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?