Sunday, June 29, 2008

Happy birthday, blog

To my great surprise, I note that we launched the Satisfactory Comics blog a year ago today. Most of our posts have aimed at the topics I raised in my inaugural post, though predictably we've fiddled about with the occasional non-comics post or general silliness. I think, though, that with over 160 posts in 365 days--most of them by my colleague--that we can, in retrospect, laugh at Isaac's modest remark (in response to Derik Badman's comment to that first post): "...may[b]e this will develop into something more than a post or two; who knows?"

I also note with some amusement that the image I chose to illustrate that first post is the cover for the only comic of ours that you can't read about on this website. There's some irony there in that it's nonetheless one of our most well-received comics by those who've got their hands on it, and further irony in that we have long had a plan afoot to post the whole comic online. Why haven't we done so yet? I'm sure there are other reasons, but part of it is the judgment of one of its cartoonist-protagonists that his caricature doesn't look sufficiently like him. This offers an interesting context for the question raised at the end of Isaac's recent post about his moving postcards. Regardless of how that question shakes out in general, I do hope that one thing we manage to accomplish with the blog in its second year is to put our last missing comic online at last--even if Isaac has to get all Al Plastino on my Jack Kirby Superman, so to speak.

At any rate, this blog has certainly been useful for us as cartoonists and wrestlers with comics, and I have appreciated every comment (even the snarky ones). Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Comics in Hungary: The Saga Continues!

In the last couple of days, my previous post about comics in Hungary has received some welcome additions in the form of comments from a Hungarian comics scholar, zoli79 (author of the very Wikipedia entry on Hungarian comics cited in my post), and from a Hungarian comics artist, Peter Tikos, member of the Hungarian Comics Academy. Since not every visitor to the blog may be as assiduous as others when it comes to combing through comments on previous posts, allow me to repeat the information from their comments.

Peter Tikos kindly linked our post in one of today's entries on the blog of the Hungarian Comics Academy--if you want to see my smiling face above some text in Magyar, click that link! Better still, he sent a link for a gallery of the Academy's artists, as published in the PinkHell anthology. Click here to access the PinkHellComics profile, but be sure to click through from the profile to the gallery pages. Among other impressive works, two complete stories that I excerpted in my post, "Death and the Compass" by Zoltán Fritz and Zorro de Bianco and "The Woman with the Yellow Wig" by Mátyás Lanczinger, are available for your viewing and reading pleasure (in English, yet!).

zoli79 also provided a link for the complete English-language version of the "Noname" story by Miklos Felvidéki that I raved about in my previous post (note, as zoli79 points out, that the thumbnails of the story are in reverse order, so click from right to left to enlarge from start to finish). He also astounded me by observing that Felvidéki was under 18 when he wrote and drew the story. I bow to the Hungarian wunderkind!

And once again, to our Hungarian visitors: köszi!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Vocabulary, Taxonomy, Pigeonholes: Thought Balloonists

If you're not already reading Charles Hatfield and Craig Fischer's Thought Balloonists blog, which features smart criticism and discursive reviews every week, now would be a great time to check it out. In their latest entry, Hatfield and I discuss the shortcomings and merits of taxonomy, especially as it pertains to that gray area between the ordinary and the avant-garde. Though I don't say it over there on that blog, my position owes a lot to an essay by Dylan Horrocks that argues with Scott McCloud. Pop on over to Thought Balloonists and watch the pedantic fur fly!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Moving Weekend Hiatus

Poor Matteu. It looks like I'm going to have to face the fact that I won't draw the next strip for a couple of weeks. In a day or two, I'm going to have to pack up my drawing supplies for the big move to Vermont, and I don't foresee having time to draw anything before that happens. (I'm too busy packing books, recycling unnecessary papers, and writing my moving cards.)

But digging through all of my stuff in anticipation of the move has turned up some treasures, and I'm going to share a few of them in this post. More will be forthcoming, though I think they may have to wait until I figure out the internet service in the new place—so you might not hear much from me until it's nearly July.

Anyway, in keeping with the theme of the week, here's a little gallery of the postcards I've sent around, over the years, to announce a change in my mailing address. All of these images can be enlarged with a click.

The first one was drawn by our friend and sometime contributor Jesse Reklaw, way back in the summer of 1999, when I switched apartments in Baltimore.

(Drawn by Jesse Reklaw and hand-colored with watercolor, clumsily in this case, by me.)

When I moved back to New Haven after that summer, I asked another friend (and sometime contributor), Scott Koblish to provide me with my favorite dinosaur, the parasaurolophus.

(I think this would have been watercolored, too, if I had sent this copy out, but I don't have any color copies.)

I stayed put for a few years, and when it came time for me to change apartments in New Haven, I circulated four different designs, all of which I watercolored once and then color-photocopied:

This one's by our fellow Mapjammer Damien Jay, and it features a few creatures I created for the Demonstration book and Elm City Jams.

This one's by sometime Elm City Jams collaborator Jon Lewis.

...And surely you recognize the hand of my collaborator Mike, even if you might not recognize every single one of these Satisfactory Comics characters.

Finally, Tom Motley drew me getting help in the move from some of my creatures from the Demonstration sketchbook. Oddly, I did not hire these movers the next time.

This year's moving cards are both on a Burlington theme. Both of these were colored by the artists and printed on real postcards instead of plain cardstock paper.

Here's one by Shawn Cheng, of Partyka, featuring Champ, the lake monster native to Lake Champlain. Shawn was working from life here, not from photo reference.

... and here's one drawn by Shawn's co-Partyker, Matt Wiegle.

Doesn't Vermont look like a lot of fun? Personally, I can't wait to get there. I just wish these all these comics of mine would pack themselves.

Possible topics for the comment section: which cartoon is the best likeness, and does that matter?

Monday, June 9, 2008

MoCCA Report

As usual, the best word to describe MoCCA was overwhelming. There are so many interesting (and uninteresting) comics spread out in those four rooms of the Puck Building that the only way to navigate the show is to settle on some sort of plan or compromise from the beginning. Throwing yourself into the crowd and looking at everything seems sort of hopeless to me, because it doesn't take long for eyeball fatigue to set in.

The weather this weekend wasn't too cooperative, either: I think it's a lot easier to get tired of browsing when the room's just a little too humid or just a little too hot, and even before the fire alarm there was just no way the Puck Building's air conditioners could keep up with the heat and the sun. I wasn't on the seventh floor much, but I've heard that it was steamy up there.

Anyway, for me the show was mostly social: I wanted to pick up any exciting new books, sure, but mainly I wanted to catch up with my friends from Artists With Problems and a few other comics pals. Getting our new issue into a few hands was a secondary goal, I guess. I didn't spend a lot of time roving around the convention floor this year, and I probably missed a dozen or more really cool minicomics just because I never passed by the right tables.

That's what our table looked like. I think I managed to sell or trade or give away about a hundred copies of the latest issue, and a few less than that of our little ABC books. Those aren't terrific numbers, but it was still fun to show them around.

Here are five things that made this year's MoCCA memorable for me: one unpleasant thing and four really good ones.

1. The Fire Drill

Midway through the day on Sunday, someone or something tripped a fire alarm in the Puck Building. For a while, business went on as usual, but eventually the Fire Department arrived and the MoCCA volunteers opened all of the building's doors and started herding everyone outside into the humid Manhattan heat.

In a way, it was a kind of happy digression from the convention: everyone was packed together on the sidewalk, and because it was clear that there was no fire,* there was a good deal of sarcasm and levity in the crowd.

After a long ten minutes or so, the firefighters emerged from the building, and Alec Longstreth said, "Should we clap? We should clap, right?" There was a small ovation, after which Evan Dorkin quipped, "But they didn't buy any comics."

*Okay, actually, I just read Valerie D'Orazio saying that there was some sort of boiler fire in the basement. On the other hand, Evan Dorkin suggests that it was an overheated boiler but no actual fire. Anyway, there was definitely no sign of fire or smoke on the convention floor, and I think everyone assumed that it was a false alarm.

2. Catching Up

There's no sense going over this in a lot of detail, but I was really glad that MoCCA turned out to be such a nice aggregator for my friends in comics. I had a few conversations with my pals Damien Jay and Jon Lewis (pictured above), caught up with Tom K (pictured below) and met his fellow Minnesota cartoonist Will Dinski, caught up with Cathy Leamy and Robyn Chapman, bumped into Jason Lutes, had dinner with Bill Kartalopoulos, and shared a table with Tom Motley (who somehow managed to escape my camera completely.

It was also nice to see my former students Caitlin McGurk and John Hagan, who had a few minis to sell from our table. On Saturday, John showed up in a t-shirt that proclaimed his affection for his fictional comics doppelganger:

I also caught up with Shawn Cheng and Matt Wiegle of Partyka, whom I caught in action behind their table.

(That's Shawn on the left and Matt on the right, with Sean T. Collins in the middle.)

Finally, here's a shot of my friend Damien with his soon-to-be-bride Melanie "Minty" Lewis. Even in the midst of a heatwave fire alarm, they look like they're having a fine time.

3. The books I got

As I said, I didn't do a lot of shopping, but I still came home with more than a week's worth of reading. Here are some of the things I'm most excited about:

Spiraling in clockwise from the far left, there's:
Damien's new book The Natural World,
Tom Motley's new collection of True Fiction experiments,
a couple of recent issues of Alec Longstreth's Phase 7,
Motley's little Comic Book Artists I Have Known,
Jessica Abel's Trazo de Tina,
Matt Madden's Minnesota,
the latest chapter of Sarah Glidden's How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less,*
Aaron Reinier's new Uninoodle mini,
a beautiful little Ransom Strange mini from Tom K,
Matt Wiegle's hilarious Is It Bacon?, a new issue of Robyn Chapman's Sourpuss,
a little bitty mini by Joe Lambert (who just graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies),
the fifth issue of Cathy Leamy's Geraniums and Bacon,
and a new issue of John Hagan's Lull.

And these are just the ones I got in trade for our new issue. I encourage you to seek these comics out. (See links above, if there's no link in this paragraph.) They're definitely some fine reading material.

*And hey! Check out my meaty paws setting up some comics in Sarah's photostream!

This is a selection of the minis I bought, followed by a selection of other minis I got in trade. I don't know what's inside most of these yet, but if something emerges as deserving special attention, I'll try to make a follow-up post later.

There were two larger books that I'm really excited to have brought home. One of these was Mike Dawson's Freddie & Me, which obviously deserves a longer review-style post after I read it. It looks great.

Mike was promoting the book at his table with a huge figure of Freddie Mercury. Here he is:

Mike's wife Aliza encouraged me to take another photo of the other side of the figure, which she assured me was remarkably detailed, but I declined.

The other book I'm really excited about is an old copy of the out-of-print Incredible Upside-Downs of Gustave Verbeek. You can now remove that book from my Christmas list. I've been looking for a copy for a long time, and before the show even started I found one at the table of the excellent Belgian publisher Bries.

4. Four Short, Validating Conversations

A. I had a chance to tell Scott C. how much I am enjoying the framed print of his Ninjas All Over the Place, which I received as an awesome Christmas present and now have up over my desk.

B. I had a brief chat with Zander Cannon about 24-hour comics and collaborative comics.

C. I gave a copy of the our new issue to Kazimir Strzepek and showed him the little swipe of his characters that appears on page ten of our story. He seemed really pleased to see his little guys there (and in full color).

D. In general, people seemed pretty impressed with the way the new issue turned out. Tom Hart said he had really enjoyed constraining us, and Brendan Burford said the new issue looked really great. (He also said "I love Satisfactory Comics," but I'm not going to hold him to that.)

4. An Awesome Minute or Two with Lynda Barry

Here comes the highlight of the show for me. Lynda Barry was at the Drawn & Quarterly table, signing copies of her awesome new book What It Is, which I recommend strenuously to anyone who wants to write, draw, or remember. (Seriously.) If she hasn't officially been designated a national treasure, I think Congress needs to get on that at top speed.

There was a super-long line for her signatures, and I hadn't even brought my copy of What It Is, so I tried not to take up too much of her time. But when she saw my nametag, she said, "Have we met?"

I told her we hadn't, but that she had met my collaborator Mike Wenthe, when she was in DC for the PEN/Faulkner Awards. She said, "Then I know your work! You guys draw kick-ass demons!"

There you have it: a five-word highlight of a busy, crazy, intense weekend:

"You guys draw kick-ass demons!"

And yes, hard-core fan that I am, I did ask her to draw a monkey in my monkey book.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Satisfactory Comics #8 (June 2008)

At long last, I am happy to offer you a way to buy the story that Mike and I were working on all last fall and winter, now in full color and easily portable:

This story will debut at the MoCCA Festival this weekend, and after the convention it may turn out to be in short supply, but I can always print more if I need to.

We've dubbed this story "Stepan Crick and the Chart of the Possible," and we're also calling it Satisfactory Comics #8. At ten pages, it might seem short for an issue of Satisfactory, but they're dense pages, and I think it's really the best story we've told yet.

As you can see, that tidy little packet contains a lot of color and a lot of incident:

(You can click that to enlarge it.)

For more information about the story -- for all of its elaborate constraints and conditions, for the alternatives we considered, for the thumbnails and the pencils, and, indeed, for the black-and-white version of each page in turn -- you can read the posts in this category in reverse order. But wouldn't it be more fun to read it in your hands instead of here in your web browser?

This version of the story comes on ten unbound postcards, each of them ready to read or to send.

Yes, we've left room for your message on the reverse of the postcard: if you buy a set to send to a friend, you'll also be able to put in some correspondence. (I recommend spacing them out, about a week apart. The end of each page is designed as a point of narrative suspense, so the reader who receives the cards slowly should get plenty of twists and surprises. If you've got several friends and you'd like to order several sets, please read the post on ordering multiple comics.)

As I said, the cards are in full color. I think they've really turned out nicely. They come wrapped in a little band (printed in two colors and sealed with a sticker of one of the characters from the story -- not necessarily this guy).

I'm afraid that this issue is, at least temporarily sold out. You can still read the comic (in black and white) here on the blog, but for now all the in-print copies of SC8 belong to other people.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Two Little Abecedarii (June 2008)

With this year's MoCCA Festival just a couple of days away, I'm happy to say that Mike and I will have a handful of new comics at our table (although Mike himself will not be there; instead I'll be joined by our pal Tom Motley). The new stuff is also available to you, our website reader, for just a pittance. Here's a pair of our newest publications, both of which are small books containing illustrated ABC poems:

My "An Alphabet That's Fun to Draw" is a republication of my page from the perennial favorite (and nearly out-of-print forever) "_____ Are Always Fun to Draw." I had always meant to republish that poem at a larger size, because many of the drawings have details (or fun) that don't show up well in their original (reduced) context.

The book will look a little bigger than that if it's not being held in a huge, hammy meathook of a paw.

Here's a couple of pairs of pages:

Who doesn't like to see fantasy dragon-bashing melee on one page and our sixteenth president in danger of electrocution on the facing page?

And although the absence of a beard in this self-portrait dates it a bit, who hasn't felt that same need for a nap? And who hasn't imagined the same dialogue between Hello Kitty and Squirtle?

If you want more explanation of that project, or a list of the fun-to-draw things that appear in the book, click here for further details.

Our other little ABC book, aptly titled "Abecedarium," is written and drawn by Mike (as you can see on this cover):

(Again, if your paws are more petite, the book may appear larger.)

This little gem of a book picks out twenty-six of Mike's "Fantasy Folk" illustrations (originally created to decorate the margin of our submission to the second volume of Elfworld) and describes these twenty-six folk with a poem in rhyming couplets of Middle English. (Mike has posted a glossary of the more obscure Middle English words in the poem, but really it's not at all difficult if you read it aloud.)

Among the folk thus described are a Hermit, a Nymph, a Wodewose, a Fairy, and an Undertaker; also appearing are a Pedant and a Scribe who may look a bit familiar...

These two happy little books are available at our Storenvy shop.

What I Drew That Was "Fun to Draw"

By the time this year's MoCCA Festival is over, I hope that a few people will have copies of the republication of my "Alphabet That's Fun to Draw" -- this little booklet:

It originally appeared in our multi-author sketchbook project, "_____ Are Always Fun to Draw", in which each of twenty-two cartoonists tried to cram forty or more items from a master list into a single 8" x 7" page.

I like the results a lot, but I only have a few more copies of that book, so I'm bringing out a larger reprint of my illustrated ABC poem from it as a little 28-page booklet. Since I didn't have room in the micro-mini to explain the project or list the fun things that I drew, here's some more information.

You can follow the link above (or in the sidebar) to get a more thorough explanation of the project as a whole, but here's the list of things that I fit into my twenty-six panels:

accordions, apples, bats (or other things with bat wings), birds, bones (loose bones), bugs (especially beetles), cats, chickens, chimeras or other hybrid animals (if you count Squirtle as a squirrel-turtle hybrid, which I do), cigarettes, clouds, cowboys (especially drunk ones), demons, dinosaurs, dogs, dorks (if I count as a dork, and this post would indicate that I do), dragons, ducks, earthworms, ancient Egyptians, explosions (especially mushroom clouds), eyes or eyeballs, fire or flames, fish (especially in goldfish bowls), flies (to indicate bad odor), Frankenstein monsters, girls (especially pretty girls), glasses (for reading), goths, guns, (especially rifles or ray guns, and I got both), helmets, Kirby krackle, knights, letters, lightning bolts, Abe Lincoln, mermaids or merpeople, monkeys or apes, the moon, mountains, ninjas, octopi or squid (including giant squid), Olmec heads, pirates or pirate hats, pizzas (especially with pepperoni), plaid flannel shirts, Pokemon, pterodactyls, robots, rockets or spaceships, ancient Romans (well, I got Carthaginians), samurai, Saturn or other planets, self-portraits, skulls or skeletons, smoke (little whiffs and big puffs, and I got both), snakes, space aliens, swords, the undead (especially zombies), treasure chests, trees, turtles and tortoises (if Squirtle counts), umbrellas, vampires, vikings, wiwaxia, x-ray specs, and zeppelins

Is that sixty-nine different items? Anyway, it's more than forty.

A glossary for the Abecedarium

At Isaac's encouragement, I wrote the text for my ABC poem (see Isaac's post above) in Chaucer's Middle English, more or less. Most of the text should be intelligible at a glance even to readers unfamiliar with Chaucer, but some of the words have fallen out of the active lexicon of modern English, and a few otherwise familiar words may be hard to recognize in their medieval spellings. So here's a glossary of the trickier terms for those who might want it:

alderbeste: best of all
beraft: bereft, deprived
caitiff: wretch
cracchen: scratch
eres: ears
faren: travel
fer: far
gete: acquire
haunteth: occupies, inhabits
ilk an: each
lesing: losing
list: wishes
mete: food
mot: must
namoore: no more
on-loft: aloft
privetee: secrets
purposeth: intends
spillen: die
swinketh: works
takel: tackle, gear
tapster: woman who serves ale
tell bedes: pray (e.g., with rosary beads)
trimmeth: prepares
tunnes: barrels
venerye: hunting
werre: war
wodewose: wild man of the woods
yarely: readily
yeman: yeoman

For further information about Chaucer's language, life, and poetry, I heartily recommend the Harvard Chaucer web page. Thus endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

With these beasts, I thee wed

Recently I had the honor of preparing a custom ketubah for the wedding of my brother-in-law Jon to his bride Victoria. A ketubah (plural ketubot) is a Jewish wedding document that essentially functions as a contract specifying spousal duties—traditionally, the duties of a husband toward his wife, though many modern ketubot specify reciprocal or indeed identical duties between two partners. The ketubah fundamentally is a legal document requiring the signatures of witnesses, but for centuries ketubot have also been treated as works of art, framed and displayed to showcase Hebrew-character calligraphy surrounded by illustrations of all sorts, and Jon and Vic had some notable specifications for the illustrations of their ketubah.

For the overall layout, they wanted something more or less in the idiom of a mandala or thangka, which accounts for the framing elements within and around the space of the page. More specifically, they also wanted “as many crazy beasts as possible”—naming such fantastic critters as a shedu and such mundane animals as a Neapolitan mastiff. That’s how they ended up with the following eight beasts—basically, cartoons—on their ketubah:

A Neapolitan mastiff, as a sort of totem for Jon;

A “straight-up horse,” as a sort of token for Vic (and, thus far, the best drawing of a horse I’ve managed to produce);

A griffin, based on a manuscript illustration of the mythical Jewish bird Ziz, which faced opposite

a wyvern, which perched below an image of

the plumed serpent who is the Mayan equivalent of Quetzalcoatl, and who in turn looked across towards

A Chinese dragon, which guarded the middle regions of the air below the presiding figure of

A shedu, who in turn faced

a bright blue kirin, which satisfied Vic’s taste for unicorns without my having actually to draw a standard European unicorn.

It was a pleasure to produce this document for Jon & Vic, though I had some struggles with tools along the way. I hadn’t brought a full complement of art supplies to England, and I balked at paying $40 or more for a new T-square, for example, so I ended up ruling the lines for the calligraphy with a standard plastic ruler from W. H. Smith. I helped line up my ruler by printing out solid and dashed lines in boldface on standard typing paper, which I laid underneath the Cotman watercolor paper of the ketubah itself: the lines from the printed page were faintly visible through the page—just enough for me to line up the ruler with some degree of uniformity between the lines.

Once the lines were ruled, I lettered them the old-fashioned way, with Speedball nibs fitted into a Koh-i-noor holder and dipped into a jar of Higgins Eternal ink. Each dip of ink sufficed for about a line and a half of lettering at best, with a total of sixty lines between the Hebrew and English halves of the ketubah. I did each side straight through at a stretch, though I needed a considerable break between halves to allow my clenched and cramped hand to recover from the stresses of lettering.

When it came time to ink my penciled creature sketches, I knew I couldn’t use my favorite inking tool, a brush-tipped pen, because its ink isn’t waterproof and I intended to color the drawings with watercolors. To be on the safe side, I decided I had better test just how eternal and waterproof that Higgins Eternal ink really was. Answer: not as much as you might think! While the test lines that I scribbled on a separate page never washed away completely under running water, they definitely bled a lot. By contrast, the ink from my Rapidograph held up very well indeed—well enough that I knew I’d have to use the technical pen instead of a nib pen. I was sorry to lose the calligraphic line variation of the nib, but I figured that color would make up somewhat for the dead flatness of the Rapidograph line.

The coloring also involved some challenges with my tools. In Oxford I had purchased a boxed set of watercolors, brushes, and palette at a big discount, only to learn that with brushes, at least, you get what you pay for. I used one of the new brushes for about five minutes, applying big fields of color in the margins, before I gave up in disgust: with every other stroke, bristles fell off, leaving unsightly black specks among the brushstrokes. I got much better results when I dug out one of the few trusty brushes I had brought with me from the States—no surprise, given that the better brush probably cost as much by itself as the entire discount watercolor set cost.

Cheap though the brushes were, the watercolors themselves were decent. They offered a different challenge, though, in that they assumed some knowledge of color theory and watercolor mixology. I confess that for my previous coloring efforts I’ve usually relied on watercolor sets with a pretty wide range of prefab intermediate colors such as orange, brown, and purple alongside the primaries. My British watercolor set had more separate tubes of color than I was used to, but the range of values was more restricted: four or five kinds of red, blue, and yellow, a couple of tubes of white, black, and greys, and a few brownish tones as well. Of course I knew from elementary school that red and blue together would make purple, for instance—but which red and which blue would make the purple I wanted? My first attempt churned out a color a lot closer to dark brown than the rich grape-like purple I’d been hoping for. I ended up both having to try several times to get the mixed colors I wanted and to settle for different colors altogether from what I’d expected, when my repeated efforts kept missing the mark. The Chinese dragon, for example, was supposed to be more teal than jade-green, but teal wasn’t really happening for me, alas. I discovered a new dimension to my PhotoShop envy, even though PhotoShop would have been no help for this one-of-a-kind document.

Ideally, I would have liked to produce the ketubah on an inclined artist’s table with a full-size built-in lightboard and my trusty large T-square; with truly permanent, waterproof ink suitable for nib pens; with slightly thicker paper (I’m afraid I punctured the page with a compass while ruling the disc around the shedu); and with an accurate technical chart for mixing colors. Maybe I’ll be better equipped if I ever make another ketubah, though since it’s been ten years since my previous ketubah (for my own wedding) I won’t be holding my breath for the opportunity! Still, I’m grateful to Jon and Vic for the chance to make this one, not least for indulging my fondness for cartoon animals. The ink on their ketubah may not be eternally Eternal, but here’s to a life-long future of wedded bliss.