Saturday, July 31, 2010

Color as a Storytelling Element.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the use of color as a storytelling element. This isn’t a dissertation, really, and certainly isn’t a tutorial. Merely an observation; an off the cuff observation, and not mind-blowingly thorough, either.

Although it can be used this way in comics, its implementation is much more obvious in film, mostly because in a narrative art setting, it can simply be chalked up to artistic choice or interpretation. In cinema (at least good cinema), bold color choices can slap an audience in the face and make them seriously think about why its there.

Hollywood does this very rarely, choosing instead to use very muted, two tone palettes. I imagine its mostly a way to make things look “cool” (see: Underworld. Ugh). There are, of course, instances in American film where its used brilliantly, but none spring to mind with any urgency. I’m not sure why it evolved in Hong Kong cinema and Bollywood so well and why it didn’t here. The most glaring examples, at least to western audiences, are the films of Yimou Zhang, “Hero” and “House of the Flying Daggers”. That Rashamon style structure of “Hero” utilized color to distinguish not only the story’s point of view, but also served to show the audience what the “real” truth was. On first view it can be easily overlooked, but repeat watches start to bring things together. Its an element I imagine Akira Kurosawa would have used to its full potential. Another, less well known example, was the fantastic Tarsem Singh creation “The Fall”, a wildly surreal and beautiful piece of work. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

There’s a significant chance you don’t care one iota about what I just said, but at the very least if you think about it when you see these films, or any others, maybe it served some purpose other than me clearing it out of my head.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Charles Dana Gibson

Often overlooked for brighter artists such as Norman Rockwell in the realm of great illustrators of Americana, Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944) was one of the primary contributors to the classic Life Magazine.

I would never dream of 2nd placing a master such as Rockwell in favor of anyone else, but somehow I always enjoyed Gibson’s work more. It may have been the subject matter. I always found 1950’s America very sterile and self-indulgent, devoid of the life and sexuality of the 30’s and 40’s in almost every way; architecture, fashion, even in the way people carried themselves.

If anyone rivaled Rockwell in his capture of human emotions, it was certainly Gibson, and any artist looking to expand their understanding and grasp of it should study him carefully.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Red Sonja.

Parts of this sketch that was suggested to me recently feel rushed and oh, man do I hate the stupid wolf in the foreground, but there are also parts of it I'm pretty pleased with. Didn't take the time to fix a lot of little mistakes, as I was hustling to get on to other work. But thats that, and this, is Red Sonja. I believe she's being published out of Dynamite Entertainment, which is on the one hand very cool, but on the other hand not the same publisher as Conan. Still, I suppose it can make for some neat, 90's style crossovers.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Coffin!

While thumbing thru Phil Hester's "The Coffin", from Oni Press last night, I sketched out this doodle (see previous post), and sat down for a quick inkwash session this afternoon. All in all, I'm pretty happy with it. I remembered it having such a unique look that I went and dug it out and that sealed the deal: I had to get me some.


Got carried away doodling Phil Hester's title character from "The Coffin" last night and tight penciled it. Well, as tight as I pencil anything I suppose.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Monarch!!!! And Dr. Girlfriend.

A quick pen and marker sketch of The Monarch and sultry sidekick Dr. Girlfriend, of Venture Bros. fame. Doodled it last night, but was too tired to scan and post. So, here it is.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Meeting Deadlines.

This topic came up recently in artist to artist conversation and got me thinking.

Like a well rehearsed Presidential address, artists who deliver books habitually late will feed you this: "Well, wouldn't you rather the work was good than just on time?". No, actually, I'd prefer it was both. Granted, every artist gets behind because of day-to-day life and unexpected circumstances, but we're talking a day or two behind. And, understandably, there are certain mitigating circumstances that are completely forgivable such as deaths in the family, hospital stays, accidents, house fires and zombie attacks. But (get ready for the ultimate athlete's go-to line) at the end of the day the faithful fan who, by and large pays your salary, shells out $2.50 or $3.99 or $6.54 or whatever the bloody hell comics cost these days deserves to have his book in his hand every 4th Wednesday.

Some people might counter by saying "You only feel that way because you're fast" and they'd be right. But I didn't get fast by accident. I got fast because I don't always want to spend every waking hour drawing, and neither should anyone else! If all you do is draw all day long, not only is it not fun anymore, but you miss out on everything else that makes making art that much more incredible. It should, however, be understood that the preceding statement does not apply to the all-nighters we all have to pull occasionally. Those are just part and parcel of comics. Maybe its just me, but its hard to tell what the consensus would be. I know I'd be mortified to turn work in as late as some artists get away with and still stick my hand out for a paycheck.

And thus endeth the lesson (2 points to anyone who leaves a comment telling me what movie that was from. Relax, its an easy one. No Googling!)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mad Men.

Mad Men and great storytelling. They belong in the same sentence. Like early December football and a slightly-too-spicy bowl of chili.

The more you study storytelling, the more you realize how closely related all the different mediums are. Film, television, novels, music (in some forms, anyway), and obviously, our biz, comics. Sure, there are certain things you can get away with in one medium that you can't in another, and some tricks work less or even not at all in some. But its all tied together by the same, invisible driving force: the storytelling. Its what separates the quality work, regardless of the medium, from the Twilight's of the world (zing!).

I'd love to say that I've studied film and television my whole life as a way to better my own storytelling, but that would be a lie. But now I dissect it voraciously, looking for better ways to make a narrative work, be it in subtext, imagery, dialog or simply in things the average reader would never consciously notice. Those, by the way, are mostly for me.

One of the best, most quizzically obvious (and at the very same time, subtle) examples is AMC's Mad Men. I watched the first Season - Season and a half of this show religiously before I dropped it for a good long time. Not for lack of brilliance mind you, but I needed no extra soul-crushing at the time, and Mad Men was certainly that. As the middle of Season 3 rolled on I got sucked back into once more, seeing a bit more hope in it, and started to tear apart the meat of the story. All the layers. All the subtext and nuance. If there is any show that says more without ever saying anything, I don't know it. Its certainly not for the casual viewer, but any reasonably intelligent human being would realize that 9 out of 10 things they found out over the course of 3 seasons weren't ever actually said out loud! But when something needs to be said, whether for exposition or to figuratively drag the emotion out of the audience, it gets said! I call that a win. And, to be fair, who couldn't look at Christina Hendricks all day? So I thought.

Regardless, I'm looking forward eagerly to dissecting yet another season, pilfering bits and pieces to make myself better at what I do. I suppose the reason it dawned on me to write this down, instead of continuing to simply think about it, is that sometimes saying what you're looking for out loud makes you look harder for it, instead of simply pretending you ar

The Spirit 2.0!

Last weeks "Spirit" sketch, all done up in glorious 4 color majesty by Photoshop Maestro Adam Guzowski! I give him props, this inkwash crap o' mine is not easy to color. Not that I've ever, yknow, tried it or anything. As free time allows, however, I'm considering subjects for an 11x14 gouache painting soon, using a lot of the tricks and nuances I've picked up going full steam on the wash pieces.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


This is a little short I wrote and laid out of the weekend. I wanted a new set of sample pages to mess around with, and to be frank, 90% of samples scripts floating around out there are barfights and people flying.

So, who better to give me exactly what I wanted in a script than me? It took longer than I'd like, but writing is getting easier. And I love (!) silent scenes. It makes hitting the storytelling beats a million times more important. Miss one and the whole thing falls apart!

I don't know who is officially producing Frankenstein comics these days, but the few that turned up when googled where, charitably, awful. Frankenstein isn't a friggin' superhero, people. Lets not make him fight the Hulk just so we can see Frankenstein fight the Hulk.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Alex Toth.

From John Hitchcock's "Dear John: The Alex Toth Doodle Book", this quote is where storytelling begins and ends. It applied 29 years ago when he wrote it and is probably applicable now more than its ever been, except perhaps in the early to mid 90's (cheap shot, I know).

"Economy/simplicity is a welcome, if not vital part of any art form - it is a self-editing process. Comic (books) dwell on "busy" styles today - fans dote on it (more art for the money?) - so, as usual, I'm a majority of one! But I'll go on, my own way, until the last line is drawn - because it serves storytelling best! My aim is not to confuse/confound but to reveal and entertain, perhaps, at times to inform."

-Toth, 28 July, '81

I always end up going back and reading this (pasted above my art table) when I'm thinking "Do I need this _____ in this panel?"


I drew this as a kind of warmup or precursor to something I'm planning to write and, hopefully, draw over the weekend. There's a chance I may not finish it, but this was a good exercise to play around on and it didn't take up all that much time.

Its about one half Boris Karloff and one half Bernie Wrightson. And, even though its impossible, it is also somewhat less than half as good as Bernie Wrightson's. Nevertheless, I'm kinda jazzed about drawing him some more...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Brock Samson.

A quick blog sketch, featuring Brock f@!%ing Samson of the Adult Swims Venture Bros. I have to say I'm really not in love with it, but there are bits of it I dig. Don't get used to the color, folks. For real.


Of the artistic trifecta: talent, professionalism and networking, networking is probably the most overlooked.

I've come to believe there are two types of talent, the blow-people's-doors-off kind, and the foundational, solid, persistent kind. Its not that one can't have a touch of the other or one is more hard working, its just a general distinction.

Professionalism is fairly simple: Be respectful. Don't bother people (in an obnoxious, unwarranted way, that is). Know your boundaries.

Networking is the part I never mastered, or, admittedly, wanted to master. Social networking never was my thing either and I'm still adverse to Facebook, though 6000 tweets later I've obviously caved to twitter. Grr. But when its used properly, in conjunction with your talent, and, more importantly your professionalism, it can catapult you into another stratosphere of possibilities for your work. So use it! Facebook, twitter, linkedin, myspace, comicspace, deviantart, forums, message boards. Get your stuff out there. If you've got the chops, someone will see it.

These are, by the by, my own personal gleanings only. Not to taken as gospel, just like most other things that come out of my mouth. Still, its not all rubbish.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Death Race 2000.

Didn't have too much time today, but managed to squeak out a head and shoulders sketch of David Carradine's Frankenstein from the classic 1975 sci-fi "Death Race 2000", not to be confused with the 2.5 hours of turd that came out just a couple of years ago with a similar name, "Death Race".

Anyway, here it is. Its a little rough around the edges, and this is probably the only time I could professionally justify using speedlines in my art. On the whole, it was pretty fun. Big thanks to Kyle Strahm, who supplied both todays sketch, and one for later in the week!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Spirit.

Kudos go to Don Wood for suggesting The Spirit for tonights blog sketch.

I was thrilled when DC started not only reprinting old Spirit comics, but when some great talent started lining up to make new ones! I admit though, with a few notable exceptions like Mike Avon Oeming and Mike Ploog, to being disappointed at how he was characterized. I saw a lot of macho hero shots and missed the heroic, yet sometimes awkwardly bumbling and beat up Spirit. I didn't, however, see all of it so I don't want that statement to be all-encompassing. And I won't go into the trainwreck that was "The Spirit" movie here, as I can already feel the bile rising. Leave us say that "the city" wasn't the only thing screaming when that movie was shown.

Anyway, if they haven't already, the comictwart crew needs to get on a Spirit sketch. Because, yknow, my ego can take a beating like that.

Big Bad Wolves.

Here's a couple of pages from a little project I worked on last year called "Big Bad Wolves" with Mike Oliveri, set to be released this summer from Ommus at EvilEye Books. I posted my original, unlettered jpegs (because I am SUCH a TEASE).

This was one of the last projects I did with traditional inks and seeing them again has rekindled my love/hate relationship with my old work! Its a larger (very large) part of the reason I almost never open up the giant stack of FedEx boxes filled with old jobs. Still, this was a solid, creepy story that worked really well narratively and I'm uncharacteristically not disgusted with art I did more than a week ago. Huzzah!

Seriously, though, there's some kick-ass stuff ready to be unleashed by these guys, including some stuff by fantastic artist and all around nice guy Dirk Shearer. Do yourselves a favor and go get you some!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Branching Out.

In light of some recent (I hesitate to say "developments", it always sounds too ominous or too exciting) developments and new connections, I've decided to start branching into conceptual art and storyboarding. Not only as a way to supplement the income of comics which is, charitably, like a roller coaster for me, but as a new challenge.

Speed is a precious commodity in any commercial art industry, but particularly in conceptual design where ideas are batted around like a 8-bit game of Pong. Breaking into any new field, or sub-field in this case, is always nerve-wracking, specifically when one wonders if they'll even be given a shot at it.

Regardless, fortune favors the bold, and I have decided to start sending out feelers for work. It seems the old days of resume mailing are mostly behind us, which is nice in this case, since my resume does not actually include "concept artist" (aside from my upcoming work on the film adaptation of my graphic novel Smuggling Spirits).

The traffic through my blog has skyrocketed in recent weeks, for which I'd like to thank you all, and I think its time to capitalize to spread the word. I welcome (and greatly appreciate) any inquiries, references, contacts and other assorted hubbub from my readers and followers and will be updating my linkedin profile to reflect this slight change of gears.

With that said, and as adventurous as I am feeling about it, I will in no way, shape or form be giving up comics. It is absolutely my True Love 1.1 (1.0 knows the deal) and I will continue making them until the engine stops running.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saint of Killers.

Probably my favorite character from Garth Ennis' and Steve Dillon's "Preacher" opus. Aside from murdering all the angels and, subsequently, everyone's dear lord and savior, this was his coolest moment in the series. The whole thing turned out a bit more "painterly" than my usual sketches, which worked a bit to my advantage and, at the same time, a bit against me. It really pushed the explosion deep into the background and backlit the Saint well, but it also muddled up some details I wanted brought out. Going to try to balance the technique a bit more so as to keep the weight of the linework in concert with the malleability of the washed out back and middle-grounds.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


After checking out some of the truly killer Tarzan sketches at comictwarts a while back, the character has been kind of spinning his jungle wheels in the back of my brain. He's one of those benchmark characters that was the archetype for so many of the other action/adventure heroes that followed, and one of many great characters from Edgar Rice Burroughs limitless imagination. I don't think I've ever read an actual Tarzan comic that kept my interest, but after drawing this sketch, I doubt I would object to providing the art for one. Nothing flashy, just more drawrins.

Don Quixote


Yesterday I picked up a book of Gustave Dore's 190 illustrations from the classic "Don Quixote" epic. As a comic artist, its easy to only look at comics; an easy mistake that is. Any artist that doesn't draw on other types of art for inspiration and study is a fool! Much more than half of the problems I've run into in the course of telling a story, be it in a narrative page or a pinup, can be solved with a solution present in some other kind of art; classical, impressionist, contemporary or otherwise. Just not modern art (my contempt for "modern" art is a topic for another time).

Regardless, Gustav Dore was so far ahead of his contemporaries, using linework, depth of field and shading 100 years before you ever saw its like appear in mainstream comics. So much so that a few insert panels would have turned "Don Quixote" into the first graphic novel.

I have to admit, poring over these gorgeous prints renews my interest in seeing Terry Gilliams ill-fated "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" film, reportedly starring Ewan Macregor and Robert Duvall. Its flipped back and forth in limbo for so long its hard to tell if it will ever be made, but it sure sounds fun.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


One of possibly dozens of characters from the Sandman series that would be fun to draw, Delirium is undoubtedly one of the ones that stands out best. There are so many things you can do with Del, not least of which is drawing her differently from panel to panel. Even a photo ref artist could handle that! I almost did this in gouache, but didn't have any good watercolor paper or heavy board around, so I went my standard route. I may slap some color on it later tonight or tomorrow, but don't expect too much from me. A colorist I am not.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy 5th of July.

I hit up the always bigger-than-life 4th of July parade today, held, ironically, on the 5th. Much like the last three years, at least for me, its been missing its best, most beautiful and elusive part that I somehow believe (every time) that I'll find in some grand fashion that only Hollywood could provide. You'd think that three years might've just been enough for me to cash it in and move on, but you'd be wrong. I don't give up so easily.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Flash Gordon.

Thanks to a loyal twitter follower named Carlos Bergfeld, you all get a shot of Flash Gordon. Now, its perfectly possible that I have mixed up eras, comics versus television, crappy movies versus illustrated books, but I kept as best I could to what Al Williamson did with the character ages ago. Far be it from me to question a master such as Williamson, but I will never, for as long as I live, understand why he put this puffy-ass diaper on the hero. But, what the hell, right?

Lightboxing and tracing.

While cleaning out an old longbox and throwing some comics, that would, in my opinion, make better kindling than reading, I came across an issue of a miniseries from the late 90's, early 2000's. I won't say exactly which, and I won't say who, because this artist isn't accountable to me and I have no reason to call him out. But it was, without exaggeration, one of the most shameful uses of tracing I've ever seen. Its a personal and professional preference of mine to avoid art that is plainly lightboxed or traced in some way, based mostly on the fact that it isn't enjoyable to look at. Please, don't anyone take this as some sort of passed judgement on artists who do this as their living. It is in no way a reflection of their abilities, just my own personal puzzlement as to why one would choose to do it they (sometimes) obviously have the talent to draw everything themselves. I can't accept "it's easier" or "it's still my art" as a justification for oh-so many reasons, I'm sorry.

Somewhere along the line, and we'll probably never know exactly why it happened, there was an influx of this type of art shoving aside cartoonists in favor of realistic figures that have the faces, feature for feature, of the people we see when we go to the movie theater.

This one in particular had over a dozen easily recognizable actors popping up throughout the issue. And this, brace yourselves, is the worst of it; it was an issue of Star Wars. This artist, in his wisdom, chose to lightbox actors other than the ones readily available from the original films. That, at least, I would have understood doing, in the interests of continuity.

I'm not entirely certain, and now certainly ashamed, as to why I bought this issue but I assure you it's gone to the recycling bin, at some point hopefully to be recycled into a real comic book, if there is any sort of Karma.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hellboy vs The Incredible Hulk

This turned out a tad more cartoonish than my usual work, and I'm kind of at a loss as to why, but here it is, as suggested to me by friend Aron Guzowski. So, everyone be a dear and thank him for the idea. Anyway, every artist has that one character that they can't get enough of drawing. For most guys in comics, it seems to be Batman or Wolverine. For me, its the Hulk. I do have to say, this is the first time I've drawn Hellboy to my own satisfaction, however.

El Mariachi

Despite recent frustrations, I lightboxed this particular drawing a second time, swallowed my pride and re-washed it. I'm not in love with it with it, but it felt like a cleansing ritual just to see it done. That said, its not a touched up scan, so it won't hold up well to any close scrutinization. Please avoid the "magnifying glass" option currently featured on most modern web browsers. You bastards.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Blogsketch that never was, El Mariachi.

This little bastard, El Mariachi, bled uncontrollably from the start, big unpredictable spidery veins of Japans finest Sumi ink. Ironic that I sprung for higher quality bristol boards when the generic stuff takes a wash 1000% better. Of course, the art store is now closed, so this bad boy will have to wait until tomorrow. Fortunately, the bottom image is a shot of the pencils, which can be easily transferred onto a new board. Regardless, this was frustrating exercise on a character that isn't from a comic, but absolutely should be. I wonder where the rights to him are floating... I would imagine with Robert Rodriguez.