Friday, November 30, 2007

Page 9, inked

All right, folks, we're getting down to the wire—but there's my last page for our Elfworld submission, right there!

Constraints: Silhouettes in every panel? Check!—even if they're tiny in panel 6. Overheard dialogue? Check!—even if it isn't very colorful ("What's going on here?"). Something concealed? Check!—as implied in the final caption of the page.

My work as a cartoonist is done here. Now I just get to enjoy my work as a kibitzer. Isaac: bring it on home with page 10!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Happy birthday to MW!

...which is to say, happy birthday to me, nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita. I just had to share an image of the delightful back cover of the brand new Osamu Tezuka manga that my beloved wife Becca just gave to me as a present:

It really makes a boy feel loved. Thanks, sweetie!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thumbnails for p. 10 (obstructed story)

Well, the deadline for Elfworld vol. 2 is supposedly December 1, so I'm going to have to scramble to get this last page finished in time. It occurred to me this morning that I haven't ruled panels onto a page since before SPX. (Yikes.) No wonder my drawing desk is so cluttered with non-drawing detritus.

Getting the thumbnails for this page has been sort of difficult. I made a first false start last week, while my students were taking a midterm. Please click to enlarge this, so you can read my draft of the script:

...But this morning I reworked the first three tiers a little bit, so I'd be able to make Stepan's walk through the shadow-realm a little clearer in "panel" 4 (actually a space between panels), and to give Stepan more room to make his (newly scripted) pronouncement about why he won't map the shadow-realm.

I'm not sure whether I'm going to keep the nod to Emily Dickinson in there -- it seems a little silly -- but I also haven't thought of a clearer way to say what Stepan means: that the real crime in mapping the shadow-realm is in forcing it to be one thing forever.

As for the constraints: as long as "panel" 4 counts as a panel, I've got three silent panels in a row. And I mean to swipe / scan images from a few different sources in panel 5, which is the one that defines the look of Serkja, where Stepan is supposed to meet Ipthorin.

Will Iphtorin still look like he has a dinosaur's head when I finally draw him? Time will tell.

Comments and suggestions are, as you know, not just welcomed but invited. By me. I invite them.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pencils for p. 9 (obstructed story)

Okay, some comments and questions about the above.


First, I plan on adding more prone shadow forms in the long fourth panel, and the panel will get lighter (fewer shadows) and more defined (sharper lines) as it moves rightward toward the glowing map, which I hope will help to spotlight Arntham's head, as well. The backgrounds in the panels with Stepan and the speaking shadows will also have some wispy undulating shapes in black, like those suggested in panel 1 and toward the middle of panel 4.

Second, I tried to make the shadows' dialogue sound less archaic; I hope that worked.


Any recommendations for different balloon / caption placement? In panel 1, "Do I dare?" looks a bit crowded to me; I could move it to the lower right. In panel 8 (left of bottom tier), I'll probably condense the second shadow's dialogue to "You'd do this?" so that I'll have room to show Stepan's other hand. And in panel 9 (middle of bottom tier), the page number is currently a bit off-center to the left, which is good, because it's smack where I want to place the shadow's word balloon, consarn it. I plan to move it to the exact center, for consistency with the other pages, but frankly I'm not happy about the crowding in this panel.

Finally, are the background figures too small in panel 5 (left of third tier)? Tell me what I need to hear and I can adjust if necessary.

Poetry Submission Guidelines

This is a non-comics post, inspired by the stuff that kept me away from comics this weekend.

Some of you may know that, in addition to my other jobs, I am the poetry editor for Confrontation, the literary journal published by Long Island University. I've spent the weekend reading unsolicited poetry manuscripts. I probably sent out two hundred rejection slips between Wednesday and Saturday. Lots of fun, that.

In the hope that this post will occasionally get hit by a googling, would-be-publishing writer of poetry, let me suggest a few guidelines for writing and submitting poems. None of these are hard-and-fast rules, and I can't claim that Confrontation uses them as strong criteria, much less that they are universally applied. However, sticking with these guidelines may get your poems read (instead of simply discarded) by more editors.

The packet:

1. A cover letter is not your autobiography. It's good to write a sentence or two about who you are or what you have done, particularly if that informs your poetry in some way. On the other hand, telling the editor every trivial aspect of your life story only makes you seem like you crave personal attention. We don't care if you take walks with your dog, or if you recently returned from a vacation in Belize.

2. Send only a handful of poems. If you send more than four or five poems, and the first two or three don't interest me, I'm probably not reading to the bottom of the stack. Send only as many as will reasonably fit in your return envelope.

3. Submit to each magazine infrequently. There are a few people who seem to send poems to Confrontation about once a month. Sometimes they send the same poems twice, a few weeks apart. These people get read less carefully than others. Some of them are now getting their work returned unread. My rule of thumb: no more than once a year to any given magazine. But at the very least you must wait until your first submission receives some response.

The poems:

1. Justify left. Some people get the idea (from greeting cards, I think) that poems should be center-justified on the page. It's true that a poem with short lines sometimes uses a left margin that's pretty far from the edge of the page, and it's true that indentations and other typographical devices can deceive the careless eye. But very, very few serious poets have ever centered their lines on the page.

2. Put more than one word on each line. In high school, when I was first learning about poetry, I wrote a "poem" where there was only one syllable per line. (At fifteen I thought that was clever: I could put the line breaks wherever I wanted! And each new line got new emphasis!) Now I realize that the way syntax plays with enjambment is much more graceful when a line gets a chance to build up some sentence-energy before it's broken.*

3. Exclamation points should be used sparingly. Again, it's a question of the varying music of your sentences. Rules of thumb: no more than one exclamation point per poem; no exclamation points except in dialogue; no exclamation point at the end of the poem's last line. You are not Walt Whitman, and even he didn't exclaim everything.

4. Don't graphic-design your poems. I can imagine instances where graphic devices would be necessary, but they're usually used by clumsy amateurs. Clip art on the same page as a poem is a bad idea. Fancy fonts do not make your words any more poetic. Sometimes I get manuscripts in which each poem is in a different font, implying (to my mind) that they were word-processed years apart and have been living on in xerox copies since then: not a sign of careful revision practice.

5. Write about something beyond yourself. I don't mean that you can't appear in your poems. I only mean that the poems really need to have a subject beyond the ordinary events of your day and the private emotions they inspire. Describe something in the exterior world; make claims about some subject beyond you. Use language that exceeds your first conversational impulses. Consider distinct subjects and explore them imaginatively. This is the hardest rule of thumb for me to employ quickly, but it's also the source of the largest number of rejection slips.

All of these rules of thumb are based on years (yeah, yikes: more than a decade) of reading unsolicited poetry manuscripts, and identifying the surest signs of amateurish, crummy, dull, dopey, and laughable work. Any editor has to develop an intuitive rubric for sorting the slush pile: a set of guidelines that will identify work that takes no further consideration. That's what I use these rules of thumb for. They let me identify the poems that won't require more than a couple of seconds of my time.

If you are an aspiring poet who was drawn to this blog post by Google or some other means, and you're feeling discouraged, I have one encouraging rule for you. (I mean, something that will help your poems get better over time.) Though the rule has corollaries, it's essentially simple: read poetry. Read the poetry printed in books and in major magazines that are still way beyond your reach. In particular, read work that is a little bit outside your "comfort zone": something a little harder, a little more obscure, a little antique, a little unfamiliar. Buy a new book of poems every month, and devour what you buy. Write imitations; write responses; write critiques. Living an interesting life will give you good material for poems; reading published poems will help you develop the craft that turns experience into art.

*Before someone calls me on this, I should admit that I have written a poem in which a single word occupies an entire line. The poem is in syllabic meter, and one of the lines in each stanza is seven syllables long; the one-line word in question is Chroococcidiopsis.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thumbnails for p. 9 (obstructed story)

Our penultimate page. Stepan has just been transported to the shadow world by the shadow whom he bound to his will. But he had also agreed to turn the shadow loose in exchange for the journey. And so:

1) The once-kneeling shadow (Shadow 1) is now on his feet.
Shadow 1: Release me!
Caption: Do I dare?

2) The shadow has grown larger, more shapeless.
Caption: Do I have a choice?
Stepan: I'll keep my word, shadow. You're free!

3) The shadow is now huge, threatening, but Stepan is uncowed.
Stepan: Now—where's Arnthan?
Shadow 1: You don't command me now, boy—
Voice off-panel (Shadow 2): A MISTAKE!
NB: Shadow 2's panel has a distinctively wispy border throughout.

4) From far left, Shadow 1 and Stepan gaze at the ruin of the shadow world, which grows lighter and more fixed in shape as it moves to the right of the page. At the extreme right, we see Artham's once-again disembodied head on the ground. Glowing at the center of the wreckage is the map. A few pale shadow forms lie prone. Closer to Shadow 1 and Stepan is Shadow 2, a stricken look on its face.
Shadow 1: What—What's going on here?
Shadow 2: We've made a dreadful mistake!
Stepan (in the clutch of Shadow 1, looking at the disembodied head): Arntham!

5) In a wispy-bordered caption, Shadow 2 explains what happened while a borderless panel depicts what he describes. (NB: An alternative to this panel follows the script below.)
Shadow 2: We thought the danger lay in the mapmaker, so we slew him on arrival—

6)Close-up on the map, aglow and destructive, while Shadow 2's panel tails off-panel.
Shadow 2: —But the threat is in the map itself! We brought it here, and now it's petrifying everything!

7) Shadow 1, one arm still clutching Stepan, gazes determinedly at the wrack and ruin while Shadow 2 looks distraught. Stepan is tugging to remove Shadow 1's grip.
Shadow 1: Then we must destroy it!
Shadow 2: But it's deadly to our kind! You cannot go near it!

8) Stepan holds Shadow 1's arm away from him and stands freely. The shadows listen to him speak.
Stepan: But I can. What's more, I can consume it utterly with my magic.
Shadow 2: You would do this?

9) Stepan looks at the first, threatening shadow, whose hand now rests gently on Stepan's shoulder.
Stepan: I'll save your home, and I pledge to protect it hereafter. I only ask for Arntham's head and safe conduct back to my world.
Shadow 1: I give you my word, boy.

10) Stepan, silhouetted himself by the glow of his magic, is viewed from behind as he destroys the map.
Upper caption: My magic takes the map away...
Lower caption: ...but it gives me something in return.

Okay, here's the alternative for panel 5:
The text is the same. The scene sets the two shadows and Stepan in the distance looking at the reader. In the extreme right foreground: Arntham's head. Poking into the extreme left foreground: the fingers of one of Arntham's dismembered hands. Never the twain shall meet!
Okay, the constraints. I had to have a silhouette in every panel. With my shadowy men on their shadowy world, that's easy. I also had to use found art or found dialogue. Since I want Isaac to have a chance to use one of those awesome Basque folklore characters on page 10, I tried to find some usable found dialogue. Folks—not easy! Either the crowds I was in were too loud actually to make out intelligible speech or what was intelligible was too contemporary and specific to be of use. (Washington politics and synagogue gossip have no place in this story!) Believe it or not, the best I could do was "What's going on here?"—genuine overheard dialogue, just not very colorful. C'est la guerre.

Finally, I had to conceal something that will be revealed by Isaac on the final page. It's good and concealed, all right, as the concealing is entirely suggested by Stepan's final caption. The constraint didn't specify a concealed object, after allso Stepan is concealing some information.

Anyway, that's what I've got. Isaac: you're left with found art and a wordless sequence, and I reckon you've got to get Stepan (and Arntham's head) back home. Everybody: feedback very welcome!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Gigantism in The Family Circus

A couple of days ago on the Comics Curmudgeon site, a commenter pointed out that in that day's Family Circus--

-- "Jeffy is barely four hands high. Or does Big Daddy Keane have a scorching case of gigantism?"

Well, today's panel seems to have cemented the fact that the Keane parents are gradually growing, like Alice in the White Rabbit's house, not only beyond the proportions of their huge-headed children, but indeed beyond the scale of their strangely empty suburban domicile:

I have taken the liberty of eliminating Billy from today's cartoon, since he wasn't doing anything interesting.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Awesome Cartoons of Basque Folklore Characters

My friend, former student, and sometime Satisfactory contributor Grace Meng, that epicurean Korean, has been traveling around in Spain and, recently, in Basque Country. I've been enjoying her food-blog, One Fork, One Spoon, since she was in Oaxaca (a totally different cuisine, there). Reading her food notes in my RSS reader, I've felt like I've been in touch with her, even though she hasn't had a stable address to which I can send postcards.

Well, when I checked the mailbox today, I found a real treat: a postcard from Grace covered with a complicated, detailed, and really lively set of little cartoon drawings of strange, fantastical figures. The only English printed on the card identifies them as "Folklore characters in the Basque Country." In Spanish, all we get is "Personajes del folklore vasco."

But there's lots of Basque on the card, as you can see if you click to enlarge this image.

Of course, I can't make head or tail of it. That's the astounding thing about Basque: no cognates; no kinship to any other living language. I bet even Mike, with all of his linguistic smarts, can't crack the code here.

But I'm sure we can enjoy these cartoons. In fact, since Jesse Reklaw insists that we use a found image for one of our last panels in the story we're working on, I think this postcard might turn out to be useful to us. Or, maybe, we'll just enjoy the cartoons.

My favorite in the bunch might just be this guy, who I think is named "Katximorro."

He'd be funny even if he weren't swinging a bunny by the ears.

On the other hand, I'm also really pleased with this hairy, horned heap: "Hartza"?

Boy, these are fun.

The card says that was designed by La Fábrica de Dibujos ("The Drawing Factory"), in Pamplona, for Kukuxumusu (what a great name!), and I'm linking to their website, even though I haven't explored it much yet, just because I feel a little guilty appropriating their stuff without being able to read it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Two Evenings with Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, & Chris Ware

On Thursday and Friday, I was privileged to attend evening events here in Washington that only boosted my admiration for excellent cartoonists. Friday night, the PEN/Faulkner Organization hosted an event at the DC Jewish Community Center featuring three outstanding cartoonists in conversation with Chicago-based writer Dan Raeburn, whose self-published critical zine The Imp offered some of the finest writing available on such diverse cartoon topics as the works of Jack Chick, Chris Ware, and Mexican comics (the world awaits the book edition of Dan's work, the forthcoming The Imp of the Perverse). Chris Ware himself was one of the outstanding cartoonists in question, and he was joined by Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel. Each cartoonist spoke over a slide-show presentation of his or her work, then they joined Raeburn on stage for a moderated discussion before taking questions from the audience. All three cartoonists spoke eloquently and hilariously, and Chris Ware movingly read from a letter of encouragement Lynda Barry had sent him at the start of his career.

Thursday night offered a related event, a welcome dinner for the cartoonists that was open to ticketed guests. The cartoonists did not have to speak formally at this event, though in fact all of them were quite approachable and open about their work. The only threat to the evening's relaxed festivities was the planned programming, a brief chat about comics and graphic novels in the classroom featuring a panel of local comics scholars: Marc Singer (Howard University professor and former executive director of the International Comic Art Forum), Mike Rhode (an editor for the International Journal of Comic Art and the forthcoming Harvey Pekar: Conversations, and proprietor of the ComicsDC blog), and yours truly (!). Yes, I got to gas off about comics for twenty minutes or so in front of the likes of Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, and Chris Ware. It's probably a good thing the stage lights meant we couldn't see anybody listening to us!

At any rate, there's a lot I want to share about both evenings, but I'll be doling it out over the next week or so. I still have page 9 of the Elfworld story to work on, and much else besides! But in the meantime, I recommend Mike Rhode's blog post about the Thursday night event, where he shares some of the cartooning secrets that Lynda Barry brought up. (And if you're really curious, you can also find another link at that link for a downloadable recording of our panel, but not, alas, the Friday night panel.)

Much more to come next week. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Jesse Reklaw's Constraints to Us (pp. 9-10)

Matt Madden unfortunately had to bow out from writing our last five constraints for this story, because he has a lot of other things going on for the next couple of weeks, and we're feeling uncharacteristically uptight about our deadlines. He suggested that we contact our friend and comics guru* Jesse Reklaw as a backup, and Jesse was good enough to provide us with a few fairly challenging rules for the home stretch of our story.

Here's what he's going to require us to do:

"1. Silhouettes. Incorporate a silhouette into every panel on the page. By silhouette, I mean either a solid black shape on white ground, or a solid white shape on black ground. The silhouette could be the foreground, middle ground, or background. If you want, you could use silhouettes in half the panels on the first page, and half the panels on the second page—in fact, I think that might look better. But it's your choice.

"2. Found art. The picture in one panel must be from a found source—drawn or photographed by someone else.

"3. Concealment. Something must be concealed on the first page that is revealed on the second page. Whoever goes first can't tell the other what is concealed! (So, the "revealer" might be revealing something that wasn't necessarily concealed by the "concealer.")

"4. Found dialog. An exchange of dialog overheard in real life must be incorporated into the story.

"5. Wordless. A sequence of at least three panels must use no words: no captions, dialog, thought balloons, etc. You can have signage in the background, though that's slightly cheating."

He adds this, as a postscript: "I tried to think of something involving a map, since that's what the story's about, but I couldn't. I just kept thinking of that great example in Matt's Exercises in Style where the comic is actually a map. Maybe you could reference that comic, as a bonus constraint, and as a salute to Matt, since he was your intended constrainer."

Those are some pretty good constraints: tough without being impossible. I think I can see a way to reference Matt's map-comic on p. 10, and I imagine Mike can see a way to satisfy the first constraint on p. 9. Expect to see some thumbnail sketches for the last two pages soon! Mike's up first.

*Seriously, some time I mean to make a post about how influential and inspirational Jesse was in our early decisions about making minicomics. I've got a lot to say about it. But this isn't the post for that.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Where Kirby meets Woodring...

We're still in sort of a holding pattern while we wait for our last five constraints, but here's a quick note:

I recently bought the Marvel Devil DinosaurOmnibus, which collects a strange, abortive mid-1970s Jack Kirby series that seems to be born from some of the same impulses that created Kamandi and Kirby's 2001. It's kind of completely crazy.

What's that, Moon Boy? You sure do look alarmed! And those colors in the sky sure are bright!

What are you looking at, little simian pal?

Now that is a splash page. You can click to see it biggerly.

Mike and I saw this image in black and white at the Masters of American Comics show in New York, and it impressed me then; in color it's even more ... what's the word? Dynamic? Astounding? Insane?

That gigantic cosmic dinosaur-beast spirit thing (and the orange-yellow wheel of eyes below it) remind me, more than anything, of some of Jim Woodring's fancies and phantasmagoria. In particular, I'm put in mind of the "Crazy Newts" toys. I have a couple of those that hang around on my desk:

Sometimes it's a crazy, bright-colored, square-headed, super-mutated cosmic lizard that gets you through the day.