25% Off Sale at SLG


My venerable publishers, SLG, are currently having a store-wide 25% off sale on everything in their webstore.  So, if’n you’re looking to pick up any of my stuff on the cheap, now’s a good time to do so.  Just type in “bigsale” in the coupon code field on the checkout screen to get your discount.

You can find all of my stuff conveniently grouped on my creator page, from old stuff like Farewell, Georgia to my most recent book, Midnight Sun.


Sketchbook 09/19

My next solo book (not this Ameila Earhart thing!) has a sea serpent in it and I’ve been doodling a lot of sea monsters as a result.



Drawing Words & Writing Pictures – WK3 Exercise

The in-class exercise for week three is the “wrong planet” assignment here.  We’re doing the assignment collaboratively, with each student tackling one section of the story.  My section is #2, “lands on the moon…”

This assignment has been around since well before this book came out, and has been posted over at for a while.  It’s from that site that I got the assignment when I tried it out in a classroom environment the last time I taught a comics class and, while the assignment looks fairly straight ahead, it’s actually pretty tricky.  Part of the challenge is that it’s not worded very clearly: specifically, it’s not made clear whether the moon was the wrong destination… or whether he’s returned to the wrong “home planet” after visiting the moon.

I assumed the latter when I did this exercise in class, but that creates a storytelling problem in figuring out how the astronaut couldn’t realize that he’s on the wrong planet until he’s actually on the ground.  I’ve been tempted to think that maybe what’s really intended is the former interpretation–that he was meant to go somewhere other than the moon–but the assignment very specifically mentions a wrong planet… and given that the only planet in the whole scenario is the home planet, I guess that’s the “wrong” planet in question.  Very confusing….

Anyway, fortunately for me, since I’m dealing with part two of the story, I don’t really have to tackle that confusion head-on.  Here’s what I’ve got:



Drawing Words & Writing Pictures – WK 3 Homework

Homework for week three was basically just a 3-5 panel newspaper-style strip.  I wound up making a list of a dozen or so possible “situations” to build a newspaper strip around, but ultimately got lazy and just went with something I know: musicians.

I think the main thing I learned from doing this is just how important it is to the newspaper strip format for the readers to really know and be familiar with the characters and settings.  It’s really difficult to come up with a single, isolated newspaper strip that really works well.  I regularly read and enjoy strips like Get Fuzzy, Mutts, Pearls before Swine, and Cul de Sac, but doing this assignment made me realize how much of my enjoyment of those strips is based on my knowing the characters.  The way this assignment is set up in DW&WP stresses gags and funny situations, which makes a lot of sense for a one-off strip, but really most newspaper strips (or most good ones, anyway) work more because they’re character-driven.  A prime example of this is Get Fuzzy, which rarely has a “gag” per-se; its humor is driven by the interactions of the characters, and it’s really at its funniest if you’ve known and followed those characters for a while.

Anyway, here’s my strip… Not particularly inspired, but certainly complete to the thumbnail stage as per the assignment.  If I had to develop this further, I’d concentrate on correcting and making consistent the head/body ratio of the two characters, and I’d try to simplify and make clearer the elements in panels one and four (the van, trailer, venue, etc.).



Book Festival Appearance: Bookmarks 9/13



I’ll be  making the second of my two book festival appearances this year at this weekend’s Bookmarks book festival here in Winston-Salem.  The festival is on Saturday and I’ll be at the “All That & then Some” tent (V-2) at 2:30 PM where I’ll be discussing Midnight Sun, comics-making, and comics and graphic novels in generall–followed by a Q&A session and book signing.  There’ll be lots of other interesting folks attending including local, national and regional authors.  Come check it out.  More info at the link above.


Conventions: SPX Table Layout



Table assignments for SPX 2008 are now posted online. For quick reference, the above map shows the locations of me and some of my “peeps” who’ll be attending the show.  Conspicuously absent, though, are the Wide Awake Press crew as well as the fabulous Josh Latta/Brad McGinty duo.  One hopes they’ll jump onboard last minute. 

1 – H3A – Me!

2 – H15-16 – Rob Ullman 

3 – W36-37 – Adhouse Books/Chris Pitzer

4 – W34B – Adam Casey

5 – A9-10B – Paul Friedrich

6 – W36-37 – Dustin Harbin

7 – W10 – Batton Lash

8 – H3B – Chris Reilly

9 – W27-30 – Andy Runton

10 – B1-2- Joey Weiser



Sketchbook 09/08


This is a potential character I’ve been playing around with for my next creator-owned book, tenatively titled Oyster War. I’ve had it in mind that I’d do this book entirely with a dip pen, rather than with my usual tool-of-choice, a #3 brush.  I’m having a really hard time weaning myself of the brush, though, and I don’t really think this “hybrid” technique, with brush outlines and “interior” hatching, really works.  Making the transition is probably going to have to start with drawing much smaller than I’m usually accustomed to.


“5” Royales Comic in New Issue of ‘Signal to Noise’

The new issue, issue #51, of Signal to Noise magazine should be arriving on stands shortly.  If’n you’ve got a hip music store in your town that carries the magazine, please consider picking it up.  They’ve begun running comics features with the previous issue, and this current issue includes my comics take on Winston-Salem’s legendary and influential soul/R&B act, The “5” Royales.    Once issue #52 is out and this current issue is no longer for sale, I’ll post the whole strip, but here’s a panel from it:


It’s especially fun to see my work in color, since that almost never happens (at least other than work-for-hire freelance stuff).

I mention this for the sake of search engines: for some reason, one of the two credits listed in the magazine for me has a typo and appears as “Ben Towie” instead of “Ben Towle”–one of the many annoying properties of the relatively low-res computer monitors these days is the near similarty of the lower case “i” and lower case “l” at small point sizes.


Book Festivals: Cartoonists’ New Turf? – The Decatur Book Festival (part 2)

In deference to the church-going crowd (or maybe the hung-over crowd… what do I know?), the Decatur Book Festival wasn’t set to get underway on Sunday until noon, so I took advantage of the only cool time of day here in Georgia–the early morning–for a quick jog around Decatur’s beautiful old cemetery.  After that I got together for coffee with fellow cartoonist Chris Schweizer who lives in Decatur and teaches at the Atlanta campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design.  I learned some interesting stuff about his upcoming sixteen volume (!) series for Oni Press, but I’ll let him dole that info out himself whenever he sees fit.

My first stop of the day proper was the Target-sponsored children’s tent where Mutts cartoonist and childrens’ book author Patrick McDonnell was giving a presentation in support of his new book South.  He talked about his characters as he drew them for the crowd on big sheets of drawing paper and dispensed funny anecdotes about the strip along the way.  Taking a page from the Book of Liefeld, he noted that apparently no one in Muttsville mows their lawn or shovels their snow, allowing him to rarely have to draw feet.  A story that got big laughs from the crowd revolved around a woman who apparently sent a lengthy complaint letter about the character Mooch’s Herriman-esque speech patterns in which a “sh” sound is added to lots of words (see pic below), as in “yesh”  for “yes” and “shmaybe” for “maybe.” McDonnell’s written response to this woman was apparently just one word: “Shorry!”

Maybe everyone but me knows this, but McDonnell mentioned in his talk that he was involved in some way with a biography of Krazy Kat cartoonist George Herriman and the book is slated to come out in the next year or two.

And here’s something I’ve never seen at a comics event Q&A: McDonnell, whose real-life dog Earl (the inspiration for the strip’s namesake) recently died, called on a woman in the crowd with her hand up.  She asked whether he had gotten a new dog since Earl passed away and then offered up a (totally adorable) stray black puppy that she had apparently found at Six Flags and couldn’t keep.  The cartoonist, handling this unusual turn of events with amazing tact, said that he couldn’t take the dog himself because he had to fly back to New Jersey in the morning, but that he’d offer up his demonstration drawings of Mutts characters to anyone in the crowd willing to adopt the dog.  I came pretty close to taking the dog myself when my wife left briefly, but she likely would have divorced me when she returned.  Apparently she feels a cat, a dog, me, and a seven month-old baby are sufficient company.

Here he is drawing Earl and Mooch, as well as doing a “reading” from a giant copy of the wordless book South:




And here’s a picture of a car I saw parked outside the festival belonging to an obvious Mutts fan, judging by the giant “YESH” on the dashboard:


At this point it was about one in the afternoon and the heat was starting to get really oppressive–which meant it was time to beat a quick retreat to the VIP lounge for a cold beer.  On our way back downstairs we wandered into the art gallery below and were surprised to find it full of nothing but Skip Williamson artwork.  Apparently he’s doing something at the festival in conjunction with the gallery show.  Here’re a few pics of the show:




(My wife and daughter can be seen lounging about in the second pic there, and the third one just above is a print by Williamson and S. Clay Wilson.)

The talk I was at the festival to give occurred at five at the Decatur library and, although there was apparently some confusion as to who exactly was going to be on the panel, it wound up being Rich Tomasso, Rob Venditti, and me.  There was a good crowd on-hand, but there was definitely a bit of “culture confusion” going on as far as panel format went.  At a comics event, if you’re on a panel, that usually means that there’s going to be a moderator there to run the show; apparently, at a book festival you’re meant to be ready to go with some sort of talk.  Luckily, all parties concerned, including the woman from the festival who had been drafted to introduce us, were able to discuss things briefly beforehand and work something out.  The crowd was good, particularly for the last slot on on a Sunday, and their questions pretty much ran the show.

To close this fantastic weekend in Decatur, my wife, my daughter and I enjoyed a meal on the square and then listened to a great open-air concert from Patterson Hood of the Drive-by Truckers (who’s also a North Alabama vague acquaintance of my wife).

All-in-all, what do I think of the book festival format vs. the comics convention format?  It’s a mixed bag of course, I suppose–although I had a lot more fun here than I’ve had at any recent convention I can think of.  Likely, though, this is because my actual obligations for the event were pretty minimal, freeing me up to be as much an attendee as a guest of the event.

Financially, the two models are really an “apples and oranges” comparison.  At the festival, my book was for sale… but not by me.  Sure, I’ll see royalties from sales, but certainly not the way I would from selling my books by hand at, say, SPX.  On the other hand, I didn’t have to spend the whole damn time behind some table trying to cover my hotel room expenses in book sales.

And speaking of such things, there’s a very apparent difference in the way things work financially between the two models.  No one is charged admission to a book festival, and yet the organizers seem to be able to cover guests’ hotel rooms, a VIP area, gift cards to local businesses, etc.  And the key seems to be sponsors.  Maybe when the likes of Target are willing to sponsor a great outdoor free comics festival similar to the Decatur Book Festival, then truly (crash, boom, pow) comics won’t really be for kids any more.

Many thanks to Justin who was instrumental in inviting me to the festival, as well as all the great folks who organized and ran the event!


Book Festivals: Cartoonists’ New Turf? – The Decatur Book Festival (part 1)

Now that “Crash, Boom, Pow–Comics Aren’t Just for Kids Anymore,” book festivals around the country seem to be slowly but surely dipping their toes into the murky pool of comics and graphic novels.  As mentioned in a previous post, this summer I’ll be attending Winston-Salem’s Bookmarks Festival in a few weeks, as well as this weekend’s Decatur Book Festival outside Atlanta, Georgia (for which I’ll be departing here as soon as my wife returns from dropping off our poor dog in “puppy jail” for the weekend).

I’ll be taking my camera and laptop to the festival so hopefully this’ll be a multi-part post and will include a full run-down of the event, pictures and all.  But, even before the thing’s started, I’ve noticed some interesting and notable differences between this event and the standard comics convention/expo, and given that there will most certainly be more overlap between the world of comics and the realm of prose books, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts.

A while back Bart Beaty wrote a post-SPX wrap-up in which he lamented the standard U.S. convention setup and wished for something more akin to the European model of events like the Angoulême International Comics Festival.  Maybe the book festival, as it includes more cartoonists, is a move more in that direction.  From the outset this event has been quite different from the run-of-the-mill comics convention.

I’ll preface this by saying that comics conventions run the gamut as far as how organized they are; Charlotte’s Heroes Con is an example of an extremely well-run show… and there are a few small press shows that are notoriously haphazard.  That said, the pre-planning for the Decatur Book Festival seemed to be executed with a precision almost unheard of in the comics community.  Groups of guests are apparently assigned a sort of liaison, who is available to answer questions, provide information, arrange transportation to and from the airport–even book hotel rooms for guests.

Likewise, there are little perks that, while minor, really make you feel welcome.  Here’s an example from some info sent out to the authors:

Once checked in, relax in the suite, have a drink, get online, and have a bite to eat.

  • Overlook the festival from the comfort of an air-conditioned room
  • Enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres, beer, wine, and soft drinks
  • Check your email using our high-speed internet access
  • Allow the [...] marketing team to coordinate and facilitate your interviews – private offices are available

The area in which this occurs at the book festival is called the “Author Hospitality Suite.”  If you were in a band, playing a music festival, this would be referred to as the “hospitality tent.”  At a comics convention, this is called, “the thing that doesn’t exist”… which is too bad, because after a five-hour drive, a cold beer was about the best thing I could imagine.

Similarly, each author received a “grab bag” of info about Decatur, containing the such obvious information as a map, locations of local shops, locations of all the local restaurants… and even some discount coupons redeemable at local business that (I assume) are helping sponsor the show.  I’ve often wondered why comic conventions don’t do something similar to this.  I’m sure local restaurants would be interested in some form of sponsorship in exchange for being featured in such a listing.  As it is, at Heroes Con for example, all thirty thousand guests apparently eat lunch right across the street at Fuel Pizza, because no one knows there’re about three dozen other lunch joints in walking distance.

The one thing so far that did remind me of a comics event was the authors’ reception, which was held in the old Decatur courthouse this evening.  It was much like the great SPX Saturday night party… except there were a lot more people there in seersucker suits.  We had to ditch early because our daughter, Marion, was gettin’ her fuss on, but more’s to com tomorrow.

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