Saturday, January 26, 2008

Coming Soon...


The Sequential Art folks at SCAD-Atlanta have started a studio session each Friday where everyone comes in, has a good time, gets some work done, and participates in a sketch challenge. We'll be posting these each week on a blog called the TEMPLE OF CARTOON MOJO. It'll be a good mix of folk - SCAD and Atlanta regulars like me, Shawn Crystal, Nolan Woodard, Hunter Clark, Allen Spetnagel, Cara McGee, Doug Dabbs, Olu Ajagbe, Pat Bollin, Jackie Lewis, Justin Wagner, and a bunch of other regulars, plus guests and other such types. I'll post a link as soon as the site is up and going. If people have ideas for good sketch challenges, let me know!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Battle scene!

I was really pleased with this battle scene opener, so I thought I'd post it. You might notice how in the second panel the background changes a little in the inks. That's how I roll!



Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Busy Weekend, what, with MLKjr Day and all

What a weekend! While I was EXTREMELY ill and unable to do much of anything on Friday (bacterial throat infection, had to go to the urgent care clinic!) and was more or less incapacitated, I nonetheless had a three-day stretch of heretofore unexpected productivity! Well, not entirely unprecedented, but better than my average!

I was able to tightly thumbnail, pencil, ink, etc seven full pages of Crogan's Vengeance. Seven pages! I'm very pleased with how they've turned out, both artistically AND narratively. As I'm sure happens with most early books, there's a huge discrepancy between the quality of the first pages compared to that of the later pages - with luck this'll be more noticeable to me than others.

Here are a few random panels to tide y'all over. I also want to preemptively defend my use of the word "y'all," because A. I'm from Kentucky and B. the English language has no pronoun for second-person plural, and it should. Just like "ain't" is grammatically awesome 'cause it fills the conjunction void that "am not" creates. Anyway, panels!

I'm also working on an illustration for a Captain Morgan's/St. Patrick's Day shirt... Isn't done yet, but here's the start:

I'm also a HUGE Arthurian legend/lit buff. I had the good fortune to be in England while studying medieval lit under Murray State's best humanities professor, Warren Edminster, and that only strengthened my interest - I had a chance to visit Glastonbury, Rosslyn cathedral (this was, of course, before the DaVinci Code was published, 'cause now I wouldn't deign to step near the place... sad, huh?), etc, but I haven't read much on it lately.

My first SCAD event - a scholarship dinner - was marked by sitting with Dr. Teresa Griffis, and it happened to come up that she had done her academic work on Arthurian Legend. I've subsequently hoped that she'd do a lecture or something of that sort, and she is. I'm working on the poster/flyer for it. This was my thumbnail:

And here's the in-progress poster, done yesterday and today (there's still a lot of hand-typography to do):

If you're in Atlanta, and have even a passing interest in King Arthur, you should make your way out. The poster... I'm not sure how I feel about it. I may have gotten too detailed with the armor, and my friend Allen thinks it has a sort of Prince Valiant feel to it, which concerns me 'cause I'm no fan of the Prince Valiant aesthetic. Ah, I'll likely get used to it.

Speaking of Allen, here's a picture I sketched:

Allan is a grad student at SCAD-Atlanta, and his cartooning prowess is growing exponentially. He'll be at Fluke this year, so everyone who is going make sure to pick up his stuff. He'll have a website soon, and when he does, I'll put it in these links to the right of this post.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

George MacDonald Fraser

Two days ago, I finished Quartered Safe Out Here, the wartime autobiography of my favorite author, George MacDonald Fraser. I got it for my birthday, and started reading it over Christmas. I wanted to read it for a couple of reasons; first and foremost, because I love reading anything the man writes, but I also had an agenda - I wanted to finish it before getting in touch with Mr. Fraser, or trying to. I asked Oni Press Editor James Lucas Jones to try and get his agent's contact info, because Fraser would hands-down be my first choice to blurb Crogan's, if he were inclined to do so. The man embodies everything I find fascinating about historical scholarship, has a great understanding of cinematic storytelling, and my thought was that if he liked it then I would have successfully accomplished what I'd set out to do. Plus I just have always wanted to have a conversation with him - I'm sure that you have a short-list of folks with whom you'd love to share a letter or a meal. Fraser topped mine, hands down.

Well, yesterday - the day after finishing the autobiography - I picked up a news magazine that Liz and I get and found his obituary.

So, I'll never have a chance to meet with or talk to him, to pass on work, etc, and that's okay; I'm more upset that there won't be any more installments to his brilliant Flashman Papers series.

Fraser was (indirectly, of course), one of the foremost influences in the direction that my life has taken, and artistically is certainly in the top two. His books - historical adventures and historical comedies, mostly - got me genuinely passionate about history and research. Seeing that the little things that help define a period are in themselves major plot points as well as realism enhancers was something that had never registered until I saw it pop up in his work time and time again. His Flashman book series also was a huge inspiration when it came to coming up with the Crogan series - while mine spans multiple generations, he created a character that was able to span one of the most interesting and action-packed centuries in history, and one whose exploits (like those of the Crogan family) could jump around chronologically at the whim of the writer. I'm sure the technique has likely been used before, and I'm sure it'll be used again, but in my case (subconsciously, at least) I'm sure that his use of it played an important factor.

He also wrote my favorite nonfiction book, The Hollywood History of the World. In it, he discusses a huge number of period films and addresses how they measure up to the "real" history... actually, let me just relay a passage from his introduction, which sums up his take on the book as a whole:

"There is a popular belief that where history is concerned, Hollywood always gets it wrong - and sometimes it does. What is overlooked is the astonishing amount of history that Hollywood has got right, and the immense unacknowledged debt which we owe to the commercial cinema as an illustrator of the story of mankind. This although films have sometimes blundered and distorted and falsified, have botched great themes and belittled great men and women, have trivialized and caricatured and cheapened, have piled anachronism on solecism on downright lie - still, at their best, they have given a picture of the ages more vivid and memorable than anything in Tacitus or Gibbon or Macaulay, and to an infinitely wider audience. Nor have they necessarily been less scrupulous. At least they have shown history, more faithfully than they are usually given credit for, as it was never seen before. For better or worse, nothing has been more influential in shaping our visions of the past than the commercial cinema."

Fraser points out the factual inconsistencies, but also brings up a good point of whether or not those inconsistencies matter. In some cases they do, but in others a ripping good film might make one overlook whether or not people were using longbows in the tenth century, and so what if Chinese Gordon never met the Mahdi in person? The Mahdi's grandson himself, upon reading the screenplay, commented that "they should have!"
It's great book, and a must for anyone who has a joint interest in history and good movies; I have, through these pages, discovered a number of absolutely wonderful films that, for some reason or another, are long out of print.

In honor of his passing, I want to suggest a few titles to those with the inclination to read them. The first, of course, is the Hollywood History of the World. The second is Mr. American, which falls somewhere between a Western, a Jane Austen comedy of manners, and a Horation Alger success climb novel. It's the story of an old gun who makes some money and decides to move to England and settle down in polite society, though there may still be folks from his past that won't make it so easy. I've never been able to pick a favorite novel - The Once and Future King is a perennial option, as is Scaramouche, but this one definitely finds itself in the running.

Another is the Flashman Papers, starting with the first book, Flashman. High adventure and loads of learn-as-you-go history, but be prepared to find yourself cringing at the exploits of the main character. He is a thief, a heartless bully, a racist, a womanizer, a coward, a traitor, a lyer, a guy who would throw his own mother in front of a bullet if it meant sparing himself discomfort... and yet he always comes off looking like a hero, and you really can't help but like him. A lot. DON'T read them in Chronological order - read them in the order that they were published.

Fraser was in his eighties, and lived what seems to have been a fine life, and I'm incredibly grateful for the wonderful body of work he left behind. I'll leave off with a quote, culled from the autobiogaphy, and I hope that you all will take it to heart when reading or writing historical whatsits:

"You cannot, must not, judge the past by the present; you must try to see it in its own terms and values, if you are to have any inkling of it. You may not like what you see, but do not on that account fall into the error of trying to adjust it to suit your own vision of what it ought to have been."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How a page gets made!

Okay. Since I screwed up last time, I wanted to make sure that I did things right this time around, documenting a page in the many steps that it takes from conception to completion. I left out the writing, of course - I have a rough idea as to the plot, what needs to happen, and when; I work and rework the dialogue aloud until it finally sounds right to me, and then I start thumbnailing. This particular interchange is actually take 2; a month ago I made a page that, upon retrospection, would work much better as TWO pages, and I'm subsequently going back and doing these pages. The pacing on the old page felt rushed, the Captain Cane character gets really mad really fast and breaks something and then suddenly seems very reserved... it was just off. Hopefully, the NEW pages will do a better job of communicating his frustration with his current strategic impotence.

Knowing what my scene entails, with the dialogue worked out to about 95% certainty, I start thumbnailing.

I do this in my sketchbook, which I paperback-bind myself out at 8.5 x 11 with a bristolboard cover. I used to use xerox laser paper for the interior, but Staples, the very last place that was carrying it that I could find, has stopped doing so. Hammermill color copy paper is a reasonable substitute, but not nearly as good; it's the next best thing, though. Anyway, I lay out the page pretty close, setting up the shots.

Still in the sketchbook, I tighten my thumbnails up a bit and start concerning myself with staging dteails - where exactly on the ship they are, for example. It may not show in this page, but it is important to me. To aid with this, because my mind jumps all over and I forget such things, is a little model that I built for this purpose in the early stages of the book. I basically look at it as a rough blueprint, and sometimes hold it up to see how the rigging looks from a certain angle, etc. It's become a very helpful tool, though it also is a crutch -- trying to stage a scene while in Portland I screwed up the logistics pretty badly, and had to start from scratch when I got home.

Next I do my pencils. I have a template (a black rectangle the dimensions of my "live area" when printing) that I print out, and then I lay out my panels with a ruler and a Blue Col-Erase pencil. I ALWAYS use blue and as opposed to non-photo blue. Blue is better.
I next go in and do my lettering. I eyeball it, and always do it first. The lettering and word balloon is as much a part of the composition to me as the focal point, and it's important to have it in from the getgo. I do my lettering in Pilot Hi-Tec C pens, usually a .03. Sometimes I'll use a .04, but not often. After the balloons are done I lay in rough shapes with the blue pencil and then do some slightly tighter "pencils" with the Hi-Tec C. Tighter for me, anyway. I talked to Brian Hurtt the other day and he apologized for having loose pencils (which I thought was unnecessary, because his pencils are tight and beautiful)- I can't imagine trying to give my pencils to someone else to ink. They're blobs, and half the time don't look like what I expect them to.

Next, I scan the pencils in. I wear a coat inside our apartment because Liz and I are very frugal and we don't turn on the heat (or AC) unless we absolutely have to. take that, energy companies!

In photoshop I've made a print page, which automatically changes what's pasted into it from black to a 15% cyan. I blow it up to 10 x 15 (or pretty close)...

...and print it out on 11x17 Hammermill color copy paper. I would use bristol board, except that (1) it's much more expensive, (2) I had a different printer until a couple of weeks ago that could only handle thick paper/bristol about one-twentieth of the time, and (3) I mess up a lot and have to paste panels on top of other panels, and with Bristol that would be harder/unseemly. Plus I like the way my brush glides on this laser coating!

The first thing I do on the actual page is to draw my lines. I eyeball them; I don't use a ruler, and use a Faber-Castell PITT brush pen (black) to draw them. This gives 'em that down-home folksy charm!

Next I do my lettering. I use the same tool, a PITT brush pen, to do this, and do it as quickly and naturally as possible without the ink breaking up. My handwriting is terrible, but if I do it super fast with this pen it passes for decent. When I do bigger letters, I have to outline them and fill them in -- I left one open here so that you can see how that works. Then I throw the balloon borders around it - for this I vary between the PITT brush pen and the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, a hard-plastic Japanese import that has synthetic fibers and uses refillable cartridges. I've had some luck filling brush pens with my own ink, but not this one; I like to work fast - stupidly fast, I sometimes fear - and putting other ink in this one slows down the ink flow, giving a dry brushing effect when I rush over the page. So I use the cartridges - they're not waterproof, so I have to be careful about dragging my hand over ink that's been layed down, but it doesn't mess up much on this paper. On Bristol board, strangely enough, this ink smears all over the place!

I use this same pen to do my inks, because it's the fastest I've found. Dipping a brush takes too long for me, and no other brush pen gives me the speed and control that this one does. Usually I go through each panel and do the linework, leaving the black areas as open spaces until I finish with the panel. Here I left 'em all open! This is, perhaps surprisingly, the fastest part of a page... days of work to get to this, which took about ten minutes. Bear in mind that while I may seem to work fast when you work my preparation time in I'm no faster than anybody else.
The little book next to the drawing is a sketchbook I made with a lot of the character designs in it. I reference it a lot to try and keep my environmental (background) characters looking consistent.

Next I fill in my black areas! For the REALLY big spaces I use a black Permopaque marker; for smaller areas I use the PITT brush pen again.

I finish, and look for things that could be strengthened. The balloon stem in the first panel could be placed better, so I use Maxon white comic ink and a Loew-Cornell brush to change it. I go through and make tiny corrections here and there throughout the page.

Hey, now that the stem's moved, my composition has changed! To recreate the original balance, I need to add an element; in this case an environmental character whose physical features were modeled on Atlanta cartoonist Justin Wagner, a friend and classmate of mine.

When I'm finished, I scan it in three passes and assemble it in the computer.

Voila! Next I stick the file in the Oni FTP site, because I'd only screw up trying to size it to print. It's in their hands now!

Monday, January 14, 2008

This was supposed to be a "process" thread... but I'm a dope.

Well, the jumper inks are done (there were only twenty or so pages), so now I can get back to Crogan's. Whoo! I was going to do a step-by-step with this page, but I forgot to document the middle steps. After writing and thumbnailing, I do my pre-pencils in blue...

...and tighten them up with a Pilot Hi-Tec C pen (usually 0.3). Then I knock out my sections of black with a Faber-Castell Pitt Brush pen.

I do these small and relatively loose - I want to allow myself spontaneity in the inking stage.

Okay, here's where I forget to document the next bunch of steps, but here's the page finished:

Hopefully sometime soon I'll do this right.

Wrapping up, here are some watercolor sketches I did last night.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Post-Holiday Catch-Up Blog

Man! I've gotten SO bad about updating this blog. It's been a busy but relatively unproductive couple of weeks. The little bit of time I've spent working on actually drawing has been used to ink more of Brian Hurtt's JUMPER pages.

I've been doing LOADS of research for the Foreign Legion book (at the expense of working on the Pirate one) lately. I've found lots of good image reference, have been building a little fort to use for staging the scenes, (the same way I built a ship for the same reasons), etc. The bad side of the staging in the pirate book is that it's impossible for me to maintain any sort of consistency WITHOUT referencing the model. I tried to pencil a couple of pages in Portland, only to realize upon my return that I had the crew massed at the wrong side of the ship. So while traveling I've been ignoring the book. I have about another fifteen-twenty pages of heavy ship work, a battle twixt three of them, and other such issues to wade through... when that's done, though, the majority of the remainder of the story takes place on land, which will make the staging go SO much faster. I just have to get to it. Luckily I don't have another nautical tale pressing for another couple of years.

Just before Christmas I did a commission for a friend to give her husband. This husband is a big Iron Man fan, so I made this, printed it in benday dots, stapled it on old paper, etc - she floated it in a frame. The final product turned out pretty good, I thought. Always a fan of incorporating portraits into preexisting properties.

The recipient's name is REAGAN Haneline. See what I did there? Heh.

Oh, and Liz and I got a new car! New to us, anyway. We've been driving her 93 Chevy Lumina since forever (she's had it since she got her license) but it was limping along to the point that it was no longer reliable/dangerous. So we found this 97 Ford Taurus sedan in great shape. We're REALLY happy with it. It's roomy!

Oh! Big news from the work side - while in Portland, I mentioned an old idea that I'd had to James and Randy at Oni Press, and it turned into a longer discussion of the project. It's something that I wouldn't have the time to do alone, but I thought of someone tht I'd love to work on with it - funnily enough, they suggested the same person. Good ol' Chad Thomas - Chad Thomas. Chad is a GREAT cartoonist whom I respect a lot, and I told him about the project and he got excited, too. Anyway, we met up over the holidays and spent long and fruitful (though intellectually frustrating) hours working out story points, etc. Chad's got a really good sense of theme and narrative impact, and led us in all kinds of great directions in regards to where the books could and should go. He also had to sit through my grumpy side -- Although I like to consider myself an affable person, generally, I tend to get grumbly and unpleasant when I'm trying to work out story points and they don't simply fall into place. So I'm grateful for his patience.

He also knocked out some truly amazing character sketches. I expect that if you don't see some stuff on his blog soon, you may see it on mine. I'm excited about it - it's a globe-trotting kid's adventure project.