Apr
14

Alphabands – M is for Marvin Gaye

M is for Marvin Gaye

marvin gayeIf you don’t agree that What’s Going On is one of the ten greatest records of all time, I’m afraid we can no longer be friends.

I started then scrapped a drawing of Matthew Sweet for this week’s “M” entry, but I’m much happier with how this turned out. It’s obviously not in the style I’ve been using for most of these entries, but I was really wanting to play around with some of illustrator Ray Frenden’s new Manga Studio brushes. The line art here is some sort of charcoal brush from his new dry brush set and the sepia textures are from his watercolor set.

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AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr: http://alphabands.tumblr.com/

Apr
07

AlphaBands – L is for Lady Gaga

L is for Lady Gaga

lady gaga

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AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr: http://alphabands.tumblr.com/

Mar
31

AlphaBands – K is for Karl Bartos

K is for Karl Bartos

Karl BartosKarl Bartos was a percussionist for the German band, Kraftwerk between 1975 and 1990. He played on and did songwriting on my favorite Kraftwerk record, Man-Machine. He recently released a solo record, Off The Record, which is fantastic.

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AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr: http://alphabands.tumblr.com/

Mar
25

AlphaBands – J is for James Brown

J is for James Brown

James BrownThis week’s (late) AlphaBands subject is Mr. Dynamite, the amazing Mr. Please, Please, Please himself, the star of the show, James Brown.

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AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr: http://alphabands.tumblr.com/

Mar
24

Calvin and Hobbes & Cul de Sac at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library

When I first got wind of an upcoming joint Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)/Richard Thompson (Cul de Sac) exhibition at Columbus, Ohio’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library, my immediate reaction was: I’m there. And indeed I was.

Friday

I met my friend, comics teacher/critic/writer Craig Fischer, in the wee hours of Friday morning and embarked from Hamptonville, NC (a half-way point between the cities in which we each live) on our six hour trip to Columbus. We arrived in time to have lunch with Nix Comics head honcho Ken Eppstein and then hopped on over to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library’s reading room to view some selections from their extensive holdings of original comics art.

I’d submitted a list to them in advance and they had a cart full of art ready for us when we arrived. Among the folks whose work we viewed were: Arn Sabba, Peter Arno, Basil Wolverton, Roy Crane, Whitney Darrow, Hank Ketcham, Frank Miller, Osamu Tezuka, Alex Toth, Gene Colan, George Booth, E.C. Segar and Otto Messmer. To describe looking at this stuff in person and up close as “stunning” would be a vast understatement. Beyond the historical import of this material and the sheer beauty of it, it was really fascinating to see first-hand some of the technique and artistry that’s not readily apparent when the art is reproduced. For copyright reasons, I can’t post photos of the pages we saw, but I can probably get away with a detail or two here “fair use”-wise.

Check out the way Roy Crane’s created the “rooster tail” effect here for this sea plane landing by digging into the board with a razor blade:

 IMG_20140321_142507And look at the confidence–and variety–of Alex Toth’s brushwork on display here:

IMG_20140321_142634Probably the most unusual thing we saw was an unfinished (missing just the Japanese text) and unpublished pre-Astro Boy Osamu Tezuka original. It’s rare to see original Manga pages state-side at all, and seeing a Tezuka is really crazy.

After a brief retreat to our hotel, we returned to the museum area a bit before the 6:00 opening reception for the exhibit.  A few folks were already gathering and since we had a few minutes to wander around, we grabbed a snack nearby. Here you can see Chris Sparks (of Team Cul de Sac) and Craig. With literally hundreds of pages of the greatest original comics art close at hand, they’re examining a longbox of crappy beat up ’90s Marvel and DC comics for sale on High St. What’s with those guys?!

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The opening, the exhibit itself, and the Billy Ireland facility in general were just amazing. You enter the main gallery area into a large corridor that serves as a display area for permanent selections from the general collection. These are really “cream of the crop” pieces that show off some of the biggest names in North American comics.

Here’s Chester Gould’s drawing desk with an original Dick Tracy added for good measure:

IMG_20140321_180443 An original Gustave Verbeek. His Upside-Downs strips were set up so that one read the first half of the story with the strip oriented normally,  but then to read the second half, one has to flip the strip over. You can see here that the art is mounted on a pivot so that it can be read as intended:

IMG_20140321_180619Check out the sheer size of this Hal Foster original. (And don’t worry–my finger’s not really half the size of an original Hal Foster page; I just accidentally had it near the lens of my phone.) Note how the overwhelming awesomeness of Foster’s drawing chops has inspired abject piety from Craig.

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The main exhibit area was divided into two sections: one for the Thompson material and one for the Watterson stuff. Here’s an overview of the Thompson space early in the evening before things got really crowded:

IMG_20140321_183135If you mainly know Richard Thompson’s work through his strip Cul de Sac, one of the big revelations of the exhibit will be the amazing stylistic range of his other work. He’s a master not just of traditional cartooning technique, but also of all sorts of other media, from watercolor to tempra paint–and there was a ton of non-comics material of that sort on display. I don’t want to spoil any of the really, really impressive stuff that’s no doubt destined for the upcoming Art of Richard Thompson book, but here’s a great drawing of Willie Nelson:

IMG_20140321_182722What’s not a big revelation is that the original Cul de Sac and Richard’s Poor Almanac strips were absolutely gorgeous. I’m hoping that some of these will be included at scale in the Thompson art book as well.

A detail from an Almanac original–check this great Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes drawing:

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Here’s the Watterson portion of the exhibit (again, this is before the place got truly packed):

IMG_20140321_183409The Watterson Calvin and Hobbes originals were of course amazing to see. If you’ve seen a lot of older original newspaper comics, you’ll be surprised at their somewhat small scale. The dailies were maybe 9″ across and the Sundays were in the neighborhood of 13″. The selection of originals was fairly broad time-wise and had representative strips from throughout the strip’s run. They were arranged by subject matter–things like dinosaurs, Calvin’s parents, supporting cast, etc. I’m not really going out on a limb to say that Watterson’s one of the greatest newspaper cartoonists of the modern era. It was amazing to see his work up close.

Here’s a detail from one of his well-known dinosaur strips. Look at how he uses just a touch of dry-brush for the dinosaur’s contour outline and in the shadow textures on the right side of its head and neck:

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Detail from an original Watterson watercolor painting from one of the collections:

IMG_20140321_191050This panel absolutely blew me away:

IMG_20140321_191633One of the most interesting displays showed Watterson’s early strips he did for his college newspaper as well as some  submissions to newspaper syndicates. Including a rejection letter was a nice touch. I was really, really curious about the middle strip here which appears to have been deliberately obscured with an overlaying piece of bristol board. Did Watterson not want it shown for some reason?

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As you probably know by the time this is posted, Richard Thompson himself made the trek to Columbus and was present at the opening. It was great to see him in the midst of this amazing celebration of his work. After the opening, a bunch of us–including Richard–went out for dinner at a Japanese hibachi joint near Thompson’s hotel.  Despite one of the hibachi chefs accidentally bombarding Richard with an errantly-flung shrimp tail, a good time was had by all.

Saturday

We started Saturday off with a trip to Laughing Ogre Comics, which proved to be a really top-notch comics shop. Some things I really liked about it:

  • There were lots of indie/non-Marvel DC books–and even some Kickstarter books like Sullivan’s Sluggers and Alec Lonstreth’s Basewood–not just in stock, but on display at the front of the store, directly facing the front window.
  • They also had a really well-stocked kids’ section that featured a newly-arrived statue of one of the Bone characters–apparently donated by Jeff Smith who was making room for his life sized RASL statue.
  • Their Euro-comics section was fantastic. In particular, I’ve never seen so many Humanoids books in stock anywhere. They even had a bunch of those huge 12″ x 16″ Moebius/Jodorowski books.
  • The manga section was really well-stocked and clearly not an afterthought, as in many comics shops I’ve been into. They had a display showing the top five currently most popular books.
  • It was great to see a full shelf of local small press books and mini-comics.

I bought the big Complete Carlos Esquerra Judge Dredd book,  a few Henry & Glenn comics, some figurines for my daughter, and Koma (a recent SF book from Humanoids).

Our final comics-related destination was the Lilly Carré exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art. I love Carré’s work and it was wonderful to see it up close. On display were a batch of pages from The Lagoon, lots of material from Heads or Tails, and an assortment of non-comics work including drawings,  animation, and even some ceramics.

Here’s a corner of the gallery space with a bunch of Lagoon pages displayed:

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A close-up of a particularly nice Lagoon page:

IMG_20140322_115238A detail from a page. I really love the amazing variety of mark-making here: hatching, crosshatching, spot blacks.

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I do have to say, though, that the gallery space here wasn’t utilized as well as it could be. The relatively small originals were overwhelmed by the huge expanses of white wall-space and the center of the (fairly large) gallery was left empty. Especially coming right on the heels of my art-packed Watterson/Thompson experience, I really wanted to see the generous space here used to display more art–or even some ancillary material like process information.

We were pretty much comicsed-out by lunchtime Saturday and spent the rest of our day hitting a record store, having lunch with friends, and just hanging out in Columbus. Our drive back to North Carolina on Sunday was uneventful other than encountering a “Please do not urinate in the trash can” sign in the bathroom of a gas station along the way. Call me crazy, but I think that should go without saying.

Mar
21

AlphaBands – I is for Iggy Pop

I is for Iggy Pop

iggy popOne of my fave musicians, but for not one of my fave AlphaBands drawings so far. It lost something in the inking or coloring:

iggy pop sketch

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AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr: http://alphabands.tumblr.com/

Mar
11

AlphaBands – H is for Hank Shocklee

H is for Hank Shocklee

Hank Shocklee

Hank Shocklee is a member of The Bomb Squad, the influential production team behind many, many important hip-hop records, but best known for their work with Public Enemy.

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AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr: http://alphabands.tumblr.com/

Mar
05

A Month With The Microsoft Surface Pro 2

It’s been a bit over a month since I purchased and began using a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. Here’re some thoughts on the machine, with an emphasis–for obvious reasons–on the Surface as a digital drawing platform.

Why The Surface?

A few factors all converged simultaneously which lead me to think the Surface was worth a try:

  • I’d been considering buying a tablet for a while. I had two main uses in mind: First, light browsing, Twitter, etc. in the evenings when I’m not in my studio near my desktop machine. And secondly, as a device to read comics on.
  • My old HP Mini netbook, which I’ve absolutely loved, was nearing the end of its usable lifespan. It was at the point where it was taking well over five minutes just to boot and have Chrome up and running. I needed some other laptop-ish device to use for working away from home, while travelling, etc.
  • I’d recently purchased a Yinova digitizing monitor for my main PC and have been doing a lot of digital drawing on it. Being able to draw digitally away from my studio–whether while travelling, or just sitting on the couch downstairs–was really appealing to me.

So, I bit the (fairly substantial) financial bullet and purchased a Surface Pro 2 with 128G and 4G RAM.

My review in a nut shell? If you’re considering a SP2 for drawing you need to answer this question: Is being able to run the full OS versions of your favorite drawing programs worth putting up with the quirks and annoyances of the Surface Pro 2? For me, the answer is yes… but with a few qualms about the overall experience.

Drawing on the SP2

Let’s tackle the good stuff first. Drawing on the SP2 is fantastic! You will, though, need to make two adjustments to your “out of the box” setup in order to get the most out of the SP2.

First: the stock stylus that comes with the machine is perfectly fine for non-drawing stuff–selecting text, taking handwritten notes, etc.–but it’s not great for drawing. The nib is too hard and whatever sensing mechanism that’s in the stylus that tells the screen its position seems to be in an odd place in the stylus. The cursor seems to align poorly with the position of the stylus. Based on several recommendations, I purchased a Wacom Bamboo Feel stylus and it’s fantastic. Cartoonist Lea Hernandez uses a Fujitsu T-500 and says she’s getting good results with that as well.

Second: in order for some art programs to work with a stylus–most notably Adobe Photoshop–you’ll need to download and install the Wacom Feel drivers for the SP2. The SP2′s stock drivers work just fine with other drawing applications, but I find them a little pokey anyway and prefer the Wacom drivers pretty much across the board. So, I recommend installing the Wacom drivers even if you don’t use Photoshop.

creature

(Inked in Digital Manga Studio)

How do the big drawing programs perform on the SP2?

Digital Manga Studio

Manga Studio is my main drawing platform and I’m happy to say that it works wonderfully on the SP2. I found it perfectly functional when I first gave it a try, but when I tried  the newest update (5.0.3) which has a ton of features designed specifically for touchscreens I was blown away. This version of Manga Studio allows you to use a new touch-optimized interface. Here it is:

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You can see that all the buttons are now bigger and easy to operate with your fingers or with a stylus. The layout also maximizes your available screen space. Palettes can easily be opened and closed with the buttons on either side, so they only take up screen space when you need them. There’s also a built-in toggle that allows you to switch between drivers. You can try out the native pen drivers and then switch to the Wacom drivers to see which you prefer. Also: when it touchscreen mode, you can use two-finger touch to move and rotate your canvas. This works really intuitively and is a huge time-saver. Really the only thing that I wind up using the menus for is edit–>undo. I may map this to my stylus button when I get some time to fool with it. Props to the Manga Studio developers for being so far ahead of the curve here interface-wise.

Sketchbook Pro

Sketchbook Pro’s interface is exactly the same on the SP2 as on a desktop machine… Which is perfectly fine, since SP’s interface is already set up in an incredibly elegant way which allows it to be operated solely with a stylus.

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(Sketch/under-drawing done in Sketchbook Pro)

Adobe Photoshop

Sadly, the Photoshop experience on the SP2 could be a lot better–and the blame here rests not with the device, but squarely with Photoshop. First off, Photoshop (and most of Adobe’s Creative Cloud products) aren’t set up do deal with HD displays like the one on the Surface. As a result, the buttons and menus are rendered so small that they’re really difficult to read and operate. I used this workaround to remedy the situation, but after the latest Windows update it seems to no longer be working.

Secondly, Adobe seems to be way behind the times just generally as far as touchscreen support goes. There’s virtually no touch functionality to any of Photoshop’s features, so you’ll find yourself having to use the (tiny, tiny) menus and buttons to do a lot of nuts and bolts things–and it really slows down the workflow. Setting up Artdock helps significantly, but honestly I’ve moved so much of my drawing workflow to Manga Studio that I rarely fool with Photoshop on the SP2.

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(Photoshop running with Artdock)

The SP2 As A Laptop Replacement

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well this machine works as a laptop/netbook replacement. I purchased the Type Cover 2 attachable keyboard and I find it as comfortable and easy to type on as the keyboard on my old HP Mini. I regularly use the SP2 to deliver PowerPoint slideshows for teaching, answering long emails, general writing–all things that’d be pushing the functionality of a conventional tablet. It’s also great to be able to easily connect the Surface to my home network. I can work on files that are on my PC, easily print stuff from the Surface, and in short do pretty much anything with the SP2 that I’d do with a conventional laptop or netbook.

Windows 8

There’s been a lot of grousing about the Windows 8 interface–and a lot of it is justifiable–but I didn’t have a huge problem adjusting to it. Yes, the toggling between your “normal” desktop mode and Metro app mode is a bit bizarre, but it’s not something that really affects the day-to-day usability of the device.

There are for sure some real annoyances with the setup, though, and they’re most often things that make me scratch my head and think, “Didn’t anyone actually use this device before they shipped it out for sale?” Here’re just a few:

  • The on-screen keyboard doesn’t have predictive text. (It also makes a horrible clicking noise with every keystroke, but thankfully this can be easily turned off.)
  • The on-screen keyboard seems totally unaware of where form fields are in webpages and pops up right over them, preventing you from filling them out. There’s a floating, adjustable size on-screen keyboard that solves this, but for some weird reason there’s no shortcut to bring it up.
  • The on-screen keyboard often pops up when the Type Cover is attached. There’s no reason for this to ever occur.
  • Long-tapping should bring up the right-click context menu or the text selection tool… but it’s a crap-shoot as to whether this will actually work in any particular program. Sometimes you have to use the stylus.
  • The available Win8 apps are, for the most part, terrible. You can of course just use the “real” versions of most apps since the SP2 runs full Win 8, but still…
  • Often basic tasks are bewilderingly complex. There’s really no excuse, for example, for having to manage wi-fi networks at the command line.
  • Not MS/Win 8′s fault, but Chrome’s support for touchscreens is terrible. They’re apparently working on this, but if Chrome’s your preferred browser (it’s mine) you’ll find using it on the SP2 a sub-par experience.
  • MS has gone full in with Skydrive, their cloud storage service, and it’s tightly integrated into the directory structure of Win 8 here. Because of the SP2′s internet connectivity issues (more on this big problem later), though, it doesn’t really work well on this device.

None of these are huge deal-breaking issues, but minor annoyances like these can cumulatively make the user experience frustrating. Sorting out this kind of stuff is why Apple is justifiably known for its great user experience. These issues should have been fixed before the SP2 left Redmond. From what I gather on Twitter, most SP2 owners “grow to love” the device after in initial few weeks of wanting to throw it out the window. That was for sure my reaction when I first started using the device.

As A Tablet

This, sadly, is where the SP2 really falls on its face. Let’s address the big issue here first, then some minor things.

The big issue: The SP2′s biggest advantage as a tablet–that it runs a full desktop OS–is also its biggest downfall. Just like a desktop machine, the SP2 goes to “sleep”–and when it goes to sleep, it loses its internet connection. This means that the SP2 can’t perform the most basic functions of a mobile device: letting you know you have email, notifying you of Twitter replies, updating apps in the background, etc. Nothing.

In actual use, the SP2 only really works as a tablet mobile device if I have my phone nearby to let me know about background notifications. My phone chirps, I fire up the SP2 and wait for it to connect, then read the email/twitter/whatever. The situation would be funny if it weren’t such a across-the-board detriment to using the device.

You could of course set the machine to never sleep–but that’d drain your battery in short order. And even then, you’d have to train yourself to never turn the device’s screen off, since bizarrely the SP2′s on/off button doesn’t simply turn off the screen (as with pretty much any other mobile device) but also immediately puts the machine into sleep mode and disconnects you from the internet.

And it’s not just background notifications that are affected; it’s pretty much everything–downloading programs to install, downloading movies and music, backing up files. Comixology downloads get cut off mid-stream and then get “stuck.” It’s incredibly frustrating. Again, it makes me wonder what kind of real world testing was done before this thing was sent to market.

A few other points:

  • I’ve read varying reports on SP2 battery life, with some people claiming as little as four hours and others claiming more like 7-8. I’ve honestly never timed mine, but I use the device pretty regularly and wind up recharging it every day or so.  It’s never been an issue for me.
  •  The camera is absolutely terrible. Daylight pictures are mediocre but passable. It’s non-functional in a low light environment.
  • Adding a a bluetooth device is bewilderingly complex and trying to stream audio seems to knock out the wi-fi connection. Again, my two year-old Android phone can do this without issues. (Update: this is a known issue… with no solution.)
  • It’s quite heavy. I’ve heard a lot of complaining about the device’s weight, but it’s never really been an issue for me. Maybe because I’m usually resting it on something when I read?
  • The SP2 has a two position “kickstand” which I absolutely love. It’s great to be able to have the device in a vertical position to read without having to hold it there.
  • There’s a built-in “share” button that seems to be completely broken. I’ve never been able to successfully share anything between programs, not even its most basic choice, a screenshot. Android does this brilliantly. This needs to be fixed.
  • It plays poorly with Google stuff. If you use a lot of Google services (I do) you’ll really miss not having things like a calendar widget, Gmail app, etc. Again, I can use things like my calendar in the browser, but it’s an annoying quirk. (And, no, I don’t really care whether Google or MS is to blame for the lack of interoperability. It doesn’t work. That’s all that matters.)
  • I’ve had Microsoft zealots (who knew there was such a thing?) dismiss a lot of the problems with this device by saying that it’s not really intended as a tablet. It is intended as a tablet. It’s, according to Microsoft itself, “The Windows Tablet That Does More.” One of those things that it does should be functioning better as a mobile device.

Conclusion

While there continue to be occasional annoyances that tempt me to throw the device in the gully behind my back yard, I’ve grown to–if not love–at least really like the SP2. Honestly, though, if I weren’t using it for drawing, I’m not sure I’d be willing to put up with its many quirks. The real deal-breaker here is the internet connectivity issue. There’s some talk of maybe a firmware update that would solve this by giving the machine a “connected standby” state. Let’s hope so.

Mar
03

AlphaBands – G is for Greg Ginn

G is for Greg Ginn

greg ginnGreg Ginn is, of course, the legendary guitarist for Black Flag and founder of SST records. He’s a somewhat controversial figure in music, but here’s one thing there’s really no debate about: he’s an amazing guitarist.

This image was done in entirely Manga Studio on a Surface 2 Pro. (And it’s based on this photograph.)

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AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr: http://alphabands.tumblr.com/

 

 

Feb
24

AlphaBands – F is for The Flat Duo Jets

F is for The Flat Duo Jets

flat duo jets

My first encounter with the music of the Flat Duo Jets was via the 1987 documentary, Athens, GA Inside/Out. If I’m remembering correctly, a cassette of the soundtrack started making the rounds at my high school and we were all listening to it before anyone had actually seen the film. Not too long after that, though, the documentary was shown as a midnight movie at our local independent theater.

There were a number of bands that I was first exposed to via that film and its soundtrack (Pylon is the other biggie for me personally) but the Flat Duo Jets really meshed with where I was musically at the time: coming off a long stint of being interested in what would now be called “roots rock” (50s pop, rock-a-billy, blues, etc.) and just starting to dip my toes into college/indie rock.

Here they are doing Crazy Hazy Kisses from the film:

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Seriously, DAMN.

Anyway… the Flat Duo Jets aren’t actually from Athens (maybe they were based there while the film was being made?), but rather from right here in N.C. and since I’ve been in North Carolina I’ve had the good fortune to see the Jets play live several times and to see Dexter Romweber (the singer/guitarist/songwriter) play in various other configurations as well. Romweber puts on a live show unlike anything else you’re likely to see. If you have a chance to see him play, I highly recommend you do so.

He seems to be enjoying some new-found (and well deserved) popularity owing to the Jets obvious influence on Jack White/The White Stripes. Their sound, influences, drum/guitar setup, and even trademark red/white/black color scheme are all Jets-influenced.

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If you want to learn more about Dexter Romweber and The Flat Duo jets, you’re in luck because the great documentary about them, Two Headed Cow, is available on YouTube:

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The image:

I had to pretty much flub the likeness of the Jets’ drummer, Crow Smith, since I could find very few images of him online… and even the few stills I quickly grabbed from Two Headed Cow were mostly blurry whirls of hair. I drew the faces separately in pencil in my sketchbook, then inked and colored them in Digital Manga Studio on a Microsoft Surface Pro 2.

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AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr: http://alphabands.tumblr.com/

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