Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Preview of Coming Attractions

So after a long dry spell cartooning-wise, I've been trying to get a new project under way just a little bit at a time. To encourage incremental progress, I have decreed that my personal calendar will be observing the Twelve Days of Comics, because I started the project on Christmas day and plan to work a little every day until Epiphany at least (though as of January 7 I may have to cool it as other obligations threaten to swallow up all my time, as opposed to merely most of it). At any rate, progress has been encouraging enough so far for me to risk jinxing everything by posting a teaser image of me with my materials before me and my baby in my lap:

Yes, I am cartooning at the kitchen table, because I still haven't set up my art table in the study, because there are still too damn many boxes of books in the way. (There is an alarming shortage of shelf space in our new house.) No, I did not produce the images visible in the sketchbook while dandling Miss Thing there on my knee, though I confess that after this picture was taken I did indeed attempt to draw a few figures in ink while still cradling my daughter in my left hand. Kind of tricky.

And yes, the comic open before us there is an indispensable element of the piece I am working on at present. If all goes well, I may have more to tell before too much longer. (I'm sure that Isaac at least is a little curious...)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Unsung Cartoonist's Little Symptom Guy

As I tidy my desk before a trip to the MLA, I find that I clipped a set of small cartoons from a mailing I got about some diabetes-related medical product. I liked the little cartoon illustrations of hypoglycemia symptoms enough that I saved them, and now I'm going to pass them on to you.

One of the things about insulin is that, in helping the body metabolize its blood sugar, it can sometimes do its job a bit too well. When blood sugar drops below a healthy or normal level, these symptoms can result:

(You can click to enlarge that.)

Which of these hypoglycemia symptoms might also be caused by a trip to a professional convention like the MLA?

If you keep your eyes open, even your junk mail might have interesting cartooning in it. I think this little symptom guy is really a nice piece of drawing, and my hat is off to the anonymous cartoonist who drew him.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Regina Holliday's mural for health-care reform

So early this morning the Senate passed its version of a bill to reform health care in America. I think it's an ideal time to salute the work of my friend Regina Holliday, an artist and advocate for health-care reform, who created an allegorical mural about the problems of health care in the United States.

A year ago Regina was just as much an artist, but not the driven and committed advocate, lobbyist, organizer, and witness for health-care reform that she has become in 2009. Unfortunately, she was moved to reshape her life and her career by painful personal experiences with the many outrages and injustices—some small, some large, all unnecessary—that attended her husband Fred's diagnosis and treatment for Stage Four cancer.

Fred Holliday was both my colleague at work and my friend, a warm and funny presence, a scholar of film and television, a generous host, and a model of how to be a husband and a father. He was admitted to the hospital just a few days before his 39th birthday last March, the cancer having been detected while doctors were looking for the source of other problems Fred had been having. Fred moved from one hospital to another, to a rehab center, and then to a hospice before returning to Regina and their two boys at home for the last week of his life. He passed away in mid-June, a day after my last visit to see him.

Already while Fred was still in the hospital, Regina had begun turning her art to public advocacy for health-care reform. An early painting, Medical Facts, was hung in a local restaurant, and featured a painting of a skeleton showing areas where the bones had been weakened by cancer—the areas where Fred had been afflicted. The painting offered a stark confrontation with the harsh literal facts of Fred's illness, laid bare on canvas. The image was accompanied by text including data from Fred's medical charts, laid out like the "Nutrition Facts" box on food packaging, and it asked a blunt question: "Why do we have more access to information on a box of Cheerios than on a medical chart?"

In early September, Regina finished a much more extensive mural, an outdoor painting that fills the entire side of a BP station at 5001 Connecticut Avenue NW here in Washington, DC. This mural is titled 73 Cents, after the amount it cost Regina, per page, to get a copy of Fred's medical records. Unlike the almost reportorial quality of Medical Facts, the 73 cents mural employs symbolism and allusions to other works of art. Regina describes some of her artistic models for the painting's composition here, but you can probably recognize at a glance the elements inspired by David's Death of Marat and Picasso's Guernica in the central section of the mural:

That's Fred in the hospital bed, clutching a note with an actual message he delivered to his wife: "Go after them, Regina." And that's Regina in blue before him, wearing a mask to show a brave face to Fred as wife and caregiver while a more troubled face is turned to the nurse who is passing some medical records to her. The little boy with the blocks is their younger son Isaac; their older boy, Freddie, can just be glimpsed as an eye peeking through the sliver where the door in the background joins its hinges.

Here is the leftmost portion of the mural:

And here is the right:

For more information about the symbolism of the mural (and its use of text from Buffy the Vampire Slayer alongside quotations from Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson), along with many more detailed photos, please read Regina's own discussion here. For an early statement by Regina on art as advocacy, please read her post here. For Regina's Thanksgiving post on what 2009 was like for her, Fred, and their boys, please read this post. And for Regina's continued updates on her art, her mission, and the progress of health-care reform, please visit reginaholliday.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

So, um, yeah...

... I have kind of left poor Isaac holding the bag o' the blog for most of this semester. I would lay the blame here—
(Shira at four months, as drawn at five months)

—but it's not really fair to her, innocent that she is; and Isaac has had his fair share of claims on his attention, too, yet he's managed to keep the blog moving single-handed. So to my good buddy Isaac, I publicly apologize for being such a slacker on this would-be joint endeavor of a blog, and I will endeavor to do better henceforth.

(Incidentally, the flaws in the drawing above are the fault of the artist, not of his subject.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

RIP Arnold Stang

Earlier today I saw the New York Times obituary of character actor Arnold Stang. (My new goal in life: to live in such a way as never to have the word "milquetoast" in the headline of my death notice.*) Anyway, the story caught my eye because Mr. Stang has been important to me for two things. First, his surname is "gnats" spelled backwards, and how cool is that?** Second, and frankly more important: he voiced the character Churchy LaFemme in the clay-animation film Pogo for President, which film I am sure I have seen more than any other, so sad is my life.***

At any rate, I commemorate Mr. Stang's demise with this quasi-pencil sketch, digitally darkened, and so faint in its original graphite version**** that I myself failed to detect part of the artwork in the scan and cropped it too close on the left (man, I'm out of practice with the machinery of bloggery...but all that's missing is part of a gravestone whose text is the title of this post):
* Perhaps fittingly, given Mr. Stang's work in animation, the term "milquetoast" is itself derived from an early comic-strip character, Caspar Milquetoast. Who knew?

** I wish I'd been kidding when I noted this, but it's true: every time I think of Arnold Stang I mentally read his last name backwards. Till now, however, it has never occurred to me to read his first name as Dlonra.

*** For further evidence in re: my life, the sadness whereof, see also: the previous footnote.

**** Graphite, but not pencil. I drew this with a "graphite object," a sculpture of a pea pod. If the object's not meant for drawing with, why does it fit perfectly cradled in a hand poised for sketching? I ask you...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hand Turkey Corrigendum: Abner Jenkins Is Miffed

Okay, so in the post I made a few days ago, one of the Marvel Hand Turkeys was pretty much unrecognizable. Partly that's because it's derived from an obscure costume design for an obscure character. But mostly it's because I got the freaking hand design wrong. I am not too big to admit my mistakes.

Here, what if I had posted this? Would you have been able to guess then?

You see, in my haste to get the doodles up online, I looked only at the first image for this fellow that I found—only the first thing to hand, so to speak. And truth be told, I could have done my homework more thoroughly. That first image really doesn't reveal the full weirdness of the hands in Abner Jenkins's first Ditko-style suit of super-villain armor.

Yes, the "answer" to that missing Hand Turkey was supposed to be none other than the Beetle, in his original Human-Torch-fightin' getup.

I'm sorry! Next time I'll pick my reference images more carefully!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hand Turkeys of the Marvel Universe (Old-School)

I had a dorky notion some time earlier this week. It occurred to me that several comic-book characters would have a hard time drawing the traditional "hand turkey"—you know, where you trace the outline of your paw and draw a beak onto the thumb part of the outline. Some folks' mitts have decidedly non-meleagrine silhouettes.

Having thunk this nerdous thought, I could apparently only exorcise it by drawing (and hamfistedly coloring) a select few "Odd Hand Turkeys of the Marvel Universe." See if you can identify all six.

Dang it! I forgot to draw a hand turkey for Ulysses Klaw! Well, maybe I'll save him for next November. Can you think of anyone else I've forgotten?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Incredible remark from 10/30/09 R. Crumb interview

In a brief interview with the San Francisco Chronicle last Friday, Robert Crumb had this to say about the process of creating his new rendering of the book of Genesis into comics:

...I really had to learn how to draw to make this book.

And after reading that statement, I had to pick my eyeballs off the floor, where they'd landed after popping out of their sockets.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another Halloween Envelope Doodle

Inexplicably—or at least unexplainedly—I got another order for the Satisfactory Comics "Full Run" (now only $20*) a day or two after I posted that little thing about lagniappes last week.

(*That's not a sale price: this month's orders have actually run me out of stock on one of our comics, so I dropped the price.)

Since I'd essentially promised to load in a few bonus treats, I put some more postcards into that envelope (along with every comic I still had in stock), and since I love Halloween almost as much as the next blogger, I adorned the envelope our little werewolf guy from "The Graveyard of Forking Paths."

Hooray for a growing readership, hooray for lagniappes, and hooray for Halloween!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Proof of Concept: Hot Cold Lozenges

I've been having a hell of a time coughing out the dregs of the cold that knocked me down three weeks ago, so I've frequently been fantasizing about trips to the local pho houses and Thai kitchens, where the gunk could be rousted by a nice pepper-induced salubrious lubrication of my lungs and sinuses.

And as I cogitated on the prospect, I got a little Ironic Sans: that is, I came up with an idea, possibly a rather good idea, that I have no power to realize:

Imagine lozenges in your favorite spicy sabor, at a nose-runningly intense degree of heat. Mysteriously potent wasabi, sriracha, chipotle, and vindaloo, in an easily portable form. Wouldn't that be healthful when you had a cold? What better way to dislodge a loogie or make your phlegm less phlegmatic?

Dr. Propter's: they get your juices running!

If anyone from Hall's or Vick's or Altoids or whatever is interested in the idea, I'll sell it for a very reasonable sum.

If any of you poetry fans can tell why I've attributed these pills to Dr. Propter, bonus points for you. Ditto if you're a candy aficionado and identify the origin of those shapes and colors.

Now, enough about salubrious lubrication, and back to my usual lubricious lucubration.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Doodle Penance: "balloon critter"

Apparently we're still having trouble keeping the ol' blog afloat. But we haven't given up yet.

In fact, here's a little bit of "Doodle Penance" for our failure to deliver on our two-posts-a-week promise.

Someone came to the blog last week looking for "balloon critter." I'm pretty sure we know what he or she was looking for...

I welcome any speculation on the cartooning influences and subtexts in the image above.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I Like Lagniappes

Some kind soul just ordered the Satisfactory Comics "Everything" combo—one copy of every minicomic Mike and I have made (except for the Mapjam, which is out of stock)—and I felt like I needed to do a little something extra for the envelope.

Onto the envelope, I doodled this little guy, whom I'd never see again if I hadn't scanned him.

I also tossed a few random postcards into the envelope, since they weren't going to affect the shipping costs. Hopefully, when the envelope arrives, it'll seem like a treasure trove of goodies, chock full of dorky fun. I know that when I get a package in the mail, I'm always psyched to get a little random bonus, even if it's something I'd never have paid for. I like the little lagniappes, so I try to put them into (or onto) every package I send.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Daily Drop Cap: Fun Type Design

Hhave you seen this new(ish) art-and-design blog called "Daily Drop Cap"?

Beautifying your blog in the style of a cool old manuscript has never been easier, thanks to Jessica Hische.

Although the Daily Drop Cap will probably be most useful for most bloggers when Hische gets around to designing the first-person pronoun (which will happen on Monday, if she sticks to her schedule), there are already eight kicky capitals there, ready to dress up plain text as long as it starts with the right letter.

Go on over and check it out. Bookmark the site for future inspection. Swipe a letter or two for your next post.

Even someone without a devotion to "display lettering" could have a lot of fun with these letters.

Could I be abusing the graphic possibilities that these fun initial capitals allow?

Definitely. But there's something about these Hische's work that really invites playful participation. And what is that je ne sais quois? ... I think the word for it is:


(In case it's not obvious, those letters are the creation of "Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische.")

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Guess the Odosketch: Watch It Closely.

While I was preparing for class tonight, it occurred to me that it might be useful for me to sketch a little something.

Bonus points for you if you can tell me what I'm drawing there.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ododsketch Seems Like Fun

I don't have a lot of time to play with this tonight, but Adam Koford just posted an "Odosketch" drawing—the first one I'd seen—so I went over to that website to play around.

That's the result of just a few minutes. Maybe I'll do another over the weekend.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Doodle Penance Double: Speedy Edition

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to leave that abomination on the top of the page for weeks like that.

But then the semester started. I'm still getting that straightened out (four classes and three preps this semester), and Mike's got even better excuses for being minimal about his blogging.

But I am determined tonight to bump Lunette Funkadelic down by a step.

So let's see: a couple of weeks ago, someone came to the site looking for "jack a doodle," and the next week, someone came looking for "volume of a shape with 15 cubs."

I think I can work with that.

Pumpkin Jack is looking sleepy again. And he's not the only one, I'd bet.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Doodle Penance: "lunette funkadelic"

This week's "Doodle Penance" search term is "lunette funkadelic."

I don't know about you, but that makes me think of an unholy, ill-considered mashup of (a.) a certain anime heroine and (b.) a certain awesome organization dedicated to the creation, circulation, and demonstration of p-funk.

I hate it when Doodle Penance makes me draw manga style.

Why? Why do I taint my beloved funk with that Amethyst-Princess-of-Gemworld-wannabe schoolgirl pop junk?

What is wrong with me? I'm like the Bwana Beast of cultural detritus or something.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Walt Kelly's illustrations for The Glob

It's August 25th, the birthday of Walt Kelly, which means that for me it's practically a saint's day. My devotion to Kelly's Pogo is fairly well documented here already; so it's exciting for me to post about some great Kelly drawings that weren't created for Pogo but rather served as illustrations for a prose allegory of human development, John O'Reilly's 1952 story The Glob.

I first heard of The Glob at the tender age of nine, when my grandmother gave me a copy of The Best of Pogo, a round-up of Kelly work and articles from a Pogo fanzine. The Best of Pogo reprinted a single illustration from The Glob, enough to whet my appetite for more, and I kept a weather eye out for The Glob for years without ever spotting any telltale signs of it. Until this summer, the closest I got to The Glob was a few years ago at a used bookstore in Brattleboro, Vermont, where I routinely asked the proprietors if they had any Kellyana for sale. Turns out they had just sold a copy of The Glob—their only copy. I was out of luck again.

But then it turned out I was just in the wrong town in Vermont. When I joined Isaac at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction this past June, the first thing I asked for at the Schulz Library was The Glob—and lo and behold, it was in my hands five minutes later. I couldn't take the library copy away, of course, but I was able to snap a few photographs of the gorgeous Kelly illustrations of dinosaurs, saber-toothed cats, and primitive humanity. See for yourself below, and enjoy this votive offering of sorts in memory of my favorite cartoonist, born August 25, 1913, died October 18, 1973.


Dinosaur close-up:

Saber-toothed cat:

Primitive humanity in the guise of the Glob hisself:

And here are the gorgeous endpapers,
a great big scene of animals and people at play:

—and note the bottom right corner, with its echo of awesome old folklore:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Doodle Penance: "8 scenes comics using pronouns"

This week's "Doodle Penance" is going to be unusual, because it's also sort of a trivia contest for you, our devoted (or casual) reader. The term that inspired this comes from someone who was searching for "8 scenes comics using pronouns."

Below you will find eight panels that feature ambiguous pronoun reference, or unclear antecedent.

I leave it to you, Dear Reader, to identify the things to which the pronouns in the following panels refer. (Mike and I have redrawn the panels, or else it wouldn't be a Doodle Penance, and at least one of the panels has been edited to remove the referent.)

For each item in this quiz, the correct answer will be "D: None of the above." Your task is to ferret out and state the actual, specific answer. You can put your answers in the comments section, or you can email your replies to isaac dot cates at aya dot yale dot edu, if you're worried about giving a good answer away.

The person with the most correct answers by the end of the week, or the first person to get all eight, will win a prize from the Satisfactory Comics back-issue archives.

UPDATE! A winner has been chosen! Stay tuned for an answer key!

Here are the questions:


A. Spiro Agnew.
B. Alfred E. Newman.
C. The artist who put my eyebrows on the horizon line.
D. None of the above.


A. Having my horns tickled.
B. Awesome old folklore.
C. Ron Perlman's singing voice.
D. None of the above.


A. Passing my Classics final.
B. Setting all forty-eight VCRs.
C. Applying antiperspirant.
D. None of the above.


A. My pet anole.
B. My new composition for panflute and timpani.
C. My hairstyle.
D. None of the above.


A. A copy of Playboy from the '70s.
B. The Special Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
C. A big bag of Cheetos.
D. None of the above.


A. The collapse of Lehman Brothers.
B. The skyrocketing cost of ink.
C. The rise of furrydom.
D. None of the above.


A. The hatching of a tyrannosaur egg.
B. The blooming of a hybrid tulip.
C. The reconciliation of Alan Moore and Paul Levitz.
D. None of the above.


A. The publication of The Collected Pogo.
B. The creation of heart-friendly Krispy Kremes.
C. The musical adaptation of the film adaptation of the graphic-novel adaptation of a postmodern mystery novella.
D. None of the above.