Sunday, October 31, 2010

Seeing Red

I actually talked my way out of working on my absolute FAVORITE day of the year. To celebrate, I suggested Suzanne come with me to see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2.

So, we're at the theater watching RED...

And we LOVED it! We only wanted to see it so badly because of the comic book series created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner (one of the nicest people in the world). But when the reviews started coming in and once I'd read the book and realized Hollywood changed virtually EVERYTHING, I was a little worried. But, let me tell you, we had a GREAT time.

If you've read the book, you realize it's a quick character study of an ex-C.I.A. operative who gets betrayed by his former employers. It's a great story, beautifully drawn by Cully but there's not a movie's-worth of material there. So I can see where all the fleshing-out was necessary. Somebody read the book, was inspired by it and bought the rights. The important thing is that it got Cully a lot of well-deserved attention and, damn it, the movie was FUN.

The cast is phenomenal, the action sequences are exciting and the relationships are engaging. Yes, the plot was a little convoluted but not hard to follow if you're paying attention. I honestly don't know what critics want from an action movie anymore. Suze and I had a great time and laughed out loud several times.

Oh, and Helen Mirren on the .50 cal. was freakin' HAWT!

Go see this movie, damn it. And happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thing vs. Hulk

With things (heh) heating up at work, I've not had much time to write. I'm working later and now on weekends again. (I'm trying desperately to NOT be at work on Halloween but...) I finished the script to issue 7 of THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR just before the big crush hit but, with one issue to go, it's a little frustrating to not have the chance to wrap it up.

The dialogue-first approach really came in handy (thank you, Jason Aaron) in writing up some tough scenes. Issue 3 and issue 7 contained a lot of historical references and were both research-heavy chapters. I HATE research. I'm not much of a note-taker so I usually end up devising my plot, then reading up on my subject and then, finally, adjusting my story to match the research if I've done something that doesn't jibe. It means, as I write, I constantly have to refer back to my research material. On issue 3, I had a mild panic attack when I couldn't find the item I needed. I wasted an entire evening re-scanning a single book.

That's all over now and it's just wrapping up the story. And I'm itching to get to it. Hopefully, next week. We'll see.

During occasional moments of downtime at work, I had the chance to knock out the above sketch. I've never drawn the Thing before and I was a little nervous about it because Mike's so associated with the character. It's why I never draw Spider-Man, though I love the costume. But a thread on the John Byrne Forum got me all worked up about those classic fights between Ben Grimm and The Hulk so I thought I'd give it a shot. I'm pretty disappointed in the way the Thing came out but I'm very happy with the Hulk, so I guess it averaged out to solid "meh." It sure was fun, though. I think I'll give the Thing another shot sometime soon.

Before I sign off, I thought I'd post the jack-o-lanterns Suzanne and I carved. It's getting to be tradition for us to carve pumpkins with our neice and nephew who come up for a visit around this time of year. I have to admit that I'm a little out of the mood this year because of the crazy summer-like weather (our yard was destroyed last night by a freak storm) and our suddenly busy work schedules. I haven't had much time at all for horror movies. And our diets preclude Halloween candy. But it's really nice to come home to these babies each night, even if they are decomposing faster because of the heat and rain. And there are fruit flies buzzing around them. WTF!??

Here's mine:

And here's Suze's:

Have a great Halloween weekend, folks, and don't forget to tune into AMC Sunday night for the premiere of Robert Kirkman's WALKING DEAD TV show! I can't wait!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Brett Who?

The Packers beat the Vikings at home 28-24. All hail the Aaron Rogers.

Welcome home, Brett. Now get out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Invisible in San Diego

The script for HMDH #6 is with my "editors" (Todd, Suzanne and Christian) so I'm going to take some time this week to regroup and work on the Scholarship Fund brochure and some other much-neglected projects, if possible, before jumping right into issue 7.

This last script was tough because there was a lot of..."emotional content", I guess you'd call it. I'm a very non-confrontational kind of guy so that was difficult to write. I'm hoping my editors come back with mostly thumbs up. As I've often pointed out, I've rarely progressed in any of my attempts at writing beyond the first issue and those are always the easiest. Lots of set-up and character intros. Being this far into the story is new ground for me and it's exhilarating, exciting and not a little bit scary. With everything I've written leading up to what happens in the next two chapters, I find myself wondering if I've telegraphed things too much or, worse, left gaping plot holes that will leave readers disappointed. But it's fascinating for me to see the story develop. A lot changed from the time when I was just figuring out the story to where I am now. Characters have taken on a life of their own and developed away from my original intent. One character in particular, who I hadn't given much thought to, has been a lot of fun to write, just seeing where he was going, and even spawned a couple of ancillary characters that I've grown to love.

You hear writers sometimes say "the story wrote itself." Stephen King claims to rarely use an outline (THE DEAD ZONE, one of my favorites, being an exception) or even know how his story will end until he gets there. I can't really say that because my story is a little plot-heavy. Character development had to take a back-seat (Eamon, Oscar and Chris, for instance, had some scenes cut or severely shortened) to make room for stuff that had to happen. But often, I would get to scenes where I knew what I had to accomplish and roughly how many pages I had in which to do it and I just ran with it, letting the characters do their thing. It has been a real hoot.

Recently, Christian turned me onto Jason Aaron's column at in which he details his experiences and techniques in writing. While it's all very interesting, one thing in particular stood out. He said that, when he's writing a script, he starts out by just writing out the dialogue with no description or notes for the artist. I assume that was to maintain an organic flow to the dialogue. I was finding that I was doing a lot of rewriting of dialogue because, as I was writing, I'd have to pause between "lines" to write "Panel 2: Johnny picks his nose" or some such. It would break my concentration. With this last script, one heavy in emotional scenes, I wanted to keep the dialogue flowing and as in-character as possible. So I tried Aaron's technique, knocking out each scene's dialogue first, then going back and breaking it into panels and pages. It really worked well! I reduced my rewriting to a minimum (we'll see if that's a good thing or not) and it helped me keep my page count in line. If you're writing something for fun out there, like me, I highly recommend you give that a try.


Waaaay back at the end of the 20th century (okay, about 13 years ago) I made my one and only trek out to attend the San Diego Comicon. I had just left my job of six years as Production Manager at a presentation graphics house for a horrible corporate job doing Powerpoint presentations at G.E. and felt my future was a little uncertain. Before I took the plunge and settled on a real career path, I thought I should take one last stab at becoming a comic book artist.

Suzanne was supposed to go with me but we decided it was too much of an expense as we were dirt-poor at the time. Despite the higher pay at my new job, twice nothing is still nothing. So she stayed behind. I packed a lot of snacks in my suitcase (buying meals only once per day), loaded up a ton of sample pages and caught a flight. I missed Suzanne immediately. I'm not as adventurous as she is. I would have had a much better time with her there.

The entire trip was rather uneventful. I remember some of the highlights included a panel featuring John Carpenter promoting his new film VAMPIRES (based on one of my at-the-time favorite books, VAMPIRE$). This was roughly the beginning of San Diego turning from a comic convention to a multi-media madhouse. This was also where I got my brief portfolio review from a jet-lagged and irritable Tom Breevort. He basically raked me over the coals for wasting his time. While his heart wasn't exactly in the right place, everything he pointed out, in retrospect, was true. And the truth, as they say, hurts. I guess it was the manner in which that truth was presented that ruffled my feathers. But Mike liked him a lot so I figured it was the fatigue talking. I also got to hang out briefly with a small group of really nice ILM CG artists who were playing hookie to attend the show. They ooo-ed and aah-ed over my portfolio and told me I should come visit them at ILM which made me feel like James Cameron at the Oscars. But I never saw them again.

The one ray of hope at that show was a Vertigo editor (whose name escapes me) that reviewed my portfolio. I knew, even then, that I didn't draw the "Vertigo way" but I thought a little more abuse couldn't hurt. Imagine my shock when she absolutely raved about my work. She didn't tell me, like Breevort did, that my faces were mushy (they were) or that I seemed to be having trouble settling on a realistic style versus a cartoony one (I was) or that my characters weren't on-model (they weren't.) She absolutely loved my stuff. Her only complaint was that she couldn't tell if I could draw everyday items like cars, backgrounds and so-forth. She told me I would be great for a book...had I heard of it?...called THE INVISIBLES. I had not (I wasn't buying much of anything at that point) but I assured her it was one of my favorite books. She told me to work up some sketches so she could see how I handled the characters and she'd be in touch. I don't know if there was going to be a change in artists on THE INVISIBLES or if the regular artist just needed a break. I didn't care. I just knew this was my chance.

When I got home, I was in a frenzy. I spent the next few days doing the drawings you see above, along with a page of backgrounds, buildings, cars and (inexplicably) the Statue of Liberty. I sent off copies of the work with my contact info. And waited. And I've been waiting for 13 years. Never heard back, despite several follow-up letters. Looking at them now, I don't blame her. I wouldn't have called me back either. Look at the right eye on that lady in the S&M gear. Anyway, soon after, I got my job at the ad agency where I'm working now and quickly forgot about the editor. And forgot about trying to get work in comics.

While San Diego ended up being a colossal waste of time and effort, I did get something to post on my blog today, and that's the important thing.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Todd and Sharon's Southern Tour

Meet the gang.

I had so much fun drawing Sam for the Halloween banner that I didn't want to go so long without drawing again. But since I'm on a real roll with the scripts for HAND ME DOWN HORROR (just about 75% done now) I thought it would be prudent to do some character drawings. I started out planning to do another model sheet for Johnny Dyer (our hero!) but got sidetracked. I just felt like drawing Dana suddenly. Before I knew it, I'd drawn the whole gang. So, in order, from left to right, meet Johnny, Dana, Chris, Oscar and Eamon. I was afraid to take it too far because I hadn't really thought much about Chris or Oscar but once I'd pencilled it, I realized these were the folks I see in my head while I'm writing.

I recently had an email discussion with one of Mike's fans about drawing and the question of style came up. I realized that I'd wasted a lot of time trying to force myself to draw like Darwyn Cooke or Javier Pulido. I love the guys who draw with bold strokes. Looking at their work really inspires me and gets me excited about drawing. But, alas, I just don't draw like them at all. So with this one, I tried to keep my style consistent and just draw like me. I've mentioned that I usually fall back on the Darwyn crutch when drawing females because I love how he draws women with those round, open faces. But not this time. I just relaxed and tried to be me. I really like the result. I really feel like I've found my Dana.

Anyway, I hope you like the sketch. I'm actually looking forward to drawing this thing!


Last year, Suzanne and I travelled up to New York to visit Todd and Sharon for a few days and they were very hospitable and showed us around their stomping grounds. We fell in love with their home and wished we could stay longer. Happily, Todd and Sharon turned the tables on us this year and came down to Richmond and stayed at the Ranch with us for a long weekend. Richmond doesn't have a lot to offer that you can't find just about anywhere else but we did our best to show them a good time.

My parents came down on Thursday to spend a day with the whole gang but they had to leave on Friday. That left us plenty of time to show Todd and Sharon around. The Folk Festival was this weekend and we took them to that and walked our rear ends off. (I thought we would gain weight during their visit but we actually ended up losing!) We took them to the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, shopped in Carytown, gave them a tour of VCU (especially the areas where Mike and I spent most of our time in college) and showed them some historic buildings. We took them to several of our favorite restaurants and, on Sunday, Christian, Angie and my Crom-daughter Lilah met us at our favorite watering-hole, Legend Brewery. We even got to have the movie night that Todd, Christian and I had been wishing for. We sat in my den and watched horror flicks until we dropped. Fortunately, the weather while they were down was absolutely fantastic, though the 90-degree temperatures put a real damper on my Halloween groove. I'm actually glad to see it turning cold and wet this week.

Toonces was a good host but Charlie was especially glad to see his Uncle Todd and was really sad to see him and Sharon go home on Monday. And so were we. Thanks for a great weekend, guys! Here's some photos of the visit:

Okay, that's all for now. Later!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trick 'R Treat!

It's no secret that Halloween is my favorite time of year. Being a horror movie nut all year long, I really go crazy in October. Poor Suzanne. She can't stand horror movies so I'm always running up to my office with a handful of DVDs and it's hard for her to not take it personally. But I can't help myself. I think Halloween should be a national holiday but I guess that would be asking a bit much.

One of the best horror movies to come out in the last decade has got to be TRICK 'R TREAT, Director Michael Dougherty's love letter to the season of ghosts and goblins. I'd been holding off on buying it because the price just wouldn't come down. It was stuck at 14 bucks and I just couldn't do it. It's not that I can't afford it, it's just that after years of buying movies the day they came out, I knew the minute I took the plunge, they'd throw it in the delete bin for 9 dollars. But last week, Best Buy put, of all things, the Blu-ray version on sale for SEVEN DOLLARS (!) and I jumped. Boy, am I glad I did. As much as I enjoyed it the first time I saw it, I downright fell in love with it on Blu-ray. It's got everything. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, gorgeous damsels in distress (sort of), serial killers, kids in peril and, best of all, a brand new horror "mascot." Sam (short, I imagine, for "Samhain") is the commond thread running through four interwoven tales of terror featuring Dylan Baker, Tahmoh Penikett (the dude from DOLLHOUSE), Brian Cox and Anna Paquin, looking surprisingly scrumptious as...well, I don't want to ruin it.

Check out the trailer here:

Sam is such a delightfully designed character that perfectly embodies the spirit of Halloween in a way that Michael Myers could never hope to. He's mischievous, deadly and, well, kind of cute. I just fell in love with the little guy and that's why he's the star of my Halloween banner this year. I hope you like it.

TRICK 'R TREAT is such a fun, wonderful surprise. I didn't think they made these kinds of horror movies anymore. If I'm ever lucky enough to meet Michael Dougherty in person, I'm going to shake his hand and buy him a drink. He made my Halloween. If you haven't seen this terrific little film, do so with haste.


Todd and Sharon are coming down to Richmond to visit the Ringo Ranch (not to be confused with the 'Ringo! Ranch) for a few days. We're planning on running them ragged. If I don't post for a while, that's what I'm doing.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Good Captain

I was talking to Todd the other day (well, emailing him) and somehow the subject of Mike's comic book collection came up. I was complaining about all the boxes of comics in my office and how they're taking over like kudzu and I mentioned how that was the reason I didn't keep Mike's 30-plus-box collection. There were certainly some good books in there and a lot that I didn't have. But I just wasn't prepared, at the time, to deal with sorting through them. And I definitely didn't have anywhere to put them. We ended up giving them to a dealer friend of Mike's (You can probably guess who.) who, instead of just taking advantage, has been selling them and keeping track of the money, which he donates to the scholarship fund. (Have I told you how much we love Mike's friends?)

Anyway, I did flip through them looking for the Kirby DEMON issues because Mike had recently sent me an excited email detailing how he'd won an eBay auction of a complete set. This was before the awesome DC reprint hardcover edition came out. Dad had had a few issues when we were kids that looked interesting but since there were so many issues missing, I never read them. I wanted to see what had Mike so excited. I never found them, though. I did find something else, though. Mike's Jim Starlin CAPTAIN MARVELs.

When Mike and I were kids, Mike was absolutely nuts for Jim Starlin. He would sit on the floor and practically trace the panels from those issues of CAPTAIN MARVEL and the issues of WARLOCK that Starlin drew. Mike and his friend Carlton created their own versions of the characters and Mike drew them in his Starlin-knock-off style. You'd never know it to look at his style later on but Mike spent much of his formative years imitating Starlin, John Byrne and Gil Kane.

Starlin's stuff was so off the wall. My young palette was more suited to the accessible style of guys like Sal Buscema and Jack Kirby. (I also had a love-hate relationship with Frank Robbins. That's nuthin' but love these days.) But Mike was attracted to Starlin's crazy musculature and hyper-dramatic poses. The crazy wind-blown hair and LSD-trippy writing. I have very vivid memories of a 12-year-old Mike drawing his Starlin-lite illustrations.

And that's why, of all those comics (other than anything Mike did himself) I only kept those Jim Starlin CAPTAIN MARVELs. I already had my own copies but these were the ones that helped set Mike on the road to being a pro. I had to have 'em.

That email conversation with Todd inspired this drawing. I knocked it out in an hour on my lunch break the other day. It started off promising but I think I blew it by the end. I was going for a loose look. But loose ended up being sloppy with this. The brush pen I was using had lost it's point and I wasn't skilled enough to work it to my advantage. But I've got nothing else to show (mostly because I couldnt' resist starting to write HMDH issue #6) and also because this drawing cracks me up. Does the face remind anyone else of actor Doug McClure?