Indstrial Drawing and Penmanship Workbooks from the 19th Century

I admit, there’s not much point to this post other than, “These things look cool,” but hey, they do look pretty cool.

I’m lucky enough be be the recipient of a slow trickle of old family books, mostly from  the part of my family that originates in the Lancaster, PA area.  I did a post a while back about the fantastic full set of My Bookhouse volumes I received, but since then I’ve gotten my hands on two other items.

The first is a workbook from something called “The Normal Union System of Industrial Drawing.”  A Google search for this turns up a big nothing. It appears though, to be a workbook for students of basic mechanical drafting (entities since replaced by CAD software). It’s filled with areas for students to construct mechanical shapes via elliptical curves, angles, etc. Looking at the beautiful cover of this thing, fans of Chris Ware’s work (and I’m one of them) will immediately recognize the aesthetic kinship between his work and this era of commercial illustration.

The other book, as you can see, is a workbook for a penmanship course. If the word “penmanship” seems archaic, it’s because it is; handwriting and handwriting instruction have been on the decline in this keyboard-centric age. The less-cluttered Art Nouveau-ish cover design of this workbook is really beautiful I think. The typefaces and typesetting alone are worth noting. I love how the “E”s are not consistent. The X-height of the “E” in “vertical” is different from the X-height of the one in “penmanship.” All the kerning here looks like it was eyeballed–albeit expertly eyeballed–and gives the lettering a non-computery, organic look.

Here’s a sample of some of the writing inside, done when my great great aunt Anna Herr was learning handwriting in 1898:

There’s something really beautiful and captivating about seeing those lines and lines of type repeated like that. (And it of course reminds me of the opening sequence of The Simpsons.) I remember as recently (?) as the mid-90s a friend of mine taking a class in typesetting that involved learning how to hand-draw basic serif and sans serif fonts.  I also remember seeing in my mom’s college art portfolio a piece she did for a typesetting class where she’d hand-drawn the lyrics to The Doors’ Crystal Ship in big four or five-inch serif lettering.  (Now that I think about it, I’d love to have that framed in my house.) I know that no one actually has to do this kind of stuff anymore, but it’s something I’d love to be able to do and I think I’d learn a lot about typefaces and typesetting in the process–both things I don’t know much about.

Anyway, end rambling post. Hope you enjoy these dusty old books.


Illustration: Monster Parade

I’ve had monsters on the brain lately. I think it’s because a few weeks ago I posted some art from Drew Weing’s great bestiary, 33 Beasties and at about that same time I placed my own Moleskine bestiary for sale in my store. Whatever the case, I decided it’d be fun to draw some monsters. I began just doodling in my sketchbook, but in a rare moment of forward-thinking, I grabbed a piece of bristol board and did the drawing on that, which allowed me to ink the drawing with dip pen (which would have shredded a sketchbook page).  I switched from brush to pens relatively recently and although I still don’t think I’ve got the hang of it completely, doing a drawing like this is only going to help me improve.

The original art for this is for sale here.


In Memoriam: Irvin Kershner – Empire Drawings

I’m sure I’ve posted some or all of these childhood drawings of mine before, but with the recent death of Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner, I thought it’d be appropriate to drag them out again. While there may be one or two folks out there who’d debate Empire‘s status as the best of the Star Wars films, there’s no doubt that it’s the one that most profoundly affected me. It came out in 1980, when I was ten and starting to really get into drawing. These drawings were likely done from The Empire Strikes Back Storybook, although I remember when I was a bit older getting a copy of The Art of The Empire Strikes Back and devoting myself to memorizing exactly how to draw AT-ATs, Hoth gun turrets, etc.


To Epilogue or not to Epilogue?

I just finished writing the script for a music/culinary-themed graphic novel I’ve been working on called In The Weeds and I found myself wrestling–not for the first time–with whether to include an epilogue.  Here’s the thing with epilogues: whenever I’m reading a book or watching a film and there’s an epilogue tacked on to the end that wraps everything up (as Homer Simpson would say) in a neat little package, I always feel sort of condescended to–as if the writer assumes that I’m too fragile (or just plain to conventional) to deal with a story that has any loose ends.

On the other hand though, whenever I’m writing I always want to wrap everything up. I even had an epilogue scene for In the Weeds tacked up as the final index card on my little plotting cork-board.  At the last minute, though, I decided not to include it. The story just ENDS. The main conflicts have been resolved, but ultimately there are a lot of non-essential things that the reader will probably be curious about that are never resolved. For example, one of the main threads in the story involves a band having to decide whether to jump on-board with a successful but somewhat sleazy record producer, and in doing so betray their current friend and manager. You of course find out what they choose to do, but without an epilogue, you never find out whether the choice they make pans out for them–whether they ever “hit the big time” or not.

As mentioned before, this isn’t the first time I’ve been round and round with how much of the plot to tie up at the end of a story. The last time was a few books back with Midnight Sun. That book originally had a one-page epilogue scene that would have been the first and only time the story moved to first person narration from the protagonist, H.R. I actually drew and lettered this page and had it ready to go to press. Before I send off the files for a completed book though, I like to have one (or preferably more than one) person read through the book and give me any thoughts or suggestions he/she has.

In the case of Midnight Sun, one of the people who was nice enough to give the book a read-through was my friend Craig Fischer. One of the things he reacted to was the epilogue. As I recall, he mentioned the change in narration to first person as well as just the overall “neatness” of having everything tied up in the end via a verbal “exposition dump.” Ultimately (through the Magic of Photoshop™) I removed the narration and ended the story instead with a (nearly) wordless single-page image.

Just for fun, though, here’re both versions.  First the page used in the published book, then the original with the narration:


One-Page Comic Strip: History of the Ukulele

I occasionally do one-page music-related comic strips for a music magazine called Signal to Noise. I enjoy doing work for them because I’m really interested in music and they give me a pretty free rein to choose a subject I like.  For example, one of my past strips for them was about the obscure but very influential local Winston-Salem soul band, The “5” Royales, after whom James Brown patterned his first band.

For the most recent issue (Fall 2010) I did a strip about the history of the ukulele. I’ve previously posted an in-progress (inked, I think?) version of this strip, but since the Fall issue’s been on the shelf for a good while, I guess I’m safe to post the final, colored version of the strip here.  I enjoyed doing this strip a lot since I actually play (albeit, not very well) the ukulele. The song that the kind-of-but-not-exactly-me narrator is singing is the great ’20s tune “I’ll See You in my Dreams.”  I’m embarrassed by how terrible the caricatures are in this strip, but other than that I think it turned out reasonably well. Enjoy!


Summer of Minis 2010 – Part III

(Continuing my look at the minis I’ve been reading from this summer’s comics events. Earlier installment(s): Part I, Part II)

Why Did I Put this Town on My Face? – Matt Wiegle

Wiegle for Tarzan – Matt Wiegle

Seven More Days of not Getting Eaten – Matt Wiegle

I’m not sure why it’s taken me until now to become aware of Matt Wiegle’s work, but I picked up one of these minis at SPX and later when I was showing my “loot” to a friend, he recommended a few other minis by Matt that I wound up buying later. First up is Why Did I Put this Town on My Face? It’s a collection of the cartoonist’s short pieces that have appeared in various anthologies from 2002-2008. My favorite story here is the last one, The Omega Dome, which begins with a hilarious War of the Worlds gag: aliens have invaded Earth and so, hoping that the aliens are susceptible to simple Earth pathogens, a family tries to ward them off with a raw chicken, a kitchen sponge and a toilet brush.

Wiegle for Tarzan is my favorite of the three. The premise is simple and hilarious: the city of New York has an elected office of “a Tarzan” who’s in charge of dealing with jungle-related threats to the city. Wiegle for Tarzan is a political attack ad in mini-comics form, advocating for Wiegle’s election over the incumbent Tarzan office-holder. Nicely done, all the way down to details like attributing the publication to the “Matt Wiegle for Tarzan PAC” and a @WeigleForTarzan Twitter account.

Seven More Days of not Getting Eaten has a similarly-straightforward premise: it documents seven ruses a clever fish uses to get out of being eaten after being caught.  It’s funny stuff. Of the three, it’s the nicest-looking book, with a silk-screened wrap-around cover.

The only one of these I could find for sale online is Seven More Days. Get it here.

Adrift – JP Coovert

There Must be More: The Search for Bigfoot’s Box – JP Coovert

I’ve been following JP’s work for a long time. I can’t remember for sure, but I think maybe I encountered his comics when I first visited the Center for Cartoon Studies during their first year of classes. At any rate, the first thing I got from him was an issue of his diary-ish comic, Simple Routines. I recall liking the issue, but finding it very close to King Cat both in style and intent. Since then though, JP’s really come into his own and has been turning out some really nice minis on a pretty regular basis.

Adrift is one of the nicest looking minis I picked up this year. I love the cover’s simple monochromatic color scheme, the book’s rounded corners, and the interior’s rich blue ink. Narrative-wise, it’s a simple (largely) pantomime story of a stranded boater who befriends a whale. I couldn’t quite figure out why some characters speak with regular speech balloons and others have pictogram speech balloons a la Owly, but it’s a fun great-looking book for sure.

There Must be More: The Search for Bigfoot’s Box is a striking-looking book in part because of its size (8.5 x 11) but also because of its interior clear line-ish art (that’s even presented in four tiers a la TinTin). This is apparently the first of a series and just sets up the basics of the story: a human, a bird, and a mountain troll all set out to locate “Bigfoot’s box” which contains infinite wisdom, power over nature, unbelievable treasure, or… nothing at all.  The story’s just getting going by the end of this issue, but I’ll definitely pick up the next one.

Both books can be purchased here.

The Fry Cook Chronicles: Fast Food Feud – Brad McGinty

Brad McGinty’s been on a fantasy/parody tip lately. At last year’s Heroes Con he debuted his hilarious Thundarr the Barbarian-ish animated series, Mandar of Suburbia and at this year’s show he had the new mini, Fast Food Feud. In it, a stalwart fry cook/elf-like guy journeys deep within the frozen realm… of a walk-in freezer to retrieve an (onion) ring of great power, in order to defeat an enormous viking guy.  Brad’s great brushwork and amazing sense of gesture and expression are put to good use here as the story rapidly descends into a really gross but really funny knock-down viking vs. fry cook fight scene.

I couldn’t find this for sale anywhere online, so you may just have to track Brad down if you want one.


Summer of Minis 2010 – Part II

(Continuing my look at the minis I’ve been reading from this summer’s comics events. Earlier installment(s): Part I)

33 Beasties – Drew Weing

This fantastic little book combines two things I dig: Drew Weing’s art and bestiaries. Each page here features a different beast and the centerfold page folds out to a full 8.5 x 11 in “mini poster.” If you’ve just gotten hip to Drew’s work via his amazing Set to Sea from Fantagraphics,  I definitely recommend tracking down his minis. There’re a ton of them out there. You can find a few for sale here, but for 33 Beasties, you’ll have to track him down at a convention.

Robot Teenager Goes to a Barn Show – Chris Schweizer

Guess what the premise of this mini is? You’re right: A robot teenager goes to see a band playing in a barn. Chris Schweizer is a cartoonist who seems to have appeared on the scene “fully-formed” and doing his great historically-themed Crogan series. This mini is a rare chance to see him working with more everyday situations–albeit, one with a robotic teenager. As far as I can tell, you can’t purchase these from his site, so you’ll just have to pester him in person. (That pink brain is showing through a die cut hole in the cover–cool!)

Everyday – Joe Lambert

If you don’t know Joe Lambert’s work, you need to get hip, daddy-O.  For starters, feast your eyes on this photoset. Everyday is maybe a close second to my absolute favorite mini from Joe Lambert, Food/FallEveryday depicts seven days that all begin the same–with a couple of roughhousing kids kicked outside by their mom. Each day’s end though, is different–and each is as surreal and celestial as you’d expect if you’ve read any of his other work. One thing that really stood out to me when I read this was some of the really cool stuff Joe’s done with the typography that begins each day’s adventure.

You can get Everyday (and Food/Fall as well) here.

Dharbin #2 – Dustin Harbin

I picked up Dustin’s great-looking new Diary Comics as well this summer, but I think I’m partial to his Dharbin series. I’d actually read most of this stuff on his website (and you can too) but I really like having a physical copy of it.  The pieces in here are thematically pretty scatter-shot, but I really like that; it reminds me of the bygone days of the “one man anthology” a la Eightball. These pieces are a bit more polished than his diary stuff and you can really dig in and admire Dustin’s formidable skills with the dip pen. This mini includes the “Warren Ellis: King of the Internet” strip that was making the rounds a while back.

You can purchase Dharbin #2 here.

A Rabbit in King Arthur’s Food Court – Josh Latta

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that most animators that try to make comics don’t do so very well.  Josh is the exception to the rule. His background in animation really shows through in things like character design, great gestures/expressions, and a wonderful sense of timing–and it all works great on the printed page.  In this latest installment of the Rashy Rabbit series (the 6th, I think, if you count the first one that’s called something other than Rashy Rabbit) Rashy is working in one of those dopey medieval-themed restaurants. The story’s typically madcap and involves a van full of purloined dope, gangsters trying to retrieve said dope, and a big potential life change for Rashy at the very end.

You can buy it here.


Sketchbook 11/10

For some reason my sketchbook drawings these days are starting to look more like stuff I used to draw in college. I think it’s because I’m consciously trying to draw from imagination more, rather than using my “free sketch” time to work on character designs, draw hands or cloth folds from magazines, etc.  Fakey sepia tone courtesy of Photoshop actions.


New Stuff for Sale

I’m figuring in this day and age, if anyone wants to buy a new copy of one of my books from Amazon or whatever, they can just “use the Google.” So, I’ve ditched this blog’s “Buy Stuff” page and substituted a “Buy Signed Books/Original Art” link that goes to my newly-set up Storenvy storefront. If you’re interested in purchasing signed/sketched-in books or original art from me, this’ll hopefully make the process significantly easier than tracking me down at a convention. And if you’re someone with stuff to sell (minicomics, T-shirts, art, whatever), you may want to check out Storeenvy. The set-up process was way easy and very intuitive.


Summer of Minis 2010 – Part I

Well, not “summer” exactly, but close enough since I buy pretty much all of my minis either at SPX or at Heroes Con. Anyway, I thought as a motivator to begin working my way through this year’s stack of stuff, I’d try to do a quick write-up of each one after reading. So here goes…

Drop Target #1 by Jon Chad & Alec Longstreth

This is really more a zine than a mini technically; it’s filled with articles (and some comics) about pinball. Included are things like a list of basic pinball terminology, an interview with the founders of a pinball magazine called Multiball, reviews of local (White River Junction, VT) pinball machines, etc. My favorite item here, though is “Dream Machines,” in which Alec and Jon each design their own pinball machine. Jon does a Lawrence of Arabia machine and Alec a Harry Potter machine.

Buy it here.

Paranormal Hipsters and Beard – by Pranas T. Naujokaitis

Paranormal Hipsters is a short (6-page) mini that’s exactly what you’d think it is: illustrations of six paranormal creatures with hipster apparel/surroundings.  You know… a werewolf on a fixie, a bearded ghost listening to vinyl LPs.  Nicely-drawn and funny. Below is the cover and an interior spread. I would totally buy and wear a shirt that just has the word “IRONY” printed on it like that.

Beard has a great silk-screened fold-out cover. You can see the horizontal seam there where it opens once you “unhook” the nose; once open, there’s a clean-shaven face revealed beneath. This is a funny story about a boy from Beardville (a town where everyone–men, women, children–has beards) who can’t grow a beard. Coincidentally, there’s a cameo appearance by Alec Longstreth in the finale scene. A fun story with solid cartooning, the look and feel of Beard reminds me a little bit of Joey Weiser’s work.

Buy Beard here.

The Numbers of the Beasts – Shawn Cheng

The premise here is easier seen than stated, so here’s a sample spread:

Numbers of the Beasts is 12 pages, each with this number/mythological beast format. I love Cheng’s mix of cartoony character designs, clear line drawing, and decorative detailing.

Buy it here.

Comic Book by Phil McAndrew

I think this is the first thing I’ve ever read by Phil McAndrew.  I’m a sucker for “repeating panel” stories, though, which is exactly what this mini is. It’s 32 pages of pretty much the same image that you see here on the cover, but with dialog over top (and an occasional coffee sip from the woman on the right). It’s a pretty funny gag and I love McAndrew’s character designs and “jittery” line-work.

Doesn’t look like he’s got a store anymore, but when/if it returns, it’ll be here.


Summer of Minis 2010, Part II coming whenever I read through my next batch…

Older posts «

» Newer posts