Tuesday, December 22, 2009

HAPPY HOLIDAYS and Uncomfortable Pin-Ups

Hey Everyone - Hope you have a relaxing and joyous holiday with your beloved friends, family, and animals. I'll be back next week with a coda to the Klaus Class posts.

For now, here's my holiday card and some oddly lascivious takes on some pop culture figures.

JOKER (re-imagined)


BUFFY the Vampire Slayer

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Evenings with Klaus _ PART 3

And, here you have all three pages of my homework assignment for Klaus Janson at his MoCCA "Storytelling for Comic Artists" class.

The drawings are a little rough, especially as I got rushed for time towards the end, but the goal, implementing his lessons for clear storytelling, should be evidenced in these pages.

How did I do?

Well, I picked up on a lot of fundamentals that seem inherent to concise storytelling and the class confirmed what I had already discovered on my own: comic art is equal parts drawing and problem solving.

Fortunately, Klaus has been teaching and plying his trade for some time and was able to break it down in handy lists and essential truths. I'll share some more observations next week, but, for now, some thoughts on his comments regarding my homework.

In general, he gave positive feedback to my spotting of blacks, cropping, and camera placement but pointed out where certain panels felt "flat" (ie. Page 1, Panel 2). In terms of storytelling, he rightully questioned the right to left direction of P2, PNL1 and pointed to the need to show the door in Panel 1 to set-up Panel 2.

He felt that the Pumpkinheads themselves should have been scarier, more shocking in appearance. I'm not satisfied with my rendering of them but pictured them to be more pitiful than scary to undercut the horror. Nonetheless, they needed to be freakier with a more apparent mutation.

Finally, I needed to have set up the fall of the kid on P2, PNL 6. It's unclear what he trips over and violates one of those comic truisms - any new information (ie. the object he trips over) needs to be set up one to two panels before you use it. I tried to give him an off-balance posture in the previous panel but could have actually shown his foot getting snagged to clearer effect.

For me, I would re-board the last page. I definitely wanted to start this page with the kid waking but don't feel as if I properly balanced my shots. To do it again, I would start tighter on the kid's face and more clearly pull out with each panel, much wider on the two-shot with him and the girl to lead to the cut to the exterior. I would then NOT have the last panel bleed out and instead treat it as a smaller inset panel to give the suggestion of isolation and hopelessness.

One touch I added was to have vines already start to creep up the SUV to suggest a passage of time and a slightly supernatural force at work. It's something I'd confirm with the writer first but it was my way of having the art bring an additional layer to the story that wasn't overtly called for in the script.

Thanks to Klaus and Danny Fingeroth, comic writer and editor-emeritus and director of education at MoCCA, for setting this up and sharing their knowledge.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Evenings with Klaus _ PART 2

Last week I introduced you to some lessons and the assignment set forth by Klaus Janson in his MOCCA comic class. This week, I'll share my first page of the homework with a few quick observations about my process.

I'm a nut for any instance in which several people, in this case comic artists, produce their unique personal responses to the same set problem. There's inherently so much to be learned in the comparison of approach and technique and greater insight into the subjectivity of experience in general.

As a reminder, here's the description we were given. We had to take this 18 point story and translate it into a 3 page wordless comic.

Some students intentionally set the story in the 50s, some had a multi-gendered cast, some had a definitively lighter or darker touch when it came to "horror." The overall effect was as many different stories as there are students, and all as jumping off points for further discussion that I'll get into next week.

My friend and co-worker Rick Ritter happened to sign up for the same class. He's a storyboard artist by trade and he specifically challenged himself to break the static mold of a board page and tell this story utilizing varied panel sizes for greater impact. But, the mark of his boarding background can especially be seen in the way he logically transitions through the sequential details of a moment, particularly the kid tripping and falling. You can see his homework here.

Now, here's my first page (still need to scan the other two) and some of my thoughts on it. Please keep in mind that I was pressed for time, and, as a homework assignment, it's a little rough around the edges.

- Given the horror theme and the fact that we were going to be looking at these from across the room, I specifically decided to work with bold blacks and whites. This was also an opportunity to practice that particular skill, the alternating of black and white forms to illustrate space and volume, one that I had wrestled with in a previous assignment.

- I wanted these kids to be recognizable but universal, so, I decided to cast them as Abercrombie-wearing teens in clothing as familiar today as it was 40 years ago. The bold patterns and hood would also allow for identifying them individually AND provide opportunity for cool graphic treatment. I put them in a conversion SUV to say TODAY but also suggest a first car or parent's car.

- One challenge everyone struggled with was how to casually let the reader know that it was Halloween. I decided to dress them in fall wear but also have a mask dangling from one kid's neck as if he had worn it on their previous jaunt. Also, a skull hanging from the mirror as a knick-knack.

- To communicate the Pumpkinhead legend, I tried to create as bold a gesture as possible with the the main guy mouthing the word "HUGE!" In general, I find photo reference indispensable at this stage in my ability for communicating these subtleties.

- I kept to wide panels for the first three to give a sense of travelling with this crew. They move from left to right and from IN the car, to OUT in the open, to IN the porch, enveloping them and the reader. I also tried to convey graphic lighting coming from the headlights out of frame in Panel 3.

- The kick is the first dramatic moment and I hoped to set it up by showing the aggressive posture of the rugby teen in Panel 3 and deliver with a canted angle kick in Panel 4. I felt the angle gave extra thrust to his kick while planting his stable leg.

- In order to give character to the house, I decided to make it Gothic and ornamental like a classic haunted house. I think I could have done a better job in setting up the staircase in Panel 5, along with a wider view of the interior.

- Finally, Panel 6 was actually the first I drew because it had the most nuanced detail and because I don't want the first panel of a page to be the one to inadvertently look wonky if I'm not warmed up yet. I do think this last panel was pretty successful in setting up the space and forward motion/ impending doom. I decided that the transition to the second floor was the perfect place for a page turn and to leave the reader wanting more.

With that, more to come...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Evenings with Klaus _ PART 1

Last night I attended the first of three weekly comic art classes taught by veteran cartoonist Klaus Janson at The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in NYC. It could not have come at a better time. I found the lecture and discussion to compliment much of what I have been discovering while working on pages. For the next few posts I'll share my experience of the class and the assignments. It's been rewarding to get back into the mindset of a student of the arts, and if you are interested and have the means, I do suggest you check out Klaus' courses.

There was a discussion already in progress when I entered the classroom, actually the main exhibition hall of the museum currently adorned with a chronology of original Archie Comics pages. One of the students had already offered up examples of his work and Klaus was being pointed but polite about asking him about the choices he made in the art of his story. In general, as a first class, Klaus presented us with Big Tent ideas to frame a way of understanding what we do as cartoonists. This student provided Klaus with what seemed to be his Golden Rule: As a cartoonist you must assume responsibility for every decision that is made on the page.

These decisions, big and small, all have meaning and must have intention behind them. The end goal then is to tell an entertaining story and to so with clarity. A cartoonist has to both be able to draw and also communicate visually. He or she must convey accurate emotion, setting, and identity and do so on every page without leaning on the dialogue as a crutch. It was reassuring how many times and variations of "This is not easy!" were uttered by Klaus. As such, our first assignment will be to illustrate a wordless story.

I'll offer up the details of the assignment at the end of this post and my take on the homework in the post next week. For now, I'll share a first draft of a page from my mini-series to illustrate some points.

This was intended to be an opening page (Censored Bar courtesy of PhotoBucket image-hosting. What, no butts!?! This is Art, man.). There are a few things that the writers and I found confusing about it that caused us to re-work it and to re-think our opening sequence.

While we had wanted to create a sense of violence and mystery, there was some concern as to how well the page actually read. Is the character moving through a believable space? Is his action coherent?

It works in my mind's eye but some feedback caused us to wonder if I had unintentionally broken the 180 degree rule and marred the flow of action and if it was clear where the guy gets the rock from in panel 4.

In its re-working (can't share that art here right now) I believe we resolved the issue by including a wider establishing shot, another panel placing the character in the locale, and another setting up the rock debris so the reader can know it's there before its used in the final panel.

With my homework assignment, the goal is to communicate the actions of 3 characters based on 18 panel descriptions across 3 pages. Although I was never an Archie fan, those pieces hanging around us smiled effortlessly back at us with their lean, clean, choices and economic delineations of volume and space.

Take a look over these details and then check in next week for the results to see how I interpreted them.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

COMICS FOR ALL AGES 02 _ More Gordo!

It's been busy times with new pages and the Thanksgiving holiday.

I'll be returning next week with more comic art and new insights, especially after attending my first class with Klaus Janson (!) at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in NYC.

For now, more Gordo and friends!

Friday, November 20, 2009


Sorry for the late post. Been busy on new comic pages.

In honor of the upcoming birth of my new niece and her soon-to-be big brother Peter, I thought I would post some art from a cartoon pitch of mine that I would like to revisit as a comic strip for kids.

Here are the intro comic panels from the pitch book and an illustration of Gordo along with his mother Nellie (as in, "Whoa Nellie!").

A bonus illustration of Sesame Street's Snuffleupagus and his baby sister Alice inspired by Peter.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

COMMISSIONS _ The Art of the Pin-Up

One of the draws of a comic convention, and now through online commissions, is to get your favorite artists to illustrate your favorite characters. While the other half of Big Apple Comic Con was devoted to acquiring autographs from some shooting stars of TV, screen, and wrestling ring, the real celebrities were the paper heroes of Marvel and DC. Situated at the perfect center of Artists' Alley, I still found it difficult to get passers-by at the con to notice my FREE Frozen Dark mini-comic. But, there were plenty of unestablished artists who increased their traffic with the promise of familiar four-color friends.

And, you can often ask for anything you want! Where else can you play out your Alien Legion Vs. Alien fantasies?

Some of my favorite comics artists, Alex Maleev and Paolo Rivera come to mind, have productive side gigs as commissioned illustrators. Others, like Chris Samnee and Michael Cho, were brought to my attention specifically because of the skill they brought to the design demands of the single page.

Chris often eschews line and renders full volume in shadow and negative space. His subjects mythically emerge and recede from the page.

Michael has a printer's eye for flats and his heroes feel like they are preserved in Pop Art amber.

In both cases familiar characters are reborn through the personalized treatment of the artist. I don't feel like I yet have the clout or consistency to garner commissions but have plied my trade through the "Artists/ Non-Artists" threads on the Bendis Board.

By following the arbitrary request of the board member Fygar I am compelled to render a character that I might not otherwise think to sketch AND post it for an audience of peers.

Here are a few recent examples of my negotiation between the mystique of a character with a considered approach to the illustration style:

I've owed my buddy Roy, co-founder of the Cartoonists' Association of Rutgers, this sketch for about ten years. He kindly reminded me when I ran into him at a con and I was inspired to try a color version of Chris Samnee's approach while marrying some Kirby and Zeck like chocolate and peanut butter.

SUPER MARIO So there's the Brooklyn plumber that kills turtles and enchanted mushrooms by jumping on their heads. Sounds violent.

Not my favorite hero and I don't even read him regularly. But, I wanted to communicate that he's young, thin, immensely powerful, and possesses the best costume of the last 10 years.

FREDDY KRUEGER I had no interest in drawing Freddy. A realistic interpretation with all of the burn scars and posturing seemed like a chore. As I doodled, I discovered the character's wily side. Lithe and coy, perched on a flaming child's skull, I actually feel like I nailed the narrative of the character in this one.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

FROZEN DARK _ The Full Mini-Comic

I was never in a band. I never had the after-school garage practices, sweaty basement shows, or packed-van touring. No local fans or feuds among friends. But now, Swifty is right when he says that this Blacklight Comics collaboration is the closest approximation we have to doing the rock band thing. If that's the case, Frozen Dark is our first single.

Here's a LINK to the full comic as a Google Doc. We printed a number of copies for the Big Apple Comic Con and there is still the intention to include it in a friend's horror anthology. This doc is also a temporary home as we set up our main site.

As our first complete story, there's a lot being worked out on the page.

I soon discovered that a cast of young, bald, boys in similar dress was confusing in terms of identifying the players. Although the three main orphans are aged apart, I added a white shawl to our protagonist, Azuba, to better distinguish him with an iconic accent.

In terms of illustration influences, I was clearly looking at Asian brushwork, particularly the Vietnamese artist Huy Toan, to achieve a line that was as loose and descriptive as possible. I believe I succeeded in exactly one panel (which, from what I hear from other artists and on comic podcasts, is a pretty good ratio).

I had always pictured designing the page on biased grids to heighten tension, drive focus, and mirror the driving snow. However, I do think the layout can overtake the story at times and I certainly ran into a number of issues when resolving the design across adjacent pages.

We also started with the initial premise of having to make a midnight bathroom trip in a foreboding landscape. Then, the goal was to build to something more without losing the initial sense of dread. It's especially difficult to surprise a comic reader when all of the panels are already visible on the page. There's the added risk of being too opaque or corny or obvious when handling material that should be horrific.

Please take a look and come back to let us know how it read for you.

If you're interested, I've also discussed the story and toning of Frozen Dark in previous posts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

LOGO DESIGN 01 _ Feeding Ground Part 1

The full package of a comic book is a big marriage between art, story, and design. As much as it is said that making a comic is akin to making a movie, it is also a regular design journal utilizing the trades of poster art composition, font treatment, and logo design. The letterer is typically the invisible hand among already unsung heroes and I don't have enough experience to weigh in on their craft. But, as a freelance designer, I've done my share of logo designs and I've had to bring those skills to branding my own book. Among the professionals plying this trade for comics, it was letterer Todd Klein and his blog Todd's Blog (natch) that proved to be an invaluable resource as I researched the field.

A prodigious talent in his own right, Todd is able to field his work in concert with an encyclopedic survey of its comic ancestors, particularly though his Logo Studies link. His site is not only a catalog of the changing styles and tastes of decades of type design but also of the influence of technology in their creation from the hand drawn through the digital age. Todd is often able to tease the genesis of a design from the working files and feedback from their creators as well as glean their fine art and design influences. It's exciting stuff for anyone who appreciates the craft and energy that define much of comic art.

The logos I've designed in the past usually consisted of a primary image with no text, limited text, or an even integration of the two. Here are some designs I executed for the online shop The Angry Robot, our own Blacklight Comics logo, and the logo for Nickelodeon's "Random! Cartoons."

But, for the title design of a comic book, the "story" needs to be told through the text itself and in a way that compliments the cover art. The logo also normally needs to perform this function from its allocated perch on the top third of the cover because of the way that most comics are displayed in stores; racked so that overlapping books only allow the tops of the rear books to remain visible. Ideally the title would be an integrated part of the composition but the masthead approach dominates for ease of use.

Our upcoming mini-series, Feeding Ground, is a present-day horror story situated in the desert. It's visceral and desperate and infuses some nasty creatures into a politically charged environment. The challenge in creating this design has been the need to communicate real world horror without resorting to spooky or gory font treatments. On top of that, there are a whole lot of letters in the title. Over the next few thumbnails, you'll be able to see some of the relationships I've tried to reinforce among the different letterforms.

In my first attempt, I went for communicating a regional identity with the use of a western font. And, well, it seems to Western-y.

Pulling a 180, I abandoned the use of a decorative font for the more industrial forms you would see on a road sign, communicating travel. Here, I enjoy the interplay between the rounded and edged corners, clean silhouette, and cold uniform spacing. I also roughed it up a bit digitally to distress the outline and give it a pixelated tooth. Here it is in three size variations.

Building off of the existing flows of curve and point, I printed this design and then extended some of the ends by hand. This one is starting to feel more self-contained to me, more like a logo than a series of letters. The exaggerated points also add a more sinister intent. The slightest additions changed the overall feel and I found that it helped to look at the reduced thumbnail in my browser rather than get caught up in a 400% magnification of one serif.

Check out the subtle change in the anatomy of the F in these two versions, one in which the top arm ends to allow the mind to fill the gap and the second in which I added a point to close off the form and mirror the G. Which do you prefer?

For the last series in this installment, I wanted to craft a title by hand in order to suggest the self-sustaining, hardscrabble, world our characters inhabit. In general, I prefer it whenever I can craft something outside of the computer as a starting point for any digital manipulation. (I drew the letters on actual ping pong balls for the Random! logo) The subtle fluctuations tend to give any design more life.

As an artmaking packrat, I still have stencils from a little set I received as a kid in the 80s. With a liberal application of fingerpaint, both red paint on a white surface and also white paint on a dark surface, I globbed it up to varying degrees. Here you have a few final thumbnails from clean to jacked to a combination of the two.

In this case, I discovered that there is an inherent mirroring of the Gs and Ds that I can choose to exploit as well as the prominence of the O and double EEs. Unfortunately, the font itself has a rounded Bauhaus feel that makes the overall design seem "retro" to me.

Some of these are still viable candidates but I've already moved on to a few more approaches to make sure that I've done due diligence to our book. Let me know what's working for you and I'll be updating the process in future installments.