Monday, September 27, 2010

Sabbatical, Day 44 (The Last Day, sorta, kinda...)

So I wrapped up my sabbatical Sunday having (finally) finished inking Page 14. With ten more pages left to ink, not to mention the lettering, the cover illustration (in color!), and the actual assembly, I've still got some work cut out for me. The plan to have everything completed by the time I appear at P.I.X. in mid-October is still in place. It was suggested to me by a coworker that I hold to my deadline, no matter what, and I agreed then and now.

Still and's where the going gets a good bit rougher.

I planned my sabbatical months in advance, so I'd have time to work on the book and not kill myself. I even tried to leave extra time, in case I got behind, which was ultimately the smartest thing I could have done. I'm meticulous, I know, and I want - no, I need this to be the single best effort I've ever produced. So yes, I'm a little bit farther behind than I wanted to be. And I'm starting to feel that squeeze now.

But I'm also very pleased with the work produced thus far. And it is a lot of work.

I've always said that given the time, I could work on a professional schedule, and I pretty much did that, completing a page a day for pencils, and a page a day for inks, both on average. The only two days I took off completely came at the end, for my birthday and the day after that. Otherwise, I worked on HERO CORP. artwork every single day, and a number of those days were very long indeed. So I proved to myself that I could measure up professionally with the time needed. And I believe that once everything is assembled, I'll prove to the world that, yeah, I kick tail on a professional level.

Regardless, starting in just a few hours these will be even longer days for the next couple of weeks, as I attempt to complete inking a page a day AND putting in a full work day at the office. I can feel the stiff muscles already.

My only fear is that I don't want the quality of the inking to suffer due to my own fatigue, but there's not much wiggle room at this point, so I just have to man-up and get it done, hero-style.

Thanks to Wayne for six weeks of tolerating non-stop creativity, or mania depending on how one looks at it.

Thanks to Kristin for six weeks of providing the perfect diversions, with exquisite timing.

Thanks to Jami & Brian for taking on extra shifts so I could keep the ink beneath my fingernails. (Although I expect a cut of those overtime checks.)

Continued thanks to the Lord Almighty for giving me a degree of perseverance that even I don't understand most of the time. But I keep on believing it's with a purpose, so we'll find out where it's all headed in time.

Alright. More to come!

Today's Music: There was music...? It's all a blur at this point...!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sabbatical, Day 40 (Happy Birthday to Me!)

We interrupt this sabbatical to bring you this special bulletin:

Today is my birthday. Number 40, to be exact. So here's how we celebrate, hero style...

...sorta speaks for itself, I think!


With great power comes great responsibility.

Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.

In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight...if I'm paying attention.

To fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

Ladies with the initials “LL” will almost always try to snoop out your secret identity.

Men with the initials “LL” will almost always try to kill you.

Not all toxic waste or radiation is bad…

…But use extra shielding against Cosmic Rays.

…And if someone is reckless enough to stray into the blast zone during a Gamma Bomb test, leave them there.

If you exceed the speed of sound, you’ll cause a sonic boom.

If you exceed the speed of light, you’ll go back (or forward) in time…and if it’s a time period you already lived in, you’ll become an intangible phantom…and when you return to your own time, you’ll go back to the age you were when you left.

No matter what you do, you can’t change the past.

Establish a secret base of operations. Give it a really cool name.

You never know when you’ll have to evacuate the planet – so if you’ve got the technology, invest in Space Arks.

It takes a special person to lift the hammer.

Sidekicks can get killed too.

Correlation: No one’s dead ‘til you’ve seen the body. (And even then, poke ‘em with a stick.)

Correlation: Never expect to come back from the dead. If it’s meant to be, it’ll just eventually happen...

The smarter the criminal, the less time they spend incarcerated.

When all hell breaks loose, listen to the egghead scientists.

Things that most people think are worthless can sometimes increase in value immeasurably.

The good guys and gals don’t kill.

Be ready for the press to smear the hero’s name.

However and wherever you store your gear – utility belt, web-shooters, secret hidden pouches, etc. – keep it stocked and loaded.

Continuity is EVERYTHING.

Make fun of your enemy, even when the fight is hard. It’ll drive them crazy.

Nothing brings back an audience…
………………*wait for it*
… like a cliffhanger ending.

Things usually get cancelled just when they’re becoming interesting.

If you can’t fly, learn how to run really fast.

If you can’t be strong, be smart.

Sometimes, but not often, smashing things is the only way to solve a problem.

Even heroes need a support system.

The greatest super-power is strength of will.

In the end, you want your heroes to be happy.

One thing I do know for sure, and that is you are here for a reason.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sabbatical, Day 36 (Tireless in Pittsburgh)

Being tireless in Pittsburgh is dangerous, especially in the winter. Our roads get pretty bad if you ain't got good treads.

That was a little joke. 8^)

*yawn!* But no, seriously folks, I've been logging in a bunch of hours on this book, and I'm not done yet. I've done something or other on HERO CORP. EVERY SINGLE DAY of my sabbatical so far. I say this not to brag, but to make sure it's understood, this has not been a vacation. I've enjoyed the time immensely, but it's truly been a working vacation, from start to almost finish. In one week, I'll be trying to calm my nerves enough to go back to my day job with some sense of coherence...even though I still won't be done with the artwork. By my estimation, I'll still have somewhere between 4-6 pages yet to ink, not counting lettering pages, creating the cover, and assembling the final book.

It's going to be a busy few weeks. Here, let me share a quote I love with you:

"What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second, their imagination, and third, their industry.” - John Ruskin

I am in complete agreement with this statement, including the order of traits. I'd like to focus for a moment on the third quality - industry - and also discuss HERO CORP. itself in more detail. We'll call this next part "Industry & The Hero"

*     *     *     *     *     *
In the Hero Corp. Universe (also known as the H.C.U. or the Marcel-iverse), The Pro is the most well known and highly regarded meta-agent on the planet. Everyone knows of him, and his presence is inescapable. Most folks love him, some fear him (and rightly so), nearly all respect him. He's like the Michael Jackson of the hero set, and he has a lot of roles to fill.

He's the planet's protector, first and foremost, New Pittsburgh's most famous son by far, the de-facto leader of Earth's super-folks (at least the law-abiding and enforcing ones), and essentially the public face of HERO CORP. itself. He accepts all of this with a gracious smile and is diplomatic, for the most part. But behind the scenes, his confidants know an informal secret: he HATES his employer! All The Pro wants to do is be a hero, and all the company wants to do is make money.

It doesn't stop the Samaritan of Heroes from doing his best, but it makes his job more tiring. It's hard to tucker out a guy who only sleeps one day a week (The Pro, not me, in case you were wondering), but it wears on him, this endless responsibility, both social and fiscal. And for those of you unaware, The Pro is based on me, so I have a very clear idea of who and what he is...but I have to say, at this point, he's also a completely separate entity from me. There are areas where he behaves in a much different fashion than I would, both good and bad. But this much is true: I admire his industry.

The Pro is tireless, and he wants to save the world and everyone in it. As an employee, he causes a lot of headaches to upper management and the Executive Directors (at least the ones who don't "get him"), but I view these as the kind of headaches a good employee should stir up. He's always pushing H.C. to be better than it is, in imaginative ways that often buck-up against the bottom line. He cares about people first, not profit -- but he can afford to. And he realizes that's not an option to most of the other employees at his company.

The Pro has industry, and I respect him for that. I find it funny that I created a character based on myself who in turn inspires me to be better than I am. Kinda head trippy, I know.

The Pro typically sleeps on Sunday, and I suppose I should follow suit. I really hope this first entry in the saga of these characters lives up to what I'm promising you all, and that it finds an audience.

I suppose it will if stock in my own industry stays strong.

More to come...!

Today's Music: The Hi-Frequencies, Harry Connick, Jr., Go-Home Productions

Sabbatical, Day 35 (The Zen of Delineation, Part Two)

Before we jump back on the train of thought from the previous blog, you may be well did that two-page spread turn out?

I finished it at an ungodly hour, but I couldn't stop until it was complete. I was experiencing flow like you want to when you're at the drawing board, so I just let it happen and went for broke. Once I was finally broken (but completely satisfied!), I turned in and slept 'til well past Noon. Damn shame, right? I woke up, walked into the studio, found Wayne sitting at his art table, and he looked at me and said:

"Okay, before I say anything else..."

...then he stood and applauded. Wow. That absolutely made my day, and verified that I must be doing something right with my ink brushes!

You know what else made my day? In response to my early-morning facebook declaration that this was the best comic-book art I'd ever produced (which is something one should always strive for, but rarely had I felt that so strongly), my dearest Jami posted a comment telling me she's proud to be my sister. I read this just prior to Wayne's tribute, and it almost made me cry.

But I'm a man, so I sucked it up. Now, let's jump back into the time-machine and journey to my first experiences using an ink brush.

*      *      *      *      *      *

Oh God, I hated it.

Not so much the actual using of the brush, but my inability to control it the way I wanted to. Mind you, having gotten the best tutorial I could have ever asked for from Don Simpson, my first few brush-inked pages were far better than they would have been on my own. But everything just wasn't clicking. As I discovered, brushes have a life and mind of their own.

My previous inking tool of choice had been quill pens, and I hadn't come close to mastering those - heck, the first time I started using them sans instruction (partly because I missed a LOT of school growing up), I used the nibs upside-down! - but I was familiar and comfortable with them. Pens give you direct resistance against paper, much like pencils. There's the tactile sensibility of a pen, quill or technical, that makes me understand why artists would gravitate to it. You can feel the ink going down far more directly, and you know what your basic line weight will be.

Brushes on the other hand are all about user control. You have to have nerves of steel to get lines the way you want them. My favorite artists demonstrate a precision that you would think is impossible, once you understand what they're doing. It's deceptively simple, what Don Simpson and so many others do, and I just didn't have that kind of control. The linework and cross hatching the brush yielded him would have fooled anyone after-the-fact into thinking he'd drawn with a pen. His comfort with it was stupefying. My own...not so much.

In my defense however, I was a quick study and I was determined. There were periods when I'd revert to pens, and I even invested in a full set of technical pens which are still in use twenty years later. (I always suggest spending the money on good art supplies -- they'll pay for themselves in time.) But I used the brush Don gave me a whole lot. I don't know how long he owned it before passing it along, but I gave it enough usage to wear the barrel loose and chip the paint. (Mind you, I also babied that thing. I cleaned and shaped it after every use, and I still have it tucked away, in retirement.) And I studied art styles from artists as varied as Darwyn Cooke, Terry Austin and Robert Crumb.

Over the years, a host of brushes of varying sizes, gauges, weights and shapes have been charged with bringing my visions to fruition. One thing that remains constant though is when you're having a good moment while inking, things begin to flow in a way that doesn't compare to pencilling. (And remember, I say that as someone who primarily considers himself a penciller!) It's much more about being in tune with the tool. It's Zen-like.

When I started inking HERO CORP last week, I was having internal panic-attacks. After a month of pencilling, I wondered if I had any business with a brush in my hand. It was scary, the prospect of having taken time off from work to devote to this enterprise, and possibly ruining all of that with my sub-standard talents. Was my ego (which is beyond considerable) going to allow that to happen? Yes. because I trusted that all of these years of practice hadn't failed me. They had not.

I ended up very, very pleased with that first page. I believe I solved the mystery of space, at least for this issue. The second page found me experimenting with complimentary tools and bringing out the pens. (The quill pens were too rough for this board I'd drawn on, so I knuckled down and spent four hours cleaning my trusty tech pens to make them operable again.) Those feelings of unease bubbled up again, until it was complete, and I'd stepped away from it for a while. Each successive page felt better and made me more confident.

There were many moments I was in such Zen-like flow that I forgot what I was inking while it was under the brush. Images that I had myself drawn tightly and purposely suddenly were devolved into lines and areas requiring delineation into negative and positive spaces. It was amusing though. It was a different headspace to create art in.

But pages 8 and 9, my double page FIRST double page spread...I knew something special was going to happen there. My single greatest strength as a visual artist is my sense of composition, and I designed these two pages for maximum impact. The story itself has a momentum that pushes you toward this scene, and when you arrive...let's just say, you'll feel the BOOM! I believe everything, the story, the characters, the concept for the art, the layout, the tools and the experience all led up to the best pages of art I've ever created.

I made some magic with my own two little hands. So I suppose I owe my father one for making me do my own drawing, way back when. Of course, he never got me that Johnny West action figure I wanted we're even.

The Train of Thought reminds you to make sure you have all your baggage as you disembark. Thank you for travelling with M.L.W. -- please read with us again!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sabbatical, Day 34 (The Zen of Delineation, Part One)

I remember when this used to be a daily blog. *sigh*

I have been busy though. (Excuses, excuses...) I just finished inking page seven, and after finally taking my shower and getting something to eat, I'll also attempt to complete my double-page spread. If I can get it done today, that will make it my highest productive day since this sabbatical began -- a whopping 2.25 pages in a day! We'll see though...I'll keep you posted.

This last week, I've spent more time at the drawing board inking than I have in years, and the specifics of this aspect of the craft have been pinging around in my brain. Being a comic-book creator is a lot like being a doctor, in that there are so many specialties and sub-specialties to work in. I suppose I could be considered a general practitioner, especially on a project like HERO CORP., where it's a one-man show.  My specialty would be pencilling, and it's a toss-up what my sub-specialty is: I love writing and inking, and am likely as adept at both. But I must say, I feel more comfortable writing. Because inking is weird.

The joke is that inkers trace. (Thanks Kevin Smith. The laughs never stop with that one...) And there are a number of artists out there who just essentially trace. Many of them don't get it, many of them are hacks. But a skilled inker is the one who brings polish and permanence to the artwork. Inking, delineation, finishing, whatever one wants to call it, is the most permanent part of creating comics. You commit ink to paper, and for the most part, that's it. And depending on your comfort level with your tool of choice, the commitment will either enhance or detract from the final piece.

Many artists don't even ink anymore, employing a system of "digital inking" which essentially means darkening and cleaning up the pencil artwork before adding color. (This isn't counting the artists who produce fully rendered comics, either traditionally or digitally painted. That's an entirely different blog.) I have mixed feelings about digital inking, because I've seen a mixed bag of results over the years. Traditional inking, which establishes the "look" that is mentally associated with comics, was born out of the constraints of print technologies roughly a century ago. Those constraints have all but evaporated over the past twenty years or so, mostly due to the emergence of digital print systems.

I mention all of this because, to be frank, no one HAS to ink a comic book these days. It all comes down to a choice of aesthetic. Artists must ask themselves a  host of questions, ink-luding(!) the practicality of inking. Are they skilled enough to do it consistently? And if so, do they go traditional or digital? If traditional, what's your tool, pen, marker, quill, technical pen...or brush?

I chose the brush years ago. And I'll tell you why.

Cover of BIZARRE HEROES #1 (1994) - Art by Don Simpson
When I was 18, I had the good fortune of sitting in artist Don Simpson's studio for an afternoon, as he explained and demonstrated some techniques of the trade to me. I'd never actually seen a working professional, and the experience of those few hours was ultimately as valuable to me as all the concurrent time spent at art school. The single thing I gained the most insight on from watching him was the precision and artistry of proper inking.

Don Simpson is a masterful inker and his linework was killer, delicate at one end of a stroke, and bold at the conclusion. And watching him wield a brush just made it all come so perfectly clear. It was hard to believe he was able to make that brush do what he did. He also used quill pens and related tools to do fine detail and such, but it was the brush that came to life that day. He gave his art solidity, which had never fully sunk into my brain until then. This was something I had to do.

Cover of VIGILANTE #1 (1983) - Art by Keith Pollard
Don explained to me that artist Keith Pollard had done the same for him years before, and concluded the day by giving me one of the brushes he'd demonstrated with. I was beyond thrilled, and immediately set about the task of using this new tool to work similar magic on my own artwork that Don had worked on his. After all, I knew what to do now, I'd seen it done, and I had the brush that I had watched work magic.

But do you remember the theme of mystery from my previous blog? The thing about the best mysteries is they can often be layered enigmas, bringing you headlong into another question. I thought I knew what to do with that brush -- Don had made it all look so easy, and I had been attentive. He'd unlocked a key secret in my transition from comics-creating novice to aspiring professional. I thought the rest would be relatively easy.

I was wrong.

More to come after the two-page spread...!

Today's Music (so far!): Barry White, George Michael, Vivaldi, the Electric Six (Yeah, I'm eclectic.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sabbatical, Day 28 (Mystery and the Artist)

Yes, I know, it's been a while since my last post. Sorry about that. I've been busy...and as a result, Friday I finished the final page of pencils for the story.

So here's what we've got so far:

Not bad. But I had an internal debate over whether to show this to you. It all comes back to my thinking on Mystery and the Artist.

When I was a kid just starting to read comic-books (some thirty-five years ago), I didn't at first understand that there were human beings behind the scenes creating them. They just existed, and the characters within the stories were more real to me than the writers and artists who made them up. Then I would ask my father to re-draw my favorite panels from the comics, and it dawned on me that real people drew this stuff. And when he finally said the magic words...

"Why don't you draw this one?" became fully tangible: I could create comic-books. Myself. With my own little hands, I could be a magician.

Sometime down the road I realized that if I wanted to practice my storytelling skills, I needed actual stories to tell. Out of necessity, I began writing, and took to it all well enough that I never felt a need to search for a partner. All throughout this strange journey, I collected and read tons of comics. And they were a mixed bag of genres and creators...I read everything from super heroes to funny animals, to Archie comics, to monster comics (even when they scared me enough to leave them outside!), to Richie name it and I read it.

But the creators, specifically the artists, always remained a mystery.

I read all of my own comics, even when I was very young. And I'm sure I built up an association of styles and characters with specific artists early-on as well. I read comics in their entirety, including the credits and letter-columns. Once I knew people made comics, I wanted to know about the people who made comics. Needless to say, I had a lot of Superman comics in my collection, so I became intimately familiar with the work of Curt Swan. But when I stop and think back on the names of artists who I learned to recognize - Rich Buckler, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Don Newton, Jim Aparo, John Buscema, Gil Kane - I understand where my storytelling sensibilities came from.

But as acquainted with their styles as I became, I didn't know the creators at all. They were names and art styles and feedback and my own perception, and that was all. When I first read Stan Lee's ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, it was my true introduction to the work of Steve Ditko, who's art I was familiar with in passing - I recognized his style - but I knew nothing of him. I certainly didn't grasp the significance of his being the first artist to work on Spider-Man. I had no idea of his importance in the comics-creating community. I had no idea that he'd already been around for a while at that point.

I also had no idea that of all the artists who have worked in this field, Ditko achieved the highest coupling of acclaim and mystery. He's the J.D. Salinger of comic-book artists. But I liked Ditko's work. And I aspired to do what he did.

There was something mystical and intriguing about this notion that what you were behind the scenes in comics truly didn't matter. You could be anyone and be a comics creator. You could be anyone, of any background, and be a STAR in comics! How wonderful is that? Where else do you get that form of freedom?

Another artist Lee praised was Gene Colan. I was very familiar with his name and work, because of his idiosyncratic style, dark and twisted, naturalistic and distorted all at once. (I found out years later he's one of very, very few artists who shades his pencil artwork. That may not sound like a big deal to most people, but if you're an inker working over his pencil artwork...that's a TREMENDOUS deal.) I mention Colan because he'd been around forever at that point, and to this day is still out there in the world, making comics.

Yet, until fairly recently, I never knew what Colan looked like. He never had an age or a history...he had his artwork. And it was amazing.

Another aspect of creator mystery is the actual genesis of the work. In this day and age of instant gratification, it's not uncommon to see a work in its earliest stages, and be able to follow it through to completion. (Not just my chosen media -- movies and television shows are also guilty of this.) A number of artists seemingly thrive off of the instant feedback, which is understandable. Comics aren't performance art, and they exist without the degree of audience interaction of a musical or acting or dancing performance. Creating comics is a solitary profession, but if you can upload a work-in-progress and share it online, that comes close to creating an instant audience.

Except the problem there destroys the mystery.

I haven't had a new comic out there in the world for more years than I care to mention. And now, working away in the midst of creating a story that challenges my skills in every way possible, I can't wait to show off what I've got planned. I'm channeling everything I've got into this, and have shown some people bits and pieces of it all in progress. But that's all I'm giving away for now: bits and pieces.

I want my readers to be surprised with every single aspect of HERO CORP. -- the writing, the art, the sheer momentum of the story, and what I believe to be its uniqueness. I want the people who have characters in this book to still be taken aback when they see what they're actually like. I want it to feel instantly recognizable and completely new at the same time.

I set monumental goals for myself. But it all begins with me knowing when to pull back, shut up...and tease you all.

I want to maintain the mystery.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Today I returned to Page One, held a brush in my hand and began to ink this book. (Today's Music: The Rolling Stones, starting with PAINT IT BLACK!) Inking is weird because it's permanent. Spreading graphite over paper is one thing, because that can be changed anytime. But inking represents total commitment to the art. As mentioned before, I'm no speed demon, and every single brushstroke I lay on the page is mightily considered.

And this page started with a LOT of ink -- the very first thing you see in this story is an establishing shot from outer space. You might think, space should be easy to render, right? Just throw a lot of black ink down, add a few stars, and you're done. Except nothing could be farther from the truth.

Space is the ultimate mystery. It's full of color, and depth, and light. If you're just throwing ink down and calling it a day, you're missing a Hell of an opportunity. And a true artist should never shy away from the opportunity to make magic with their own little hands and explore a great mystery. When done right, it can strip the artist of personal history and age and everything else that doesn't matter.

The only thing that matters is producing amazing artwork, and making a reader scratch their head and contemplate how you did that. Give them a mystery on paper.

But I also like to here's that first page. But in pencil. After all, I don't want to give anything away just yet.

What's the fun in that...for both of us?

More to come...!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sabbatical, Day Seventeen (Stretches of the Imagination)

I'm no speed demon at the drawing board by any stretch of the imagination. I'm very methodical and exacting, at times to a degree that even I find maddening, so my own personal challenge is always to simplify, simplify, simplify! But I don't just sweat the details, I LOVE the details. It's often the details that pull you into worlds that exist only in two dimensions on paper.

So there's my daily schizophrenic battle: to produce artwork that satisfies my own inscrutable desire for simplicity and detail. I finished page fifteen yesterday, but it took longer than I wanted. It typically does.

I'm no speed demon, so on a very real level I identify with artists like Brian Bolland, George Perez, and even Geoff Darrow, who pack every square inch of their pages with detail. But I strive to bring clarity to my work, like the direct clean storytelling of Mike Parobeck, Bruce Timm, and going back farther, Jack "King" Kirby.

However, amongst the groups of artists I just listed, there are worlds of difference in style: Darrow puts so much...stuff in his compositions that it's hard imagining him keeping anything close to a production schedule. There's just layer and layer of minutiae, to the degree of possible mania. Perez works in a more classic bigger-than-life super-hero style, which suits his subjects. But I always think of his advice when drawing shattering glass, to draw "ten times the glass there would be in real life." He's right...but that's how you get carpel tunnel syndrome. (Which I believe he had at one point.)

Then there's Bolland. I mentioned him before, and I do so again because his work is just so damn smart. He's a very British artist in terms of sensibility (and you'd just have to read his narratives to understand what that means), but his instinct for inclusion and discarding visual information on a comic-book page is sublime. If he ever makes a mis-step, I've yet to catch it. His linework and cross hatching is extremely fine, to the point of classical art, and yet precise. Not a single line gets wasted. He has layers in his panels as well, but there are numerous examples of him using negative space to acheive desired effects. The man knows his stuff.

I got off on this tangent because I worry about my production schedule. I'm a little behind where I want to be, but by appearances I'm doing okay. I've been away from my job for just over two weeks and have fifteen pages of issue one, and tons of character sketches to show for it...still. I'm a bit uneasy. Not much. Just a little.

*     *     *     *     *

Last night I went to Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art Club at the Gypsy Cafe, and did some live drawing. It was good that I went for several reasons, not the least of which is it always forces me to loosen up and draw quickly. Quick one, five and ten minute minute poses leave no time to let the hand rest. Sketchy is at least as much a night out to hang with friends and chill as anything else, but I appreciate the break it gives me from poring over my detailed-yet-simple artwork.

The camaraderie and support is also invaluable. Byron, Scott, Shawn, Dave, Rob, Nick and others were there, and they're all aware I'm off from work and toiling away in the studio. Their enthusiasm for what they've seen was neat, and maybe a tad amusing. Nick in particular seemed impressed with my speed...which is ironic considering how I always wish I could draw faster. How Kirby and his like pounded out what they did back in the day astonishes me. In their shoes, I'd have worked in the industry for, I dunno, an hour or two then gone home to cry.

A page a day. That's the goal. And I haven't even gone into my feelings on mystery and the artist. That will be my next blog topic.

More to come...!

PS: I kinda lied in my last blog...I did work on M.J.'s birthday, drawing character design sheets, taking reference photos (more on that little adventure to come!), and scanning completed artwork. Michael would have appreciated it -- when you love what you do, it's not entirely work.

Monday's Music: Pearl Jam, Phil Collins
Today's Music: ...To Be Determined!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sabbatical, Day Fifteen (Rock Forever On)

"Well, there's such a thing as talent. And, yeah, I would say that's true...For instance, with an artist, he can draw anything you look at -- he can draw it. And then you take [someone else], who can't even draw a stick person. So look at the difference."
- Michael Jackson

To paraphrase a line from a 1980s movie: I don't work on August 29th...'cause that's M.J.'s birthday!

Sunday's Music: King of Pop!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sabbatical, Day Fourteen (It CAN be Done)

I find myself thinking some pretty loopy thoughts at the drawing board, day after day.

As previously mentioned, there are moments when I'll swing from total self-confidence while rendering something to complete and total dissatisfaction with that self-same thing within milliseconds. There's not a lot of warning, although this reaction is more extreme when I'm not as overall happy with a page or panel of art. However, the method used to produce these pages, from inception to pencils, has kept such see-sawing neurosis to a minimum.

Still, I find myself entertaining a series of curious thoughts: Is my work commercial? Does it stack up against other, far more well-known work already out there? Do established talents have this same worry, even after decades-long careers? If so, what are my chances of getting established? Do I have the sensibility/talent of a modern comic-book creator? Is there even such a thing? Does it matter? Do I have the long-term stamina or focus to succeed?

I dunno.

Every now and again I'll read something that allays these fears. In this case, I thumbed through a trade paperback of THE SUPERMAN/MADMAN HULLABALOO last night, and was first taken aback by the fact this book came out well over ten years ago. Then I read one of the introductions, written by artist/writer Jon Bogdanove, formerly one of the creators on the SUPERMAN books.

Bogdanove mentioned how he'd visited his editor who wanted him to write the introduction for the collection, but the artist was completely unfamiliar with the work being collected. Then he went on to describe his work life as being essentially all-consuming save for a "few precious moments" spent with his family. His largest exposure to other comics beyond what he directly worked on was the weekly bundle of books his publisher comped him.

This was all probably a slight exaggeration, but these past two weeks shows me that there was likely a LOT of truth to what he said. It was reassuring to learn that Bogdanove was so blissfully unaware of something that was actually very popular at the time. Bogdanove was one of the main artists on the SUPERMAN property - about as high-profile a gig as a mainstream graphic-prose artist can get - and didn't know about HULLABALOO which also featured Superman until the editor gave him copies...which he ended up loving.

It should be noted that Mike Allred, writer and artist behind the mini-series-cum-trade-paperback, has a very distinct pop-culture infused po-mo style that somehow found its way into the mainstream. His stuff is damn quirky, yet his take on Superman was pitch-perfect, which Bogdanove and I also agreed upon. So this guy essentially was able to make his own personal style accessible to a mainstream audience.

It can be done. Remembering this, I take deeps breaths and make that my mantra long enough to get the pencil moving again.

I finished page fourteen this evening. I'm liking how the characters are starting to overlap from scene to scene. Hopefully it will establish that this is a WORLD of people who all interact. And I also want it to reflect the small-town nature of Pittsburgh. This is a city where you're really only one or two people removed from knowing anyone else. Live here long enough, you'll know someone in every neighborhood. You might even end up living in every neighborhood.

And that's what I want people to pick-up on in HERO CORP.. It's that same kind of cross-pollinated community. It's Pittsburgh.

I saw the funniest 'Burgh themed shirt today. It read: "PITTSBURGH - City of Champions...and the Pirates"

I took a break and went to New Amsterdam tavern with Wayne this afternoon, and participated in the official International Read Comics in Public Day. (I say "official" because I'm hosting one locally next weekend, which got mentioned on the I.R.C.i.P.D. website! More people will be able to attend it that day, because of the Baltimore Comic Con this weekend.) My comic of choice: MACEDONIA, illustrated by local son (and one of my former students), Ed Piskor.

Ed is really talented, in his own quirky, non-mainstream way, and he always has been. It's nice to see he never surrendered his style and perspective and has still been able to make a career in this crazy field. He doesn't draw people in capes and spandex; he draws people, and revels in the fine details of life. Cracks in sidewalks, bricks in buildings, potholders and clouds...Ed pays attention. It makes me at once proud and it inspires me.

Off to bed. Another day of deep breaths and holding the pencil tomorrow.

More to come...!

Yesterday's & Today's Music: Jackie Wilson, James Brown, The Jackson 5, The Forbidden 5, Chuck Berry, Bill Deasy

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sabbatical, Day Eleven (It's a Zoo Out There!)

After having worked every single day - and not just a few piddling hours here or there, mind you, but full days - since my sabbatical began, including weekends and not counting tons of pre-sabbatical hours spent working on scrolls of artwork and detailed thumbnails, I played hooky today. Kinda, sorta.

I went to the Pittsburgh Zoo. And it was a perfect way to recharge.

Not that I was in danger of actually burning out, at least not yet. But I KNOW that every comic-book artist - every visual artist - has experienced this: you stare at the page you're working on for so long it becomes hard to tell if it's actually good the way you want it to be. The same holds true for a project of any length.

Many times during the course of even the best days I have to stop for a few minutes, do something else, come back to the drawing board and rediscover what I'm working on. That's when the positives and negatives stand out the most. If you've reached a certain level of ability though, I find you look at the page and think, "Oh, that actually looks just fine!"

I'm still wickedly enthused over HERO CORP., to a degree that is sometimes hard to explain. (Although I don't even have to explain, since everyone within earshot hears me prattle on non-stop about this book.) Still, I needed to fill my mind with something completely different in order to come back to the work with extra focus.

This was a good day for it in every respect. I actually did put in several hours on my page this morning and later again this evening, which is a nearly full-page rendering of our fair Pittsburgh. Remember when I mentioned before how I'm not a things artist, I'm a people artist? I wasn't kidding. But I get into drawing whatever it is the story calls for, so switching from drawing an urban cityscape to walking through wildlife was a smart move (thanks Kristin)! The weather was perfect for allowing the mind and body to wander.

(*NOTE: When this book is finally done, and you get your copy - and you ARE going to get a copy, right? -  know that page thirteen has one of my favorite inside-my-head jokes of the entire story. It's something that I've mentioned in passing to several people, and every now and again people get it and start laughing. Like Kris did. She's a smart one, I tell you!)

At one point Kris and I watched a pair of monkeys as one held tightly to the other, sitting at the top of their area and off to the side, aware of people looking but not acknowledging anyone. The male cradled the female's head, gave her a brief kiss then went to find food elsewhere, as she laid down to rest. After eating for a moment, he gathered some food and went back to eat while sitting next to her, watching over his zoo-mate with obvious affection.

It was very sweet as the animals gave us a real lesson in human behavior. I rarely find myself drawing animals, and H.C. isn't likely to feature any soon, but the next time I go to the zoo, I'm taking my sketchbook. Whether you're drawing gorillas, zebras, polar bears or super-heroes, I've found it's almost always a zoo out there.

Take it from someone who went to the San Diego Comic Con and lived to tell the tale.

More to come...!

Today's Music: Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sabbatical, Day Ten (A Thing or Two About Solidity)

Prepare for some rambling conjecture. You've been warned.

I think most mainstream comic-book artists fall into one of two categories: graphic or naturalistic (what some might call "realistic"). There's a lot of fuzziness there, because so many comic-book artists - primarily pencilers and inkers - work together with their own varying styles, meaning there's all kinds of weird amalgamation that takes place. Regardless, the most graphic artist should possess a command of natural body dynamics and anatomy, and the most naturalistic artist should recognize the graphic nature, freedoms and limitations of what he or she does.

I mention this because throughout the day, I happened to browse some of the work of a couple of artists who made me reconsider elements of my own style. Dave Sim and Jerry Ordway.

I used to love Ordway's run on the SUPERMAN titles, first as artist, and later as writer/artist. My understanding is that he started his art career in illustration and graphic design and segued into comics. It shows. He has always had a solid understanding of anatomy and individual character that I felt worked extremely well in the SUPER-books back in the day. After that, he did work on the SHAZAM! characters that similarly gave the characters a grandeur they were previously missing.

His figurework is rock-solid. When he draws characters, they are tangible, believable people. Not necessarily photo-realistic like say Alex Ross' painted work (although Ordway was tapped for one of the KINGDOM COME follow-up comics, utilizing characters and designs created by Ross), but far more real than many comics artists. Ordway drew the adaptation of the first Tim Burton-directed BATMAN movie, and he was the perfect choice. He understands likenesses, and his characters are instantly distinguishable from one another.

And not to brag too much or nuthin'...but I looked at his work, and saw where his style had influenced mine. I owe a degree of my figures' solidity to Ordway.

Sim on the other hand is someone who I've always been aware of out there, but never really followed. I chanced to glance through the first volume of his celebrated run on CEREBUS today, and what I was most struck by was how primal his artwork was in its infancy. He admitted in the foreward of his at that point ten-year old stories, he had a lot to learn then, which showed. Still, I can appreciate someone who was burning to tell a story, even if he didn't quite know what the story was.

The thumbnail artwork for page 12!
Sim grew more confident with every element of his craft with each turning page, slower at first, but you can see him figuring things out. The only way a creator can learn what they're capable of in this field is to simply get ink beneath their fingernails and crank out pages, and that's what he did.

And that's what I'm trying to do.

I got today's page done. I love drawing The Pro. How can you not love drawing a character that allows you to kick the snot out of bad guys twice your size without blinking? His innate quirkiness (and by extension, the quirkiness of the entire cast) cracks me up, because I know what's coming. And I gotta tell you, when The Pro punches the bad guy on page twelve and sends him flying, he does it with such glee it becomes readily apparent...he ain't Superman. Superman doesn't gloat.

Yup. The Pro's right cross is damn solid. Good thing I learned a thing or two from Ordway about solidity.

More to come...!

Today's Music: Stevie Wonder

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sabbatical, Day Nine (Good, But Bizarre)

I awoke this morning to a punch in the face.

That was literally the first thing on the page I drew today: my character, The Pro, getting laid into by one of the big powerhouse bad guys of the story. Gotta say, even when I thumbnailed this one out, I really felt like I captured a good punch. It looks like he almost took my head off. Usually punches in comic books are so perfunctory that even the biggest fight scenes can make you go "'Eh." I rarely look at individual moments in super-people fights and feel like anything tangible happened.

Not this time. I was determined for this moment to register with the reader. And the best part is that less than a page later, I get to return the favor...with a moment that really makes the most of our fair city.

Also, I tend to sweat the fine details of a page to an almost obsessive degree. I drive myself nuts a thousand and three times every day with this, trying to make everything fit just-so. If there's a scene with a lot of bystanders, I have to draw them all out. Every person. If there's a scene with a lot of video monitors visible, chances are I'm drawing stuff on the screens. It gets ridiculous, and I have to remember some of my favorite artists (Alex Toth and Mike Parobeck spring to mind) were masters at keeping it all simple.

On the plus side, detail or not, I've never felt this comfortable approaching new pages. Something's going right here.

Now over a week into my time on this project, the surreal nature of my workspace has started to sink in. My days basically revolve around our studio now; it's my home base. I step out of it during the day, certainly, but it's where most of my waking hours are spent. And it's bizarre. Good, but bizarre.

I've made a point to mentally reserve the studio for drawing, and that alone. I can usually fall asleep anywhere, even on the floor - seriously, I do that all the time, especially during the summer - but now when I need a power nap I always go to my room. I'll bring light snacks or beverages in with me, but when it's lunch time I go downstairs. No exceptions. I want my brain on the task at hand in there.

This is not counting the numerous moments during the day when I spontaneously burst into song and/or dance along with my iTunes catalog. That's acceptable workplace behavior. I've been able to get away with it at my day jobs for years, so why stop now that I'm working from home, right? (Of course my day jobs have been mostly at night, and unsupervised...but why quibble? I'm a pretty non-forgiving boss, and I'm okay with it.)

Of course, it's all nothing a good punch in the face wouldn't cure.

More to Come...!

Today's Music: LL Cool J, Eric B. & Rakim, Will Smith, Coolio

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sabbatical, Day Eight (Double Digits!)

I completed pencils for page ten today, and light-boxed page eleven, so I've got a head start on tomorrow. Not bad. I'm now into double-digits!

There's something wonderfully Machiavellian about drawing a story that uses your close friends (and yourself) as main characters. The two illustrated today know each other, but I'm playing fast and loose with their real-world employment histories, as they never worked together. Still, it's easy enough to imagine how they would interact in a shared corporate environment...where half of their coworkers wear spandex and body armor.

After the high of yesterday's double-page spread came the task of capturing likenesses. I cheated a little, because I hadn't completed character design sheets for today's friends. (Technically, I never did an official one for myself either, but if I can't draw The Pro from memory, it's game over, man!) Instead I just used photo reference, and it worked out fine.

I originally drew my thumbnail versions of these pages at a size 1/16th of the actual artwork being produced now. They were then scanned, darkened up, and printed back out at 400% in order to be lightboxed in pencil. Details are then filled in, which is what takes most of the workday. However, I'm very, very pleased with how closely my tiny thumbnails have been holding up when duplicated so much larger. I'll have to post some images soon so you can see what I'm talking about.

Someone mentioned the possibility of a book release party for the debut issue of HERO CORP. -- anyone out there got any opinions? I'm game if you are.

More to come...!

Today's music choices: lots of mash-ups (Queen/Led Zeppelin, Jackson 5/Nirvana, The Archies/Velvet Underground, Michael Jackson/Steely Dan), Louis Prima, Lords of Acid, Los Lobos, and Frank Sinatra.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sabbatical, Days Six & Seven (That's How I Roll)

There are days when it all goes well, and there are days when it all goes REALLY well. This was one of the latter.

I officially completed my first ever two-page spread today...and I'm beyond happy with the results! So please forgive me for a few minutes, as I get into the minutia of creating this stuff.

The best artists recognize their particular strengths and weaknesses, and play-up the former while (hopefully) working to shore-up the latter. I've been told before that I have a knack for composition, which I think is indeed my strong suit. When drafting up a page, from my own scripts or someone else's, or often while just sizing up another artist's work, I often just KNOW how scenes should be framed and blocked out. It goes beyond being instinctive. It almost feels like I'm channeling the narratives. That's just how I roll.

In this instance, when I was roughing out the thumbnails, it just hit me what it had to look like. I got a strong vibe from the initial concept, and the closer I came to time to actually produce it, the more I was looking forward to it. I've never given myself that kind of room to fully spread out and get into the details of a page.

Today, the artwork just flowed. There's no other way to describe it. I had three figures on the pages, and I was able to give each a lot of attention. A lot of the choices I made worked out fine. At one point I wasn't completely happy with one antagonist's face; it seemed too large and the expression wasn't quite natural enough. It wasn't fitting with the rest of the image. So I grabbed my eraser, paused to wonder if I should leave well enough alone...then erased his face.

Then redrew it. That was the right choice. I could tell within a couple of minutes.

Even stuff I don't normally draw all that well seemed to appear on the paper like magic today. Cars. I hate drawing cars. They're not my thing. People, they're my thing. Cars -- yuck. But today, the cars were PERFECT. I couldn't have drawn them better with photo reference. (Only two, but very close in the panel) It got me to wondering what else is buried up in the swipe file of my unconscious, that I haven't been confident enough to just let loose.

There are days I love being a cartoonist. This was one of them. Oh! And I got caught up to where I'd originally wanted to be today. So nine pages in seven's on track so far. A solid first week!

That's how I roll, yo'. More to come...!

This Weekend's music choices: Jimi Hendrix - Live, KISS Alive I & II, Outkast, WHERE'S NEIL GAIMAN WHEN YOU NEED HIM?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sabbatical, Days Four & Five (Bring On the Bad Guys!)

If I could somehow construct a comic book entirely out of medium-to-close-up shots of characters simply interacting, I'd have a blast. That's my favorite thing to do, get in there and work a person's expressions. Mind you, I like the power of a fight scene too, and tend to enjoy every aspect of narrative illustration once I get into it. But I get the biggest kick out of nailing a character's expression just so, or capturing a likeness in a way that makes you smile.

The last couple of pages had several of those types of shots. That was fun. There's an added element of enjoyment because so many of these characters are based on people I know. It's trippy watching them do things and being able to imagine it all so clearly. I was telling Wayne about an upcoming scene where I fly, and stopped to laugh because that's something I'd never be able to say if I were writing about any other character. It's not a scene where so-and-so flies, it's a scene where I FLY!

And it looks like me.

Still, in the one-upsmanship department, Derek got to kill someone in his very first panel. And it looks like him too!

Yesterday I got to formally introduce one of the visual jokes that came to me during the scroll stage, and we'll be seeing it again several issues down the line. There were also several incidental characters that suddenly got imbued with distinct personalities...and again, it all comes down to expression. I love this stuff. I want to do it all the time.

Today I got to finally introduce a couple of my made-up bad guys as well. They both started as little more than throwaway characters, then as I developed them during the thumbnail stage, they merited larger roles in the story. Drawing their design sheets, I kept thinking up backstory for them both: one used to be an arsonist, and the other a steroid using jock bodybuilder. Wayne looked at the sheet for the latter and declared that if he were introduced to him in real life, he'd think the jock was a douchebag.

So I guess I nailed his personality pretty good!

Time for bed. I'm basically on schedule (and managed to be up by 6:30AM today!), although I'd prefer to be working at a page-and-a-half a day, now that I know it can be done. Today I was hit with a bout of the sleepies around Noon, and ended up napping for two-and-a-half hours. To avoid that again, I wanna get a running start on the next couple of pages...because Sunday should be a big day!

More to come...!

Today's music choices: The WICKED Broadway Soundtrack

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sabbatical, Day Three (When I Came to It)

Today, page four beat me. Sort of.

I wasn't up by 6:30AM, but it was close. I got up around 7, and managed to be at the drawing board by 8. However today's page was particularly involved - possibly the most detailed page in the whole issue - and I had left entire panels blank on the thumbnail. At the time I just wasn't able to imagine what they should be, and thought, "Eh, I'll think of that when I come to it."

And today I came to it, and had to figure it out.

Which I did, but it's not quite done...almost though. I also found myself taking a number of breaks today, which I hadn't before. (At one point I even went out to take photos of my friend Lindsey at Allegheny Cemetery. It was a good momentary diversion.) This page was simply more of a challenge. If I were willing to stay up later, it could be completed, but I'd rather get up early tomorrow and stay on a regular schedule than stay up later tonight. I could see that snowballing fast into a bad scene.

Even with the late finish, I'm still doing okay, and I made the right call when producing the thumbnails. The ideas that I pushed out today were better than what I had considered before, and they help the story.

One interesting bit: while I was working on the page, which included a cast member named Doc Creation, the person who inspired the character called and we spent an hour on the phone. That's a weird feeling that's only liable to get weirder in the days ahead.

One day, I want to see action figures of the cast available out there in the world. Crazier things have happened.

More to come...!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sabbatical, Day Two (Chasing Bolland)

I was determined to finish last night's second page before packing it in, and it cost me a little bit this morning. I want to be up by 6:30AM and at the drawing table by 7:30AM every day, and wasn't there until 9AM. Not that big a deal, except the page I was working on was more complex than the two that preceded it, and it took longer to finish. Add to that the fact that for whatever reason, I was terribly distracted today, and found myself taking continuous breaks.

So I clocked-out at approx. 6:15PM...mere seconds before our power went out due to a blown transformer up the street. (Electrical, not CGI.)

It was also a weird day at the page, because it was the first time I worked on a narrative with these characters that are based so directly on my friends. Making them take shape, and having those little moments where they really, really looked and moved and just felt like their real-life counterparts , that's a blast.

In-between pencil strokes I got my spare computer wired for sound, so now I can enjoy iTunes while at the drawing board. Then once the power was eventually restored, I got Wayne to take a photo of me at the drawing board, as proof that yes, this isn't a hoax. I'm creating a comic-book here folks. Step right up and see the Devoted Fanboy and his Delusions of Grandeur in Graphite Black & White!

Day Two also saw the introduction of intermittent flashes of panic. Moments where I'd stop, look at my artwork, realize that I aim to work on a level of artists like Brian Bolland, who is one of my favorite artists ever...and then I'd feel my brain send out signals to every nerve ending, signaling contraction into a fetal position.

Then I'd push past it and keep drawing. And then I'd look at it again and realize this is the best stuff I've ever done. Seriously, RedGlare and BrightStar are adorable, and, he's just wicked. He may be my break-out character. After years of thinking about it, I finally got to let him do his destroying thing. And he's one mean mo-fo.

If I can work at a speed of one and a half pages a day for a couple of weeks, I'll finish this book ahead of schedule. Let's see what happens tomorrow.

6:30AM. I can do it. I can.

Yep. More to come.

Today's music choices: Alicia Keys, Maxwell, Prince

Sabbatical, Day One (Heroism is My Business)

Haven't done this in a while -- this seems like a good place to get back to it.

Today was the first official day of my sabbatical from work, and I formally began work on my next comic book opus, M.L.Walker's HERO CORP. Anyone within earshot and beyond of me knows that I've been building up to this for months - even years - now, and due to a confluence of good fortunes it's managed to come together quite nicely.

In the past few weeks leading up to today, I've drafted the complete thumbnails for the entire first issue (of six total planned), and am now working up the actual pages of art. I also started the script based on said thumbnails, and character design sketches, to keep their looks consistent.

My sabbatical lasts from now until September 26th, and my goal is to return to work with the majority of the artwork complete on the first issue. I've budgeted time to allow for the penciling of a single page a day until all 24 pages are complete; then I'll switch to inking them all, at the same pace. That's a professional rate, which is ultimately what I want to do.

Around the edges I'll also be completing a formal script for the first issue, as well as character design sketches and illustrations of approximately 20 characters for HERO CORP. INTERNATIONAL DAY (which just happens to coincide with my birthday)! At that time I'll...have a surprise to share with you!

Yes, it's a lot of work. But there's a reason for it.

My life plan is to attain a position where all of my artistic endeavors are self-sustaining. It all starts anew here. Today.

And I'm off to a good start. I managed to pencil two pages today, as well as work on a couple pages of script, and some location layouts (of the Epicenter, a focal location in the series). On top of that, I did laundry at 6AM, ran out to grab lunch and stretch my legs, and shopped at Giant Eagle this evening.

It's been a full day. It's been a productive day. Let's hope and pray I can keep it up.

After all, heroism is my business.

Today's music choices: Lots of M.J. -- keep on with the force, DON'T STOP!