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!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 205: Speedy Recovery, page 1

Almost over illnesses, not working either job today. So an opportunity to post after some serious neglect!
Here's the first story page of the Speedy Recovery narrative.
More of a teaser page, a bit more of a descriptor than the cover, this is modeled after the old Life magazines, of course. I had been watching Fantasia and was taken with the image of Stokowski conducting in silhouette, added a couple simple design elements (while strangely neglecting a date or price on the magazine cover), and there we are.
No Photoshop in putting the original books together. I Xeroxed the pages down from 11 x 17" to 8 1/2 x 11", trimmed a bit, set them up on old-school flats, doing the pagination via a mock-up, and ran Xeroxes of the flats. I then took them to Kinko's where I had the covers printed and the run stapled and trimmed. MCAD did no have a service bureau then!
Next: well, the next page, of course!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Original Art Sundays, no. 204: Speedy Recovery, cover

Back in the saddle again, after a month of other posts!
I'm dipping into the vault again, while I finalize a Surrealist Cowgirls mini-project.
This was my second published comic, done as my senior project for completion of my BFA in comic book illustration from MCAD.
The concept is simple: a man ends up on a series of mystery-adventures, when all he really wants to do is conduct his all-girl big band.  A bit of an unintentional riff on The Trouble With Girls, an adventure/comedy book about a reluctant spy type. I'd read that book years before and forgot about it until I found my copy in my collection, after I completed this, and realized the parallel.
Here's the cover for Speedy Ricuverri and His All-Girl Orchestra no. 1:

The fine print: this was done in pastel over ink, on colored paper. Note the paper texture showing through the title banner ("in this issue..."). Letting the local color of the paper serve as part of the background is a nice touch, reminiscent of Coles Phillips fadeaways, though not used as elegantly here as Phillips managed to do. I popped in a couple nice Deco elements to reinforce the Big Band era feel. I do love the design of the title, but the "R" could be a bit more distinct.
I should have named the book "Speedy Recovery", since nobody knew that was how Ricuverri was pronounced until they read the book! Not much point in having an unexplained pun on the front cover.
Lots of inspirations for this book, but I'll talk more about those in coming weeks. For this piece, I used the aforementioned Deco elements and a layout from a Cab Calloway VHS tape. The look of Speedy, our principal character, is part Superman, part Clark Gable, and a touch of Rocky from the first movie.
I'll be posting some more pages of this in big chunks as the weeks go on- I'm not interested in spending half a year posting it, but I would like to get the whole book posted.
Next: either more Speedy or that pesky little Cowgirls thing that drags out so....

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Best Comics of 2014, No. 1 (tie) Rasputin and Second Avenue Caper

Finally finishing this up! Hope you find it worth the wait.
I couldn't decide between these two books, so I'm naming them both No. 1. And I could not imagine more different books.
Rapsutin, published by IDW, is a supernatural take on the near-mythic historical figure. Alex Grecian's writing is tense, empathetic and witty. Riffing on Rasputin's supposed supernatural abilities, the series begins with the character's execution, then flashes back to his childhood.
Example of Rissomo's work
from Rasputin #2
IDW's non-licensed titles tend to have a bit of a "house style" to their art, especially in the horror line, and this is ostensibly a horror book, at least in part. While Riley Rissomo's line work has the same sketchy energy as Damien Worm's work on The October Faction, for example, the art in Rasputin has a greater variety to its page layouts, and Ivan Plasencia's coloring has a much greater variety than the constant somber Earth tones of the former book. I get it, you guys like Ben Templesmith's work.  Gritty monochrome. I like that, but as Rapsutin clearly demonstrates, there are other approaches already!
There are many subtleties to the art in Rasputin, ranging from its clever use of anatomical illustration as a plot device to the use of white and pastel colored panel borders.
In terms of the writing, it speaks well for the book that it begins with the character's denouement (read: death by multiple assassinations), and yet pulls the reader in deeper with each issue. This despite the foregone conclusion!
The second Best of 2014 works on a  different kind of magic. Joyce Brabner's Second Avenue Caper, her first long-form solo work since the amazing Flashpoint: the La Prenca Bombing (1989), reiterates the quality of her work as a solo writer. Her work is often eclipsed in the public mind by that of her late husband, Harvey Pekar. Between savoring Flashpoint and her work in Real War Stories, I've always thought that her solo writing was unjustly neglected.
Now Second Avenue Caper is out, so to speak, and the reading public is finally giving her work its due. If I had to categorize this, I'd put it in the burgeoning category of Graphic Memoir. By melding some of her late husband Harvey Pekar's personal anecdotal style (wow, that's an awkward phrase!) with her incisive political writing, Brabner has created a riveting document of the unlikely camaraderie forged in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. What begins as two old friends sharing a cup of coffee becomes a whirlwind of guerrilla healthcare, gangsters, and international drug smuggling, all in the name of attempting to survive an undefined and ill-treated disease. The story is reminiscent of Dallas Buyer's Club, but without the cynicism that I felt dominated that film.
Zingarelli and Brabner use the silent pause to great effect!
Mark Zingarelli's art again brings American Splendor to mind, due to his connection to that project. He faces the challenge of a dialogue-heavy narrative very smoothly, using the standard devices of changing angle and distance cleanly, and controlling pacing through the use of silent panels.
As is the case in the best nonfiction narratives, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts and readers are left with the sense of surviving the harrowing early days of the AIDS epidermic alongside Joyce and her compatriots. As a caregiver working with People With AIDS, this work resonates with me. My co-workers have told me many horror stories of these early days, so Second Avenue Caper rings true.
That about does it for 2014. I'll be back to posting art this weekend!