Sunday, April 5, 2015

Comic artist Tim Gibson dances to his own 'toon 


Last updated 05:00 04/04/2015


  Graphic artist Tim Gibson designs everything from Garage Project beer labels to an interactive digital  comic
Tim Gibson
Gibson's digital comic Moth City is interactive, allowing readers to click through frame by frame.
Tim Gibson
Moth City is set on a 1930s East Orient island struggling with war, rebellion and dissent.
Tim Gibson
Artwork from Moth City.
Tim Gibson
Artwork by Gibson for Garage Project beer Touch Wood.
Kevin Stent

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You've heard the nauseating success stories – young guy meets creative guru, guru is floored by guy's genius, guy gets dream job.
But what happens when New Zealand's film design king tells you you're not good enough to join his team of artists?
If you're Tim Gibson, you just get better.
"I think there's a general misconception when people think about visual arts, that it's innate talent," the 32-year-old says.
"It's a combination of innate talent and a lot of hard work, and I hadn't done enough hard work."
To be fair, the designer wasn't exactly some no-hoper wannabe. The son of film director Yvonne Mackay and producer Dave Gibson, he grew up swaddled in visual storytelling.
He and his brother would compete to draw the best cartoon dog (his brother always won). And he drew eyeballs. Lots of eyeballs.
Those early drawing sessions, together with the Asterix and Tintin comics that lay about the house, laid the foundation for Gibson's career as an illustrator and creator of innovative interactive digital comic Moth City.
READ MORE: Read Tim Gibson's Moth City comics
The Massey University design degree and holiday work creating animated effects for Gibson Group television projects The Strip and The Insider's Guide to Happiness probably didn't hurt either.
In fact, Gibson had already been working in Weta's television offshoot – translating 2-D concept drawings into 3-D animated characters – when Sir Richard Taylor turned down his request to join the film design team.
It's testament to Gibson's steel that instead of accepting defeat, he filled his few free hours designing characters for pretend design briefs.
The work proved its worth. Gibson made the elite design team, and many of the characters and scenes he created came together to people the dark world of Moth City.
These days Gibson's Wellington apartment is also his studio. Art books – Retro Fonts, The Art of Pixar, a Marvel Wolverine Legends comic – spill over into the lounge bookshelves. Having helped design characters and sets for The Adventures of Tintin and helped build a 4WD warthog for Halo 3, he quit Weta Workshop in 2008 to travel.
It was during 10 months teaching English in South Korea that he resolved to create a comic. For the first time, hours were short and pay cheques were fat, giving Gibson the time and energy to conjure a make-believe world exploring what would happen if everything went wrong on a really small island.
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Initially the setting was a Cuban dictatorship. But then Gibson became enthralled by the architecture and cultures of Singapore and Hong Kong. Add that to his love of Bruce Lee and his childhood martial arts experimentation, and Moth City morphed into a 1930s East Orient island struggling with war, rebellion and dissent.
Gibson quickly realised the New Zealand market would never be big enough to cover print costs. A digital comic, however, would allow worldwide reach and give him a creative freedom traditional comics lack.
As a serial surprise-spoiler himself, Gibson liked the idea of preventing readers from skipping ahead. The resulting interactive comic is, he says, "essentially the world's most time-consuming slideshow".
Readers click through the comic frame by frame, with some scenes incorporating several layers – one click reveals a character, another a speech bubble. Gibson plays indie computer games but he's no tech wizard, so each page takes about 50 per cent longer to create than a traditional comic spread.
A $22,500 Creative New Zealand grant helped get Moth City off the ground, but now he's on his own, often rising at 5.15am to get a few hours of drawing in before the day job he still needs to pay the bills.
"You just would never be able to make a living from selling to a New Zealand audience without subsidising it with teaching or design work or a rich partner or a trust fund." 

There's no trust fund and Gibson's wife Leah runs a team of social workers, so it had to be a design business. He has done everything from beer labels for Garage Project to advertisement story boards and, last year, animation for war documentary The Berry Boys.
But Moth City is far from a dead weight. Since it went live in 2013, it has had rave reviews and sold well. It's already in its seventh book and Gibson has two more in mind.
"It's not making mortgage payment money, but it's making much better than beer money."
Moth City's ground-breaking format has also given him exposure and opportunities unheard of for a first-time comic author. The latest was a mini-residency in Taiwan earlier this year.
Despite his success, Gibson doesn't doubt that Taylor's initial knockback was justified. Indeed, it might have been the vital push he needed to find a style all his own.

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