Tuesday, August 28, 2012

King Kirby Day 2012

Today would have been Jack Kirby's ninety-fifth birthday.

As I have for the past couple of years, I spent a little time today copying a panel drawn by Kirby that lodged in my visual imagination when I was a kid and never completely got dislodged.

Don't look at it too closely. My work really suffered from a combination of scale and tool choice: I was drawing this way too small for it to get inked well with my ready-to-hand combo of brush pen and medium-fine Rapidograph. The colors are pretty nice, though.

Why do I do this? The pictures still, after all these years, have an eerie power for me, most of which comes (I think) from the seriousness with which I studied them when I was little.

Suppose you're walking in a ruined theater, where no one has set foot for twenty years. There's a little old upright piano in the dusty backstage wings, and out of curiosity you plink out a chord. The notes are hollow, weak, and a little sour, but you have to be impressed that they still play.

That's the way it is for me with these pictures. I think I would recognize that "organic director" in any context, even though Kirby only drew it once. (Lightray refashions it into something less horrible before we get another clear look at it.)

This year, I invited a few of my friends to join me in my observances.

Scott Koblish drew a panel from Kirby's run on Captain America.

Check out Ben Towle's Lockjaw pinup.

And dig Damien's Mark Moonrider.

I didn't have to invite Bully to commemorate the occasion, of course. He did it all on his own.

Ditto, Adam Koford, natch.

And Evan Dorkin? Nuff said.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Alphadonjon: N is for Narboni

This week's Alphabooks Dungeon entry is pretty much my only option, but I think he's pretty cool.

N is for Narboni. He seems to be an undead rabbit wizard. He wears a cassock and sandals, and his forearms are skeletal.

Narboni lives for the first seven pages of the first story in Vol. 1 of Dungeon: Monstres. He's one of the crew of monsters that William Delacour encounters, including John-John, then cons into accompanying him to locate the Dungeon. We haven't seen the last of this crew of monsters; not hardly. I think the only one of them that I won't be drawing is Metacarpus, the one-eyed zombie pirate cat with hooks for both hands.

Anyway, Narboni meets an untimely end (decapitated and then burned, since his severed head is still trying to cast a spell) before we can get to know him very well. I'm not even a hundred percent sure that he's supposed to be a rabbit.

The pose is a little awkward, but I wanted to make sure I showed off his free-bone forearms and his sandals.

I had a slightly different version, but then I tweaked the shadows a little bit. Probably the tweak is not even noticeable. I had a hard time figuring what color the shadows cast by eerie green Ditko magic would be.

What I meant when I said Narboni was almost my only option is that there really aren't many Dungeon characters whose names start with N. And this is just going to get worse in three or four weeks. I'm planning to cheat just a little bit when that time comes. You'll forgive me, won't you?

Next week: a sultry dragon lady and a chicken-octopus ninja.

Alphabooksbeasts: N is for Nagaina and Nag

Well, don't look too closely at this week's Alphabooks entry. I'm not very happy with it, and I'd draw it over again if I had time, but I've been preoccupied with other stuff.

So this is supposed to be N is for Nagaina (and Nag). They are, as you may remember, the mated pair of cobras who threaten the household in Kipling's "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" (in The Jungle Book). Nag is killed by a shotgun blast while fighting the eponymous mongoose, and Nagaina swears her revenge.

Cobras are cool-looking creatures, as we all know. Doing my image-searching for this post, I discovered that people do some pretty strange things with cobras.

Next week: a canine or two.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kickstart Some Postcards!

Have I mentioned that I'm running a Kickstarter campaign, trying to finance the publication of some postcards based on last year's Animal Alphabet project?

This is what one of the postcards is going to look like, featuring Ben Towle's "O is for Ostrich" and Rich Barrett's "O is for Octopus."

It's going well already. The project has enough backers that I am surely going to take the postcards to the press. I mention it here in case it's news to you, because if I get enough support I'll be able to publish the postcards in a larger edition and more nicely.

Late Update: If you've located this post and are interested in buying a set of the cards, please visit the Satisfactory Press Storenvy site, where the cards and a selection of other goodies are available.

Arthurian Alphabooks: M is for Morgawse

My belated contribution to the Arthurian alphabet for M is the lady Morgawse, who, in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur, is the wife and later widow of King Lot of Orkney; half-sister and lover to a young King Arthur; ill-fated paramour of Sir Lamorak; mother, by Lot, of Sir Gawain and his brothers Aggravain, Gaherys, and Gareth; and mother, by Arthur, of Mordred.

If the names Lot, Lamorak, and Mordred mean anything to you, you appreciate the trouble that this woman finds herself in (and participates in or contributes to herself, whether wittingly or otherwise). She's pretty enigmatic because she remains only faintly drawn by Malory: the occasion of great desire in others—at one point Lamorak is overheard lamenting aloud about the emotional anguish his love for Morgawse causes him—she never gives voice to her own desires. But given her sexual history—which includes a long liaison with the son of a man whom her late husband's sons believe to have slain their father during Lot's war against her half-brother Arthur—I think it's fair to assume that she had rather strong feelings and desires of her own.

She also pays for her desire in one of the most shocking and brutal scenes in all of Malory (and that's saying something). Malory's narration of that scene includes wickedly painful details delivered in a laconic style that makes their hurt seem worse than a more empurpled prose would have done, and there's some astonishing dialogue, too.

For this drawing, I took a new tack to the preparatory phase, doodling quick rough sketches on a magnetic doodle pad that belongs to my daughter. You know, like the one Isaac used here. A pretty efficient medium for trying out visual ideas, actually!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Arthurian Alphabooks: L is for Lancelot, late [hors série]

My drawing for L—an obvious choice of Sir Lancelot—is over a week late, and my M drawing is not even begun; so my apologies to Isaac for mucking up the blog's alphabetical continuity, though he can attest that I did draw my original attempts at Lancelot several days before the deadline. Too bad they were L for lousy—so unsatisfactory that I took a while to come up with an alternative, and in doing so I broke one of my own unofficial constraints for this project, so the image above is presented hors série. It's a cartoony version of Lancelot as portrayed by John Cleese in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (on my DVD copy of MP&HG, which begins with an abortive short about dentistry, the pose crops up about 22:09 into the film, with Lancelot toward the left of the screen as part of Arthur's retinue shortly before they are accosted by God Almighty).

The rules I'm breaking here have to do with my interest through this project to discover what images of Arthurian characters I may harbor that are not consciously derived from specific prior visual interpretations—other artists' drawings or actors' faces, mostly. Where possible, I've also tried to follow the visual cues provided textually in whatever single work of Arthuriana I have taken as my reference for a given character, even in a given moment. (My first bad attempts at Lancelot were based on a description of the young man prior to his dubbing to knighthood—not yet the mature lover or seasoned fighter, but that's where the fullest physical description of him that I know of him could be found in the Old French Prose Lancelot.)

Here, I'm not only relying on someone else's image of Lancelot, but on an image born in a visual medium to begin with—no Arthurian book to speak of! (Unless, of course, one accepts "The Book of the Film" as a book; and it is glimpsed very shortly before the scene where I paused my DVD for the sketch. See also Isaac's earlier ripostes to the sort of pedantic literalism about Alphabooks that in part defines my book-centric approach.)

Incidentally, one of the current Alphabooks images—an M drawing—is also Arthurian, though it is of course not one of my drawings (it's by Axel Medellin, and I recommend his Achilles and his Illustrated Man, as well!). It's another obvious, even necessary choice—M is for Merlin—and I'm glad to see Merlin get some attention there since he will not be featured in my Arthurian alphabet here. And yet, the purist in me is a bit disappointed, because while the drawing is technically excellent, it is presented as a portrait of Merlin as featured in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur—yet it shows him with an owl perched on his shoulder. Malory nowhere associates an owl with Merlin, whereas Merlin's familiar owl Archimedes is indeed familiar from the first part of T. H. White's The Once and Future King (and its Disney adaptation, The Sword in the Stone); indeed, the cover of my paperback edition of The Once and Future King prominently features an owl, probably Archimedes himself, swooping toward the famous sword while knights and ladies are relegated to the background. (Meanwhile, for an Alphabooks drawing of Archimedes by Sarah Pittman, see here!)

For the record, I should note that I like Axel Medellin's image of a kind of catchall Merlin, drawing on a variety of widely recognized wizardy motifs; but I don't like seeing it presented as Malory's Merlin, whose appearance is a lot harder to pin down (since Malory never really describes Merlin outright, save when Merlin is disguised as someone other than himself!). Just compare Burne-Jones's famous painting The Beguiling of Merlin for an effective image where the wizard has no beard or staff or owl—but he does have the languid yet haunted expression of a man who is resigned to be buried alive because he is so "besotted" with love for Nimue/Ninian/Vivian.

(Then again, I may just be touchy about the Alphabooks image of Merlin because for a long time I had a professional interest in staying on top of the details of literary Arthuriana, and whether or not Merlin has a familiar owl seems to me like a matter of some importance. By contrast, it didn't at all bother me to see Axel Medellin's futuristic take on Homer's Achilles, and I don't think that's just because the artist copped to its being "a very, very free interpretation.")

Monday, August 13, 2012

Alphadonjon: M is for Marvin and Marvin the Red

For this week's Donjon Alphabooks entry, I am blessed with a double-barrel dose of warrior-sidekick awesomeness. M has got to be for Marvin and Marvin.

Although they are currently unarmed, they're ready for trouble. Or perhaps for a truly awesome rap battle (probably facing off against the Ill Lithids).

Marvin (the Dragon) is really one of the main characters in the whole course of Dungeon. He's Herbert's mentor and best friend in the Zenith stories, and under the alias of the Dust King, he is one of the heroes of the the Twilight volumes. He has a terrific blend of honor and pragmatism, of mischief and solidity, of wisdom and insecurity. He might really be the most interesting character in the whole series, not least because of the terrible sacrifices he makes between Zenith and Twilight.

Plus, he has a very metal wardrobe, doesn't he? For pants he wears a skull on chains as a codpiece. (Actually, he has several different outfits; this is the one from the very first volume, Duck Heart.)

Marvin the Red (a sort of demon rabbit) is, more or less, the Dust King's troublemaker sidekick in the Twilight volumes of Dungeon. He's a dangerous warrior in his own right, but he's impetuous, overconfident, and selfish. So in fact, like Hyacinthe and Herbert, these two wind up knowing each other well, but not when they're the ages they have in this image.

Well, if you're interested, here are my notes. It took me some work to figure out some good "fight-ready" poses, and I think these notes are hampered by the size of the scratch paper I was using.

And hey, we're halfway through the alphabet!

Next week: oh, just your average zombie wizard.

Alphabooksbeasts: M is for Moby-Dick

I've already drawn the Futurama analogue of this guy (in 3-D, no less), so let's say that for this week's Alphabooks M is for Moby-Dick.

It's hard to capture the size and sublimity of Moby-Dick in a cartoon drawing on a computer screen (or in a book). In fact, I have an essay in my head somewhere about the difficulties of translating Moby-Dick into comics, and one of the insurmountable problems has to be the intimate scale of the images in a handheld comics page. Really Moby-Dick needs to be cartooned on the scale of Guernica or the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Anyway, I thought one approach to the problem would be to show as little of the whale as possible. There's also a lot of talk about the blankness of his whiteness, and the way that people therefore project meaning onto it. I thought it'd be fun to make as much use as I could of the blankness of the computer screen, too.

You can tell me whether you think that's effective. I will acknowledge that I ripped off the composition, in part, from a painting that Scott McCloud brings up tangentially in Understanding Comics.
And I have another image for you.

I once visited Arrowhead, Melville's home in the Berkshires, where I was told that, in the winter, from the window of his study, Mt. Greylock looked like a white whale. It seemed implausible to me. But I figure that if you have whales on your mind, over time almost anything will start to look like a whale.

Like, for example, this cloud I spotted earlier this summer.

Maybe it'll help if I show you what I mean.

Is it just me? Have I started seeing whales?

(Really I think that cloud looks more like a bowhead whale than a sperm whale, but I swear that before I got my phone ready to take the picture it was a much better Moby-Dick likeness.)

You know Moby-Dick's not really supposed to be uniformly white, right? He's sort of marbled.

Next week: a married couple you wouldn't invite to a dinner party.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Alphabooksbeasts: L is for Lockjaw and Lockheed

This week's non-Donjon Alphabooks entry comes from some of my favorite books when I was a kid and a teenager. That is, if you're willing to count them as books.*

I think it will surprise no one to learn that I read a few Marvel Comics between the ages of four or five and fifteen or twenty. I was pretty into The X-Men during the Byrne-Smith-Romita years, but nowadays I'd toss those books on the pyre in favor of some old-school Stan-and-Jack Fantastic Four. That's the real stuff.

So let's say L is for Lockjaw and Lockheed.

Can you tell from my inking which of these characters I'm more fond of?

This is another drawing that didn't get much time to develop (owing to the fact that I only finished "K" yesterday and had three ideas for entries today). In fact, I used my preliminary doodle as pencils, taping it into my notebook and tracing with a brush through the flimsy Moleskine paper. Here's the doodle:

Do you recognize the pose, or the background I swiped for the finished drawing? Identify the source (of both; it's the same source) in the comments section below, and I will happily send you a couple of alphabet minicomics or some other suitable back-issue prize.

Next week: things get deep (and briny).

*I know I'm stretching the definition of "books" for the second week in a row. All I can say is (a.) comics, even superhero comics, are fair game, (b.) these guys are definitely in some "books" now if they weren't then, and (c.) if you're anxious about it I have another post for you.

Alphabooksbeasts Bonus: L is for Larry

As with last week, I find myself thinking that I should do a quick extra Alphabooks entry, so as to be sure I really have a complete and legal alphabet by my own self-imposed standards.

So, all right, here's a little lost dog from a book I bought a little less than a week ago: L is for Larry.

Larry is the star of the Larry Gets Lost series, from which I found Larry Gets Lost in Portland while I was browsing at Powell's. It's attractively cartooned in a sort of simplified retro style, and it actually turned out to have some good tourist information in it for a first-time visitor. Without Larry's help, I might not have noticed the Portlandia statue, and I might not have sought out the Portland Dog Bowl.

Larry does not, at least not in the book, visit Mill Ends Park, the smallest park in the world (at 24 inches in diameter). If you like, you can think of my drawing there as supplementary apocrypha. If you're heading to Portland, why miss Mill Ends Park?

Well, to tell the truth, I was never able to get into Mill Ends myself. If I'd tried to put one of my feet in it, I might have crushed a third of its foliage or warped its solitary sapling. It's designed for smaller folk, of course.

Give me a few minutes and I'll put up my "real" post.

Alphadonjon: L is for Lothar, Luxor, and Lublino

My six-month love letter to Trondheim and Sfar's Dungeon comics continues with this week's Alphabooks entry, showcasing three characters from "Night of the Lady-Killer," the fourth volume (in the American editions) of Dungeon: Monstres.

L is for Lothar, Luxor, and Lublino. They basically appear only in this one volume. (Lothar has like a walk-on cameo in the second Early Years collection.)

Lothar is an enforcer of sorts for Dr. Hippolyte, who brings a lot of stray monsters into the castle that will one day become the Dungeon. (This volume is set during the same time period as the Early Years volumes.) All we know about Lothar is this: he's "faithful and devoted ... so long as you give him a deer every day to devour."

Lublino (the pig) and Luxor (the rat) are among Horus's classmates in necromancy at the college in Antipolis when Alcibiades arrives there. They're both pretty unsavory, to tell you the truth, and they probably deserve whatever Lothar has in store for them.

There wasn't a lot of "process" with this drawing. I didn't give myself much time to think about it. I wasn't planning to put Luxor and Lublino into the drawing until I realized I needed for Lothar to be doing something. It's easier to come up with a pose for these drawings if I have someone else for the character to interact with.

One thing I messed up between doodle and pencils, as I can see now: Lothar should be a lot broader than he is in my finished drawing. Maybe shorter, too, but definitely broader.

Next week: two of the most important and most dangerous warriors in the whole Dungeon series.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Alphabooksbeasts: K is for Katalpa Kwakk-Wakk, Kolin Kelly, Kiskidee Kuku, and Krazy Kat

My other belated "K" entry for Alphabooks takes us away to the desert Southwest, to the precinct of Kokonino, in the same neck of the woods as Monument Valley and the Elephant's Legs (or Feet).

Once I got it into my head to draw a character from Krazy Kat for the letter K, I couldn't limit myself to just one. For the record, the busybody duck, Mrs. Katalpa Kwakk-Wakk, was the first to occur to me, but she's not the only Kokonino denizen to sport those initials. There's also the brickmaker Kolin Kelly, and of course Krazy him/herself, and his/her erstwhile love interest, the sensational character find of 1930, Kiskidee Kuku. (He's a poodle.)

Kiskidee Kuku's appearance in Kokonino unsettles the natural order of things. Offissa Pupp and Ignatz Mouse are on the outs with Krazy, no bricks get tossed, the jail remains untenanted, and eventually pretty much everyone just up and leaves town. Over the span of several Sundays, things go wobbly, then (of course) everything settles back down again.

Anyway, there's a picture of the problem jauntily trotting into Kokonino.

I tried to keep the colors in my drawing close to a duotone print, because I don't really think of Krazy as happening in color, despite the splendor of Southwestern geology and the fact that the Sunday Krazys were in color for years.

I "get" Herriman's doodles about as well as I get Trondheim's character designs (I can fake Herriman's backgrounds all right, and I can do a passable Ignatz from memory), though I wasn't sure about replicating them with a brush instead of a nib. And let's face it: drawing Krazy Kat is like forging someone's signature. Herriman drew all of these characters as doodles, really, and if you draw the same doodle several times a day for decades, it's going to pick up some personal idiosyncrasy.

I hope I have at least rendered Krazy &c recognizably. Please let me know what you think.

Now, if you are a purist and don't consider Krazy and her compeers to be "characters from a book," I have two things to say to you:

First, although they were designed for a more ephemeral medium, I know them from books. It's true that I saw Krazy in the local free weekly, or maybe the Daily Texan, while I was an undergrad, but I knew her/him first from the collection edited my Patrick McDonnell and others and from the weird novel by Jay Cantor. And my love for Krazy has only been extenuated and enriched by the Fantagraphics collections.

Second, I have a post that will "count" anyway. So there.

Next week: a couple of Pet Avengers.

Alphabooksbeasts Bonus: K is for Kriss

This isn't my "real" Alphabooks submission. It's just a speedy doodle that I colored very quickly. Maybe you've seen these Monster "graphic novels" (albums, really) by my hero Lewis Trondheim.

I only have a couple of them, and I have to admit I've only glanced at them so far, but they look really fun. Monster Dinosaur, in particular, seems to have a kind of funky jam-comic quality to it, involving dinosaurs drawn by a host of French (and other?) alt-comics heroes. I can spot one, for example, by David B., and I think there's one by Craig Thompson, too.

Anyway, I don't know much, but I can tell you that the family's eponymous monster is named Kriss.

Also, he is totally fun to draw, like so many Trondheim creations.

Okay, hold on. Let me get the real entry online.

Alphadonjon: K is for Kadmion

I'm sorry this week's Alphabooks submissions are coming so late. I was traveling last week, and while I was traveling I was reminded of an essay deadline that had passed back on June 1. Immediately on returning home I had to pretend to be a scholar, instead of pretending to be a cartoonist.

Anyway, better late than never, right? The Donjon entry for K is Kadmion.

There's not a lot to know about Kadmion, apart from the fact that he's the Dungeon's head administrator. (He's in charge of things like making sure the monsters get paid or fed.) He has been an associate of Hyacinthe's since the latter's days running an underworld syndicate (before the Dungeon itself was conceived), and he seems to be stalwart and sturdy.

He's also a lot of fun to draw, as a character design. Some of the Dungeon characters seem to make sense to me right away, and it was easy to start filling my margins with Kadmion doodles.

I even drew him a bit during my recent travels. (Here, I am drawing him in Chicago, at the beginning of a layover.)

And yet, as much as I enjoy drawing Kadmion, I had trouble deciding what to make him do. I guess dungeon administration doesn't lend itself to interesting poses the way that monstering or Olf-monarching does.

I figured I could have him a little shocked by something unseen on a scroll. Then I realized that I should make the scroll reveal how late he was for his own deadline.

On Monday: a really great monster who somehow vanishes before the Dungeon is a Dungeon.