May
03
2009

Wide Awake Press – Free Comic Book Day

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Today’s the day.  You can hit your local comics shop for freebies, but even if you miss out on that, you can download a 100% free comic book anthology from Wide Awake Press at their website.  Alas, my contribution this year was only a spot illustration, but there’re plenty of great folks who contrbuted stories, so check it out.  The Ancient Age is available online, or in PDF or CBZ formats.

Apr
30
2009

Separated at Birth: Briefer’s Frankensten and Ditko’s Aunt May?

Breifer’s Frankenstein:

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Ditko’s Aunt May:

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You be the judge:

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Apr
29
2009

Craft: Razorback Pinup

I’d normally just post an image like this one without much verbiage, but I went through some extra steps putting this one together, so I thought I’d do a “start to finish” entry on it since there’s maybe information that’ll come out of describing my methods here that could be of interest to folks.

Here’s how this all started out:  A week or so ago I got an email calling for folks attending Heroes Con 2009 comics convention to submit pinups for potential inclusion in the convention booklet.  Like any rational person, when I heard “pinup” and “comics convention,” I immediately thought of the ridiculous but also kind of cool (in a “shag carpets are actually kind of cool” way) Marvel B-string hero Razorback.  If’n you’re not in the know, Razorback is a minor superhero who appeared in a couple of Spider-Man issues in the 70s.  His real name was Buford Hollis and he spoke in CB lingo even when not talking on a CB, wore a giant electrified boar head on his own head, and had a “superpower” that enabled him to drive anything, including of course his own semi cab, the “Big Pig.”  He wore a giant electrofied boar head on his own head.  I just thought that deserved mentioning again.

Anyway, I really do like Razorback and I thought this’d be a good opportunity to work up a pinup of the character.  I figured, though, that maybe I could throw Spider-Man as well and I’d imagined a pretty simple composition, with Razorback in the lower right and Spider-Man swooping in in the top left:

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(At this point I’d like to point out that normally I’d not be doing nearly this much work for a single image like this.  If this were just something that were going to be printed in a comic, I’d be doing most of the planning, revising and adjusting on the page.  This, though, is something I’m hoping to sell as an original, and when that’s the case I always try to have no visible evidence of planning or corrections on the bristol board, and certainly no non-photo blue pencil visible.)

So, I started by getting the image of Razorback himself together.  Here’s a a reference image and my first pass on the character:

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(This is the early 90s John Byrne version of the character, where he’s all buff–not the original 70s version where he’s got a beer gut, but you get the idea.)

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As you can see, I do a lot of correcting by drawing in different colors.  I think this is something I picked up when I worked very briefly in animation.  I start with light blue, then switch to orange, then red, and finally a regular old HB pencil.  This allows me to go over and over the image, gradually refining it.  You can see here, for example, how the position of his legs has changed substantially over the course of the process.  I can then use Image–>Adjustment–>Hue/Saturation in Photoshop to eliminate all but the pencil drawings by turning the lightness of reds, blues, cyans and magentas all up to 100%. ( If I didn’t need this to be drawn on bristol board, I could take this one step further by then changing the pencil drawing to non-photo blue, printing it out, inking directly on that, then scanning it and getting rid of the blue–leaving just the inked image.)

Then I moved on to Spider-Man.  Although it makes no sense chronologically, I decided I wanted to attempt a classic Steve Ditko “rubber leg” Spider-Man pose:

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I wasn’t really very happy with this drawing, but I went ahead and started trying to get the two drawings laid out in a single composition in Photoshop… but, alas, nothing was coming together very well.  Given that I didn’t really like the Spider-Man image much anyway, I decided to ditch the whole original idea and instead just draw Razorback in front of his trusty semi cab, “The Big Pig.”  (I’m not making this stuff up, I promise.)

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So, I just did a quick block-in of the Big Pig behind my original Razorback drawing:

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Then, using a sheet of graphite transfer paper, I transferred the image to a nice clean sheet of bristol board and inked it.  Here’s the result.  Whether the folks at Heroes Con will be inclined to include something so silly in their convention booklet, I don’t know…

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Apr
27
2009

The Kirby Uke: Now in 3-D

Here’s something pretty cool: Issac, over at Satisfactory Comics, has posted a 3-D version of  my Jack Kirby-style Ukulele from a few days ago.   He did one version that should be able to make work without glasses, but my eyeballs weren’t cooperating.   He did, though, kindly post a traditional-style version of the image that you’ll need 3-D glasses to see.  I was a little surprised to find that I actually have two pairs of 3-D glasses readily available in my house: that 3-D Steve Ditko comic book, and Grand Funk’s LP, Shinin’ On, which features the glasses because the entire album–gatefold and all–is entirely 3-D.  You kids try to get that in your “i-tunes” internets music store!

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Apr
27
2009

In-Progress Sketchbook Grid

Every so often, I post one of these “grid drawings” from my sketchbook, but I never seem to manage to post the original doodles that each panel is based upon.   I should have done so this time before I even started, but here’s one in-progress.  What I do with these things is to grid off a page, do a quick blind contour drawing or doodle in each panel in non-photo blue pencil, then use that doodle as the basis for a little character drawing.  I’ve used Photoshop here to turn the non-photo blue in the remaining squares to black so you can see the doodles better.  I’ll post the final page for comparison when I’m done.

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Apr
22
2009

The Jack Kirby Ukulele

Okay, it’s not really a Jack Kirby ukulele, but a while back the folks at Satisfactory Comics posted one if their “doodle penance” entries (where they draw things from their site’s log of visitor’s search terms) for the phrase “Jack Kirby Machines.”  The post featured a hilariously-accurate “how to” diagram by Isaac entitled “Principles of Kirbytech,” which you can see below:

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I thought this was especially brillaint at the time and really wanted to use it to draw some common machine that I use in my day-to-day life… but, alas, this was posted right in the middle of “crunch time” reading for the Eisner award nominations and I could do nothing about it until now.  But, with the nominating weekend over and my Amelia pages turned in, (Yea!) I’ve had some time to give it a go.

I wanted to attempt to do a Kirby version of the machine I most commonly use and my first thought was that I should do a squash racquet–but I disqualified that based on its not having any moving parts.  It’s occurred to me since then that I missed the obvious choice which would have been my daughter’s baby stroller (which I–seriously–use more than our car), but what I settled on was my ukulele.  So… here it is: the Jack Kirby ukulele.  I think I’ve made pretty good use of all the techniques outlined on Isaac’s diagram–plus I’ve added some “Kirby crackle” just from memory.

kirby_uke

Apr
22
2009

Wide Awake Press FCBD Preview

This year, as with the past few years, the good folks at Wide Awake Press are offering a totally 100% free downloadble anthology.  Each year has a theme and this year’s is ancient civilizations–hence the title: The Ancient Age.  Here’s the official skinny:

The Ancient Age presented by Wide Awake Press
On May 2nd (Free Comic Book Day!) revel in a pantheon of illustrated lore from the ancient age. This free comic download gathers fantastic stories about the world’s earliest civilizations, as told by the mighty sequential artisans of today. A monumental mix of new and classic tales featuring heroes, philosophers, creatures, and gods. It’ll be spectacularly epic, epically spectacular, spantafically epilacar—it’ll be good!

And here’re the folks who contributed:

Dan Boyd, Michael Bresnahan, J Chris Campbell, Andrew Davis, Andrew Drilion, Patrick Dean, Paul Friedrich, Alexis Frederick-Frost, Justin Gammon, Bernie Gonzalas, Brad Mcgintiy, Corinne Mucha, Dusty Harbin, Mike LaRiccia, Joe Lambert, Josh Latta, Pat Lewis, Rey Ortega, Katie Skelly, Steve Steiner, Ben Towle, Rob Ullman, Jeff Zwirek

Alas, I was too busy this year to do a story, but I did contribute an illustration.

Here’s a very cool video preview put together by J. Chris Campbell:

The book itself will be posted on Free Comic Book Day; I’ll post a link to it here then.

Apr
21
2009

Amelia Aerial Panel – Final Image, Amela Update

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Well, for any of you (three or so) folks following along at home, there it is: the final image that’s come of my various posts on this once-panel now-spread.

Amelia is just about wrapped up now.  I’m anticipating sending off completed files tomorrow; although, I may have to revisit some of my gray layer work.  This is the first time I’ve done a “duotone” book that’s actually going to be printed on two separate Pantone plates, so there’re a lot of subtle nuances to getting the gray underlayer just right that are new to me.  It’s actually more akin to setting up a two color screen print than prepping files for printing as I’ve done it in the past.

I’m dying to post some other pages from the book, but I think I’ll hold off a bit.  With the other Hyperion/CCS books, there’ve been websites set up for the books with sample pages, so I’ll wait until I know if there’re specific pages set up as previews and then post those here as well.

Apr
13
2009

My Best of 2008

Between the time it became public that I’d be an Eisner judge and when the nominations were settled on and announced, I didn’t want to go “on record” about what my favorite books of the year were, but now that the Eisner nominations are out in the open, I’ll go ahead and drum up a list.   I did mention a few standouts over at ChasingRay.com a while back–those being Capacity by Theo Ellsworth, Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware and Crogan’s Vengeance by Chris Schweizer–so I’ll not repeat myself here, but here’s my list of my other favorite comics and comics-related publications from 2008, in no particular order:

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Gus and his Gang – Christophe Blain (First Second) – The amazing French artist Christophe Blain is one of the best cartoonists working today and it’s great to see his work given top notch treatment by First Second.  This is a beautiful collection of stories by Blain that turn the traditional tale of the American Old West on its head: they’re all romances–or, at least, they’re all about men and women interacting, as opposed to the standard genre trope of gun play.  Blain’s cartooning is as stunning as ever, and his colorist, Clémence (who’s, unbelievably, uncredited in this edition) turns in a truly spectacular coloring job that shows how comics coloring can serve an actual narrative purpose, rather than just making things look pretty.  If it really comes down to it, I prefer the story from Blain’s Isaac the Pirate, but this is the book I’d pull off the shelf if I knew nothing about Blain.

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Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsely and Chester the Molester – Bob Levin (Fantagraphics) – 2008 saw a ton of great books about cartoonists–from the great coffee table books about Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, to the fabulous Bill Mauldin biography by Todd DePastino–but Most Outrageous, by lawyer and longtime Comics Journal contributor Bob Levin was my favorite.  This fascinating look into the life and legal travails of Hustler cartoonist Dwaine Tinsley, who was accused of molesting his daughter over a five year period in the 80s, touches on all sorts of thorny, provocative and uncomfortable issues: the role of art in society, the social value (if any) to vulgarity and pornography, the relationship between an artist’s actions and his art, the unhealthy relationships that can develop between family members (and not just the obvious father/daughter one alleged here).  It’s a fantastic book that I’ve seen precious little press about.

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Thoreau at Walden – John Porcellino (Hyperion/CCS) – Is there a better combination of word and image than John Porcellino and Henry David Thoreau?  Porcellino’s spare but beautiful drawings are the perfect companion for the prose he chooses to excerpt from Thoreau in this fantastic book that seems to have fallen below the critical radar.  If you’re a longtime fan of Procellino’s comics, it’ll take you a bit to get used to seeing his artwork with “tones,” but he uses them as sparingly and tastefully as you would expect.

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Bodyworld – Dash Shaw (www.dashshaw.com) – I really enjoyed Dash Shaw’s 2008 book Bottomless Bellybutton as well, but if I had to pick one thing by him from this year, it’d be his serialized webcomic, Bodyworld, that wrapped up this year but which will soon reappear in printed form from Pantheon Books.  I think my preference is partly just because of subject matter (I hunger continually for well-done science fiction comics) and because I really love seeing h0w Dash uses color in his work when it’s available.

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Petey and Pussy – John Kerschbaum (Fantagraphics) – What more can I say? This book’s #%&*in’ hilarious.   Oh, I guess this: it’s also beautifully drawn.  For the love of god, someone please put that poor bird out of his misery!

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Dragon Head – Minetaro Mochizuki (Tokyopop) – There was a ton of really solid Manga going on in 2008 (Real, Emma, and Hikaru no Go all come immediately to mind) but the one that seemed to generate the most press was Monster–perhaps because it wrapped up in 2008.  For my money, though, I preferred Minetaro Mochizuki’s Dragon Head, which also wrapped up in 2008.  It’s a solid post-apocalyptic thriller that starts out entirely within a collapsed train tunnel, then, once the characters extricate themselves, we follow them through a devastated Japan as they search for their home town and try–along with a few other stragglers–to find out exactly what’s caused the destruction of their country.

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Fuzz and Pluck: Splitsville – Ted Stearn (Fantagraphics) – 2008 saw the release of the last “floppy” of Splitsville, but it was almost immediately followed by this beautiful collected edition.  Many reviews of this series seem to make a lot of the world the characters inhabit, but what really drives the book is the characters themselves: Pluck, the smart and confident plucked chicken, and his pal Fuzz, the sweet somewhat dopey stuffed bear.  In this story arc they wind up separated, with Fuzz getting involved in a bizarre scheme involving a ferry and Pluck as an unexpectedly effective gladiator.

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Drawing Words and Writing Pictures – Madden & Abel (First Second) – Maybe it’s my bias as an occasional comics teacher, but I think this is a genuine landmark book.  I wrote a lengthy review of this a while back but in a nutshell: those of us who teach comics finally have a decent textbook–one that’s organized to work in conjunction with a class schedule, one that pretty much covers all the bases, and one that’s genre-independent.

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Travel – Yuichi Yokoyama (PictureBox) – I was surprised about how much I wound up liking this book.  My taste in comics is generally fairly conservative–at least in the sense that I tend toward books that have at least a traditional narrative underpinning.  Travel, on the other hand, has pretty much no narrative at all.  Things happen, sure, but there aren’t really characters or a plot in the traditional sense.  What there is, though, is a stunning, immersive graphical world that’s utterly original and strangely captivating.

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Comics Comics – ed. by Timothy Hodler and Dan Nadel (PictureBox) – For years, people have been grousing about how there’s not a critical comics publication that’s “between Wizard and The Comics Journal.”  By this, what they mean (I think) is a publication of serious comics criticism and analysis that’s well-written, but without the “attitude” that TCJ is known for–and a publication that’s open to discussions of a broader section of the comics art form.  That’s pretty close to what Comics Comics is, although it has its own “attitude” of sorts (is there writing that doesn’t have some obvious editorial bent–if so, would you want to read it?).  The only reason I can think of that seemingly very few people know of and read Comics Comics is that it’s printed as a gigantic newsprint broadsheet paper, a format that comics shop folks probably don’t dig since apparently anything that isn’t the exact shape and size of a standard a 6 x 9 inch comic book tends to make comics retailers’ brains overload and explode like the androids from “I, Mudd” on the old Star Trek show.

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Punk Rock and Trailer Parks – Derf (SLG Publishing) – Punk Rock and Trailer Parks is a work of fiction, but it’s pretty clearly one that’s based on some personal experiences by the book’s author, cartoonist Derf.  In about 99.99% of comics I’ve ever read that take place in high school–whether semi-fictional or autobiographical–the characters seem to fall conveniently into the old tired Breakfast Club-esque stereotypes: The Nerd, The Jock, etc.  What makes Punk Rock and Trailer Parks so refreshing in this department is how true-to-life and fleshed out its main character, “The Baron,” is.   Add to that the historical interest of the Akron punk scene that was going on at the time and you’ve got a fantastic read.

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Tamara Drewe – Posy Simmonds (Mariner Books) – I tried really, really hard to come up with one negative thing about this book and this is the best I did:  Tamara Drewe is, formally, pretty much occupying the exact same ground as Simmonds’ last book, Gemma Bovary.  If all you can come up to complain about is that this book is just as beautifully drawn and brilliantly conceived as its predecessor, I’d say that’s a big point in ins favor.

Apr
07
2009

Post-Eisner Nomination Wrap-up

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It’s probably not kosher to divulge a whole lot of information on the goings-on of the Eisner Awards nomination process, but given that the call for submissions notes that the nominations will be “announced in April,” and it’s now April, I feel that I can safely reveal that the nomination weekend is now over and that the official announcement will be forthcoming.  As with every year, there’ll be a lot of online back and forth about what did and didn’t get on the list, but what was as interesting to me as the actual nominating process was the preparatory experience: reading basically every graphic novel published by every major publisher in the 2008 calendar year.  Here are a few observations borne of that experience, in no particular order:

1) The amount of comics published in a single year is truly stunning. Before the nominations I (and the other judges as well) tried to read through pretty much all the graphic novels that generated significant press in 2008.  Even narrowing things down by this criteria, there were easily more than 100 books of genuine interest to get through–and that’s not even getting into serialized comics.

2) Production values on graphic novels have never been higher. Lots and lots of the books I read for this year’s awards were really beautiful.  Among the most popular flourishes I noted were “french flaps,” “belly bands,” and covers that mixed glossy and matte finishes.  The standard “trade paperback” format looked positively anemic by comparison.  The archival stuff of course was beyond stunning–the hardcover Hellboy collection, the slip-cased Umbrella Academy book, the Scorchy Smith book,etc.–but what struck me as far more important was that the baseline for a decent-looking regular old graphic novel is now pretty damn high.

3) Closely related to item two, above: pretty much everything that looked incredible production-wise was printed in China or Singapore. Some of the old guard publishers are still having their books printed by Diamond-friendly printers like Brenner and Quebecor, but there’s just no way they can compete with the prices you can get from Asian printing. A fifteen dollar book printed in North America is likely to be 150 pages, black and white vs. a fifteen dollar book printed in Asia that’ll likely be 200 or more pages, full color, great paper stock, with french flaps and other flourishes.

4) There are a hell of a lot of periodical/serialized comics being published these days that you’re probably unaware of if you’re not into superhero stuff. As mentioned, I read a sizable quantity of graphic novels and Manga stuff before I flew out for nominations weekend, and just figured I’d be able to “brush up” on monthly comics once I got there and figured out what was in the running and what wasn’t–but, damn, there’s a heck of a lot of stuff to sort through.  Some is really good, some is really bad, but if you’re someone who mainly reads comics in graphic novel form–or once things have been collected in trade paperbacks– you’re probably unaware of the true quantity of monthly books that are out there.

5) Is there some sort of favoritism/politics going on at the big comics publishers? Being an “indie guy” I have no knowledge of the politics of what goes on a big “mainstream” comics publishers,  but I was really surprised that a few of them didn’t send copies of everything they’d put out in the previous year.  I can’t imagine that this is a financial concern–it seems more like a deliberate snub to those folks they didn’t send books from.  There were at least two people who’d done great work (I thought, anyway) for a couple of mainstream publishers in 2008 who I really wanted to champion, but without their company’s having sent their books along for the judges to read, there really wasn’t much I could do.  To be fair, though, it’s probably better to formally submit a select few items than to submit everything, regardless of quality. (Edit, based on some comments: note that publishers can only submit five books per category; what I’m wondering about is why not just go ahead and send in all your output?)

6) There’s a lot of breadth to the comics art form and, chances are, whatever you’re into is just a small subset of the whole. I went into the judging with the idea that there were a number of key books that were basically just “shoe-ins” in the big categories like “Graphic Album New,” but was really taken aback when some of the other folks dismissed some of this stuff pretty casually. (And I’m sure the other folks had exactly the same thoughts about some of the work that I didn’t take to as well.)  It’s easy I think, if you’re into some particular type of comics, to become entrenched in that area and not see the comics world as a whole, from the perspectives of other individuals who may have interests that are 180 degrees from your own.

7) There’s some really great foreign material being published today.  I was certainly aware that folks like Fanfare Ponent Mon and First Second were regularly cranking out great-looking English editions of foreign material, but it wasn’t until I saw all of this stuff piled up in heaps that I realized just how much of it there is and just how great a lot of it is.  It’s amazing to think back, say, twenty years or so to the anemic volume of European and Japanese stuff being reprinted here and compare it just to last year’s output with stuff like Travel, Gus and His Gang, Little Nothings, Disappearance Diary, Bourbon Island, tons of great Tezuka, etc.

8) 2008 was a banner year for books about comics and about comics-making.  Here’re just a few: coffee table art books on both Kirby and Ditko, a spectacular biography of Bill Mauldin, The Ten Cent Plague, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, Lynda Barry’s What It Is, and my own personal favorite: Most Outrageous.

9) Big book publishers have decided that “graphic novel memoir” is the current cash cow. – I guess it’s a natural thing for folks to see what’s been successful in the past and then emulate that, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of prose publishers with fledgling graphic novel divisions have decided–likely, based on the success of books like Fun Home and Persepolis–that their initial forays into the world of comics should be memoir.  In some cases, though, it’s pretty ridiculous: one major book publisher, for example, submitted their entire 2008 output and every single book was memoir–every one.

All that said, now that it’s over, I’m really looking forward to digging into my stack of new books from 2009 that I’ve had to ignore until now…

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