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!