Thursday, August 27, 2009

What's Cookein'

That's what I think Darwyn Cooke should call his blog. If he had one. Which he doesn't. But there is the next best thing. Apparently his friend, a fellow named Calum Johnston, has a blog up called "Almost Darwyn Cooke's Blog" where he puts out official Cooke news tidbits approved by the peerless one himself.

Mr. Cooke even posts there occasionally. The last time was to hand down some great critiques of the submissions to his "Draw Parker" contest. Can you imagine getting complimented on your artwork by that guy? I'd poo my pants.

Anyhoo, there's some pretty cool stuff there so check it out HERE.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gruesome Discovery

With all the traveling and other obligations I've had lately, I've been bummed that I haven't had time to draw, much less post any sketches. I've about exhausted all my old stuff too. But then I remembered some of the items I found when I was moving out of my sweet old window seat at at work. This stuff really brings back memories.

Back in 1988 (twenty-one years ago!) I was a junior at VCU, studying filmmaking. Mike, though five years older, was attending college at the same time. We had different majors (Through a strange stroke of luck, I'd gotten into the Communication Arts school while Mike somehow ended up in Fashion Illustration.) so we rarely had classes together unless we agreed on an elective that interested us both. History of Animation, a night class, was such an elective.

At the time, we were living in a crappy little university-subsidized apartment off-campus (waaaaay off-campus) with a couple of nice, friendly guys who'd gone to high school together. While we all went to the occasional party, our isolation (and my standoffishness) kept us at home most weekend nights. Lucky for me. Because that's how I discovered Dr. Gruesome.

Dr. Gruesome's Movie Morgue was a late-night show on Saturdays on the Richmond FOX affiliate (brand new at the time) in the vein of Elvira and Hilarious House of Frightenstein. The good doctor wore fake glasses and moustache, a mop for a wig and a lab coat. He and his "assistant", the tutti-fruity-wig-wearing Skeeter, hosted old horror movies, doing skits before and after commercial breaks from their cardboard and plywood "laboratory" set. The show was produced on less than a shoestring budget, the jokes were horrible and there were no production values to be found. (Though, somehow, Gruesome pulled off a live, on-camera effect of Skeeter's head exploding into a cloud of confetti.) And I was mesmerized.

Being a fan of all things horror-related (I was a subscriber to FANGORIA for years) I ate the show up. Mike and I tried to never miss a show. So, imagine our elation when we discovered that the instructor of our History of Animation class, Mark Bartholomew, was Dr. Gruesome. Mike and I almost went through the ceiling. I don't remember how it came out in class but the reactions of the students ranged from "meh" (most of the ladies) to "well, that's kind of interesting" (the majority) to "HOLY #$%*ing SHIT!!!" (Mike and me.)

I tried to keep the fanboy hero-worship to a minimum but I think Mark got a kick out of having some fans in his class. I brought in the Commonwealth Times (VCU's rag) article about him for him to autograph. (I've attached it below.) One night, when he couldn't make it to class, he even had Matt "Skeeter" Pak fill in for him. It was a blast. And the class was very cool too. Mark knew his stuff and was a great teacher. Mike and I were exposed to amazing animation we didn't even know existed. And Mark covered all the bases from Gertie the Dinosaur to Snow White to Bugs Bunny to Star Blazers. I got to write a paper on Ray Harryhausen and an essay on Bugs Bunny's cross-dressing proclivities.

But the highlight was definitely meeting Dr. Gruesome and Skeeter. I was so taken with them that I decided to draw a comic book story about them. I've since lost the first page (which is about how far I got) but I did find the cover which I've posted above. I think I was going for a John Totleben inking style which was appropriate for the material, I guess. I hope you like it.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Two Years

I really didn't want to post this and I have a lot going on but I also don't want people to think I'm not, well, thinking about it. Yes, tomorrow marks the second anniversary of Mike's death. The first year was such a blur dealing with have to deal with when a loved one is gone that when I looked up, I was shocked to see that a year had passed. This year was a little different but no less painful. I don't go a hour without thinking about him in some way. Of course, Charlie's presence is a constant reminder. I was attending a panel last week in New Orleans, listening to a lecture by Danny Bilson. I had just found out he'd worked on the TRANCERS movies (really bad movies that Mike and I loved) when I thought, just for a split second, about sending Mike an email about it. It brought tears to my eyes, as it always does but it passed quickly. I guess I'm getting used to it. Part of me is glad but mostly I feel guilty about it. I don't think I should ever stop crying about it.

But I don't want this to be a sad post so I'm going to tell a funny Mike (and Mom, Suzanne and me) story. It's definitely one of those "you had to be there" moments but it's something I remember so fondly I want to tell it.

About five or so years ago, my parents went to Italy for three weeks to visit some friends from Dad's Army days and they took Suzanne, Mike and me with them for one week to show everybody how big we'd gotten. (In my case, it was really big. I'd ballooned to 300 pounds and was several months from my much-needed weight loss.) Every time we were re-introduced to someone, they'd look at us and say, "Aaiiieee! Que grande!" (I realize that's probably written in Spanish but it was said in Italian. :) )

We visited two older people named Filicina and her husband, whose name escapes me. They were two of the sweetest, friendliest people I'd ever met and they didn't speak a word of English. Suzanne and I didn't speak any Italian but Mike had retained enough from his childhood to at least follow the rudiments of a conversation even if he couldn't really participate in it. We also kept joking about not knowing any Italian by quoting Steve Martin's routine about visiting countries that "don't have the courtesy to speak English." We mostly just smiled and listened to my parents talking to them. Italian really is a lovely language.

At some point, we'd ended up back in the home of Mom and Dad's good friend Bruno (where we were spending much of our time) and Dad was off somewhere with Bruno and his daughter Theresa. That left the rest of us in the living room speaking, thankfully, exclusively English and talking about our visits. Filicina's name was pronounced "Fill-a-chee-na" but we couldn't remember how to say it to save our lives. We kept calling her "Fettucini," which we thought was the height of comedy. We kept cracking up over it which I think annoyed Mom because she was so fond of her. Eventually, Mike realized none of us were mentioning her husband by name and said, "What is his name, anyway?"

Without missing a beat, I said, "Alfredo."

Mike instantly burst out laughing, followed by Suzanne. Most people don't think I'm very funny so I was taken aback at Mike's reaction at first but eventually, since the laughter went on for so long, I couldn't help it. I broke up. Mom was bewildered for a minute until she got it and then, despite herself, laughed out loud. We laughed so long and hard that our faces turned purple, we were crying and could hardly breathe. Mike did that thing he always did where he'd laugh a little, then repeat what made him laugh and break up again. Which would send the rest of us back into a hopeless fit of laughing again. I don't remember how long it went on but I'm surprised we all survived it.

From that day on, that nice, sweet couple was known as Fettucini and Alfredo. Bless their hearts.

Thanks for that day, Mike. I miss you, bro.

UPDATE: Newsarama has a wonderful retrospective of Mike's life and career here. Thanks to Scott Weinstein for the link.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Coming up for air!

Wow. That was a hell of a two weeks.

I just worked 101 hours in 8 days which has to be some kind of record for me. (I even slept under my desk one night.) And it feels weird that it’s over. I’ve been dreading this new business pitch for a couple of months now and it was as brutal as promised but, now that it’s over, I realize how much fun it was. New business pitches are always different than the day-to-day drudgery of working at an ad agency. Especially in my department. During these times, you aren’t as much of a grunt as usual. There’s so much to do in so short a time that Studio Artists like myself don many hats, becoming a mutant combination of artist, project manager, art director and sometimes even copywriter. The Creative Directors (maybe out of desperation) put much more trust in our abilities and really rely on us to step out of our comfort zone. As the Art Director on one of the campaigns was out of the office for the week and the agency was incredibly shorthanded, I was thrust into the additional position of having to carry on his work for him. It was terrifying and exhilarating and gratifying all at the same time. Alas, we did not win this particular account. If you know where I work and follow the trades, you can probably do the math. It was a huge disappointment. Not so much for the money, though I’m sure there are bean counters somewhere shedding a tear, but for the work. This would have been a fun account and I had a blast working on it. It allowed me to exercise muscles I haven’t had to use at work in a long time. Ah well. We’ll get the next one.

Now I’m heading off, with a coworker, to SIGGRAPH for a week. It’s sort of a Heroes Convention for people who do computer graphics for film and video games. This year it’s in New Orleans, a city I’ve never visited, and I’m very excited for the opportunity. I’ll be attending panels and papers and so forth practically from dawn to dusk. Folks from PIXAR and other computer effects houses will be there. (Like the guys that worked on STAR TREK!) And it will all be very fascinating, I’m sure. My work schedule has taken its toll on the 3D graphics stuff but I still enjoy it very much. It’s just that the timing is unfortunate. I have some personal stuff that needs to be done and this will put it off yet another week. Still, I’m going to try not to be too whiny about it. These opportunities don’t pop up too often for folks in my department and I want to take full advantage of it. Maybe it will spark something that will get people at the agency excited about our 3D capabilities.

Which brings me to my video project. I mentioned a while back that I was working on something fun that would help me learn how to integrate all the cool new software we’re learning at work. Cinema 4D, Final Cut Pro, After Effects. Maybe some Flame if I’m lucky. I was making some good time. I’d modeled my main character and rigged him. But I got stuck on the weight mapping and then time became a factor. Work has been a real bear lately and I’ve got some other commitments outside the office. Some personal, some professional. So I’ve had to make a tough decision and I’m going to put the video on hold for a while. I’ll try to work on it as time permits but time ain’t permitting much lately. Thing is, I’ve been dying to share. I’m usually pretty good at keeping secrets but I’m the kid who was always running to Mommy with my latest drawings so she could tell me how great I was. So this is my adult version of running to you guys and yelling “Oooh, oooh! Look what I did!”

The idea was to produce a fake movie trailer for a film adaptation of one of my all-time favorite comic book characters. These things are all the rage but usually involve a live person dressed up in tights. A lot of these are really good (GRAYSON stands out) but they often try to tell the entire story and run a little long. This was going to be no longer than two-minutes and take some of the iconic moments from the series and bring them to life in a coherent trailer. It seemed like things were coming together. I had been casting in my head, even had the lead actress (though she wasn’t aware of it…I’m pretty sure she could be convinced) had some locations figured out and had about half the scenes worked out. I even had people volunteering to help including a coworker who aspires to be a stuntman and is very good friends with a group of retired Hollywood stunt and effects guys. The problem, as it always has been, is time. Just not enough of it.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s what the project WOULD (and may still) have been:

Before I cut this off, I wanted to leave you with a few sketches since I haven’t done any in a while. I’ve been reading the SWAMP THING hardcover recently that reprints the early Wein/Wrightson/Redondo issues and have been just captivated. I have to say I prefer these to the Alan Moore issues. Yes, they were brilliant, but I’m and old-school guy at heart and the artwork in these books is just astonishing. I remember being hugely disappointed when reading Dad’s copies as a kid and suddenly Wrightson’s issues end and this guy with a weird name takes over. I’m so glad DC included Redondo’s first few issues in this collection because they’re stunning. It’s funny how your tastes morph as you age. Or maybe I just have always hated change. Because Redondo is actually a better draftsman than Wrightson. Wrightson’s work is beautiful and perfect and I love it but the Redondo stuff is just a joy to look at. If you haven’t picked up this collection yet, I highly recommend you do. I just hope they do the same with the rest of the series and include the Pasko/Yeates relaunch. Yeates, too, is an under-appreciated artist.

Anyway, I drew the two inked sketches around 4:00 a.m. and they leave much to be desired. It never pays to ink when you’re delirious from lack of sleep. I saw what I’d done the next morning(s) and decided they weren’t worth finishing. But I was still on the Swamp Thing kick and gave the old muck-encrusted mockery of a man another shot. I like the headshot better but didn’t have a chance to ink it. Hope you like these more than I do.

Okay, I’ve got a ton to do before I head to Nawlins so I’d better get to it. Have a great week and…