Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas, Mike and Looking Forward

It’s amazing how easy it is to get out of the blogging habit. I’ve been out of town or away from my computer so much in the last couple of weeks that I’d almost forgot I even had a blog. I can see why Mike forced himself to adhere to a 3-a-week schedule.

While the days and weeks leading up to Christmas were horribly draining and stressful, the actual holiday itself was pretty restful. We spent three days at the house of Suzanne's sister, her husband and our niece and nephew. While Suzanne was pretty busy cooking with her sister, I got some much-needed sleep and actually had time to read a novel (Brian Keene's DEAD SEA), something I haven't done in months. I was so excited to be reading I finished the book in two days. We also did lots of eating. It seemed like as soon as we cleaned up after one meal, Suzanne and Jennifer started preparing the next one. I contributed by cleaning off the table and washing dishes after each meal. But as soon as the crumbs settled, I was back to my book.

It was fun watching people open their presents this year. Usually, buying presents is a chore. Trying to get something cool on a budget is impossible. And usually Suzanne ends up buying stuff for her family and putting my name on it because I'm terrible at figuring out what to get. But, this year, I tried to cheer myself up by getting people gifts they'd really like, budget be damned. We got Suzanne's sister an iPod. She's runs for exercise, like me, and was carting around a big CD player in a hip-bag. I used to do the same thing and, every third stride, the damned thing would skip. So getting her something cool that she could use made my day. I couldn't wait to see her face and it was worth every penny. I also had the pleasure of giving my nephew a stack of all-ages Marvel comics, including one written by Jeff Parker. He knows Todd from TELLOS but it was neat to give him another book that one of Mike's other friends worked on. I'm never sure if Ricky like's comics or if he's just humoring me but he seemed genuinely excited about getting the books this time. And we were able to track down the Optimus Prime Transformer toy he wanted on Amazon. And, finally, I went out at 4:00 a.m. on Black Friday in November to get my Father-in-Law the Season 3 DEADWOOD DVD he needed. He's too considerate to ask for it but we know how much he loves the show and we were determined he was going to have it. He just treated himself to a 65" HDTV (believe me, the man has earned it) and I'm so glad we got him the DVD to watch on it. He's been watching and rewatching the first two seasons for months.

Christmas morning, I called my parents. They spent their first Christmas alone in about 44 years and I felt terribly guilty about it. Suzanne offered to let me off the hook and spend it with them but I hated to be away from her at Christmas. Once I spoke with them on the phone, though, I regretted my choice instantly. Mom started crying, though she swore to herself she wouldn't. We cut the conversation short because we were both unable to speak. I called back that afternoon and we were both feeling much better. Mom had opened her presents and talked to Suzanne and Jennifer and my Mother-in-Law and it really perked her up. We decided we're going to visit them over the New Year's holiday and that really made her happy.

Suzanne got our nephew a Poof! foam football like the old Nerf balls they used to make before they started adding all that stupid hard plastic crap to them that makes them impossible to throw. We went out with my brother-in-law and threw the ball for about an hour. It reminded me of when Mike and I use do the same thing with our Dad. We'd stand as far apart as we could and launch the ball as hard as we were able. That wasn't far because the Nerf was so light the wind would put up too much resistance. But we'd sail it about 50 yards on a calm day, assuming we didn't hit one of the power lines stretching diagonally from the pole to the house. I can still hear the sound of it whizzing through the air. We spent many hours in our youth doing that and we'd still do it for "old time's sake" whenever we both visited Mom and Dad's house on the same weekend. Throwing the ball with my nephew on Christmas day wasn't quite the same—he's young and can't launch it like we did—but it sure brought back bittersweet memories.

I thought about Mike a lot this past week. More than I thought I would. Thanksgiving was our holiday, so I thought the worst was over. But it seemed like just about everything I did, every comment that was made, brought back some memory of Mike. Very often, I'd get an almost uncontrollable urge to call him about something, reach for my cell phone and quickly realize there was no point. Nobody would answer. As a matter of fact, we finally had his phone disconnected last week as we've at long last finished the repairs to his house. That really deflated me. Not just the fact that disconnecting the phone was one more reminder that we've lost him but the guilty realization that it was only after his death that I was able to commit his phone number to memory.

Since things have started to calm down a bit, with the holdiays almost over and the work on the house virtually complete, I've finally got time to think. The constant distractions have had a numbing effect and I've not really had time to deal emotionally with the fact that my brother is gone. In order to function, I had to shut that part of my brain off, at times visualizing myself physically pushing thoughts of Mike to one side. After a time, it got to be second nature and I've actually been worried that something was wrong with me. That I was too calm. What kind of monster adjusts to a loss like this so easily? Didn't I love my brother? Am I that insensitive? Fortunately, this week has put those fears to rest. Mike has been with me a lot, constantly in my thoughts to varying degrees. Sometimes he makes me smile. More often, though, it's more crying.

2007 has been a weird year. I've lost the best friend I've ever had but gained several really good friends because of it. Most of all, I've realized just how wonderful the friends I already had truly are. Still, despite all the terrific people we've met and all the kindnesses we've experienced in the last four months or so, Suzanne and I have decided that we're really not sorry to see 2007 coming to a close. I know it would be foolish to expect an arbitrary date to have any effect on our fortunes but I have to say I'm looking forward to 2008. If only because it's not 2007. I'm not sure you could call that optimism, but it's something.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas

I'd planned on posting some more character sketches but I only have one and I'm not that satisfied with it. And now we're heading out in an hour or so for my wife's sister's house for Christmas and I wanted to at least wish everybody a nice holiday on my way out. Oh, heck. Screw P.C.ness. I wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. And if you're of a different persuasion, Happy Hanukkah or Kwanza or just plain have a great Tuesday. Whatever suits you. 'Cause that's how I roll. And now I'm rollin' out of here.

Be safe, happy and cozy. See you when we get back.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Doodles

Working late last night, I really wanted to take the opportunity to write more on my story but, unfortunately, this was a case of people coming to my desk every ten minutes or so all night. Writing is difficult with constant interruptions. Drawing, not so much. I made the best of it and did some more character doodles. I decided to give my villain a little messier 'do. I think it makes him look more fierce and formidable. Lest the other characters feel left out, I sketched up my protagonist, Johnny Dyer. (No, he's not named after the jazz musician. His last name comes from a distant uncle of mine and his first name comes from my all-time favorite fictional character.) Unlike most of my designs, I think I nailed it the first time. This is the kid I see in my head when I'm writing.

Johnny has a circle of friends that, at the moment, are a little fuzzy, visually. I have an "impression" of them in my head but it's always difficult for me to get that on paper, particularly when it comes to female characters. I draw simply horrible women/girls and have no sense of fashion. I did some hunting on the internet today, looking for inspiration but got a little skeeved by some of the pictures that came up when Google-searching "teenage girls" and stopped that very quickly. Had a little better luck with "teenage fashion." Last week, I tried Mike's trick of using hairstyle magazines but nothing struck my fancy. Finally, the lady that served me coffee at Starbuck's tonight had the right look but I think she got the wrong idea when started studying her face and I got embarrased and left.*

I'm really dying to get back to work on this. It helps to keep my mind off things and it's fairly therapeutic in that way. Alas, tomorrow's not looking good. Work may be rough and there's a good chance my ultra-cool neighbor Michael will be coming over to watch the game on our HD setup because he doesn't get the NFL network. And he just wants to get out of the house. I only suspect this because he's hinted at it, oh, three or four times in the last week.

* This gives me an idea for a later post about using real people as models for character designs. Hmmm...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Messin' With Sasquatch Part II

Wow. When I get busy, I get busy. Haven’t had much time to do much of anything lately. Work is going nuts. And it’s worse for Suzanne. She was at the agency until 5:00 a.m. last night and then came right back with me at 9:00. Why is it that doctors and lawyers and bankers and all the other important, necessary professions work normal hours, have social lives and children and people who work in the arts always live at their friggin’ desks? I’ve never understood that.

Anyway, the other night I was here late (as I am tonight) and I had some time to kill while I waited for something. I fought the almost uncontrollable urge to sketch and instead started writing out my story. Jeff Parker gave me some great advice on how to get started and, though I haven’t quite worked everything out yet, the technique he suggested has really worked wonders. I usually write everything out in my head before I get started, beginning to end, and it takes forever for me to actually start typing. So this was a new experience for me. One of the earliest scenes was something I was dreading because I didn’t know quite how to handle it. As I was typing, it just spilled out onto the keyboard. It’s also been a blast writing something new instead of constantly reworking the same four or five concepts I’ve been toying with since college. I’ve finally let most of them go and it’s been very liberating. Writing a new story has been very exciting and refreshing. And the fact that it’s horror (well, more Terence Fisher than Eli Roth), something new to me, is a lot of fun.

One of the roadblocks for me has always been the fact that I’m not confident enough in my art to write stuff I don’t think I can pull off. But in this case, I’ve tossed that aside and I’m pretending I’m writing for someone else. I’m just going nuts with it and throwing in all kinds of moody stuff I don’t think I can draw. I’ll probably hate myself later but, as Leaf would say, “bucket.”

Unfortunately, work has kicked in and with all the Christmas crap (Um, I mean stuff, honey! I love Christmas! Honest!) I’m not really able to spend much time on it. Worse, I’ve stalled out on the Perhapanauts pinup. I have to use the light table at home for my final pencils and, since I’m virtually trapped at work and in Durham, drawing is a luxury lately. Still, I promised I’d post the second rough, so here it is:

I tried to fix the weird tangents Craig Rousseau pointed out and I fleshed out some things a little more. I also tried to make the Megalodon a little more fearsome. Most importantly, I fixed Big’s pose. In the first one, his legs were a little awkward and I don’t know what the hell I was doing with his left hand. Here, I’ve switched the dipper to his left hand to give it something to do and made a fist with his right to make him more, I don’t know, manly? I drew this rough with an Ebony pencil and those things are great for quick sketching. They just glide over the paper. I love how the shadows on the deck came out. (Yeah, I know the shadows on the barrels are messed up. I’ll fix that.) I wish I could transfer that effect to the finished pencils but I usually use a lighter, thinner lead for the finals so they won’t smudge and everything’s coming out very tight. While I think it’s looking pretty good, the final pencils are losing some of the energy I like in this one. I guess I’ll never be Darwyn Cooke. Sigh.

Okay, back to work. Gotta make the world safe for advertisers.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Remembering Mike

I'd intended to post my second rough for the Perhapanauts pinup but I thought this was more important. Suzanne and I just got back from a weekend in Durham, working on Mike's house. Though we had a great dinner with Andrew and Vanessa Neal and Richard and Colleen Case, we were feeling a little depressed. It hit us around lunchtime today when we were packing up to leave. The house is nearly completely empty and is so devoid of anything "Mike" that it hurts a little. Worse, every time we make a repair or clean up the yard or do any kind of improvement, we realize that we could very easily have come down and helped Mike with this stuff when he was alive and removed at least some of his burden. Mike pretty much worked all the time. He didn't get weekends or holidays or four weeks of vacation like I do. If he took time off, that was money out of his pocket. I think back at all the times I emailed him complaining that I had to work an all-nighter or cancel plans to work over the weekend and I'm ashamed. He'd try to be sympathetic and offer encouragement but he was probably shaking his head and thinking, "Welcome to my life." Though Suze and I are probably being too hard on ourselves, every weekend in that house feels like a reminder of how much I failed my brother when he needed me.

I was in this state of mind when I got home to discover an email waiting for me on my work account from Ron Richards if iFanboy. It seems the guys at iFanboy teamed up with the very cool Augie de Blieck, Jr. of Comic Book Resources to do a video remembering Mike's career. It features interviews with Tom Breevort and everybody's pal Todd Dezago. Watching this video really cheered me up. Seeing how much other people appreciated Mike's work was heartening. I was also very happy to see Augie participating. Augie's always been a true and genuine champion of Mike's work and Mike seemed to like him a lot. It was also cool to see where Todd works. I've never been to his house in New York and he appears to have a very cool workspace. Certainly a lot neater than mine, which looks like a rat's nest.

It is with much appreciation and gratitude that I give you the link to the video that Ron sent me. Please check it out and subscribe to their podcast. (I did many moons ago.):

There's a downloadable Quicktime version on there too. I was going to make some petty quip about Tom Breevort putting on some pounds since the last time I saw him in San Diego (where he took one look at my portfolio, evacuated his bowels on it and then lit it on fire) but since I've put on even more than he has and he was always a stand up guy with Mike, I think I'll pass.

Todd looks good, though.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Messin' with Sasquatch

The voting on the drawing contest hasn't even started yet so there's no rush on getting started on the next one, though I've got some thumbnails done. (More on that some other time.) In the meantime, while I work out my story in my head (almost ready to start) I've been goofing with the next Mafus/Leaf collaboration. Christian and I are working together on a Perhapanauts pinup. I'm pencilling, Christian's inking again and we'll figure out the coloring later. I'm actually working on the final pencils now but I thought I'd just post the initial rough for now and milk this baby for two or three posts.

The biggest challenge was settling on a cryptid that hadn't already been done to death. I was going to do Redcap but, after some Google-style research, I was surprised to see how often this character has turned up in comics and movies. Christian made some good suggestions too. But I ended up going with the Megalodon. I'm a big fan of Steve Alten's MEG novels and the idea of one of those 60-foot prehistoric sharks coming up from the deep just chills me to the bone.

I did two or three roughs before settling on this one. My favorite was a shot from above with the Meg coming up under the boat, knocking the team into the water. I liked the shot but there wasn't any opportunity for character bits and I really wanted to draw Choopie. He's my favorite character (I LOVE when he meets his future self and asks how he dies. CRACKS ME UP!) and drawing him small on the page without giving him something interesting to do would take some of the fun out of it for me. So I decided to go with a less dramatic shot. Now I can have Choopie doing his thing, making off with the chum bucket for God knows what. (Well, I suppose we can guess what he wants with it.) and I can have a little fun with Big too. I didn't have room to fit in the whole team but I got in my favorites, including Molly, nicely providing us with some scale.

I wasn't terribly happy with the rough at first. Big doesn't seem very imposing here and his left hand just looks ridiculous. Luckily for me, Craig gave me some pointers on how to fix some of the other problems (like a bunch of weird tangents I didn't catch). The second rough came out much better. I'll post that next time.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Suzanne, Christian and I all piled into the Mafusmobile and went to see THE MIST today. I've been looking forward to this one for many years since I first read Stephen King's novella. King's story was one of his most perfect works, equal parts Lovecraft and Romero and yet uniquely King. King's story was creepy as all hell, leaving plenty to the imagination while still showing you just enough of what was going on to freak you the @#!& out. And his ending, while bleak, still left the reader satisfied and hopeful.

I was so excited when I heard Frank Darabont was directing the film version. I've long held that Darabont is one of very few directors who "get" King. Or, rather, know how to adapt King to the screen. I'm as big a King fan as they come but even I understand that some aspects of his work are better left on the page and just don't translate. (Like his dialogue for instance.) This is why I was so disappointed in THE MIST. Man, what a missed opportunity.

I'll keep it simple so I won't spoil anything for those who want to see it.

The biggest problem I had with the film was that it was boring. If you can believe that. Though Darabont sticks close to the source material until the almost the end, there's no real sense of urgency. Part of it is that Darabont sticks TOO close to King's book. There's a lot of stuff in there that plays great when you're reading it but plods along like a drunk hippopotamus when you're watching it. Darabont could have cut 20 minutes out of this film easily and not hurt the story at all. Another reason is that, sadly, Thomas Jane was either miscast or just not interested. I like Jane, usually. I thought he was great in DEEP BLUE SEA and BOOGIE NIGHTS and that he was the only good thing about the PUNISHER movie. But this role required an actor with a lot of range and I just don't think he had it in him. In scenes where his eyes should have been popping out of his head, he reacted like he just discovered something nasty under his fingernail. In one scene in particular, Jane's character, overcome, is supposed to be crying. Not a single tear and his expression barely changes. Jane should take crying lessons from Milla Jovavich.

Another complaint is that Darabont shows us too much. In King's story, the larger creatures in the mist are barely-described, shadowy shapes. Darabont chooses to show us well defined silhouettes that, frankly, aren't all that scary. In horror, less is often more. The entire movie is too brightly lit and, when the boogeymen show up, you can see every nook and cranny. And, unfortunately, the effects just aren't up to snuff. In particular, the tentacle scene in the stockroom is so badly paced that you have too much time to study the badly-realized CG effects. The tentacles move around sluggishly as if the creature itself was bored with the movie and the compositing isn't what you'd expect from such a big-budget production. It FELT like CG effects and that's bad.

My final complaint is with the ending. Since I don't want to spoil it, I won't go into detail. If you haven't read King's story, you may like it. If you have read it, you'll be outraged. King's final scene put a poignant, poetic ending on a creepy, well-plotted story. Darabont strangely decided to veer off into a completely different direction and I'm not sure why. Maybe he thought audiences wouldn't tolerate such a quiet, ambiguous finish to a violent horror movie. But that's what people said about Carpenter's THE THING and it's now a cult phenomenon. (In fact, the poster for that movie makes an appearance early in the film.)

All in all, I think this movie would have benefited from a smaller budget. Without the money to create all those CG creatures and gore effects, Darabont may have been forced to rely more on atmosphere, sound design and convincing performances to pull of his film. Years ago, I listened to an audio-only dramatization of THE MIST on tape, sort of like those old-time radio productions before the advent of TV. It scared the hell out of me. Maybe Darabont should have listened to it before sitting down to plan this film.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Please Pass the Stomach-Pump

Well, that’s over.

I’ve been dreading this week since August. For the first time since Suzanne and I got married, I wasn’t looking forward to Thanksgiving. I just didn’t know what to expect. How were we going to deal with the elephant in the room…or is that not in the room? As it turned out, we didn’t deal with it at all. Though we all missed Mike terribly, we just didn’t bring it up. We all just concentrated on the food in front of us. That’s not to say we didn’t talk. We were just careful not to bring up the painfully obvious. So, I guess you’d say that Thanksgiving went as well as we could hope…there was just no joy in it.

One particularly painful moment was when Suzanne passed around one of her “experiments.” Each year she tries out one new dish on everybody to keep things interesting. This year, it was polenta with marsala mushrooms. As she and my parents dug in and agreed that it was a great success, I realized that it was a vegetarian dish and that Mike probably would have loved it. Later, when we were alone, Suzanne admitted that she’d had the same thought and it had choked her up.

Still, as sad as we all were, it didn’t affect our appetites. I’m still feeling bloated. Every year, Mom makes these chocolate-oatmeal no-bake drop cookies that Mike and I loved since childhood. We’ve always playfully fought over them, sneaking a few out of the jar when the other wasn’t looking. Mom always took quiet pride in how much we loved them. This year, I knew it was going to be a sore spot. Mom told Suzanne that, in fact, she considered not making them. But she went ahead and brought a batch. Sadly, with nobody to compete with, I’ve eaten all of them myself and sort of made myself sick. As good as they are, I’m really glad they’re gone.

On a lighter note, on Friday morning I continued what has become a sort of yearly tradition and got up at 3:30 a.m. to trudge out, alone, into the cold pre-dawn morning for the Black Friday sales. Normally, this is out of pure selfishness. I’m just in it for the cheap DVDs. But after scanning the sales papers Thursday morning, I realized that I already had most of the movies they were discounting. There were a few movies I wouldn’t mind having around but nothing worth fighting the crowds for. (I’d been hoping for GHOST RIDER but no luck.) But I noticed that Best Buy had the HBO TV series on sale for 50% off. My Father-in-Law has fallen in love with DEADWOOD and we’ve been getting him a season set each year, either for Christmas or his birthday. So I went ahead and ventured out. Since I was up anyway, I picked up a few cheapies for myself (ranging from $2.99-4.99 each.) I got LAYER CAKE, DAY AFTER TOMORROW, 48 HOURS, ROBOCOP 3, A SCANNER DARKLY, CRANK and a couple others. Nothing great but some good movies to have on in the background when I’m in my office working. I haven’t even seen the last two (going against my own rule of not buying a movie I haven’t seen yet) but figured, at that price, I’m not risking much. I also picked up SEINFELD Season 7 (two to go!) for 14 bucks.

Having gone to three different stores, I was beat and went home for breakfast and a recharge before heading back out with Christian to Velocity Comics. Christian wanted to hit the Black Friday sale and he’d heard that the voting on the Bring On The Bad Guys contest was going to start then. So I went with him to put in my vote for our Sphinx entry. Unfortunately, the owner had a setback and didn’t have the ballots ready. I bought the cheapest book I could find to be polite (my comic shop loyalties lie with Nostalgia Plus) and we split. Leaf was a little less restrained and practically needed a hand truck to haul out his loot.

Suzanne and I have been so busy with cleaning, cooking and shopping this past week that we haven’t had much time to feel down. But now that my parents have left and we’ve got the house to ourselves again, the old malaise is setting in again. I even had another moment tonight when I saw something I thought Mike would like* and made a mental note to call him about it only to have reality crash down on me again an instant later. I’ll be really glad when that stops happening.

Anyway, all things considered, we had a decent holiday. I hope all of you did the same.

*Suzanne and I were playing the Marvel Scene-It game that our friend Paul gave me last Christmas and it was just loaded with examples of Mike’s artwork.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Writing Again

When I first started this blog, I mentioned a writing project I was working on. SINGULARITY was something I'd been kicking around for going on 17 years. There were several reasons I hadn't done anything with it. (Besides the fact that I never do anything with anything.) I wasn't confident I could pull off the drawing part myself, I didn't know how to get it published, I'm a horrible procrastinator...but the worst part was that, over the years, I kept seeing parts of the story turn up in movies and TV shows like SPIDER-MAN 2 and SUPERMAN RETURNS. A major, major plot point even turned up in Erik Larsen's wonderful NOVA relaunch a while back. Each time this would happen, I'd tweak my plot a little to avoid the similarities. But it was the show HEROES last year that drove me to drop the story altogether. (SPOILER WARNING!) The brother character flies into the sky to avoid blowing up New York at the end of the season and then turns up alive at the beginning of this season with no memory of who he is but amazed at all these crazy powers he has. When I saw that, I threw my hands up and said, "I give up." It makes me sad because SINGULARITY was the favorite of my little "projects" and the one I really wanted to get published somehow. It was also my most personal because the main character is basically me. Well, me if I had majored in Quantum Physics in college instead of Filmmaking. So, it was with a heavy heart that I set SINGULARITY aside, probably for good.

However, in early August, my spirits were lifted. I was up on the roof of my gazebo and I was thinking of some of the books I'd been reading and some of the movies from my childhood that had come out on DVD and I started thinking it would be neat to do something geared toward kids. Most of my stuff is adult-oriented (no, not XXX) and kind of grim and melodramatic. But I've never done anything that was just fun. And I've never done horror. So, as I was sitting up there, hammering away, a story idea started forming in my head. Excited, I planned to run it by a friend or two, to see if they'd heard of anything similar (I'm gunshy now) but I never got the chance. When Mike passed away, all desire to write or draw anything ever again just went poof. Lately, out of desperation to think about something, anything else, I've gone back to working out the story in my head again. It's been very helpful. Since, with any luck, I DO plan to do something with this, I can't reveal anything about the story but I can show you this:

Unlike most of the sketches I do at work, I did think this one through ahead of time. This is one of the main characters in the, as yet, unnamed story. I've been doodling a lot, working late at night, trying to refine this guy's look. I'm still a ways off but I think I'm getting the feel for him.

Anyway, that's all I've got for now. If we don't hear from each other again before Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful holiday. It's no secret how much this holiday has meant to my family over the last 10 or 12 years and I guess you all know how tough it's going to be this year. I'm not sure how we'll handle it, but I suppose we'll figure something out. Despite all that's happened this year, I really do have a lot to be thankful for. I've got a lot of great friends and I've made quite a few more since August. I've got a beautiful wife and we're crazy about each other. And we have good jobs, a warm house and families that love us. So, have a nice one, folks and we'll try to do the same.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Online Comics

I just checked out Marvel’s new online comic downloading service. I’ve got sort of mixed emotions about it.

On the one hand, I like the idea of having instant access to back issues of books that aren’t out in trade paperback. While I have great affection for all the silver and bronze age Marvel stuff, I’m not prepared to plunk down a small fortune for the Marvel Masterworks and I understand that all that stuff isn’t really easily marketable in trade format. Who wants to pay 18-24 bucks for six or eight issues of done-in-one IRON MAN or DAREDEVIL in paperback? Besides me, that is. Up until now, I’ve relied on the Marvel ESSENTIALS line to get my fix and, while I love being able to see the artwork in black and white, a lot of this stuff really works best in color.

On the other hand, the whole thing has some drawbacks. For one, the site is slow as molasses. I don’t want to wait five or ten minutes (and I’m on a lightning-fast connection) only to find out I clicked on the wrong issue. For another, since you’re just renting the books (it’s online only), the price is a little steep. $9.99 a month or $59.88 per year. I can’t see them attracting many casual comic readers with that kind of expense.

My biggest concern is whether or not the creators are being compensated in any way. I know that Marvel recently started putting artwork on CORBIS, the stock photo site used by companies (like the ad agency where I work.) I also know that the artists that created that artwork don’t get spit. This is one of the reasons there are so many covers on current books with heroes just standing there looking cool. The artists have to sign away any future rights to the work if they want to get paid and that leaves the publisher free to use the artwork on T-shirts, posters, lunchboxes, toy packaging, etc., without having to pay those lucrative freelance fees for merchandising art. I can’t help but wonder if online comics is yet another way for publishers to get around paying creators for royalties based on how many copies of a given book are sold. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any inside information on the subject. This is just guessing on my part. My only hope is that if there isn’t a plan in place to give the guys who created these great comics a slice of this digital pie, then there’s one forthcoming.

This is the very close to the issue at the heart of the current Hollywood writers strike. (Royalties on DVD sales and online downloads.) If artists and writers aren’t making any money on this latest venture, then it seems to me that the American comics industry is very fortunate that the creative folk never unionized.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

More Musical Musings

Usually, as you can tell from some of my long-winded posts, I’m a soundtrack guy. I love movie music. John Powell, Basil Poledouris and John Williams are household names at the ‘Ringo Ranch. But there was a time when I actually listened to the radio and kept up with the Billboard Top 40. Lately, I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite music from the past and it’s been a lot of fun. To help alleviate the sheer boredom of driving back and forth to Durham each weekend (and to cheer myself up), I’d been listening to Mike’s impressive collection of stand-up comic albums. They didn’t last long, though, and I had to find something else. So I started digging through some old CDs and came up with some real gems.

Back in college, I was a huge Guns ‘n’ Roses fan. Mike had bought APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION on a whim as we were heading out of town at the start of the school year and as we listened to it on the trip to VCU (along with my purchase, AC/DC’s WHO MADE WHO…um, technically a soundtrack) we were stunned. We’d never heard anything like it and I was hooked. Later, when I moved to Norfolk to start a video production company with a friend, I was flat broke. When my parents sent me some money for my birthday, I went out and bought, not food, but G’n’R’s USE YOUR ILLUSION I and II. Two-and-a-half hours of Axl Rose and the gang at their best…and worst. While APPETITE was raw and energetic, ILLUSION was like a really talented kid finally getting to play with some big expensive toys and having the time of his life. The band was criticized for “selling out” by using orchestral arrangements and backup singers but I say eff ‘em. Any time you can find a metal head who knows how to write music for an orchestra, I’m plunking down my scratch. When I got lost trying to make my way from Norfolk to Fayetteville, NC for Suzanne’s Grandmother’s wedding, UYI kept me from losing my mind. It’s been great reacquainting myself with this album.

One of our college roommates was a guy from Southeast Virginia coal country named Eric Ritchie. He was great guy but he was like nobody I’d ever met. He had long curly blonde hair, a goatee and spoke with the thickest southern accent I’d ever encountered. He also had an incredible collection of CDs from every obscure metal band you could think of…Voivod, the Misfits, Celtic Frost…and he treated them with reverence. He would sneak off every once in a while to see these bands in concert when we never knew they were coming to town. And this was back in the days before the Internet. It was like he was tuned in to some psychic metal-head network. Frankly, it all sounded the same to me. But, with my tastes, I’m not about to criticize. One album he had, though, I really liked. He played Metallica’s AND JUSTICE FOR ALL for us one day and I was an instant convert. I immediately went out and bought two or three of their previous albums and wore them out. That started a decade-long obsession with the band that, sadly, ended when we saw their abysmally bad live concert in Virginia Beach a few years ago. But AND JUSTICE FOR ALL remains a high point in my musical memory.

Finally, as I’ve been cruising iTunes, looking for more albums lost in the mists of time, I came across two that really got my blood pumping:

Joe Satriani’s FLYING IN A BLUE DREAM. I know what you’re thinking. Joe Satriani? Are you kidding? Well, Suzanne got a couple of his albums recently from a vendor and I started listening to them. They’re okay but they didn’t evoke the feelings I got from BLUE DREAM, so I listened to the samples on iTunes to see what I was missing. Holy cow, that brought back memories. Back in college, all I knew of the guy was that he’d used the Silver Surfer on one of his album covers. My girlfriend at the time was pestering me to go see him in concert as he was appearing on campus to promote the release of BLUE DREAM. I put up a fight because the concert was during my late-night Animation class and I was already on thin ice with the instructor. Plus, I hated spending all that money on somebody I’d never heard. She kept at it, though and I figured if I didn’t want her going with the disgustingly handsome guy in her Chemistry class that was always showing up where we were, I’d better cave in. So we went. Oh, man, was that an amazing concert. Turns out that, though she hated the music I listened to, she knew Satriani was mostly instrumental and she was trying to meet me halfway. I’ve only seen a handful of concerts in my life but that ranks in the top two or three. I immediately went out and bought the album and played it over and over. It’s been about fifteen years since I last listened to it so, when I started clicking on the tracks on iTunes, I felt like a young buck again.

David Lee Roth’s SKYSCRAPER. This was another of Mike’s albums in college. At this point, our class schedules had really started to go off in different directions and he was letting me use his car for my night classes. SKYSCRAPER was in his tape player and, while I busied myself with burning out his clutch, I played that sucker over and over. Listening to it on iTunes, I’m not sure what it was that appealed to me so much. But hearing it again gave me a pleasant feeling, so I can’t complain.

There were others, like Queen’s A KIND OF MAGIC, ZZ Top’s ELIMINATOR and Robert Cray’s STRONG PERSUADER, but I’ve embarrassed myself enough and this post has gone waaaay longer than I’d intended. Later!

Veteran's Day

Today is an important day. It's one of those national "holidays" that gets easily forgotten because, well, nobody gets the day off from work. But the day has double meaning for me and my family. Not only is November 11th the day we remember and honor the men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect our way of life, but it's also my father's birthday. Dad was in the Army for 20 years and served during two wars, Korea and Vietnam. I suspect this year, this day will be particularly difficult for him so I plan to call him early. "Happy Birthday" doesn't seem appropriate but I'll think of something.

So regardless of how you feel about the current war we find ourselves in, if you know a veteran, (say, Nick Cardy, Todd?) make sure you call them or just give them a hug. Just because this day isn't on your holiday-radar doesn't mean it's not verrrry important to them.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

JE...ha ha ha...JES...heh...JESSIE!

Okay, still haven’t drawn a damned thing all week worth showing beyond my thumbnail for the next contest (which I’m not ready to share yet). So, in my never-ending quest to tell all my story ideas before I have a chance to publish them, I thought I’d take another trip down memory lane. I don’t mind sharing this one too much because when I called Mike the day it popped into my head while mowing the lawn, he told me it was a great idea but it was better when it was called BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. I was a little deflated because, to be completely honest, I’d never seen a complete episode of the show and still haven’t to this day. I saw the original movie in theaters but beyond the fact that it had a pretty good cast (including the lovely Kristy Swanson), I wasn’t much impressed. Anyway, you be the judge.

As the name of this post suggests, the story, in its final incarnation, was called JESSIE. This was short for “Jessica”, the main character whom I named after the girlfriend of a roommate I once had. She was a nice lady and I always thought the name was cool. (Until Jessica Rabbit ruined everything.) Shortly after I came up with this brilliant title, Christina Applegate launched her short-lived sitcom “Jessie” on NBC and I ditched it. It currently has no official title beyond APPARENT-BUFFY-RIPOFF. Before JESSIE, I’d called it a hundred different things.

The first was SAMHAIN (later LONEWOLF), my modern take on Clint Eastwood’s HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER about a betrayed cop who gets killed and gets sent back to Earth to deal out justice. The trip drives him a little crazy, though, and he makes his own plans. Though not completely fleshed out, I had ideas for his backstory involving Celtic mythology…hence the title SAMHAIN. (A word I first encountered in the film HALLOWEEN II.) Two days after I finished writing the first “issue”, though, Mike came into my room, threw the Comics Buyers Guide on my bed and ran away yelling, “Sorry, dude!” In it was an interview with Todd McFarlane in which he described his upcoming book, SPAWN. Mike made a good choice in beating feet. I was furious. This was the first of many such experiences.

SAMHAIN ended up morphing into two different story ideas. The first was WOLF (you can see a picture of him in Mike’s MODERN MASTERS book) that eliminated the supernatural elements and instead turned the character into Daniel Hugh-Kelley’s character in HARDCASTLE & MCCORMICK. I told Mike about the kernel of this idea and he loved it and having not yet fully broken into comics (I think this was between the DOC SAVAGE mini and his first DC work) he designed the character. The only visual element remaining from SAMHAIN/LONEWOLF was the wolf emblem on his chest, though this was no longer a roughly spraypainted thing but rather a slick logo. WOLF was financed by a judge (not yet retired) who was tired of seeing crooks get away on technicalities, so he finances a disgraced cop’s campaign of vigilantism. (Looking back on that, there are SO many things wrong with this idea I couldn’t even begin to list them.) Mike, his friend Paul and I sat around Paul’s kitchen table one night working out the first storyline. Wolf would take on the villain Scarecrow (yeah, I know there’s been a million) who, it would turn out was a rich guy who didn’t really need the money but was in it for the thrill. He hid his face behind the Scarecrow mask (worn with a three-piece suit) because he had a minor blemish on his otherwise handsome face and was too vain to have it seen. (Not to mention the not wanting to be arrested part.) Mike soon got comics work and that was that.

The second story to come out of SAMHAIN is the JESSIE story. When it popped into my head, though, it was to be called SCHISM until I found out there was already a comic called that. I toyed with going back to the SAMHAIN name but that word, at that point, had become a bit of a cliché and was being waaay overused in horror movies. So, I went with the oh-so descriptive, thrilling and evocative…JESSIE! (Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!_

The story (finally, you scream!) evolved from my interests in Celtic mythology and World War II. I wanted to do something that combined the two. JESSIE concerns a high-school girl who has a strange birthmark (a Celtic knot) low on her right breast and begins having horrible nightmares about epic battles, demons and people she’s never met. One particularly vivid one concerns the man in the underdrawing here (based on Christopher Walken).

In her dream, he enters a house to find a family on the floor, butchered. He sneaks down into the basement to discover men digging a trunk out of a brick wall. As he watches, a shadowy figure sneaks up behind him and brains him with a shovel. Stunned, he can only watch as the figure brings the shovel down again, killing him. Jessica also begins displaying strange abilities she shouldn’t have like knowledge of ancient martial arts moves and an ability to speak Latin and German. Confused, she allows a handsome young man, the new kid at school, to sweep her off her feet and take her parking. He gets a little frisky on the first date, though, and she breaks his nose.

Turns out Frisky is actually an agent for a high-tech group (a la the Millennium Group) that is devoted to tracking down a pair age-old adversaries who have battled throughout the centuries, one (the Celtic god Cernunnos) bent on world chaos and the other (the goddess Morgan) sworn to stop him. Throughout history, they’ve been reincarnated in the bodies of children born at the instant of their deaths. Cernunnos as Genghis Khan, Vlad Tepes, Jack the Ripper…Adolf Hitler. Morgan as Joan of Arc and various other historical heroes, male and female. Turns out her previous incarnation was the man in her dreams…the twin brother of the leader of the group out to find her. And Jessica is the best candidate. Their mission is to not only find Morgan but to eliminate the threat of Cernunnos for all time. To do that, they must track down a mythical dagger that would kill his current incarnation and trap his soul in the dagger forever. (Yeah, I know. Done to death.)

In the meantime, Cernunnos has been reincarnated as the head of a massive software corporation, a company built using the fortunes of victims of the Holocaust, stolen by Hitler and stashed away in a basement wall in Germany. Cernunnos knows that his next incarnation will eventually remember the location of the gold and be able to retrieve it. He (as Hitler) goes to his suicidal death with a clear mind. At the point our story takes place, Cernunnos has purposely implanted the Y2K virus in his software in an attempt to bring modern civilization crashing down around our ears. (I was writing this during the whole Y2K scare in the ‘90s.) He’s also aware of the legend of the dagger and has sent his supporters out to find it as well. It’s a race to the finish!

Jessie is introduced to her former twin’s group and it turns out her suitor is actually gay and was just, um, exploring down her shirt in an attempt to see if she had the Celtic knot birthmark, the tell-tale sign that she’s Morgan. She’s disbelieving at first but eventually, as more memories take hold, and she’s found by Cernunnos’ group and has to fight off an attempt on her life, she comes around and joins the group. Eventually, they track down the dagger in some exotic location and after some twists and turns, Cernunnos is defeated and his soul is trapped forever. No longer needing to fight her counterpart, Jessie senses that this life will be her last. The Walken character asks her what she plans on doing with it? She replies, “Live it.” The end. Cheers and whistles abound.

When I was designing these characters, I was really taken with Tony Harris’ STARMAN work and you can see evidence of that in the pinup I did (at the top of this post). I’d planned on using Walken as the basis for the twin brothers because I needed him to look distinctive enough to be recognized and increase the shock value when he turns up in Jessie’s life. Plus, I love Walken and always have. (Well, not so much his current self-caricature version.) As for Jessica, I didn’t have a distinct vision for her look as is evidenced by the long blonde-haired version in the pinup and page rough. Later, as I was voicing my problem to Mike, he suggested I go out an buy a hairstyle magazine for inspiration. I did and the result was what you see here:

I really liked the youthful look the bob gave her and the girl in the photo was a cutie that had just the right innocent feel to her that I wanted.

This pen and ink drawing was done late at work one night without any reference to look at. I wanted to see if I’d committed the look to memory. I like how it came out but the hair looked a little plastic and she looks a little stoned. I’d found the look I wanted, though. As for Cernunnos, I designed him to look like the creature in the movie RAWHEAD REX, based on the Clive Barker short story. The movie was terrible and the effects abysmal (his mouth never moved) but the basic design was very cool. All teeth and leather. Frankly, I ripped it off, adding only horns and getting rid of the snouty look of his face. I’ve got some drawings around here somewhere and will post them if the turn up.

In the meantime, what do you think? The BUFFY comment really sucked the wind out of me and I eventually let the story drop. Not that I’ve ever done anything with any of this stuff I’ve written, but it really made me feel like a hack. Was he right? BUFFY or not? I must know!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Still nothing to show art-wise but I thought I'd post about something that crossed my mind. I was thumbing through the second volume of ESSENTIAL GHOST RIDER the other day and came across an issue drawn by Jim Starlin in which GR races against Death on a motorcycle. That got me thinking about all the great fill-in issues Marvel used to have. Most people remember the great runs that regular creative teams had. Miller and Janson on DAREDEVIL. Micheline, Romita, Jr. and Layton on IRON MAN. Claremont and Byrne on UNCANNY X-MEN. And those were terrific reading. But nobody ever talks about the memorable fill-in issues.

Back then, the most important thing was getting the books out on time every month. For insurance against a sick regular-artist or some other unforseeable problem, the editors would stockpile "inventory" stories, completely written and drawn and just sitting in a drawer waiting to be unleashed. In those days, before mega-company-wide crossovers and endless "event" epics, most storylines were done-in-ones or, at most two or three issues long. That made it a lot easier to just slip in an inventory story to meet a deadline should the need arise. A lot of folks found fill-ins annoying but not me. I thought they were great little visual treats. A way to see another artist's take on a character and it allowed you to see a stagnating character in a whole new light.

These are the covers to some of my favorite fill-ins. Jim Starlin did three of them (IRON MAN #55, GHOST RIDER #35 and INCREDIBLE HULK #222.) Mike and I had an unwritten agreement that certain artists (Starlin and Byrne among them) were exclusive to him. If they were assigned to a book, he'd get to buy it. The only exception to this was the fill-in. So, when these guys drew an issue of one of the books that I got to buy, it was a special treat for me. Mike and I traded collections back and forth all the time (though I could never pry the X-MEN or CAPTAIN MARVEL books away from him). At the time these fill-ins showed up, I was buying the books. Starlin always brought a realistic moodiness to his books and it really got me excited. I read those books over and over.

It was the same with Paul Smith's IRON MAN fill-in. It was the first time I'd ever seen his artwork and it was a real eye-opener. It's certainly not his best work but it was so raw and full of energy, like nothing I'd ever seen before. He managed to have ol' Shellhead showing expressions with his iron mask.

While not exactly fill-ins, I got the same "treat" from the Annuals and Giant-Size issues that came out then. A lot of the stories that showed up in those comics probably came from the same drawer as the fill-in issues. John Byrne did a great SPIDER-MAN annual (with X-MEN partner Terry Austin) and INCREDIBLE HULK annual (with Bob Layton) at the time. I read those two books to tatters and practically copied the HULK annual panel for panel, trying to draw like Byrne.

Sadly, those days are gone. In this era of trade paperback collections and fluid deadlines, there's no longer any need for the inventory drawer. Modern readers would rather wait three or more months for the next issue of their favorite comic than be emotionally scarred by getting a fill-in issue in the middle of their super-mega-Earth-shattering-crossover-epic. That's a real shame. I really miss the pleasant surprise of opening up a new comic to find it drawn by somebody completely different and containing a story completely unrelated to anything else. To paraphrase a line from THE INCREDIBLES, when every comic is special, none of them are.

So, what are your favorite fill-ins?


I'm no longer a member of the John Byrne Forum messageboard and can't post on this topic but I found it interesting. Just not interesting enough for its own post. Apparently everybody there is in agreement that similarities between two books (LIVING WITH THE DEAD and LIVING WITH ZOMBIES) warrant legal action. I find this amusing since nobody mentions the fact that, based on the nature of the complaints, George Romero should be able to sue everybody, including Marvel Comics for intellectual property theft. I haven't read ZOMBIES but I am reading LIVING WITH THE DEAD and it seems to me that neither would exist without Romero's movies. The same goes for MARVEL ZOMBIES, XXXOMBIES, WALKING DEAD, blah blah blah. I love zombie comics as much as the next guy but lets not go throwing stones in glass houses.


Nevermind. Somebody just made that very point on the messageboard. Hey! He stole my idea!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Back Again

Well, I'm back. Have been for a couple of days. I was hoping to have a drawing for my first post back but I'm feeling incredibly lazy this week. I think it's the cold. (Well, that and a week of hard labor in Durham.) We had our first fire of the season in the fireplace yesterday and I just vegged in front of the TV watching football. Tried about a dozen or so thumbnails but nothing worth finishing.

One of my co-workers is going to be out the entire month of December for personal reasons so my department head wants me to take all my remaining vacation by Thanksgiving. I was trying to save some for another trip to Durham but that may not work out. She's been pushing me to take more days off this week. Well, don't throw me in that briar patch. That should give me time to work up a sketch or two to share with you. And I've been putting off some work around the house in favor of dealing with the business in Durham. This past summer, we had a leak under one of our bathrooms and I ended up having to rip out the wall and ceiling in the den closet. I fixed the drywall but never had time to finish painting. Maybe now I can.

Durham went well. We got a lot done and there's not much left to deal with. Which is good news. As much as I've been denying it, spending time in that big empty house has taken its toll, emotionally. Last week was very difficult. Whenever I finished a project, I had time to think and that was when it would get bad. As long as I was shovelling gravel or scrubbing down the deck, I was fine. I'm not sure how I'm going to feel when the house is eventually sold. On the one hand, it's a bit of an albatross right now but, when it's finally off our hands, it's liable to be a little painful, like saying goodbye all over again.

It was nice to see Andrew and Vanessa at Chapel Hill Comics again. I took Thursday afternoon off from working and drove to their shop to say, "hi." Their shop is wonderful and it's obvious that Mike liked it very much. It's quite a hike there from Mike's house and it's not a straight shot. So either he was very happy with Chapel Hill Comics or he reeeeeally enjoyed co-ed watching on campus at UNC-CH. I also visited the shop that was about five minutes from the house off Guess Road and I wasn't that impressed. If you're in the area, Chapel Hill Comics is definitely the place to go.

Anyway, it's good to be back. Check back in a day or so and I should have a drawing up.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Happy Halloween

I'm leaving for Durham tomorrow and won't have computer access for a week or so, so I thought I'd post something on my way out. I did this werewolf sketch waaaaay back in May. Not sure why. It was just one of those times where I put down a couple of lines before I even realized what I was going to draw. Most of the way through the drawing, I started to realize that I hated it. Absolutely despised it. It just didn't turn out the way I'd intended. But, having stumbled across it today while clearing out some files on my computer, I seem to have warmed to it a little. I still don't think it's a particularly convincing werewolf but at least it doesn't make the gorge rise up in my throat. And since this is my last post before Halloween, it seemed appropriate to post it.

Christian sent me the finished inks on the Sphinx contest piece and they look great. Since I'm leaving town, he's agreed to also color it for me and print out the submission. Be sure to check it out on his blog in a couple days or so. He's already posted his own submission, a drawing of the Hitman villain, Mawzir. He graciously let me color it for him while he was inking my piece. Heywood's already chimed in, so give him your $0.02 here.

I watched SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY tonight with dinner. I've had it for some time but didn't have the time to give it the attention it deserved. It was really good but if you haven't seen it and you're expecting a faithful adaptation, you may be disappointed. There are no appearances by any other Justice Leaguers nor are any of the replacement Supermen involved. That didn't bother me as I wasn't a big fan of the original comic book epic anyway. I thought they wove I nice tale in the time in which they were allowed to tell it. The fight scenes were very impressive and well-choreographed. I had to keep reminding myself that this stuff was all 2-D animation. One word of warning for you parents out there, though. This movie, though a cartoon, is strictly adult fare. The fight scenes are brutal and the directors (including Bruce Timm) don't shy away from graphic violence. And the body count, including some on-camera deaths, is high. Even some of the language was surprisingly harsh, including several "hells" and "damns" and a reference to Satan's butthole. Seriously. Even the sexual nature of Lois and Superman's relationship, though handled tastefully, raised my eyebrows. Nothing is shown on screen but viewers aren't left hanging as to whether or not they're "doin' it." They most definitely are. I watched this instead of my usual Halloween-time horror movie because I was feeling a little down tonight and didn't feel up to a bunch of gore and screaming. I thought a cartoon would cheer me up. Turned out not to be the case, as entertaining as it was, because of some of the subject matter. (The funeral and the grieving scenes with Lois and Martha Kent.) Still, I enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Just not for your kids.

All right, I'm off. I hope you all have a great Halloween and eat some candy for me. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Nail

Well, while we wait for Leaf to finish his inks on the Sphinx (Hey, that rhymes!) I thought I'd explain the whole "nail through the hand" thing. I'm afraid I exaggerated a little for effect. The nail didn't really go through my hand. Just in a little, then back out as I yanked my hand back.

Allow me to digress...

Since we returned from Durham in August, we've been adopted by a couple of stray kittens that were dropped off in our sewer drain by their wanton hussy of a mother. To the chagrin of our neighbors and against our better judgement, we not only started feeding them but (and this is entirely my fault) we named them. The grey and white one is "Bugs" and the black and white one is "Sylvie" (formerly Sylvester.) We quickly got attached to them but we really can't take in any more cats. Our house would explode. So we've decided to adopt the two as outdoor pets. We live on the corner of two cul de sacs, so traffic is light and they should be fairly safe. They've even taken to sleeping on our front porch.

Unfortunately, keeping them here means getting them "fixed" and that requires traps since they still won't let us actually touch them. They walk right up to us but if we take a step forward, they bound away. We went to the local SPCA and got a humane trap. They'll only take them one at a time so we've spaced it out over a week. We caught Sylvie Sunday night and put her in the basement/garage with a sheet covering the cage so she wouldn't freak out. It calmed her right down. We were a little distraught because we thought Bugs would run off and they'd be separated. Not to worry. Bugs was all about the grub and was back the next morning.

So Bugs wouldn't see us putting the cage in the car or hear Sylvie crying, we concocted an elaborate plan to sneak her out the back door through the laundry room. Unfortunately, Charlie comes running whenever the door to the laundry room opens and we didn't want him scaring Sylvie. So Suzanne put Charlie in her office and shut the door. Not realizing it had a lock on the inside. And it was punched in. As I was opening the door to leave, I heard Suzanne shouting, "You're not gonna believe this! I locked Charlie in my office!"

I examined the door and realized there was no way to unlock the knob. So I ended up breaking in the door, cracking the trim and breaking off the hardware on the jamb. With everything else going on, this was the last thing I needed. I'm afraid my temper got the best of me and I tried to slam the moulding back into place with my hand. Not realizing there was a painted-over nail right where my palm landed. The nail came out and went about a quarter inch into the palm of my hand, just above the wrist. Hurt like hell and bled like crazy. It had gone in at an angle so the skin was all bunched up and pushed down. To prevent infection, I ended up pouring alcohol on it and putting on a couple of Band-Aids. When it seemed to be taking its time to stop bleeding and when I remembered it had been ten years since my last tetanus shot, I went to Patient First to get one. That was a long, horrible experience, but not one worth relating.

Ironically, my hand has scabbed over nicely and doesn't hurt in the least while my arm, where I got the shot, feels like the doc drove in a railroad spike with a jackhammer. It woke me up about three times last night.

Anyway, we got Sylvie back, got the news that he was a she and reunited her with Bugs. Next Sunday, Suzanne will have to trap Bugs on her own as I'll be going back to Durham for a week with my parents to work on the house.

And that's all it was.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Sphinx Part III

Well, here it is. The final pencils. It took longer than I'd hoped, due to some minor mishaps around the house. (I put a nail through my drawing hand and got a tetanus shot in the other arm. More on that later.) Maybe I've been looking at it too long but something seems a little off. I can't put my finger on it. That happens a lot when I draw. Whatever it is I love about the underdrawing rarely translates to the finished pencils. Oh, well. Maybe some decent inks will fix whatever's missing. Tag, Mr. Leaf. You're it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Sphinx Part II

Here's the final underdrawing for my Sphinx submission. I decided that, like Craig, I liked the more expressive pose in the first rough and the Nova in the second. I didn't like how it looked like Nova was crawling away in the first drawing. He's a tough cookie and would keep fighting until the end. I also like the way the tilted angle and strong perspective give the drawing more energy. I also forced myself to work out the background in this underdrawing before moving on to the final penciled piece. It wasn't fun but it will prevent massive frustration at the light table. I really enjoyed doing this drawing. I was working at home this time, for the first time in a long while. Not at the drawing table, but with a piece of plywood in my lap that I bought for just that purpose, while watching B-horror movies. (DEEP RISING and BATS if you're interested.) It was a blast.

Unfortunately, as I was scanning the drawing, something felt very familiar about it and so I did some searching on the internet. I Googled "Gil Kane" (since that's who I was channeling) and this popped up. YIKES!

The similarity isn't enough to keep me from using the layout. But this kind of thing drives me crazy. Whenever I write something, either somebody publishes something similar soon after or I find out that it's already been done. I never thought I'd experience the phenomenon with a drawing. Sheesh.

Hopefully, I'll be able to finish the final pencils tomorrow. Christian and I are going to see 30 DAYS OF NIGHT tomorrow and I've got a lot to do around the house.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Sphinx Part I

I haven't posted lately because, strangely enough, I haven't been all that busy at work. My nights and weekends have been pretty full but, with Suzanne out of town and no need for me to sit around the office at night, I've been able to go home and work on the stuff that needs to get done. Tonight, however, Suzanne's out with some girlfriends and we forgot to drive separately. Thus, I'm sitting at my desk waiting for her to pick me up. Which is great, because it's given me time to work on my latest drawing.

Thank my buddy Christian Leaf for this one. He's always trying to get me to draw more and one of his favorite ploys is the drawing contest at his usual comic shop, a great little place on the VCU campus called Velocity Comics. I feel a little guilty because I don't shop there. I shop at Nostalgia Plus, which is the shop owned by my friends Marvin and Marsha. But I'm fiercely competitive and can't resist a challenge. So here I am, trying to crank out my entry before the October 31st deadline. Since I'm going to be out of town much of the time between now and then, I'd best get crackin'.

This is the thumbnail I did about a week or so ago. The theme for this contest is "Bring on the Bad Guys." Leaf is drawing on of Hitman's villains, which you can see at his blog. I decided to go with the arch-nemesis of my favorite character Nova: The Sphinx. I always loved how Sal Buscema drew him, all blocky and thick. Which is why I don't understand how this drawing of the Sphinx came out so slender. Oh, well, it's just a thumbnail. I liked the layout quite a bit but his arms looked a little strange to me, like he's doing that thing they make you do in the Army, holding up pails of sand until your arms give out. Plus, his pose from the waist down seemed a little feminine to me. Still, I liked the low angle and the way the figures overlapped.

This is my tightened-up rough. I wanted to give the Sphinx a more iconic pose and fix the problems I had with his arms and legs before. I made a real effort to mimic the thickness Sal gave him. I'm a little worried that the pose is too static, though, even with the arms in different positions. I decided to get my Gil Kane on with Nova this time around. I always loved how Gil drew people after they'd been knocked out and I tried for that here. I also thought it would be cool, since I liked the low angle of the thumbnail, to have the horizon line on the very bottom of the page. Now that I see it scanned, though, it looks a little awkward. I think I may solve this by tilting the image at an angle when I trace it onto board. That would fix the horizon line and also give the picture a little more energy that I think it's lacking right now. I also need to work out the buildings better before I start tracing. I'm horribly lazy when it comes to backgrounds but I'm going to force myself to concentrate on them. Maybe some photo reference would help.

Hopefully, I'll have the pencilled piece ready to post by the end of the weekend. I'm taking the weekend off from Durham to recharge and some time at the drawing board should help. When I'm done, Christian has offered to ink it for me so this should be an interesting experiment. Christian's a much better inker than I am and I can't wait to see how it comes out. In return, I'm going to color his entry for him. So, stay tuned.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Me And My Mutant

Muchas gracias to Todd Dezago for sending me this. I'd forgotten that I sent this out to a bunch of friends last year. He read the blog and sent me the photo. So, here she is. Suzanne as Leela, partying with her favorite degenerate robot. Enjoy.

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

It's the weekend and so I can't track down that photo of Suze as Leela without going to work. And eff that. So I thought I'd post a picture of an even older Halloween costume of mine.

I made this poor-man's (literally) Judge Dredd costume way back in 1989. Yes, we had color photography back then. This was back when I would spend months on my costumes because, well, I had the time. The helmet alone took a month of sculpting and sanding with wire and papier mache and then painting and applying the poly. The rest of the suit was child's play by comparison. And the helmet still looks funny. I had trouble getting the inside right so it would sit on my head properly and still allow me to see out the eye slits. Never did get it right. But check out the stubble I'd grown in anticipation of dressing up. Today, that's about a half-day growth. Back then, it was a two-week affair.

The night these photos were taken, my lady friend (who shall remain nameless because I don't want to get sued or maybe killed by my wife who is returning home today) just slapped something together with whatever she had in her closet. Kind of weird that she had that red gown in her closet but...whatever. She then declared that she was going as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Despite being impressed that she knew who Hippolyta was, I had to think, "Really? At 5'4"? And wearing white cowboy boots with fringes?" But I decided to keep my reservations to myself because I was already in dutch with her roommate for leaving green smudges all over the furniture. This suit wasn't intended for the long term, you see.

We ended up going to a Halloween party being thrown by one of her classmates and it was a huge bust. We were the only ones in costume (OOPS!) and felt really stupid. We ended up leaving early and, as we were walking back to Rhoad's Hall, we nearly bumped into a guy running out of an apartment building, screaming "Oh God! Oh God!" at the top of his lungs. I'd never seen anyone so freaked out. The next day, we read the paper and found out why. There had been an unauthorized party going on on the rooftop of the building we'd passed. The only way to access the roof without a key was the fire escape. The ladder leading up sort of curled around the overhang and, so, anyone on the ladder would be hanging, at least part of the time, with their back to the ground. It was a pretty difficult climb up and and a worse one down. For one young lady, apparently the only one NOT drinking at the party, it was fatal. The poor girl lost her grip and fell about 10 stories to the ground, landing on the hard cobblestone alley floor below. She was killed instantly.

Though I don't remember her name, I've thought about the girl who fell from the roof often. That school year, my last in college, was not a particularly good one for me and it felt like that night was an omen of things to come.

At least the costume turned out okay. Though most of the people I passed that night would pump a fist in the air and yell, "Awesome! Great Captain America costume, dude!"

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Well, I'd planned on posting a new drawing here this week but, with Suzanne out of town and things being what they are at work, I haven't had occasion to get much sketching done. So, though I was planning on saving this for later in the month, I figured now was as good a time as any.

Halloween is traditionally my favorite time of year. I'm a horror junkie. Movies, comics, novels...everything. I eat it up. So October is when I really get to have fun.

I usually try to find time to make a costume. Unfortunately, this year will be the exception. But last year, the agency had a costume contest at the annual Halloween party. They used to throw some great Halloween parties but, over the years, they've gotten smaller and smaller. This year may be different since we've won some big accounts. Anyway, last year, I just about killed myself whipping up a costume for this party. It was time-consuming and complicated. And it took forever to get into it and I could barely see when I did. But the agency was giving away a free week of vacation to the winner so I really put in the effort. Suzanne worked on a similarly-themed costume for herself and we were sure we were going to take the prize.

I should have seen it coming. I ended up having to work late and the agency always and inexplicably starts their parties at 4:00 in the afternoon. By the time Suzanne and I got dressed and ran across the street to the bar, the voting was closed and we were disqualified. We ended up losing to two (very nice) ladies wearing christmas lights under their T-shirts. (See the Barely There bra campaign we did.) Anyway, we were disappointed but we got lots of kudos (yay.) on our costumes. We decided to give the city-wide costume contest a try and ended up coming in (I think) fourth, behind a little girl in a fairy costume, a guy in an awesome Mona Lisa painting costume and a lady carrying around a box made up to look like a jail cell. Everyone said "You were robbed!" But we thought it worked out fairly. The costumes were pretty good.

So here's my costume...Bender. Suzanne dressed up as Leela with the eye and everything. But I don't have pictures of that on my home computer. Maybe I'll post them when I get to work. She did a great job considering she couldn't find a purple wig to save her life.

This year, I was planning an even cooler costume but events have prevented me from working on it. Maybe next year. Hope you dig the costume. If not, well, you can bite my shiny metal ass.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Interesting responses.

I just got back from my weekend in Durham. It wasn't fun by myself but, then, it's never really fun when I have company either. I keep thinking about how much shorter the trip is than I remember and it just makes me mad at myself that I didn't visit Mike more. My constant excuse was that I didn't want to stress him out because whenever he had company, it took him away from his work. It was the same reason I only called him once in a while or waited for him to call me. I did the majority of my communication with him the last few years by email because he could answer at his convenience. But now, knowing what we all know, I'd give anything to be able to go visit him again, deadlines be damned. Marvel could wait an extra week for their pages. Hell, comics never come out on time anymore anyway.

As I told Todd Dezago today when he called to check on me (Thanks, Todd!), I had a strange experience this morning. I had trouble getting out of bed because I was so tired from having to plane about a quarter-inch off a door I was replacing and about a hundred other things I'd been working on. Finally, I dragged into the kitchen to make some much-needed coffee when I looked out the kitchen window. In Mike's backyard was a beautiful fawn. I couldn't believe it. It wasn't 15 feet away. As it wandered around the yard, nibbling grass here and there, I followed it from window to window. When we both got back to where we'd started, it was joined by an adult doe that had come from around the corner in the direction of the driveway. While I stood there, disbelieving, a third deer, another fawn, came out of the woods and joined the others. The three deer stood for a moment, looking around and then went off into the woods together. I remember thinking to myself, "I wish Mike was here to see this", when, at the edge of the yard, the deer I'd noticed first stopped and looked back over its shoulder, right at me. Then it was gone. I'm secure enough in my masculinity that I don't mind confessing that I broke down crying right there. I've mentioned before that I'm not religious in the conventional sense. I don't believe in a "God" or "gods". But I am a spiritual person and I believe that there is something, whatever that may be, that is bigger than us, be it fate or karma or...just plain old Mother Nature. (If I knew what I believed, I'd probably be attending a church of some kind.) And I think I witnessed something like that today.

Anyway, enough of that. When I got back I read some more of your replies to my last post and I noticed something interesting. While my post was about people you admire professionally, since I mis-named my post "Personal Heroes", a lot of you thought I meant just that and listed people you just plain admire. There were some very cool responses. So, I thought I'd add to my list the people I look up to in all aspects of my life.

Mom— She raised two young boys virtually by herself while Dad was in the Army, with barely any help from anyone in the family and no driver's lisence or car. She's one tough lady but she's also the sweetest person I've ever known.

Suzanne—I've always known she was special. (I married her, didn't I?) But if you could see the way she took charge in Durham when we needed her most and when I was just about useless... Suzanne is always thinking of others first and is first in line when others need help. She shares my love of animals, (Mike and I both got that from our parents, Renee.) and football and likes comics. If she watched horror movies, she'd be just about perfect.

Christopher and Dana Reeve—He never, ever gave up. He lost everything and still kept a positive attitude even though he must have been in hell. He really was Superman. She stood by him through better or worse, mostly worse, when probably nobody would have blamed her for giving up. She face adversity and her own approaching death with dignity and poise , all while trying to help others. We can all only hope to have a tenth of the integrity of either one of them.

I'm going to stop this here, lest this become an Oscar Awards thank-you speech. Next time, I'll try to have something a little more fun.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Personal Heroes

I have to confess, though I've tried to keep it lighthearted here for my own sanity, I've been feeling a little down the last couple of days. Mike's absence is really starting to sink in in a real way and not the abstract sort of way it's been for the last six weeks. (My sister-in-law --purely innocently-- sent me an article that informs me this will only intensify.) My parents are still in Italy and I miss them. And, as of yesterday, Suzanne is in L.A. on agency business and will be for several days. Now, as I prepare for my first solo trip to Durham, I've been trying to come up with something fun to post here. I haven't had much time to draw anything not work-related (illustrations which I'm unable to post) and I'm worried the childhood stuff has overstayed its welcome. But, today, I was handed a topic and I literally felt the lightbulb go off over my head.

This morning, the agency held its quarterly staff meeting...which I forgot about and missed most of. (It starts early.) When I finally rolled in, there was a question and answer period and our President and head Creative Director was answering a question that was basically, "What advice do you give to people who want to succeed?" I paid particular attention to this because Mr. Hughes is one of the few people in this profession that I admire and sincerely like and his opinions are, without fail, worth listening to. He gave many suggestions (fortunately, none of which was "be on time for staff meetings") which I'm not comfortable repeating without permission but far down on his list was one that really stuck with me.

"Have heroes."

Now, from context, it was easy to gather he wasn't talking about Abraham Lincoln or the New York Fire Department. He was talking about people in your profession that you admire and wish to emulate. The thing that hit me hard was the fact that all the people that I hold up as my "heroes" aren't in advertising. With few exceptions (Stephen Spielberg, Stephen King), they're all in comics. So, in an attempt to post something upbeat, here's the short list of my heroes. Feel free to post yours.

1. Mike Wieringo And not just because he's my brother. Because everything I've ever done, either losing weight, drawing, writing, my job, even the house I bought...everything...was in an attempt to either impress Mike or gain his approval...and always will be. Professionally, Mike was also my idol. Ever since he got his first comics work, whenever I'd draw something, I'd hold it up to Mike's work and find it unworthy. He was the consumate artist. He never stopped trying to learn and improve. Looking through his old drawings that he did over the years I saw how many times he would start a page...a wonderfully drawn, perfect page...and set it aside and start over. He never turned in a page he wasn't satisfied with. That's heroic.

2. Sal Buscema I always related to Sal because, as good and prolific as he is, he's always been in his big brother's shadow. (Not that I'm anywhere as good as Sal is. Hell, I'm not even in the business.) I wrote a paper on Sal in high school because I was experiencing this. Whenever I started a new school year, I'd get, "Oh, you're Mike's brother! Do you draw too?" Sal's work always impressed me because it was so accessible. His drawings were simple and no-nonsense, without affectation. And, damn, could he tell a story. You always knew what was going on. He was the first artist I would follow from book to book. In fact, he drew the first comic I remember ever having bought with my own money...MARVEL TEAM-UP #49 And HE'S STILL WORKING!!! A few years ago, I finally got the opportunity to meet Mr. Buscema at the Heroes Convention. It was his first and only (thus far) appearance there and I made Suzanne drive like a maniac to get me there for his signing. I waited in line for an hour (rare for me). I didn't even have anything for him to sign. Autographs mean next to nothing to me. I just wanted to shake his hand and tell him how much his work meant to me. When I got up to him I found out he was doing free head sketches and he asked me who I'd like him to draw. I was flabbergasted but asked for Nova. He had no idea who I was talking about and asked if I had any reference or if I could sketch something out to refresh his memory. With Suzanne beaming beside me, I crouched down and, scared witless, drew the crappiest picture of The Man Called Nova ever drawn. My hand was shaking so badly it looked like it was drawn by a two-month-old chimpanzee. He got the idea though and drew the head sketch that now hangs, framed, in my living room. I think he was a little freaked out by how happy I was to meet him and, having absolutely no ego, couldn't understand why it meant so much to me. That's heroic.

3. Darwyn Cooke I admire Darwyn because he broke in so late (in his 40s) and because, when he did, it was with a fully-developed style. And what a style. He makes it look so easy. I always joke that NEW FRONTIER looks like it was inked with a two-by-four. And I mean that as a compliment. I have scans of all the original, uncolored pages and they're just gorgeous. He makes it look like he just slaps the ink down and is done with it. But if you try to do what he does (and believe me, I have) it's almost impossible. I've studied his work for untold hours and I have no idea how he does it. He's, for want of a better word, fearless. In a business where so much stock is put in precise, almost mechanical inking technique, his lush, even careless brushwork makes me cry with frustration. Because, as carefree as it seems, there's never a line out of place. As much as I love Sal Buscema's work, it's Darwyn Cooke that makes me insane with envy. And he's his worst critic. Reading the "special features" in the slipcase edition of NEW FRONTIER, it becomes apparent that he wrote and drew entire sequences for the book that never made it in because he wasn't satisfied that they helped move the story. It's what Stephen King, in his book ON WRITING, calls being able to "kill your babies." That ability to stay focused on the quality of the final product, despite having spent days working on something that wouldn't make the cut, boggles my mind. That's heroic.

4. Jack Kirby Do I really need to go into detail here? The man loved his work. He helped build everything that came before. The power, energy, dynamism and imagination we all wish we had is right there on every page he ever drew. And he put out several books a month of original material that is imitated and built upon, to this day, without fail. That's heroic.

This is, by no means, the end of the list of people whose work I admire. There's Michael Golden, Jim Starlin, Ernie Colon, Paul Smith, John Byrne (shut up, Leaf), old-school Tony Harris, Bruce Timm, and on and on... But these are the guys that fire my imagination. That keep me drawing and sketching even as I approach my 40s, stuck in a creatively bankrupt job. They make me want to keep trying to improve and learn and, maybe, one day, even get something published.

So. Who are your heroes?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Heat-Ray Meets The Demolisher

In my previous post, I mentioned the epic meeting of my two heroes, Heat-Ray and the Demolisher. Well, here it is.

Apparently, by the time this issue "hit the stands", Noble Comics had fallen on hard times and was snapped up by M.W. Comics. M.W. looks to have been a low-budget, fly-by-night operation, resorting to shady tactics like tracing cover art from other publications. (Put that in your Swipe File and smoke it, Rich Johnston.) M.W. artists were also of questionable quality. Check out the Demolisher on the cover. His foot projects in front of the "Crusher's" leg. Either M.W.'s cover artist was drinking heavily or the Crusher was 40 feet tall. And Heat-Ray is depicted as if the power of flight does not extend to his extremities. They dangle from his torso like those wasps that used to buzz from one end of the house to the other during the summertime when I was a kid.

The writers were not immune to the decline in professionalism, either. One merely needs to read the story's title, "Cometh of the Crusher" to know we're in trouble.

Our story opens as the Crusher leans against a lamppost, really just minding his own business when the two heroes show up and decide to kick his ass for no apparent reason. Maybe they're curious how one earns the name "Crusher." Or maybe they just don't like his purple tights. Who knows? Lucky for the Crusher, he gives as good as he gets, giving Demolisher a one-two combination while exclaiming, "Take that...and that!" Having gained the upper hand, Crusher slips away into the night. We're then treated to a two-panel interlude, introducing us to a pre-AUSTIN POWERS Dr. Evil. We know Dr. Evil is a badass because he kicks some poor unnamed guy out of his office before laughing maniacally. Scared yet? You should be.

Back to the action, Demolisher and Heat-Ray, while pursuing the poor Crusher, have a net thrown over them by...somebody. No sooner does Heat-Ray rip the net apart than the duo find themselves caught in a cliffhanger...namely, the ol' slowly-compressing wall-vice. Up next...THE SMASHER!