Thursday, August 30, 2007

Allude with Interrogator

Am I making fun of Mike?

No, of course not! (If I was making fun of him, I'd have saved this image at a much larger size.)

No, I just had a few doodling minutes on my hands, and a silly idea floated into my head. Not worth doing any visual research for—and I'm sure this guy doesn't look like a real Inquisitor—or doing anything like a decent sketch. And I'm definitely not teasing my good friend Mike.

Nope. Definitely not making fun of my buddy. And now, presumably, back to our Elfworld story.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thumbnails for p. 2 (obstructed story)

For page 2, I'm left with two of Charles's constraints: "They have their exits and their entrances," wherein "the sequence must involve dialogue and interaction among multiple characters, with at least one character making an entrance during the sequence and at least one character making an exit," and the "Corrigan," in which "the faces of all the characters except the protagonist are obscured from view."

I'm afraid my extremely rough thumbnails obscure almost everything from view, but I'll put them up here anyway in hopes that they can at least generate some feedback. You'll note that my thumbnails tend to be extremely rough indeed; my usual method is to make even sketchier thumbnails, just placing balloons and figures and saving the real puzzles of composition for when I'm penciling panels on Bristol board. That won't work so well for this particular method of collaboration, though, so these pictures are (yes) clearer than usual. There's no room for legible text, though, so please refer to the script below (keyed to the numbers of the panels in the thumbnail):

1) Stepan: "I—My master said you could draw a map for him."
Arntham: "A map of what?"

2) Stepan: "Of—of I don't know what. He didn't say, exactly."
Arntham (off): "Then how exactly can I help you?"

3) Stepan: "My master said you'd know, yourself."
Arntham: "And just who is your master?"

4) Stepan: "Magister Ipthorin, of—"
Arntham: "—of Wynholme. I knew him well, once..." (new balloon) "Come, boy; to my lodgings..."

5) Stepan, framed in the doorway of a shabby, crowded room, looks over to Arntham at a writing lectern. In the dark background, some pointy ears are just visible—someone's hiding behind a trunk.
Stepan, thought caption (misdrawn as the topmost balloon): "It's so dark here, but I guess that's no hardship to a blind man. But hold on..."
Stepan, word balloon (on bottom): "How do you see the marks you make, Arntham?"
Arntham: "I don't see them, boy. I feel them..."

6) Arntham: "Look here. I grave them on parchment with a blade."
Stepan: "I can barely see the grooves..."

7) Pointy-eared assailant (brandishing dagger, viewed from behind): "You've seen enough! A blade for your grave, Arntham!"
Arntham (pushing Stepan): "Out of the way, boy!"

8) Stepan falls, hits his head on some furniture: WHACK!
Arntham (off): "Aagh!"

9) Stepan crouches over Arntham's body while looking toward the silhouette of a pointy-eared cur in the doorway. Stepan, thought caption: "Still groggy from my swoon...Arntham looks dead...and what's that in the doorway?"

I'm considering a different approach to panel 6. Instead of crouching behind the assailant and looking over to Arntham & Stepan at the writing desk, the viewer could look down from above on the whole room, thus:
The dark blob in the lower left corner is the assailant, moving out from behind his trunk. I'd want to reframe this somewhat so that Arntham and Stepan aren't stuck at the extreme top with the word balloons at the focal point of the panel; I think I can arrange for their figures to be more centrally located.

Anyway, that's what I've got so far. Help me out, folks!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Page 1, Inked

Well, I got the first page of our constrained fantasy story done within the one-week deadline. I think the story's off to an interesting start, and I hope that I've suggested an interesting world with all of these passersby in the Bazaar.

I'll try to color this image before long, but the coloring can lag behind schedule a little bit, as long as we get the inks done on time. (Only the black-and-white pages will be submitted to Elfworld.)

Here are my results. You can click to enlarge the image. I've deliberately saved it at postcard size (at least for my monitor), so all of you can't-fit-that-on-a-postcard naysayers can judge whether the four-tier plan worked out. (The postcards will be printed at better resolution than a laptop monitor, though, so they should be more legible.)

I'm pretty happy with the way I responded to two of the constraints. Stepan, our protagonist, definitely spends most of this page as an "audience" to the little scenes around him, and the seven ages of man are represented in seven equal-sized panels that hew pretty closely to the types mentioned in Jacques's famous speech: the infant, the schoolboy, the lover, the soldlier, the justice, the pantaloon, and the shriveled old man. I like the way that Charles's constraints suggested a macguffin for this story: I sent Stepan looking for a very old man, because the old man was at the end of Jacques's speech.

I'm not as happy with the way I responded to the "Reverse Corrigan" constraint, to tell you the truth. It wasn't until I had inked about half of the page that I realized that Charles wanted every character's facial expression visible (except for the protagonist's). I think there are five or six people in the backgrounds and margins whose faces can't be seen—or maybe even more than that. If you like, you can think of them as props or set-dressing, instead of characters, but that's sort of a lame excuse. Sorry, Charles—I messed up (but only a little).

I now pass the baton to Mike, who has to continue the story and satisfy the remaining two constraints. Good luck, buddy!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pencils (p. 1) update

So, okay -- my pencils don't look a whole lot different, so far, from my thumbnails. The script has changed very slightly, and I've filled in some of the crowds a little more.

For Mike, this will be old news, but I pencil sort of loosely to start with. Lots of vague shapes, balloons for heads, a few scratchy lines for posture. And I build up from there, almost like I was making a sculpture on a chickenwire armature. It's a slow process. I use a pretty light pencil for this, because I have to erase so frequently. These pencils are not all the way to being inkable -- and in fact I will probably work on them some more tomorrow.

But I figured since Saturday is the day when Mike has a holliday, and since we're both pretty busy this week, I'd better post these in-process pencils and let him offer suggestions.

Click to embiggen, for legibilitude:

There's a babe in arms (being held by an elf) in the second panel. Sorry for the weird "scan" -- my scanner doesn't pick up pencil very well, so I had to use a digital photo. I think I did manage to get the seven ages of man pretty well suggested.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Interlude with Alligator

I don't mean to interrupt the Elfworld proceedings for long, but I had a distracted couple of minutes with some colored pens earlier today and paid a surprise visit to an old friend.

It might be more accurate to say that the friend paid me a visit, because I didn't expect to draw this alligator at all. I was reaching for a purple pen when my hand came up with a green one instead, and my mind was too tired to look for another. (And probably too tired to have figured out a suitable drawing in purple, anyway!)

My last real decision before starting to draw was to resolve to sketch an alligator, and at that point muscle memory took over. I've drawn this 'gator in some form or another for (mirabile dictu) twenty-five years, though I really can't remember when I last drew him. Yes, he's highly derivative of Albert Alligator, but not as much as he used to be.

You may note the ghostly images of Hebrew letters bleeding through the other side of the paper he's drawn on. They're just calligraphic studies, and have nothing to do with the alligator. And even less with quasi-kabbalistic reptile worship (ahem).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thumbnails for p. 1 (obstructed story)

Okay, these are rough, but they're enough to get a start, and enough for some kibitzing to begin, too.

I chose to use the constraints "All the World's a Stage," "The Seven Ages of Man," and "A Reverse Corrigan." Mike will have to deal with the other two. I handled the onlookers and the Corrigan restriction by combining them: our main character, Stepan the Apprentice, is people-watching for the first eight panels of the page, and we see him (facing away from us) in just a few of the panels.

Click, please, to see the larger image, as well as my notes on the script.

The seven ages are handled with a series of passersby in the Bazaar of Drena, which is where Stepan is supposed to meet the person who will sell him the map that his master has sent him off for. (My idea is that the master, a wizard of some sort, is off fighting some major evil, rescuing a town, or whatever, with his whole adventuring party, but he knows that they'll need a map of something -- I don't know what yet, and Stepan probably doesn't know either -- when they're done with their current mission, and time is of the essence in finding this map.)

At the end of the page, Stepan is face to face with a very old man who is supposed to be the person he's looking for. I'm sure it's bothering our young hero that the old man's calling him "Boy" -- Stepan's older than that -- but compared to this wizened old codger, probably anyone in the first five Ages of Man counts as a boy.

Page 1 doesn't advance the story much, but I hope it provides a little characterization (of both Stepan and, indirectly, of Magister Ipthorin), and a decent sense of a setting, even if it's a setting that we abandon on page 2.

With this many figures in the page (thanks, Charles!), it's going to take me a while to do the pencilling, and I'm probably going to want to do some studies before I settle on a face for shriveled old Arntham. I'll plan to get the pencils done by Friday, though, so I'll have time for the inking.

Let the kibitzing begin!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Charles Hatfield's Constraints to Us (p. 1 and 2)

This morning, we got constraints from our comics-scholar colleague and friend Charles Hatfield. (He's the author of Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature, for sure one of the best critical books about graphic novels.)

Here are his obstructions to us, the ones that will shape the first two weeks of our new project:

1. All the world’s a stage: The sequence in these two pages must include onlookers to the main action – that is, an audience, whether seen or implied – so as to involve, if only implicitly, the idea of spectatorship. (The audience may be us, addressed directly, or it may be secondary characters within the diegesis, but, either way, we should become aware of audience.)

2. They have their exits and their entrances: The sequence must involve dialogue and interaction among multiple characters, with at least one character making an entrance during the sequence and at least one character making an exit.

3. The ages of man: Characters of several distinctly different ages, spanning from early childhood to old age, must be present in the sequence.

4. A Corrigan: One page of the sequence (which, again, is to feature dialogue and interaction among multiple characters) should be composed so that the faces of all the characters except the protagonist are obscured from view. That is, the images should be drawn/designed in such a way as to hide from sight the expressions of every character except that character you designate as the “main” character.

5. A Reverse Corrigan: In the opposite page of the sequence, the face of the protagonist, and only that of the protagonist, must be obscured from view. That is, the images should be composed so as to hide the “main” character’s expressions from sight, while revealing every other character’s expression.

I have to revise one thing slightly about Charles's first three obstructions: it's our intention that in each set of two pages (one drawn by each of us), the first page will "claim" three of the five obstructions, and the second will tackle the two that the first page didn't handle. So: we'll have onlookers, entrances, exits, and the seven ages of man in this two-page sequence, but it's possible that each of those things will appear in only one of the two pages.

I'm going first, and I've already had some ideas about how to satisfy the constraints. Believe it or not, I've already changed my mind at least once about which three I'll use. I have a week to finish this page, so I'm going to try to bang out some thumbnails (and post them) as soon as possible. You'll hear more from me soon.

New Project, New Story, New Constraints

More big news: we're starting a new project!

At the beginning of the summer, we read -- and were inspired by -- Matt Madden's week of obstructions for Tom Hart. (If you're unfamiliar with that project, I recommend that you click over to it and check it out.

Since we're so interested in "Oubapo" (the comics equivalent of "Oulipo") and formal constraints, we started talking about getting a few other people to write obstructions for us, sort of in the spirit of contributions to a Satisfactory Comic, but potentially with more quibbling and grousing from the contributors.

Three more things got rolled into the snowball of that idea as it made its way down the mountain, avalanche-fashion. (This is typical of our slowly developing ideas.)

1. I discovered (and started using) a cheap printer for custom postcards whose work seems quite solid, so we decided to try to serialize a story on postcards, one page at a time.

2. When we were at MoCCA, we were invited to contribute to the second Elfworld anthology.

3. We got the website (yea, the very page you're looking at) up and running, at first more or less on a whim.

And so we're happy to announce that we're going to be doing a new (and crazily constrained) project: a serialized fantasy story, constrained (two pages at a time) by some fellow cartoonists and theorists, to be previewed (and discussed / nitpicked) here on the blog, one page per week until we've got ten pages. When I've got a few of them all finished and in color, and if the guy from Elfworld doesn't mind, I'll publish them in color on postcards.

We just got our first set of constraints, which I'll post in a few minutes. Up until this morning, all we had was a "style sheet" of our protagonist, a magician's apprentice:

(The poor fellow doesn't even have a name for sure, yet, but I'm leaning towards "Stepan.")

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Bit of Good News

Why so broken up, little guy?

Haven't you heard the good news, that our story that features you was accepted for the I Saw You anthology today? That's the story based on two real "Missed Connections" posts from Craigslist -- the story in which you fantasize about writing an ad to attract the attention of a beautiful barista, then realize that posting an ad like that would be really creepy. It's great news that the piece has been accepted -- lots of people will read it!

Oh, I see. You're sad because your humiliating thoughts will be exposed in front of all those readers, aren't you?

Well, I tell you what -- we'll fictionalize you, okay?

(The image above was one of Mike's preliminary doodles for the strip -- supposedly those are the panels that happen right after the ending of our second page.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

One panel from a new story

Last week, during the same session that produced those new shuffleupagus pages, Mike pencilled a new story, which we're going to be submitting to an anthology called I Saw You. The anthology is a bunch of short comics based on "Missed Connection" posts to Craigslist and other similar classifieds.

Anyway, earlier today I finished inking the piece, and although I'm going to hold off on posting the whole thing for a while, this panel more or less captures the spirit of the story:

Are you tantalized? (Y/N)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tales from the Classroom

I'm working on inking our "I Saw You" anthology submission, but I thought I'd go ahead and fulfill the promise I made last week and make a post about Tales from the Classroom, the collection of teaching case-studies that we drew for the Graduate Teaching Center at Yale over the summer of 2003. Here's the cover, which is loaded with little gags and fun details you may not be able to make out in this photo (though you can click it, like any of the images in this post, to enlarge it). Notice the way we used the Mike Mignola theory of triangular composition on this one:

Can you spot Zombie Mike and Isaac? If the GTC prints a second edition of the book (and they've been talking about doing that), I'd like to recolor the cover. Now that I know a little more about Photoshop (I don't think I had ever even used it then), I could probably make that color look a lot better.

Tales from the Classroom is a collection of seven stories or scenarios about problem moments in the classroom, drawn from real teaching experiences by graduate students at Yale. Everything in the book was adapted from prose "case studies" written up by the people who experienced the events. (These studies were fictionalized with respect to names and disciplines, but the events remained the same.)

Our idea with Tales from the Classroom was that, if prospective teachers learn well from reading and discussing prose case studies, wouldn't they gain even more from reading comics, where they could observe gestures, facial expressions, spatial relations, and so forth? Judging from the response we've received from this book, that's certainly the case -- though more often than not, people just want to talk to us about Millie and Charles.

Several of the cases lack closure (which is why I think of them more as scenarios than stories) and they often end with questions designed to promote conversation. Often, this takes the form not only of "What should I do next?" but "What did I do wrong?" or "How did I let this happen?" -- and we did our best to load the stories with clues as to the origins of the problems that finally come to a head and drive the teachers to seek help.

Here's an example of a truly awkward moment that the grad student in question probably could have headed off, where one of his freshmen starts to act on the crush she has on him:

(I've rearranged those panels slightly from the way they appeared in the original book, for your convenience.) If you read that story, our hope is that you can see how James could have prevented this situation, or what in his teaching style led to this predicament.

Here's a couple of sequences from the longest story in the book, a scenario that's not only about teaching but about the advice you can give to other teachers. In this one, Carl is an art history T.A. whose section seems to be going really well until he gets to the very end of class. The discussion is very lively, intense and interesting, right up until he asks the question that's supposed to connect the section's activities to what's been happening (on quite a different track) in lecture.

Animated discussion ...

... that leads to awkward silence?

Things actually get a little worse than just awkward silence before the end of this story, since this question and its subsequent discussion manage to offend one of Carl's students in a way he didn't anticipate. The whole thing is being observed by a grad student from the Teaching Center, and the questions at the end of the case aren't just about what Carl should be doing, but about what the observer feels it's fair to tell him.

Strictly in terms of cartooning, doing this much adaptation of "talky," dialogue-heavy narrative gave us plenty of chances to experiment with layout, and we had a lot of fun with that. Here's a sequence with the aforementioned Millie the Mumbler, a case-study from a foreign-language classroom, where one of the students simply will not participate at an audible volume:

(Obviously, I was taking a page out of Chris Ware's playbook for that one; imitation is supposed to be the sincerest flattery.)

Here's a nice little sequence of "scene-to-scene" transitions with very little change, from a piece called "Joe the Dreamer," about a student who sleeps through most of a summer Italian class, and what to say to his classmates when they mock him behind his back (but in front of the instructor). Again, I've rearranged the panels, and again, you really have to click to enlarge:

... And here's another contest! I'll send copies of two Satisfactory or Elm City Jams comics to the first person who correctly identifies (in the comments on this post) all four jokes in all four of Joe's t-shirts!

For those of you who don't win the contest, however, I'm also posting, below, the entirety of the case study called "The Silent Critic," which features Charles, the Creepy Colleague, a fellow T.A. who so gets under the narrator's skin that the narrator starts to doubt his own teaching and his own ideas. You'll want to click these images to enlarge them, naturally -- but the whole thing ought to be readable.

I don't have enough copies of this book to sell them, but if you'd like to get one of your own, I suggest that you follow the "Contact Us" link on the Graduate Teaching Center website and pester Bill Rando or one of the GTC staff about bringing out a second edition. It's high time this book was in the hands of more people, I think.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I has a piece of comic art!

In today's mail I received an envelope with an unfamiliar return address but whose impeccable penmanship revealed the hand of a letterer at work. When I turned it over, I was delighted to see this little guy:

...for I knew him as Pip, one of the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats, those playful pranksters whose misadventures are chronicled by the funny and talented Adam Koford, aka Ape Lad, over at Hobotopia. (The link takes you to the story of the LOL Cats' origin, and another link at the site allows you to view the entire archive of LOL Cat drawings.)

Inside the envelope, I found the original artwork for the following:

I suspected, and soon confirmed, that this beauty arrived as a present from my buddy Isaac—not for any particular occasion, just 'cause. I has a true friend!

The drawing has charms enough intrinsic to it, but I also love the way it appears to encode Isaac and me in the two cats. When my wife saw it, she immediately identified the cat on the left, starting a fire, as Isaac and the cat on the right, enjoying his holiday, as me. Since I observe Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath), I refrain from kindling fires and pursuing various other activities on Saturday, while Isaac freely toils away. Alas, one of the activities forbidden on Shabbat is drawing, which has occasionally made deadlines tighter at Satisfactory Comics, Inc.—which may be why my wife also saw fit to imitate Isaac uttering an all too familiar sentence: "Call me when your holiday's over."

Thanks, pardner!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Swipe File #6: At Sea with Géricault, Horrocks, & Escher

When I was a young lad, I first saw many of the better-known masterpieces of the Western art tradition in a multi-volume series of Time-Life books about such artists as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Goya, and Cézanne (I believe that the lone American artist in the series was Winslow Homer, and the only living artist represented—at least, he was still alive when my mother bought the series—was Picasso). The books naturally provided some context for each of the eponymous artists, so the book on Goya, for example, featured work by his predecessor Velázquez, and the book on Picasso had work by Braque, Matisse, and the like.

I mention this simply because I have the hardest time remembering that the painting that inspired the following swipe (from Satisfactory Comics #3) isn't by Delacroix, because I first saw its original in the volume devoted to him:

No, credit for the famous painting of The Raft of the "Medusa" belongs to Géricault:

Apparently, though, young Delacroix posed as one of the dying men for this painting, so its place in a book about his own work goes beyond art history into personal history.

Also apparently, we can't respect the seriousness of masterpieces like this one. We couldn't even respect the high seriousness of Dylan Horrocks's wonderful graphic novel Hicksville, because we plopped three of its characters into the soup just below our Medusa-raft:

Recognize these guys from Horrocks's original? Here they are, not staring dumbly at the viewer but engaging the reader with some heady subjects:

Our swipe might have looked better if it were inked with a brush, as in Horrocks's own drawing (apart from the facial tattoos, which look drawn with a pen). Alas, at the time of this swipe we were still toiling with Micron felt-tips for the most part.

We later treated M. C. Escher's work with slightly more respect—though it's largely satire-proof, since his work usually concerns formal experiment and visual play rather than overtly "serious" matters like death at sea or colonial expropriation of land. That said, his work does prompt interesting reflections on perception and identity, and the extent to which identity is determined by what and how one sees. Consider the serious failure in the following swipe, from Satisfactory #4:

This image quotes elements from Escher's Three Worlds, but it only shows two of the worlds—the world underwater, where the fish waits, and the world atop the water's surface, where the leaves float. But Escher's original shows a third world, the world of the neighboring land, in the reflection of trees across the surface of the water:

I think it's a beautiful image, and I think it offers a shrewd retort to those of us who are too quick to deny depth to Escher because of the shiny surface of his art.

Next in the Swipe File series: In the Air...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Satisfactory Comics Sell Out

Since we occasionally recommend books and comics that we think are interesting or important, we have decided to add a little button to the bottom of our sidebar that clicks through to, where you can usually find these works for sale. And where we mention specific works by name in posts, we will make their titles clickable so that you can examine them further and, if you wish, order them on the spot.

Note that the button in the sidebar doesn't necessarily show our specific recommendations, though it may overlap with our favorites by coincidence. Rather, it automatically generates recommendations based on Amazon's algorithms (what I think of as "hocus-pocus"). For the Satisfactory Seal of Approval, follow direct links from within our posts. The sidebar button is still good for making your own searches based on our nonspecific recommendations, however.

The idea here is to make it convenient for you, our readers, to follow up on our occasional recommendations. Duty compels me also to admit that if you click through from our site and make a purchase, there will be a small kickback in our direction.

Do thou what thou wilt in full knowledge, therefore. If you have strong opinions about this concession to filthy lucre, I invite you to let us have it in the comments. I can assure you, however, that we will only recommend works that we genuinely admire or find interesting.

PS One of my favorite albums is The Who Sell Out, whose songs include bogus advertisements for actual products such as Odorono, Heinz Baked Beans, Medac, Premiere Drums, and the Charles Atlas course (there's a comics tie-in, for you!). And one of my other favorite albums is Petra Haden's remarkable solo a cappella cover of the entire album, Petra Haden Sings the Who Sell Out. Both are well worth a listen, and both somehow seem less commercially venal than the antics of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, who notoriously sold advertising between the tracks of their 1986 album Flaunt It. Nowadays, of course, the Who are themselves notorious for licensing their classic songs for advertising and television theme songs—a trend glanced at wryly in the song "Mike Post Theme" on their most recent album, Endless Wire (2006). We glanced at comics advertising in a couple of parodies back in Satisfactory Comics #4; Isaac posted about them here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Swipe File #5: Mike (Hellboy) Mignola

In a comment to one of Isaac's recent posts, the blogger Bully, the Little Stuffed Bull, quibbled with our use of the term "swipe" to refer to any sort of artistic imitation, be it homage, parody, or outright copying, even when there is no attempt to conceal the influence (or source) being imitated (or pilfered). I readily grant that the narrower sense of "swipe" usually connotes artistic skullduggery, but we will continue to use the term in the wider sense of all the many kinds of imitation, whether under- or overhanded—though of course our own swipes are all of the latter variety.

That variety can be pretty various, even when it involves swipes from a single artist. Today's case in point: Mike Mignola, whose work first came to Isaac's attention in his fine Hellboy series. In Satisfactory #5, we offered a classic swipe of a specific image from Mignola's hilarious one-shot The Amazing Screw-On Head:
The picture behind Cassia on the wall of the Museum of the Horrible comes from a series of pin-ups of "three horrible old women and a monkey [sic]." We swiped the old women in previous panels, not posted here; here's the last of the pin-ups in Mignola's original:

Our simian isn't as squat as Mignola's, but we did strive to make it a very close copy. (I have to say, though, that the beast looks more like a chimpanzee than a monkey to me—and, as Isaac would be the first to tell you, a monkey ain't no ape. See Satisfactory #7 for more details!)

This wasn't our first imitation of Mignola, however. Two issues earlier, we followed Mignola's compositional lead in designing the cover to our untitled maritime adventure. Though Isaac's original post about Satisfactory #3 shows just the front cover of the comic, the issue actually features our lone wraparound cover, explicitly identified in the extreme left margin as an “homage to Mike Mignola”:

It’s not based on any particular Mignola image, but the overall design incorporates elements learned from Isaac's close scrutiny of many of Mignola's covers. The main principle at work on the front cover (the right-hand side of the above image) is the use of a triangle as the basic shape to organize the composition. That principle may not be very evident in our finished product, but it did determine the overall arrangement of our three main characters, and it seemed like a real insight into Mignola’s practice, at least when it comes to his covers for the collected volumes focusing on Hellboy. Take a look for yourself:

It works in group shots, too, even when the background looks busy:

See what I mean? Triangles.

Beyond that compositional tactic, we obviously exaggerated the black and white contrasts throughout our drawing. Black and white contrasts were also nicely showcased in the inset drawing of a magpie on the back cover (to the left of our picture above), a discrete scene of quiet natural calm set against the menace of our silhouetted Kraken. This contrasting image was another stylistic move borrowed from Mignola, but my own library of his work is too meager for me to provide our models, and those quieter images aren't easily found in an online image search (they tend to be printed on back covers and non-story pages, which don't lend themselves to advertising). You'll just have to handle an actual Hellboy volume to see examples of such inset drawings by Mignola himself.

Overall, swiping different aspects of a given cartoonist's work, such as Mignola's, has helped us diversify our approaches to various artistic matters, from rendering individual images (as with our chimp) to page layout (as in our cover) to character design (I'm pretty sure there's a touch of Mignola in our beloved cannibal mermaids, also from issue #3). There's technical value to be had in the simpler, classic swipe—it does take a degree of skill to imitate a drawing closely, and it's useful to see where our drawing of a chimp fails to match Mignola's exactly—but there's even greater utility in learning principles and techniques that can be abstracted from any specific drawing so as to solve new artistic puzzles in other contexts.

I want to conclude with a bit of pre-Satisfactory silliness that also featured a nod to Mignola. In October 2001 I drew my first minicomic, a belated birthday present for Isaac called Isaac Comics and Stories. All but one of the stories and features relied on swipes of characters from comics that Isaac particularly loved at the time, and Mike Mignola's Hellboy had a cameo on the back cover—or at least part of him did, as one element in a very feeble homage to Chris Ware's construction projects:

Why I indicated the Right Hand of Doom with a B escapes me at this juncture, as does the reason for my perverse habit of illustrating Isaac with a widow's peak (he hasn't got one, and I don't draw him that way anymore). In any case, I'm not sure exactly how to classify this image in the taxonomy of swipes; but we all remember what Eddie Campbell thinks of "definers," don't we?

Two New Shuffleupagus Pages

Mike was up in New Haven over the weekend, and on Monday we got together to do a little drawing. We made some big progress on a project for an anthology -- more about that in a week or so -- but we also did a little bit of jam cartooning with a guy I met at MoCCA, Jason Bitterman. (Jason is an undergrad at Wesleyan, and is around New Haven this summer. He tells me he hasn't updated that website in years, but I like to make links in these posts when I can...)

With Jason, we drew a couple more pages of shuffleupagus strips, of the sort that you can find in any issue of Elm City Jams. (If you don't know how this jam game works, I implore you to follow that first link, to a post from way back on July 28th.)

Anyway, here are the two new strips. As usual, you can click on each to bring it up to legible size.

For this one, we just happened to draw (from our deck of characters) the creepy, scared little girl with the huge eyes and the shark teeth that appeared in the post where I was describing how shuffleupagus is played. Her demise was, sadly, unavoidable.

In this one, the character and the setting had both been in our decks for ages. The little shirtless cowboy was designed by Tom Hart during one of the jam sessions for ECJ #2, and I think I drew up the dinosaur jungle when we were working on the first issue.

It's worth noting that, without conferring or even muttering anything about it, Mike and I managed to draw nearly the same image in the first round of this shuff: his is panel 6 and mine is panel 8. Apparently, addled minds think alike.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Please forgive me.

I feel bad for having done this -- especially since I should be working -- but here's a slightly altered version of today's Blondie strip:

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Power of the Daily Routine

I'm working on a post about Tales from the Classroom, a comic that Mike and I produced back in 2003 for the Graduate Teaching Center at Yale, but a shiny thing drifted into my view, and it got me thinking about something else.

Some of you reading this will already know that I send a lot of postcards. In fact, I send five postcards a day, and have been doing so since the summer of 1998. (If you get a numbered postcard from me, that's what the number is for: I'm counting them. Later today, I will write postcard #16,615.)

You may not know that I was once interviewed on the radio program Weekend America about my postcard regimen. (You'll have to scroll about halfway down that page and have RealOne Player or something like that to listen to the four-minute interview.)

I've never done this calculation before, but if you collected them all up into one stack, it would be at least seventeen feet high. Maybe more like twenty.

Why do I send five postcards a day? I don't know. I've been doing it for a long time now, and some of my original motivations have been lost or modified, but now it's a large part of how I process my day. It's a way for me to keep in touch with my friends about the small stuff of my life.

But that's not what this post is about. I wanted to talk about the power of a daily routine. You can accomplish a lot in small bits, day by day.

When Mike and I were working on our Demonstration project, I really did draw one demon a day for a hundred days straight. After only a couple of weeks, the sketchbook was taking on a nice heft: it took a little while to look at it. By the end of the project, it was more than you could really take in at once. Since you've been so patient, and since I've been going on for so long without a picture, here's a demon that didn't make it into our booklet.

That's a to-do list and, under it, a not-yet-written postcard that he's urging me to rock.

Around the same time, I think, and unbeknownst to us then, our pal Ben Towle had undertaken a similar project, doing a demon a day for (almost) 100 days. All of his demons are online, but you can also get them in a handsome minicomic for only $3.50 direct from Ben's website store, where there are lots of nice goodies to choose from. (I recommend his cartoon alphabets.) Ben's demons really showcase his awesome inking and his sense of light and shadow -- here are a couple of examples I nabbed from his site:

The Partyka comics collective has a daily drawing feature on their website -- it ought to be the first thing you see when you click over there. I don't think that requires a drawing a day from each of their members, but it's definitely in the same spirit.

I'm not sure whether he's got a daily drawing routine, but the inimitable Eddie Campbell, author of some of my favorite graphic novels, has been blogging daily for quite a while now. (In his blog, he proves himself not only an excellent raconteur, but a whip-smart theoretician and a voracious reader.)

Some of my other favorite comics bloggers also work on a daily routine. Mike Sterling, a comics store owner in southern California, has been posting every day since I started reading his blog, and I think it's because he posts daily that his ruminations on the comics industry have become so interesting to me: I've gotten to know his personality, his store's history, and even some of his employees and regular customers through those daily updates. Chris Sims not only posts every day, but has regular weekly features, chief among them a Thursday-night roundup of his week's comics purchases. It's because of Chris that I now usually go to my local comics store on Fridays and not on Wednesdays (when each week's new comics arrive). Finally, Bully, the Little Stuffed Bull, who seems to post at least daily, has several terrific weekly features, including a "Separated at Birth" post comparing comics swipes (though this week's is a little dubious, as a swipe), his really fun "Ten of a Kind" comics-cover posts, and, recently, a review of one P. G. Wodehouse novel per week. And yes, he at least pretends that he's a little stuffed bull.

That's him in San Diego last month, about to triple his weight with a plate of fish tacos.

And then there's the daily comic strip. I don't think anyone can doubt that working on The Sketchbook Diaries every day for years has helped James Kochalka hone his craft, even though he used to say that craft is the enemy. Drawing the syndicated Zippy every day has certainly made Bill Griffith an incredible draftsman. There are more daily webcomics than I could even try to list. Probably you already have a favorite.

But none of these is the new shiny thing that distracted me from the post I was planning. I also found out, this week, about an artist (in the DC area, I think), who is making a skull a day, for a year, each of them out of a different material: scratchboard, wire-frame, linocut print, chalk on a sidewalk, watercolor, carved watermelon (worth looking for)... One of my favorites is the one made from soy sauce on a plate:

Some of these images are really gorgeous, and the project as a whole is super impressive. When it's all finished, what an awesome coffee-table book (or set of postcards) it would all make.

Which brings me back to what I wanted to discuss: the power of the daily routine. Setting a small artistic task for yourself once a day -- some discrete thing you can finish, or some quota you need to hit in a larger project -- is a wonderful way to make the steady advance of days amount to something.

(I have always been a big procrastinator, and the moment I started really making progress on my dissertation was the point when I set a daily quota for myself. First, it was just twenty minutes of free-writing. Then, when I started drafting chapters, it was a thousand words a day. That's not so much, but it quickly adds up.)

Maybe once a week would work for you better than once a day. Maybe you need to focus on the large chunks; maybe it can be something small that you finish in twenty minutes or an hour. But if you've looked around, with summer waning, and been amazed at how much time has passed without much to show for it, stop thinking (for a minute) about how many months it will take you to realize your long-term goals. Instead, think about how much you can accomplish in a day. Then do it every day.

Friday, August 3, 2007

News About the Mapjam

Some breaking news about the Mapjam project:

In the last day or so, I have heard from Matt Wiegle, of Partyka, whom you may know from such excellent minicomics as Seven More Days of Not Getting Eaten and from Lindsay Nordell, a cartoonist who was once a student of mine and has an excellent story in an issue of Backwards City Review. And both Matt and Lindsay have agreed to contribute to the Mapjam.

This means that we've got nine cartoonists lined up for the next round of stories, and I'm really pretty excited about it. The tentative deadline is about a month away, and although I'm sure a few of us will miss that first deadline, I'm kind of hoping I'll be able to get my story done in time.

I've started some doodles, and since one reader recently took me to task for having so much text, here are some pictures.

Yes, I'm drawing those awesome minor characters of Tom K's from last time. And yes, I am considering naming them Ross Ellery, Ron Utz, and Rob Rockley. (That will, at least, amuse Mike.)

Swipe File #4: Herriman, Sacco, Moore & Gibbons

Still a few comics swipes to mention from Satisfactory Comics #2. We almost fudged the comics swipes in this issue, having forgotten to include one in the first story we produced, and in the second story Isaac's choice of swipe was obscure enough that he pointed it out in a note on one of the inside covers. Here's what it looks like:

Now pretend you hadn't read the title of this post. Would you have known it for an image borrowed from George Herriman's Krazy Kat of April 11, 1926?
Now might be a good time for me to apologize to Herriman—and to Isaac—for my less-than-perfect imitation in the inks on our swipe of this curious clock. When I inked this story, I was (unusually) not across a table from Isaac, nor was I even in Connecticut. In fact, I was nowhere near my copy of the first volume of the Fantagraphics Krazy & Ignatz series, where Isaac found that image, so I stuck as closely to his pencils as I could (and now the inker's apology morphs into blame for the penciler—nice!).

In context on Herriman's original page, the clock is strictly filler, one of many central panels that ran in Krazy Kat for a while which were narratively unimportant (the syndicate required page layouts that were susceptible to various resizings and reshapings, which necessitated the odd panel that could be omitted). Still, Herriman routinely made these spare panels interesting to look at, and their jarring difference from everything else on the page can create an odd effect. Something of that effect may come through for the swipe in the context of Isaac's story, where it's part of the furniture of a dream landscape. Herriman's usual Coconino County backgrounds often seem dreamlike in their ever-shifting contours, so I suspect that Isaac's swipe also had its tonal role to play in this sequence, quite apart from its service in filling our swipe quota.

There were at least two other likely reasons for Isaac to have swiped Herriman in this issue. First, he admires Herriman more than Kelly, and since I'd already put a Kelly swipe in issue #1 it was time to honor the cartoonist that Kelly himself admired the most. Second, he had plunged headlong into that first volume of Krazy & Ignatz, then hot off the presses, and the material was fresh in his brain (with alarming consequences for the prose of his emails).

This second reason—the currency of certain comics in our reading—has accounted for a number of our swipe choices. It went some way toward the decision to include a tiny image of Joe Sacco in the crowd scene on the cover to the Yeliz half of the comic:

We'd been reading Joe's work a lot around the time we assembled this issue, and putting him on the cover was our brainstorm to squeeze a swipe into this half of the comic after we'd left one out of the story proper. It also seemed appropriate because one of Joe's most impressive strengths as a cartoonist (and specifically as a cartoon journalist) is his composition of outdoor crowd scenes. In this, our first such scene, our wobbly grasp of perspective is woefully evident—the man being snake-charmed to the left of the panel looks like a giant in the uncropped image—but we got better at that over time.

We also got better at our cartoon self-portraits, which look lousy in this drawing; but then, Joe Sacco doesn't really look like his self-portrait, either:
I know this because Isaac and I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with Joe at an academic conference on comics that was held at the University of Florida in January 2002, and I got to see Joe's irises with my own eyes (similarly endowed, however rarely I draw them). Joe was very generous with his time and his knowledge back then, and on later occasions, too. If any of you blog-readers have yet to read his work—whether his long-form comics journalism in Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, and The Fixer or his shorter stories collected in Notes from a Defeatist and But I Like It—then I urge you to seek it out!

There's one more swipe from issue #2, from the cover to Isaac's story "Getting Over Laura." This time the swipe comes as part of another one of our "extra features" repeated in each issue, namely our self-portraits. Isaac had a little fun with it by placing us at a Hallowe'en party with masks on our faces. He modeled them on actual masks that we had each made for Hallowe'en years earlier—in Isaac's case, an awesome papier-mâché insect mask [Edit: plaster, actually], and in my case, a familiar cloth confection topped with a hat:

Yep, in middle school I went as Rorschach for Hallowe'en. But the pattern that Isaac pictured wasn't the one I made for myself—that would have required too much sewing! My much simpler mask was based on this Dave Gibbons drawing from the first issue of his and Alan Moore's Watchmen:
It's Rorschach shocked into silence after being teleported away from Doctor Manhattan and Laurie Juspeczyk. Me, I was shocked into silence when I thought about Dave Gibbons carefully inking all those little parallel lines in the fence, making sure that each bit of wire overlapped its neighbor in the appropriate way. Whew! And I thought sewing was tedious!