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.


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.


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/


AlphaBands – E is for The Everly Brothers

E is for The Everly Brothers


If there’s anything positive to say about the recent passing of Phil Everly, it’s this: it was accompanied by a surprising amount of well-deserved press. My hunch is that this’d not have occurred fifteen–or maybe even ten--years ago. In the time between then and now, “Americana” seems to have risen in respectability and (justifiably) the Everlys have risen in critical esteem.

Aside from genre considerations, I think one big reason the Everlys have never quite gotten their due is that they don’t fit into the standard Narrative of Rock History, which dictates that after the initial flush of great, energetic 50s rock (Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, etc.), popular music became horribly boring… only to be rescued by the almighty Beatles in the early 60s.

The Everly Brothers were at their prime during this “in-between” period, though, and in addition to influencing tons of important artists who would come along later (Keith Richards, Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Young, Robert Plant, etc.) they scored a stunning number of hits: 35 Billboard top 100 songs over their career, including one (“Wake Up Little Susie”) that topped the Pop, Country and R&B charts.

More important than their influence or how many records they sold, though, is their music. Here’s a mix tape I made of some of my favorite Everlys tunes for you to check out. I picked sosngs from their first record through to their reunion concert in 1983. (They had a few studio records after that, but the 80s production is so egregious that they’re nearly unlistenable.) You can probably tell which records are my favorites and which aren’t, but I selected at least one song from all but two (Everlys Sing and The Hit Sound–not my faves for sure).

I’ve loved the Everly Brothers since high school and the more I listen to their catalog the more I appreciate their songwriting, singing, and the musical influences they bring to bear. Dig it:

Ben’s Fave Everly Tunes (RAR)


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/


AlphaBands – D is for Danzig

D is for Danzig


Yes, today’s AlphaBands entry is PURE EVIL: Glenn Danzig!

I waffled a bit on whether to draw him under “D” or under “G,” but I consider him to be just plain Danzig–kinda like “Madonna” or “Pink” (but more evil). In addition to being the singer for The Misfits, Samhain and–later–Danzig the (evil) band, Glenn Danzig is also a terrible neighbor and a vocal proponent of French onion soup.

The drawing was done entirely in Digital Manga Studio.


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/



AlphaBands – C is for Creedence Clearwater Revival


C is for Creedence Clearwater Revival

CCR is a band most people know–mainly through the two or three of their songs that are in perpetual rotation on pretty much every “classic rock” station everywhere–but who never seem to get mentioned alongside “A-list” bands like the Stones, Beatles, Beach Boys, etc. They’re for sure one of my favorites, though, and I think the short shrift they’re given is probably due for a re-thinking given the (well deserved) cultural prominence that traditional American country and roots music has achieved in the last couple of decades.

The influences CCR were mining in the late 60s were far afield from their contemporaries–who else at the time was peppering their records with covers of “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Cotton Fields”–but seem fairly prescient in light of where popular music’s gone since the “Americana” movement of the late 90s. They were accused in their time as not being as “serious” as their contemporaries, but songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Run Through the Jungle” are as on the nose lyrically as anything else coming out at the time–and they didn’t beat you over the head with their subtext. Heck, even if they weren’t as “serious,” who cares? They wrote and preformed great songs.

I put together a mix tape of some of my favorite CCR songs that you can download here:

Ben’s Fave CCR Tunes

I selected at least one song from each of their records and I deliberately avoided the songs that most folks probably know via radio. This actually wasn’t a difficult task since most of my favorite CCR songs aren’t their biggest hits. The record from which I took the most songs is their penultimate record–and my favorite record–Pendulum. This seems to be most folks’ least favorite CCR record other than their very last one, Mardi Gras, but overlooking it for lack of hits is a big mistake. Among its many virtues is how it showcases the amazing playing of bassist Stu Cook. Listen, for example, to the beautiful but restrained line he comes up with for “It’s Just a Thought.”


Just for fun, here’re a few process images. I did the initial sketch for this in Sketchbook Pro. As you can see, I used a couple of different layers of colored pencils.


(The drawing is based on a picture from a BBC article that I can’t seem to track down again.)

I then inked it in Manga Studio:



I colored it in Manga Studio as well using illustrator Ray Frenden’s new set of watercolor wash brushes. You can find them here.  I’m obviously still figuring out how they work, but I’m really liking them so far.

New canvas

I did all of the work for this drawing other than the coloring on my Surface Pro 2, which was really nice since it allowed me to do the bulk of the drawing either on the couch in the evenings or at my daughter’s cheerleading class!


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/



Won’t Someone Please Make Comics For Kids?!


Every time there’s some sort of kids’ comics-related kerfuffle like the recent Power Puff Girls cover thing, you can count on an appearance by one of the online comics community’s  perennial gadflies: the “kids’ comics denier.” Much like his brethren (and it is pretty much always a he) the climate change deniers, moon landing deniers, etc., the kids’ comics denier is able to convince himself–in spite of overwhelming evidence and logic to the contrary–of his most closely-held belief : that they don’t make comics for kids any more.

The error in this thinking is pretty easy to spot: when these people say, “they,” what they really mean is “Marvel and DC” and when they say “comics for kids,” what they really mean is “superhero comics for kids that I can find in a direct market comics shop.” This is unfortunately symptomatic of a larger variety of insular blindness that I see with a lot of comics folks: the conflation of “comics” the medium/art form with the direct market. The most widely read comic in the world right now is most certainly Homestuck, but I’d be willing to bet most denizens of your local comic shop have never even heard of it. Even confining things strictly to print comics (and I have no idea why you should do that), I doubt most folks at the local Android’s Dungeon could correctly identify the comics section of Parade as the  most widely-read comics in the United States.

Sadly, kids’ comics (or “all ages” comics as they’re oddly referred to in the industry) seems to fall into this same weird blind spot with even people in the comics industry.  But let’s be clear. Not only are there plenty of kids’ comics being produced and read right now, but all ages comics comics are produced, purchased and read in such vast quantities that they constitute one of maybe three areas in comics that are financially successful enough to provide the people who make them with viable full-time wages. (The other two areas that I’d cite would be serialized monthly superhero comics and “graphic novel memoir.”)

Does comics have a “break out” creator who’s known beyond the comics community and out in the “real world.” I can only really think of one: all ages comics superstar Raina Telgemeier. How many books does she sell? Her second book, Drama, debuted at #2 on the NY Times Graphic Novels TPB bestseller list. It likely would have been #1, but her previous book, Smile, was holding down that spot.

The one all ages comic that “regular” comic book readers might be able to cite (’cause, you know, it was originally sold in individual issues in direct market comics shops) is of course Jeff Smith’s Bone. Scholastic Graphix, Scholastic books’ comics imprint, has sold over two million copies of the Bone books. Even independent kids’ comics publishers are doing tremendous business. As of last year Papercutz, for example,  had sold over a million Ninjago comics, 700, 000 Geronimo Stilton comics and 350,000 Smurfs comics.  Jennifer and Matthew Holm’s Babymouse series has sold over 1.2 million copies. And on and on…

Also: note that these are sales numbers, not readership numbers. Much more so than comics for adults, kids’ comics are circulated through libraries–both school libraries and public libraries–which means that any one book sold can wind up being read over and over again by many, many kids.

If you want to really get a handle on the breadth and depth of all ages comics being produced today, I wholeheartedly suggest picking up Scott Robins and Snow Wildsmith’s A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics.

I have a six year-old who reads comics, I have many friends who make their livings drawing all ages comics, I know librarians who’ve written entire books cataloging the current wealth of kids’ comics out there (see above). Just like Buzz Aldrin knows the moon landing was real, most comics folks outside the insular world of direct market superhero comics know there are tons of great kids comics being made–and read–right now. I suggest that from here on out, when we encounter the “kids’ comics denier,” we give ‘em the Buzz Aldrin treatment:

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Charlotte Minicon – Jan 25th

SkottiePromoHey, all! I’ll be a guest at the Charlotte Minicon this coming Saturday, January 25th. Come on out and say Hi. As you can see here, there’s a pretty stellar array of guests this year. This is my first time attending and I’m really excited to be there. I’ll have originals, various minicomics, and handful of books for sale. I’ll also be doing sketches.

The event will be 11am – 5pm at the Grady Cole center in Charlotte. Admission is free with a canned food donation to Second Harvest Food Bank. Sign up for free admission here.


2013: The Year in Review

DSC_0501(On my drafting table, Jan 1, 2014: half-penciled Oyster War page 110.)

Here’re a few parting thoughts on 2013:

Oyster War

The bad: I’d vowed this time last year to have Oyster War wrapped up in 2013. That didn’t happen. I am though, fairly close. I just posted the last page of Chapter 9, all of Chapter 10 is done and ready to post, and I’m drawing Chapter 11–the final chapter–right now. Including the epilogue, I’ve got around 20 pages to go to wrap it up.

The good: in short, 2013 was a great year for things Oyster War-related.

  • The biggest thing was (obviously) getting an Eisner Award nomination for Best Digital Comic. Although I ultimately didn’t win (damn you, Bandette!!!), you can’t beat that kind of recognition with a stick. I know some folks think awards are just silly in general, but it’s gratifying just to have some comics entity say to you, “Hey, we dig what you’re doing” –especially when that “entity” is something as prestigious as the Eisner Awards.
  • Despite several semesters of heavy teaching course-loads, I posted on schedule throughout 2013. I continued to post every other Wednesday to OysterWar.com and I even upped my posting at GoComics.com to twice weekly–Mondays and Thursdays.
  • Oyster War was included in the Best American Comics list of Notable Comics of 2013.
  • Oyster War made a number of “best of 2013″ lists, including some fairly high-profile ones such as Paste Magazine’s 13 Best Webcomics of 2013 (Oyster War took the number seven spot) and Buzzfeed’s Must-Read Webcomics of 2013 list.

Finding a publisher: toward the end of 2013 I began to approach a few publishers about a possible book version of Oyster War. I don’t have anything to report on that front at the moment, but I’m hoping that’s something big that will fall into place in 2014.

Other Projects


I tried to remain as focused as possible on Oyster War in 2013, but I did do a few other things comics-wise. “Monkey Business,” a one-pager I drew last year about Jackie the baboon, who fought in WWI, finally saw the light of day in the Panels for Primates anthology, a benefit book for the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville, KY. Buy it here on Comixology.

I participated in the AlphaBots weekly drawing challenge for the initial few letters, but ultimately dropped out because I just couldn’t keep up. You can find my contributions here.


In the last quarter of 2013, I was commissioned to do a bunch of Silver Age JLA characters. They turned out really well and wound up getting a fair amount of traction online.  Partially as a result of that, I wound up doing a ton of commissions in 2013. The Kang the Conqueror commission above was the most elaborate of the bunch. In fact, I’ve got a handful more lined up right now, but I haven’t been able to execute them yet because of the holidays, getting ready for teaching next semester, etc.

lou reed

Speaking of “online traction,” for reasons unfathomable to me, among all the things I posted to my tumblr in 2013, this particular drawing of Lou Reed really took off. It made the tumblr radar and currently has around 1700 notes.

I continued to work fairly steadily in my sketchbook, but I wasn’t very good this year about posting samples to this blog. I was, though, fairly active with posting sketchbook images to my Twitter. I always use the #sketchbook tag when I post, so all that’s archived fairly well right here.


final_trapping(Sample of an image for an upcoming silk-screen print, artwork done entirely in Manga Studio)

I’m calling 2013 the year I officially “went digital” art-wise. I’ve had Manga Studio for a while and used it here and there, but 2013 was the year I really dove in fully. The big change this year that precipitated that was my purchasing a Yiynova digitizing monitor.  I’d had a small Wacom tablet for a while, but I never felt really comfortable drawing with it; I could never get over the disconnect between the tablet drawing surface and the screen. With that gone, though, I’ve really begun to get comfortable with drawing digitally start-to-finish. I’m still doing Oyster War on paper with traditional tools (mainly, just to maintain visual continuity), but I’ve gone either partially or fully digital with most other things–especially anything freelance where saved time essentially equals a higher hourly rate.


Without a new book to hawk, I took it fairly light this convention season. As usual, though, Craig Fischer and I did a big “Mega-Panel” at Heroes Con this year. Our topic was “music and comics” and things went really well I thought. Craig and I were interviewed about it over at Comics Reporter.

I also went to the San Diego Comic-Con this year, something I’ve not done since–I think–2005. My main reason for going was to attend the Eisner ceremony, but I’d been really wanting to return to the convention for years. The two previous times I’d been there, I’d spent the bulk of my time behind the SLG table. Until this year, I’d never attended as a  ”civilian” and been able to take in all the activities. I did a big write-up about the event here, but in short: I had a blast and I’m hoping I’ll be able to attend again this year (although that depends on finances and scheduling).

I attended a few regional cons this year as well: NC Comic-Con, Comic Book City Con, and DICE in Durham. I’m not 100% sure this region can support three conventions in the long-term, but it was great to be able to go to some events that didn’t involve staying overnight and I saw a bunch of folks I know at all of them.

In 2014

What will I be working on? As mentioned, I should be able to wrap up Oyster War in the first quarter or so of 2014. During that time I’m also going to be trying to find a publisher. I have a few folks in mind who seem like Oyster War might be a good fit with. Hopefully, I’ll have some good news on that front in 2014. I also have a ton of corrections to do on Oyster War: off-model characters in early pages, coloring errors, typos, etc.

What’s next? I have a few things in mind.

I’d intended Oyster War to be a stand-alone story, but the ending as-written is fairly open-ended and even overtly suggestive of a continuing story. So, I’ve been thinking about potentially working on a second “volume” of it and trying to focus on GoComics as its site for publication. I don’t see it ever generating a ton of money, but having a significant portion of the readership visiting the non-monetized OysterWar.com site seems like leaving money on the table.

I wrote a full script a while back for a comic about cooking and playing music in the 1990′s called In the Weeds. No one’s really breaking down my door to publish it, but it’s something I’d like to see through. I’ve kind of half-considered a scenario where someone other than me could draw it, but I don’t know how that’d work–especially how I’d pay an artist.


I talked with a few fairly high-end publishing industry folks at (or directly after) San Diego comic-con who basically said to me, “You’re a great storyteller. If you ever put anything together that’s all-ages, I’d like to see it.” Nothing at that point in my “idea file” really fit the bill, but I’ve been ruminating a bit on something lately that’s all-ages and that I’m thinking could be really cool. I’m going to try to get at least some character designs, a plot synopsis, and a few sample pages together in 2014.

My 2014 To-Do List

  • The all-ages proposal mentioned above.
  • Oyster war: finish, find publisher, do corrections.
  • Getting a better “day job”/comics balance – I taught three classes last term and I’m teaching four this term. It’s nice to have steady income and I enjoy teaching… but I don’t like having so much teaching that it precludes me actually practicing what I’m supposed to be teaching about: art. To that end:
  • Better promoting/monetizing – I need to do a better job looking for work, promoting myself, making contacts, following up with folks, etc.
  • Speed up comics-making – My current process is so slow it’s just untenable. I’d like to transition as much of my work into the digital realm as possible in order to eliminate all the scanning, printing, correcting, etc. that I’m currently doing the old fashioned way. I might also start work on a custom font based on my own lettering.
  • Training: I’ll have to clear out time for it somehow, but I’d like to expand my skill-set in 2014. There are lots of reasonably-priced opportunities to learn online from some great professionals these days and I’m thinking a digital painting class would be really beneficial for me.
  • Life drawing – I need to start doing life drawing again regularly. I should have the opportunity to do so at one of the places I teach, but again, it all comes down to time.


That’s about it. All the best in 2014, everybody! And many, many thanks to everyone who’s read, written about, or otherwise supported my comics work in 2013!


Experimenting With Artrage: Paradax

paradax_coloredI’ve been experimenting a bit with the digital painting program, Artrage. It’s a piece of software designed to emulate natural painting media as colsely as possible. So far I’ve just been focusing on its watercolor-like effects. Here’s my second attempt at “watercolors” in Artrage: Milligan and McCarthy’s 80s superhero/media star Paradax.



Recolored Kurtzman

If you follow my comics ranting on Twitter, you probably know that one of my oft-ground axes is the horrible nature of most comics recoloring efforts. Given that, it probably won’t surprise you that I raised an eyebrow when I noted that the new (and excellent) Fantagraphics collection of Harvey Kurtzman EC war comics, Corpse on the Imjin, featured a cover gallery that was not the original E.C. covers from the 1950′s, but rather the recolored versions of those covers from the Russ Cochran Complete EC Library.

Frank Stack’s essay on the Kurtzman covers notes that Fantagraphics was, “dissatisfied by the quality of the original printings,” and used the 80s versions which were apparently shot from the original art and recolored by the original colorist, Marie Severin. And, yeah, looking at the cover gallery in the book, the artwork is really great-looking–the linework in particular is quite crisp. (And, wow, it’s amazing that the original art for all these was around and available.)

I did, though, pull out a few of the old comics that I own and compare them to the more recent “recreated” versions (recolored on left/original on right throughout). Here’s one that I thought was interesting. Subtle changes can make a big, perceptible difference.

flcThe first thing that’s notable to me is what’s not there: there’s almost none of the usual egregious “dodge and burn” and gradient effects that get added to art in many recoloring situations. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that stuff, but older artwork wasn’t designed for it. In pre-digital comics, the light/dark gradations are meant to be handled pretty much by the inks via hatching, feathering, etc. You can see a tiny bit of color rendering that’s been added to the flesh tones here, but it’s fairly subtle, thankfully.


The other thing, though, that’s immediately noticeable and is unfortunately detrimental to the overall design is the substantial change in the background color. The more saturated, higher value blue in the modern version has severely diminished the visual contrast between figure and ground and is flattening out the image. Note how–despite the crisper, blacker inks on the newer version–the figures in the originally colored version seem to “pop.” They’re clearly on a different visual plane than the background.


Contributing to this same problem, unfortunately is another seemingly trivial color choice that has a fairly powerful effect on the overall image: that slight change to the blue hue of the soldiers’ uniforms. If you look closely at the original coloring, you’ll see that the blue used in the uniforms is a fairly warm hue–almost a purple. Warmer colors tend to come forward visually in an image and that’s exactly what’s happening here.

In the recolored image, though, that blue’s been changed to a significantly cooler hue. This, again, adds to the visual flattening of the image, as the cooler hue of this blue tends to recede rather than advance visually.


A similar change has been made to the rifles, which are significantly warmer in the original version.

Another minor change that subtly affects the apparent depth of field is how the soldiers in the background are treated. In the original, those soldiers were colored with a less saturated blue than the soldiers in the foreground and middle ground; in the recolored version, they’re far nearer the saturation level of the rest of the soldiers. Note how desaturated the color is on the original image. Here’s background and foreground sampled colors from both versions:



I found it interesting that the soldier in the bottom right corner had been so significantly altered. He’s had his previously natural skin tone changed to a cool blue.  This is more a matter of personal preference, but I again prefer the original version. In it, the repeated tones work as continuation and help unify the composition.



One interesting thing I noted that’s unrelated to coloring was how much extra art there is on the right hand side of the image. In my printed comic, you can’t see any of that soldier in the lower right’s arm and you only get a small bit of his bedroll.  I’m assuming that the what we’re seeing in the newer version is material from the “trim” area–the sort of safety zone area that has to be included with any sort of art that’s intended to go all the way to the edge of the page.

Anyway, my point with all this coloring talk isn’t that the recoloring here is terrible. In fact, these 80s E.C. recolorings are probably some of the most tasteful and subtle I’ve seen. Rather, my point is that even the smallest of changes to a color scheme can have significant effects on the overall image.


Again With the Lou Reed

lou 2 lou-2-sketchbook

Here’s a (second) recent drawing of Lou Reed, this one taken from the picture accompanying his obituary in TIME magazine. I hadn’t really intended to do anything with this one, but it turned out alright and I had some time to fool with it last week.

Process: sketched in pencil, inked and colored in Manga Studio.

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