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.