Sunday, August 30, 2015

Original Art Sundays No. 224: Speedy Recovery denouement (and a Neil Gaiman review!)

Once more, here we go! Last time around for this particular Speedy Recovery book!
The Speedy story is done, at least as far as posting it. But there are some tidbits that were included in the first printing of the comic that I wanted to share here.

Here's the original idea for the front  cover, and the usual somewhat self-congratulatory afterword page. I'll let the text speak for itself for better or worse, rather than second guess copy I wrote 25 years ago(!).
I do like the original cover plan, in some ways better than the final. I would have had to redraw the car/plane to match the final version inside the book. But even though this version is more dynamic, it served as the basis for the last story page (see previous blog post).

And here's the back cover- an ad for the Packard Tesseract! I've been fascinated with Packards ever since I saw Harlan Ellison sitting in his on an episode of the old Anti-Gravity Room, a fun SF Channel series that was mostly young geeks sitting and talking comics. Clearly, part of the inspiration for the Packard was the TARDIS. Bear in mind that at this point in time, the Sylvester McCoy series was just ending in the UK and was only being sporadically broadcast on PBS in the states, so it was a much less known commodity then than it is today.
Process: This was printed out on colored paper, with the illustration down directly on the paper with colored pencil and markers.The cheesy frame on the illustration is just Photoshop stock. The Packard Tesseract is a great idea. I love the conceit that you need a mechanic, a quantum physicist and a poet to build one!
And I did get some reviews of the completed book. I got a kind note from Howard Cruse, who had also liked the Tranny Towers mockup I put together for a Xeric Grant (didn't win- much sadness!), and a brief note from Trina Robbins, who didn't much care for it. However, I'm pleased to report that we developed a friendship in later years.
And I got a postcard from Neil Gaiman.
This may have been one of the last such reviews Neil did. His career was entering a MUCH larger phase, and shortly after this, he stopped reviewing everything that was handed to him (perfectly understandable). But I cherish this postcard (with Charles Vess Stardust art, no less!) and the kind words Neil had for my work at the time.
Charles Vess!

In Neil's own hand!
I find Neil's handwriting quite legible, but just in case you can't make it out, here's what it says:
"Hi Diana-
Thanks for "Speedy"- I enjoyed it (especially the pun names- some were worthy of Will Eisner)- my only real problem was that it seemed uncertain what it was- a parody, a pastiche, a retro-story, a superhero thing, or what, and the storytelling seemed to lurch a bit: right now they aren't yet people- you have to believe in them too.
Congrats on the degree! 
Looking forward to the next Speedy Ricuvveri-
Neil Gaiman"
A generous and fair review, I think.
(That's a very old address, by the way. Don't write me; I'm not there.)
A former department chair who became a friend, Tom Haakenson, once said you should never go back. But I don't think that applies here. I do like these characters, I think there fun and exciting, and I need to do more stories featuring them. I just need to take Neil's advice, and make the execution live up to the promise. These are good characters, and they deserve another day on the page.
Next: we'll see.... back to an older story, work on something new... I'm rather enjoying this getting things completely done stuff. I'll see if I can keep that horse galloping!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 223: Speedy Recovery, pp. 22 and 23

Well, a tad late, but I've certainly done worse by you guys!
Here we go...
Coming around the plate on the last few pages of Speedy Recovery and His All-Girl Orchestra No. 1.
In the aftermath of the adventure, all that remains is tying up some loose ends, plot-wise, and a bit of fun.
Things that work: the inset panel of the check in panel 2, the group shots in panels 4 and 5.
Things that could work better: the rendering of the check in panel 2 got away from me a bit (too stiff, and the numbers bleed off the check!), the need for just a tad more heavy black in panels 1 - 3. Also, even though it's a VERY busy panel, the last panel on p. 22 could use some more weight.
The panels are all touching on p. 23. This is a visual device that's supposed to slow narrative. It works here, but I've seen it be less effective.
Somehow I got really good at drawing people kneeling in this book!
I love the way the last story page turned out. Again, put the rolling rubber stamp of sheet music to work above the band! I honestly don't recall if I twisted the image on a Xerox or in Photoshop, but I love the effect, if it's not overused.
Granted, there are implausibilities here. How could she pack a trombone without anyone noticing?
Still, all in all, a fun story, I think.
Next week: coda.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No. 222: Speedy Recovery, pp. 20 and 21

A day late!
Spent a delightful time this weekend at Autoptic, talking to more indy publishers, distributors and creators. Saw many old friends.
The new work schedule is more manageable, but I'm still adapting.
Here are the next two pages of Speedy Recovery.
When we left our erstwhile band, they were escaping the manacles in Toby Continued's dungeon.
The calm after the storm, and a pun to round it out!
What's working here: the open two-panel/ one-panel effect on the bottom of page 20. The silhouette image of Speedy presenting the ruby slippers is one of the key images that drove the creation of this book.
And the Ruby Slippers reappear!
The dark semicircle arc framing the 2 panel spread is a trick I picked up from Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise, though I doubt he's the first to use it.
Rather than hand rendering the brick walls this time, I used adhesive back pattern sheets, sort of a custom Zip A Tone or Chartpak, for those who remember that!
Only a couple spreads left of this issue, then it's on to something new.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Original Art Sundays No, 221: Speedy Recovery, pp. 18 and 19

Well, on schedule for another week! How does she do it?
Seriously, how? I have no idea!
I worked 25 hours overtime again this week,and I go in for another 15 hour shift in just an hour or so. Thank the Deity for archives, eh?
But it's funny. When I'm working too much and teaching, I'm more driven to create than when I'm simply working too much.
Back to our story.
Speedy and the girls in the band are chained to a dungeon wall, singing an off-key note (foreshadowed by showing Mae Aswell singing painfully, back on page 6). This is a desperate attempt to stop Toby Continued from opening the gateway to the sonic dimension and setting himself up as ruler of all.
I was concerned that the implosion of the sonic universe gateway was too quick, too "pat" to read well, but I was reluctant to expand the moment of crisis.
I think, in retrospect, that the cast shadows from Toby's prone figure in the top panel of p. 19 do more harm than good. But I do really like the big block "WHUMP" of him passing out and falling down in the previous panel.
Rendering on the bricks was lighter this time, to concentrate on the characters. It always annoyed me that so little attention was given to getting out of the physical traps after resolution of some mad doomsday plan. Devoting a page to getting unchained from the wall just seemed practical. And the "guitarist" reference brings the band skills back into the story.
Could I have pushed the background further on p. 18? Possibly, but I wanted the little "pop" of the gateway closing to be a key moment.
I loved Helena Handbasket's pose at the bottom of p.19.
All for this week, folks. If I keep posting two pages a week, we have 3 or 4 more weeks of Speedy!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Original Art Sundays No. 220: Speedy Recovery, pp. 16 and 17

Back on schedule and posting two pages for one week, as a way of thanking readers for tolerating my erratic postings.
When we left, our villain had just laid out and begun the final steps of his mad plot.Speedy and the girls are chained to a dungeon wall, forced to listen as Toby Continued rips open the sonic dimension.
No read on...
Some things that I like here: the overlapping and larger notes, implying escalating volume. The strangely shaped notes on page 17. Speedy's "sour note" is fun!
Also, the lines "Sing along", "But we're dying!" and "you need the practice" are classic deadpan.
Speedy's shirt collar just barely creeping over the panel border at the bottom of page 17 is a fun touch.
The art works well here from a narrative standpoint, though I think Speedy's hands got a bit too big in the last panel.
Drawing sound is an interesting challenge. Devices like musical notes and symbols are fairly common, and I like playing with them. One of the most interesting approaches was used by Bernie Wrightson in his Marvel adaptation of the King Kull story "The Skull of Silence". Wrightson's original intent was to bleed out the color panel by panel as silence took over, but Marvel's colorists and printers blew it. Still, an intriguing idea.
Next: more Speedy!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Original Art Sundays (Thursday) Nos. 218-219: Speedy Recovery, pp. 14 - 15

Before I teach my Comic Book Writing class tonight, I wanted to update the blog. I've had some decent scanning time, at last!
Here are the next two pages of Speedy Recovery and His All-Girl Orchestra.

This page is the text dump. The back story is explained, and the villain's master plan is revealed.
When doing this kind of page, it's important to keep it visually interesting. The top tier deals with the reality of the situation. The second and third tiers are visualizations of the plan, images that support the text. They're also the character's imagination, so quotation marks are used rather than word balloons, though it's still just Toby talking.
The page has curved panel borders, formed by rolling notes. That rolling rubber stamp was just what I needed to make this story what I wanted!
Sidebar: rubber stamps are cool. In the mid-70s, experimental filmmaker Ken Brown did a short done entirely with rubber stamps, called STAMPEDE. I searched for it online, but came a cropper. Brown is still very active, and occasionally there's a retrospective of his film work.
Ahem. Back to the issue at hand.
Info dump is tricky. How much is too much? In general, it's a good idea to treat text blocks like word balloons. Old school comic writing held that no word balloon should exceed a word count of 30. Let's look at that:
Toby, panel 1: 25 words
Toby (offscreen), panel 2: two balloons, 27 words and 18 words.
Teir 2, sonic explosion text: two captions, 62 words and 18 words.
Bottom tier, ruler of the world fantasy: two captions, 21 words and 13 words.
Clearly , the most problematic is the first caption on the center tier. In retrospect, it would have been better to break that up in thirds. The places for the text breaks are obvious- the ends of each sentence- but that poses some layout challenges if the image is still to read uninterrupted.
On to the next page.
 This page requires almost no text. It's just Toby Continued putting the last steps of his mad plan into action. Visually, I wanted the POV of his hands hitting the keyboards followed by a reverse shot of him in action. The intent of the "eye ellipses" was to show the dimensional portal mentioned on the previous page starting to open. I'm not sure how well it works visually. If the notes emanating from it increased in size as they did so, it might have been more visually clear.
The music in Toby's body was fun to do. I took some of my favorite sheet music, twisted it around on a Xerox, scanned and reversed it, then used a light table to find shapes that matched the form needed. Then it was on to the light table with the x-acto knife, followed by some glue stick work! By finding pieces that echoed the form, I added to the dimensionality of that form.
Was there a faster way to do it? Maybe. But as with the rocks, I wanted to do as much hand work as possible. As Charles Schulz said when asked why he didn't use assistants on Peanuts, I don't want to give up that much fun!
Next: more Speedy, as events build to a crisis.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Original Art Sundays (Friday) Nos. 216 - 217: Speedy Recovery, Centerfold

A pattern emerges.
I post some art, then I work too much. I have almost 40 hours of OVERTIME on the current check! Finally I can't stand putting it off any more, and I post again.
My schedule at work may become more uniform and manageable soon. Until then, we do our best by it.
Here are two more pages of Speedy Recovery. This is the center spread. Rather than continuing to wait until I can do scans on the BIG scanner, I opted for scanning on the dinky desktop one at home. I'll replace the scan with a better one ASAP. I have the corrected scan now, posted below.

Until then, here we go.

And the villain stands revealed!
This spread was great fun to create. The first panel is just a square of black construction paper! I went back to the old saw about the eyes being the most expressive part of the face for the rest of the top tier.
Drawing the half-music man, Toby Continued (!) was a treat. Simple design- leotard, angular face inspired partially by Bill Everett's classic version of Sub-Mariner, then fill the left side (reader's right when the character is facing the reader) with black. I found a rubber stamp of musical notes on a roller and used it to fill in the sound half.
I rendered each of the stones by hand. I considered using a texture fill in Photoshop, or some custom printed Zipatone, but for this page, I wanted that hand rendered look. I started texturing them (see the stones by Speedy's chest?), but decided against it- too distracting and too time-consuming for the results.
I had a two-page backstory of Toby and Speedy meeting in music college. It was the Doctor Doom origin, only in music school. I liked it, but Peter Gross talked me into leaving it out. He contended that multiple flashbacks in the same story confused the reader. I don't think that's always true, but in this case, I think he was right.
Next: the plot thickens.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Original Art Sundays (Friday) Nos. 212 - 215: Speedy Recovery, pp. 8 - 11

Finally back! Working so much. New story on the board, a very ambitious 2 or 3 page thing, but I want to finish posting this one first.
When we left our stalwart group, they were planning to go to Runnovia for a gig, playing big band music for royalty.
Read on...

Notes on these pages:
I love the name Runnovia. It's so Rocky and Bullwinkle!
Page 8 (the airport scene) REALLY would have benefitted from more background in the first two panels. I was going for a remote airfield feel, but there's just too much left out for it to fully read. I do like the flying Packard. It was inspired by Harlan Ellison talking about his Packard on the old Anti-Gravity Room series and by the flying sedan Will Eisner used in a couple very early Spirit stories.
Page 9 (the grand ballroom scene) resolves much better. I had real fun inking those arched cathedral ceilings! I don't know enough about architecture to get every detail, so this is pure swipe file stuff.
Page 10 (the lead-in to the next big moment) also resolves nicely, I think. Speedy's kneeling and the reflections in the floor tiles in Panel One are nice touches. I love Speedy's little "not now" out of the corner of his mouth in Panel Two!
I'm not completely happy with the way the vibrations on the valet are rendered, but I wanted it to be less obvious than simply drawing in a ghost image and speed lines between the two of him. After all, if it were blatantly obvious, Speedy would have seen it right away!

Page 11, the cube dropping over the band, is exactly what I wanted it to be. I particularly like Sandy Beaches, the drummer, passed out over her kit. I like rendering transparencies. We learned in commercial art school that those streaky lines indicating glass or plastic just aren't right, but darn if they don't look right in something like this!
I'm stopping there because the next pages start off with a two-age spread, and rather than cobble it together from multiple scans, I want to wait until I can get to the MCAD large format scanner and get a clean scan of the whole thing. I have a mountain of scans I need to take care of, and will make time for it Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, I think. 
For this section of the book, I had a great confidence in the work, and a conviction that I really controlled my storytelling. That held for most of the rest of the book (posted soon), and was very satisfying. I look back at this whenever I lose confidence in craft. While there are always things that can be improved, looking at your strengths can help you through rough patches, even if they come from 16 years ago!
Next: more Speedy Recovery.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Original Art Sundays (Wednesday) Nos. 210- 211: Speedy Recovery, pp. 6 - 7

Back in the saddle again!
Here are the next two pages of the "Speedy" Recovery and his All-Girl Orchestra story.

The circular layout to introduce a large cast of characters is a very old device. I don't remember where I first saw it, but I remember being impressed with it in Bizarre Sex #9, the first Omaha the Cat Dancer story.
This also sets up the puns that wreak havoc throughout this story (and any following Speedy stories, of which there are none so far).
The backgrounds vary widely here, but they are still much more sparse than they really should be.
Setting up the girls as musicians with other jobs echoes Doc Savage's Fabulous Five, each of whom has a career as a leader in their field, but drops everything to join Doc on his missions.
So it is with Speedy and his band.
Some rather obvious (to me, at least) plot setups here- Mae Aswell's inability to carry a tune in a bucket, as we used to say, will figure prominently later.
Also, the nation of Runnovia, whose name is inspired by my fondness for the writing in the classic Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, plays a big part in this adventure, beyond the quest for the ruby slippers.
In general, I love using curved lines and wave forms as design elements, something I got away from a bit in some of my later work. But hey, it's always there, and I can always go back to it.
Next: more Speedy, as the adventure picks up speed (so to speak)!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Original Art Sundays No. 206 - 209: Speedy Recovery, pp. 2 - 5

Offering a few pages today to catch up with myself. I'm still in a bit of a holding pattern on new work, but will stop indulging my imagination and whimsies and get new work done soon.

A decent chunk of story this time, largely because I didn't want to break up the prelude, also to catch up with my self-imposed schedule a bit.

Some thoughts on these.
Aside from the sloppy rendering of the bus in panel 4 and the slightly too sparse background on the MGM panel, the only real issue with this page is that the banner announcing the time and place is too small. The Scarecrow image on the wall is based on a sketchbook image of that character that I posted a while ago.
The next page is largely based on shot photos from the 1939 movie. Structurally, the biggest issue here is that the mapping of heavy blacks in the last panel, where Judy's handing Susan the ruby slippers, doesn't read properly at first glance. It needs to be clearer in isolating background and figure.
The following page is fairly successful, including a subtle bit of foreshadowing in panel 2. The date ellipse is, again, too small. Also, sparse backgrounds in the first and third images of the central banner panel. But I rather like the scolding heads in the last panel. For the life of me, I can't recall what specifically inspired that image.
The final page of this batch works fairly well. The use of the Scarecrow art from page one to reinforce that it's the same house is a nice touch, I think. The second panel echoing the cover shown on page one helps anchor the story. This page is also the first time in the story proper that we see our central character other than in silhouette. Originally, the last panel of this page was intended as the splash page for this book.
The big problem on this page is that I neglected to leave space for the title and credits- something I tend to forget when putting my own books together!
This book touches on a number of themes that are important to me: Oz, country life, trust issues, reluctance to accept your place in life, and music. Always music.
Next week: more Speedy. I had just intended this as a placeholder while I geared up for new work, but it's better than I recall it being, and I'm enjoying it greatly!