Sunday, August 24, 2014

Original Art Sundays: Surrealist Cowgirls: Maggie's Bedtime Story, p. 4

Well, I don't know how I did it, with another 45 hour work week and prep for teaching next week, but here's the next page!
Mostly very happy with this one. I want to do some photos and some serious mechanical drawing next time I do a restaurant scene. This is okay, but I'd like to do one that's stunning. Possibly in more of a "real people" story....
This was done in Copic ink markers. I did invest in some new brushes, but I want to make time to practice with them before using them on a page. And while markers do lend themselves to speed, these feel like ink and have very little fade to them.
The page:

Again, scanned in tiers in the interests of time. Rescan is mandated before going to press.
When working on the last panel, I kept thinking about the Mary Jane and Sniffles stories from the 1940s, with Walt Kelly-ish art from Al Hubbard. These stories, upon which I occasionally stumbled in my comic reading youth, have long enchanted me and are long overdue for a collection! Here's a sample page:
So elegant, so imaginative!
Next: page 5. Despite my original script, this is shaping up to be a 6 or 7 page story. I'm very eager to see this one completed. I think it's a really strong story, something I seldom say about my own work.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Original Art Sundays No. 189: The Pirate Alphabet, supplement

Next Cowgirls page is nearly done. Since I just put in over 100 hours in two weeks, I hope you'll understand a slight delay! The page is more detailed than some of late, and I want to take the time to do this one to my full satisfaction.
Meanwhile, as I was putting some originals in order, I found another page from the aborted Pirate Alphabet project I started in 1999. This one was on the subject of women as pirates!


This was done on 300# deckle edge watercolor paper. The media were watercolors (a bit), colored inks and dyes (mostly) and crowquill and ink (a touch for outlining). I had a great time researching these ladies! Stylistically, the main figures work very well and Penny and her friend (lower right corner) are rendered in a style consistent with their appearance in the rest of the book, but there's a bit of a detach between the two styles. 
Of all the projects I've left unfinished, I think this is one I'd like to complete most. It should go back on the list....
Next, back to the Cowgirls bedtime story!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review: Gentle Giant: The Power and the Glory 5.1 Remix

Considering the vast role music has played in my life, I've usually had sound systems that range from adequate to slipshod. Part of this is my being a technophobe. Part of it is me being miserly about big ticket investments (to this day, I put off buying shoes as long as I can due to the cost of decent ones!). Another factor is that I can't always tell the difference between the moderately priced systems and the high-end stuff.
Currently I'm primarily using a Crosley combined turntable and CD player. I like the look of it and the sound serves. I can burn CDs from LPs. It doesn't kick out the jams the way some of my past systems have, but living in a modest space in a garden apartment, having a compact unit with decent sound is okay.
So in light of that, what business do I have reviewing a 5.1 mix of any album, let alone one as iconic as Gentle Giant's The Power and the Glory?
Well, it speaks to the quality of the work that even on this modest system, the difference is noticeable and remarkable. The instruments are distinct, yet the work retains its cohesion. This doesn't come across as five masters playing their instruments as much as five masters playing TOGETHER. There are some subtle changes, extended intros and exits on certain numbers, and the added instrumental track of Aspirations (a perennial favorite) just shines. This album, which I've heard countless times and revered for over 30+ years, has taken on new life for me. The intertwining vocal lines on No God's A Man are clear and precise like never before, but none of the magic of Giant hocketing is lost.
This album has been held in high regard as much for its lyrics as its complex music. When I saw the booklet containing NO lyrics, I was quite let down. But then I popped the DVD into my player. And there they were, embedded in some (mostly) clever and effective animation of every song on the album!

Ironically, the animation I find most disappointing is the one for the aforementioned Aspirations. By associating the song with a fairly generic family, it loses some of its impact for me. The other pieces are all either animated text and symbols or silhouettes, and the universal aspect of that makes them compelling.
In contrast, my favorite animated bit is associated with the album's original closer, Valedictory. Using simple lines and shapes in appropriate position for each of the instruments, it feels like a performance by an invisible band. Very compelling!
Credit where it's due: the animation was done by Gentle Giant founding member Ray Shulman, who's made a respectable career in sound and DVD production.
A word must be said as regards packaging. The original LP had die-cut top corners, reinforcing the image of the playing card. Sadly, not the case here. Despite a lavish gatefold box for the CD/DVD set (slightly different image on the Blu-Ray DVD than on my plain old one, according to some fellow GG aficionados) and a booklet containing a comprehensive and engaging interview/essay, the the cover was not properly, ahem, rounded. In fairness, that might have caused a great many production issues. There's only been one CD release that actually had the rounded corners, the one on Derek Shulman's own DRT Records a few years back (though the Japanese mini-LP set also, ahem, followed suit). The album does come with a charming promotional postcard, which I'll scan and add to this post when I get home from work I'm happy to post here.

Like many GG fans, I eagerly await the next Steve Wilson 5.1 mix of a Gentle Giant album. I'd love to see him do justice to the group's final album, Civilian, an album I've always held was a neglected masterpiece.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Original Art Sundays No. 188: Surrealist Cowgirls: Maggie's Bedtime Story, p.3

Again, page done on time, but extra work at the day gig created delays in posting. Still, the story goes well. Here's the next page.
Light on text this time, trying to let the story speak for itself a bit more. Clearly a love story, but I hope the turns of events offer some surprises!
Very light Photoshop on this one- just levels and cleaning up some errant marks. I invested in some new brushes this week, and am eager to break them in. This page is entirely brush tip markers, but I'll use some inks on Page 4.
Reviewed past pages in the process of scanning this. I'm much happier with the Cowgirls stuff as a whole than I am with the pages individually, if that makes any sense.
Next week: page 4!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Original Art Sundays No. 187: Maggie's Bedtime Story, p.2

Back again! So many weeks of overtime, along with having a very stubborn creative block on this relatively simple page.
Ah, well. Bitch, bitch, bitch, that's all I am.
I have a very clear vision of this story now, and have it mapped out. I did the first page with no idea where it was going.
Here's page two.
A couple details to resolve, notably the scanner shadow on the left of the last panel. My hand lettering on this page was strictly from hunger, very, very bad, so I reworked it digitally. 
The name "firedrake"is a German mythological term that I first encountered in Alan Moore's Miracleman. I use it here as homage to Moore, because I like the sound of it, and because the mythic overtones figure prominently into the overall story.
The firedrakes are modeled on a tribe I designed in seventh grade, based on the then-new handheld disposable cigarette lighters. I had all these wild nonsense stories of these flame-headed Native Americans running around saving stupid white people from their own folly. The white people, of course, were afraid of them. I never carried these stories to the inevitable conclusion of the white idiots killing off the cigarette lighter people. The last one of those stories I did was about the Lighter Tribe encountering a rock band called The Antz. Maybe I'll see if I can still draw The Antz, and add a sketch to next week's art offering for fun.
This story has three more pages to run. Look for the next page in this space in 168 hours or so!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Original Art Sundays No. 186: Dead Dog Comics Tryout page

Posting on time this week (actually starting a few minutes before midnight, so technically early!). Worked a 51 hour week, so no time to complete either of the current Surrealist Cowgirls projects, but progress has been made on both.
Meanwhile, one more from the vaults.
This was also a colorist tryout page, like last week's, but this time I got the job! It didn't pay, but I got the job.
While completing my BFA, I found an internship with a new publisher out of Hopkins, MN. They were called Dead Dog Comics, and run by the very optimistic and friendly Chazz deMoss. As part of the tryout package, I was asked to color a page from a forthcoming monster book (all of the line was horror books at first). This was the result.
Ooh, scary! Sort of.
This was done in late 1999 or early 2000, so I'm guessing Photoshop 6 or 7. In retrospect, it would have worked just as well as a hand painted piece, but they wanted digital.
I tried to keep it vibrant but not overbearing (though the image doesn't demand subtlety, anyone who know the work of Bernie Wrightson knows it's possible to do sublime horror illustration). The piece doesn't show it, but it is more than 50% gray values.  The light sources are a bit inconsistent (the only visible light sources in the scene are the candle and the window, but much is brightly front lit). In my defense, my first priority was to be consistent with the cast shadows placed by the inker. Not sure if this ever saw print. I also did some spot inking and digital lettering for them.  
The best of the job: genuinely nice people, very enthusiastic about their work.
The worst: the day I showed up early and the place smelled odd. I opened the microwave and was swarmed by fruit flies. Someone had left a dirty plate, food still on it, in the microwave over a long weekend. Once I was able to hold down my cookies, I cleaned it up and got out of there- no more work for me that day! Yikes!
The only real problem I had with the horror books was that one of them was blatantly misogynistic- a slutty woman being chained in a dungeon by the monster, who "eyed with bad intent" as the song goes. This was in one of the stories I lettered for them, and I did very little work for them after that.
Dead Dog continued for a few years. Last time I saw their stuff at MNCBA's Spring Con, they were branching into cop books, and the line looked more polished. I've not heard anything about them for several years, but I do wish them well.
next: Cowgirls!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No. 185: Supergirl coloring tryouts!


Another week of too much work, but still plugging away at the Cowgirls fairy tale and the other long-promised Cowgirls project. I really am plugging away at these things, as my energy allows.
Soon, my pretties, soon....
Meanwhile.
As I was filing papers, I found some pieces I thought long lost.  The first of these was a tryout page from the early 2000s. I thought I'd posted this ages ago, but a search of the blog says otherwise. Friend and sister Venus de Mars approached me and a few other folks to join a team of Photoshop colorists. The project was recoloring pages for DC's Archives series. I was given pages of Supergirl to recolor, along with scans of the original page for reference and a shared swatch palette. I completed three pages, but only this one survived in print, and that computer is long gone!
The process is pretty straightforward.
First, isolate the black in a separate channel.
Also isolate in a separate layer.
Use as baseline for making coloring selections.

Then go layer by layer, adding basic color. Go from large areas to specific.
Keep effects to a minimum. You're duplicating an existing color scheme,
not making a new one! Flatten colors to one layer when complete, but save other layers
until the page is approved, to make changes easier. The process for flattening:
make a new layer and press Command-Option-Shift-E to merge visible.
Be sure the black layer is not visible when you do this step!
Turn the black layer (line art) back on, do another Merge Visible and a Save As... Final.
Send to the boss and receive your accolades!
While the whole team worked very hard on these tryout pages and did some great work, ultimately DC gave the job to a different team. Still, a great experience, and it honed my Photoshop coloring skills (not to mention my attention to detail) a great deal.
Next: who knows? I'd love to get back to the Cowgirls, if I can get enough time off work! If not, I have more of these newly discovered backup pieces for your reading pleasure...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No. 184: MIllie the Model Meets Mad Men!

After a month of overtime, I finally found a couple minutes to go back to the drawing board.
Funny story on this one. I put a new page on the board, and grabbed 14 x 17" Bristol instead of the 11 x 14" I had been using for the Surrealist Cowgirls. I decided to leave it there and do something different.
One of my regrets about current comics is that there are very few licensed books, especially relative to the 1950s and 60s, when Dell/Gold Key had contracts to adapt movies and TV series as issues of Four-Color Comics. Though we've had decent comics of The Muppets, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who and Fringe, it's a pretty safe bet to do Sf and kid-oriented material. I've always contended that we'd benefit from comic book versions of House, Harry Potter, Brisco Country Jr., even Law and Order: Criminal Intent comics!
In that spirit, here's a pastiche cover involving a favorite series that's now winding down: Mad Men.


This was a fair amount of work, but it was fun! The final render of Mr. Hanover is a bit crude, and Millie's figure here owes something to Mad Men's Joan Harris, as portrayed by Christina Ross. In the comics, Millie was not QUITE so zaftig!
Also, I appear to have the color of Don's eyes wrong. I rather like the rendering of Don other than that.
Lettered digitally rather than by hand. The trade dress is also digital.
While centered in the 1960s, this is all over the place. Marvel Pop Art Productions was a logo that was used for a couple years in the mid-sixties, and Millie the Model was a soap-opera title from the late 60s into the early 70s. However, Millie had gone back to being a humor book by the time Marvel Team-Up had begun, which was long after the Pop Art logo!
I'm looking forward to seeing the resolution of Mad Men. I'm cheering for Peggy Olson to make it, more than anyone else on the series!
That's all for now. I will work on being a better correspondent!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 183: Surrealist Cowgirls: Maggie's Bedtime Story, p.1

Posting a couple days late this week, only because of working extra and not having time to complete the page.
First page of a new story. Haven't mapped it in detail yet, but it will probably be 6 or 7 pages when completed.
I'm going for a kind of dreamy feel on this one. Lost of things on this page I like. The environment in the first panel works well. I think Maggie's "sick hair" in Panel 3 is effective.
Maggie is usually the one who's more serious and together. In most of the Surrealist Cowgirls stories to date, she's been the caretaker when one's been needed. Like most people who give aid, she's not all that good at receiving it! It's also an opportunity for Louise to show there's more to her than her sporadic "ditz" role.
Constructing the bid and fire villages was fun. Birdhouses: well, that's obvious. But the firehouses are always burning, which will be made more clear later in the story.
A few technical issues remain. I will rescan before going to press.
Next: either page two, or that four-page thing I'm doing on the side.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Original Art Sundays No. 182: Surrealist Cowgirls: A Margo Short Story

As promised, here's the newest Surrealist Cowgirls short story!
Just a little two pager, giving some background on Margo, the Shape-shifting Mule. I see this as a sort of a Fleischer cartoon feeling, that strangely tense humor and surrealism, reminiscent of the Koko shorts.
I'm trying to flesh out the world of the Cowgirls without making it too heavy or complex. I want it to be acceptable to the reader, but I really don't care if it makes absolute sense. Carl Barks once remarked that his ducks were only characters in his stories. "The ducks and mice and Pegleg Petes of Disney's menagerie are all fairy tale creatures. To humanize them to the extent of explaining their parental origins detracts from their mystique." That's sort of the way I see the Cowgirls. I want their stories to be enjoyable and coherent, but if the world's magic doesn't follow some arbitrary set of rules, I don't care.
With that in mind, here's a bit of the story of Margo!

Louise's top is loosely based on Leetah's top from the first Elfquest story.
The scanner seems to be behaving well, aside from some ongoing logistic issues. Most of my work is larger than the scanner bed, so I can either scan in tiers and match them, as I did here, or reduce them on a Xerox and then scan.
In either case, we seem to be on track for posting work on a regular basis again. I have two more Cowgirls projects going right now, and a couple other things are tickling me as I work. So thanks for sticking with me through the drought!