Sunday, August 31, 2008

Todd Dezago: Mind Reader

Hopefully, you’re all having a great holiday weekend. I know I am, despite some moderate to severe back pain. My sister-in-law is up with her kids and we’ve been busy trying to keep everyone entertained and fed. I’ve also been ducking out now and then to check on a friend’s cats while she’s out of town. Like a lot of you are probably doing, I’m keeping my eye on hurricane Gustav, hoping he changes his mind and lets New Orleans off the hook. This one’s looking to be even worse than Katrina and that’s just not fair.

I’ve been lamenting lately the fact that I don’t have any artwork to post. That’s because any drawing time I have is reserved strictly for working on the PERHAPANAUTS story. But I don’t think I ever came right out and said that. Todd deduced it anyway. He emailed me this morning and told me I could post the first page or two of pencils if I wanted to and that Christian could do the same with his inks when he’s done. So here’s page one. I’ll share page two later. Any more than that may be showing too much. I started on page four this weekend and hope to have that done before I go on vacation next Saturday. However, I’ve got a portable light table and the awesome portable drawing table Craig Rousseau gave me at Heroes (Thanks again, Craig!) so I should have all I need to work with while I’m at the beach if I have to.

Looking at this page made me think about Mike. (Actually, what doesn’t?) I remember when he first started out and was doing the Doc Savage mini for Millennium. He was really enamored with Brian Stelfreeze’s artwork at the time (well, actually, that never stopped) and was sort of trying to emulate his style while he was doing it. I think it caused him some frustration because he didn’t really draw all that much like Brian. By the time he was doing the backup stories in JUSTICE LEAGUE QUARTERLY, some of the “Brian” was falling away and Mike was starting to loosen up. Then, he got the FLASH gig and I remember his five minutes of elation turning to panic because this was his first regular monthly gig. He did a few preliminary sketches of Flash but pretty much had to jump right in. (I remember him freaking out because the first page was a series of panels featuring, like, a Ferrari and a Ducati and something else fast. Here was his first issue and Mark wasn’t cutting him any slack!) When the Flash arrived on the scene, you could tell Mike was struggling to get a feel for him. Every panel looked like a different artist had drawn him. There were a couple of Kubert panels, some Infantinos. Maybe a Stelfreeze. It took a couple of pages before Mike’s Flash showed up. Eventually he got a a real grip on the character and really started to make him his Flash.

And that’s why Mike’s run on FLASH has always been my favorite of his work. Because you could see his process at work on the page. You could see his struggles and the rawness of his art. It was very endearing. For me, anyway.

Now, I’m no Mike. And I have no intention of making drawing comics a fulltime career. But I feel like I’m experiencing a little of what Mike was going through with FLASH on this project. Though I did some character sketches, when I started on this, I didn’t really have a feel for the characters yet. If you look at that pin-up we did, Big and Choopie don’t look anything like they should. And here, on page one, I’m still feeling my way around them. Check out Choopie in the bottom right panel. He’s so off-model it makes my head hurt. I drew that head fifteen times and couldn’t get it right. If Christian wasn’t already inking it, I’d still be noodling with it. But, I promise, by page two, I’m pretty sure I’m getting a handle on him. And I think Big looks okay on this page and by page two I think I’ve got him down. There are some questions I probably should have asked the boys before I started out. These are hard characters to draw. Craig makes it look so easy and he has such a unique style that I’m finding it difficult to draw Big and Choopie and some of the others without flat out imitating Craig. But it’s do-able. I saw that clay sculpture of Choopie someone did and I have no idea how they pulled that off. But if someone can translate Craig’s Choopie into three dimentions, I can certainly translate these characters into my style and make them work.

I have to admit I was chuckling to myself a bit when I was drawing that first panel. It gave me fits when I was trying to figure out how to stage it. It seemed that I wasn’t going to be able to get in everything I needed to draw without cheating but I finally figured it out. Once I did I decided to have some fun with Christian and I spent a long afternoon drawing that monitor screen with all the grid lines and the vortex. I thought it would drive him nuts and so I ribbed him about it. He just shrugged and said, “Whatever. I have a ruler.” Blast! He did ask me to stop filling in the black areas though because it was making his ink slide off the page. So the next page (and the ones I won’t be posting) will be a little looser.

I hope you like the page and have a great holiday!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Creepy Obsession

I should be drawing.

I'm close to finishing my third page of the 'Haps story Christian and I are working on but I can't get this out of my head. Last week, I picked up Dark Horse's CREEPY ARCHIVES HARDCOVER VOLUME 1 which reprints CREEPY issues 1-5. I read the thing in less than three days. That's impressive for me. With comics, I tend to linger of the artwork, especially if it's drawn by someone I admire. Plus, I usually do my serious reading in bed before I turn in. That usually means I can only read two or three pages before Suzanne ends up putting my book somewhere safe because I've most likely fallen asleep with it on my face. It's why I have three years worth of comics to read and two sets of shelves full of unread novels. It's why, when Christian loans me a book, he doesn't get it back for six months or more.

But this book was different. I described it to Christian as "a tasty little treat" and I think that's true. The artwork is amazing. These pages were lovingly drawn by artists at the top of their game. Al Williamson has always been a favorite artist of mine and this book is a perfect example of why that's the case. There's also a nice Alex Toth story and other stories drawn by guys who looked to be having the time of their lives. Most of the stories are written by Archie Goodwin who was a huge fan of the old E.C. horror comics and it showed. The majority of the stories have twist endings and feature vengeful zombies crawling their way out of the grave to inflict supernatural justice on their killers. To be honest, the stories get a little repetitive when you read them all at once. But they're so much fun you won't care. I breezed through this volume. Suzanne warned me to slow down but I couldn't put it down. I read it in the car on the way to work, while I was eating dinner and while I was supposed to be watching the Olympics with Suzanne. She told me I'd finish it too quickly and be sad. And she was right. When I finished the last story I wanted more. But I'll have to wait until the end of the year for Volume 2.

What surprised me most about this book wasn't really how fast I read it but how utterly inoffensive it is. When I was a kid, Dad used to bring home all these great horror magazines. CREEPY, EERIE, VAMPIRELLA, MONSTERS UNLEASHED, DRACULA LIVES!, VAMPIRE TALES and a bunch of the Skywald books. There were even a whole slew of Warren knockoffs with horrible stories and art but with these terrifically lurid covers. Most of these books were not intended for kids but Dad didn't have any problem with Mike and me reading them. And I absolutely devoured them. I've always been a horror nut. I love that tingly feeling in my spine when I get scared. And the Warren books provided that feeling in spades. It started with the covers and went straight through to the ads in the back. Even the logos were scary. Whenever I wanted to be freaked out, I'd crack open a CREEPY or EERIE and I was never disappointed. That's why I was so surprised at how...sweet...the feeling was that I got while reading the Archive volume. The cumulative effect I got from the book was almost a sense of...cuteness. I know Goodwin would probably be disappointed but there it is. These books were done in the Sixties but they ran through until (I believe) the mid-Eighties. So I suspect as the Archives progress, the stories will get a little darker in tone. I know they eventually introduced harsher language and nudity. More mature themes. But, whatever. Dad didn't have a complete run of these magazines, having missed a few of the early issues. So it was nice to finally see how it all started. (Heck, there was even a story detailing the offbeat, funky origin of Uncle Creepy himself.)

This book was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it. I can't wait for the next volume and also for the upcoming EERIE Archives. I wish Marvel would start putting out nicer editions of some of their horror stuff. The TALES OF THE ZOMBIE Essentials was nice but these full-size hardcovers are the bee's knees.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


It's really late but I thought I'd try to get in a quick post tonight. I just finished a page of pencils for the PERHAPANAUTS backup Todd and Craig are allowing Christian and me to do. Before I start the next one, I thought it would be a good idea to catch up on my backlog of emails and put in an appearance here.

There have been a couple of times this past week when I wanted to post but it was usually to acknowledge the passing of someone I admired like Bernie Mac or Carlos Meglia. But I was tired of posting sad things and I was starting to feel like a press agent for the Grim Reaper. So I passed. Problem is, I don't have any new art to show. Well none I can show, anyway. The only thing I could dig up that I haven't posted before is this page from my aborted SINGULARITY project. I've mentioned it before. It's one of my multitude of projects that have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another. With this one, there were just too many aspects of it that kept popping up in other stories like SPIDER-MAN 2 and SUPERMAN RETURNS. As this would happen over and over, I'd change aspects of the story to be less similar. When I saw the last episode of Season One of HEROES I gave up. I knew if I changed one more thing, it wouldn't be the story I wanted to tell anymore and so I gave up.

I'll save the plot synopsis for another post but here's the first page of the first issue. Like a lot of my stories, this one started with a flashback. When I write something, I try not to worry too much about whether or not I can pull off the drawing. If I did that, my stories would be about two bodybuilders posing in a white room talking about cake recipes. I try to have fun with the writing and worry about the art later. That was the case here. I suck at drawing women and kids. And, hey! Look! A woman and a kid. Throw in some passersby in street clothes and some cobblestones and you've got the makings of a tedious first page to draw. Funny thing is, I enjoyed the hell out of it. I was really trying to channel Darwyn Cooke here. Unfortunately, I'm learning that only Darwyn Cooke is Darwyn Cooke and that I just need to draw like me if I want it to turn out right. Still, I think this came out okay. Especially after Mike gave me some pointers on how to draw kids that don't look like 30-year-old men. I had to do some digital corrections to the kid's face in panel four after talking to him but it was a definite improvement.

I really miss working on this story. It was one of the few stories I've worked on that had a beginning, middle and end already worked out when I started writing. And it was also my most personal story. But, like Mike told me, when you work on something for eighteen years, someone's bound to beat you to the punch.

I hope you like it. Most likely, this is all you'll ever see of it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One Year.

I can't believe it's been a year. I really can't get my mind around that.

I could go on forever about how busy we’ve been the past few weeks but I think my absence from the blog speaks for itself. And that’s not what I want to be posting about anyway. As a lot of you already know (as evidenced by the thoughtful emails and phone calls I’ve been getting), today is the one year anniversary of Mike’s death.

I thought it would be like any other day we’ve had this past year. Some good, some bad. I’ve had plenty of distractions lately to keep me from dwelling on it too much. Appropriately, we had a house full of people this morning including my parents and several guests from the land of Mike’s birth. I think Mike would have liked that. (Especially since they weren’t staying in HIS house. :) )My parents are dropping them off at the airport in D.C. today and though they’re physically and mentally exhausted from the last three weeks, I’m glad they aren’t spending the day alone. Mom’s taking today especially hard.

I’d already had my cry with Mom today, so I thought that was that. But although I don’t usually believe in this sort of thing, I really felt like Mike was with me this morning as I got ready for work. I turned on the radio in the bathroom and almost immediately The Fray’s “How To Save a Life”, a song that I associate with Mike, came on. It was one of the few songs he had on his iTunes and, judging by how many times he’d played it, it was a favorite. We played it at his service in Durham and it sends me over the edge every time I hear it. I stopped what I was doing and just listened to the song and let the tears come. Afterward, I showered and when I came out, “Feel Good, Inc.” by Gorillaz, another of Mike’s favorites, was on. It was too much of a coincidence. I just know Mike was telling me something. Reminding me he was still looking out for me.

Tonight, Christian and I, along with some other friends of mine that knew Mike, will be going to a local brewery to have a few drinks in Mike’s memory. Mike wasn’t a big drinker so I don’t know how appropriate that is but I know I could sure use a few.

A year ago today, it was Sunday and Mike was sitting down at his drawing board, working on the layout for what would be his final page for his WHAT IF...? book. I was up on the roof of my gazebo, putting on shingles. It was a lovely day and I was finishing a project that I’d been dreading for a while. Life was good. A cool breeze blew in and I remember closing my eyes and thinking, “This has been one of the best weekends EVER.”

Your life can change completely, or even end, in a single moment. You probably won’t see it coming. I keep thinking about all the phone calls and visits I put off because I didn’t want to keep Mike from his work. I know life kept getting in the way and he wasn’t able to be as fast as he wanted to be and that it frustrated him greatly. I didn’t want to contribute to that. So I always tried to pick just the right time to call. It was a real juggling act. I wish I could do it all over again. I’d call him every day, deadlines be damned. I’d visit every weekend. I’d say all the things I never got to tell him.

Damn, I miss my brother.