Monday, May 28, 2012

Me and Moebius, San Diego Comicon Circa 1987!

Now it can be told.

So here I am at 13, having my first  nerdgasm, getting my copy of Upon a Star autographed by none other than the late great Jean Giraud, AKA Moebius! Photo courtesy of Josh's mom.

So lets see: it looks like a plate from the now extremely rare City of Fire portfolio Moebius did with then unknown, Geof Darrow is hanging behind him. Wish I bought that. You might be able to get it for a grand now on E-bay. I don't remember him having a beard. Look at those jacked up bangs! Clearly my mom cut my hair. Couldn't she have sprung for Supercuts?  The knit shirt and likely, corduroy pants were typical of my attire of that era. To think that I would have been a hipster if I looked this way in the late 90s. I imagine my much more fashion savvy friend Josh wore feathered hair, jeans and a Cramps t-shirt, so my look does seem to have weathered the years a little better than his.  What cruel, cruel irony. Girls always liked Josh. I remember then being fond of the Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson song, "Say,Say, Say," if that gives you any indication of my musical tastes. Josh liked The Cramps and Stray Cats. At the time, Josh was developmentally about 18, and I was about 8. Together we made one 13 year old kid.

That was back when Comicon was for the most part actually about comics, and maybe a little sci-fi. In fact, speaking of sci-fi I remember seeing Walter Koenig AKA Chekov from Star Trek in the hallway. I pointed at him and said like a huge spaz, "It's Walter Koenig! It's Walter Koenig!" He turned around, looked at me and said, "Stop pointing at me, it's annoying," before turning his back on me and walking away. I felt completely deflated. I loved Star Trek. It was before all those other Star Treks so to the Trekkies, he still ranked high in the pantheon, and Comicon was their temple of worship. But Josh was less impressed. He said, "What a dick. He should be glad you even know his name," which made me feel a little better. He should have, dammit! I  even pronounced it correctly! Moebius, on the contrary, was extremely polite, and accepted my spazziness with grace.

Nerd Stuff

Moebius was the highlight of my trip, and eclipses all the other guests in my memory, but I do still have the program somewhere and recall a few others, like Kirby and Eisner and good old Stan Lee. I did wait in line to see Stan Lee, but by then, it was already starting to be popularly recognized that Lee had unfairly taken the lion's share of the credit, so he had already lost a bit of his shininess in my eyes. Still, Lee was the definition of avuncular if ever there was one, and you can't help loving the guy. He has this art of talking to everyone in this intimate, just you and me, kid, way. One of the dealers had given me their 70s copy of Bring on The Bad Guys to have signed by him, and I remember in exchange for the favor, the dealer gave me a copy of any comic I wanted on his table. I chose this book called "Ex-Mutants" an X-menish knock-off drawn by future 90s fan favorite Ron Lim, for anyone keeping score. What's Ron Lim doing these days?

Even Nerdier Stuff

Oh, there was Paul Chadwick somewhere in there, and I was just starting to become a fan of Concrete. Somehow I seemed to miss a lot of the other big personalities. This wasn't the Comicon of today, so what I mean by "big personalities" was Sergio Aragones, not Quentin Tarantino. You also didn't run into quite so many Stormtroopers. There were costumes, but costumes weren't as much the thing. It was mostly lots and lots of comics nerds, and meeting the artists and buying back issues was our main objective. That was before E-bay, so comics conventions were the best places to find those rare books you were looking for. But I did discover and fall in love with Jan Strnad and Dennis Fujitake's Dalgoda, with very Moebiusesque art by Fujitake, but something was lost when the series went into outer space with issue 2. That first well worn double-sized issue is one I still treasure, and there also that great looking Kevin Nowlan back-up that still looks pretty gorgeous. I got Ted Mckeever's first book, Eddy Current. I remember talking to Paul Kupperberg for at least an hour, because he was one of the few guys who was willing to talk to me, even though I hadn't read anything he had ever written. But then, not many people were coming to his table, which was a little sad. I mean, he'd written quite a few comics for DC. But I nerdgress...

And in Conclusion...

Aren't you never supposed to write, "in conclusion in your conclusion? So I still have my Moebius-signed copy of Upon a Star. It's pretty beat-up, and it's got a big ink stain on it from sitting on my drawing board so much while I was trying to learn how to draw. Josh used to always give me a hard time about how I treated my comics--I had lowered their precious "mint" status to something below "fine" or worse, and they would surely fail to increase in value. Little did he know that most of the 80s comics we bought back then can be foundon e-bay for about the same price we paid for them then. In fact, I've bought back a number of the comics I got rid of  back in the 90s, after college. I'm still buying 80s comics that I felt like I missed out on, Like Aztec Ace and everything published by PC unless it was by Neil Adams, with the exception of the so bad it's brilliant Skateman.

After about 18 years I caught up with Josh again recently at a coffee shop. He brought his 15 year old kid, who had inherited Josh's maturity, if not his worldliness. I always liked his parents His dad was this amazing sculptor.And I still love Moebius, who died before he really was supposed to, which I still think is unfair. Thanks Mia, for the great photo! Oh the memories...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Easter Image Complete!

So here's the finished easter image, done with the help of my six year old neighbor Ella who was kind enough to model for me!

I'm experimenting a bit more with my use of space. One of my favorite illustrators, Lizbeth Zwerger is fantastic at using white space and big areas of emptiness, something I've been trying to o a lot more. There's always that sense that the white space needs to be filled just because it's empty. So here I thought I'd activate the edges and make the image less about what's planted in the middle, as so often tends to be the focal point in my images. I'm anxious to experiment with this way of working more.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wednesday Figures

Two twenty minute poses. 

Two posts in one day! I think that breaks the rules or something. I thought about posting this tomorrow, but once I had it all scanned, I figured, why not? 

Another Easter Girl, Using the Computer as a Compositional Tool

Here's another Easter girl, inks for a new image I'm working on. In another one of those painful cropping decisions, this one got cropped out at the waist, so this will be my only opportunity to show off her pretty braids..

The Computer as Compositional Tool

With some of these self motivated pieces my initial plan for the composition is a little buttery. I have a basic idea, but then after I ink the figures I start moving them around to see if they fit in better places than where I had originally planned them. This was one of those cases. It requires a bit more work, since I'm cropping out parts of the figures that I wouldn't have had to ink with better planning, but it's a process I enjoy when time allows. Often it provides new discoveries and new possibilities that wouldn't have occurred to me in the initial thumbnail stage. Of course, this is no way to work on deadline or in a collaboration, but it's one advantage that the computer allows with self-motivated work.

Often when people refer to the computer as a drawing and painting tool, they don't mention how much of an amazing compositional tool it can be. Moving stuff around, cropping, taking risks on a whim that you wouldn't be able to do with traditional media. When I fully render a figure like this that may or may not be cropped, or even omitted from the composition altogether--I get to act as a kind of studio photographer.  When figures are rendered, they don't always have the same character as your sketches.You may lose some of the freshness of original sketch, or you may discover something new, but the composition itself can be another opportunity to add a fresh an spontaneous approach to the image.

Of course, there are limits, and it's important to make sure the figures work in the perspective I've created--you do want to make sure their feet are planted in the right place! Since it isn't an actual three dimensional space, but an illusionary one, the figures do have to line up with vanishing points, though sometimes you can even adjust for this. Otherwise, I can move them around, or crop them freely, if within reason. But again, its not a chess board, and it's not stage direction. You don't want your picture to look like it's composed of paper dolls. If you really have to and it's of genuine benefit to the image, redraw the figure to fit the image! I know it's a bit of a backward approach, but this is, of course, only for when you're on your own agenda and time allows.

 So when I finish this piece in the next day or two, you'll see where this one ended up, just one of many figures that did a lot of moving around on the picture plane before I was satisfied, since the picture plane--a horizonless field of grass--gives me more flexibility than usual with perspective. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Another Easter Girl

Here's another figure, this one inked, for my Easter egg hunt image in progress. I'm finding hair one of my favorite things to ink--drybrush is so perfect for hair--so I had fun drawing this little girls hair falling over her face. 

I joined an online writing workshop recently with a small group of excellent writers where I'm developing my adult science fiction short stories. It's a great experience, and I'm getting some great feedback, and I hope to try and get some of these suckers in print in the near future, perhaps under a pseudonym, if for no other reason than to distinguish them from my kid friendly material. The idea being, that if I happen to write a science fiction novel for adults, and someone is looking for more books by the guy who did Ladybug and Gentleman Beetle, it won't cause any confusion. Two of my favorite cartoonists use a similar strategy to distinguish their kid material from their adult material,  Renee French and Dave Cooper, but this may be a little over ambitious at this point for someone who has yet to have one book in print, let alone two under different names. Still, it's a fun notion to play with. I always liked the idea of having a pseudonym. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Easter Hunt Kid

Pencils for a figure for a piece I'm doing about an Easter egg hunt. 

This is a side project, just to get a little more practice drawing kids. My neighbor, Ella who's six six years old, was kind enough to pose for this one. There's really nothing like a real kid to capture naturalistic kid-like gestures. There's only so much your imagination is going to allow you to do, and though I try not to render the photo, I do try to capture the gesture.

 Been getting some interesting non-children's book related offers lately, one of which might prove lucrative. More new on that, soon. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fox Box Inks

Preview of an inked drawing for part of an illustration I did for Red Fox Literary's first anniversary.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cropping an Image

So recently I completed an image for my book in progress, Ladybug and Gentleman Beetle. I wasn't completely sure about it, and sometimes its good to have a second set of eyes, so my friend and fellow illustrator Kris Aro McLeod Had a few suggestions. For one, she thought the knot in the wood was a little distracting, So this was the first version:

I gave it some thought. I had fallen a little bit too in love with that tree, and I liked the knot, but she was right. I also thought that maybe it would be better to have the figures of the beetles larger in the frame, since, as an early reader book with smaller pages than a picture book, they would print very small otherwise. So as much as it pained me, I cropped in a little more, but I didn't want to lose those leaves, so I moved them in a little closer. And here's the result: 

Oh, the pain. All of that wonderful detail! But you have to do what you have to do to serve the image, so that nothing distracts too much from the focal point. 

So here's the full image. I usually give myself a little extra room on the edges just in case, but never quite this much room, because I didn't anticipate the crop. I work pretty hi-res, so it's not an issue to make the image larger, and everything was drawn considerably larger anyway.

So this was the original shape that I cropped into. It's simply a shape I painted in ink and darkened on photoshop.  With some photoshop magic, I was able to make the image conform to the shape. Maybe I'll describe that process in another post, but right now I have to put some ice on my back. I'll probably be better by monday!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New Ladybug and Gentleman Beetle Piece!

So here's the new piece, which leads into the other two posted in an earlier post:

I haven't been posting, or getting much done in general this week outside of writing, (which I've been doing quite a lot of) because I've been having trouble with my back. But not to worry! It happens about twice a year, and after a few trips to the chiropractor I'm  back in tip top shape! This image was completed last weekend, and I"ll be posting a more extensive blog entry about the whole project in the near future on the Red Fox Literary blog.

 While recuperating, I even wrote a new short story, my first attempt in a long while at an adult science fiction story! It's called, The Good Fight, about a war fought remotely from home, like a video game by soldiers who live with their parents. I don't know if I've ever had so much fun writing a short story, and as generally is the case, my science fiction inevitably turns out to be satire. I got a fair number of hits from my last short story post, Klesmer Vampires Steal Christmas (available for *free* in both text and audio form) but haven't gotten much reaction outside of a few close friends. So I'm glad to post these things, as long as someone out there is reading them. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Why "In The Night Kitchen" Made Me Want to Make Books

In The Night Kitchen made me want to make books.

In fact, you may notice a little similarity between Mickey, here, and the little boy above, floating in his umbrella, and I would have to admit that this is probably no coincidence.

Lately I seem to be in the habit of writing about artists who have made an impact on me after they die, and I'm beginning to think that maybe I'm waiting just a little too long to say what they mean to me. One thing that surprises me in this particular instance, is how the death of Sendak doesn't sadden me at all. I can't claim to know his mind, but from recent interviews, it seemed like he was ready. He seemed content to  have had the opportunity to meet the people he grew to love in his life, and to have had the opportunity to write and illustrate books that he felt had meaning. He got to do most of what he set out to do. Not only did he write and illustrate books, but he designed theater sets and costumes for musicals and operas for both adults and children. Of course his life was not exactly without hardship. But I don't feel a loss. I know I'm supposed to, but I don't feel it, no matter how much affection I have for his books, or for the person that I imagined him to be.

In the Night Kitchen made me want to make books. I didn't say "Maurice Sendak made me want to write books," because he didn't. As far as I'm concerned, In the Night Kitchen is my book, not his. The fact of its author isn't what makes me love the book. When I discovered the book I had no idea--or care--about who Maurice Sendak was. I was curious about Doctor Seuss, and what kind of doctor he might be, but otherwise, the author of a book would have been easily forgotten trivia to that kid who loved In the Night Kitchen.

When I say "make books" I mean everything about a book. A book with a binding, and with pictures, and with stories inside. I remember having a copy of Where the Wild Things Are that was falling apart, and seeing the sewing of the binding, one piece of the mystery of how it was made. I was always fascinated by the mystery of things that were manufactured, and somewhere, by somebody, books were made. The first book I made that I can remember, was a book about Santa Claus, also a person of a great fascination to me. I  drew all the pictures on colored construction paper,and stapled it at the side. I must have figured out that this would leave one blank page before each picture, just like a picture book, so that's where the words would go. I couldn't write yet, so I dictated to my brother what words I wanted written on each page, and he wrote them.

It's one thing to have a book read to you, and another to truly experience it for yourself, by yourself, and I remember when this happened with In the Night Kitchen. I remember it was very early in the morning. I remember feeling that somehow the book knew me and what I felt and wanted. The author, as he should not be, was not my book. It was my book, and mine alone. I looked a lot like Mickey at that age. With no modesty whatsoever, I will admit  that I was an extraordinarily adorable child. I looked like Max, and I looked like Mickey, and so these books very much felt as if they were about me. In the Night kitchen was pure sensation. It was about the feeling of night, and about the feeling of milk, and about the feeling of dough and of flying, and of saying "Cock a doodle doo!" and I really don't care to try to figure out what it was about or means, because what it was really about was me, the kid, and how I felt and who I was.

Maurice Sendak died at 83. My Dad will be 88 in August. Maurice Sendak was an Ashkenazi Jew, second generation immigrant, and so was my dad. My dad's parents were socialists, and didn't practice, and as a secular and enthusiastic celebrator of Christmas and Easter, I didn't even know my dad was Jewish until I was about ten. My dad grew up in East Orange New Jersey, and as a teen, like Sendak, he lived in New York. he used to tell me stories about going to the movies for 25 cents, though my dad was more a fan of Flash Gordon serials than Mickey Mouse, the inspiration for Sendak's Mickey from In the Night Kitchen.

When my mother left my dad and took us from the small town where I grew up in Pennsylvania to California, more than anything, I missed my dad. I didn't have much connection to my mother, and my dad was my home. As I grew into my teens, I began to discover who Maurice Sendak was, and in my mind he became a connection to my dad and my childhood. Of course this man who made this book would be like my dad. I also discovered Sendak's other inspiration, Windsor McCay. McCay spoke to me as a teen as Sendak spoke to me as a little boy.  And sometime in my teens I decided I wanted to make comic books and picture books--and this was what In The Night Kitchen was--not just a picture book but a comic book, with word balloons and captions and a little boy who looked as much like me as he looked like McCay's Little Nemo.

As a teenager, I discovered Selma Lane's enormous book, The Art of Maurice Sendak, and hunted down every book I could find that Sendak had illustrated or written. I was surprised how few books he had actually written. The best of them: Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, The Nutshell Library, and The Sign on Rosie's Door. Some of my favorites that he illustrated: Grimm's Fairy Tales. The Griffon and the Minor Canon. Little Bear.  I loved that rich, engraving pen and ink style, and I remember working hard to try to emulate it.

Sendak's first book was by Ruth Krauss, A Hole is to Dig. Krauss and her husband, Crockett Johnson, served as mentors for Sendak, and as a 13 year old, while spending a very brief time in juvenile hall for a life changing but minor infraction, I discovered a rare paperback of Crocket Johnson's Barnaby on the book cart. It proved to be a great comfort and enduring favorite.

Maurice Sendak is a part of my family. Not the part that I was born into, but the part that I chose. I am a great believer and endorser of choosing your family if you ever have the option, and this, to me, includes people I may never meet and may never know who have gotten inside me and made a deep and indelible impression.

Now I'm 38, and I am so glad to be an adult, and I am so glad that I discovered In the Night Kitchen and so many other books by Sendak, and I'm so glad that now, I'm finally making picture books. So maybe it's selfish, but I can't say I'm sad at all that Maurice Sendak is dead. I'm glad that he was alive, and as far as I'm concerned, he still is. I haven't lost a thing. 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

How to Motivate Yourself to Write

These suggestions are geared primarily towards fiction writing, but they can apply just as well to any form of writing. Some of these tips I've learned from others, and some are strategies I've learned through practice and trial and error. You may have heard many of these suggestions before in one form or another, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded, so here's one more reminder you might find helpful.

Always Stop Writing When You know What's About To Happen Next

You're on a roll. You're excited about what you're writing. You want to keep writing until you've gotten all you're ideas down. This may seem counter intuitive, but this is exactly when you should stop: midway, while you're still excited. Make notes of your ideas, and you'll find that excitement will continue to the next day, and if you continue this strategy you can sustain this excitement far beyond that initial inspiration.

When You're Not Writing, You're Thinking. This is Good

So you've stopped right in the middle of that inspiration. You've left yourself hanging, and you're bursting with ideas. But now you have time to ruminate over those ideas. Those ideas will serve as the seeds of other ideas, but they need time to grow. You may not even realize that you're thinking about them, but as soon as you get back to writing, you'll discover that that initial inspiration has turned into an even greater windfall. Like anything, this won't always happen, but it's more likely if you stop writing while you still have that seed.

Write Every Day

This is the most common suggestion that writer's make, but this is for good reason. Inspiration wains and you have no idea what to write, but the longer you put it off, the more you lose momentum. If you write a sentence, you're still writing. Even if you only only have the intention of writing that sentence, now you've gotten started, and starting is half the battle. You might end up writing something you know you'll get rid of later on, but it keeps the momentum going, and it makes it that much easier to start the next day.

 Keep yourself to a minimum word count, but keep your ambitions reasonable. What can you realistically write in a day, considering your other responsibilities and your pace? Keep your minimum at the lowest you can expect of yourself. When you exceed your minimum, it feels like you're really jamming, but when you write less, the times when you do write more should make it easier to forgive yourself when you don't. You're still on track. The high days of productivity make up for those low days.

Keep a Regular Schedule

Routine is key. I write every morning around the same time. I also stop writing around the same time. Maybe your time is the evening or the afternoon, but give yourself a general time line and target time. There's always time for writing. You're never too busy to meet your minimum, as long as your minimum is reasonable.

Allow Yourself Uncertainty

There are going to be times when you feel like you've screwed up, that you've ruined the whole thing and you need to start from scratch. This is healthy. Doubt means you're looking at your work with a critical eye. I usually find that I'm always walking a tightrope between feeling like I could screw everything up, and that maybe it's just working. The best answer to this, is to keep writing. Whether your practice is to chuck the bad writing after the first draft, or as you go, if you keep moving forward, inevitably you're going to write something you feel good about. I'm more of an excise as you go writer. I find that a certain amount of ruthless chopping in the early stages of a manuscript can be motivating, rather than discouraging. Don't get too ruthless--you can save that for the final draft. If there's a passage that you're unsure of but feel may have potential, put it in it's own file. You may never look at it again, or you may end up using it, or portions of it later, but putting it out of sight can help to reinforce your resolve.

Have the Resolve to Finish

There's no end to confidence you'll build by actually getting to the end of a manuscript. This doesn't mean you should never give up on a story, but only give up after you've developed the confidence that you can finish something if you're determined to. As you finish more projects, while at the same time, developing an increasingly rigorous editing process, you'll be well on your way to writing not only more frequently and more confidently but more effectively. Writers need to write, and you have to get a ton of bad writing out of your system before you can write well. Even if you're a very attentive reader and have read widely, the exercise of writing and writing regularly is extremely important.

Should I Make an Outline?

This, again, is a question of personal approach, but I don't tend to. Outlines tends to reduce a character's actions to plot points. If you're going for a character driven story, you may end up having your character artificially adhere to these plot points in a way that is contrary to what the character has become. Of course there is always a risk of taking too many digressions, or going off on tangents, but this is something that I think can be taken care of in the editing process. The other problem with an outline is that you deny yourself the discovery that comes with the writing process, of discovering a new twist or turn in the story that you could have never anticipated. Not that you shouldn't write with a plan, but if you have too much of a preconceived idea of where the story is going next, you may end up feeling like your writing by the numbers, executing the next scene in your outline as prescribed, denying yourself the excitement of that next eureka. This, to me, is what keeps writing engaging and current. I also believe it's what makes the reader want to turn the page. If you're not sure what happens next, neither are they. But avoid writing yourself into a corner--not knowing everything isn't the same as not having options. This falls nicely into the idea of knowing what's going to happen next before your next writing session.

Should I Keep a Blog?

I only write in my blog after I've accomplished my other writing for the day. It's great practice to write a blog, to write anything on a regular basis, but if you're a fiction writer and your blog doesn't contain fiction, the blog could prove to be a distraction. Opinion or autobiography requires a different skill set than fiction, and though any writing can be helpful, you've got to be writing in the mode of your chosen discipline if you want to get better.

Thanks for reading, and happy writing!