Friday, May 16, 2014

Supergirl versus Darkseid revisited...

As part of my on-going self-education in comic book art making, I re-inked this image of Supergirl standing up to a symbolically over-sized Darkseid.  The inspiration comes from all of those classic comic book covers where the villain looms over the heroes in exaggerated scale.  The massive clutching hand as a frequent image.
I absolutely hated the way I drew the hair the first time around.  I like this slightly more.  Supergirl's face doesn't hold together as well as I'd like and I should have left her chest/torso well enough alone.  I am just not an inker.  Too fidgety, too indecisive, too forgetful of basic elements like light sources.  Actually, Supergirl here is the light source, another symbolic element.  But that doesn't explain the weird shadows on her cape.
A determined, heroic Supergirl.  That's what I like.  She'll keep fighting against all odds.
Overall it almost looks like an actual piece of comic book artwork.  It shows just enough progress to keep me chugging along, working towards who knows what end.

Comixology has 45 old school Uncanny X-Men issues on sale for .99 each right now...

I can't help shilling for Comixology from time to time.  But sometimes I have to.  I really, really do.  I mean, I run a blog largely dedicated to old comics-- which I liberally define as "anything published prior to the year 2000"-- and a big part of that includes yakking at length about Uncanny X-Men back when Chris Claremont was writing it and Wolverine was but a hairy, beer-swilling pup.  Or whatever it is you call baby wolverines.  Right now they're selling 45 classic issues of Uncanny X-Men for .99 each.  I already bought them all for 1.99 apiece, and I considered that a bargain at the time.  If you haven't experienced the foundation of practically everything people love about Marvel Comics these days, this is your big chance to catch up.

The art is outstanding throughout, with Dave Cockrum and John Byrne pencilling most of the issues and a few guest art teams here and there.  And wow, beyond the visual treats, these are fun comics to read.  They're occasionally goofy, but they have all the theatrics and high drama you could possibly want in a superhero comic, with in-depth characterization of even the least-loved and lowliest of cast-offs.  You know, like Banshee.  Poor guy.  And the long-simmering "Dark Phoenix" storyline is one of those seminal comic book events, an era-defining tale, as is "Days of Future Past," which seems to have inspired a movie recently with a lot of familiar characters.  Where have we seen them before?

Anyway, Marvel can't seem to leave this stuff alone.  They must have retold all of Claremont's stories more times than DC has redone "Crisis on Infinite Earths."  Even Marvel movie guru Joss Whedon couldn't resist dipping into the Claremont well when he wrote his own much-lauded run not so long ago.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Curt Swan: Even his name is cool...

I miss Curt Swan.  Diversions of the Groovy Kind has a look at The Amazing World of DC Comics #7 (July 1975), with a Curt Swan interview and lots of sweet Swan artwork.  I was seven years old when that came out, and I never read it.  I'm trying to remember who my Superman artist of record was in those days.

Oh yeah, it was Curt Swan!

Curt Swan was THE Superman artist for me, the way I thought Walt Disney drew all those movie cartoons.  Sorry, Joe Shuster.  I know you were the original, so it should have been you, but you were long gone by the time I started reading.  And when I started reading, as far as I was concerned, you couldn't have a Superman unless he was drawn by Swan.  Later I got into Superman reprint books and discovered Wayne Boring, Al Plastino and Neal Adams, and while I liked and still do like their versions of Superman-- there's something really appealing about the beefy, barrel-torsoed Boring Supes-- practically every new Superman or Action Comics I bought had the familiar-looking Swan Superman.  So Swan Superman simply WAS Superman for me.

Swan had a way of drawing facial expressions that impressed younger me.  Like Superman eating the defunct kryptonite, or posing as Clark Kent doing his day job and making one of Steve Lombard's pranks backfire, startling and humiliating the would-be bully into making a really amusing facial expression, which Swan and whatever inker was handling the book that month rendered in characteristically clean, readable linework.

And I don't know if Swan took a lot of artistic shortcuts, because I don't know much-- if anything-- about his drawing methods.  I have a feeling he didn't, because his characters inhabited a solid, believable world.  Sure, it was generally neater and more squared-away than our own, but if Superman or Lois Lane happened to be tackling pollution as a social issue in that story, Swan would make that pollution look like the loveliest pollution you ever did see.  Municipalities across the land would be proud to fester in Swan-rendered pollution.  The Daily Planet offices, the Metropolis skyline, the studios of Galaxy Broadcasting, some alien spaceship-- whatever it was, Swan gave it all a solidity and reality.  He simply drew the hell out of it, without a lot of fuss and muss and fidgety crap and visual noise.  Swan didn't have to hide anything with flash because he could just flat-out draw, man, draw.

In the DC Comics interview, Swan says, "As the Superman character evolved, Mort [Weisenger] felt, at the time, that we should get a little more humanistic qualities into him.  We wanted people to relate to him better."  Swan was certainly successful at that.  From those facial expressions, to the body language, to the backgrounds, to the stories themselves, he worked on a Superman who had a down-to-earth quality about him.  Like a real dude, with real feelings, despite his godlike abilities.  When pro writers (and fans) say things about Superman being unrelatable because he's all-powerful, or boring because he can't be challenged, I get the feeling they never read a Superman story drawn by Curt Swan.

Also, it's pretty cool to watch the Swan Superman evolve from the early 60s into the 70s.  First he has that tall forehead, the slightly receding hairline of an older guy.  Even Superboy looks like he needs a little Minoxodil, or soon will.  By the time Clark Kent is anchoring the nightly news at Galaxy, his spit-curl has become a more full-bodied wave and his hair is creeping down over his ears.  But what doesn't change in all that time is the basic appeal of Curt Swan's art.  If you can look at it and not feel uplifted, then you are reading the wrong blog.

Well, you might be doing that anyway.  Go read Diversions of the Groovy Kind, you nut!

Look! It's Luke! (and then I gush about Al Williamson)

I tried giving this drawing an Al Williamson feel.  I didn't succeed, but why would I even try such a thing given the gap in our skill levels?  I'll tell you... at length...
So many wonderful artists have worked on the Star Wars property over the years.  Start with the movie posters themselves, painted by the likes of Tom Chantrell, Tom Jung (with droids by one of my faves, Nick Cardy), the Brothers Hildebrandt and Drew Struzan.  There are others, but those pop into my head at the moment.  And in the comics and comic strips we’ve seen art from Howard Chaykin, Russ Manning, Carmine Infantino, Michael Golden, Cam Kennedy, Jan Duursema, Chris Sprouse, Alfredo Alcala, Dave Gibbons, P. Craig Russell and many more I can’t think of right now.

They’ve all contributed mightily to George Lucas’ universe, but the guy who best captured the spirit of the enterprise (crossover!) is Al Williamson.  Probably because he was the most naturally in-tune artist for Star Wars.  Influenced as it was by the works of Alex Raymond and film serials, Star Wars was perfect for Al Williamson, the foremost artist coming out of the Raymond tradition, and himself a big fan of the same serials.

Williamson didn’t do photo-realism.  He just treated Star Wars as it was meant to be treated, as if it was a classic old comic strip itself, and he gave it a lush, rich, illustrative look with his mastery of figure drawing, black-spotting and linework.  His Star Wars strips and comics are gorgeously drawn versions of the films, timeless and classic at the same time.  No one needs to go back and fix the special effects or add creatures and background elements.  The Williamson Star Wars universe is fully-realized and already perfect.  Idealized, even.  In many respects I find it superior to the films themselves.

Whenever I try to draw Star Wars characters, I can’t help but turn into the 12-year-old kid I was when I bought the Marvel paperback adaptation of Empire Strikes Back and first saw Williamson’s art and then had to copy it as best he could, line-for-line.  Williamson’s art exerted that kind of magical appeal immediately.  There’s no way I can overemphasize its impact on my sense of comic book aesthetics.  Earlier that day I had one idea about what I wanted to see and how I wanted to draw, I read Empire Strikes Back and by that night I had a new idea.  I enjoyed the more sketchy approach from Chaykin with its rushed energy and the slick, stylized caricatures of Infantino (especially when cleanly inked by Terry Austin), but Williamson finally gave me the Star Wars comic I had been longing for and hadn’t even known it.  I was, like many kids my age, already a confirmed Star Wars fanatic, but Williamson, more than the toys and novelizations and eventual TV movies and cartoons and very nearly as much as the films themselves, cemented my love for this stuff.

Shoot, Williamson gave me the COMIC I’d been longing for without knowing it.  I already liked Joe Kubert, Jack Kirby, Alex Toth and Alcala, and my appreciation of their work possibly primed me for Williamson.  But I might have been locked into a Neal Adams/John Byrne kind of mindset as the “correct” approach, bar none, had I not encountered Williamson and had I not been more of a sci-fi/fantasy fan than a superhero fan (actually, I was more into comedy than any of those, but you don’t see a lot of comic books based on sketch comedy or SCTV). 

From Star Wars, Williamson (and Jack Davis to an extent) also provided my entry point to the world of comic artists like Wally Wood, Frank Frazetta, George Evans, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, Roy Krenkel, Angelo Torres, Gray Morrow, then further into the past with Raymond and Hal Foster and all the way back to the present with Mark Schultz.

Now I know there’s not one true approach to drawing.  It take less time to point out the artist I think who are doing it wrong than it does to list the ones I think do it right because there are so few of the former and so many of the latter.  On any given day I might be more Kirby-oriented or more Tothian in my thinking, I never get tired of Steve Rude, spent last week imitating John Buscema while trying to teach myself to ink, love Adams, dig on some Byrne, think Michael Golden needed to do a long run on Star Wars himself, find Walt Simonson’s work looking better and better all the time, Bob McLeod remains a big influence and I am in love with the beauty of Colleen Doran’s characters.  I’m way into Mike Mignola, Paul Pope, Bruce Timm and Mike Allred, probably too much so for my own good.  Misako Rocks! just kills me, as do Matt Groening, Peter Bagge and Evan Dorkin.  John Severin, Nick Cardy, Los Bros Hernandez, Lynda Barry, check, check and check!  Oh, and let's not forget Rumiko Takahashi, Goseki Kojima, Ai Yazawa and Junji Ito.  And, as I said, all those other Star Wars artists who aren’t Al Williamson have done sterling work, stuff I also admire.

It’s just when it comes to Star Wars, they’re various planets and moons and satellites while Williamson is the bright center of the galaxy and when you see his take on it, you’re no longer on the planet it’s farthest from.  You’re right there with him, in the middle of adventure and magic and everything fun and good in the world of comics.

Why the devil am I thinking about Jackie Jokers all of a sudden?

A few minutes ago, I was doodling tiny vampires (with such clever names as "Count Drapula" and "Count Dropula") when the name "Ears" Muldoon suddenly popped into my mind and I made the association to the old Harvey Comics character Jackie Jokers.  If I'm remembering correctly, which I highly doubt, I once owned an issue of Richie Rich or possibly Richie Rich and Jackie Jokers where Jackie Jokers performed in a parody of Star Trek where an actor named "Ears" Muldoon played the Mr. Spock stand-in.  If this is so, his nickname suggests he won the role because he actually possessed pointed ears in real life.

Some kind of mutant, I guess.

Jackie Jokers was a child comedian who was pals with Richie and company, and huge star in his own right within their fictional world.  His friends delighted in his hijinks and gave him unconditional fan support despite the rather creaky nature of his humor.  Bad puns and lame plays on words.  Kind of like what you get here.  With his black bowlcut hair and elfin eyes, Jackie looked a lot like the Paul McCartney caricature from the TV cartoon show The Beatles, which, apparently, was some kind of Monkees rip-off popular among pre-teens back in the 1960s.  Why was Jackie such a big deal, able to reduce all comers to helpless laughter despite his weak material?  Well, his father, Jerry Jokers, was also a famous comedian, and I can only assume Jackie largely owed his career to show-biz nepotism.  I'm going to grant his otherwise mystifying ability to get honest laughs on his own because his world also includes friendly ghosts and good little witches with magical powers.

I know I owned the comic (a quick Google search reveals it most likely to be Richie Rich and Jackie Jokers #26 from April 1978, although the cover doesn't spark much of anything in my memory) where Jackie and friends parody Star Wars as "Star Bores."  Pretty clever, eh?  Jackie takes the Han Solo role, with Richie as Luke.  I forget who plays Darth Vader.  Maybe Cadbury.  The mild humor of these mags must have been aimed at kids even younger than the 10 years old I was when I read this.  At that age, I'd already been exposed to Mad Magazine, Cracked, Saturday Night Live, Richard Pryor stand-up and Mel Brooks movies.  Jackie's jokes really could not help but pale by comparison, and even Li'l Archie indulged in barf humor occasionally. 

So I'm fairly certain I found the artwork superior to the scripts even then.  Looking at odd panels online to refresh what's left of my memory, I definitely do now.  Very appealing art by the great Ernie Colon, a guy who could draw anything from superheroes to sword-and-sorcery to horror to a graphic novel adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report.  Jackie Jokers is also superior to Richie Rich in that he wears what almost appear to be clothes an actual human being might wear.  A turtleneck shirt and a sport jacket.  That's pretty snazzy stuff.  My mom dressed me that way for Easter Sunday when I was 5 and I thought I was a funny guy even then.  A regular Mason Reese or Rodney Allen Rippy.  While Richie and his father sport unnatural, triangular bangs parted in the middle, Jackie at least has that then-stylish Beatles cut.

Or Monkees.

How strange the avenues down which our minds lead us when we draw vampires.  It would be neat if I could track down some of these comics and write about them in a more informed way rather than just making up a lot of crazy crap off the top of my head.  Someone reprint the Jackie Jokers stories, stat!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Twenty Years of Hellboy...

I don't write a great deal about Hellboy, because I tend to think of it and its related titles as "new" comics.  That's how fresh it is.  But the first issue came out way back in March, 1994, which is well within the timeframe for this particular nostalgia-leaning blog.  And I'm a big fan of the property and a lot of the people who've worked on it, creator Mike Mignola foremost among them.  Man, I dig that cat's art and the weird pacing and tone of his writing.

Mignola is the reason I picked up a Hellboy book in the first place-- and it was the Seed of Destruction collection.  At the time, I really didn't care what the story was about or the characters in it.  I just wanted to look at Mignola's drawings.

Mignola first entered my particular radar through his work on the Topps comic book adaptation of Francis Ford Coppola's overwrought vampire flick Bram Stoker's Dracula.  I picked it up out of curiosity because I'd enjoyed the movie in a campy kind of way and I've always appreciated a Dracula story, any Dracula story.  I didn't realize I was actually about to encounter a new artist with whose work I'd become obsessed in the way I had with people like Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Al Williamson, Alex Toth and Mark Schultz over the years.  The comic book, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Mignola and inker John Nyberg, blew the movie away, not the least reason being you don't have to deal with the hammy acting and outrageously bad accents when you read it.  Hooked on Mignola from that point, I started copying his art and looking for his other comics.  But I went about it in a kind of leisurely fashion, because I didn't buy Seed of Destruction until probably around 1999 or 2000...

And wow, oh wow, when I finally got around to it, I found it was full of stuff that fired up the endorphin-receptors in my brain for a full-on rush of pleasure and good feelings.  And from then on, I had to buy every single Hellboy and Hellboy-related comic book I could get my hands on.  Nowadays there are so many to choose from, too.  The cast has grown over the years and there are spin-offs and off-shoots and even "other world" type, out-of-continuity stories.  Two movies, a cartoon.  Toys.  Other people are involved in the writing and drawing of Hellboy and his friends, but it's still Mignola's world.  He has the knack of choosing the best and most appropriate collaborators, too.  There are stories I've enjoyed more than others, but I can't think of one that's a real misfire or mistake.  Twenty years of quality entertainment.

I think this is the ideal model for how to handle comic book characters, creators and publications.  Kudos to Dark Horse for letting Mignola run with this and not trying to screw it up and put their imprint on it the way some other companies might have.  When you think of what could have happened to Hellboy if Mignola had been more successful pitching it to a certain other company before landing at Dark Horse... YIKES.

I should have blown up this blog with a major Hellboy write-up back in March, and I should definitely write more about the 1990s-era Hellboy books here.  And post some art from them because it's so damned cool to look at.

The New Mutants and my artistic misadventures up to now...

This unfinished sketch began its life as just a dull portrait of Dani Moonstar (AKA the Greatest Comic Character Ever Created) I did months ago, possibly in ArtRage Studio or Sketchbook Pro. Yesterday, feeling kind of feisty, I opened it up in Manga Studio and penciled over it and, I believe, fixed one or two things that used to bother me about it.

 For some reason, I felt a Hulk appropriate to the story and once I added the Jade Giant, obviously we needed a cringing Sam Guthrie doing a sort of Archie comics fear pose on the right. Such was my thought process at about 7pm, the end of a full day of drawing and self-directed art study which began around 630am. By the time I started coloring it, I was physically exhausted. I only got this far and decided to call it quits, but at that point I'd discovered oil painting and I played around with a digital piece I did a couple of years back of a screaming Captain Kirk being left behind in deep space by the Enterprise.

Yesterday's efforts included the writing, lettering and laying out of a story I call, "The Legend of Billy Jack versus Bruce Lee." I also drew Conan attacking Mickey Mouse, an image I've been toying with for the past month. The idea I could make the Conan figure look a bit like a John Buscema drawing wrecked me. Then I discovered my own line and had to re-draw it in a more personal way. In blue pencil just for fun.

I find I've developed some measure of precision to go along with the speed I've long had. I also have a tremendous amount of self-discipline where I can keep myself drawing for hours, minus a couple of rest breaks here and there, and push through blocks and frustrations to keep putting down lines. What I lack are basic storytelling skills and an appealing aesthetic quality. I don't have a particular "way" to draw eyes, or a characteristic approach to shadows and highlights. What I seek is a natural way of drawing, without getting hung up on ideas like "style."

 But at the same time, I want something I can reproduce consistently that looks attractive in case people might actually come to desire my art in some financially remunerative way. The way to do this is simply to do this. Then do it again. And again. Do it a million times if necessary, or even more.

I wish I had all day every day to devote to art, but I also have to do my regular day job. So for now, I'll be getting up at 5am to draw for two hours and then maybe 4 hours on a Saturday and a Sunday each as long as my wife is cool with it. I mean, she's pretty darned important to me!

Anyway, as I've no doubt mentioned here, many years ago I had this idea I could write a 48-page graphic novel or the first two issues of an ongoing series, a kind of "slice of life" thing partially inspired by the existence of Love and Rockets, Ghost World and even Peter Bagge's Hate. Visually, I wanted it to resemble classic romance comics, but with the clothes and hairstyles all up-to-date. Then I thought, "Hey, why don't you try to draw it in as close an approximation to Alex Toth's style as you can?"

 I guess I kind of had in mind Mark Schultz's first Xenozoic Tales story, titled "Xenozoic!," which he drew as an extended Wally Wood riff. Well, I quickly learned I was in no way Alex Toth or Mark Schultz. But by that time, I'd already written the whole thing. I did it Sergio Aragones-style, with the entire 48 pages thumbnailed, complete with dialogue.

 Realizing I'd set the bar impossibly high for someone whose last lengthy sequential work was a three-page Jurassic Park parody done in 1993, I decided to limit myself to just writing it and getting someone else to draw it. I typed it up in what I think is standard script format, completed the forms and documents and sent the whole mess to Dark Horse Comics, the only place taking those kinds of unsolicited submissions at the time. That it then disappeared without a trace into their slush pile and then, no doubt, into a recycling bin where it eventually became an ingredient in someone's computer desk or a Blo Pop stick (I hope the latter!) let me know my writer's skill level and commercial instincts!

Rejection is just part of aspiration.  I don't save them because I'm not sentimental and I have little or no ego, but I've since received some actual rejection letters for short stories I've written.  That's more fun that silence, and from them I gained a feeling of accomplishment.  The thing is, you can't give up.  Ever.  So even though I was in the process of changing from a low-paying graphic design career to a higher-paying English teaching one, I carried the layouts and script with me to Japan where I worked on them from time to time.  When I bought Manga Studio 5 with my new-found education riches, the first thing I did was lay out the first half as a single comic book issue and letter it, editing and fine-tuning the dialogue throughout.  Soon I'll do the other half and complete the story.  I know how it ends and how to get there.  I know what everyone says and does and why.

I drew here and there, but largely just spent my time bouncing around between my adopted hometown and Tokyo, checking out rock shows and living the life of a language mercenary.  This left little time for the kind of dedicated study of art I'm making now.  And why am I doing this?  Encouragement from a pro who sent me a message on Facebook and asked me directly why I wasn't drawing.  Why I had never gone for it.  I thought about that for while and after I had thought about it long enough, I realized I had to start drawing again on a regular basis.  I couldn't let my skills rust anymore.  I then went to work drawing every single day and recently, I've been spending longer hours at it.  I'm improving faster than I ever thought possible.  And it's been pretty fun despite smashing headfirst into the upper limits of my capabilities, which aren't as high as I'd like.

There are some hugely talented people out there who can blow my wheels off!  I mean, WOW!

Then, this past weekend, I decided that so-called graphic novel needed some new thought and a new beginning.  I came up with a kind of one-page prelude to set the scene and one of the character conflicts.  This leads into my original opening sequence but enables me to show, rather than tell, and opens up the possibility for more natural, less expository, dialogue from the two co-leads.  They're half of a quartet of characters whose adventures and misadventures drive the story.  This made me re-think another scene near the beginning that will no serve to sharpen the book's main dilemma, the one shared by all four people.

And with that, I must go teach an English conversation class.  So I'm out!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Today's Xi'an Coy Manh and a word or two about Manga Studio 5...

Oh, sorry.  From the sublime (Steve Rude) to the ridiculous (me).  This is Xi'an Coy Manh, a particular comic book character favorite of mine. As you're no doubt aware (and sick of hearing about), I've been spending hours upon hours drawing lately.  Mostly teaching myself to ink. 

What makes it easy to get lost in art is a little program known as Manga Studio 5.  It's not cheap, but when you consider the tools you get with it, it's more than worth the asking price.  Yeah, I even splurged and bought the professional level version. 

The absolute best feature is the one where you can lay down a perspective ruler and draw lines that "snap" to it.  You can do 1-, 2- and 3-point perspective.  You still have to understand the theory to make it work properly, but Manga Studio has taken a lot of tediousness out of working in perspective.  World-building is a joy.  It always was, at least in the imagining stages, but then you had to make grids or find vanishing points, which is like brick-laying or putting in a concrete carport on a steamy August day in south Georgia (both of which I helped my dad do when I was a kid).  Now you can just fiddle with some levers and away you go.  New York City in a few minutes for Spider-Man to go a-swingin' through, or some alien megalopolis worthy of those magicians over at ILM.  I recommend you do a rough sketch first, though.  That helps clarify where all those levers and points go! 

Another fun feature is the poseable figure/character creator thing.  The proportions are a little odd and the anatomy is kind of blobby and unformed.  If you make a bulky, hulky, sulky superhero with green skin and torn-up purple pants, for example, the muscle masses are not accurate at all.  So it's not going to work as a lazy person's substitute for real-world observation and study, but as a lazy person's shortcut to throwing together scenes and keeping everyone the same size relative to each other, it works excellently.  You can put 3D mannequins on your page, manipulate their poses and body parts (make massive heads, hands or feet, giants and little people) in just about any way you can think of, move a camera around to capture the angle you want, then click a 3-point perspective ruler based on your "camera angle" and draw away like a happy clown who likes to draw.

By the way, one thing it does is completely take away an artist's excuses for not including hands and feet in a drawing. No more demure hands-behind-the-back poses with conveniently placed boxes on the floor.  Put those hands into intricate Dr. Strange spell-weaving configurations and prop at least one of those feet proudly up upon that box.

Manga Studio 5 also contains several 3D environments in which you can place your people.  They're very manga-centric.  Japanese high school classroom and typical Japanese residential neighborhood, for example.  But with some clever adaptation, you can make them work for just about anyplace.  There are even some poseable manga figures to stick in there, high school kids in uniforms.  If you really want to, you could simply make up stories about them.

Finally, the most technical part.  Lettering and panel borders.  You can create word balloons and pointers, and toss your words all over the book before you ever draw a line.  This is handy, because if you place your word balloons properly, that's less panel area you have to draw, which further saves a hurried artist time.  And really, you should be planning your page layouts with the word balloons in mind for maximum readability.  And Manga Studio 5 provides some manga page layouts with pre-ruled panels, but you can use the program's tools to make your own.  I made a standard, old school three-tier, 9-panel layout I use a lot because I love the retro page design. 

In two days, I laid out the panels and did all the lettering for a full 24-page comic book, approximately one-half of a graphic novel I hope to complete someday before I die.  I started doing the actual drawings and ran into some limitations Manga Studio cannot help me with at all.  But that's not a program flaw.  That's my own problem I have to work on, and Manga Studio is helping me.

All of that sounds complicated (or exciting if you're more of an optimist, I suppose), but if you've used Painter, Sketchbook Pro, ArtRage Studio or Photoshop, it's easy to get started.  The learning curve isn't really that steep if you're not intimidated by all the menus.

But there are some frustrations involved with the program itself and not just my inability to draw up to the impossible standards I've set for myself.  The built-in drawing, painting and coloring tools-- the pens, pencils and brushes-- are okay.  Just okay.  You can do quite a lot with them, but they just don't mimic closely enough what it's like to make lines or blobs with real pencils, pens or brushes.  I find this changes my "feel" and forces me into drawing in ways that aren't natural to me.  I've never been a very skilled inker, which is why I tend to do my inks in Illustrator.  But I long for the feathered look of a classic inker rather than the overly mechanical finishes I end up doing there.

Well, an incredibly talented illustrator named Ray Frenden has solved a lot of that by producing for a modest price practically every inking tool you could ever want, from Rapidograph pens to Pigma pens to ink nibs to brushes galore.  Plus watercolor and oil painting brushes.  The other day, I bought the equivalent of thousands of dollars worth of art supplies for about 15 bucks.  Import them into Manga Studio and you've got everything you need to draw with and no excuses not to use them.

And this drawing is one of the results.  It looks as close to something I might have drawn in my sketchbook there's practically no difference and yet it took less than half the time and didn't smear.  The hand is wobbly, and I've forgotten what tool I used.  Probably a Pigma pen.  The hatched lines are definitely Pigma, as are the color areas.  Then I switched to an ink nib Frenden calls "The Natural" and did those other faces and the strange feathered areas on Xi'an's arm.

I've been having a ball playing around with Manga Studio 5 and Frenden's art tools.  I don't fear inking in Manga Studio anymore.  In fact, I can hardly wait to get home from work every day to jump in and try different things.  My skill level frustrates me, but with the handy ctrl-z function my most egregious mistakes disappear.

I mean the rendering ones.  The underlying structural problems remain.  But I'm working on those!  Maybe one day we'll see some results.

A big bundle of classic Steve Rude Nexus pages hit Heritage Auctions!

Oh wow.  Oh wow.  Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow!  I love to gush about my favorite artists here.  Steve Rude is one of them.  According to the email I just got, Rude is offering a huge bundle of absolutely gorgeous vintage Nexus pages-- including some from as far back as the Capital Comics days-- for sale from Heritage Auctions.  You've been looking at a lot of my fumbling attempts at art, and I appreciate it.  To reward your patience, here's a link to Rude's pages.

This both thrills and frustrates me.  It's long been a dream of mine to have an original Steve Rude art page.  Or a commission. My finances are a little complicated by a little thing we like to call the Pacific Ocean at the moment.  It's too involved to explain and also... you know... personal.  So this auction couldn't come at a more inconvenient time for my participation.  Well, that's not true.  It could have come back when I was flat broke and living from beer to beer.  I'm just frustrated by my theoretical ability to pay versus the reality of the situation.  But don't let that stop you.  Buy some of those pages!

Actually, original art collecting interests me.  I've encountered people who've owned prime Jack Kirby pages and traded them away.  What would you trade a Jack Kirby page away for?  The only thing I can think of that's worth it would be another Jack Kirby page.  And some collectors own entire books.  That's amazing.  The most mind-boggling stories are the ones where the collector met the Kirbys in person and picked through all these pages and bought up a bundle of them for fifty bucks a pop.  Can you imagine that?  You couldn't buy one of Kirby's cigar ashes for fifty bucks these days!

Anyway, original art.  It's expensive.  It looks really cool, though.  The printed books just do not do the actual artwork any kind of justice.

Oh, that's right-- I do own some original art.  I own a couple of Alley Oop dailies.  Just the pencils.  They're on vellum and they are beautiful.  My grandfather lived near the guy who was drawing Alley Oop at the time and told him I was a comic fan and that was the result.  We've been meaning to have them framed for the longest time.  I wish I hadn't been such an asshole kid or I would have written the artist a huge thank you letter.  Instead I did nothing.  I am so, so very sorry for that lapse now.

Yes, at one time I was a huge Alley Oop fan.  I suppose I still am, but I haven't seen a strip in years.

On John Buscema and learning about art...

Did you have that old How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way book with all the examples from various Marvel comics and most especially from John Buscema?  Stan Lee's text made drawing comics the Marvel way seem easy, a lark.  Buscema's super-assured drawings and those from guys like Jack Kirby and Gene Colan told a different story.  Still, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way is a nice introductory text on drawing comics with the necessary basics artists should still be using no matter how up-to-date their rendering style is.  Take your funkiest, latest stylist and give him or her a solid grounding in fundamentals of figure construction, panel composition, storytelling and layout and you'd have the post-Image artist to steal my cold, shriveled heart.

As a member of a couple of fan pages for Buscema and Kirby frequented by actual comic book-making professionals in the industry, I get intermediate to advanced lessons in comic book drawing almost every single day.  That-- and some encouragement along those lines-- has gotten me back into drawing in a major way.  I spent my Golden Week holidays off from work drawing six or more hours a day, but even before then I was putting in at least two hours after work and more on weekends.  Yesterday, I drew for about 8 hours without a break.  Then, in my punchiness, I accidentally posted some of my crap to one of those fan pages.  Luckily for me, the 12 hour time difference meant few, if any, saw it before I deleted it. 

Very embarrassing.

Sometimes I wonder when I watch some amateur singing competition on TV is the participants have ever actually heard themselves sing.  Yeah, some people can really belt a tune, but most of us are middling singers at best and some are downright tone-deaf and horrible.  And yet they seem convinced their screeching is the equivalent of Whitney Houston's voice in its prime, or at least BeyoncĂ©'s.  When I sing, I can hear that I'm sharp or flat or just can't reach that note.  Apparently, some people cannot do this and so they audition for American Idol and we get a viral video sensation on the Internet the next day.

I'm at the same level with my drawing that I am with my singing.  I can look at a drawing after I've made it and know it's inadequate.  I can even tell in what way it is.  I do a lot of my inking in Adobe Illustrator because I can get a clean, slick look and make adjustments until it looks mostly like the amazing image I had in my mind when I set out to draw it.  It never matches it exactly.  My imagination is much more talented than my actual eyes and hand.  But what I see is still amateur hour at best.  The karaoke box crooner version of what I'd like it to be.

The other day, I saw a John Buscema drawing of a pirate.  Just a single figure doing nothing more than standing there with a sword in his hand.  Buscema had inked it himself, very heavily, too.  Man, it put my best efforts to shame.  If I make a drawing with 10,000 lines, 10 of them might be as good as a Buscema line but they're covered up by the Bryan lines that aren't where they're supposed to be or lack polish or energy or skill.  Whatever it is Buscema had that I lack.

I'll be honest with you-- it was so good and made my art look so pathetic by comparison, I wanted to pull my teeth out.  I didn't know what I wanted to do.  Head back up river and pull a fade-away into the jungle again.  Only the jungle looks like John Buscema drew it, or Al Williamson and that would just be too much to bear.

"But who is crazy enough to compare himself or herself to one of the greats like John Buscema?" you ask.  "Few can ever achieve at that level.  There are hugely popular and successful artists who don't even rate sharpening Big John's pencils.  Why do that to yourself?"

It's not even the Buscema comparison.  Because yeah, you're right-- doing that is completely insane.  But think about the crappiest professional artist whose work you've ever seen in a printed comic book, and I am not even up to that level yet.  Even Larry X. Lameartist doing a monthly job on The Slipshod Costumedfools can draw circles around me.

This isn't false modesty or just some self-evisceration because I want people to feel sorry for me.  I'm telling you the way it is.  If I were a comic book editor and I saw work identical to what I'm doing now, I'd have to tell that hopeful exactly the same thing:  "You are not ready for prime time."  John Buscema drew the comic book adaptation of Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus for Dell Comics before he lit up different books at Marvel and contributed his expertise to how to do it their way and even that Spartacus job-- as crude as it is compared to prime Buscema-- has that thing I don't see in my drawings.

It's frustrating.  I'm not even aiming at that kind of pro career, to blow people away as the next John Buscema.  Those kinds of dreams are for kids.  I'd just love to do a job or two at some low level whatever, or get into the illustration game.  Make a buck for myself, make a buck for someone else.  But I wonder if I've wasted a lot of developing years.  When I was a kid and I was almost as good as I am now, I felt satisfied and allowed myself to coast on raw talent.  I should have been working as hard then as I am now, but I didn't understand the necessity.  Someone-- I think it was Ken Griffey, Jr., said if you want to be a pro ballplayer (and this is true for any level of the game), you need to hit at least 500 balls a day.  I should have been doing the art equivalent of that.

Instead, I bought the Porsche 911 with the quadrophonic Blaupunkt, topped in AA ball and made the Sports Illustrated list of all-time draft busts.

Actually, I wish I had done even that much!

Well, regrets are for losers.  I made my choices and they seemed like the way to go at the time.  Looking back, if I was wrong, that's still hindsight speaking.  All I can do is do what I can now.  Draw as much as possible, study the greats and the not-so-greats, take advice from wherever I can get it and keep trying to make the next drawing better than the last.  If nothing else, I've learned to have a huge amount of respect for even the lowliest, least loved line-maker working in comics, whoever that person may be.

Anyway, don't think when I post drawings here I have the feeling I'm blowing everyone away with my powerful stuff.  I've got nothing to hide, no ego whatsoever when it comes to art these days.  I like putting it out there as ugly or clumsy as it is.  It may sound like I'm down on myself, but actually, my art amuses me.  I do think it's kind of funny.  And it's a kick knowing I'm putting these nutty images out there where they're living a life beyond whatever I intended for them.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A full color look at the New Mutants if they had somehow appeared on Saturday morning TV circa 1972...

Or something like that.  I would have loved a New Mutants cartoon in the 80s.  I used to watch that Mr. T cartoon and kind of squint at it and imagine it was Dani and company, only with Mr. T.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Captain Kirk on NBC...

You know, "The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC."  I don't think I'm any great shakes as an artist or renderer, but I do like my coloring abilities.  Not so much the shapes there, but the choices.  They may not be exactly accurate, but they're very rich and interesting to look at.  

Don't you agree Kirk's shirt is a strange and fascinating garment?  I think the originals were made of velour, which gives them a thickness and surface texture that comes across as particularly Star Trekian on TV.  Nothing wrinkles exactly like a Starfleet uniform tunic.  Now that we have Blu-Ray, we can see the nap more in early episodes.  The third season seems to have substituted some other material for velour.  Also, Kirk's tunic is longer and more tapered to his body.  His hair is a little longer, too.  

But the point of all this blather is what the heck color was Kirk's shirt in the first two seasons?  We like to say "gold," but it's kind of a greenish-gold that sometimes appears yellower and sometimes a kind of off-green (if I can be permitted to create such a thing).  The cartoon series gave him a yellow-orange shirt.  I've seen art with that corrected to something closer to the live action color, but those never look quite as charming to me.  My Mego Kirk definitely had a shirt much closer to yellow.

I read somewhere the Kirk shirt (and by extension, the Chekov and Sulu shirts as well) is actually a color known as tenne.  This is an orange-brown that can go so far as to be quite yellow.  It worries me.  I'm a worrywart about color.  

It's probably better to be like the colorists at Gold Key.  In the early issues of their Star Trek series, they simplified their lives by making everyone's shirts green, except Spock's.

Star Trek #6 (December 1969), art by Alberto Giolitto