Monday, December 24, 2012

My Hand Bound Book!

My first hand bound book! Hand sewn with linen covers and glossy dust covers. Stephanie Pulford did the majority of the sewing, though I'm proud to say, I did the first six! Chris Beer cut out the cardboard for the covers and trimmed the dust covers, but even with lots of help, it was still one of the hardest things I've ever done (and still is, I've got about nine more to go). 

 These things are really turning out to look like actual manufactured books.  Since I ran out of endpapers, the last few will have endpapers with handmade paper purchased from the art supply store, so that might make them look a little more unique. Each book is 4x8 inches. 

I'm sending a number of these with my agent Abigail Samoun so she can give them to editors and art directors in Boston and New York in early January. These are strictly self-promotional and are not intended for traditional publication. If all goes well and I don't screw them up, I'm making 18 and 18 only. The story is only 18 pages long and wordless (24 if you include the title page, dedication and so forth), a pirate adventure with my favorite model, Ella (some of the pages can be seen on my website in the children's section). I'll probably put the whole story on the site eventually.

I had hoped to get these things finished last month but the digital printer kept screwing up my pages. The whole process of getting the things printed properly took months for a number of reasons I'm too exhausted to go into. 

so here they are with dust covers and all: 

This one has end papers made of handmade paper bought from the art supply store:

Here's one of the spreads: 

Another spread:

 The linen bound cover:

And my messy workspace that is currently taken over our dining room and part of our living room:

I really didn't know quite what I was getting into. I'd never done anything like it. 

There's a good deal of satisfaction in making books that look like actual books from the ground up. I've loved books all my life, and they've been such a part of my life that the experience of making one from scratch feels miraculous, like manufacturing a lightbulb or a door knob on your kitchen table. I've always been fascinated by making objects in multiples assembly line style by hand, like Gepetto's workshop or Santa's elves. 

And last of all, bookmarks:

I had them printed, and then Stef's plus one, Morgan Jenkins put in the ribbons. I found this special hole punch at Michael's that makes these two little parallel wedge-shapes, that the ribbons fit snugly inside. 

I've thought of putting out a cheaper, digitally printed version, but I'd have to charge at least 10 bucks a book, softbound, which seems like a lot for a tiny paperback. I'm thinking I'd want to add some kind of incentive to make it worthwhile, maybe a little sketch or something.  If you're interested in something like that, give me a holla!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why I Don't Illustrate Other People's Self-Published Books, or Work on Spec

About once a month I get a request by an individual to illustrate their self-published or print-on-demand book. They're very passionate about their project, but they don't tend to  know very much about publishing or the publishing industry, and don't have much knowledge about what goes into publishing and promoting a book. But this isn't the only reason.

Even if they're willing to pay, I typically won't take the job. Not from a family member, family friend or good acquaintance.

The reason is that most people don't know the process. They don't know how picture books are structured. They don't know how to work with an illustrator in a professional way. For the illustrator, this only results in grief, and the grief often outweighs the reward.

Typically, professional book publishers who match writers and artists for picture books do not encourage the collaborators to discuss the book with one another beforehand. Often notes from the author that suggest illustrations are eliminated from the manuscript. Editors work with writers,then work with art directors who work with illustrators. This hierarchy is in place for a reason. It works.

Illustration has its own vocabulary, and good art directors know how to speak an illustrator's language. They understand design, they understand how illustration serves a story. They know how illustration relates to story structure. Good art directors know their stuff.

People who don't have this experience, even some of the best authors of children's books, (with rare exceptions) don't tend to share this knowledge. It's a discipline of it's own. Many authors tend to have very specific images in their heads--and I sympathize, as an author, this is difficult to avoid--and the illustrator's vision is inevitably different.This is the nature of picture books. It's a true collaboration between author and illustrator. The illustrator does not simply execute the author's vision, but adds their own personality in equal measure to the book. The pictures tell half of the story.

 Working with a non-professional is an unpredictable proposition. You don't know how involved the writer wants to be in the process of creating the images, how little or how much they know about the process. You don't know what the ultimate design of the book is going to look like, whether it's going to be properly typeset, whether the printer they've chosen is going to do a professional job. And since the writer is new at this, the quality of the prose is often not as good as they think it is.

I take pride in the work I do, and I don't want to make a bad book. I don't want to endlessly negotiate with the writer about how they want the images to look when they don't know the mechanics of what makes an illustration work.

What if I've got this great project to pitch to a publisher. I can't pay, or pay much, but I'll give you half of the profits.

This is called "working on spec." "Spec" stands for speculation, the idea that maybe the project will be taken up and in that event the artist gets paid. This seldom works out.

First off: artists don't typically submit finished illustrated books to publishers.They submit what's called a "dummy" a mock-up of the book that generally includes two finished Illustrations and a cover, the rest roughed out, giving room for art direction and editing. But this is only if a writer/illustrator is submitting. For the reasons stated above, writer/illustrator teams are rarely considered.

Secondly: illustration takes a long time to do. It's work. Though there is some satisfaction and pleasure in the work, we don't do it because it's "fun." Many people enjoy their work, but that doesn't mean they want to do it for free.You don't ask your plumber to work on spec. You don't ask a retailer to give you their wares to see if their product is going to work out for you. Why would you ask an illustrator to do the same?

If you would like to learn more about how professional books are produced, I recommend joining The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and attending one of their seminars. The SCBWI is how I got my start. It's how I met my agent. You don't need to attend one of the big expensive national conferences. A local one will do just fine.

But I'd like to return to the subject of self-publishing, because I don't think it's a completely untenable option. Not everyone is interested in huge book sales. Some of us just want to make books for family and friends. I've had the same notion, and am considering doing a small number of self-published books myself. Not all books are commercial. Most of us aren't going to get rich.

If having a professional publication published is your goal, its the wrong goal. You should concentrate first on being a good writer. Unfortunately commercial success tends to be the focus of the SCBWI, but I don't think that was the intention or original design. It does the best it can to serve its members, and its members want to be commercially published. I just think that's not the best goal for most of them.

Which Doesn't Mean You Shouldn't Self Publish

I think self-publishing, especially now that it's so easy and at such a low cost, is a fantastic option for writers, and a great way to share your book. But first, make a good book, the best book you can, a book that you're proud of. If you want to commission professional illustration for your book and you're not an artist yourself, the key word is "professional." Being an illustrator is a profession, and professionals get paid for their work. If you're not going to seriously pursue a professional writing career and do the proper research, even if you intend to self-publish,  then realize that it's hard for a professional artist to consider you seriously as a professional writer.

 If you're serious about being a commercial self-publisher you you need to act like a real publisher.You need to do what commercial  publishers do. You need to actively promote your book, with purpose, and, preferably, with honesty.

 When someone's promoting their book, the first thing I look for as a consumer and professional is whether they care enough to acquire good design, both for the book and their website. Usually a generic photo cover means a print-on-demand hack job, unless it's really really well presented. And if it's a picture book, the quality of the illustration is a given--if it's amateur, it's obvious. If you've found an illustrator who feels the same way as you do about the book and does professional work--this will go leaps and bounds towards selling the book. But as I mentioned, this isn't any easier than promoting the book in the first place. If someones willing to illustrate your published book, you've got to pay, and pay well for good illustration.

And don't pretend that you're anything else but an individual who is passionate about their personal project. If I see that someone is trying to fool me into thinking that they're published by a commercial publisher, if they've invented an imprint and their not upfront about the fact that they're self-publishing, it's an instant no-confidence. It suggests to me that they feel like they have to hide that they're a self publisher, which to me means that they're ashamed of the fact. Don't try to hide it. Embrace it. This reflects your passion and pride in your product. If you want people to take you seriously as a writer and self-publisher, act like you mean it. If you're describing on your website a book you've published yourself and are doing a follow up, describe it as "My self-published book."

Back cover quotes, especially on a self published book are risky. Some people are just being nice, and in the case that they are, it's a little embarrassing, especially when the quality isn't there to back it up. Maybe if a well known author believes in your project enough to write a real introduction it would make sense, but I'd be careful about soliciting back cover quotes.And NEVER quote without permission from a private e-mail or snail mail. The purpose of a private correspondence is NOT to promote your book, and you could easily get on the bad side of the person you're using to endorse it, which is neither a good personal or professional move.

But more than anything else, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Professional self-publishing is a business. If you don't consider it one, then it doesn't have to be, but if you're in it to sell as many books as you can, you've got to act like one.

Sometimes, you just want a book you can hold in your hands, something you wrote, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. It's an accomplishment to write a book, and pride in that accomplishment is justified. But try to be conscious of what your real intentions are and act accordingly. If you' don't you're going to be disappointed, or worse, spend money that you can't afford to spend. Be sensible. Be clear about your goals, and if its important to you, strive for excellence.

Why you haven't been seeing much of me

I have a chronic illness that is being effectively treated with drugs. At present I'm making a drug transition. This means withdrawing from one drug and going onto another, assessing whether the new drug is effective, and if the new drug doesn't work out (which seems to be the case) trying another drug combination and starting the business allover again. It's an exhausting and prolonged process, but it's not one I haven't gone through before, and it will ultimately works itself out. In the meantime, the unfortunate result is flu-like symptoms, with limited periods of lucidity.

So the situation has largely put me out of action, and my productivity is at a real low point. This post, for example,  was written in fits and starts over the course of two days.This has not been fun, but there is an end in sight. So no need for condolences, I'm OK, but I just wanted to let everyone know that I haven't been lazy, just ill. I spend most of the day watching bad TV on Netflix, since I don't have the cognitive or physical stamina to do much else. I will say that The Vampire Diaries isn't actually that bad, but then, maybe when this is all over I might think differently. It's hard to say. It's about as much as I can handle at the moment.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Slow Down, Take a Deep Breath and Calm Down About Giles Coren's Article About Comics in The Spectator

I just read this article by Giles Coren for the Spectator. It's caused a lot of people to freak out who need to calm down. I will concede that I might be giving him too much credit, and I don't think it's the greatest article, but it's an intriguing, if poorly targeted (and pompous) attempt at a jab at the comics establishment on both ends of the spectrum. This was my response:

Slow down, take a deep breath and look at this article with less of a chip on your shoulder.
I'm pretty certain this is satire, a jab at the pompousness of literary prizes in general, a jab at the way comics have been accepted over the years by critics, and how literary critics generally tend not to be very savvy about the medium. One jab at this is how he presents Maus, how Maus was singularly heralded as literature by critics in the 80s when comparable if not better works were being produced at the same time.
He points out the handful of comics that are essentially mainstream genre comics mentioned by the mainstream press as "worthy," intended to demonstrate their larger ignorance of the medium as touted by the insiders who tend to be critical of the whole "graphic novel" phenomenon, and the US centric nature of this group, who tend to focus primarily on American comics.
Then he takes a jab at the pretensions of this small press critical establishment in the US, the rejection of the term "graphic novel" by many of them--myself included--as a desperate and unnecessary grab at legitimacy, a way to present the medium to the mainstream as not comics, which, it basically is, something all of us who are into comics have had to embrace whether reluctantly or otherwise since it's here to stay.
He further takes a jab at comics as it is often mistaken for a "genre" and by the context, clearly understands the difference, even though it might sound like he doesn't.
The absurd pronunciation of the word "comics" as "karmcbwerks" is a bit mean spirited, a jab at the New York comics critical establishment that lionizes Spiegelman, something it sounds like the author resents. It's an exaggerated satirical take on the prejudice, very much on the borderline of the real thing, but I don't believe its intended as such.
His references to the history of comics as touted as a legitimate medium from their inception is also a crack at this group, and the whole I dressed as Superman and read nothing but comics as a kid thing is a satire on the sometimes over vehement expressions of enthusiasm for the medium and insiderness of this same group.
Basically it's a series of very inside jokes that someone only with a very very intimate knowledge of comics would get, but I can see how someone who was just as familiar with comics might immediately misunderstand and react negatively. Essentially I think the guy has missed his audience by a broad margin here. It's something you might see in a English comics fanzine and it's very odd to see it in the Spectator. But believe it or not, he's not actually a prick, he just sounds like one, though this too is an arguable point.
The whole thing seems to be written out of anger and with a complete lack of regard for how it will inevitably be received, which to me demonstrates a certain, precious embrace of the author's own feeling of outsiderness, the infantile romance of being misunderstood, or maybe just an impressive bout of trolling.
So unless you believe these prizes are sacred, and that the whole screwed up history of the way mainstream academics have attempted to contextualize the whole mess out of half ignorance and the one-sided battle between mainstream critics and the small press comics critical establishment in the US (a conflict that academia also largely remains ignorant of), then I wouldn't waste your time defending comics, but criticizing these opinions as presented, in an elaborate tongue and cheek way by the author.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sturgeon in Drybrush

A sturgeon drybrush painting for my wife's birthday. Selenium toxicity in sturgeons were the subject of my wife's PHD thesis. It's a really ancient fish, practically a dinosaur, and they can get really huge.  It's both one of the homliest and most difficult animals I've ever drawn, but homely in a kind of fascinating way.

 The hardest thing to draw were those ridges on its side. I just couldn't get them to look right. This was my fifth attempt, and that's a conservative estimate. They're done rather quickly, but to maintain the freshness of the piece, it's better to start new again rather than work it to death. I wanted it to be a scientifically accurate as I could make it, but I'm sure it's still a little off.

Next time I'm drawing our dog. Dogs I can handle. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Belated Birthday Celebration of the Great Steve Ditko!

Unfortunately some kind of political thing on TV overshadowed what would have otherwise been a significant milestone, November 2nd, the 85th birthday of Steve Ditko!

But you would probably know him (if you know him at all) better for stuff like this: 

Steve Ditko could draw. Before I go on let me post a few more Spider-Man pages just so you can drink them in:

I think there's a difference between good drawing and good draftsmanship, and the best draftsman aren't always the best artists. I consider draftsmanship an ability to record two-dimensionally that which you observe in the traditional European manner. If this were my standard for great art, it would rule out some of the most talented artists in the world, and some of our great cartoonists like Ditko.

Great cartooning, to me, is first and foremost about storytelling, and a good cartoonist has such a recognizable vocabulary of lines and symbols that it becomes their own unique alphabet. This is the kind of cartoonist Ditko was--every drawing unmistakably and immediately recognizable not only as Ditko, but evocative of his unique perspective. The dynamism of his figures, the wonderful feeling of movement, his incredibly inventive sense of pacing and storytelling, this is what makes a great cartoonist. Not simply an ability to draw accurate human anatomy.

 Frazetta and Wally Wood were some of the most amazing draftsman in American comics, but their sequential storytelling ability, while admirable, doesn't come close to Ditko's. The first thing you see when you look at a Frazetta comics page is the beautiful draftsmanship. The first thing you see when you look at Ditko is a story that makes you want to turn the page.

Ditko at the height of his Mr. A, Objectivism period.

 First an foremost when you looked at a Ditko cover you wanted to know what was going on inside those pages, and unlike many great comics covers, the interiors did not disappoint. When I saw a Ditko comic, there was never any shortage of pay-off, especially in one of his greatest creations, Doctor Strange. Ditko could transport you to another world with the simplest but most idiosyncratic drawings I've ever seen.

When I hear people argue that Ditko wasn't skilled, or couldn't draw, it's an irrelevant argument to me. It's like saying the same thing about Miro, or DeKooning. They're simply missing the point. If they don't get it, they don't get it, and I'm sorry they can't see what I see.

And yes, Ditko is in fact, still alive and still drawing! You can get some of his current work, here, though his objectivist rants dominate in the newer work, so it's not exactly my favorite stuff. Lets just say Ditko wouldn't be happy with either candidate. 

OK, I will admit that I'm happy about the way that political thing o TV worked out. I voted. I did my civic duty! Congratulations President Obama! Now for one last Ditko image:

And for those of you who are dissatisfied with the election results:

Monday, November 05, 2012

Little Red Landscape

Landscape for Little Red Man project that's not quite going to work out. His house is too close to the highway(or at least the road to the city)  and I'd like it to be more rural. Having fun with doing something without conventional perspective. It's going to be a combination of my cartooning style and something a little more in the range of a Little Golden Book.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disney Price List For The Rest of Your Childhood Memories

After buying Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm Ltd., there are no longer any iconic commercial properties left for The Walt Disney Company™ to purchase, so instead, they have decided to go directly to the source.

The Walt Disney Company™ Price List for Childhood Memories

2 Million Each

First snow, losing first tooth, Santa Claus debunked

3 Million Each

Birthdays (to age 8 only)

3 Million Each

Favorite childhood toy

5 Million Each

Beloved childhood pets

10 Million

Favorite childhood book (if not already owned by The Walt Disney Company)

10 Million Each

Best friends, first loves, (outside of parents, siblings)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

October Figure

I haven't drawn from the live model in a while, so I'm a bit rusty. This was a 20 minute pose.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Dinner with Jim Woodring

This last weekend at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco I had the privilege of having dinner with one of my favorite cartoonists, Jim Woodring.

Top row from left to right: My fetching wife Reggie, Ken Pontac, Me and Jim. Bottom row: Keith Dunlop, Susan Linton and Angelique Benicio.

 In fact he may well be my favorite to come along in the last couple of decades. Among others to come along in recent years who also rank high in my esteem include Cathy MalkasianRenee French, Dave Cooper, Daniel Clowes, and Nicolas De Crecy, and it turned out Jim shares similar tastes.

I first discovered Jim's work in college in my very early 20s. I grew to especially love his wordless strip, Frank, and the unique world that Frank inhabits. Frank's world is so fleshed out and consistent, it's as if Jim's documenting the strip from some unconscious source than inventing it from scratch. Sometimes I even get his name mixed up with Frank's (apparently a not uncommon situation for Jim), because he had two serialized magazines, one called "Jim" and one called "Frank." Jim had a variety of strips including semi-autobiographical and dream-based strips, and even all-ages strips, but Frank was dedicated exclusively to his eponymous character. For a while I leaned more towards his self-titled book, but eventually grew to prefer Frank.

Frank himself

Later, as Jim's work grew more of a following, there was a series of vinyl toys based on his work. My favorite was Mr. Bumper:

 I have a number of other Jim toys of which I am almost equally fond, but Bumper always wins out.

Eventually he moved away from comics and  began to focus exclusively on gallery work:

Though I missed his comics, his paintings and charcoal drawings more than made up for it. But I still missed Frank. Now, in recent years Jim has returned to comics with some of his best work in the medium with books like Weathercraft and Congress of Animals

So last Sunday, Jim was to appear at The Alternative Press Expo, and my good friend Angelique invited me to join she and her fiance Kieth, her friend Ken Pontac, his wife Susan and Ken's friend Jim for dinner. Ken collaborated with Jim as a writer on animation projects that resulted in disastrous failures by no fault of either Ken or Jim, and had been good friends with Jim ever since. I met Ken through Angelique. 

Full disclosure: this wasn't my first interaction with Jim. For years we'd dialoged  through my friend, the talented cartoonist Mark Martin's blog, and then, eventually Facebook. But this would be my first meeting with Jim in person. 

My first fear was that I would embarrass myself. I'm not too terribly good at this sort of thing. I've always been lousy at social stuff, especially with people I admire.

 Sure enough, in the beginning I think I was a bit overeager, anxious for his approval. I wanted him to like me. I wanted to impress him. It wasn't until we got to the restaurant and I said, "I don't mean to embarrass you Jim, but I've been following your work for a long time and you're one of my heroes,"  that I began to relax. I don't know why this admission made me feel more comfortable, but it did. Jim of course, graciously said he wasn't embarrassed at all, but I was still a little tentative. 

Once the discussion began, Jim and I connected on a number of subjects. Since we agreed more often than not, I soon felt comfortable enough to speak up when we didn't see eye to eye without worrying about his disapproval. I stopped worrying about impressing him. A big danger zone for me is talking about my work, so it was a subject I steered clear of. The conversation flowed nicely, with Jim and Ken telling stories about their past, Jim and I talking comics and about our relationship and political clashes with Mark Martin, (Mark is a conservative, a fantastic cartoonist, and probably one of the warmest guys you'd ever want to meet, though I have yet to meet him in the flesh). 

The dinner ended well. Jim and I hit it off, and Jim said that I should keep in touch. It really couldn't have gone any better. 

After the dinner, we had a brief dialog on Facebook:


 It was nice to meet you, I really enjoyed talking to you, and you have a very nice head of hair.

(which he does as you can see--an area where I'm a bit more challenged)


I enjoyed meeting you too, Jed, finally, after all this time.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why I Don't Sign My Work, Why Illustrator's Aren't Famous, And What the SCBWI is Really For

Why Don't I Sign My Work? 

Some people have asked why I don't sign my work. It's not for lack of ego, and I do sign my gallery work, but I don't sign that work because I have more pride or regard for it. It's a question of venue. In work done for a gallery your work is recognized by your signature once it's purchased.

I don't sign my illustration work for two reasons. One: because as soon as I sign it I have to worry about how the signature works within the composition. Unavoidably it becomes a compositional element that can catch the eye, and if you don't put it in the right place it can be distracting. A lot of artists try to hide their signatures in the work, but leaving it out saves me the trouble, and since the illustration is for print, inevitably there will be some kind of artist's credit in the publication.

The credit is always there, but it's not always easy to find. Often in magazine or editorial work, if its not printed under the article, it's printed vertically close to the spine of the magazine. For the most part, only other illustrators and people who are, for whatever reason, really into illustration are looking for it, but it's usually there.

Illustrators Aren't Famous

Not really. Not like people seem to think. Often when I tell people I'm an illustrator, whether jokingly or otherwise, they'll say something like, "Once you're famous--" which suggests to me that maybe they don't quite know what illustration "fame" really amounts to.

Often people believe that anyone in any entertainment field receive a certain amount of notoriety, but in illustration, outside of certain media, this "fame" is mainly within the field and by students of the field, those few, as I mentioned, who are looking for those credits beside the spine. There are fields where illustrators and cartoonists are popular, like in comic books and children's books, but often only among die hard fans of comics, and parents who are seeking out books for their kids. The kids, for the most part, only tend to care about the names of picture book illustrators if it's a series they like, and when it comes down to it, most people can only name a handful of the most popular illustrators.

For those of you outside the field, how many illustrator's of children's books and young adult books can you name? There's Dr. Seuss of course, maybe Maurice Sendak, but how about the author/illustrator of Diary of a Wimpy Kid? it's one of the most popular illustrated books around, but who does it? How about Where's Waldo? Who did the original illustrations for Alice's Adventures in WonderlandThe Wizard of Oz? Even books we're very well acquainted with are illustrated by people most people never heard of.

In prose fiction the authors have more of a public identity, but the people that make the pictures for other media often work in complete anonymity, especially when it comes to video games, advertising, and preproduction art for films. All those artists who design the imagery you see in games like Halo,  or Grand Theft Auto, or the Mario Brother's Franchise. Or how about your favorite fantasy and science fiction films? Or even period pieces where you see a lot of grand architecture? These are all done by digital matte painters, 3D artists and animators, not to mention all the hundreds of artists involved in animated films. This is what most illustrator's do. Some people may have a relative who's involved in these kinds of projects, but they work primarily in anonymity.

Not that I have a big problem with this. I don't have a need to be famous. But often people make this assumption, and sometimes it can be a little trying, because they may think I'm in active pursuit of fame, which they associate with ego, and people have a variety of judgements about what this means. Or they'll mention how I'm sure to accumulate a great deal of wealth.  Or maybe its completely innocent, and it's their way of supporting me, which I appreciate. But it's impractical to explain all this. Recently I've been defaulting, regardless of the perception, to simply saying something like, "I'll be looking forward to that."

The truth is, at best, the most successful illustrators can expect an income similar to the average income of any professional in a field that requires a great deal of skill. Many more struggle to make a living, and freelance illustrators, like freelancers in any field, have to survive in an environment of feast or famine.

Even small success is so difficult, that not only do you have to be skilled, but you have to be ridiculously stubborn, a little obsessed,  and maybe a little delusional. This isn't necessarily the healthiest behavior, and I don't recommend it. It will cause you a lot of grief. It will make you a little crazy.

The SCBWI and False Expectations

So to someone who works and works hard in the illustration field, or as children's and young adult authors, the suggestion that fame and fortune is just over the horizon can be frustrating. This assumption also instills false expectations in people who aspire to enter the field, and many of them attempt to get into the field for the wrong reasons. As much as I have benefitted from, and have regard for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (or SCBWI), one of the focuses is on getting published by a mainstream publisher. Workshop after workshop focuses on strategies directed towards this aim, and if this is your aspiration, these workshops can be invaluable.

The original intention of the society was as a place for children's authors, and eventually illustrators (originally is was just the SCBW) to have a chance to meet for the first time and discuss what they did. Pre-internet, this was the first chance that many of them had to do so. As more and more aspiring writers and illustrator's joined the field, the focus turned to how to help them get into print, which, I think, is a reasonable goal. Unfortunately this pursuit has in more recent years taken over, because aspiring writers and illustrators tend to dominate these conventions. High fees are necessary to pay to fly in high profile guests, successful authors, illustrators, agents and publishers to speak at these conventions. I think that the information these speakers have to offer make the conventions well worth the fee, but I still think there's this problem of false expectations. The intent of the conventions is to provide a resource, but only a small number can truly benefit from that resource when the focus is on the marketplace, since only a few will ever succeed. I met my agent at one of these conventions, and wouldn't be in the position that I'm currently without them. I've really enjoyed meeting so many professionals in the field who are not only knowledgable about the reality of the marketplace, but knowledgable about what makes a good book. These professionals know their stuff. They're responsible for many of the books I love.

But among the attendees, all of that hope, all of that desire to be published by a big publisher makes the environment, for me, a little tense, when you know that most people won't have the privilege.

How to Use The SCBWI to Your Best Advantage

Most people who write and make art want their work to be seen. Why wouldn't they do everything they can to achieve this? But still, you have to consider that the achievement of this goal, at least in the commercial market, for most people inevitably results in failure, and the pursuit of that goal can result in great expense. Am I suggesting that, if this is what you aspire to do, you should give up? Not at all. But I do suggest that you focus, first and foremost, on being the best artist and writer you can be.  Many of the workshops at these conventions do focus on this process, but the environment, fostered by both the conventions and attendees, tends to be on publishing.

So rather than focusing on selling and pitching your book, I would suggest focusing first on trying to be good. Spend as much time being the best writer or artist you can be. Writing groups, classes, are probably going to do you a lot more good than these conventions. Not that you shouldn't attend these conventions, but don't focus on them as the main source of your success. Think of success on its own terms, on simply writing a good story, making a good picture, and for the sake of book making, making good illustrations, which is a process that's distinct from simply making a good picture, because its in the service of storytelling. It's a specific skill, as different from traditional painting as poetry is from prose.

Know that your chances for traditional publication is going to be an uphill battle. Know that even if you've written a very good book, or become a skilled illustrator, there's no guarantee of publication. Commercial publishing, because it's a marketplace, is not a meritocracy. Publishing a book involves a lot of expense, and is always a risk for the publisher, and they're going to lean towards what they believe are projects that provide what, in their experience, is the least amount of risk, especially in a field that is, at the moment, like everything else in this economy, struggling.

So it's good to hone in on what your real goal is. Is it being published, or is it being good? Again, writers and illustrators want their work to be seen, and many of us want it to be seen by the greatest number of people we can. There's nothing wrong with this goal, and no matter how much you focus simply on being good, it's still hard not to have this aim be in the back of your mind. But the greater part of you has to put this away and focus on simply doing the best work you can, no matter what the result. Because you can't do this well unless you love it, and love it enough to work harder than you've ever worked before, and to make the sacrifices necessary to do it, even if you never achieve commercial success. Facing this reality is very hard. Through the internet, through friends, you can still share your work, even if it's not in a commercial venue, it is possible to still garner an audience, but if you intend to do good work, the work always has to come first. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Sneak Peak!

So here's a sneak peak at one of my illustrations for Cricket. 

So I'll be visiting my dad in PA from the 3rd to the 10th, so there won't be much posting for a while. Be back soon!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Crouching figure

Figure in dry brush and ink wash for upcoming Cricket Magazine piece. It's going to appear in the final image quite a bit smaller than this. Sometimes this is a good thing and tightens up the figure, sometimes not so much. Sometimes I end up losing a lot of detail and texture. With this one I'll probably get a little bit of both.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Great Joe Maneely

There's a little known cartoonist from the 50s whom I'm a big fan of, Joe Maneely, who worked for Atlas comics before it became Marvel Comics. He was Stan Lee's favorite cartoonist before his premature death in 1958 after getting hit by a streetcar. He was primarily known for his war and western comics, but also worked on The Yellow Claw, a knock off of Fu Manchu author Sax Rohmer's character of the same name (unfortunately these titles contains some very overt racial stereotypes that were all too common at the time). The Black Knight, another copycat book, was meant to emulate ECs brief post code Valor, an odd move when you consider the failure of ECs post code books, but that was Atlas. Anything they thought other people had success with, they duplicated. Unfortunately Maneely never saw Marvel's success with superheroes, but then he wasn't very suited to the genre.

He was said to do little penciling, preferring to rough things out first and go directly into pen with a technique oddly reminiscent of Robert Crumb. Though Crumb was reading comics at the time, it's unlikely that Maneely was an influence, since Crumb was mainly inspired by funny animal comics, Carl Barks and the Dell titles, but the similarity is there, maybe because of the influence of Thomas Nast. Maneely's work is also a little reminiscent of his contemporary, Jack Davis' work on EC's war titles.

I'll let his work speak for itself. Again, fair warning: there's some very blatant racial stereotypes here, but the images are still beautifully executed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Witch Girl

A recent piece for the Red Fox Literary halloween promo book.  This was fun to do. Another piece modeled for by Ella. I do wish I had a boy to model for reference who was as unselfconscious performer as Ella is. She doesn't seem to mind, but she says it "tires her out." But nothing like a real kid to give you real kid gestures, no matter how simple the style.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Imbibing a Magic Potion...

Work in progress for a halloween piece, with a little sequential action. I'm continuing to work on the Cricket pieces--2 full pages an a half, so lots of work ahead. Sketches have been approved, so that's what I'll be doing for the next couple weeks. They give roomy deadlines so I try to use the time to do the best pieces I can while I have it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kerouac Haiku

The theme of this week's Foxy Friday on the Red Fox Literary Blog is beatniks, and so I did Ella, keeping it cool to the rhythm of a hand lettered Jack Kerouac Haiku.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Witch Girl

This is for a halloween piece in progress. The beatnik piece is done, but I'll post that tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ella the Beatnik

Here's a work in progress for Red Fox Literary's Foxy Friday, our version of Illustration Friday. This will be a sequence of three figures. The theme, of course, is beatniks in honor of the upcoming On The Road film.

I've got a about three projects going at once right now so I barely have time to write this blog post. My geese compositions, of which the sketches bellow are only a part, went over well with Cricket, so now I'm in the process of doing finishes. Or should be soon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another Study for Cricket

Another study for the Cricket project. Lots and lots of drawing. I got to get back to it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Another Mini Book Spread: The Arrival

Busy at the moment doing Swan studies for a Cricket Magazine assignment which I'll be posting soon. In the meantime here's another spread from my mini book.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Two Possible Endpapers For My Mini Book

I'm trying to decide on the endpapers for my my mini book. Here are two options:

Endpaper #1

Endpaper #2

What do you think?  I could also use both, one on in the front and one in the back, but I like the continuity of having the same end paper on both sides.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Why Do Picture Books Have Fewer Words? Or: The Death of the Storybook

The current word count for picture books these days is anywhere from 500 to 800 words. It was once common for picture books, and their longer companions, storybooks, to be 2000 or even 5000 words. This trend is not because kids are less sophisticated. It's not because kids have shorter attention spans. The problem is that adults have forgotten the purpose of picture books.

We used to have picture books, fully illustrated storybooks, and everything in between. Now by the time kids are in 1st grade they're supposed to abandon picture books altogether. Adults are pushing their kids to read chapter books as soon as they are able. There's no transition point. It's parents at the advice of educators who are doing this, and the picture book market is responding in kind.

We're in a time when preteens and teenagers read more than they used to. The quality of the books vary, but YA fiction is more popular than ever. When we were kids, you didn't see an 8 year old read a giant 1000 page Harry Potter book. No one would have thought to write a book that size for a kid. No one would dare try to market it. Sure, there were kids who read at a higher reading level who were encouraged to read adult fiction, but there was less literature written for them. Now that's changed.

This trend with picture books is a direct result of the popularity of the YA market. Parents want their kids to be "advanced readers." So the picture books are written for a younger audience because kids are encouraged to leave behind picture books at an earlier age. The problem is that this transition point is critical. If kids are forced to jump right into chapter books before they're ready, you risk crushing their enthusiasm for books in general. If reading becomes an intimidating chore, there goes their love of reading.

So what's the difference between a 3000 word chapter book and a 3000 word Storybook? Pictures. Big, full color, sprawling beautiful pictures for the eye to explore. A few black and white illustrations in a chapter book just doesn't do the same job. That doesn't mean that illustrated chapter books are inferior to storybooks, they're just a different form. But it's not a mystery why a young child will be more attracted to a full color, beautifully illustrated book. It's not because of television or video games. It's for the same reason you and I loved them when we were kids. Kids immediately connect with images, and Images are a significant part of how they explore their world. It's part of what makes you a kid.

The bottom line is: let kids choose their own books. If the book is below the reading level you think they're supposed to be, but they love the book, let them make that choice and respect their tastes. The more they're enthusiastic about reading, the more they'll read, and the more they read, the more they'll be naturally drawn to more sophisticated material. There's no need to force this. All you need to do is encourage your child to read, period.

Friday, August 31, 2012

New Mini Book Spread

Here's a new spread from my mini book. All the art is completed and now I'm ordering the printing done. I got an enthusiastic response to the book from my agent, who says she thinks it will go over well. Lots of work to do to make these into real hand bound books!