Aug
04

Three Penciled Pages from ‘Ameila’

They say you don’t miss your water ’till your well runs dry, and in the case of my scanner I’d have to agree.  The last two weeks during which I’ve been scanner-less have really made me realize how much I use a scanner–not just for scanning final inked pages, but for the little things… like posting stuff to my blog!

So, to test out my fancy new large format scanner (I bought a Microtek Scanmaker 9600XL.  Scanning area: 12×17.  Look on my Scanner, ye Mighty, and despair!) I thought I’d scan a few pages from one of the current projects I’m working on–and scan each page in one fell swoop for once!

These three (non-sequential) pages are from a graphic novel called Ameila Earhart: This Broad Ocean, forthcoming from Hyperion.  It’s part of the same series as Satchel Paige: Striking out Jim Crow, Houdini the Handcuff King and the recent John Porcellino Thoreau biography.  Amelia is written by mystery novelist Sarah Stewart Taylor; with breakdowns by Jason Lutes of Berlin fame; and with me handling penciling, inking and color.  Perhaps of interest to fans of cartooning process: I’ve posted Jason’s thumbnails for each of these pages as well.

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Jul
20

Google Thinks Fanboys Need “ManBras”

That crazy Google–there’s no telling what it’s thinking!  So, there I was having an innocent conversation via Gmail with a friend about the new Watchmen trailer, and what do I see listed in the contextual ads on the side of the window along with obvious stuff like ads for webcomics, other fanboy-ish movies, comic book T-shirts, etc.?  An ad for a MAN BRA!!  Just ’cause you like comic book stuff, you’re by definition a big fat guy?!

manbra

Now you see here, Eric E. Schmidt, Google CEO: Yeah, sure, I could lose a few pounds around the midsection, but I’m hardly in man bra country!  Or am I?…

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Jul
20

Heroes ’08 Minicomics Panel

Heroes 08 Minicomics Panel

The good folks over at the Dollar Bin podcast have posted audio of the Heroes Con ’08 minicomics panel, featuring Rob Ullman, Alec Longstreth, Joe Lambert and Liz Bailie–and moderated by me.  The recording gets cut off toward the end, but the majority of the panel is there.  While not the madcap hilarity of the Dustin-hosted panels of the past, there’s some good info there for folks who are interested in minis.

An aside: I’m sure the three people who look at this site with any regularity are probably wondering why I haven’t posted much of anything in a while.   The reason is two-fold:  First, I’ve been working mostly this last week or so on a one-page strip for a music magazine and, though I’ve been finished with the strip for a while, I can’t really post it until the magazine’s been out for a while.  Second, my ancient Umax Astra 2400s scanner (that’s so old it has only a SCSI interface) finally gave up the ghost about ten days ago and, although I’ve been bidding on new (to me) large format scanners on ebay, I’ve yet to purchase one.  Rest assured, sketchbook efluvia will return soon…

Jul
05

DickBlick.com: Where Are The Cartoonist’s Supplies?

By most counts, Dick Blick is about the most popular online art supply store around.  With their combination of rock-bottom prices, good selection, great customer service, and free shipping for orders $200.00 or more (a depressingly easy-to-meet threshold when dealing with art supplies) Dick Blick is hard to beat.

If you look through their printed catalog or through their category menu on the site, you’ll note that while they have store areas devoted to media from oil painting to “scrapbooking,” (now a verb apparently!) there’s no area set up specifically for us cartoonists.  Fortunately, cartooning is relatively low-maintenance when it comes to supplies, and most of the basic stuff can be found in the general drawing or painting sections: bristol board, erasers, watercolor brushes, India ink, etc.

Cartooning does, though, have a number of popular tools that Dick Blick really should carry, but doesn’t–forcing folks like myself to have to order these items one at a time from other vendors… and given the extra shipping entailed to do this, I actually wind up buying even less stuff from Dick Blick.  So, here’s my plea to Dick Blick: You carry a great selection of materials for professionals who work in pretty much any medium other than cartooning.  Why not do the same for cartoonists?  Finding a product like this when entering a search for “cartooning” is like finding a listing for a plastic dime-store ukulele on a serious music supply store:

Here are a few items that any serious art supply store should really be carrying in order for us cartoonists to shell out some of our vast, vast wealth at said establishment:

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen

You can’t swing a dead cat at a comics event with an “artists alley” without hitting one of these things.  They’re incredibly popular with cartoonists because they operate almost like a real watercolor brush that one would normally ink with, but don’t require a bottle of ink, since they’re self-feeding and use replaceable ink cartridges.  They also yield a great dry-brush line when brushed quickly across the page.  To see what one of these things can really do, check out some of Craig Thompson’s work.

Wanna try one?  You’ll have to order one from WetPaintArt because Dick Blick doesn’t carry them.  At one point I contacted their ordering department and said basically, “Everybody and their brother is buying these things from your competition; Why not make it easy on those of us who are already Dick Blick customers and stock this thing?”  I got a reply directing me to some disposable brush pen things that they carry, and when I pointed out that those are in fact different than the item I was suggesting, they just stopped replying.

Their loss… I, and everyone else, just buy them elsewhere.

Ames Lettering Guide

OK, it’s not like you need to buy a ton of these things over and over, but given that even the lamest Michael’s-type arts and crafts store carries these things, why not stock them–particularly since Dick Blick carries The DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics, which is going to tell you to buy one of these things right off the bat.  In the meantime, get yours at ArtStuff.net.

G-Pen Nibs

Whether you’re into Manga or not, the recent availability of professional cartooning supplies from Japan (as a result of the popularity of Manga in the US) has been a fantastic blessing.  American inking nibs, lacking any real competition until recently, have become the cartooning equivalent of the mid-80s Ford Mustang: they’re cheap, perform poorly, and break readily.  But, if you’ve ever tried a G-pen nib (or any of the other great Japanese dip-pen nibs now widely available domestically) you’ll likely never go back to that fussy, fragile, cantankerous Hunts 102. But, you’ll have to order yours from WetPaintArt or Deleter; Dick Blick’s got a whole lot of nothing in this department.

Sanford Col-Erase Non-Photo Blue Pencils

These guys are about as standard an item as the lettering guide above–and similarly unavailable via Dick Blick.  Yeah, I know since pretty much everything’s done with Photoshop today that using blue for under-drawings is fairly arbitrary.  One could use red or green, or pretty much any other color distinct enough from black to be eliminated via the Hue/Saturation control, but for whatever reason, NP-blue is still the preferred color for under-drawings on bristol.Blick’s got regular NP-blue pencils; they’ve got Col-Erase pencils in various other colors; but no NP-blue Col-Erase pencils. Get yours from Utrecht or DiscountOfficeItems.

Jul
01

Doc Ock Triumphant! (Commissioned Art)

Here’s a commissioned piece I just wrapped up for a collector I met at Heroes Con.  He’s got a pretty impressive collection of comics art, much of it with a common theme: a villain in front of a “trophy wall” of some sort displaying the heads of his vanquished foes.  In this case, it’s Doctor Octopus in his lab, done of course in my “spaghetti arm” style:

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Jun
28

Sketchbook 6/28

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Jun
27

Heroes Feldstein Panel Audio Now Online

 Where did it come from?  Who Knows… but audio from the Feldstein panel moderated by Craig Fischer and me from last weekend’s Heroes Con is now online.  You can get the file in various formats here on the Internet Archive.

Jun
26

Thoughts on Heroes Con ’08

In previous years, I’ve done a day-by-day roundup of Heroes Con, usually typed semi-deliriously from my hotel room in the wee hours of the morning.  This year, though, with so much comics press at the show (Heidi MacDonald from PW’s The Beat, Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading, Matt Brady from Newsarama, Craig Fischer from ThoughtBalloonists, Tom Spurgeon from ComicsReporter, etc.) it hardly seemed necessary.

So, this year, rather than a blow-by-blow “Friday I did this, then I did that”-kinda thing, I thought I’d address a few broad general topics, particularly some that there seems to be a lot of post-show chatter about:

Indie Sales

If there’s one single topic folks in the circles I run in seem to be discussing, it’s this, the somewhat lethargic sales among indie folks.  The Indie Island portion of the show is one of the things that makes Heroes unique among big cons, and for this “show within a show” idea to take off in the long-term, it’s got to be worth people’s while financially to come to the show.

A lot of the talk about indie sales have been pretty anecdotal, so I guess I’ll add to that by giving a roundup of what I sold this year vs. last year at Heroes and last year at SPX.  Note, though, that this is really an “apples and oranges” comparison, since at each of these shows I had different things for sale, each of which may or may not have been available at previous conventions, and which may or may not have been available for a while through retail outlets.

This year, the only recent thing I had for sale was the Midnight Sun GN, which by June had been out for six months and had been available for purchase during that period at comics shops, including the Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find retail store, and at big chain stores like Barnes and Noble.  Given that, I went into the show expecting modest sales of the book.  I also had copies of my older book Farewell, Georgia as well as my rapidly-diminishing supply of minicomics.

Heroes 08:

SLG books  ~ $400.00

Minis  ~  $50.00

Original art & commissions  ~ $325.00

$775.00

Heroes 07:

SLG floppies   ~ $45.00

SLG books ~ $70.00

Minis ~ $60.00

$115.00

SPX 2007:

SLG books ~  $200.00

SLG floppies ~ $50.00

Minis ~ $30.00

Original art ~ $75.00

$355.00

So, numbers-wise, Heroes was actually pretty good for me this year, despite things seeming a bit slow on the floor.   (Although, a comparison with Heroes ’06 probably would have been better since that was the last show with a big Indie Island push courtesy of Dustin… but, alas, I can’t find my sales info for that year.)

A few thoughts

  • I was among the indie folks who did well sales-wise at the show, and I don’t think it’s just coincidence that the other folks doing well were people like Rob Ullman, Adhouse and Top Shelf, who–like me–have been coming to Heroes for years and years and have built up a small crowd of people who come by every year.
  • The economy is bad all-around and travel is really, really expensive.  Plenty of people exhibiting at the show reported many attendees mentioning that they just didn’t have a lot of cash to throw around this year on books, indie or otherwise.
  • I got the vibe that some of the artier vendors were accustomed to venues like MoCCA, where they and their books are known quantities and can pretty much sell themselves.  That’s not the case at someplace like Heroes, and I wondered if doing a better job displaying books might have been helpful, particularly if there were some way to show off the art inside.
  • Exploit the fact that you’re different from the mainstream folks. Before the show I did a couple of small-ish originals of Wolverine and The Inhumans drawn in my weird “spaghetti arm” style.  Both were sold by Saturday, and I got a commission out of it (that I need to get cracking on!). Next year I’m doing more, for sure.
  • After the slow initial Friday of the show, I noticed that some of the indie vendors would just abandon their tables for long periods.  If someone had been there, would they have sold a $100 Gary Panter book to some guy who came to see Herb Trimpe? Probably not… but it couldn’t hurt.
  • Smile!  It’s probably a bit of a regional bias, but I definitely saw some residents of Indie Island who really gave off a mopey, unapproachable vibe.  While this is absolutely, 100% preferable to the other end of the spectrum, the loathsome “hard sell”/carnival barker routine,  one of the things Heroes is known for is how friendly and personable ‘most everyone is.  If you look like you’re in the midst of an existential crisis, you’re not really inviting people to come check out your work.
  • Lots of people already had books they’d bought elsewhere, and just brought them to the show to be signed.  I’ll bet at least a dozen people brought copies of Midnight Sun to me to be signed that they’d purchased, I guess, at the Heroes store or a book store.  This is certainly not anything to complain about!  It does, though, make me wonder if the indie con as a place to get books you can’t get elsewhere isn’t maybe less of a draw these days, what with many book stores stocking lots of GNs, and even many mainstream comics shops stocking non-mainstream GNs.

All that said, what Dustin’s trying to do with Indie Island is a really difficult thing and it’s going to take some doing to be successful in the long-term.  As Dustin has pointed out, a majority of indie comics folk probably started out as superhero/mainstream comics readers, but expanding one’s taste like that doesn’t happen overnight–or over a weekend; it takes repeated exposures… but it does happen.  There was, for example, a guy who showed up at the minicomics panel who’d never heard of minis before, but was really blown away by the whole concept and, after buying a bunch of minis on the floor, came to the panel to find out where he could find more.

I really hope some of the folks who are new to Indie Island but didn’t have good sales will stick it out and come next year.  While I heard some mumblings about slow sales, one thing I sure didn’t hear was about anyone not having a great time at the show, myself included!

Panels

Craig’s been over our Kurtzman/Feldstein panel pretty thoroughly over at ThoughtBalloonists.com, so I won’t go over it again–but if audio turns up of the panel, I’ll certainly post a link.

The panel there seemed to be the most talk on the floor about was the “Covering Comics” panel about the state of comics journalism.  I didn’t attend the panel itself, being chained to my table most of the weekend, but listened to it afterwards here.  The one panelist likely least familiar to comics-folk was a guy who does comics reviews for Charlotte’s weekly Creative Loafing paper, and his comments highlighted a stark contrast between the standards and practices of traditional print journalism and comic journalism, particularly online comics journalism.  Similarly, I was pretty blown away by the bizarre power relationship that apparently exists between sites like Newsarama and the big comics publishers like Marvel and DC.

This convention really got me thinking about panels in general and what a squandered resource they often are.  Don’t get me wrong; I’ve been to plenty of enjoyable and informative panels at Heroes as well as elsewhere, but programming at conventions often seems like, if not an afterthought, than at least just a way to take a resource you’ve already got (guests) and get “double duty” out of them by sticking a few of them with something in common in a room together with a moderator to talk about stuff.

While sometimes fruitful, I really think there’s a lot more you could do with panels at conventions.  A few random thoughts:

  • I think that people would be open to the idea of learning about comics via some other mode than a bunch of people in a discussion.  I’ve been to a few ICAF conferences, and I wonder if similar presentations, but minus the jargon and intended for general comics audiences might work at a place like Heroes.  Certainly one can look through the pages of something like Comic Art magazine, or Comics Comics and see that there are plenty of interesting topics that can be discussed in a clear and to-the-point fashion.  Why not in person?
  • Craig and I had tons of PowerPoint images of the stuff we were talking about in our panel, but I honestly think we may have been the only panel at the show to do this.  I’m totally flabbergasted by the idea that you could try to have a discussion about a visual art form like comics without actually showing any comics.
  • Original art – There’s so much original art on the floor of a show like SPX or Heroes, and people love to see original art…. so, why not show some of it?  Obviously this presents a some hurdles as far as displaying things goes, but certainly something could be worked out, I’d think.
  • Workshops – I think there were a few SCAD workshops this year, but I wasn’t able to attend any of them (again, chained to the table).  I wonder, though, whether these were hands-on drawin’ stuff workshops?  I’d love to see more of that kind of stuff going on.  Lots of people who attend shows are folks who draw comics, and I know they’d love to pick up some tricks from artists they’re fans of–I know I sure do.
  • Related to the point above, it’d be great to have a panel room, or just some place on the floor at Heroes for kids to draw stuff.   They had a really cool room at this year’s MaCon in Macon, GA, set  up with drafting tables, pencils, pens, paper, etc. where kids could go draw comics.   For a kid-friendly show like Heroes, I think this’d be a great addition.

So, those are a few post-show thoughts… Once I’ve sorted through and read some of the stuff I got at the show, I’ll try to do a post on that as well.

Jun
18

Heroes Khaaaaaaaan!

We’re at T-minus three days and counting from the opening of Heroes Con, the biggest and best comics convention in the Southeast… and one of the very best anywhere in the country for us “indie” comics folk.  So, here’s my official pre-con post/roundup:

WHAT I’M SELLING

This’ll be the first major convention I’ll be at with my most recent book from SLG, Midnight Sun.  The good folks at the Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find store in Charlotte have been stocking the book since it came out in December, so I reckon most folks in Charlotte who want it have already purchased it, but for any folks what don’t have it yet, I’ll have plenty of copies there for sale, signing, etc.  Look for the handsome “mini-banner” mentioned in last post!

I’ll also have my usual spinner rack of mini-comics.  Alas, with the personal time constraints of being a new dad (egads, “dad” still sounds weird!) and the two GNs I’m currently working on, I’m pretty much out of the mini-comics biz for a while… so get ‘em while you can, folks–I likely won’t be edditioning more of most of these and what I’ll have at Heroes Con is the very last of what I’ve got printed!

WHERE I’LL BE

I’ll be in Indie Island, at booth AA-610.  You can see my location highlighted on the map below.  I’m easy to find.  Unlike at any other mainstream-ish con the indie folks at Heroes are in a prime spot, dead center of the convention center floor!

If you can’t find me, though, it’s likely because I’m being obscured by crowds gathered to see the far, far more notable folks near me.  To my right will be Brian Ralph Kazimir Strzepek, and on my left Dan Zettwoch and Kevin Huizenga. Yikes! I may hide my comics under a burlap sack out of shame.

heroes_floor.jpg

PANELS I’M PARTICIPATING IN

First up, on Saturday from 3:00 until 5:00-ish, is the MAD/E.C. Comics panel I’ve mentioned before.  Craig and I are really pulling out all the stops for this one, so if you’re expecting the usual “guys sitting around talking” sort of panel, you’re going to be surprised.  Original art! Handouts! Previews! Presentations!  Cake! (Well, maybe cake…)

[SAT., 3PM] – NOT THE USUAL GANG OF IDIOTS: EC COMICS PANEL
Part 1: Kurtzman for Beginners

In the first half of this look at two of EC Comics most important creators,
we present a Harvey Kurtzman retrospective that’s a veritable smorgasbord of
presentations and events, including an overview of Kurtzman’s career by
Thought Balloonist blogger Craig Fischer, and a close reading of
“3-Dimensions!” a MAD story by Kurtzman and Wally Wood, by MIDNIGHT SUN
cartoonist Ben Towle. Plus: a sneak peak at the new Kurtzman COMPLETE HUMBUG
collection, forthcoming from Fantagraphics!

[SAT., 4PM] NOT THE USUAL GANG OF IDIOTS: EC COMICS PANEL
Part 2: A Chat With Al Feldstein (and Friends)

Ben Towle and Craig Fischer host an in-depth interview with Al Feldstein, EC
artist and writer and MAD MAGAZINE editor extraordinaire! Along for the ride
is a pair of celebrity funsters-FRED THE CLOWN and FIN FANG FOUR cartoonist
Roger Langridge and CUL DE SAC comic stripper Richard Thompson-ready to
roast and grill Feldstein about The Lighter Side of Editing America’s #1
Humor Magazine!

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Then, Sunday at 1:00 pm, I’ll be moderating a panel on minicomics.  The minicomics panel is starting to become an institution in its own right at Heroes Con.  It’s a tradition, I tell’s ya!  Be there.  Here’s the skinny:

MINICOMICS: The Best Little Comics In the World | Room 219A
Join cartoonist and educator Ben Towle for a minicomics panel featuring the awesome might of Dan Zettwoch (IRONCLAD), Alec Longstreth (PHASE 7), Rob Ullman (GRAND GESTURES), Liz Baillie (MY BRAIN HURTS), and Joe Lambert (BAIT & SWITCH). Who better to ask what the deal is with these little handmade comics? Learn the answers to this and other questions in this informative panel!

WHAT AM I LOOKING FORWARD TO?

Well, first and foremost–and this is what makes Heroes the bestest con ever in my opinion–I’m looking forward to hanging out with the ever-evolving gang of folks that have been attending Heroes con for years and yucking it up on the floor, and of course at the Westin bar after-hours.  Just a few of those folks and where to find them:

Duane Ballenger | AA-510

J. Chris Campbell | AA-510

Craig Hamilton | AA-1013

Josh Latta | AA-508

Brad McGinty | AA-508

Chris Pitzer | BOOTH 623

Chris Schweizer | AA-506

Rob Ullman | AA-503

…and most likely, a few members of the usual crew that I’m forgetting.

WHAT AM I LOOKING FORWARD TO BUYING?

Heroes is one of those rare conventions at which I actually usually make money, so, yeah, I buy stuff! (Oh, who am I kidding?  I buy stuff even at conventions where I lose money…)  Here’re a few things that’ve caught my eye that I’m definitely going to seek out:

Fred the Clown # 5 1/2 – Roger Langridge, one of the absolute, 100%, best cartoonists living and working today (do you get what I’m saying to you?) is going to have a new mini of Fred the Clown stuff available.  It’s all stuff, I think, that’s been serialized online, but I’m all about the treeware.

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I’m also really hoping to get a hold of one of Roger’s famed “Muppets minis.”  I mentioned the existence of such a thing to a friend at SPX last year and he promptly went to Roger’s table and got the last copy for himself.  For this, he will die.

Superior Showcase #3 – Adhouse Books -  OK, I actually already have this.  I saw it at the local comics shop and couldn’t resist, but if I hadn’t, this’d be on my to-get list for sure. This issue is of special significance since one of the contributors is none other than Heroes Con “creative director”/grand poobah Dustin Harbin.  Dustin is a fantastic cartoonist and it’s awesome to see his work getting some exposure here.

(Note the Langridge cover.  Boo-ya!)

Smokers of the Marvel Universe – Chris Schweizer – The title says it all.  Chris’s minis are always great, and I’m sure this’ll be no exception.

Like any red-blooded heterosexual male, I’m looking forward to Rob Ullman’s Teeny Bikini #4.  Suddenly I’m in the mood for a piece of cheesecake… I don’t know why.

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Just re-read the entry above, but substitute the book mentioned for this one: Bird-Doggin’ - A Collection of Girly Drawings by Brad McGinty. I’ve never actually seen any “girly drawings” by Brad, but his comics—be they about my personal favorite, Millionaire Hobo, or the spraypaint-huffing rape-happy “Starchie”—never disappoint.

Local illustrator (and my occasional racquetball partner) Kyle Webster will have freshly-minted copies of the book he’s been hard at work illustrating: Light Children.  These first pictures of the finished book look great:

lchildren.jpg

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

That’s a rhetorical question.  The answer would be “nothing.”  Get to Heroes Con!

Jun
17

Con Season Approacheth: Kinko’s Mini Banner

OK, I don’t really know if “approacheth” is a word, but if “cometh” is a word, then maybe it is. Anyway, the big summer convention season is upon us as of this Friday with Heroes Con cranking up in Charlotte* and I’ve been trying to get organized this week. One thing I just discovered that I thought I’d do a post about, in case anyone else is looking for a cheap table-top display, is that Kinko’s does these 11 x 17 vinyl “mini banners” now for the low, low price of $15.00, including the stand.

In the past I’ve printed stuff on my printer, then assembled the pieces and glued them down on foamcore board with rubber cement to make my own displays that I then propped up with picture frame holders… but, honestly, for fifteen (tax deductible) dollars, I think this is the way to go. Get thee to Kinko’s (or whatever the heck it’s called now):

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(* Yeah, yeah, Mocca was a few weeks ago, but that’s strictly Yankee stuff…)

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