Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Another CItyscape rough for The Gingerbread Man!

If only they all came as easy as that last one. This one was a bear! Lots and lots of stuff to figure out, weird foreshortening, tough hands, architecture, animals. Eventually I'm going to have to render this thing though, and that's a whole 'nother bag of apples. But I'm pretty satisfied with it. One of those time where I came as close as I ever was going to, to what I set out to do. 

Monday, January 27, 2014


This rough drawing of a city came together in a furious 2 hour drawing session this morning.

I did a rough layout under the lightbox and winged the perspective, which is obviously distorted. I've got a lot of new stuff for my current book project but it's all in rough stage like this. I'll post more soon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pre-Order my Book, (Mostly) Wordless on Amazon!

Why should you pre-order (Mostly) Wordless on Amazon Because the more you order, the more they do. Because you'll be one of the first to get the book.  Because you can get it at a discount. But most of all, because it's beautiful and you're going to want one!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Future of Comics: A Casual Readership

As reported by Heidi McDonald in The Beat, these Are the bestselling graphic novels in the last 6 months according to Amazon.

This list reinforces the fact that Marvel and DC (excluding Watchmen) are not the mainstream. Also, 3 of the creators on this list are women, despite the fact that comics are still a male dominated field, a fact skewed by the gender biased  hiring practices at Marvel and DC. While Marvel and DC  put out more titles than anybody else, they still only cater to a niche audience. Only one title (again, Watchmen, the exception to the rule) is a superhero title, and all but Watchmen (which should be) are creator owned. Two are humor, and only three are genre comics. According to McDonald, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, not on the list, was the bestselling book of the year and European import Asterix and Japanese import One-Piece also did record sales. 

The Fan Market

Despite attempts to attract new readership with recent revamps like Marvel Now! and The New 52, the two largest comics companies ,Marvel and DC,  have consistently catered to their long standing fans. These companies get most of their business through the direct sales comics market (comics shops) rather than bookstores. They target a rapidly dwindling fan base of aging adult readers. Instead of reaching out to new readers, their strategy has instead been to get these older readers to buy more comics. Because of this approach, they still manage to sell in relatively high numbers, but aside from a few spikes in sales a result of the speculators market, these numbers have been steadily decreasing. It is because of the fan market that Marvel and DC and some of the smaller direct sales only comics companies continue to reach the bestseller lists.

Japanese Manga, since they cater to a younger fan base outside the direct sales market, are one of the few exceptions to this rule, but still represent a niche market.

 Comics Speculation and the Death of the Collectible

While these sales spikes have benefited comics shops in the short term, the speculators market has largely hurt the comics industry, both due to a boom and bust cycle that mirrors the toy industry's similar trends with Cabbage Patch Kids and Beanie Babies, and the wider availability of what would have otherwise been hard to find comics by online retailers and E-Bay.

The practice of grading and  "slabbing", or sealing comics in Barex sleeves to preserve their condition by the CGC, (also known as Comics Guaranty LLC)  has recently become a popular way to artificially increase the value of comics to sustain the collectors market. Once slabbed, an arbitrarily over-inflated value is placed on the book. This practice essentially renders the comics unreadable unless the seal is broken (and breaking the seal is discouraged, since the value of the books are, according to the CGC, considerably lowered if the package is opened). For a number of reasons I won't go into here, this practice is highly controversial among collectors.

While very old and rare comics will continue to be collectible by varying degrees, comics that were printed after the early 80s are poor long term investments on the whole, since this is when the rise in the popularity of comics shops and the collectors market began. This, not coincidentally, is when Marvel and DC decide to go direct sales only and target fans exclusively.
 Since profit margins on periodicals are low, comics shops have long depended on this collectors market to survive. Unfortunately, because of this dependence and its dwindling audience, these shops are increasingly disappearing.

While manga themselves are not typically collectible, the toys and ancillary products based on manga are. The direct sales and general toy market have also tried to seize on toys as collectibles, with limited edition statuettes and other toys directed at adult fans, but again, these adult fans are becoming fewer and fewer.

A Casual Readership

So with the drop in speculation and the dwindling direct sales fan base, the long term survival of the comics market is dependent on casual readers, and the Amazon bestseller list is reflective of this. Like books, movies, and other media, for comics to continue to thrive, they need to appeal to a general audience. Again, as the Amazon bestseller list reflects, this is already happening.

Aside from perennials like Maus, Watchmen, Persepolis and Fun Home, and popular newspaper strips like Dilbert, the rest of the list is telling. Allie Brosh's Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened is based on a popular blog feature that's completely outside the radar of the comics fan base. Diary of a Wimpy Kid has no presence at all in the direct sales market, but has entered the popular consciousness like few books have.The Walking Dead is a hugely popular TV show based on the comic, rather than the other way around. The Walking Dead series of graphic novels is not merchandizing, but the source material.

TV and film based on books are always going to be more popular and successful than the books, but unlike franchise comics which are work-for-hire, comics creators who own the rights to their own books get a full slice of the pie.Artists who sign work-for-hire contracts get little if anything in the way of royalties, while artists who own their own creations get royalties from the publication, TV rights and related merchandise. While this practice is unremarkable in traditional publishing, comics have had a long history of publishers exploiting artists by forcing them to sign away all rights to their creations. 

But all of these books depend on a casual readership,on readers who aren't necessarily big fans of the medium but simply pick up a graphic novel from time to time. The future of the medium is going to be dependent on a broad-based casual readership rather than a small community of dedicated  fans, and fortunately, this already appears to be where we're headed.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why Archie Comics Matter and Why Comics Fans Should Stop Ignoring Them

For the last 30 years or so, Archie digests have consistently been the only comics available at the supermarket checkout line. The Japanese manga anthology, Shonen Jump (until it went all digital in 2011), Mad Magazine and a few random others show up in the magazine aisle, but not at point of sale. Archie has a complete hold on that market and no one else has even tried to compete.

The comics sales figures you commonly see on comics fan sites for periodicals are only direct sales listings. While Archie Double Digest often cracks 100,000 in sales, they don't even make the list. But in reality, Archie digests are right up there with the top sellers at Marvel and DC.

Here's 2009's Archie sales figures.

And that's for a typical month.

While here are the direct sales rankings for the bestselling issues of that same year.

For some reason a single issue of Archie the regular periodical still lists on as a respectable 60,600 (though this was the top seller, not the average) but the digests aren't listed, even though Archie reported average sales of 103,639 per issue of Archie Double Digest alone.

So the digest titles should be listed in the top 100 comics of the year, a few within the top 40, but they don't chart at all on the direct sales charts. (Note that The Spectacular Spider-Man issue that reached in excess of 500,000 that year was the issue that featured Obama at the height of his popularity, so that skews the figure a little.)

Why does this matter?

A Casual Readership

I think that middle class kids often get books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Bone, and manga as gifts, or check them out from the library. Your typical manga are black and white and can run as much as 10 dollars or more for about 200 pages, while Archie Double Digest and similar Archie digests are in color, have 160 pages and retail at 3.99. Then there's Mad Magazine, at 5.99, with only 56 color pages plus ads.

When I was a kid every grocery store had a spinner rack that displayed Marvel, DC, Archie and Harvey comics, with the occasional Charlton or Gold Key title. The Archie digests were often at the check-out stand. I grew up with Archie and Richie Rich, but eventually started buying Marvel and DC, and then independent and small press titles. My comics habit continued, but migrated to the direct sales comics shop as I got older. There were Harvey digests for a while, but Harvey disappeared from the racks in the early 80s, and sometime in the early 90s Marvel and DC moved from grocery stores to direct-sales comics shops exclusively.

When they began, comic shops catered to kids and teenagers who bought comics with their own spending money, as well as a few adult fans who developed the habit in childhood. Now that I'm 40,  most of the people buying comics at the direct sales comics shops are around my age. Marvel and DC abandoned the kids market to concentrate on an ever dwindling adult audience, but Archie didn't. The Archie digests never left the racks.

Shonen Jump found an audience where Marvel and DC had decided there was none, and Archie continues to get a steady flow of readership. I don't have statistics on this, but I'm guessing that many of these Archie sales are based on impulse and occasional readers rather than a regular dedicated fan base. I think a fan base exists, but Archie doesn't cultivate and depend on it like Marvel and DC, or even Shonen Jump's Viz.

So what does Archie have that Marvel, DC and other major comics publishers don't? Casual readers. Marvel and DC have no casual readers and depend exclusively on their dedicated fan base to survive. Marvel and DC may sell more comics than Archie, but there's no easy point of entry.

While there are a number of casual readers of graphic novels and trade paperbacks, there are few casual and younger readers of periodicals. Archie Comics is the point of entry.

Archie Comics: The Great Equalizer

for comics to thrive, they need to have a casual readership like other media. Part of that is access: you need to be able to easily sample a comic without having to hunt it down, and without having to make the commitment of spending 10 dollars or more on a book. Digital media will fill in this gap eventually, but right now Archie Comics serve an important role: to introduce kids to the medium who may not have easy access to comics by other means. For the price of a TV guide, a kid can discover the medium  on their own. Not that 4 dollars is easy for every kid to come by, but computers and libraries are less accessible than we'd like to think. That 4 dollars is a lot cheaper than a computer, and to a  lot of working class kids who grow up in  families where reading isn't a priority, libraries can be intimidating places.

 Archie Comics are cheap, accessible, and widely available. They help to familiarize casual readers with the medium, reach where other comics can't, and most importantly, create future comics readers. While print periodicals may not be long for this world, right now and for as long as they last, Archie Comics matter.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Gingerbread Man in Progress...

Sorry I haven't posted any art in a while--I've been busy with a book dummy for my version of The Gingerbread Man. Here's a rough spread of the book in progress:

So this would be a rough spread of what I'd present to a publisher before the book went to final.

I had a number of ideas for lengthier titles to distinguish it from other versions of the story, but have decided on just "The Gingerbread Man" since it follows the same basic storyline as the original folktale.  

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Why Drew Struzan Wouldn't Be Drew Struzan Without Barron Storey

If you don't know Drew Struzan's name, you know his work.

This is essentially the tagline for the recent Struzan documentary, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, which I found a bit disappointing. Most of the people they talked to were directors and actors who knew little about illustration or its history. I'm sorry, but when I watch a documentary on illustration, Steve Guttenberg just isn't the guy I want to hear from. There were a couple of illustrators thrown in, like Greg Hildebrandt and Charles White III, but they were given little opportunity to talk about the form. It was mostly just an endless stream of praise.

 It is true Struzan is one of the great movie poster artists, and many of his images will be forever associated with the films that they promoted, which is no small accomplishment. And while I do think he deserves to be celebrated, I don't think he deserves to be canonized, which is what the film seemed to have set out to do.

 But the documentary doesn't tell the full story. While it's acknowledged that Struzan was asked at times to emulate other artists, it neglects to mention that in beginning of his career, this was almost all that he did. It also neglects to mention Struzan's three principal influences: J.C. Leyendecker, Bob Peak, and not insignificantly, Barron Storey.

Early Influences

At the beginning of Drew Struzan's career, when he was doing album covers for the design studio, Pacific Eye and Ear,  he was still finding his voice. Like any artist at the beginning of their career, he emulated others. Here's one of his most popular pieces at the time, for Black Sabbath,

From Struzan's Black Sabbath album cover for Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath

This one had a little bit of Salvador Dali,

Channeled through Maxfield Parrish (below). In fact, that figure kneeling on the right on the Sabbath cover looks suspiciously like this one, same light source and everything:

Here's another one:

This one looks like Parrish on the borders, with a little Bernie Fuchs on the interior figures. Here's Bernie Fuchs:

Struzan was always more a draftsman than a painter, and these inspirations tended to take on a more line and plane oriented character than a painterly one.

Struzan broke though with this image of Alice Cooper on Cooper's album, Welcome to My Nightmare. This one got Struzan his first movie poster gig, and, as mentioned, it was movie posters where Struzan truly made his mark.

But while most of his album cover work only showed shades of his influences, this image was a straight up homage to J.C. Leyendecker. (The fact that this wasn't mentioned in the documentary is just astounding to me). And here's Leyendecker:

Though it wasn't the first time he'd done Leyendecker:

And for a while this became Struzan's thing. You can see it particularly strongly in this early Star Wars poster, a collaboration with Charles White III. White did the robots and shiny stuff, and Drew did the figures:

This was where White also introduced Struzan to the airbrush which would become a big part of Struzan's technique later on. But again, the difference between Struzan's Leyendecker and Leyendecker's Leyendecker is that Struzan was more of a draftsman than a painter. He was able to emulate some superficial elements of Lyendecker's style, but never really got what made Leyendecker a real painter. Not that Struzan didn't eventually gain a certain facility with paint and painterly techniques, but at this point, he was more an imitator than his own artist.

Struzan, at the time, was so good at imitating Leyendecker, they asked him to emulate other classic illustrators like Norman Rockwell:

And notably, Bob Peak:

And this was when Peak was at the height of his popularity. It was a case of "you can't get Peak? Well this guy does a good Peak imitation and he's cheaper. Hire him." Here's some Peak for comparison:

It was from Peak that Struzan got his talent for montage, and who, beside's Storey, would remain one of the greatest influences on his work. 

Enter: Barron Storey

Barron Storey, my old teacher, always said that he never learned to paint. Which didn't mean he hadn't learned some of the principals of painting. But he is, like Struzan, at heart a draftsman. Storey was a contemporary of Struzan, and while he started out wearing his influences on his sleeve like Struzan, he soon evolved his own style. Here's Storey:

Looking a little like early Peak:

 Storey's style was invention born of necessity. Because he felt he lacked the facility to paint, he used line to emulate the mass and body of paint. Here's one of his Time covers:

 He approached rendering with  slashes of hash marks to define planes rather than painterly brush strokes to describe masses.

And another famous one that's pure draftsmanship, of Howard Hughes, according to Storey, done right at the Time offices the night Hughes died. All he had to work from were what photos existed on file and a description of Hughes' given on the phone from a witness, since Hughes hadn't been seen in public for years:

And it remains one of the most iconic images of the late Hughes, which is remarkable considering that Storey could only speculate about what Hughes looked like based on photos more than a decade out of date.

 In a painterly approach (say, Rembrandt), the body of the paint conveys mass. Sometimes a single stroke will describe an eyelid or the bridge of a nose. In a tighter rendering where brushstrokes are less desirable, the paint builds value with blended tone applied as you might with charcoal. This classic approach is as old as the Renaissance and still common among artists today (sometimes achieved with glazes of thin paint), though many artists use a combination of both approaches. Then there are artists who work in the tradition of Durer, where line is built up in layered patterns of methodical cross-hatching. Tim O'Brian is a good contemporary example of an illustrator who uses this method, and Paul Cadmus in the fine art world.

Storey's approach was like none of these, though it had more of a relationship to Durer than the more painterly Rembrandt. But it wasn't one he had entirely invented. A less methodical approach to line can be seen as early as Daumier. But when I think of Storey I think of Italian pen and ink illustrator/comics artist Toppi and South American comics artist Breccia, and since Storey was a fan of comics, I imagine he was likely aware of Toppi. Here's one from Toppi:

I imagine these guys too, have a precedent for this approach to line that I'm not aware of, so if anyone has any insight I'd be curious what you think, but in general it seems to come from turn of the century expressionism.

Storey claimed Robert Weaver, his teacher, as his greatest influence, but the subtlety and spareness of Weaver wasn't Storey's strong suit. Storey is more about obsessive detail and an improvisational approach to rendering, Never applying the same stroke twice or in quite the same way. When not doing a single subject, like a portrait, his compositions could be dense with elaborately rendered imagery. Weaver was more about reportage, while Storey tended to live more in his head. Where Weaver observed, Storey invented. But ultimately the connection between Struzan and Storey is not one of content, but of craft.

Another portrait from Time:

And a detail:

And his classic Lord of the Flies cover:

By the late 70s Struzan was already veering away from the Lyendecker and Peak influence and into his own style (though this one has a hint of Syd Mead):

I think Struzan was very much aware of Storey at the time, and picked up on what he was doing. And that's when Struzan's style really became his own.

Take a closer look:

And this is when Struzan's career really started to take off. There was his talent for idealized portraiture and montage borrowed from Bob Peak, and then there was the influence of Storey. He didn't just pick up Barron Storey's technique, like he had Leyendecker's, but his inventive approach to line and mixed media. It wasn't the materials, it was the approach.  Mixed media was not the point. Since he was more a draftsman than a painter, Struzan got Storey. Or at least, a certain aspect of what Storey was good at. Not that he emulated Storey entirely, or gave up the more painterly aspects of his work, but he was able to incorporate Storey's approach to line and form in a way that served his affinity for drawing.

Here are a few greatest hits with details:

And more recently:

His approach is more methodical, but you can see him getting more bold and improvisational in some of the later pieces, but never quite to the degree of Storey.

And that's about where it ended with Struzan, who has recently retired. But Storey kept on experimenting and growing. Both in his professional work (this one still from the 70s):

And in his personal work, particularly in his sketchbooks, which he draws in every day, a few of which I had the pleasure of checking out in person while I was in school (and they look even better in person.) Here's some examples:

And he has been and continues to be a huge influence on some of the best contemporary illustrators working today:

Bill Sienkiewicz

Kent Williams

Dave McKean