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Compass South

CompassSouth

Compass South is a YA adventure graphic novel, a genre I’m happy to see revived in comics. While the story shows its influences to a distracting degree (Tintin, et al), it’s an entertaining, suspenseful tale, albeit with a bit of a slow start. Author-illustrator Hope Larson writes, coming off the heels of her well-received comics adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, and the star cartoonist and illustrator Rebecca Mock draws (credited with the possibly demeaning billing of “Illustrations by”). It follows Dickensian adolescent twins Alex (disguising himself as “Samuel”) and Cleopatra (becoming Patrick, a boy), who “fink” on a pirate, and then disguise themselves as a rich man’s lost twins to try to get some money. The gender play is handled subtly, with the story suggesting that Patrick is more comfortable presenting as a boy. Through treachery, the twins get separated onto different ships. There are the usual macguffins in the form of a knife and compass given to the two by their long-lost father, which turn out to be keys to a treasure of some kind.

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While Hope Larson’s story is often formulaic to a fault, several character touches and Rebecca Mock’s art elevate the book to a degree. Mock’s characters are supple and gestural, and her linework and structure make the world a pleasure to look at. Her illusionistic cartooning has shades of shojo manga in expressive eyes (Mock is co-editor of the Hana Doki Kiri anthology), filtered through a European ligne claire lens. However, several factors hinder enjoyment of the art: the small trim size, some muddy colors (possibly a result of the printing), the inadvisable choice of glossy paper, and pixelated linework. The size and format of an old Tintin book would have really benefitted the tall sails of the ships and the seafaring vistas. A story point involving washing up on a jungle frustrates: several Native characters play into tropes of “Natives helping white protagonists.” This passes quickly, but it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

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The book moves along at a breezy pace, though the dialogue is sometimes stilted and the visual storytelling occasionally awkward. Overall, I was happy to follow Alex and Patrick on their adventures. The story concludes in a sequel, Knife’s Edge, and the ending leaves plenty of questions waiting to be answered.


19 Responses to Compass South

  1. Eddie Campbell says:

    “(credited with the possibly demeaning billing of “Illustrations by”).”

    I have never understood how the notion, perpetuated by the fine art world, that ‘illustration’ is low and insignificant, is still preserved in the comics world.

  2. Ethan says:

    Her name is in smaller letters on the front. Also, filing conventions mean that the book will be listed under Larson’s last name in most libraries and book stores, not Mock’s. The book will have the same filing conventions as a prose book written by Larson with spot illustrations by Mock. “Authorship” will be conferred upon Larson but not Mock.

  3. James Romberger says:

    At the risk of being repetitive, it isn’t about “low and demeaning”, Eddie. It is about properly describing the function of the artist. There is a reason why Annie Mok describes the artist Rebecca Mock here as an “illustrator AND a cartoonist”—Mock does illustrations, but she is also a cartoonist–two different things. Illustration (and I make no value judgement) accompanies a text that is complete of itself, that can function completely on its own without the art. This is not the case in comics—the term illustration does not describe the work of a cartoonist who works with a writer, providing not only visualization asked for by the writer, but also a host of things not specifically asked for—everything, in fact, that in a film would be done by everybody but the writer of the script: casting, acting, wardrobe, sets, makeup, cinematography, camera, atmospherics, stunts,etc, etc, etc (and short, of course, of sound and movement, though those are also simulated). Additionally, as Ethan points out, bookselling entities such as Amazon default to list comics as being done by an “author” (the writer), and an “illustrator” (the artist, who then is deprived of their co-authorship rights). Amazon will only list writer and artist as co-authors if the publisher specifies such in their indicia and by equally billing both parties. And in a time when those artists who are not lucky enough to work with the likes of Alan Moore, who actually protects the rights of his collaborator artists, are increasingly credited either lower & smaller-type than the writers or left off the covers entirely, the distinction becomes quite important.

  4. Eddie Campbell says:

    Ah, James, you enter with your customary swagger: It’s one thing for that lucky Eddie Campbell, born into a state of privilege…
    Perhaps you forget that I was not only the illustrator of From Hell (which is how I describe myself in relation to the book) but also pushed it up the hill as the publisher of it in its first appearance all in one volume. And I would happily have left my name off the cover altogether if it would have sold more copies that way, but that is a separate argument.
    You say you make no value judgement and then describe illustration in the narrowest and stingiest possible way, a way that would exclude some of the greatest illustration, such as the paintings of Norman Rockwell. It would be easier to say that illustration embraces all drawn or painted images in printed matter, and that even cartoons are included.
    On a related point, I would say that an ‘author’ is not automatically a writer. A cartoonist, or somebody like Jack Benny, might employ a gag-writer, but such a writer would not suddenly become the author of the work or the performance.
    I have worked on books where I want to be thought of as an illustrator and certainly not a ‘co-author’. I would be concerned that a ‘co-author’ might be expected to agree with everything in the book and be called upon to explain and justify it. I have worked on several books of of which I am most certainly the author and proudly proclaim it on the front.
    Illustrators should make known the importance of their existence, and the importance of their contribution, and should naturally go after whatever credit will further their careers.

  5. Eddie Campbell says:

    Ten years ago I came across some figures in the illustration field talking about an idea they called ‘authorial illustration,’ the essential tenet of which is that in the current world the illustrator must create his or her own projects, in effect become the ‘author.’ I wrote about it here:

    http://eddiecampbell.blogspot.com/2006/12/shirley-it-is-graphic-novel.html

    and followed it up with some interview material here:

    http://eddiecampbell.blogspot.com/2006/12/addenda.html

  6. James Romberger says:

    Eddie, what you say of From Hell is precisely the argument. Most of your work is done solo—but for your most notable collaboration, you would decline credit in return for money? Your stance is the inversion of Moore’s, who makes sure that his artist collaborators get credit and money even when he takes neither, because he stands by the same sort of principles you mock me for.

  7. Eddie Campbell says:

    No, what I mocked you for was the transparently fallacious argument by which you claimed to make no value judgement and then proceeded to list all the things that a ‘cartoonist’ supposedly does that an ‘illustrator,’ according to you, does not.

    (as it happens, judging only from the above excerpts, it looks like Rebecca Mock had to put aside all the amazing things she routinely does in her illustration work in order to handle the drawing end of a fairly straightforward piece of genre fiction.)

  8. James Romberger says:

    Eddie, you are right that I omitted to include illustrators such as Rockwell who do non-text-related images, but they don’t really enter into what I am talking about. I do hope you see that in the case of the work reviewed here, the artist suffers from being smaller-typed on the cover—and she is NOT listed as an author on the Amazon page for her book. Savvy illustrator/cartoonists such as Jillian Tamaki have learned the hard way that if they accept the illustrator label for their comics work, they will lose their co-authorship rights. It takes nothing away from the excellent illustration work they also do to differentiate their work as cartoonists. Most of your work is solo—but you are quite well known for a collaboration for which you share equal credit. I wonder if you’d come around if you worked with someone who isn’t so considerate.

  9. James Romberger says:

    Rereading your initial comment, I see you just took issue with illustration being considered “possibly demeaning”, but in the case of the work in question, illustrator does indicate a subordinate role for the artist

  10. Eddie Campbell says:

    You talk to me as though I live on another planet where things are done differently from this one. The last new book of mine that was published (in 2014) was The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain, written by Neil Gaiman. The book is illustrated wall-to-wall, by me, much of it in strip form. There is not a square inch of it that is untouched by my hand. My name is smaller than his on the cover and it says ‘illustrated by.’ That seems to me the most efficient way of dealing with the matter as most of the readers will be picking it up as a Gaiman book and will not much care who illustrated it. I got an equal share of the advance and all is well. I’m as happy as Larry. Subordinate roll? I don’t know anybody who undervalued my contribution. Certainly not the publisher. If the book gets listed under Gaiman’s name then that’s the way it will attract the most attention. The cover is like a theater marquee. The names get placed according to their ability to draw customers, not according to some egalitarian ideal. I remember the moment when Neil’s name became bigger than Sandman’s. In subsequent printings the books were titled ‘NEIL GAIMAN’s Sandman,’ right along the top edge and an inch or more deep.
    I don’t Think Jill Tamaki was so hard done by. The book world has been taking a long time to learn how things are done in the comics world. In regard to the award, a bunch of notables raised their voices in objection to her exclusion. The matter was put right and Jill got her due. I’m sure she’s not still miffed about it.
    Which brings me back to where i started. I think the low opinion of ‘illustration’ is held mainly and absurdly in comics circles, by people like yourself. It’s a discipline with a great history. Tamaki teaches illustration and Mock identifies herself as ‘Rebecca Mock, Illustrator’ on her website. You ignored my bit about ‘authorial illustration’ because if you were to take it in you would then have to stop whingeing.

  11. James Romberger says:

    Just for the record, I don’t agree with your arguments or your emphasis on drawing books that sell but that people don’t care you drew—um, why I should care if you draw anything? To clarify, since she was overlooked for that award, I noticed that Tamaki has deliberately stated in her bios that she is an illustrator AND a cartoonist in order to differentiate the two artistic functions. It doesn’t surprise me that you are happy to sit in Gaiman’s shadow, and that you are fighting against cartoonists having rights of co-authorship—but you and the artists like you do a disservice to your contemporaries in that counterproductivity. Gaiman told me that he has no power to effect the way his name is constantly overcredited; I don’t believe that for a minute. Yes, his name sells, but that doesn’t make it right that he set the precedent for the current trend of comics writers shitting all over their artists.

  12. A few things:

    1. The use of the term “illustrator” in comics credits, in my understanding, is that it refers to an artist who works from another person’s script. In my parlance, and I’m hardly alone, the term “cartoonist” refers to an artist who serves as their own scriptwriter. The term “illustrator” is not a slur. It just marks a distinction between levels of contribution.

    2. To the best of my knowledge, Rebecca Mock has no grievance over how she has been credited on this book. I would be surprised if she had not agreed to it contractually, as she, like all authors, has a right of publicity.

    3. I seriously doubt anyone’s “co-authorship rights” could be compromised by an Amazon.com listing. I suppose it’s possible that an author could forfeit copyright interest, see royalty percentages reduced, and have other contractual obligations diluted or eliminated. But he or she would have to have to explicitly agree to that in the contract for the book. And I’ve never heard of, much less encountered, any such provisions in a publishing contract.

    4. As for the Amazon.com listing for Compass South, Rebecca Mock is included. The header for the book’s page reads “Compass Moon (Four Points) by Hope Larson (author) and Rebecca Mock (illustrator). Larson and Mock’s names link to indexes of their respective books’ listings on the site. it doesn’t seem to me like she’s being shortchanged by it. If you’re interested in more of her work, you can find it just as easily as Larson’s.

    5. To the best of my knowledge, Alan Moore has never interceded on a collaborator’s behalf in a situation where the collaborator was being deprived of credit or compensation. In fact, Moore has a history of letting his egotism get the better of him, and screwing or embarrassing his collaborators in the process. Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, Stephen Bissette, and Alan Davis have all had their grievances with him, and I gather he’s no longer on speaking terms with any of them. I can’t speak for his Miracleman collaborators’ view of his insistence at being credited solely as “The Original Author” on the latest editions, but if it were me, I’d be plenty annoyed at him for making a distracting spectacle of himself like that. I think Moore is the most accomplished comics creator to emerge in my lifetime, but he’s guilty of a lot of obnoxiously self-centered behavior at his collaborators’ expense. Neil Gaiman, on the other hand, has a much better history of relationships with his creative partners. His only falling out that I’m aware of was with Todd McFarlane, and McFarlane was pretty clearly to blame there.

    6. Like Eddie, Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, and Kevin O’Neill appear to have no problem with “illustrator” or “illustrated by” credits with regard to their collaborations with Moore. Just look at the author credits in Watchmen, Lloyd’s credit in the titles and advertising for the V for Vendetta film, or O’Neill’s author bio on the Top Shelf website.

    7. Finally, I do not know of any collaborator of Neil Gaiman who has complained about the relative font size of their respective names on the Sandman collections and other books.

  13. Eddie Campbell says:

    you said above:
    It doesn’t surprise me… that you are fighting against cartoonists having rights of co-authorship

    I said further up:
    “Illustrators should make known the importance of their existence, and the importance of their contribution, and should naturally go after whatever credit will further their careers.”
    I also said that sometimes it’s the illustrator who is the author and drew attention to a course that teaches such an idea.

    You have ascribed to me an outlandish position, that I am campaigning against comic book artists getting fair treatment, just so that you can rail at me. I seem to recall that you did this once before (ascribed an outlandish position) on the subject of romance comics.

    Looking at things pragmatically. The book world (as opposed to the comic book industry), and the different caste of reader that one hopes to appeal to in that domain, understands what illustrators are and do. They draw the pictures. The word ‘cartoonist’ is more than likely to confuse in this context, especially when applied to something like From Hell. In fact it’s confusing me already.

  14. Eddie Campbell says:

    the above should have been addressed to James. Robert popped up and there was me thinking this was one of those trees falling over in the forest.

  15. Eddie Campbell says:

    one more thing, James.
    Lest you think I am down on the word ‘cartoonist’: in the great topology of types, I do in fact regard comics as being a genre of cartooning. But I fear you may be of the ‘Comics are not a genre!’ brigade and this will only cause further argument, as it did the last time I voiced the opinion in public. smiley face etc.

  16. Paul Tumey says:

    Anxious as I am to jump into this fray, I think this exchange gets at our general confusion over comics, cartooning and illustration. As soon as one person offers a definition they are convinced works, another disagrees and offers evidence as to why that definition is flawed, although often not in such polite and impersonal terms. I can offer no solutions.

    However, I strongly agree with Eddie Campbell’s view as to the status and worth of illustration being misunderstood when someone suggests it’s possibly a demeaning label — and that it is particularly odd to encounter assertions like this in the comics field. To me, “illustrator” is a term that I deeply respect. I wonder if some modern readers confuse the roles found in the manufacture of comic books (writer, penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, etc.) with the division between illustrator and author. Modern comics grew out of book and magazine illustrations — this is obvious when you study early newspaper comics in America — but I don’t think this lineage is widely understood. Moreover, illustrators were highly regarded and many of them were celebrated in their day – Dore, Rackham, Cruikshank, Tenniel, Shepard, Kemble, Denslow and many others. Also, it is worth noting that some illustrators certainly have done more than simply pictorialize a written story — what would Winnie the Pooh or Alice in Wonderland be like without the work of Shepard and Tenniel? To say an illustrator’s role is subordinate instead of collaborative would be to say that an actor’s contribution is inferior to that of the playwright’s, or a musician’s work is not as important as the composer’s. In many creative works, there is a symbiotic relationship, and this is sometimes the case between those that work with words and those that work with pictures.

    Beyond this, the truth is that many — most — of the books in question are items of commerce, designed to create a profit, as Campbell points out. COMPASS SOUTH, FOUR POINTS BOOK 1 is certainly a for-profit venture. Not a lot of profit in books and comics, but some — or at least the sincere hope of it. That dictates the packaging and marketing decisions — as Campbell observes, more than any idea of fairness. In 1883-4, E.W. Kemble was hired by the publisher of the first edition of ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (to take another young adult novel) to illustrate the story. He received $2,000, which is the equivalent to $50,000 in today’s money, according to an Internet calculator. He got credit as “illustrator” in the book, in type smaller than the listing of Mark Twain’s. It made his career. By 1905, he was cited as making $15,000 a year.

    My point is, illustration was (and is) a profession, a trade, and an art. It connects to comics in many ways, but it is its own thing. I think times have changed in 1885, but to generalize and say that it is demeaning to call someone an illustrator is not necessarily correct, and to say that comics writers are shitting on “their” artists is also an inflammatory generalization of no value. It only makes things murkier.

    Do creative collaborators and contributors sometimes, or perhaps often, get screwed? Sure. But to say it’s happening all over is incorrect. And it certainly has absolutely nothing to do with the role and importance of an illustrator. It baffles me why Campbell’s original point isn’t simply acknowledged here — is it stubbornness, a lack of knowledge, or a personal agenda? I don’t know, but I can say that Campbell makes a perfectly valid point in his first comment.

  17. James says:

    Eddie, I’ll just accept that in the first place you were simply defending illustrators against a perceived slight, and agree to disagree with you on some of the other points.

  18. Eddie Campbell says:

    Fair enough, James. And thanks to Paul for your reasonable contribution. We were getting a bit combative here.

  19. Such a gentlemanly a resolution!

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