his office, someone came in and told him that they needed a big blobby ghost designed right away. He excused himself from our conversation for a moment, sat down at his desk, and drew it in about four minutes, putting down new sheets of paper and partially tracing previous sketches before coming up with a beautiful (well, horribly ugly) evil ghost-blob.

When Zooniverse #1 came out, Fil was 23 (according to the inside front cover of the comic) and that really stuck in my head as a middle school-aged cartoonist. He was writing and drawing a full-color comic at the age of 23! I had better get moving if I wanted to do that, I thought. It was one of the things that got me to start making comics for my friends in middle school, and to start thinking about what I needed to do to get better. It's what influences are for, isn't it?



At 11:35 AM, Anonymous danno said...

I really love that a huge influence on you is a huge "nobody" in the modern industry. Its sad thats the Rob Leifelds of the world are the ones who will be remembered, but I'm also glad Mr Barlow had succes in animation.

ANd its amazing how much I can still kind of see of him in your art now Zander.

I always enjoy that when I draw something and have that split second where I look at it and can see the "John Byrne" of it. or the Ben Edlund. Or Kieron Dwyer. Or AC Farley. Or one of the many peoples whose style is burned into my brain.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Zander Cannon said...

Funny bit of trivia that I just thought of-- the person that was with me when I was visiting Fil Barlow's office was Matthew Atherton, "Feedback" from "Who Wants To Be A Superhero".

At 2:35 PM, Blogger BlogFoot said...

The first panel has a bit of a Walt Simonson feel to it.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Zander Cannon said...

I think it looks like Walt Simonson in that sweet spot after he stopped looking like every other comic book guy in the seventies, and before he stopped trying.

At 12:43 AM, Blogger Curtis said...

my first impression was that it looked like if moebius did alien legion, which is awesome.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Jamie Baker said...

Thanks for posting this. I was blown apart when I saw ZOONIVERSE for the first time as well. All the more so because there really wasn't much else going on in Australian comics at the time. So it really felt like "what the!?" when I got my hands on FIL's stuff for the first time.

I only wish that he had done more comics stuff...

At 2:09 AM, Blogger dmcgee said...

I hear you man. I've been sitting down for the last fortnight with pencil and brush and trying to recreate some of the panels from Zooniverse, trying to understand his work a little better, in the hope of catching just a smidge of it.

Zooniverse had a huge impact on me and still does.


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