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.