Friday, December 31, 2010

The Fly: An Obsession.

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been obsessed. Here's my latest image:

And a detail:

There was a reproduction of this Simon and Kirby cover, originally seen by me when I was about 10 in The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, about the size of a couple of postage stamps:

For some reason this cover fascinated me. I have no idea why. I didn’t know anything about it when I first came across it, and as detailed in an earlier post (which you can read, here), from that point on I became enamored of this goofy and largely unpopular character. I found a reprint of this particular issue in a recent collection and the story was more than a little disappointing. I don’t know what I expected. During that period, covers didn’t always match their interiors, so these weird robots with their purple scaley skin were not featured in the story that was supposed to correspond to it. So after decades of wondering what this story could possibly be about, it turned out to be pretty lame. “Tim O’Casey’s Wrecking Crew” is all of six pages, and is about a leprechaun who threatens to tear down the city with his unexplained army of robots unless his treasure is returned. The robots in the story are your straightforward, tin-can style robots and looked nothing like the ones on the cover.

Now the cover, though still compelling, no longer carries the strange power it had over me as a kid. There’s a primitive charm in its weirdness—the robots, the Leprechaun apparently steering the robot from controls in its head, The weird anatomy of The Fly—his arms are way too short, among other things--the fact that The Fly is swinging on a rope when The Fly can, well, fly.

There’s a site called, "Covered" that features the covers of old comics redrawn by contemporary cartoonists, and every time I thought about doing one, this cover kept coming to mind. I think that a part of me thought that through the magic alchemy of doing my own version of this cover I would recapture those childhood feelings. That didn’t quite work out.

The Process

My often literal self couldn’t help trying to “fix” the naive anatomy and perspective in the rendering, which was actually part of its charm.

Then there was the process of recreating the lettering and typography. At first I thought I would just copy and clean up the lettering from the original comic in Photoshop. All I had was a reprint, but even if I had the real thing, it was originally printed on absorbent paper so up close the lettering bleeds really badly. There was a crisp “THE” in one of the interior reprinted pages, so I was able to auto-trace that in Illustrator (with some alterations), but most of this was hand-traced in vectors. If you don’t know what any of that means, lets just say, it took a while, and while I was working on it, it looked like this:

It’s hard to explain, but all those little blue lines represent vectored curves. This blurb took me about three hours to trace. “THE ADVENTURES OF” took about the same amount of time, “THE FLY,” all straight lines, took about 10 minutes, and the rest was slightly altered Ariel type. The famous “comics code”, the little seal of censorship that was on most comics from the late 50s to the early 90s, was lifted from an E.C. comics “New Direction” reprint. As was done initially in the early days of the seal, it was printed really really huge on the cover, so it came out pretty crisp, here.

I’m perfectly happy with the image on it’s own terms, but needless to say, I wasn’t able to conjure up the magic of this part of my childhood with this picture. Why I would even try is beyond me. The original cover is still, in my opinion, a superior piece of art. With all its flaws, it’s still perfect in so many ways I can’t even begin to explain. Just look at those frigging robots! I mean, what the hell? And there’s a leprechaun. Steering its head with levers. And The Fly still looks amazing to me. Hell, all of it does. My version took so long because it seemed that no matter what I did, I couldn’t make it what I wanted it to be, and believe me, I tried. A lot. So I can’t help but think of the whole endeavor as somewhat of a failure.

As a bonus, here's the "flatting" stage of the image:

"Flatting" is the process of blocking in color arbitrarily so that it's easier to select different portions of the image to manipulate. The only thing you need to worry about when flatting is that each section you want to isolate is different than the sections adjacent.

As usual, the line portion of the image was inked with a brush, then colored in Photoshop digitally and with scanned textures. A little more digital color in this one than usual, though.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December Figures

The figure drawing group has started up again. This is from the second session. My figures from the first weren't so hot since I had been so out of practice drawing from the model. These came out al little better, but I really need the practice drawing from life on a more regular basis.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fly inks in progress

Here's the inked Fly figure for my Fly cover recreation. This one's just for fun, but it's taking a little longer than I thought. I'll probably have the finished cover done in a week or so. He's swinging from a rope here, but the rest of the rope hasn't been added yet.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dino #2

Another dino from another toy I got in the dollar section at Target. Again, kind of elaborated on the anatomy a little.

The anatomy of vertebrates is all pretty similar, and those squat legs in the foreground are very elephant-like, the skull sort of like a cow or a dog (actually I probably got that part wrong), as are the back legs. Or at least that's my interpretation. Once again I have no idea what kind of dinosaur this is meant to resemble. Drawn while watching the new BBC Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency BBC show. Reg and I both read the books (though I haven't read them since I was 13) and I really dug it. Hope they make it into a series.

Friday, December 17, 2010


This was done last night while watching the BBC Terry Pratchett movie, Going Postal (or at least kind of watching). It has nothing at all to do with the movie. I drew it from a cheap dollar dinosaur toy I got at Target, and then kind of elaborated on the muscles and stuff:

I haven't quite stuck to my "daily post" schedule, but I intend to get back into it. I do it for the fans.

I'm sure anyone who knows anything about dinosaurs will be able to tell that it's not remotely accurate. I'm not even quite sure what kind of a dinosaur it is. Can anyone tell me? As for the movie, it wasn't bad, but I guess I used to like that kind of British humor more when I was younger. I've more or less lost my taste for it, but Reg loves it and loves Terry Pratchett. I did like a lot of the visual gags. The golems. Those were just great costumes! I should have probably drawn those! Well, there's a part two we're watching tonight...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

So Just What Is That Mysterious Mystery Project That I keep Talking About?

In the last couple of months I've been working with an amazing editor named Abigail Samoan to create interior illustrations for a YA book for Tricycle Press about a boy who writes letters to his dead father, and how his father eventually starts writing back from purgatory. It's a great book, but unfortunately, just a few weeks ago, Tricycle Press was shuttered by Random House. The fate of the book is still in question. It may end up going to another imprint at Random House, and that editor may or may not decide to use me as an illustrator. They may decide to use no illustrations at all. It's been a long frustrating ride, but Abigail has been very encouraging and positive about the work I've done and I've really enjoyed being involved. I wish nothing but the best for Abigail and really hope that I can have the privilege of working with her again wherever she ends up.

Strangely enough, this is the second time this has happened! Shortly after I did the piece I did for Nickelodeon Magazine for Chris Duffy, Nick Mag was given the kibosh. A great art director, a great magazine, but at least I got my picture in under the wire and it did eventually see print. we'll see what happens with this one.

At any rate, here's one of the few illustrations for the book that I actually took to a finish. The original idea was for me to just do the drawings described as being drawn by the two protagonists in the book, but I thought it would add something to draw the images in context, in the spaces where they were drawn.

I don't know when exactly the last time was that I tried to do a still life from my imagination. Drawing a still-life from a photo, no problem. Drawing a still life from life, also no big deal, drawing a still life from your imagination? Just like a miniature landscape, you have to find a horizon line.

In the finish I used reference to get the details right and I cropped-in considerably, and there was a temptation to show EVERYTHING since I had done all that pretty perspective (check out that elipse!), a temptation best fought.

Here's the drawing. I had reference for the napkin, but drawing straight from the photo wasn't working out. I ended up idealizing the shape to give it more napkin-ness. I also took out the napkin holder--what that box was supposed to be--since it wasn't reading, cropped.

And the finish:

he idea is that the dad is in purgatory, and he's scrawled the face of this hideous looking wraith-like woman onto a envelope with coffee and a napkin. It isn't quite 100% plausible that the guy could paint something like this with a napkin, but you got to make things look just a little better than they would ordinarily to make it read and to get the point across. I did the face in ink wash and foreshortened it with the photoshop perspective tool which is really only good for foreshortening flat objects. The rest was done with watercolor and gouache textures cloned in on photoshop, line art done with a brush. Really pleased with that napkin!

We'll see what happens. I'd really love to illustrate the book.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Daily Post: Please Give

Did these while watching Nicole Holofcener's Please Give, which was kind of a disappointment.

I really liked Holofcener's Lovely and Amazing, and she's given Catherine Keener some of her best roles (My unflattering Keener portrait is on the top left), but this one never quite came together. While Holofcener's films are usually very character rich The characters were never quite fully realized in this one. Keener's was the closest to a real person, but everyone else was kind of a 2 dimensional jerk. Then there was the granddaughter and her boyfriend who were two-dimensionally sweet. I did like the performance of the actress who played the Grandmother but there wasn't much to the character.

We saw Inception the previous night, and It was pretty awful. The overly convoluted premise that seemed to be the point of the movie didn't hold together even if you're willing to go with it--You can travel into peoples dreams with an unexplained gadget. Check. Your previous dreams continue to have continuity after you move onto another dream, or have a "dream within a dream"? Fine. That doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense, but then neither does much of the rest of the movie, which is mostly just one endless chase filled with gunfire and people whom I couldn't care less about. There was simply no sense of peril. Even in a James Bond movie where you know James Bond is never going to die I feel more suspense than this. I also don't think I've ever dreamed about having an automatic weapon but in this movie everyone seems to have one. You'd think they'd have a more imaginative way to hurt one another in a dream, like giant toenail clippers or something. Anything but automatic weapons. I could go on, but suffice it to say, the movie was horrible. Don't be fooled by the trailer. It's really really awful.

So it was a weekend of disappointing and crappy movies. The bee class went well though. There was a huge turn-out. I should be posting pictures of adorable children painting bees sometime soon. I tell you, you draw a picture of a bee with sneakers and say the word "butt" and it doesn't fail to entertain kids under 7.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Bee Class Today.

Today I teach my bee painting class at The Pence in conjunction with the "Sticky Business" bee-themed show. There will also be a presentation by a science guy with live bees.There's a pretty broad range of ages. I was told they would be anywhere from 4 to 12, but most likely 6 to 9, so the curriculum had to be pretty flexible. I'm starting with this simple diagram as a handout, just some basic bee anatomy:

Though I intend to allow the kids be pretty liberal in their interpretations of what a bee is, focusing primarily on materials and technique. Here are a few examples I intend to bring.

This one has a rock salt and splatter effect:

The athletic footwear on this bee is just to show that they can pretty much do whatever they want:

As is the color scheme on this one:

All of these paintings are about 18x24 inches, including the diagram.

So I'll be showing them wet into wet and drybrush techniques and we'll see how that works out. This is the first time I've tried to teach kids this young.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Daily Post: Two Honorable Mentions at the SCBWI Holiday Mixer

I received honorable mention in the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrator's Spring Spirit 2011 logo contest, and honorable mention for the SCBWI juried art show at Brick Alley Art Studios awarded by Chronicle Books editor Kristine Brogno. The show will be up until January 30th.

More info here:

I would like to know more about the Brick Alley Art Studios show.

My winning logo will be used in all conference communication materials including thank you notes and follow-upsto editors and speakers for the upcoming SCBWI CA North/Central Autum Advance in the Fall of 2011.

The holiday mixer was a good time. Saw a lot of old acquaintances and new faces and ate way too many cookies. I also won a couple of great books in the raffle--Scott Westerfeld's Behemoth and Neal Shusterman's Unwind. I recently listened to Unwind on audio and it was excellent, and I'm a big fan of Westerfeld, particularly his book, Peeps.

Tomorrow afternoon I teach a bee painting class to kids at The Pence. More info on that in the previous post.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Daily Post: Airport Sketches

Here are some sketches I did at the airport and on the plane. I'm particularly pleased with this one--comparing these to earlier airport sketches it's clear that I've gotten a little better recently at capturing folks that don't always stay completely still.

This guy was gameboying away pretty furiously.

This one was done on a short express connecting flight on a tiny plane through a ridiculous amount of stomach churning turbulence. I'm proud that I got anything drawn at all.

Wrinkles in clothing have always been a challenge for me to capture in a quick sketch like this, and I was just so pleased with myself that I was starting to get the hang of it that I overdid it on this one a little.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Daily Post: My Dad at 86

This is one of the few occasions I keep a sketchbook--when I travel. I just don't tend to get out all that much otherwise. I Just came back from visiting my dad in Pennsylvania. Here's a few sketches, and in some cases I'll admit that I used photoshop to mess with proportions to make it look more like my dad, though in this first one I think his ears might be a little small. My dad is famous for his enormous ears.

After the figure drawing sessions went on hiatus for the summer I've been drawing mostly from photo ref and my imagination, so this was a good opportunity to warm-up for tonight's figure session. This will be the first session in several months, and I'm really looking forward to getting back into it.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Daily Post: Nose Monster, Foot Monster, Vacation

I'm going on vacation! I'm going to Pennsylvania to visit my dad. Won't be back till tuesday night, so, no likely posts till then.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Daily Post: Another Robot

Here's another weird 1950s Kirby robot for my superhero scene. These robots are pretty cool. They've got these trashcan heads with a kind of metal body suit and these weird purple lizard skin arms and legs. Mix of organic and inorganic parts is pretty progressive for the 50s. On the inside of the comic they switch to pretty typical boring old school robots for some reason, but these robots are cool. Pretty much all the principal figures for this one are done. All I need now is a background, but I need to put that off until Heidi's done.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Daily Post: Heidi in progress

Figures in pencil. I've got a more designy plan for this one than what I typically do. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Daily Post: Tim O'Casey's Wrecking Crew

Tim O'Casey and one of his robots from the cover I'm recreating in my own style of The original Fly #2.

This one is going to take a back seat for the moment to Tomie DePaola's SCBWI Heidi contest. The contest involves illustrating a scene from Heidi, and the deadline is coming up, so that's my current mission.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Daily Post: The Fly. A Superhero. A Drawing. A Brief History.

This is my take on another second string, off-brand superhero, and a favorite of my childhood, The Fly.

Not to be confused with this guy:

This figure is a part of a larger scene I'm working on, a recreation of a cover from the 50s comic. It's a sort of side project to my side projects. Hopefully I'll knock this out and get back to business, but this superhero thing has distracted me a little.

I can't really explain my enduring affection for the character. The costume is just so appealingly schlubby, with the goggles and the dorky fly wings on his collar. With no apparent rhyme or reason, sometimes his ears would be pink, and sometimes they would be painted yellow. Maybe it was my attraction to underdogs in general. By the time he came around to me he was in his third incarnation in the 80s, and was hopelessly dated. The original character was created by Simon and Kirby and was pretty dorky even then as superheroes go:

The Fly was revived again in the 60s by Joe Shuster (co-creator of Superman, by now thoroughly alienated from the company that he made rich) and Paul Reinman. Their version was a campy answer to the then popular campy Batman TV show. They changed the name to Fly-Man, to mimic the then popular Spider-Man.

Neither of these series lasted very long.

Believe it or not, Marvel and DC comics actually own the copyright to the word "superhero". So Shuster called his characters, "ultraheroes". You would think that this was an obviously bad idea, but in the 90s there was a whole line of comics that borrowed the name:

You see, the "ultraheroes" came from the "ultraverse". Doesn't that make perfect sense? I guess they were hoping this whole "ultrahero" thing would catch on and replace "superhero" in the popular vernacular, but alas, it was not to be.

So this is what The Fly looked like when I was reading him:

That photo background was something they did that must have looked really cool in the late 60s and early 70s but by the 80s had gone out of vogue. The cover is by Steranko, a big name back in the late 60s, but by then no one knew who he was. This was what they used to call a "direct sales" book, meaning: it only went to comic book stores, so while other comics were 60 and 75 cents, this one was a whopping $1. These books were meant to appeal to the diehard fans. I'm sure the publishers thought they were really on to something. By the end of the run it was a newsstand title that you could get in the grocery store for the more reasonable price of 75 cents, but that didn't really help.

At the time it was written and drawn by a number of hands, with at least a good eight issue run written, drawn and inked by Steve Ditko. Ditko coincidentally co-created Spider-Man whom The Fly predates by a couple of years, and this was probably Ditko's last mainstream comic for which he still did everything. After that it seemed like he had washed his hands of them and the most you would see from Ditko were a few scribbled layouts that other artists would finish. I'm sure the publishers thought this was a perfect fit despite the fact that Ditko's approach to comics by then was about 20 years out of date. After doing The Fly Ditko returned to his single-minded obsession with Ayn Rand, self-publishing a series of endless objectivism inspired screeds in comic book form. His run on The Fly contained some none-to-subtle Randian propaganda that, though obvious to me now, went right over my head as a kid. Apparently nothing about Ditko was appealing to any kid but me at the time.

But they just couldn't leave it alone.

Check out the new costume! Though more modern, it still somehow manages to retain the dorkiness of the original. This one lasted about a year or two in the 90s. It was an attempt to target younger readers, because, while the the same guys who were reading superhero comics in the 80s were still hanging on, the publishers weren't getting any new blood. Needless to say, it didn't work. Japanese manga was already starting to dominate the middle-reader/young adult market and the still superhero obsessed adults were marketed to even more aggressively to try to compensate for the reduced audience. Can't get new blood? Just get the same old audience to buy even more comics. This is their strategy to this day. The average superhero comic reader has got to be at least in their 30s by now. Apparently they have plans to bring The Fly back yet again. This character was never popular. Ever. It really makes no sense at all why they keep bringing him back.

I have to admit my take on The Fly is inspired by Rafael Grampá, or as my friend Dan calls him, Sexy Grandpa.

Pretty much every take on a superhero here by Grampá I'm in love with. As far as I'm concerned, this is how superheroes should be drawn. I love the way their clothes don't fit quite right. I love Spider-Man's ballet pointed toes. How Thor looks like he's wearing these half wresting boot, half athletic shoe things. How a little bit of neck shows through Wolverine's mask. So yeah, I pretty much stole everything. I love this guy.

Since the readership for superhero comics is more conservative than ever, unfortunately Grampá's take is still an eccentric one. Strange Tales is a novelty featuring artists popular for drawing non-superhero comics. It only runs for a handful of issues.

Check back in the next week or so for the entire scene! Actually, keep checking. I'm Still for the most part posting new stuff every day!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Daily Post: Superman, Why Superheroes Aren't Any Fun Anymore--Weird Ass Comics

Not quite my definitive take on the character, but I still like the drawing. I wanted to make Superman more like a circus strong man, but it didn't quite work out. He's just a little too skinny and looks less stoic, and more chilly. I'm still working on it. I haven't drawn superheroes in a while but was inspired to do this one by Tin Salamunic who recently posted a bunch of his own versions of his childhood heroes, but I have plans to give it another go.

In my version he's got a wrestler's belt and wrestler's boots and his old school late 30s emblem. I also gave him one of those weird 30s pompadours, less greasy and more curly than the 50s pompadour. Back then superhero outfits were a little more high waisted. Superman had a narrow waist and no hips. The whole ensemble was definitely more circus strong man than spandex. The underwear outside of the pants thing was really just a sort of strong man speedo (to show off his muscles) with tights underneath, because I imagine circus tents could get really drafty. It was a look.

Things only got weird in the superhero costume department when costumes derivative of this look had lost sight of their original inspiration. Underpants outside the clothes became the default and no longer made any sense. In the 30s and 40s the look was recognizable. Later it just became the way things were done. No one remembered why. This seems to go for a lot of conventions of the genre.

That's why I'm a fan of the off-brand superheroes of the 40s and 60s (since superheroes had nearly disappeared in the 50s)--they didn't have the genre conventions down quite so pat. These guys still had the underwear outside the pants for no apparent reason, but they didn't read like DC and Marvel comics. I'm talking MLJ superheroes like The Fly and The Hangman (whose superpower was killing people. That was it. He just killed people with his noose), or anything written by Joe Simon in the 60s, like Bee-Man, or my favorite, Jigsaw. Now that one was just weird. He got all torn up when his spaceship crashed and aliens had to piece him back together, but they did it wrong because they didn't know what humans were supposed to look like, so he became a big mess of puzzle pieces and--well it just got grosser from there. It's hard to even describe.

Just try to figure that one out. There's this great scene where he returns from space and scares the shit out of his girlfriend.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents fits in there somewhere, Solar, Man of the Atom, Brain Boy I'm sure I would dig if I ever read it,

Dell/Gold Key seemed to really make an effort not to make their superheroes typical. This guy not only doesn't wear his underwear outside of his clothes, but he doesn't even have a costume! Solar Man of the Atom was another one that went out of it's way not to look like other superhero comics.

Then there was the original Ditko/Charlton Captain Atom and The Question, who had no face. Or at least a mask that made him look like he had no face. Very creepy. Now that would strike fear into the hearts of evil doers way more than a guy dressed as a bat.

Think of how much more effective that would be? Wouldn't that completely freak you out? They've revived The Question and others more recently, but they're just not quite the same.

And from the 40s, The Red Bee, who had two pet bees in his belt, or Madam Fatal, who was literally just a guy in old lady drag.

You can't make this stuff up. Well, someone can I guess. Did I mention Tiger Boy? See Tom Neely's even better version here.

Bee-themed superheroes never end up being hip.

Check out the blousey sleeves on The Red Bee.

It looks like I have three entries here from Joe Simon's brief but memorable Harvey run (Jigsaw, Tiger Boy, Bee-Man). His cluelessness about genre conventions was so eccentric his comics have a way of almost making me nauseous. I find them fascinating but at the same time, hard to look at.

Spider-Man was really the only insect-themed superhero that ever came across as cool. Check out The Tarantula:

Now that's just eww. The tarantula is from the 70s and is more of a late entry into the whole what-were-they-thinking era of superheroes. Between Jigsaw and this guy I'd just assume let the bad guys get me.

In the 80s things took a turn for the weird again, with some trippy stuff from Neil Adams who was famous for his run on Batman before he did his own thing with stuff like Toy Boy and The Revengers, and best of all, Skate Man:

I knew it was kind of dorky at the time, but I loved Skate Man! If you can't read the word balloons, Skateman says, "Hands Off Jerkhole, the parties over! We're forming a union! My foot and your face!" To which one of the thugs responds, "Ayee. Dios... mio...Skateman!"

It was clear that Neil was almost as clueless as Joe Simon when it came to superhero comics. "The Revengers" sounds like "The Avengers" but isn't quite the same. Revenging just isn't the same as avenging.

OK, I guess the 90s weren't all that bad:

But wait, they ripped off the whole ferret thing from this guy:

But without the enormous mullet, what's the point? The mullet makes the ferret.

Edit: apparently the 90s Ferret was a revival of the 40s Ferret. Who knew? Also, you'd think if he had a secret identity people would recognize him right away. "Who is...the Ferret? Could it be that guy with the enormous mullet? nah..."

Superheroes apparently aren't allowed to be this fun anymore. They're too busy being "realistic". For me, this is even weirder than The Tarantula. What happened? I guess, Watchmen happened, and The Dark Knight (these were comic books before they were movies). Like underpants on the outside of your tights, there seems to be no going back.