Rock of (Bygone) Ages: Soundgarden ’91 and ’94

I was rooting around today in the storage cabinets in my studio, looking for a good place to stash (or stuff) the bundled mess of receipts and invoices that pass for my 2008 tax records, and I discovered a long-forgotten envelope of old concert tickets.  I’d forgotten I still had these, and they’re an odd thing for me to still have since I’m by nature neither a pack rat nor overly-sentimental; I thought, though, that they might be worth digging though for a few blog posts before they fade away (literally) or I decide to ditch them.

The bulk of them are largely uninteresting–and frankly, the best live shows I’ve seen have mostly been at venues small enough that one needn’t have purchased an actual advance ticket, rather than just arriving and paying at the door.  I don’t know how many posts I’ll do on these, but perhaps they’ll be of some interest to the few folks from my halcyon days as a young rock-and-rollist who occasionally check out this blog.  First up:

Soundgarden ’91 and ’94


These two stubs struck me as a good place to start since they represent one of the best rock shows I’ve seen, and one of the worst–and both by the same band.

The first stub chronologically is the red one at the bottom.  It’s from a show that Soundgarden headlined at the 13 13 club in Charlotte.  Nirvana is clearly the ’90s band as far as most folks are concerned, but I was never really into them.  I’ve come around to them more now, over a decade later, but at the time they seemed to me like “The Melvins Light.”  A “grunge” band I was really into, though, was Soundgarden.  I’d first been introduced to them when I’d listened to their record Louder than Love that had arrived as a promo at the college radio station I worked at in 1989.  By the time of their sophomore major label release, Badmotorfinger, I was a rabid fan.  When they came through Charlotte, NC in November of 1991 the first single off the record, “Jesus Christ Pose” had hit MTV and stirred some low-key interest, but it’d be a bit longer before the band hit real pop fame with the single “Outshined.”  Lucky for those of us at the show, the band was still at a point in their career where they were being booked in small clubs like the 13 13, which had a capacity, I’d guess, of maybe 800 people (assuming the fire marshal didn’t show up).

The Soundgarden show at the 13 13 was phenomenal.   The band was on.  The crowd was on.  I recall someone from the band (most likely, singer Chris Cornell) commenting on the lively crowd–and commenting in a way that seemed to me (at least at the time) as genuine, rather than in a “hello, Cleveland” way.  The opening band was pretty much unknown at the time: Blind Mellon.  Yeah, the “bee girl” band from the ’90s.  I remember commenting to the friends that I’d come with about how much the opening band pretty much sucked and sounded like a lame, slightly hippie-er version of Guns-N-Roses.  Clearly some record producer talented at crafting hit singles had gotten a hold of the band between then and whenever that “bee girl” song came out (what the Hell was the name of that song, anyway?) since they sounded pretty much nothing like they did on that single at this show.

Cut, though, to a few years later.   Now Soundgarden’s had a huge hit with “Outshined” off of Badmotorfinger, but more importantly they’ve released their breakthrough album, Superunknown, which would spawn a string of big singles for the band: Black Hole Sun, Spoonman, Fell on Black Days, and more.  When they’d returned to Charlotte, they’d outgrown the 13 13 and instead were playing at the Charlotte Colosseum.  Also, they’d apparently become huge douche-bags–particularly their bassist, Ben Shepard who was apparently angry that the crowd in this huge, ugly, fluorescent light-lit, sports colosseum weren’t sufficiently “into” the show.  When the band starts acting like a bunch of dicks, a viscous cycle ensues in which the crowd gets even more irritated and responds even less to what’s going on on-stage.  Thank god the Reverend Horton Heat was opening up, or the whole evening would have been a lost cause!


First Look: Adventures in Cartooning by Sturm, Arnold and Frederick-Frost (First Second)

Mixed in with my usual mail from last week (bills, incessant missives from local political crackpot Virginia Foxx, etc.)  was the new children’s cartooning how-to book, Adventures in Cartooning.  The book’s published by First Second and, as the cover’s “The Center for Cartoon Studies Presents” notes, was put together by three CCS folks: James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost.  The book doesn’t mention who did what specifically, but I’d wager, based on the art in his great debut book of a few years back, La Primavera, that Alexis Frederick-Frost handled a lot of the art, and certainly the inking.

Adventures owes a great debt–one that it explicitly acknowledges itself–to children’s art instructor/writer Ed Emberly.   In books like Emberly’s Make a World, he shows kids how to construct an entire world of easy-to-draw people, places and things using simple basic shapes.  The premise behind Adventures is similar: the book uses a set of simply-drawn objects, builds a comics story using only those objects, and while doing so tries to show kids the basic “toolkit” of comics-making.  Here’s the page from the book where the base objects are presented:


The premise of the story is fairly straightforward: a knight sets off to slay a dragon, but with the knight on his quest is a “magic cartooning elf,” who along the way explains about things like panels, how to show motion and movement, and how words and pictures interact.  Rather that present this sort of information in a straight-ahead “how-to” fashion, though, the book cleverly creates story elements that allow these discussions to crop up as part of the narrative.   Here, for example, the Knight (now sans elf) encounters a bunch of other knights that have been turned into vegetables, but in order to understand them, their word balloons have to be untangled and placed in the order in which they need to be read:


It’s easy to imagine this overdone and the story just becoming a bunch of cobbled-together excuses for some narration about how comics work.  Fortunately, though, this isn’t the case, and the story is mainly just a fun adventure–with the teaching elements occurring sporadically and integrated pretty seamlessly.  The flip side of this, however, is that there’re a lot of good cartooning “tricks” in use in the story that aren’t explicitly pointed out to the reader–like here, where the panels are set up on the page in a rising tier to mimic the upward motion of the horse and rider:


I actually really like that the writers have chosen not to point out each and every formal comics device throughout the book.  If there’s a common flaw to a lot of the children’s literature I’ve read, (and my reading of this stuff has increased by about a million percent of late, since my daughter has now become really interested in books–and just just to chew on) it’s underestimating how much kids are capable of picking up on without being beaten over the head with it.

My own daughter is still far too young to serve as a real “test subject” for this book, but overall Adventures in Cartooning looks fantastic and I look forward to giving it a real trial run in a few years.

Published by First Second | 112 pages | Available in April (I think)


Craft: A Review of the New Koh-i-nor Rapidosketch Pen

The reason I buy all of my art supplies online isn’t just because it’s cheaper: I’m a sucker for picking up pretty much any new drawing tool I happen upon in a “bricks and mortar” store.  I usually manage to avoid the temptation, but last week I found myself in the local Michael’s dropping off some things to be framed (50% off framing sale going on now, y’all!) and as a wandered through the drafting isle, I saw this–the new Koh-i-nor Rapidosketch pen:


You’re probably familiar with the Rapidograph pen from the same company.  They’re pretty much the industry standard technical pen.  I have a set, which aside from a few replaced points, is about ten years old and I use them mainly for panel borders and balloon outlines.  They are, though, not particularly great for working in a sketchbook.  The problems here are mainly two things: First, there’s inconsistent ink flow at high speeds.  When working a little more slowly, as on an original comics page, they’re perfectly fine, but for quick casual sketches they tend to “skip” pretty frequently.  Second, they can tend to really dig into the paper you’re drawing on and this can be a real problem, especially of you’re working on flimsy paper such as those Moleskine tablets that folks really seem to love.  (Yeah, sure, Robert Crumb seems to be able to sketch with them fine, but, Hell, that’s ’cause he’s Robert Crumb.  Normal people can’t sketch well with Rapidographs… trust me.)

If you’ve seen any of my random sketchbook pages I occasionally post, you know I tend to sketch directly in pen.  My normal tool of choice is the Rotring Art pen, which, in addition to having neither of the above faults, also features a “split” point which causes it to preform like a really tight crowquil, giving you just a bit of line variation.  This Rapidosketch thing, though, seemed like it was worth a try.  Based on the name, I assumed it was designed specifically for sketching–and the box even boasted the Viagra-like claim of “consistent performance,” an allusion, I assumed, to the Rapidograph’s well-known inconsistent ink flow I mentioned above.  All signs pointed to a cool new pen.

Things began to sour a bit, though, when I got home and started to investigate the pen further.

First off, it comes with no instructions.  If you’ve used Rapidographs before, this is not a big deal, but if you’re new to this stuff I can imagine it would be a bit mystifying to try to figure out–particularly since if you store them incorrectly they tend to clog up.  On a similar note, although it came in the same packaging as a Rapidograph, the little circle indentation where the circular “wrench” (for removing the pen point) would normally be  is empty.  This is a recipe for disaster, as you really need to remove the point before re-attaching a freshly-filled ink reservoir or else you’re essentially pressuring your ink through the point mechanism and you’ll be dealing with a leaky pen right off the bat.


As I took the pen apart in preparation to fill it, I noticed that it’s innards looked suspiciously like the innards of a regular old Rapidograph, as you can see below:


While there’s some new sheathing around the mechanism, it’s pretty similar–and my technical pens are pretty old so I may be comparing old apples with new oranges here.  Out of curiosity, I removed the points, and as you can see, they’re pretty darned similar:


But, hey, for all I know, the interiors of those points could be radically different and the Rapidosketch could really be some new design intended for sketching!  I loaded the thing up with ink and gave it a roll.

First off, there’s no discernible difference in the line quality between this pen and a regular Rapidograph pen of the same size:


To get a true feel for the pen, I cranked out a page of sketches–my usual subjects: hands and drapery.


If there’s a difference between this pen and a regular Rapidograph technical pen, it’s far too subtle for me to discern.  I experienced fewer problems with intermittent ink flow than with the standard technical pen, but I’d chalk this up to my technical pen’s being nearly a decade old, not to some substantive design difference between the two pens.  Similarly, the Rapidosketch seemed just as likely to tear into the page, and–just like a Rapidograph–encountered problems working on paper with any tooth to it.

The verdict: As far as I can tell, the supposedly-new Rapidosketch pen is just a regular old Rapidograph that’s been “rebranded” with a different-colored barrel and cap–and is being marketed somewhat deceptively with the new name “Rapidosketch.”  If you’ve already got a technical pen and enjoy sketching with it, you’ll gain nothing from buying a Rapidosketch.  And if you’re looking for a technical pen that’s more suited to sketching than a regular Rapidograph, this ain’t it.


Five For Friday: High Bidder


Each week, over at ComicsReporter.com there’s a feature called “Five For Friday” in which readers are asked to submit a list of five answers to some comics-related question.  This week’s challenge:

Name Five Items Not Primarily Weapons That Only Exist In Comics You’d Bid For Were They To Magically Appear On eBay.

You can check out all the responses at ComicsReporter.  Here are my answers:

  • Buddy Bradley’s Kaz-designed truck (AKA: “The Polio-Mobile”)
  • The Sea Hag’s magical flute
  • The “Frost Axe” LP from “Black Metal”
  • The Rocketeer’s jet pack
  • A Dagwood sandwich actually assembled by Dagwood


Parallel Universes in Comics*

(* No, not the dopey “DC multiverse” kind.)

So, here’s another bookmark I found in my recent organizing: Evidence of a Parallel Universe.  This is from waaaay back, but the reason I bookmarked it wasn’t necessarily for its scientific import: like most comics folk, my brain has pretty much one track–and it’s comics.

When I saw this article, and a flurry of others around the same time on this topic, what I thought of was not the stunning scientific and philosophic implications of possible evidence in favor of the multiverse theory of reality, but rather, I began ruminating on what sorts of parallel universes there might theoretically be in which the history of comics is almost–but not quite–the same as it is in our world.  Here’re some parallel “comics universes” I’d like to see:

World of Less-Cutesy Manga

Nowadays Manga is ubiquitous, but it wasn’t always so.  American and Japanese comics developed in parallel, but in near-total isolation.  Much of early Manga, though–and particularly that of Osamu Tezuka, the “father of Manga”–was heavily influenced by the work of Walt Disney.   The Disney studio was of course the dominant animation house when this crossover was occuring post-WWII… but it didn’t have to be.

In the early days of American animation, Disney was in close competition with another animation house, Fleischer Studios, for dominance of the market.    The latter procuced the Popeye shorts, the early Superman cartoons and many others including Betty Boop.  The Fleischer Studios  had a very different aesthetic than Disney; their character designs were rarely “cutesy” and some of their cartoons were downright bizarre.  For example, check out this 1933 version of Snow White starring Betty boop and featuring everything from a rotoscoped Cab Calloway to a team of dancing skeletons.

So, here’s the first parallel universe I’d like to explore: a world where the Fleisher Studios–not Disney–was the dominant American animation house and was the big influence on Manga.  I wonder if there was more of this in the mix in the ’30s:


… and less of this:


… whether we might have a whole lot less of this these days:


World of Less-Whiny Indy Comics

Todays non-superhero comics are (thankfully) bursting at the seams with stories of all stripes, but it arrived at this state via a path originiating with the underground cartoonists of the ’60s and then moving from there through an unfortunate developmental stage in the ’90s that was populated with more than its share of sissified self-confessional autobio comics.

Yeah, sure there are deniers, but the intertwining between indy comics and autobio seems pretty obvious to me and its modern roots seem to pretty obviously be in the ’90s.  Just as a test, try naming the most successful GNs you can think of off the top of your head.  I’d go with maybe Blankets, Jimmy Corrigan, Cancer Vixen, Persepolis, Maus and Fun Home.  The only one of these that isn’t autobio/memoir is Jimmy Corrigan.  And, yeah, I guess I’ll wimp out and not “name names,” but I’ll let Heidi MacDonald and Katherine Farmar do it for me, since I’m a cartoonist myself and pissing off my peers is kind of a bad idea.

How did we get here, though?  My one word answer is this: Crumb.  Of all the ’60s underground guys, Robert (now just “R.” apparently) Crumb is the one who’s had the most lasting influence on the non-superhero comics that followed him.  He’s the one who established the template of the whiny, nerdy, no luck with the gals, lost in nostalgia, 78rpm record-listening, self-confessional cartoonist.  But what if he hadn’t been the one with the lasting influence?

Among Crumb’s contemporaries were folks who were 180 degrees from him both in their personalities and in the comics they produced–people like S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams and Spain Rodriguez.   Spain’s comics, for example, drew on the artist’s experiences on the road as a member of the biker gang, the Road Vultures.  His main character, Trashman, didn’t spend his time moping about women or reminising about ragtime music; he was too busy blastin’ on fools!

So, here’s the second of the comics parallel universes I’d like to see: a world where the lineage of the modern indy comics scene was rooted in a ’60s underground dominated by bad-ass psychedelic shit-kickers, not self-confessional autobio.


World of Skinnier, Sweatier Superheroes

This one’s pretty obvious, but…

Open pretty much any superhero comic book today and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter at least one character created by Jack Kirby–and, more important, the basic “visual language” of superhero comics you’ll be looking at has its origins in Kirby’s work for Marvel in the ’60s.   Almost the entire stable of Marvel’s key characters originate in the fertile brain of Jack “King” Kirby: Iron Man, The X-Men, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four.  Only two of Marvel’s top tier characters, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, were penned by a different artist: Steve Ditko.

Ditko was a man of strong–albeit unusual–convictions, and something (no one really agrees on exactly what) ruffled his feathers at Marvel and he left, just 38 issues into the Spider-Man series.  Kirby, though, continued at Marvel and pretty much everything that came after in the superhero genre would wind up owing a heavy debt of influence to Kirby’s aesthetic.

What, though, if things had been reversed?  What if Kirby left early and Ditko remained?  That’s the third parallel comics universe I’d like to explore: a world where the work of Steve Ditko, not Jack Kirby, establishes the basic “template” for modern superhero genre comics.

I think you’d see three main differences between this world an ours.

First, most obviously, an aesthetic difference.  Kirby’s characters look huge, even when they’re printed in a 2 x 3 inch panel.  They’re big, they’ve got mass, they’re impossibly burly.

They’re also drawn in an incredibly dynamic way, seeming to almost leap off the page:

You can’t blame Kirby for it any more than blame Led Zeppelin for Whitesnake, but clearly all paths to this kind of depiction of the male form go through Kirby:

Ditko’s characters, on the other hand, tend to look a little underfed by today’s standards.

Second, I think we’d see a de-emphasis on physicallity and a bit more emphasis on the psychological.  As much as I love Kirby’s characters from a design standpoint, I find it difficult to really ascribe to them much of an “inner life,” no matter the quantity of Stan Lee-penned thought balloons.  On the other hand, Ditko–possibly because of his background in horror and SF comics–seems intensely interested in his characters psychological states.  I find it relatively easy to see a character like Peter Parker, as drawn by Ditko, as someone with actual inner mental states.  (I suppose it helps that a lot of Ditko’s characters are kind of bug-eyed crazy and sweaty looking as well!)

Third–and finally–I’d bet comics in this “universe” would make a lot more use of the diagramatic/iconographic properties of the art form.  As much as I love a lot of Kirby stuff, I find Ditko’s work more interesting, partially because of his tendency to draw non-literally and mix realistic drawing with symbology.  Probably the best-known example is the famous Spider-Man “half-masked face.”

My favorite example of this, though, is the (in)famous scene from Witzend #3 in which Mr. A allows a criminal to fall to his doom.   Note how in the first panel Mr. A is knocking “Angel” off the roof onto a flag pole below… yet, in all of the following panels, Ditko manages to place the pole in our view, often directly between the two protagonists.  Literally, this is obviously not where the flag pole is spacially in the scene depicted, but in a daigramatic way that’s where the needs to be, with the criminal’s life visually hanging in the balance.



Sketchbook 02/08

Yeah, I know: more hands.  What can I say?  I’m a creature of habit.  That’s Barack Obama’s hand in the upper left, taking the oath of office.



The ‘Nancy’ Weird Comic Strip Generator

So I was cleaning out my browser bookmarks today and among the things I encountered was this old post over at Blog Flume about a Wendy’s kids meal toy that allows you to generate a Peanuts comic strip by inserting pre-printed panels into a little “frame.”

I bookmarked it not just because it’s cool (which it is), but also because it reminded me of something I made many years ago when I was teaching at the North Carolina Governor’s School and had access to lots of  “real” art supplies: a mix and match Nancy strip generator.

The genesis of this item was a weird piece of cardboard I’d found with an ocean image printed on it.  I just started messing around with it and among the things hanging around the studio that caught my eye were a bunch of photocopied Nancy strips.  (I can’t remember why now, but having a bunch of Nancy strips around requires no justification in my opinion.)  Anyway, what emerged was this item:


Each of the “panels” is made of some cut-out images from a comic strip glued to a clear acetate sheet which can be pulled up and out of the frame by the black “handles” at the top (the one on the left has fallen off) and rearanged.  It’d have been nice to have more “panels” to use other than just these three, but hey, what can I tell you–I was working on this on the taxpayers’ dime!

Here’s another possible combo. You get the idea…



Thor Pinup

Here’s yet another pinup I’ve done to send along with my art dealer up to the New York Comic Con in a few weeks.  This piece is based on a panel from Thor #337, the first Walter Simonson issue.  Simonson’s run on Thor was one of my absolute favorite series when I was a young comics-reading kid in the ’80s–and, unlike a lot of the stuff I liked back then, it actually ages pretty well.  It’s still a great read.



Pinup: Alpha Flight

The New York Comic Con is fast approaching.  Alas, I’ll not be going in person; however the good folks from A Cosmic Odyssey, who sell my original art work, will be attending.  I sell at least a page or two of original art from my graphic novels at each “indie” convention, like SPX, but at big mainstream cons like Heroes Con in Charlotte, for example, I seem to have better luck with superhero stuff.  Consequently, I try to drum up three or four superhero pinups–albeit, drawn in my rubber arm/button eye style–to have on hand for events like that.  Here’s one I just wrapped up–a pinup of the classic ’80s John Byrne Alpha Flight:



Obama’s Spider-Man Reference?

While the current Obama/Spider-Man buzz making the rounds is Marvel’s (supposedly pretty ham-handed) “guest appearance” by Obama in a current Spider-Man issue, here’s something a bit more subtle that recently caught my eye.  Last Sunday’s Parade Magazine newspaper insert contained a contained a letter/essay from Obama to his children entitled “What I Want for You — and Every Child in America.” In that essay was the following passage:

“…with the great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility.”

Maybe it’s just the fanboy in me, but the first thing I thought of was, of course, this:


Or, as it later often appeared both in the comics and in the films:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Older posts «

» Newer posts