Friday, April 30, 2010

No way am I calling this post "Fisting it."

My last post got me thinking about all the cool B- and C-tier characters at the Big Two that I loved as a kid. Even more came to mind. KOBRA, DEADMAN, GHOST RIDER, THE DEMON...a few others.

It occurred to me that Mike was the same way. We used to trade titles back and forth all the time but it was usually the large collections like SPIDER-MAN or AVENGERS. Once a creative team moved on and Mike lost interest, he'd start eyeing what I was buying to see if one of "his guys" was working on it. His guys were John Byrne, Jim Starlin, Mike Ploog. Even then Mike was becoming a student of comic art, studying people he thought he could learn from. (My "guy" was Sal Buscema and though Mike appreciated his work, he wasn't necessarily sparked by it creatively. So he never traded for THE INCREDIBLE HULK, ROM or NOVA.)

But Mike rarely gave up the small books. The only one I can remember was SPIDER-WOMAN. He read it, wasn't impressed and turned it over. Somehow, I ended up trading it for something else later on. When he got his hands on one of those little gems like Joe Kubert's RAGMAN or OMEGA THE UNKNOWN or MS. MARVEL, however, he held onto it for dear life. He read CAPTAIN MARVEL, WARLOCK, THE CHAMPIONS and IRON FIST to tatters. He'd let me borrow them, which I often did because I wanted to see why he was so fascinated with them. I knew the books were quality but I was five years younger and much more appreciative of the the more simplistic rendering of my beloved pal Sal. It wasn't until much later that I realized what I was missing out on but by then Mike had those books bagged, boarded and under armed guard.

Thank Crom for reprints. Marvel and DC have gone reprint crazy lately and, unlike horror movie remakes and the 3D crap going on, I'm actually enjoying this trend. It's enabled me to read all those great old books and soak in the artwork that I didn't get a chance to when I was a stupid kid and jumping up and down at the latest issue of HUMAN FLY, US1 and TEAM AMERICA. One of those books is IRON FIST. It was one of those books that seemed to scratch so many of Mike's itches at once. Great John Byrne art, fantasy elements, mature (not to be confused with adult) stories, martial arts (Mike loved Kung Fu movies and took Karate lessons) and had those great Dave Cockrum covers. Best of all, since it was written by Chris Claremont, it had close ties to the X-MEN, Mike's favorite book at the time. I didn't get to spend much time with the books but I remember the incredible art and coloring (Byrne brought out the best in his colorists back then) but I never actually sat down and read them cover to cover. My only exposure to 'Fist was his appearance in MARVEL TEAM-UP, also drawn by Byrne but somehow allowed to remain in my possession. It was enough. His iconic appearance (including his Spider-Man-style eyes) and the great story in that TEAM-UP two-parter were enough to cement him on my list of all-time favorite B-characters.

As I was drawing the above sketch, it occurred to me how great it would be if Marvel had a book set in the Marvel Universe of the '70s, not tied to any modern continuity but with fun, self-contained stories and a rotating cast of B-listers in their classic costumes. Mike would have been perfect for a book like that. It seemed to be his curse that every time he was assigned to a book, it would get sucked into some stupid crossover that would change the character's look (Iron Spider, anyone? JEEZ!) and he wouldn't get to draw the "classic" design. He probably wouldn't want to draw the book because it wouldn't be tied into current continuity and he was very career-conscious but I would have loved to have seen it.


I often bitch about the hours I work and the past two weeks have been no exception. (70 hours last week.) But it does have one beneficial side-effect. When I have down time while I'm waiting on someone else to do their bit so I can do mine, I get to draw guilt free. Who's going to give me grief for sketching at 9:00 at night (or even 2:00 in the afternoon) when I'm not going home until 3:00 in the morning? This sketch was finished in record time. I was very surprised at how fast I managed to draw it, even though I don't think I spent more than five consecutive minutes on it at a time. I wasn't even going to ink it. I was going to just go over it in traditional pencil, but I'm trying to get comfortable with inking my work in preparation for THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR, assuming I ever get to go back to work on it.

I really like how it came out. I'm getting more confident with drawing legs and feet, something I've struggled with in the past. And I think I'm finally starting to like the hands I draw. I was recently telling someone who e-mailed me through the blog that I read a post on Mike Manley's site that really helped with that. He mentioned that, if you're struggling with a particular body part, spend an entire day drawing only that, over and over, from every angle. Before you know it, you'll know how to draw it. I'm no expert by any means, but that bit of advice really came in, um...handy.

Since I really hate the way I draw women, I may start doing more of the female B-listers to get over that hump. But first, I have to do a drawing for my buddy Christian's little girl Lilah. I won't say which character it is that he's asked for but I can say I've never drawn him before and I'm really looking forward to the challenge. That will probably be my next post. Okay, gotta go crawl into bed. On top of all the hours, I'm working, Todd has somehow given me his cold from 300 miles away. Have a great weekend and I hope you like the sketch.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Kickin' and Creepin'

Suzanne and I went to see KICK-ASS this weekend. I was really expecting to not like this movie. I greatly dislike movies that make fun of geek culture. Granted, there’s a lot to make fun of but it’s such an easy target, it almost feels like bullying. (It’s the same reason dwarf jokes always set my teeth on edge.) But in the case of KICK-ASS, it felt like the filmmakers were laughing with us. Not at us. The geeks (including Kick-Ass himself) are all portrayed as earnest, well-adjusted and pretty darned likeable.

We had a great time and laughed almost constantly, despite the brutal violence, most of which was being committed by the 11-year-old Hit-Girl. I wasn’t sure what to make of a homicidal, pre-pubescent, cherub-faced kid but the whole movie is tongue-in-cheek, so I just went with it. And, let me tell you, Hit-Girl steals the show. I don’t usually like precocious kid actors. (Dakota Fanning, for instance, has always given me the creeps. She was like a forty-year-old woman trapped in a little girl’s body.) But the kid playing Hit-Girl is different somehow. Despite the fact that she kills almost everyone she meets and spouts four-letter words without batting an eyelash, she still maintains an air of adorable sweetness throughout. And I like the fact that her mask is always slightly askew, making her look slightly cross-eyed.

Her dad, the strangely permissive “Big Daddy”, was played by Nicholas Cage, who also tends to grate my nerves, but he was very good in this, doing a riff on Adam West that had me in stitches.

There was also some nice John Romita Jr. artwork on display (given a neat 3D treatment in spots) and the soundtrack (despite being a compilation album and not a score) was, well, kick-ass. All in all, it was a great way to spend an evening. I highly recommend it.

This post’s sketch, I suppose, should have been of Kick-Ass (love that name!) but I was already well into the Creeper drawing before seeing the movie and decided to take advantage of having some art ready to post.

I was inspired by the recent hardcover compilation published by DC of all the Steve Ditko Creeper stories. I was always a big sucker for all the third-tier characters put out by the big two. At Marvel, I loved Nova, Rom, Omega, Deathlok, Nighthawk, Shroud, Black Panther, Vision...If there was a character without his own book or one that lasted less than 25 issues, I was a fan. At DC, it was Firestorm, Black Lightning, Eclipso, Metamorpho, Steel, Blue Devil...and The Creeper.

His origin was standard Ditko fare. Reporter Jack Ryder gets injured and happens to be near a doctor who has created a special healing serum that bestows superpowers. The doctor, upon supplying the serum to Ryder, is shot and killed by mob gunmen. This was very similar to the character The Destructor that Ditko created for Atlas Comics a bit later. Even I admit that The Creeper looks ridiculous in his slapped-together Halloween costume (assembled from odds and ends at the last minute to sneak into a mob costume party), including a red sheepskin rug (!) but somehow it works. Steve Ditko had a real knack for designing compelling characters. (Spider-Man, anyone?) Maybe they wouldn’t have looked like much in real life but, on paper, they were wonderous.

When I still had comic-book artist aspirations, I put together a couple of sample pages featuring The Creeper but never finished the samples. But I’ve always enjoyed drawing him. The new hardcover gave me the perfect excuse. I really liked where the drawing was going but ran out of time last week and ended up rushing it at the end to finish up this weekend. So the background didn’t quite come out like I’d hoped.

Anyway, I hope you like it.


Monday, April 12, 2010

California Dreamin'

Been a while, hasn’t it?

My delay in posting hasn’t been because I was busy. Quite the opposite. Suzanne and I went on a much, much-needed, week-long vacation to California. Suzanne’s Dad has a brother in L.A. and one in Las Vegas and we all went out there for a bit of a family reunion and also to celebrate Suze’s and her sister’s birthdays. I didn’t mention it here because, as I’ve pointed out, it’s not wise to announce on the internet that you’re leaving your house unattended for a week. Actually, that wasn’t really the case this time as Mom and Dad watched the house and the cats for us so we could enjoy ourselves without worry.

We had an incredible time.

The plane ride over was surprisingly smooth. A brief layover in Dallas split the trip nicely in half. I hate, hate, hate flying in planes but I have to commend Continental for a very pleasant ride. Both legs. On the second half, they played a movie on those little drop-down screens. I didn't want to pay the 3 dollars for headphones so Suzanne suggested we try our iPhone earbuds and, what do you know! We each only got one channel but it was a nice distraction. Problem was, they showed a movie called HACHI, A DOG'S STORY and I really don't know what they were thinking. It's the biggest heart-wrenching tear-jerker since THE YEARLING. Suzanne and I were crying like babies and, as I checked around, so were a lot of other passengers. I was still sniffling when we got off the plane.

We enjoyed hanging out with Suze’s cousin Michelle (a member of the LAPD) and her partner Renee (who is currently one of my favorite people in the world) and their amazingly smart toddler for a couple of days. Then we moved in with Michelle’s poor sister Lisa, her husband John and their two adorable kids who had to put up with us for five days and nights.

We crammed in a lot during our week there including a pool party at Lisa and John’s (featuring Uncle Mo’s famous Mogaritas) and a trip to the beautiful Huntington Beach. We got to finally eat at In and Out Burger (a personal goal—hey, I’m easy.) We also spent two straight days at Disneyland (I’ve never been so tired in my life.) where I was cajoled by Michelle to ride my very first (and, coincidentally, last) rollercoaster ever, California Screamin’.

I’m petrified of heights and this was a nice refresher course on why that is so. There were a lot of great non-coaster rides at Disneyland (some we rode multiple times) and I had a much better time than I expected. I’d taken a paperback book in my coat pocket and never even looked at it.

It was really great seeing the three brothers get together. I'm very fond of my Father-In-Law. He doesn't get to see his brothers very often. They almost couldn't live farther apart and still be in the same country. So it was pretty touching. I admit to feeling a little envious and I missed Mike quite a lot on the trip. We gave Michelle a copy of TELLOS for Jake when he gets older and that made me feel good. Especially when she saw Mike's name on the cover and made the connection and we talked about him for a while.

But, for me, the best part of the trip was the last night there. Suzanne and I had given her West Coast posse a break and decided to spend the night at a hotel across from the airport as our flight left extremely early Saturday morning. On the way to return the rental car, Suzanne suggested, as an afterthought, that we check out the Santa Monica pier. I eagerly agreed, despite the traffic, because it was still early and I secretly had hopes of catching a glimpse of the parking lot where Jim Rockford’s trailer was on THE ROCKFORD FILES TV show. That didn’t happen but we did have fun checking out the pier. We spent about twenty minutes or so sitting at the very end of the pier just staring out at the ocean and feeling the wind in our hair. I was more relaxed and content than I have been in such a very long time. I didn’t want to leave. But it was getting dark and we had a lot to do to get ready for our trip home.

The flight back, unfortunately, wasn't nearly as pleasant as the trip over. This time, it was U.S. Airways and there were no free perks like meals or movies. The planes seemed more cramped and our layover was in Charlotte, N.C., so it meant a longer first leg. To make things worse, the air conditioning was much weaker so that, when the baby in the next row crapped his diaper, it was painfully apparent. I was really suffering but Suze didn't smell anything. I started to doubt myself until we both saw the mother pull back the kids pants and jerk her head back. She walked her two kids (the other being barely a toddler) up to the forward bathroom. A flight attendant was laughing with a passenger in first class and, as the woman passed with the baby, her head jerked up and she started fanning the air in front of her face. She looked like someone had just painted a mustache on her lip with Mr. Hanky. I called out "Aaiiieee! Un skunk de pew!" while miming fumes passing our noses and Suzanne and I broke up laughing for at least ten minutes. We were grateful when we landed in Richmond.

Well, I’ve got a rough week ahead so I don’t know if I’ll be able to post for a while. I hope everybody had a nice Easter holiday and enjoyed this great weather we’ve had. It’s long overdue, in my book.