Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I've Got Issues!


A box of my comics came yesterday. 50 copies of issue #2 and 40 more copies of #1. I wanted to be ready for a couple shows this year. If you see me in person, they are $3. If I have to mail them to you, it's a little more. Or, you can always use the links at the right.

Comics by Kids -- Math Bloopers!


Comic by Tyler, a 5th grader from last year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Weather Wizards of Ancient Times



This is my latest comic for Fun for Kids magazine. The assignment was to make a comic about the study of weather. It didn't sound entertaining at first, but I learned that some of the greats who studied weather were some real characters.

I would have loved to draw even more pages of Wang Chong. He was scathing in his confrontations of the misconceptions of his time. It was common to believe in ghosts in his day, to which he replied,
People say that spirtis are the souls of dead men. That being the case, spirits should always appear naked, for surely it is not contended that clothes have souls as well as men. Besides, so many people have died that their gohosts would vastly outnumber living people; the world would be swamped by them.

Mini-Marvels: Rock, Paper, Scissors


What if Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame had drawn for Marvel Comics? Well, if he had, it might have looked something like the comics in this book -- Mini Marvels: Rock, Paper, Scissors. When I present on comics in education, I'm often ask which titles are best for younger viewers. This is one I'd heartily recommend for any age. We bought it to put in my two-year old's Christmas stocking this year. He's fascinated by the characters and sits still for the longest time listening to someone reading it to him. The neat thing about the book is that it provides a lot of chuckles to the older kids in the house and even their dad! It's very clever, with a lot of inside jokes for the diehard Marvel fan.

As I understand it, Marvel was on the fence as to whether they should publish this or not. They were surprised when it sold out in under a month. It's now getting a second printing and they'll also be putting out some other Mini Marvel digests. I hope that they get the message that there is a market for comics that are fun and humorous and inviting to kids and publish more stuff like it.

The artist is Chris Giarusso. Check out his website -- there's a lot of really great stuff there.



Friday, December 26, 2008

Comic Shop Offers Super Sales!


The comic shop I go to is called Heroes Your Mom Threw Out. They have a new location at 128 West 14th Street in Elmira Heights, NY.

There are some awesome end-of-the-year sales right now with a lot of buy-one-get-one-free graphic novels and even some at 75% off. There are also some $1 bins and I think some 50 cent bins of individual comics.
Above is the proprietor, Jared Aiosa.

You can see from the photo above that the pariscraft Hulk sculpture the kids at Lynch and I made found a new home at Heroes!

Store Info:

Location: 128 W. 14th St, Elmira Heights, NY
Hours: Wed/Thur/Fri 10-6 and SAT 10-4

Seeing art as we want to see it

1872 - The Bachante (Cassatt)

1879- Woman with a Peal Necklace in a Loge (Cassatt)


If you ever look at the very early paintings of Mary Cassatt, they are dark and murky and not very good. She said that when she saw the paintings of Degas,
"I used to go and flatten my nose against the window and absorb all I could of his art. It changed my life. I saw art then as I wanted to see it."

At another time, she said after seeing the impressionists, "It was then that I began to live." Just look at how her art changed from 1872 to 1879 by looking at the two paintings above.

This is why I think it's important to expose kids to as many different kinds of art as possible. You never know which artist will be for them the one that makes it possible for them to "see art as they want to see it". I think if you're meant to be an artist, not making art isn't an option, and you discover kindred spirits. It's not that Cassatt imitated Degas, but they had similar approaches and style, and they did influence each other.

For me, one of those "aha" moments of seeing art as I wanted to see it was the summer of 1976. I was eleven years old and my mom had sent me into a 7-11 store to pick up a loaf of bread. On the way out I glanced at the newsstand and saw this...


Cracked magazine ! I stopped dead in my tracks. I knew that I was looking at caricatures of characters from my favorite TV show, Welcome Back Kotter. I ran out to the car and begged my mom for the 50 cents it would take to buy it.

Cracked was kind of an imitator of Mad, which I hadn't discovered yet. If I remember right, it was a little more tame in humor. It was my favorite magazine for a long time.

One of the regular cover artists was John Severin. Severin also worked in war, wester and adventure comics. As it turns out, today is John Severin's birthday. He's 87 years old and still working in comics! Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Behind the Scenes of Successful Failure

This post is a "behind-the-scenes" look at how one of my comic strips comes together. First comes the assignment. In this case, I was asked to create a three page comic strip that somehow dealt with Electricity. For three pages of comics and one page of knot instruction, I'll get $75. For the time that goes into it, it's not really worth it, but it finances the projects that I can do "just because I want to."

First comes the research. It takes a lot of it! Many times I'll read and consider ideas that I don't use. In this case, the book above inspired me to make a comic about the boyhood and career of Thomas Edison. He's a character that inspired a lot of legends and myths. Some of the biographies written for children are almost to the mythic proportions of the George Washington-cherry-tree variety. This books was intended to debunk the myths, but show what an unbelievably fascinating individual he was. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

You can see in the photo above that as I read, I jotted down notes about things I considered most important, exact quotes of things that were said, or ideas that occured to me as I read.

Next comes the visual research. I collected images that were in the public domain to have reference material. I wanted to have the cartoon characters at least look kind of like the people they were supposed to be. I also found a few more facts from reputable sources on the internet. Because, remember, "If you steal from one person, it's plagiarism --if you steal from many people, it's research."

Next comes the thumbnails. I do these in my sketchbook. This is mainly to see how many boxes it's going to take to tell the story, and how many boxes will be needed on each page. Some artists use stick figures or scribbly sketches. I mainly get the words in there. This may sound strange, but I often leave them empty because I can "see" the pictures in there.


Next I sketch out the boxes with a t-square. This cheap little plastic device is a real time saver! It is also nice to have premarked comic paper. The lines are blue, so they're not reproducible. Yet they are there and one less thing I have to measure. It makes things go quite a bit faster.


Next I roughly sketch what will go in each box. After that, I do the lettering, and then I come back in and tighten up the pencils. I leave the backgrounds out for the most part for now.

I use Rotring lettering pens to letter. They are very handy. They come with converters that you can refill with really good ink. I would love to find a fountain pen that I could use for drawing, but I think that at this point, I like the flexible nib of Speedball tips too much. I like how the line varies as I draw. If I could find a fountain pen that made lines just like a Speedball C-6 that didn't cost too much, I'd buy it in an instant. I can't really go buying expensive pens hoping they'll have lines I like when they cost $70 plus! If anyone knows of a pen like this -- I will be forever in your debt if you'd tell me!


This is the trusty Speedball (below). It's annoying to have to keep dipping, but as I said, I like the lines they make. I go all through the comic and hit the lines that this pen is needed for. Small little details I leave alone for now.


Then I come in with a crowquill. I get the small details and textures with this.

Then comes the erasing. This is the least enjoyable part of making comics. This is the only part of making a comic which is no fun at all! All the sketchy lines need to be erased, and there are tons of them. Just when you think you've got them all, you notice more. Marek Bennett teaches that making comics is easy as P.I.E.

  • P- Pencil and Plan

  • I- Ink

  • E- Erase
Eraser crumbs are everywhere! Or, as Marek calls them, particles of error. The big white erasers work best, I think. This one is a Papermate brand.

Some artists draw in non-reproducible blue pencil, so this stage is unnecessary. Someday I'm going to have to try that. I have my suspicions, I won't like not seeing what the final art will look like until it's scan, so for now, I'm skeptical that it will work for me.
I come back in with a Micron or Prismacolor marker. These are pens with very very very fine tips (even finer than a crowquill). But if you try to erase over them, the pen marks come up too! So I use them for the last finishing touches.

In this case I made the backgrounds very sketchy and impressionistic. I would have loved to go into great detail with period buildings and settings, but the deadline was looming and I could only devote so much time!

Then comes the scanning. I scan it in two parts, then rotate the images and put them together in Photoshop. It's not as hard as I thought it would be at one time. The computer work is not really fun for me either, but a necessary evil. I would much rather start the next comic strip, but it's gotta be done!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Successful Failure


"Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work."
Thomas A. Edison

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cover Recovered #6: Sheesh!

The Comics Re-covery Project is my way to "study after the masters". I basically redraw an existing comic cover in my own style, which is another way of saying I ruin it.

Here's the latest. The comic cover design strategy is: Someone comes ripping through the cover from the inside of the comic. In this case, Hawkeye seems to be annoyed because, presumably, he has used his manners and crawled around the front cover in the proper manner.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I have become a Manga Fan

I have always been a fan of comic books. In the last few years, manga (or Japanese comics) have become quite a craze. The word actually consists of three syllables and the correct pronunciation is (Maw – nnnnn – gah). To illustrate how popular they are, go into any Barnes and Noble. You might find one shelf dedicated to American comics, while at least four (if not more) is packed with manga. It’s obviously selling much better!

I’ve been reading arguments for years from American comics publishers and others that there was no market for comics for kids today. Then why is so much manga being sold? In an attempt to jump on the bandwagon, Marvel will periodically come out with a comic in which the artists try to imitate the style of manga artists. They’re missing the point.


Firstly, I think manga is popular because of the simplicity of the drawing style. When I was a kid, one of the things about comics that appealed was just that. A kid could look at a Spider-man drawing by Steve Ditko and think, “You know, I bet I could draw that.” American comics today are packed with realistically drawn and computer colored images. It is a marvel to look at, but far beyond the reach of the adolescent artist. Even the comics made for kids is illustrated that way.


To show what I mean, I'm going to post two pages from a recent Marvel Adventures Iron Man digest to compare it to two pages of Dragonball Z. I found the Iron Man pages to be quite murky and hard to follow. Compare that to the clean dynamic line of the manga pages.




Secondly, kids can get a lot of story for cheap. The books are printed in black and white on cheap paper. The American comics are obviously much more expensive to produce and cost much more. It also frequently happens that not very much happens in a three dollar comic book. For ten dollars, a kid can get a heck of a lot of story in a manga digest.


Thirdly, there is a great variety of different types of stories being told. There are manga stories about romance, relationships, tennis, and of course, fighting. Shonen manga is typically for boys, and Shojo manga for girls.


I think one of the things about manga that appeals to kids is this return to simplicity. I have to admit, I’ve been reluctant to attempt to read it. As an adult, it was a chore to learn to read “backwards”, since they are written from right to left in Japanese, and even after being translated, American readers need to learn to read that way. Incidentally, the kids don’t seem to have any problem at all with this. It’s us old dogs that need to learn new tricks. With three teenagers in the house, I’ve noticed they can’t get enough of it. I’ve noticed a lot of school kids who weren’t crazy about reading become big fans of reading manga.


I picked up DragonBallZ by Akira Toriyama. It’s the first manga book I’ve read all the way through, and I enjoyed it very much. This is a VizBig edition, meaning the format is bigger than the small digest edition, and collects Volume 1-3 in one big book. It’s what’s known as humorous manga, with some very goofy and silly characters who do a lot of fighting -- page after page after page of supernatural “martial arts” attacks.

I’ve also noticed that every manga book carries an accurate ratings description letting the buyer know what they’re getting – this is something American comics publishers would be wise to emulate. DragonballZ is “all ages” – but does have stylized cartoon violence and even death. But then again, so did the Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons.


With the current financial climate, I think American publishers would be wise to learn some lessons manga can teach. Make it simple, make it fun, make it cheap.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Fog Mound


I have a new favorite author/illustrator team -- the creators of Fog Mound. Susan Schade and Jon Buller have created this fantastic new series of books that many are calling a graphic novel "hybrid". The story is presented in half comic strip, half chapter book format. The books in the series so far are

Thelonious is a chipmunk, who is fascinated with the tales he's heard of a race of humans that some say existed at one time. After all, the legends claim that they once ruled the earth. His sister insists that humans are only make-believe. One day Thelonious is carried away in a flash flood to the decaying remnants of a post-apocalyptic human city. He meets many friends and enemies in his quest to find the answer to this question, "What happened to the humans?" With his friends, a bear, a lizard, and a porcupine Thelonious explores the secrets of earth's past.

I think that many elementary age reluctant readers would be pulled into the wonderful characters and exciting story that they read in the comic sections -- so much so that they would make the effort to find out what happens next in the chapter book sections.

So far there are three books in the series. I discovered them at Barnes and Noble. I was looking at the kids' graphic novel section, checking out the new stuff. Frankly, a lot of things that are new look like someone has taken a commercial property and created comic strip versions that stale and lifeless. Then I discovered Fog Mound, which is far from that! It's the just the kind of book I would have loved as a kid. Though the underlying moral that we really better start taking care of the earth could have been heavy, the illustrations and story are lively and full of humor. I think most kids would think, "We're much to smart to let this happen -- we'd better be!"

When I shared my stack of favorite graphic novels for kids at a recent Comics in the Classroom workshop for librarians, this is the book they were most excited about and hastily wrote down the information needed to order copies for their collections. If you're looking for a book series to share with a young reader, this is one I highly recommend.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What's in the Box?




This comic was for an anthology that was proposed but never published. The idea was to have several artists make stories that had to do with a box -- the contents of which would never be revealed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's all in a Meme


Batgirl's Tea Party by Joey Weiser

What's a meme? I saw it mentioned and had to look it up! What got me curious was the Great Batgirl Meme of '06 someone pointed me to. Evidently, one artist redesigned Batgirl's costume and hundreds of artists did the same. That evolved into Fat Bat Cat drawings by a bunch of artists. It is interesting how creative ideas spread -- and how one artist's action can inspire creativity in other artists. Anyway, you learn something new every day, and here's what I've learned today!

A meme (pronounced /miːm/)[1] comprises any idea or behavior that can pass from one person to another by learning or imitation. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, gestures, practices, fashions, habits, songs, and dances. Memes propagate themselves and can move through the cultural sociosphere in a manner similar to the contagious behavior of a virus.

Richard Dawkins coined the word "meme" as a neologism in his book The Selfish Gene (1976) to describe how one might extend evolutionary principles to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He gave as examples melodies, catch-phrases, beliefs (notably religious belief, clothing/fashion, and the technology of building arches).[2]

Something very interesting to me is that the word for self-replication is a shortened form of the Greek word mimeme -- which looks a lot like Mini-Me!

So that's a meme, but basically in internet jargon basically in internet-jargon it means like a game that people play on blogs where one person posts something and then their friends do the same and so on and so forth.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Comics Re-covered #5: FF vs. Diablo and his Awesome Elementals

Diablo was one of the super-villains who opposed the Fantastic Four. This bad guy was a powerful alchemist in 9th Century Saragossa, who sold his soul to the demon Mephisto to lengthen his life far beyond a human span. Having lived for centuries, when the FF meet him, he is a practitioner of alchemy, science based upon the transmutation of elements, and has attained mastery of the alchemical sciences with his genius intellect. Wikipedia says,

Diablo employs a huge arsenal of alchemical potions he has discovered or concocted, that he can conceal in hidden pouches and pockets within his costume. His alchemy, which can transmute elements through means unknown to modern science, enables him to control his own body, the bodies of others, or inorganic matter. His mixtures include nerve gas pellets, sleeping potions, a potion that renders a person inert by rapidly lowering their body temperature, pellets that make a person susceptible to Diablo's hypnotic commands, other potions and pellets that enable him to transmute inorganic matter, create explosive blasts and create beings known as elementals that are composed of ancient alchemical "elements" of earth, fire, air, and water. With few exceptions, all of Diablo's potions and pellets have only temporary effect. He also has alchemical potions which grant him teleportation.

All of that would tend to make you fatigued, but get this: He coats his mustache with a fast-healing Elixir of Rejuvenation to suck on.

I'd like to know what possesses a man who's lived for hundreds of years to choose to dress this way. Maybe the thought process goes like this:

Diablo: If I'm going to be a super-villain, I'm going to need a flamboyant outfit. Hmmm....I'll go with magenta tights with green trim. Let's see, wings on the ballet slippers and long flowing black sashes. There! That's just the look to inspire fear.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Year, New Comic


“The creative mind plays with the objects it loves” - Carl Jung

I wasn't familiar with this quote until tonight, when I saw it in a book at Barnes and Nobles. It seems to fit the cover above though.

I should get my first copies of Eclectic #2 early in January. It won't be long after that before it can be purchased online at Ka-Blam. There were many setbacks to this -- computer crashes, etc.
I had the cover all colored once and the computer died before I could save it. The file could not be retrieved. Oh well, just had to do it again!

Finally the work is done. I'm happy with how it turned out.