Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best Comics of 2016: No. 16: BRIK

Here we go again with the annual series of the best comics of the year. As is my way, I will post one a day rather than posting the whole list at once, as most do.
Our opening entry is a bit of a curiosity.
Mike Benson and Adam Glass share the writing credits on the Oni Press series BRIK. The premise is innovative but direct. From the Comixology solicitation: "Drew is a bullied kid in the Yonkers neighborhood of New York City whose family faces encroaching violence from Russian gangsters. Before his beloved grandfather is killed in an attempt to muscle the family out of the neighborhood, he’s able to pass down to Drew the story of a mysterious but dangerous protector who helped their people during other troubled times. When Drew finds his grandfather kept the secret to creating a golem, is it worth the risk to summon this supernatural avenger to take on the all-too-human darkness swallowing his world? An urban fantasy tale of power and morality from writers Adam Glass (Suicide Squad, TV's Supernatural) & Mike Benson (Deadpool, Moon Knight), amazing new illustrator Harwinder Singh, and colorist Gonzalo Duarte (The Bunker, Big Trouble in Little China)!"
All that said, what's working here?
The characters are empathetic rather than sympathetic. This is good. Empathetic characters are much more plausible and interesting than sympathetic ones. There's even a bit of an attempt to make the bullies more fleshed out characters.
Many have commented on parallels to early Spider-Man. A kid stumbles into abilities that could end his torment, but said abilities prove to be as much trouble as the initial problem.
However, that's a little too easy. This story is also a chance for young Drew to embrace his Jewish heritage. I would have liked to see more of the grandfather in this respect. His function was primarily to carry the spear, as it were, tell his heir the legend and then move on. This is symptomatic of a larger problem in contemporary comics. Writers don't know how to write outside their age boxes. More on that in later installments.
Both writers here are seasoned professionals. Glass's run on Suicide Squad was strong, but not up to the high standard set by John Ostrander or Gail Simone. In contrast, I found Benson's writing on Luke Cage:Noir to be quite compelling. In BRIK, the story moves along briskly but still leaves space for meditations and introspection.
Harwidner Singh's art is quirky. He tends to flatten faces a bit, though that tendency recedes as the series continues. He composes images well, with a deliberate eye towards advancing the story.
Bottom line: BRIK is a good book, at rare times a great book. Drew's discovery of Brik's abilities has elements of pure bliss, reminiscent of Atreyu riding the Dragon in The Neverending Story. The neighborhood feels a  bit cliched at times, but for the most part, it works.
I'll be watching for more work from this team. Also, it's nice to ONI Press hanging in there!
Next: Best of 2016, no. 15, an agonizing work.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Original Art Sundays (monday) No. 241: Inktober, days 3 - 10

Posting a bit late again. Two jobs will do that. The work is long done, but due to doing the work catch as catch can, at my drawing board or on break at work (either job), the work was scattered and it took me a bit to get it together and find time to post.
October 3
This was done at break at work, from online photo reference. It's simple ballpoint pen on 20# printer paper. One of my Inktober goals was to push myself stylistically. While I've done nature drawing in the past and have a moderate affinity for it, it's not the first place I think of taking my art. Besides, as backgrounds/environments remain a bit of a shortcoming in my comics, working on this type of art will improve my comics as well.
That's a bit of a sophistry, as working on any art will improve your comics.
October 4
Copying from the masters!
This is a copy from a Hugo Pratt Corto Maltese story.
Materials: previously mentioned ink paper, #6 round flat synthetic brush and India ink.
Pratt's work is so compelling. He can take the simplest line, even a very crude line, and make it ring with the poetry of a desert or of an ocean. Like the best of the so-called simple artists, his work is elusive. As soon as you try to copy it, you begin to realize just how insightful those scrawls can be.
October 5
 Done straight from imagination, thinking about Sheena and about the power of really good Tarzan comics. Such variety, ranging from the Jesse Marsh stuff to Joe Kubert to Hogarth!
I'm not convinced this piece is successful, but I look at it as a draft.I went straight to ink, no under-drawing. Started with a quick sketch at work, bought it home and completed.
Copy paper, 20#
Ballpoint pen
Sumi-e ink
#6 round/flat brush
#20 flat brush
Brush Faber Castell tip ink marker

October 6
This one was fun!
Straight copy from the Archie Meets the Ramones one-shot, a comic that's a lot better than it should be. Gisele's art on this one is spot-on. I loved the combination of tight control and rock energy!
Though it is weird, after reading Archie comics for decades, to think of Fred Andrews as a punker....
I did a quick underdrawing on this one, then jumped in.
Materials: Small sketch pad, #4 lead holder, Magic Rub eraser, Sharpie. That's right, Sharpie. As part of this is about control for me, working with crude tools to get specific results is part of the process.
October 7
For this one, I inked an old sketchbook piece.
This was originally done as a proposal for an album cover. A friend of mine was assembling a tribute to the Welsh band Man, and I offered to do some cover art. I took this to pencils, scanned it and sent it off for comments. He had forgotten our conversation and did something completely different!
Ah, well, at least I had the art.
I just inked this up with my reliable Faber Castell brush tip marker. I had some of my usual scanning issues, what with the scanner picking up unwanted gray tones, but for the most part it's successful. I did NOT want this to be a tight mechanical drawing. I wanted the aggression to come through. The guitar strung with barbed wire is a variation on the barbed wire harp that Dali made for Harpo Marx.
October 8
This was just a sketchbook experiment. The original was done in China marker in a 9 x 12 sketchbook with a rather rough tooth.
I went over it with my reliable Faber Castell brush tip ink marker. That's it.
I honestly don't know if this piece works or not. There was a vibrancy and urgency to the original sketch. I'm not sure it's still there after the inking. I was reluctant to push it too far, and chose to keep the underlying sketch intact behind the inks.
October 9
Okay, this one was fun.
I was watching music videos on Amazon Prime and thinking about the Archie Meets the Ramones comic. I thought about Archie as a badass, and for some reason thought about Harlan Ellison's rock novel Rockabilly (AKA Spider Kiss). This image came to mind.
I did a quick pencil sketch and jumped into the inks.
It's all freehand, folks. Even the spotlight behind him is rough and ragged.
Materials: I have an extensive list of the materials used at home, which I will post later. For right now, it's the standards:
lead holder & Magic Rub eraser
Faber Castell brush tip marker
India ink
various brushes
This may be my favorite of the month. Maybe.

October 10
I was thinking about a couple things on this one. I had noticed a tendency to be more blunt in my recent Inktober pieces. While I like the energy and the confidence that comes from not holding back, I do miss doing detail work at times. As I had been thinking about the bullfight my dad took my mother to on their honeymoon (yes, really), and my dad telling me to read Collins and Lapierre's story of the matador El Cordoba, Or I'll Dress You In Mourning, inspiration struck. On break at work, I did a quick search for matador and found some images from which I assembled this piece. Very simple materials. No pencils, straight to inks with this one! Ballpoint pen on printer paper, that's all!
I have a couple more pieces to locate for the next batch, but should be able to post again soon.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 240: Inktober, days 1 and 2

Back in the art game! I decided to do Inktober, so I will be posting my ink sketches every day or so on Facebook and doing weekly compilations here.
For those not familiar, Inktober is self-explanatory. You do an ink piece every day in October.
We're only two days in, so a light week.
First up, a Star Trek pastiche- a quasi-Vulcan lady with overtones of Kes from Voyager.
 The light ink wash I did to set the character apart from the background a bit served primarily to wrinkle the paper and mess up the scan. I suppose I could have waited until tomorrow and scanned it on the good scanners at MCAD after teaching, but I was eager to post, so I'm letting the ugly stuff show a bit. Giving an allusion to setting with the star field window.
I've been enjoying Star Trek a great deal lately, but still haven't seen the latest film. From the friends I've talked to, it may be just as well, but as always, I'm trying to keep an open mind on it.
Materials on this one:
  • Faber Castell India ink artist pen (ink marker)
  • crowquill and No. 6 synthetic brush
  • Pro Art India ink
  • FW artist's acrylic white
  • Canson 55 lb. paper sketch pad
  • Preliminary done with lead holder, #4B lead and Magic White eraser. 

That was yesterday. Today was this.
This one is a stylistic departure for me. This is a preliminary for a piece that's been tickling the back of my mind for a LONG time,  and I want to fully realize it before I comment on it in any depth. Yeah, it's a pastiche of a young Blackhawk, but I'm not saying any more about it right now, at least as far as content.
Materials used:
  • Faber Castell India ink artist pen (ink marker)
  • crowquill and No. 6 synthetic brush
  • FW artist's acrylic white
  • Pentalic Corporation Paper for Pens. I've had this tablet forever. I don't even remember where or when I got it. I've never used it before, but I really like it! It's strong, durable, takes well to erasing and drybrush, especially since it has no discernible tooth. I'll be using this a lot more! Tough, responsive paper!
  • Preliminary done with lead holder, #4B lead and Magic White eraser.
I do hope I can keep up with Inktober. I like it. It feels good to just do art again, for its own sake. The graphic memoir is important, but the content weighs on me, making it difficult to get anywhere. I understand why Stuck Rubber Baby and Fun Home each took years! I've not abandoned Sharp Invitations- far from it. Scripting for the Daddy's Song chapter has had a breakthrough, and my revisiting of the Curt story is coming better than its absence here would imply. Re-pacing it from the rough version proved elusive, since it was such a complex time. It's hard to clarify the elaborate without boring a reader, but I think the improvements to the script and pacing will prove worthwhile.
Next: either more Inktober, some Sharp Invitations, revisiting the Blackhawk thing, or a miscellany I have laying about.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Unwelcome Powers (Faith and Thin)

A few quick thoughts on a recent revelation: I have a superpower.
I'm not sure exactly when it started, but I can be invisible. I have no control over it at present. I first noticed it about ten years ago.
It happened when I started gaining a significant amount of weight. People who once saw me and sought me out for casual conversation, social interaction and dating started passing me by. When I first noticed this, I started feeling like the central character in Robert Silverberg's To See the Invisible Man.
This didn't make sense to me. The visible spectrum of light still hit me, and there was more of me for it to hit. The people I passed didn't walk in front of cars, or run into doors or to each other, so clearly they could see. They just couldn't see me.
Or like the society in which Mitchell found himself in the story, they chose not to see me.
One can argue for weeks about fat people. It's their fault, it's genetic, it's laziness, it's a sleeping gene. Who cares? In a practical sense, it doesn't matter how you got here. You're here.
Adn you want to be dealt with fairly and respectfully.
In that spirit, two recent comics come to mind. The first, less obvious one is Thin by Jon Clark.
This is a horror book, which may color its perspectives a bit. After all, as Stephen King notes, horror is about despair, while SF is about hope. Even in light of that, and as intriguing as the first issue is, I'm having a really hard time with this one.
The arguable protagonist, Doris Greene, begins the story with a gleeful eating binge followed by shame-based burying of the fast-food containers in the trash. She sees a baby alone on the threshold of her home, and enters  only to find her husband Gerry having sex with another woman, while commenting on how thin she is after having given birth. Rather than confront the cheating creep, she apparently blames herself. She takes off to the grocery to stock up for yet another binge. The clerks snicker at her. Rather than call them on their rudeness to a paying customer, she leaves.
In the parking lot, she chances on a woman named Lacy, an old friend who's lost a great deal of weight, but still has disproportionately large breasts and the vapid, self-absorbed attitude of the stereotype dumb blonde. Page 9 opens with a gratuitous butt shot of dear Lacy. Lacy tells Doris the secret of her weight loss.
Over supper, rather than confronting her cheating husband, Doris tells him of her new plan to lose weight. He shows contempt for her goals rather than support. She responds with yet another binge on her way to the treatment Lacy disclosed.
She meets Doctor Romero, the man who supposedly administers the weight loss treatments. He also breeds dogs (and mentions in passing, in broken English, that his specialty is cross-breeding species, a probable clue to the storyline).
Doris goes to the Doctor's basement, where the procedure is to be done.
I'll stop there rather than reveal the whole first issue, though that's a great deal of it.
There's not one likable character in the whole book. Gerry only cares about himself, the store clerks are immature and empty-headed, Lacy is vapid, and Doctor Romero is tired and resigned to his fate, which he obviously loathes.
In a Comics: the Gathering interview, creator Jon Clark said, "I tried to stay true to how it would feel to deal with the issues that she has and perceives that she has, and if a message comes out of that, well, that’s just a gift." From this I infer that Clark is not a heavy man, in the sense we're addressing here. And maybe this level of cynicism is necessary for a horror book.
But I don't care about that. I care about Doris, and the other fat women, real and fictional, whose lives are ruined by the contempt of others. This is not exonerate anyone who's overweight from their own actions. It's to say two things:
  1. Not everyone who's overweight is unhappy or has low self-esteem. 
  2. Judging us almost never helps. If all you want to do is impose your values on somebody else, preach away. If fat people need anything, it's real friends and real support.
Fat people in the comics are mostly invisible. Sometimes they're villains like The Kingpin or The Blob (how's that for a reaffirming name?). Fat women in comics are pretty much nonexistent, with the exception of the (again) evil Granny Goodness.
I'm working from memory to get this written in a timely fashion. If I've overlooked any significant characters, please let me know. However, I contend that fat people in general, and fat women in particular, have rarely, if ever, been fairly treated in comics. Most often either we're not there, or we're seen as objects of contempt, ridicule or pity, as in this page from the otherwise wonderful Fantastic Four story Unthinkable.
Now, in fairness, that's a shot at the whole country, but the artist, Mike Wieringo, has chosen to use mindless, heavy people eating junk food to convey the concept, as though heavy people exemplify the nation's worst. It may not have been that overt in intent, but what does it say that the artist's mind went there to present that idea?
This is not to say that there are not, and have never been, positive images of fat people in comics. Inspector Dolan in The Spirit was somewhat heavy-set, as was Batman's Commissioner Dolan and Superman's Perry White.  But for women, sadly, we often had this:

To be fair, there were also 50s and 60s stories in which Superboy gained weight, and the anarchic personal favorite, Herbie, the Fat Fury.
And then there was the early 70s underground Dynamite Damsels, the first collection by Roberta Gregory. Shelley's story has a mostly positive end on its second page, and shows a fat chick with the capacity for actual self-acceptance. Despite her small victory in finding clothes that are affordable and fit her in the Men's department, she still has to deal with the barbs and slurs of others, including two young male toughs, one of whom shouts at her, "Hey, I like a chick I can find in the sheets!" That aside, this comic dares to show a fat woman as an empathetic person, a whole person, and to show the narrow minded responses of those who have bought into the whole "thin = healthy and beautiful" myth. She's also drawn realistically, not as a caricature of a human being, as fat people often are.
The other underground character that comes to mind is Lee Mars' Pudge, Girl Blimp.  This story of a teenage runaway who lands in early 1970s San Francisco deals directly with the fat question- sort of. Mars' contention is that fat people are really Martians who are distorted in appearance by Earth's atmosphere, which is also why we feel constantly alienated! Unlike the mainstream characters, Mars' characters are all sympathetic and empathetic, even adversaries to our heroine. And the cat is a delight too.
There was supposed to be a TPB collection of this delightful series a few years ago, but I can't find it anywhere. Any help on the matter is welcome.

There are some characters in Bitch Planet who manage to bypass the whole "fat = self-shaming" thing too. Not going to elaborate at this point, but it does deserve mention.
However, in contrast to Thin, another recent book saves the day.
I'm talking, of course, about Faith.
Many folks have recognized this book as the breakthrough that it is. In short, it's a fat girl who's happy with her life, has a good social life, a good (if tentative, but hey, in the economy of the last 20 years, what isn't?) job, and happens to be a super-heroine named Zephyr.
I'll comment more on the Faith book itself when I do my Best Comics of 2016- not sure yet where it will place, but it definitely makes the list.
This is going to come across as "there's no pleasing that girl", but sometimes I think Zephyr/Faith's world is a little too good. I mean, if thin people don't get perfect lives in the comics, why should we? It's a very chipper little book, and I do like the optimism. I just hope for balance. Even in light of that, the idea that fat people deserve every kind of love and a full, happy life is revolutionary in contemporary comics, and a step in the right direction.
If this keeps up, maybe someone will see me again one of these days!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Thursday) No. 239: Sharp Invitations: Theresa's Zen Riddle

Posting again to atone for my sins in neglecting to do so for so long!
Just finished another of those quick pages! As you may or may not recall, these are designed to do a few things:
  • Get my creative juices flowing when I'm stuck
  • Use as few tools as possible (usually a pencil and marker or pen on regular printer paper)
  • Work as fast as possible, and don't edit the result
  • Ease the tension in the story, since this story is pretty unrelenting (at least from my perspective).
  • Time spent on this page: about 20 minutes, as it should be.
To those ends, this snippet goes before the chapter titled The Second Sharp Invitation, previously posted. Since that chapter opens with a talk with my sister Theresa (who prefers to be called Terry now), that seems a good place for this one. Also, it's nice to have a page that isn't about trans issues. They're important and the focus of the book, but that's not all there is to my (or any) life.
And now, another great childhood moment!

I've had this one in the back of my head for a while. I left out the following bit when we both broke out laughing right after she said that!
This is the third of these comic interlude pages. I don't think I'll do one for every chapter - that would be tedious- but where necessary, they'll show up.
I'm alternating between working on the scripted roughs for Daddy's Song and working up more finals for the Curt chapter. Since she's coming to visit this weekend, I'd like to get a start on scripted roughs for the chapter on Jenny soon too.
Next: some of the above...

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 238: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 2

Taking this week off work to complete more of the graphic memoir and prepare for the upcoming MCAD faculty art show. Gotta love Paid Time Off- what a concept!
In light of that, I finally scanned the most recent page, which has been done for a while now. This page was included in (very) rough version in the printing of the first draft in May.

I'm pretty happy with this. Since the first page of this story is a pencil page, I let that serve as the template for the whole story.
The scan came out very well. As I've discussed in the past, the issue with scanning pencils is getting decent dark areas without picking up unwelcome artifacts. If you push your black point too far, the scanner does indeed darken the pencils, but it also picks up every invisible smudge on the page!
Lettering in Photoshop, using Comic craft's Clean Cut Kid, my favorite typeface for comic book body copy. Still using their Zap word balloons too. The shapes are a bit limited, but sufficient for my immediate purposes. If necessary, I'll do some digging and find a greater variety. I can always hand-render too. While this is working reasonably well, I take the comments of my friend Kim Matthews very seriously, and she contends that tightly rendered type is out of place on my looser art. However, since this is a more finished version of the page, I think it serves well, or at least better.
This part of the story is emotionally challenging, in some ways more than the rest. When I screwed up something in my life before I came out, I could always rationalize that it was because I wasn't being my "authentic self", whatever that is. But after coming out, you don't have that excuse, or at least you think you're not supposed to. But as will be discussed later in the book, there's more than one step, however big that step may be, in becoming authentic.
Just for comparison, here's the original rough for this page.
Layout was loosened up a bit, and the addition of the ticket booth gives the page a bit more depth. I think the kiss works in both, but the final version is much clearer. It also shows that despite people somehow seeing him as physically small, Curt was just over 6' tall and had decent musculature!
In preparation for the show, I'm adding a few (ideally all the rest, but that may be overly ambitious within the time frame) chapters to the book. Those will probably be in fairly rough form, akin to what is presented here screen right. I've been thinking about publishers, but it's premature to talk about that in depth.
My reading has turned back to queer comics. I just got my Kickstarter of the Alphabet anthology from Prism, and am enjoying it a great deal. Such works inspire me to be a larger part of that world again. I've felt damned by faint praise from the queer comics community, whatever that is, and would like to be a more accepted part of it. I hope this work serves that end, as well as the larger end of getting the story out there.
Next: more Sharp Invitations, sooner than later.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 237: Estrogen and Dental Hygiene

Back after a couple weeks of regrouping.
This is NOT the next page of the Curt story, but a one-pager that comes a bit earlier in Sharp Invitations. I'm almost done with the next continuity page, but I'm tired of keeping people waiting, so here's a nice little bit. In light of today's news from Florida, I suspect we could all use a lighter moment, anyway.
This was a fun day. After the unexpected discovery that I had real boobs (but still not quite to size!), I spent several days smiling at everyone! I've talked in confidence with some - what's the right term now? women-born women? Natural girls? I called them "real tuna" once and invoked the ire of a good friend- anyway, she told me that she had a similar moment at about 11 years old.
Tools: printer paper, #2 pencil, ballpoint pen and eraser. This was another of those quick pages I dashed out to keep momentum. I need to do more of these, both for the content and to keep motivated.
Next: More Curt.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 236: The Last Sharp Invitiation (Curt), p. 1

A bit late posting this week, due to exhaustion. But we are back in the saddle again!
I've decided to jump to one of the last stories in the book and then double back to the rest. This is a very important story (not that the rest aren't), and I want to develop it farther than it made it in the rough draft.
This page should set the tone for this story. I happened on this piece in an old sketchbook, and immediately realized that it was the perfect splash for this story.
This story brings many of the problems encountered by some (certainly not all) trans women in relationship into focus. The key, as you'll see as the story evolves, is self-worth, deciding we deserve decent love.
This page is rendered in pencil, with minimal clean-up. In talking with my comic teaching peer Dr. Ursula Murray Husted at SpringCon last week, I was pleasantly surprised at how much she liked my tighter pencil pages. While my inking skills are constantly improving (and more so when I work on a regular schedule!), I've always obtained great satisfaction from good tight pencils, or as in the original Sharp Invitation story, pencils with Conte' crayon. The problem is that I like working on Bristol board, and it lacks sufficient tooth to get the textures I like in resolved pencils. As such, I suspect the final version of this story will be a pastiche of pencils and inks. The very last page of it will be a B & W photograph- good old 35MM film!
The gentleness of this image serves as marked contrast to what follows, and is typical of my idealizing people with whom I'm in relationship (nobody else does that, right?).
My summer schedule being lighter, I have more time to develop this work before my next deadline, the fall faculty show. I'm wrestling with doing a more complete printed version for that show as well. Since I'm lettering digitally, I also have to resolve some presentation issues. Possibilities include originals presented next to printed pages, or printing original-sized copies and posting those. There's something disingenuous about posting printouts in shows, though I did it at Intermedia Arts and nobody said boo.
Another issue that came up in printing the draft version was that the images fit to the InDesign pages were VERY tight to the border! I'll have to tweak that before going back to press, even for a short run of one or two.
But the immediate goal remains a more realized version of this story. I also have another of those one-page quickies in the hopper, one I just thought of earlier today.
Next: more Curt.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 235: The Next Sharp Invitation, p. 7

The books are printed, the grant is submitted. Funds reimbursement expected soon.
Until then, the work goes on, as we know it should.
I solicited feedback from some folks at Spring Con this weekend, and am waiting for their responses.
The last page of the current story:
I'm very satisfied with this page.
I could have gone nuts rendering the angelic figure in Panel Two, but sometimes simple is better.
There are almost no backgrounds on this whole page. For the most part, that's the way I wanted this one. I was keen for the sense of floating- first being held aloft by the twine, then feeling free in the dress.
I find the freehand borders here particularly effective.
In upcoming stories, I have an even higher emotional content. This is problematic. It's a balancing act between the integrity of the work and how much the reader can, or chooses to, take. How responsible is the creator for the reader's reactions? It's easy to say one has no culpability. But we try for responses to our work. Who's to blame if we succeed?
No easy answers here. As my sister Pat once told me, I don't have the answers, but I'm starting to learn the questions.
The printed version of the work to date jumps over a BIG part of my life, going from this period to adulthood. Those stories will be completed in some form by the time of the faculty art show in the fall, in which parts of this work will be exhibited.
Next: a new Sharp Invitations story.
As promised, I am re-posting the whole story below.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 234: Next Sharp Invitation, p.6

And to the wire...
I have 6 - 10 more pages to add to the Sharp Invitations rough, which must go to press by Friday to fulfill grant requirements. I'm also working FT this week, completing my current teaching contract and grading. I'm taking time this weekend for a friend's birthday and for Spring Con. Then the dust settles a bit as I cut back to *only* one job for a while!
Here is the next page of the current story.

This was a very difficult page, emotionally. That has been the biggest challenge in doing this work.
I didn't tell anyone in my family I had done this when I was a kid.
When I presented this story as part of my work in progress presentation back in April, an audience member asked if I had told my family I was telling these stories. I replied that I had told them I was doing this work and that some of it might be uncomfortable. They replied that all I needed to do was tell the truth.
Structurally, this page works fairly well. I'm not 100% satisfied with the facial expression in the open panel that starts the page. It's a tad too snarly, not quite the right emotion. I might also make the third panel, the paddling, larger to increase its emotional impact.
The back foot in the last panel is a little iffy.
In general, the page needs more heavy blacks. But I'm regaining my confidence with inks as opposed to brush markers. In that respect at least, this work has been very successful. I'm working both brush and crowquill on this one, and markers for borders.
This may end up being two pages, if I can work it out in contrast to the following page.
This is one of the few pages with tightly defined panel borders. I wanted a very deliberate and serious sense on this page. As much as I like my standard  free hand borders, they're the wrong mood here.
One way or another, I will have a completed draft of this work printed by this time next week.
Same time next week for the conclusion of this particular story!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 233: Next Sharp Invitation, p. 5

Two weeks today until the grant deadline! It's going to be close! I will have SOMETHING completed and printed, but certainly not the final version. Given that I hope to be working with an editor on this down the line, that's probably for the best.
Here, then, is the next page of the current story.
When we left our hapless lad, he had just gotten on the bus.
Again, I worked through several versions of this page. A couple were dialogue-heavy, but it soon became clear that wordless was the way to go with this one.
Backgrounds: sparse to nonexistent.
The space was established in the previous page and I wanted a sense of openness, a complete lack of control implied by a lack of place.
The floating jeering heads in the bottom tier are a summary of the way I felt and a reuse of a fairly effective panel from Speedy Recovery No. 1.
I would have liked the dry brush edges to be more pronounced in the final version. In re-reading some of my texts on pencils and inks, I've rekindled my fondness for, if not my mastery of, drybrush. I may give this page a fourth (fifth? sixth? I've lost track) go before the final version of the book sees print.
The borders were hard-ruled in pencil and then rendered free-hand in ink.
This is not one incident. I was tormented ("bullied" does not do it justice) by the kids on that bus for four years. The frequency and vehemence decreased, but the threat was always there. That's why I was so proud to lobby on MN's anti-bullying legislation a couple years back.
A rather bitter turn of events: there was a recent failed attempt by more conservative members of the MN legislature to introduce anti-trans bathroom use legislation this year. One of the self-righteous MN legislators talked about how businesses were "being bullied" into letting trans citizens use the bathroom of their appropriate gender. Yet another example of the abuser claiming to be the victim, I suppose.
Luckily, I have a light week at the FT job this week, and the semester is almost over, so the demands on my time from teaching at MCAD are somewhat reduced. All I need to do is summon the emotional strength to write about these painful and sometimes shameful events in my past.
And I must get it done in two weeks.
Yeah, that's all.
The upside is that I will have ample blogging material for the foreseeable future!
Next week: page 6.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Original Art Sundays No. 232: The Next Sharp Invitation, p. 4

It never lets up, does it? Wasted half a day trying (unsuccessfully) to get rid of annoying adware on my Mac. Very irritating.
Well, back to the work!
I'm quite moved by the death of Prince, and am developing a story on the subject. It will have to wait a bit as the deadline for the draft of Sharp Invitations looms large.
Here's the next page of the current story.
Again, lettering digitally, using the Colleen Doran typeface from Comicraft. The rest is hand work.
This page went through several iterations before I settled on this one. Finding the right pacing and mood was very challenging! I toyed with over-the-top stuff like the bus devouring kids, which I toned down to that second panel. While it's hardly subtle, I like the idea of the smiling bus followed immediately by the "demon bus". We had the shell of a school bus on our land up north, right at the edge of the woods near the creek (which I always pronounced "crick"- hey, when it's your creek, you can pronounce it however you like). I always think about that rusty ghostly shell when I think of my time on the school bus.
The borders in the first two panels are free hand over ruled pencil lines. The third panel has a ruled ink border as well, implying a more grave tone.
There's a great deal of rather obvious (to my mind, at least) foreshadowing on this page. I shan't give away the next page, but I'd be very surprised if anyone was surprised by its contents.
I've rendered buses several times- for some reason, they show up in a fair number of my works. I usually don't spend a lot of time on backgrounds, but inspired by Scott McCloud's suggestion that they be considered environments rather than backdrops, I cribbed this bus layout from a page in the B & W run of ZOT!
Here's another page that uses the bus, from an earlier attempt at a graphic novel on trans issues. This was done shortly after Tranny Towers ended, and was originally intended to tell Athena's story more fully, though I did away with the funny animal motif. Pretty good bus work here too! Maybe I should do a whole story set on a bus some time...
Ahem. Back to the issue at hand.
I have exactly three weeks to complete this project, including a small print run. I will complete the work in roughs, and do as many finishes as time permits before going to press.
Let's get back to it!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 231: Next Sharp Invitation, p.3

This story is now done, but I'm still posting a page at a time until I get them all out there. Why give away the farm?
Once again, enjoying the local color of the paper as picked up by the scanner.
This page went through several iterations. I tried the resort sign for the first panel, and what is now the last panel was originally larger and on the opposite side of the page.
The level of detail could be higher in places, notably in the woodsy scene in the last panel. I was torn between fleshing out the detail and keeping the energy. Once I have the grant requirements fulfilled, I will go back and take more time on each page.
This page also offers the challenge of being an exposition-heavy page. So much of this work is thoughtful and solitary, it's a real challenge to break up the text!
Right now, my primary concern is getting a completed version of the work done and printed by May 15!
Again, digital lettering using ComicCraft's Colleen Doran typeface. I find it has much more character than the one I had previously used, Clean Cut Kid.
The hawk logo in panel three references Blackhawk, of course, though I think it's actually the Hawkman logo. It comes from a typeface called Hall of Heroes that is just superhero logos!
I presented this work last Thursday at MCAD as a work in progress. Attendance was scant, about a dozen people, all fairly receptive. I was honored and humbled to present the work. The meaning and scope of what I'm doing becomes more clear by the day.
Next: page 4.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No. 230: Sharp Invitations, One-page story

Didn't post last week, due to time limitations. I'm taking vacation from the FT job this week to work on the graphic memoir. As usual, it's going slower than I hoped, but faster than I expected! with my final deadline four weeks away, I have to retain pace and optimism!
A few weeks back, I was getting frustrated at being stuck on this project, and suddenly thought about Speigelman's MAUS. That amazing work, all done with ballpoint pen on regular printing paper.
I was at work that night. I took a #2 pen, a cheap wooden ruler, and a piece of paper from the printer, and dashed this out in about 20 minutes.

Well, it was a good question!
I kept thinking about Calvin & Hobbes as I drew this one.  Going for that energy, that freedom of a precise yet loose line.
Despite its crudity, I think it makes the book. This book has a serious, almost grave tone to it, and I need to break that up a bit.
When I got the page home, I went over it with a brush-tip marker to give the lines a tad more weight. I've also cleaned up the text a bit more than this image shows since doing the scan.
I currently have several new pages of this work (I've lost track), and I'm presenting it as a Work In Progress at MCAD this Thursday!
Next: more Sharp Invitations.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Original Art Sundays No, 229: The Next Sharp Invitation, p.1

This page comes right before last week's page. This is the beginning of Chapter 2 in The Sharp Invitation.
Read on.
Strengths: I think the text is working well, and I'm fairly happy with the panel art. Drawing kids has never been my long suit, though I've done enough of it.
Weaknesses: I might rework the main figure. She's okay, but I'm not completely happy with the uneven line quality and proportions on the (reader) right side. It would be a pretty quick redraw, but I'm putting off reworks until more of the work is done.
Other technical matters: again lettering and word balloons in Photoshop, and I'm having some fun with it! There's loose hand lettering in pencil on the originals, which is erased in PS. I do save an unaltered original scan as a baseline in case of calamity.
Note to self: back these files up!
As I do more of this work, my fear of it both grows and subsides. Growth is due to the imminent completion of the work, and opening myself up to public scrutiny yet again. The fear subsides as I realize the work's slow completion, and the truth of the fear being at least in part groundless.
Next: more Sharp Invitations.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Wednesday) No. 228: the Second Sharp Invitation, p. 2

Getting the hang of digital lettering, and using the balloon shapes I bought from Comicraft. I might get another set for variety, but these work for these basic pages.
I'm posting pages out of order as I complete them digitally from scans. I will post complete stories once the whole short story is posted. As mentioned last week, Sharp Invitations is a collection of short pieces that form a whole. This is page 2 of The Second Sharp Invitation, the second story in the book.
 I've been working fast and sloppy. I don't mind the fast part, but I need to work tighter! My backgrounds remain sparse. While that's OK for some pages, I need some pages with significant amounts of detail.
I'm still working on a viable studio setup in the new place. I've been making it work, but it feels cramped. However, I'm reluctant to take time away from the work to rearrange my studio, with such a tight deadline (May 15!) looming.
Specs on this page: pen and ink on recycled Bristol board, digital lettering, balloons and text boxes. I'm pretty pleased with this one, though I might rework that left-facing profile shot in the lower panel if there's time.
I've been free-handing a lot of things like the holding line for the car dashboard in panel one, and I think I'll try to use my tools a bit more. The emotion of the work and the urgency of the deadline should not allow me to take short cuts, if those short cuts mean I need to rework panels or pages!
After a frustrating month of poking at this thing, I'm finally getting some momentum. Recognizing how huge the work is personally can be inhibiting, but it can also be liberating. More on that in upcoming weeks!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 227: Sharp Invitations cover preliminary

After a three-month hiatus, I am resuming posting art.
I've hardly been idle. In addition to the full time gig and adjunct teaching, I've been stabbing at my grant project, a graphic memoir titled Sharp Invitations. This is a memoir focusing on transgender life and on issues of poverty. Also rock & roll!
This is the biggest project I've ever attempted, and I have a very tight deadline. I do not expect the version submitted for the grant fulfillment to be the final version. I hope to get this published, ideally by one of the big guns, Fantagraphics or First Second being my primary choices.
I am jumping around in the book rather than working sequentially. This is largely because the work is so intimate and emotional that I have a hard time sitting down to work one chapter all the way though. I posted a rough of the first chapter for this more than a year ago. Each chapter will be a self-contained story, with overlapping narratives.
Here's a mock-up of the cover.
The basic layout will remain unchanged, but I might go for a more involved background than the pale blue watercolor wash. The core idea, the woman in the blade of the scalpel, will remain. I plan to do a more accurate rendering of the scalpel for the final. There's a curve to the handle, and a bevel at the start of the grip by the blade.
Materials: colored ink washes and colored pencil over inked line art. Typography done in Photoshop.
The body of the work goes much too slowly, but there is progress being made. I'm taking a week off of work in April to put the project to bed.
I currently have several pages that need to be lettered. I've committed to lettering this digitally and have included the purchase of two specific fonts in the grant proposal.
I will have more to report next week.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Best Comics of 2015: no. 1

Here's the list to date:
15. The Undertaking of Lily Chen
14. Lackadaisy Cats
13. Marvel Star Wars titles
12. Brok Windsor
11. Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel
10. Story of My Tits
9.  Wuvable Oaf
8.  Lady Killer
7.  Invisible Ink
6.  Archie
5.  Martian Manhunter
4. Bitch Planet
3. Inner City Romance
2. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

And the No. 1 Comic of 2015, according to me...

This may not be much of a surprise. Then again, this was on a great many lists this year, but I don't recall seeing it in the top spot on any others.
Some creators have a comparatively small output, but a vast impact. To date, Sam Mendes has made only six films since his directorial debut in 1999. Darren Anonofsy, five. Stanley Kubrick, a dozen, if you don't count the early shorts, or One-Eyed Jacks or AI. Harper Lee wrote two books and a handful of short stories. My favorite band, Gentle Giant, made a scant 12 albums in their time together, including the live album. Kate Bush has made 15 albums, if you include EPs, live albums and box sets. Jim Steranko created 35 comic stories in the last 45 years, not including covers and collections, most of those prior to 1970.
More is not always better. And more isn't always necessary.
The wonderful cover under the dust jacket
Scott McCloud has fully created (in mainstream, not including his early self-published work) one creator owned series (ZOT!), one set of stories featuring a licensed property (Adventures of Superman, author only), a nonfiction trilogy on comics (Understanding, Reinventing and Making Comics, of which I find the last the most consistently useful), one stand-alone experimental book (The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln, which I really liked), arguably invented the 24 hour comic and- well, that's it, not counting his online comics and teaching and lecturing careers. So depending on how one defines one's terms, this is the seventh book in McCloud's 32 year career as a comics professional (using the first issue of ZOT! as the barometer for the inception of that career). We've been waiting 18 years since his last solo book.
Back of the dust jacket
And how is the book itself?
The first time I read it, my reaction was a small, satisfied, "Huh. Okay then. Nice little story." A couple days passed and a lightning bolt tore between the hemispheres of my brain. I suddenly realized just how much I'd missed. I had to go back and re-read this book ASAP.
McCloud has a way of writing just plain people that makes them eminently empathetic, even the ones you don't like. This makes his stories flow, seemingly effortlessly. This is the mark of a master craftsman. As Coco Chanel said, "dress poorly, notice the dress- dress well, notice the woman." The reader gets sucked under because the tide of the story, to torture the metaphor, is so regular and comfortable. He's at his best when dealing with what is commonly called "magical realism", unexpected or impossible things happening in everyday settings. There were some hints of this in New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln, as everyone but the hero casually accepted the narrative's outrageous events. As this is one of my favorite sub-genres, I get sucked into these very easily. For want of a better term, I classify much of Gaiman's Sandman as magical realism.
The Sculptor at work.
Museum dialogue, page 1
This is the story of David Smith, a frustrated sculptor who fears the common enemies of artists - anonymity, starvation and death, both of body and of spirit. David's uncle joins him for lunch one afternoon when David's life and career have both reached their nadir. Shortly into the conversation, David remembers that his uncle Harry is dead. Harry offers him a Faustian bargain, but not for the soul, at least not in the conventional sense. David will be given the talent he imagined for himself in the comic he made when he was a kid. He will be able to sculpt anything he envisions with his bare hands. The price is that he will die in 200 days.
As he sets out to sculpt with his new abilities, he encounters unexpected but inevitable obstacles, including overcoming his own fears of the work, facing the slights he's given others in the art world, and dealing with the arbitrary caprices of art dealers and critics.
Oh, yeah. Right after creating his first significant body of work since making the deal,  he's kicked out of his apartment and forced to leave the work behind.
Luckily, he meets an angel (don't worry, it's not the It's A Wonderful Life moment you dread, it's something both plausible and unexpected), falls in love, and manages to rebuild his life- while he counts off his days.
Museum dialogue, page 2
Many moments here echo the classic 20th century mainstream works about the worth, frustrations and joys of life. So often, during the fifth re-reading of this book (!), I found myself remembering the line in Our Town: "oh, Earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."
The Sculptor clearly has a strong emotional impact, much to offer the intellect and the spirit. The writing is there, and the themes are solid and well-considered, no question.
But few have commented much on the art.
You'd think people would be all over the art on this, since McCloud's Understanding Comics was the book that mainstreamed Comics Theory 101 for a larger (read: not exclusively comic book geek) audience. Do McCloud's theories on comics structure hold water in his own work?
Well, sure. At the risk of being simplistic, it matters a great deal and it matters not at all.
He uses the devices of visual narrative to full effect. He's varying camera angles, using open panels to create moments of pause or introspection, varying the distance he puts between the reader and the scene, and maintaining a sense of flow on every page and throughout the text. He's not adverse to throwing in a silent panel when called for, recognizing that there are such moments in life, and trusting that the image is strong enough to propel the story without words.
Museum dialogue, page 3
Beyond all that, these are well-drawn pages. The facial expressions are spot on. Like the work of Jeff Smith, another less prolific creator whose work is justly lauded, McCloud's art is direct and, at least on the surface, simple. The proportions are good and consistent, and the tonal color is well handled. In most B & W works, that's an issue of placing and controlling blacks to give full and appropriate range of values to each scene. However, McCloud has opted to add a range of blue hues. So in addition to the values given by placing lights and darks and by hatching, the reader gets a second set of tonal values from the range of blues, akin to an old-school duotone effect. The blue is alternately calming and somber, and serves the mood of the story well throughout.
The art goes beyond simple, however. McCloud throws several splash pages at the reader at key moments, but he also goes to town with two page montage spreads that take the viewer on an emotional storm through what has gone before in the story. The splashes and montages create a marked contrast to the more (again, for want of a better term) conventional narrative pages.
Montage on parade!
What's the book about? It's about triumph over adversity, even if the adversity is a result of your own screw-ups. It's about love overcoming frustrations and fears. It's about that moment when you look at your life and see it for what it is and was, both good and bad, and are at peace with what you see.
I hope we don't have to wait so many years for McCloud's next book, but if it's this good, it will be worth the wait.
I've been privileged to meet Scott McCloud on a few occasions and to work with him briefly at Minneapolis College of Art & Design. I hope I get to meet him at least once more. My copy of The Sculptor is a signed limited edition, so as much as I revere a signed book, that's not why I want to see him again. 
I simply want to thank him for creating a book that made my life richer for reading it.