Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Intiution and Creativity

As I prepare the last bits of my paper for this weekend's Midwest PCA Conference, and bounce back and forth between that task (and the nearly mandatory Powerpoint presentation) and the grading of students' rough drafts (some more rough than others, but overall pretty good), my thoughts turn to the nature of creativity and approaches to it.
This morning I heard an episode of the radio series Engines of Our Ingenuity that was on point. The transcript is posted at the live link. I encourage you to stop and read this- it's quite good. In Leinhard's discussions of the place of intuition in the creative process and ways in which direct Net research can inhibit that process, I see parallels to my own processes.
My mind seems to be a randomizing search engine, taking me to unexpected places as I try to hold to a deliberate path from point A to point B. There were times in the past when I found this inhibiting, frustrating and shameful, as it seemed to preclude any significant level of accomplishment. It still had its down side in terms of time management issues. Now, however, I've begun to see it as an example of what I call the Timothy Mouse Syndrome. Taken from the timeless film Dumbo, possibly Disney's most profound feature, the rather blatant message is from Timothy's line to Dumbo (who never speaks in the film) that "the very things that dragged you down will bring you up!"
Two days ago,  the MacArthur Genius Grants were awarded to a phenomenal group of individuals. Here's stone cutter Nicholas Benson discussing his work.

"This is the only way to do this." That's not a didact, that's a recognition of his own process and the tradition from which that process stems.
Discussion of process, especially traditional, non-digital process, inevitably leads to accusations from some of the speaker being a Luddite.
To offer another perspective on that issue, here's another MacArthur Grant winner, type designer Matthew Carter.

The call to "do more" is the drive for many people. I'm reluctant to say "all", as many, including my brother Craig (ironically, the only member of our family to have a whole book published to date), feel no such calling, claiming that simply being is reason enough for life.
Though my own work falters at times, I disagree. I can't say why it's important to create, but I know it is. And seeing masters at work in such diverse fields as the recipients of the MacArthur Grants (only nicknamed "genius grants") is both inspiring and inhibiting.
Well, that paper's not going to write itself.
Then again, given the free association nature of my writing, in a way, it will.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Original Art Sundays #60 : Sketchbook, 1993-1994

Just to get back on schedule, some pieces from a sketchbook I found in the basement a couple days ago.
This work dates back to the tail end of my relationship with a rather abusive man, and represents a paradoxical confidence in my artwork that I did not have in the rest of my life at the time.
First up: Frosty!

I was thinking about the frost dance in Fantasia when I drew this. The glee and impudence of the character appealed to me.
Media: Pencil, pen & ink, colored pencil.
Next up: Aw Reet!

Proportions not spectacular here, but I was enjoying playing with a looser style than I had been using at the time. "Cartoony" (whatever that is) is not where my strengths lie, but I do so love that kind of work if it's done well. And so much energy!
Media: pencil, ballpoint pen.
Third: Miles of Horns

Just jumped right in with the final media here, going for a feeling first and accuracy second. I've tried a couple pieces over the years inspired by early Miles Davis. That someone can be so vibrant and urgent and so serene at the same time leaves me in awe.
Medium: colored pencil.
Finally: AUM.

I really like this one.
This is a piece where I just took my time, tried to make as few corrections as possible, and let the ideas develop as the work did.
I've done very little formal meditation, but I have a great respect for its power.
The force lines creating a pattern of energy around the central figure strike me as the way it all works, sort of.
My only concern on this one is that the dragon is a bit more of a puppy- kind of a beagle-dragon, if you will. I did try to emulate the Chinese dragon over the European dragon, despite my association of the Yin-Yang symbol with Japan. Oh well. Mix two metaphors and call me in the morning.
So there we have it. Some pretty good work coming out of a pretty bad time!
Midwest PCA is this coming weekend, and I'm presenting a paper. Despite that, I hope to have a new page of A Private Myth for next week.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Original Art Sundays #59 (late) : A Private Myth, p. 17

Page done a week ago! My sincere apologies for not posting sooner!
I will make amends with this week's art post later tonight.
In this page, the story continues but the tone shifts. We've been alternating between bedroom scenes, fights, and mystery.
Well, the mystery is still there, but I felt like I needed something lighter. And if I felt like that, how must Catherine and her lover feel? 
Please click on the image and read the page at full size for greatest enjoyment!
 The plot thickens, in a quiet sort of way.
Well, this is a very quiet story.
Again, elected to use the local color of the board as a value of gray to give the figures a bit of weight. Also breaking the girls out of that apartment. So far we've seen Catherine's apartment building and her lover's office break room. Time for a change of scenery, which will hit you in the face on the next page of the story!
The puzzle pieces in panel 5 were an afterthought, but I think they're just clever enough, bordering on too clever.
Wrestling with issues related to the lettering. I do like my hand lettering just fine, but the digital lettering is so much faster and cleaner. Wrestling with finding an apropos font.
Also regaining my fondness for inks. Pencils as finals can be very effective - see Gene Colan's Ragamuffins as a case in point- but there are times when working with ink is like cuss words, in that nothing else will serve.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We'll be using yer guts fer garters, mate! (caption, panel 3)

This coming Sunday is National Talk Like A Pirate Day!
It draws many things to me beleaguered and rum-addled mind.
We'll let my old captain, Micheal Nesmith, interrupt now and again.

Arr. Now, then.
Since Pirates of the Carribean, there's been a revived interest in our bilge-soaked seafarers. Mr. Depp's over-the-top portrayal was a delight in that it made several things about pirates clear.
They're unclean.
They're dishonest with others, and not always so honest with themselves.
They're violent and greedy.
Despite that, they're really fun!

Yes. Quite right, then.
Pirates have been fixtures in comics forever. The origins of The Phantom and Tarzan are both steeped in pirate lore. Tarzan's parents were cast away from their burned ship by pirates, while pirates killed Kit Walker's parents in the 1600s, resulting in the Phantom legacy.

It's also worth mentioning that

Ahem. As we were saying.
It's also worth mentioning that many more contemporary superheroes have walked the planks under the skull and crossbones!
Benjamin J. Grimm, the Thing of Fantastic Four fame, was, in reality, Blackbeard.

One of the smartest superhero stories, James Robinson's Starman, uses pirates as a recurring theme, first as an adventure with Starman's late brother, then as a rescued damned pirate who saves Starman's bacon.

Detective Comics Annual No. 7 featured an Elseworlds story of a pirate Batman. The story, titled Leatherwing, is part of a series of unrelated stories, set outside standard DC continuity. While they often end with the central characters assuming the same roles they do in the "canon" continuities, these outings do give the creators a chance to stretch a bit.

There are also comics that are specifically about pirates, ranging from

(stop that!) er, ranging from this early Classics Illustrated, that adapts the Yul Brynner/Charlton Heston odd little quasi-historical epic The Buccaneer (one of my favorite childhood movies)
to Will Eisner's pre-Spirit strip Hawks of the Sea, represented here in its Canadian version,

to the more recent El Cadazor, from the late publisher CrossGen, whose smart, beautiful comics were hindered by an overly ambitious business plan and the vagaries of the economy.

This book, by the usually snarky/macho and slightly misogynist (but not nearly as bad as Beau Smith in that respect) Chuck Dixon, picks up on the Disney Pirates notion of a woman as captain. Not unheard of in the world of real pirates, but rather uncommon.

Another fixture of the pirate narrative: the abandonment of identity. In all these stories, there's an aspect of the character being reborn as another, a burial at sea of the land persona, if you will. This is often accompanied by a moral shift.
Following the astounding popularity of Disney's Pirates of the Carribean films, the theme began to recur in comics, including this delightful romp from Ted Naifeh, illustrator of the transgender tone poem How Loathsome, written by Tristan Crane.
Along the same lines, there's the bright (if derivative of Elfquest) comic based on the short-lived series Pirates of Dark Water. In addition to a page of the narrative, here's the cover of the last issue, with art by the delightful and elegant Charles Vess!

And thanks to the sadly demised Disney Adventures Digest, we have comics featuring Jack Sparrow and Company, illustrated by Brett Blevins, who also did the new Scarecrow of Romney Marsh comics for the same publication!
The first story was Revenge of the Pirates, from the August 2003 issue.
The final tale was The Accidental Pirate, from the Disney Super Special, Sept. 2009.

Approximately midway through the run, this tale appeared, introducing the usually land-bound pirate The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh,  who was featured in a dozen or so stories of his own throughout the run of the magazine.
And the classics.
This post-trend EC title featured some remarkable art and some innocuous stories- of necessity, as demanded by the then-powerful Comics Code.
And let us not forget the use of pirates as metaphor in the meta-comic Tales of the Black Freighter, contained in The Watchmen.

I'll be having some grisly metaphor, if you will, Captain! The true nature of pirates is much closer to the surface here, and is taken to extremes by the labyrinthine S. Clay Wilson in his classic, Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates!
Despite Disney's attempts to turn them into charming rogues, pirates remain lethal, often amoral figures bound by their own code. Their stories are a sort of seafaring noir, wrapped in desperation and urgency as they sail to treasure they can never spend.
This Gentle Giant song sums up the inevitable end of most pirates.

The world of pirates is colorful, adventurous and seductive. It's also nihilist, defeating and doomed. The core conflict is Man Against Sea, and Sea always wins.

Well, maybe it's not THAT grim...
Ah, Pirates do love their treasures!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Original Art Sundays #58) : Tranny Towers, pp. 6 & 7

In order to get back on schedule, I am posting two more Tranny Towers pages.

For me, this is when the strip started to hit its stride.
The narrative began to go in some new directions, and I was having some fun with the design of the page. The visual shorthand of the funny animal stuff was a bit on the nose at times- a fox as an attorney, a bull as a security guard, and the one that eluded most people at the time: a beaver as a pre-op transsexual.
Due to the minuscule size of the original printing, the Lenny Bruce quote framing the center panel of the second strip in the spread- "the halls of justice, the only place you see the justice is in the halls"- all but disappeared in the work's first appearance.
As frustrating as it gets at times posting old work rather than new, I am enjoying revisiting this material. The writing is much better than I recall, and while I may never do anything new with these characters, watching them evolve into who they were all along was an exciting process.
I recall being told as the strip was near its end that the people in the Lavender offices hated it. Quite frankly, this hurt me a great deal.
So imagine my joy at meeting performance artist Cindy Baker at the national PCA Conference in St. Louis this April and having her recall the work! She told me that she and her partner loved it and couldn't wait for the next episode to come out!
Maybe more people "got it" than I knew.
In any event, revisiting these is a revelation in itself, and more of a pleasure than I expected.
Next: the ladies in A Private Myth start a small adventure.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

If it please the court, will the witness stop flying about the courtroom?

There's a new exhibit at Yale devoted to comics and the law.
 Of course, comics and the law have a long history.
In addition to the legal battles fought over comics themselves, ranging from the early Superman lawsuits to Marvel's attempts to hold up production of the Rocketeer film over characters with similar names, there have been many characters who practiced law.
The earliest of these in superhero narrative may be Two-Face, the Batman villain who is a scarred district attorney, discussed in this snippet from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.

Two-Face first appears in Detective Comics #66, about 4 years into Batman's run.
Matt Murdock is possibly the most significant attorney in comics in the last 50 years, better known as Daredevil.
Here's a scene from the classic Frank MIller run that shows integration of Murdock's profession and his, ahem, avocation.

Of course, the deal here is that by detecting pulse rate using his heightened senses, this blind lawyer can tell when someone's lying- except in this case, where the culprit has a pacemaker that regulates his pulse! So this in turn effects the way Murdock practices law and the way his deferred identity functions.
Here's the denouement in a later plotline. The adversary realizes the truth.

And my personal favorite, Daredevil #7, with that great Wally Wood art.
Prince Namor journeys to the surface to file a lawsuit against the surface dwellers (that would be us).
Frustrated with the slow pace of the court system, Namor breaks out of jail and runs rampant in the city. Of course, Daredevil must stop him.

The above DD images are all from the delightful Matt Murdock Chronicles blog!
Here's a recent case from Marvel Ultimates. Once most heroes' identities are known, Banner is put on trial for the crimes of The Hulk. Guess who defends?

Of course, comic narratives have been playing fast and loose with the workings of the law throughout their existence, just as have television shows and films.
However, this has evolved. Superheroes often used the courts as personal vehicles, as in this Lois Lane story. Who knew both Superman and Batman were licensed to practice law?

In an early 60s story, Superman was on the witness stand and questioned regarding his secret identity. His response was to write the name of his alter-ego on a chalkboard. However, it was written so fast that it melted the slate board. The court accepted this evasion as a valid answer, seemingly without question.
Flash forward to the same question being asked during a murder trial a few years ago.
There's a fascinating analysis of this and related issues over at the Strange Horizons blog. I don't completely agree with it, but it's very insightful.
For decades, Attorney Robert Ingersoll had a column in Comic Buyer's Guide titled The Law Is A Ass, which dealt with legal issues as related to comics content.  An archive of these fascinating columns can be found here.
I doubt this intriguing topic will ever be exhausted.  But we have advanced the portrayal of the superhero in court a great deal since this was all we had.

Original Art Sundays #57 (late) : A Private Myth, the show

Just a quick note that nine pages of A Private Myth, along with the cover, are being shown at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design's Faculty Art Show.
I had a couple friends from outside my MCAD world show up briefly at tonight's opening, and saw some people I used to work with at my previous college, along with many of the usual crowd from MCAD.
Also had a wonderful and unexpected talk with gallery curator Kerry Morgan about the prospects of an upcoming show we hope to have MCAD host. But I don't want to speak out of turn so I'll stop there.
Had a great chat with former student Charles Priceabout fencing and his father the attorney, and talked a bit about Rodrigo y Gabriela with my pal, fellow prog music hound and former Photoshop teacher Rik Sferra, who introduced me to R & G's great music. I was delighted to talk shop with fellow comics teacher Jim Keefe, whose work on Flash Gordon was also on display.
Jim was nice enough to indulge me and take a quick shot of me with the work.
When I first saw this shot, I thought, oh my Lord, I'm a wall. After doing some levels corrections in Photoshop, I was pleasantly surprised- I didn't think I looked that good!
I know, this isn't really new work. It's kind of cheating to use this as Original Art Sundays, especially on a Friday.
But hey, I don't show that often so it's sort of a big deal to me, even being one of many in the show.
Also, seeing the work in different contexts than originals in my grubby mitts or scans posted here allows a fresh perspective. I see different things in the work in this context, both good and bad. This gives me a fresh eye for upcoming pages.
The really weird thing was that my work ended up in the exact same spot where I had my BFA exhibition back in 1999. You've come a long way, baby....

Monday, September 6, 2010

Read on, comics fans! Followup

After a few minor delays, I'm able to post photos of me and my pal Clint on Read a Comic Book in Public Day.

Not my most flattering look, but a damn fine comic!
I'm hardly a big Spawn fan, so Sam and Twitch, the detectives from that series, eluded me until this smart, tight miniseries.
Suffice to say I'll be seeking out the back issues as soon as I can afford to do so!

The locale for the little Saturday outing was a fine local coffeehouse/eatery called Anodyne. I'm not a huge coffeehouse maven, but I rather like this one. And their oatmeal is quite refreshing!

Again, not my most flattering look, but I really like the direction J. Micheal Straczynski is taking Superman. This issue may make my Top 10 for 2010!
I admire the fact that he can maintain the quality and humanity of his writing, given his self-imposed mandate to write at least ten pages every day!

The whole populist direction JMS is taking with the character is a refreshing return to Supes' Depression roots, without the Super Dickery that plagued the character from the late 30s into the 70s!

I showed my pal, painter and Webmaster extrordinaire Clint Rost, a key page from this issue.

Mad for the Captain America shirt!
So what did this little exercise accomplish? After all, like many of my peers, I read comics in public on a regular basis.
Well, for one thing, it's fun. For another, it can serve to increase awareness. Finally, in order to read comics in public, you (or someone you know) needs to OWN comics. So like Free Comic Book Day and the upcoming 24 Hour Challenge, it serves both to increase public recognition of the medium and to reinvigorate the base, as they say in political circles.
Now if you'll excuse me,  I have to get back to the new issue of Echo....

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Original Art Sundays #56 (late) : A Private Myth, p. 16

Wow,  a while week late! Unacceptable! I'll do an extra post this week to compensate.
Here's the next page of A Private Myth.
I'm really enjoying the pencil and straight to scan thing.

the shot-reverse shot in the center tier is working pretty well by my lights.
Borders have gone the way of all flesh on this page. That's OK for these dreamy, introspective pages. But to advance the story with real action scenes, you need borders and gutters to control pacing.
I elected to use a mask to allow some of the local color of the paper to show through. I have mixed feelings about the effect, but it's in keeping with the loose sketchy quality I like most about my work.
Next: the plot thickens.