Sketchbook 1/14/09

One of the items we received for Christmas this year was a subscription to Vanity Fair magazine.  Other than knowing the name of the publication, I didn’t really know much about it before now.  Having now received and read two or three issues, I can say two things: it’s a good magazine, and it’s a weird magazine.  A typical issue might contain a lengthy political article by someone well-known, like say, Maureen Dowd; a few other “serious” essays; a photo spread of some half-naked movie star; and about a thousand fashion ads, several of which are those stinky perfume ads.  It’s hard to know quite what the magazine’s focus is, but given that I like all of the above things (other than the ads), I’ve been for the most part enjoying having an issue arrive every month.

Now to the important part, though: is the magazine any good as sketchbook fodder?  For hands, no.  Most of the hands featured in the magazine tend to be found in fashion ads and are usually stiff and posed, as opposed to the more natural hand gestures I usually doodle from in Time magazine.  Vanity Fair, though, does present ample opportunity for me to work on one of my other weak areas: drapery and folds.  Here’re a few examples from the last few days:



Ron Asheton: RIP

When I read last night that Ron “Rock Action” Asheton was dead, my first thought was to crank “Down on the Street” or “TV Eye” really, really loud… but, my second thought was that it was 10:30 at night and since both my wife and daughter were asleep with bad respitory infections, that’d be a really inconsiderate thing to do.  So, instead, I put on “Fun House” much, much more softly than I wanted to and instead drew a picture of The Stooges in my sketchbook, which I prestent for you here with a minimal bit of Photoshop coloring:


Like most folks who become interested in American rock and roll, I’ve had a “Stooges phase” and the passing of guitarist Ron Asheton is a sad occassion.  It’s a cliche to point out that a Stooges record like “Fun House” really does sound as fresh today as when it was recorded… but what’s just as relavent is what a record like that sounds like relative to, say, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkle or Chicago’s first record, both of which topped the year-end album charts in 1970, the year “Fun House” was released.

Ron Asheton was a fabulous guitarist in a seminal rock band–and he died far too young.  He’ll be missed.


Sketchbook 1/06/09



Sunday’s Rex Morgan Freakshow

Even if Rex Morgan, MD were a top-notch plastic surgeon, I doubt he’d be able to do much to fix this bizarre beast that appears in the opening panel here:


Look, I know kids can be hard to draw.  Even really, really good artists can occasionally draw some wanky-looking kids sometimes–for exmaple, Jeff Smith’s recent Shazam series had some really odd-looking kids.  But this Rex Morgan panel is really beyond the pale.  Aren’t there editors that are supposed to catch this kind of stuff?

Part of what’s going on here is that the girl’s head is way too big.  Yeah, kids have bigger heads relative to their body height, but she’s getting into MODOK territory here.  Also, children’s faces fall lower on their heads, with the eyeline below center and the face overall taking up a smaller proportion of the front of the head.  In this case, though, exactly the opposite is going on: the eyeline is actually above center, higher than it should be even for a full-grown adult.

In conclusion: One of us!  One of us!


Sketchbook 1/04/09



Midnight Sun in PLAYBACK:stl’s Best of List

In a bit of a surprise, my historical fiction graphic novel, Midnight Sun, has turned up in PLAYBACK:stl’s best of 2008 graphic novels list.  What makes this surprising is that the book was actually published in 2007–albeit in the last two or three days of 2007.  The list’s writer, Steve Higgins, shoehorns me in, though, since he reviewed the book at the beginning of 2008.


Cartoonists’ Christmas/Holiday Cards I’ve Received

Tom Spurgeon over at ComicsReporter.com has posted a selection of holiday cards he’s received from cartoonists and I thought maybe with my Christmas traveling wrapped up I’d do the same.  He’s already got J. Chris Campbell’s card posted, but I’ll repost here just in case.  Starting off, I’ll highlight the most impressive card I’ve received this year–from Oni’s Chris Schweizer:

First off, Chris gets serious points for sending an actual, physical card.  Most folks these days do a bulk email, which certainly has its advantages, but there’s nothing like getting an actual card in the mail (especially for us cartoonists, who tend to be pitiful shut-ins for whom the daily mail delivery is often the highlight of our day).  Upon inspection, the “card” appears to be a regular old piece of mail:


But, when you flip the thing over, you see that it’s actually a minicomic!


And, yeah, it’s a full-on six-page mini that’s all about what the Schweizers have been up to in the past year.  Here’s a page that contains two things that made me laugh out loud: the drawing of “Sassy” and the name “Uncle Hamhock.”


And here’s another actual card that came in the mail (yay!).  This one’s from SLG and features an illustration by the great Scott Saavedra:


Here’re a few that arrived via email.  Starting from the top, the first is from the Center for Cartoon Studies, drawn by Chris Wright; then, the unmistakable babe-atude of Rob Ullman, and finally J. Chris Campbell’s card/ornament:





For what it’s worth, here’s our card for this year which I’d intended to silkscreen, but wound up just doing as a color laser print since apparently Osama Bin Laden is hording all the world’s remaining Gocco supplies in his underground sugar cave in Pakistan:



My Favorites from 2008 – Now Posted at ChasingRay

The literary/review blog ChasingRay.com has begun a series of author’s and cartoonist’s “favorites of 2008” lists and my list is currently posted.  This isn’t technically a “best of” list, partially because the idea was to include your things you read in 2008, not your favorite things published in 2008–but also, as I note in the introduction to my list :

I read a fair amount of material–both prose and graphic novels–each year, much of which I either give away, lend to people or sell to a used book store when I’m done with it, so the list here isn’t necessarily a “best of” list drawn from everything I read in 2008; it’s more a list of things that were still handy on my shelves when I undertook this list… These are certainly some–but not all–of the best books I read in the past year.

I believe, though, that all of the comics mentioned are 2008 releases.


It’s On: Inking Amelia

I’ve heard back from the “powers that be” and although I’ve got a list of revisions a few pages long, it’s for the most part relatively minor stuff… so, I’ve received the AOK to begin inking.  After months and months of penciling, it feels really good to break out the old brushes and nibs.  This first page allowed me to get reacquainted with a whole bunch of tools: brushes, pens, nibs, litho crayon, even doing white rain on black with a razor blade.  I probably won’t be posting pages of this until the book’s done–if even then–but here’s page one, unscanned (obviously) and without grays:



Craft: How to Quickly Create Page/Panel Grids

I recently answered a message board post from someone wanting the convenience of those pre-ruled comic book pages that you sometimes see for sale in art supply stores, but wondering if there existed a similar product that was actually printed on decent paper.  The notoriously fibrous nature of that paper has been a complaint among comics folk for years and as a result I’ve never known any working cartoonist who actually used those pre-lined pages.

I took a quick look at the Blue Line Pro site this morning, though, and it looks like they are now offering pre-lined pages on Strathmore 300, 400 and 500 series bristol board–that paper being pretty much the “industry standard” best bristol around.  It’s pricey though: the 2-ply 500 series breaks down to about $4.00 a sheet, vs. $1.88 per sheet if you buy 23″ x 29″ sheets of the exact same paper and just cut it in half yourself.

I’d add one further strike against the pre-lined paper: if you use it, you’re forced to use that 10″ x 15″ page area that people just insist on using.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine.  I’ve never understood why people so dogmatically insist on not just that particular page size, but on that particular shape.  Both the 10″ x 15″ size and the resulting 2:3 vertical-to-horizontal page shape are just the results of historical accidents (the former because of companies trying to save money on house board, the latter owing to the size you get when sheets of standard newsprint were folded and cut to make the first comic books) and, unless you’re doing a monthly serialized book that’s got to fit in those standard comic book racks at your local Android’s Dungeon, there’s no reason–zero–to adhere to this size or shape of page area.

So, if you want to save money on paper and not be confined in how big you work and what page shape you want to use do you have to laboriously measure out your panel grid on each and every page you use?  Absolutely not.  Here’s a tried and true method for being able to quickly create your panel borders on each page as you work:


Basically, what you do is–at the beginning of your project–you set up your drawing board with guide marks for the grid patterns that you use the most:

  • You start by running two pieces of drafting tape straight down the horizontal and vertical sides of your board, as I’ve done here.
  • Then, lining it up with the tape, place a blank page onto the board and tape it down.
  • Now, decide what size and shape you want your page’s “live area” to be.  In this case (the board is set up for Ameila) I’m working at just under 11″ x 17″, which is about 180% the size the book will be printed at, and just about the maximum size page that will fit on my scanner.   I’ve measured that out and marked it on the tape, shown here as the square highlights I’ve added in Photoshop, and similarly outlined the page shape in blue.
  • Next, figure out what the grids are that you’ll be using most frequently and mark out those as well on your tape.  In my case, I’ve made marks for a standard nine panel grid (Photoshopped on here in green, with tape marks highlighted in circles) and an eight panel grid (in magenta with circular highlights).  By using the green horizontal guides and the magenta vertical guides, I can get a standard six panel grid.  Note that I’ve got two marks each, which creates the panel gutters.

Once you’ve gone to the trouble of setting that up initially, for each new page you work on, you can just slide your t-square along the vertical edge of your drawing board and create the horizontal panel borders as needed, and likewise slide your t-square along the horizontal edge of the board to create vertical panel borders–a process that takes, literally, just seconds.

(As you can see by the bulletin board in the background, I’m using this time while Amelia‘s off to the editors to do some writing on Oyster War.  Act I, peeking out on the left, is coming toghther nicely; Act III on the right… not so much.)

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