Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sketchless in Richmond and Back to the Book

It seems that the rush of activity on my accounts at work has subsided a bit for now so this week has been strangely...normal. After several weeks of working weekends and all-nighters, I suddenly find myself working 9-to-5 (ish) days and it's been a bit of a shock to my system. During the day, it's been balls to the wall, so I haven't had any time to draw anything. Which, I suppose, is how a job is supposed to be. But I'm so tired when I get home, the last thing I want to do is sit down at the drawing board. Plus, Suzanne and I have just started a diet and exercise plan (That pic of us Todd posted was alarming...) and our energy levels are looowwwww. Overall, I am feeling better, though. A consequence of the diet has been a marked decrease in my coffee consumption since I can't afford all that extra sugar intake. That's lessened the effect of the 6:00 caffeine-crash I usually suffer. But I have to wonder at the wisdom of starting a diet at the beginning of summer. I'm a beer and barbecue guy and there will have to be none of that for a while.

Since I haven't been drawing (I did a few doodles yesterday and was horrified at how bad they were.), I've decided to take advantage of the situation and make a concerted effort to get back to writing my story. Due to my profession, I'm more comfortable at the computer than at the drawing board anyway. But anyone that tells you that writing is easier than drawing either hasn't done both or is yanking your weenie. Writing is hard work.

I heard some great writing advice once. The writer said that he never stops working at the end of a scene because it's so hard to start working the next day when there's no momentum already going. Great advice that. I made the mistake of finishing a pivotal scene back when work really blew up a couple of months ago and trying to figure out what comes next has been downright maddening. As I've mentioned, knowing a story and telling it are two different things.

I go for walks on my lunch hour whenever possible. Richmond is blessed with some nice, scenic walking routes along the James River and I can get there in minutes from the agency. I used to listen to music on my iPhone while I walked but it became too distracting. I've found that if leave the headphones behind, it frees my mind to work out storytelling problems. I was having trouble even getting a character into a room convincingly. But I think, thanks to my 3 or 4 mile jaunts this week, that I'm over that hump and I can move forward again.

The problem I've having now has to do with mechanics. Writing comics is not writing a novel or a short story. Or a movie. As I walk, I come up with great (IMO) character bits and lines of dialogue and strands of backstory that, once I start typing, I realize just don't fit. There are only so many panels and words that will fit on a page and only so many pages in an issue. My four-issue story has already ballooned to six and now maybe eight issues. Christian has read the first two scripts and said, "Great! I love it! When is something going to happen?" Which is the worst thing an aspiring writer can hear.

Unfortunately, THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR has always been about the characters and their relationships. I really love this group of kids I'm writing about and I think the plot has suffered a bit because of it. I have thought of several things that will punch up the action a couple of notches in the rewrite and, luckily, it won't necessitate a massive overhaul. I'm actually looking forward to that.

Another problem is that Johnny, the "hero" of the story, was beginning to feel like a bit of a cypher. Writing a character that could be you is really not a good idea because you tend to idealize yourself. You can be afraid to show that character's weaknesses because people will see them as your weaknesses. But I've worked out some things that I think will alleviate that issue and make Johnny more interesting as a character. I always loved how J. K. Rowling, who based the character of Hermione on herself, went out of her way to show that Hermione's enthusiasm and brilliance were not always a good thing. She managed to take a character who was almost perfect in every way and make her one of the most endearing and interesting characters in the series. I'm no J. K. Rowling but there are lessons to be learned here.


Another couple of quick things and then I'm going to sign off and take advantage of my weekend off and get some writing done. Suzanne has to go in to work today and it's too damn hot to mow the grass, which is brown and crackly anyway. (We don't have a sprinkler system, alas.)

I recently ordered and received a copy of Screen Archives reissue of James Horner's score from STAR TREK II, THE WRATH OF KHAN. After years of searching, I had finally gotten a copy of the out-of-print release that only had 8 or so tracks from the film. But its brevity was disappointing. This rerelease has everything. Every cue. And it's delightful. The liner notes alone are worth the $19. For instance, I never realized that WRATH was produced as a low-budget movie! Stung by the disappointment of the first film that went horribly over-budget, the studio cut corners all over the place. They recycled effects shots and sets from the first film. They hired TV producer Harve Bennett to produce, virtually untested director Nicholas Meyer to direct and then tapped the nearly unheard-of composer James Horner to do the score because they couldn't afford to have Jerry Goldsmith come back. Against all odds, they managed to put together a team that not only cared about the material but had the talent and passion to put together one of the best genre films ever made. And James Horner's score was a large part of that. This was one of my soundtrack "holy grails" for years (I can't believe the film is nearly 30 years old!) and it still holds up as one of the all-time great film scores. I highly recommend it if you're into this sort of thing. Thank you Screen Archives!

Suze and I saw THE A-TEAM last Saturday night. It ain't high art, but damn it was FUN! If you liked the trailer, you'll love the movie. These guys looked like they had a great time, particularly Bradley Cooper, who never stops grinning.

FUTURAMA is back, baby! Suck it, FOX!

Catch this week's MAN VS. FOOD, if you can. Adam Richmond is in...well...Richmond! I somehow managed to miss seeing him when he was in town filming but I'm really looking forward to seeing where he went when he was here.

Okay, sorry to go on so long with no pix to cut the taste of boolsheet. Have a great weekend.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I've posted this picture before but I don't think I ever told the story behind it. Not here anyway.

I think it was back in 2006. The Heroes Convention, after many years of dancing around it, had finally fallen on the same date as Mike's birthday, June 24th. As we were preparing for our trip down to Charlotte, Suzanne began to wonder when was the last time Mike had gotten a cake for his birthday. She got it into her head that she was going to take him one. I told her there was no outside food allowed into the convention center but she said she'd just smile nice and bright and they'd have to let her take it in to him.

The night before the trip, she whipped up a great looking Spider-Man cake in honor of Mike's on-again, off-again relationship with the wall-crawler and the next morning, we loaded it into our Suburban for the 5-hour drive to Charlotte. We left the cake uncovered, figuring it would be a quick air-conditioned drive and that would be that.

Fate had other plans.

This was before Christian and Angie started going with us so it was just the two of us. We were either listening to a book on tape or maybe one of Suzanne's mix CDs. We were making great time and had gone about halfway when we decided to stop for gas and lunch in the town of Creedmoor, just north of Mike's home in Durham. Lucky we did. After gassing up, I went to start the car and >click!<...nothing happened. Just a click. The truck was dead.

After some investigation, we determined that there was an open garage about a quarter-mile down the road. They said they'd be glad to help us out but they didn't tow. So we called AAA and after about 45 minutes, a truck showed up and towed us all of 200 yards to the garage. The driver got a few yucks out of that. It was so close I could have pushed it myself except it was up-slope.

Anyway, it turned out to be the alternator and the garage just happened to have one in stock. They promised to have us back on the road in a couple of hours. What they didn't have, though, was air conditioning. And it was pretty nasty hot. Suzanne had rescued the cake from the truck, just in case, but there was nowhere to store it. The icing had started to sweat in the heat a little and the tiny waiting room We could see it drifting heavily in the sunlight coming through the open door. There was an old TV with a UHF dial sitting on pasteboard cart in the corner. The slot for a VCR was empty and Suzanne and I looked at each other, shrugged, and she slid the cake into the slot under the TV. Problem solved.

True to their word, about two and half hours later, we were gratefully paying up and back on 85, Mike's cake safely back in the storage compartment of the Suburban. (When we got back home, Suzanne promptly sent the garage a thank-you gift of a box of gourmet cookies.) We felt, all things considered, extremely fortunate. But we'd missed almost the entire first day of the convention and were pretty sure we weren't going to get there before it closed for the day.

But Suzanne was at the wheel and we got there with about a half-hour to spare. We raced into the convention center as soon as we'd parked and picked up our badges and headed to the escalator. Where we were stopped by the security guard. Fortunately, Suzanne's smile was extra bright and, with the help of one of Shelton's volunteers, explained the situation to the guard who was actually very nice. She looked around to make sure nobody was watching and let us through with the cake.

Mike was so excited to see us and couldn't believe that Suze had made him a cake. And he really couldn't believe she'd talked her way past the guards. Suzanne cut him a slice and he scarfed it down. We both wondered if he was just being nice since Mike was known to eat things he didn't really want just to humor us. But then he ate another piece. And another. And started handing out pieces to people sitting around him. In no time, half the cake was gone.

Seeing Mike enjoying the cake Suzanne made for him is one of my favorite memories of him. Since we lived so far apart, for all I know, that was the last birthday cake Mike got. It nearly breaks my heart to think about it. But then I think how lucky it was that Suzanne chose that year to do it. And that we stopped in Creedmoor, right next to that garage. And that we got a sympathetic guard. We could have missed out on that great memory for so many reasons. But we didn't.

Happy Birthday, Mikey. We miss you more than ever.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

R.I.P. Al Williamson

Another giant gone. He really was one of the greats. Especially his work for the old black and white horror mags published by Warren.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Damn Dirty Apes

During all the craziness leading up to last weekend’s Heroes Convention, I foolishly started a sketch that was intended as a gift for Jeff Parker. I had listened to an interview between him, Gabriel Hardman and John Siuntres that was ostensibly about AGENTS OF ATLAS but which degenerated into a great discussion of the 1960’s-1970’s PLANET OF THE APES film series. I’ve always loved those movies and, when Hardman mentioned how much he loved the opening scene of ESCAPE (as do I) I knew I had to draw something. My intention was to knock it out quickly and then give it to Jeff at the convention. Alas, an inevitable all-nighter at work the night before prevented me from finishing it and then the half-drawn sketch got misplaced while we were packing so I couldn’t work on it during the show. I felt a little foolish walking up to Jeff, giving him the big build up and then...nothin’. Jeff gave me a look not unlike the expression one has when one realizes that an elderly relative has lost their mind. He patted my forearm and offered to go get my shawl. I never saw him again. Which is too bad. That hall got a little chilly in the mornings. Could’ve used that shawl.

This week has been just as nuts but I had a few minutes today and finished inking Cornelius, which was all that remained to be done. I thought I’d go ahead and post it while I had the time. The likenesses are a bit off but I kind of dig it. I hope you do too. Is it poor form to post a drawing before presenting it to the giftee?


I mentioned in the last post that I’d gotten a Nova sketch from Franco (thanks to a timely heads-up from our friend David Tilly) and here it is:

I love it. Especially the bullet-shaped head. He struggled with the costume a little and did some corrections before inking. But that actually made me happy. I love that almost nobody from whom I get sketches knows who Nova is. I almost wish that Marvel hadn’t done anything with him since the ‘70s. He’s never been as good as he was then though I really enjoyed that Erik Larsen/Joe Bennett series a while back. The new series is decent but I really can’t stand the new costume (although at least there are no red straps and buckles) and with his new popularity (Secret Avengers? WTF?) it’s only a matter of time before he’s inevitably over-complicated and screwed up.

As the show was winding down, my buddy Warren Newsome hooked me up with a quick Nova headshot that he knocked out in about 30 seconds which I find pretty darned impressive.

I guess he didn’t because he promised to email me another attempt when he got home. True to his word, this was waiting for me when I got home Monday, along with another version colored by his son Eric. Eric, you may remember, was the first person to ever ask me for a convention sketch, fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine. Thanks guys! These are great!


One of the things I love about comic conventions is seeing what tools everyone is using. This year, Suzanne excitedly pointed out that Steve Lieber was using a Pentel brush pen that I’d noticed at an art supply store a couple of weeks ago. It was fairly expensive ($16 retail compared to about $3 for the Pitt pen) so I didn’t want to just buy it on blind faith. I never got up the nerve to ask him about it (again, I suffer from a mild case of SAD) and he had a constant flow of admirers in front of him anyway. But then he posted something about the pen on the John Byrne forum and that’s all it took. I picked one up at an art supply store on the VCU campus today. I’ve only messed around with it a little but it’s really cool. I can’t wait to try it out for real.

Okay, that’s all for now. We’ve got my parents coming for a visit this weekend but I may try to squeeze in some of the World Cup. I’m not a futbol kind of guy but I like watching the big sporting events even for sports I don’t really follow. Anyway, have a great weekend everybody.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Once More, with Feeling

Thank you, Shelton Drum, for another great Heroes Convention! Despite the absence of so many of our friends this year, Suzanne and I had a wonderful time. That was due, in large part, to the fact that we lucked into a spot on the main drag between gentleman drawing machine superstar Rick Leonardi (who looks nothing like I pictured him) and Mike's friend, the hilariously funny and handsome Ron Garney. Ron kept us laughing so hard the entire show that the muscles in the back of my head were hurting by Sunday. (A college friend used to call that "permagrin.")

We had a slow start but, by the end of the show, we ended up having a very productive weekend. For that, we can thank several people, including one British gentleman who ended up buying, I believe, six pages over the weekend. We also got several generous donations from professionals who were sitting around us or stopped by on their way home after the show. I got a big laugh when my favorite blogger, Chris Sims stopped by to wish us luck and ended up buying a page from Mike's ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN run. If you know anything about Chris' tastes and you're familiar with Mike's Superman run, you could probably guess which page got him excited.

Most impressively, we've noticed a trend the last few shows and this one was no different. We've been getting more in donations than we have from people buying stuff. From pocket change up to some hefty contributions. That's really warmed our hearts and we can't thank everyone enough who contributed to the fund. Every penny, and I mean every penny goes into the fund and that means it goes to a student. So thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

Thank you also to Brett Carerras, who officially invited us to set up at the Virginia Comicon, coming up this November. Thank you to friend of the blog Warren Newsome who kept me company. Sometimes sitting behind that table can get dull and Warren was a lot of fun to talk to. Thank you also to Brian Pillow, Paul Rogers and Brian Mulchahy for "minding the store" for us so we could have lunch together or just walk around holding hands from time to time. (Brian Pillow is either lucky as hell or the best sales person ever because he always brings in more than we do and in one tenth of the time.)

I'll wrap up the scholarship fund part of this post with one last item. In the chaos leading up to the art auction, one thing led to another and we never made our announcement. Since I'm a terrible public speaker and suffer from just a touch of social anxiety disorder, I can't say I was altogether disappointed. But what Suze and I were going to say was that a) Rae Rochelle is keeping the scholarship this year and that in all likelihood, we will be announcing a new winner at next Heroes and b) thanks to everyone's generousity and a (temporarily?) rebounding stock market, the award went up from $1100 last year to $1500 this year. That's great news. Now, let's keep at it and get Mike's fund up there where we can put a kid through school on a full ride.


Now on to the fanboy stuff. Suze was nice enough to sit at the table and allow me some geek time. I'm a little shy around people so I was too nervous to go talk to some of the pros I wanted to meet like Mike Mignola, Herb Trimpe and Jim Starlin. But I did run over and snag a Nova sketch from Franco, who draws the TINY TITANS book for DC and writes BILLY BATSON AND THE POWER OF SHAZAM, one of new favorites. Also, after listening to our friend Chris Kemple describe the plot of the latest issue of THE RISE OF ARSENAL, I got queasy and had to run over and buy a few issues of G-MAN from Chris Giarrusso. And since we were in the same "corral", I screwed up the nerve to tell Steve Lieber how much I loved UNDERGROUND, which was my favorite book of the year so far. (Suzanne, never bashful, bought the trade from them and got them to sign it to her and Steve did a great sketch for her.) But I'm still kicking myself for forgetting to pick up some of Chris Sim's comics, including AWESOME HOSPITAL. Aargh!

Most of my free time was spent running around the hall checking out the bargain trades. As has become tradition, behold my wall o' loot!

I tried to be good this year. I tend to go way overboard and blow the budget all to hell. But this year I went in not really looking for much (just the THORs, really) and trying to stick to the real bargain stuff. I found some great surprises (like the CAPTAIN CANUCK hardcover and EERIE collection) but I was proud that I didn't find myself returning over and over to the ATM. I even passed up a half-price TOMB OF DRACULA VOL. 2 OMNIBUS. That took real willpower, as I had just about 50 bucks in my pocket at the time.

But then my BEST WIFE EVER, Suzanne, spotted the guy selling out-of-print soundtracks. I'd walked past him a couple of times, holding my hand up to shield my vision from alluring merch. But not Suzanne. She walked up to me and quizzed me about what soundtracks I wished I had.

"Ummm...THE THING is kind of my holy grail...maybe DAY OF THE DEAD by John Harrison...OH! and ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES by Jerry Goldsmith!" Why?"

Next thing I know, she's standing in front of the soundtrack guy, holding up all three. "THESE OKAY!???"

It was almost too tempting. But I figured the CDs wouldn't sound very good in the poor house so DAY OF THE DEAD went back and Suze got me these:

Thanks, baby!

Sunday night, Shelton kindly invited us to his afterparty. It's our third one and it's always fun. I love shopping in his store because he's always got great stuff in stock. It's also a great way to indulge fanboy fantasies by standing next to guys like Tony Harris while checking out the latest issue of SPIDER-MAN. Mark Waid is usually there and it's usually the only time we get to say, "Hi" because he's always all over the place but we didn't get to see him this year. (Except for 30 seconds in the hotel elevator when I gave him shit for destroying Richmond in IRREDEEMABLE. I told him between him and John Carpenter, I was getting a complex.) Valerie D'Orozio was there and I really wanted to introduce myself because I was a fan of her blog but I didn't have the nerve. She was shopping and I didn't want to get all fanboy on her in her personal time. Maybe next year.

Though Shelton always puts out a great spread, it's sort of become tradition for Suze and I to eat at the Cajun Queen restaurant down the street from the shop. Mark Waid kindly invited us to join him three years ago (along with Christian who dubbed Mark "Uncle Boom", cracking us all up) and we fell in love with the place. The food is magnificent and there's great atmosphere. This year we ended up going by ourselves but, Suzanne being Suzanne, we still wound up talking with the folks at the next table and having a great time.

We ended the weekend with breakfast with our friend Rich Faber, his son Jason and a friend at, of all places, the convention center food court. It was close and cheap (I think we were all officially broke by then) and I'm glad we did. Not only did we enjoy the company, we got to see something I've never seen before. The Charlotte Convention Center, post-con. Observe:

I god, Woodrow.

We had a great time seeing everybody (and missed seeing those who couldn't make it.) I also had a great time creeping out Jeff Parker with my obscene Planet of the Apes fixation but I don't think I skeeved him quite as much as did Paul Roger with this rather unmanly display of fan affection. Hand check!

Okay. Enough rambling. Back to real world. Ugh.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Age of Heroes

Suzanne and I will once again be representing the Mike Wieringo Scholarship Fund at Heroes this coming weekend. Shelton has nicely provided us a space in Artists Alley. I think the guest list is longer than ever before this year, despite several no-shows by some folks I was hoping to see (ahem—Todd, Nick, Rod, Leeane, Scott—ahem). There wasn't any space to spare so we'll be squeezed in between the folks from Jeff Parker's studio and our good buddy Craig Rousseau who have graciously agreed to give up some of their space so we can set up. I can't thank them all enough. We're going to keep it mean and lean this year and try to take up as little space as possible.

Unfortunately, that will be easier than we'd planned. Suzanne and I had ordered some fancy new buttons to hand out this year. Suzanne couldn't remember where she ordered the last batch so I took a chance on these useless so-and-so's who not only took two weeks to complete the order, but they then sent us some other poor sucker's buttons. This has left us high and dry since we're completely out of the white 'Ringo buttons. Needless to say, I won't be using them again and I highly recommend you don't either. The steam is still coming out of my ears.

Still, I'm trying to stay positive because we are there for a good cause and I'm looking forward to seeing some of the folks we only get to see at Heroes including some of you who are nice enough to post in the comments here. We're also so grateful for everyone who has been so generous and patient with us. Despite tough economic times and a declining comics market, the fund has continued to grow and it's all because of you folks out there who loved Mike and his work and because of great folks like Shelton Drum at Heroes, Marc and Shelley at Baltimore and Brett Carreras at Virginia Comicon who continue to go out of their way to support us.

We'll be making a very short announcement regarding the fund before the Art Auction. In case you can't make it, though, it's nothing major. Just announcing how much this year's award is (It's gone up!) and the fact that it's staying with our favorite Sequential Art major, Rae Rochelle. I believe she's scheduled to graduate next year so, hopefully, we'll be announcing a new winner at next year's Heroes.

Okay, unless your name fell between the "ahems" up above or unless you happen to be my good buddy, Christian Leaf, who also is not coming, I'll look for you to stop by the table this weekend. See you then.

And sorry about the buttons.