AlphaBooks Post-Mortem

Phew… AlphaBooks is over–twenty-six weeks of alphabetical literary characters. First off, thanks to everyone who participated–especially co-administrators Andrew Neal and Rich Barrett–and a big congratulations to everyone who finished a full alphabet! I’ve assembled all of my illustrations into a single gallery that I’ve posted below along with a few post-project thoughts.

(And you can of course see the entire project here, with “stragglers” being added sporadically. )

My AlphaBooks A-Z (click through for gallery/slideshow):


  • One of may main goals here was to really stretch my character designs and try to get away from my standard “ball for a head” mode. I don’t think I was really successful at this as a whole. I tended to revert back to this style too often during the project. I think, though, that I did succeed in a few places; Ahab, Vladimir Harkonnen and Wemmick are my three favorite designs in this respect.
  • Another goal was to learn how to ink digitally with Digital Manga Studio. I was much more successful here and I feel like I’ve come out of AlphaBooks reasonably adept at digital inking. I’m now in a good position to begin exploring more of the software’s features.
  • Spot blacks – About half-way through the project I started working on spot blacks–something I’ve never been very good at–in my sketchbook, and you can see that reflected here. Some of  my attempts are better than others. Quasimodo is one of the better ones; Xavier Desmond is one of the least successful.
  • I should have done more advance planning. I had to break my self-imposed rule of “only characters from books I’ve read” for my “X” and “Y” entries, but if I’d planned things better, I wouldn’t have needed to. I should have had my A-Z list decided on before I started–or at least had the more difficult letters populated. Here’s how my list looked at the end of the project:
  • Future alpha-projects: As much as I’ve loved all three of the past alpha-projects–and I think I enjoyed AlphaBooks the most–I’m officially bowing out of the next alpha-project, both as a participant and as an admin. I’ve got other things I want to devote my time to right now. But… that doesn’t mean there won’t be another alpha-project. Stay tuned for an announcement after the holidays!



Z is for Mi (Dr.) Zaius

OK, before you call me on suddenly deciding that last names are now legit for my Alphabooks entries, note that “Mi” in the novel Planet of the Apes is a fictional honorific, like “Dr.” or “Mrs.” In the book, the character is referred to as “Zaius” or “Mi Zaius” throughout. Anyway…

Z is for Mi (Dr.) Zaius – from Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

Planet of the Apes–or La Planète des singes, in the original French–is one of those rare examples of a mediocre book that gets turned into a really great film. I read The Planet of the Apes because I’m a big fan of the film and I was curious about the source material, and because the other Pierre Boulle book I’d read–Bridge on the River Kwai–was great. Sadly, Planet of the Apes is not a very good book. It has a “twist” ending so terrible it’d make William Gaines blush. (As I’m sure you recall, the 1968 film has a pretty great twist ending; the lame Tim Burton remake preserves the original book’s ending, as I recall.)

One part of the novel’s twist ending, though, I find interesting as a comics-maker. The book is set up with a framing story in which two characters, out on a space cruise, find a “message in a bottle” that contains the story of a human astronaut who lands on the ape planet. One of the framing story characters reads the story and that narration is the bulk of the novel. One of the reveals (and don’t read further if you’re considering actually reading the book) is that at the very end of the story we realize that the framing story characters are themselves apes.

What interests me about this is that this is exactly the kind of thing that’s virtually impossible to do with comics. Because comics is a visual medium, you have to show something on the page. Boulle here simply avoids concrete visual description of the characters until the very end of the book. You can’t really do that with comics very effectively. In this case you could try all caption boxes and never show the speakers–but that unconventionality in and of itself would tip your hand to any astute reader.

The “untrustworthy narrator” is a literary technique that’s fairly common in literature (Nabokov’s Lolita is maybe the most well-known), but it’s one that’s difficult to explore in comics. Really the only person I can think of off the top of my head who explores this territory is Dan Clowes. David Boring has some aspects of untrustworthy narrator to it as I recall.

As for the design here: in the films–for obvious practical reasons–the apes had human bodies with different ape heads/faces. In the book, though, the apes are simply apes, as I recall. So, here I did Zaius with basically a standard orangutan body. Also, unlike the somewhat primitive looking villages from the Apes films, the ape culture in the books was identical to modern cities. “Modern” when the book was published was 1963, hence the Reed Richards-esque lab coat and pipe. The book specifically mentions that the apes dressed identically to humans other than wearing gloves on their feet, but I forgot about the gloves thing until I was pretty much done with the drawing.

I initially did him with human-like black hair, but then I modified him a bit to get the image above. Here’s the original:

Next week: Nothing! Congratulations AlphaBooks people!

You can find all the AlphaBooks entries to-date at the AlphaBooks tumblr: You can also follow many of the entries as they’re posted in real-time by following the #AlphaBooks hashtag on Twitter on Mondays.


I Draw Some of My Favorite Female Characters from Comics

I’ve never been a very confident drawer or designer of female comics characters and I’ve always struggled with them. One of the main characters in Oyster War, Lourdes, is a design that I’ve gotten less and less happy with as the story goes on and I’ve pretty much decided to re-design her head/face and redraw all instances of her, should Oyster War ever see print.

As a kind of “warm up” for that process, I decided I’d try to draw some of my favorite female characters/character designs from comics–and try to get them as close to the originals as possible. Here’s the final result. I’ll post scans of the originals with a key toward the bottom of the post.  Do you know these characters? How’d I do duplicating them?

… and here’s the inked pre-colored page from my sketchbook:

Here’re the original characters:

Top-to-bottom, left-to-right:

  1. Anna Greengables – from King City by Brandon Graham
  2. Adele Blanc-Sec – from the Adele Blanc-Sec series by Jacques Tardi
  3. Sonnet – from Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks
  4. Ursula Major – from Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
  5. Genoa – from The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier
  6. Annie – from Paul Has a Summer Job by Michel Rabagliati
  7. Wonder Woman – from The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke
  8. Enid Coleslaw – from Ghost World by Dan Clowes
  9. Belladonne – from the Belladonne series by Pierre Alary


Illustration: (Swedish Band) The Amazing

Here’s yet another illustration I did for the Aquarium Drunkard music blog’s Lagnappe Sessions–this time of the Swedish band The Amazing:

You can check out The Amazing covering Tim Buckley and R.E.M. at the blog here.


The original art for this is for sale here.


Y is for Yang Xiong

Y is for Yang Xiong — from Water Margin by Shi Nai’an

Well, I had to once again break my self-imposed rule of doing only characters from books I’ve actually read. And, again, I could have easily avoided this with a bit of advance planning. Ygritte from The Song of Ice and Fire series would have been a great “Y”, but I already did Brienne from that same series for my “B”.

Anyway, this fellow is Yang Xiong from Water Margin, a 14th century Chinese novel that’s considered to be one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature. In the story Yang Xiong winds up killing his adulterous wife, which is why I have him wielding a knife–but also why I tried to give him a somewhat pained expression.

According to Wikipedia, “The Water Margin describes Yang Xiong as a good looking man with flowery tattoos all over his body. He has thick eyebrows, eyes like those of a phoenix and a few strands of beard on his chin. ” I forgot the beard–sorry!

I’ve clothed him here in a traditional Han Chinese Shenyi:

Next week: the very last of the series, “Z”…

You can find all the AlphaBooks entries to-date at the AlphaBooks tumblr: You can also follow many of the entries as they’re posted in real-time by following the #AlphaBooks hashtag on Twitter on Mondays.


X is for Xavier Desmond

X is for Xavier Desmond – from Wild Cards by George R. R. Martin

Well, this is for sure one of my least favorite AlphaBooks illos. First off, I don’t really like the drawing very much. My wife was out of town this past weekend and the extra child-wrangling took a lot of my sketching time that I might have used for a second draft of this one. Additionally, in order to get an “X” subject, I wound up breaking my self-imposed rule of using only characters from books I’ve actually read.  I foolishly used up Harry Potter as a source with Luna Lovegood; I should have held out and done her father, Xeno Lovegood, for “X.”

Anyway… Wild Cards is one of those “shared universe” projects were different writers write short stories that take place in the same fictional universe.  You can read about it here. It’s set in an alternate post-WWII U.S. where an alien virus causes some of the people it infects to mutate–as with Xavier here who winds up sprouting an elephant-like trunk with a seven-fingered hand at the end of it.

Next week: “Y”…

You can find all the AlphaBooks entries to-date at the AlphaBooks tumblr: You can also follow many of the entries as they’re posted in real-time by following the #AlphaBooks hashtag on Twitter on Mondays.



Illustration: Hacienda

Here’s another illustration I did for the Aquarium Drunkard music blog’s Lagnappe Sessions–this time of the band Hacienda:

You can check out what songs Hacienda chose to cover at the blog here.

The original art for this is for sale here.


W is for Wemmick

Ok, technically he’s John Wemmick, but he’s referred to simply as “Wemmick” throughout most of the book. So…

W is for Wemmick – from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Wemmick is one of my favorite characters from all of Dickens’ writing. Wemmick is a bill collector for Jaggers who winds up befriending Pip. Despite his stodgy career, it’s revealed later in the novel that he’s hilariously eccentric. He lives in “Walsworth,” which is what he calls the house he’s had constructed in the likeness of a miniature castle–complete with draw bridge, moat, and a cannon that he fires off at regular intervals.  He lives there with his father, whom he refers to as “Aged Parent”-or “Aged P” for short.

Here’s how Wemmick is described in the novel:

Casting my eyes on Mr. Wemmick as we went along, to see what he was like in the light of day, I found him to be a dry man, rather short in stature, with a square wooden face, whose expression seemed to have been imperfectly chipped out with a dull-edged chisel. There were some marks in it that might have been dimples, if the material had been softer and the instrument finer, but which, as it was, were only dints. The chisel had made three or four of these attempts at embellishment over his nose, but had given them up without an effort to smooth them off. I judged him to be a bachelor, from the frayed condition of his linen, and he appeared to have sustained a good many bereavements; for he wore at least four mourning rings, besides a brooch representing a lady and a weeping willow at a tomb with an urn on it. I noticed, too, that several rings and seals hung at his watch-chain, as if he were quite laden with remembrances of departed friends. He had glittering eyes — small, keen, and black — and thin wide mottled lips. He had had them, to the best of my belief, from forty to fifty years.

I’m much happier with Wemmick’s clothing here than I was with The Time Traveller, who was supposed to be from a similar period but who really didn’t look it. I’m also reasonably happy with the character design and pose. I did an initial sketch that I wasn’t very happy with; I’m glad I re-did it.

I have no clue what I’m going to do for next week’s “X” subject. Xenofilius Lovegood would have been a good choice, but I’ve already done a Harry Potter character.

Next week: “X”…

You can find all the AlphaBooks entries to-date at the AlphaBooks tumblr: You can also follow many of the entries as they’re posted in real-time by following the #AlphaBooks hashtag on Twitter on Mondays.


V is for Vladimir Harkonnen

I’ve had this guy in mind for “V” since the very beginning…

V is for Vladimir Harkonnen – from Dune by Frank Herbert

I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out; I think it’s one of my stronger AlphaBooks drawings. I did the initial sketch for this one right after Ahab (I was considering “B is for Baron…” but decided that wasn’t legit) and it seems like I was doing a better job of really pushing myself in the character design department earlier in the project. Maybe I can salvage a bit of that for these last few letters.

I first read Dune as a young whippersnapper–a few years before the David Lynch film version came out–so my mental images of the characters were in place before the now-pervasive film-based ones had settled in. Baron Harkonnen is a telling example of just how influential the look of the David Lynch Dune is: if you do an image search for “Baron Harkonnen” pretty much every image of him will have red hair. I’m pretty sure, though, that this is never mentioned in the book and is something that’s just become “canon” after the red-headed Kenneth McMillan version from the film.

The David Lynch film adaptation has a sort of “beautiful disaster” appeal to it, but honestly none of the visual adaptations have matched the look of the novel in my brain. The combination of the houses/royalty bit and the vaguely mid-eastern motifs from Arrakis give me the impression of 19th century Orientalism, and that’s the look I went for here.

The coolest Dune visuals I’ve seen are these amazing character designs by Moebius for the Alejandro Jodorowsky film version of the book that never got made. Even they’re a little bit too superhero-ish in places, but they’ve definitely got the feel of courtesans, of ornateness. Here’s the Moebius version of the Baron:

Next week: “W”…

You can find all the AlphaBooks entries to-date at the AlphaBooks tumblr: You can also follow many of the entries as they’re posted in real-time by following the #AlphaBooks hashtag on Twitter on Mondays.


I’ll be at The Boone KidsCon at Watauga Public Library

If you’re in the High Country of N.C., mark your calendars! I’ll be a guest at the Boone KidsCon at the Watauga Public Library on Saturday, October 20th. You can read the details in the newspaper feature below, but briefly: I’ll be appearing there with Rachel “Rei” Haycraft. In the morning there’ll be a closed session where local Girl Scouts can work on getting their “Comics Artist” badges, then later in the day there’ll be all ages/kid-friendly comics and cartoon events for everyone. Come one, come all!

Read all about it here

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