Monday, April 25, 2011

Inspiration Overload

I've been somewhat frustrated lately. I've still got two pages of my PERHAPANAUTS story to turn in. I'm still not finished with Heywood's commission. Don't get me started on being 5 months past my planned start date on drawing THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR. And I have no sketches to post, despite several false starts. Life has conspired to get in the way of any of my plans to draw.

Take tonight for instance. The plan was to come home at a decent hour and finish inking Heywood's drawing. But Suzanne and I carpool to work together to save parking costs and gas money. And today she was surprised with some after-hours obligations for her job and I was stuck killing several hours at my favorite watering hole (Legend Brewery) waiting for her to finish. I find drawing at a bar very difficult (as Christian can attest) and so I did what I usually do when I know I've got some time to kill. I printed off some online interviews with some of my favorite creators to read. The incomparable Darwyn Cooke. Chris Samnee. Dave Stewart.

Reading these interviews had the reverse effect I'd expected. They put me in a sort of funk. These guys are all so good and so passionate about what they do for a living and live and breathe their work. While very inspiring, it also served to emphasize that I am just not in that situation. I guess I'm going through a sort of mid-life crisis but I'm realizing now, more than ever, that I just don't have any passion for what I do for a living. Don't get me wrong. I'm good at what I do and grateful for the job. I think I've earned it and try every day to get better at it. But I don't leap out of bed in the morning just champing at the bit to go to work. I look around at the people I work with who get so excited when something is working right and I wonder why that's not me. It's got me thinking about how I ended up on this path.

Many, many years ago, around the time I was graduating high school, I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. It came down to two things. Drawing comics and being a police officer. I realized, thankfully, that I don't have the temperment, powers of observation or, frankly, guts, to be a good cop so it looked like it was comics for me. But Mike was going through some frustrating times of his own back then, languishing in a crappy job and extremely nervous about not making it into comics. We had the usual sibling rivalry that most brothers go through. As a result, he made one throwaway, offhand comment that didn't seem like much to him at the time. He said, "You only want to draw comics because I want to."

He meant nothing by it. He was just speaking out of frustration. But it had a devastating effect. Because I looked up to him and I wasn't sure if he was right or not. As in most tragedies, I have at least one fatal character flaw. When I feel threatened, I tend to bare down and think, "Fuck you; I'll show you." Usually, not really knowing just what it is I'm planning on showing. In this case, what I decided to show was that I could do something other than draw comics when that was what I really, really wanted to do. At the time I'd been really taken with some films like THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, RAZORBACK and BLOOD SIMPLE. I decided I'd go to film school. And, as a horror nut, I decided I wanted to be a horror movie director.

Somewhere along the line, though, I think I started to see my mistake and, in my senior year, I realized I'd just wasted four years of college when I should have been drawing. I had no real vision or philosophy when it came to film. It was a deficit that would plague me my entire time at VCU. Add to that my growing realization that I should have been studying illustration and you can imagine how I was starting to feel. One day, one of my few Illustration instructors (They were electives.) saw some of Mike's work on display in the hallway and told me, "You shouldn't bother. Your brother has it all over you." When I told Mike this, he was furious. Ever the protective big brother, he told me the teacher was full of shit but the words stuck with me. Not even the fact that one of my other teachers held back some of my illustrations to be placed in the school archives made me feel better about it.

After graduation, I got farther and farther away from doing what I really wanted to do and, eventually, I stopped drawing altogether. A quasi-video production job led to a graphic design job which led to an art director job which led to a service bureau job which led to where I am now, working at a mid-size, national advertising agency. It's a great living and a lot of people would kill me in a heartbeat to have my job. I should be doing backflips. But, then, there's those interviews. Maybe the grass is always greener. I know there were days when Mike was dissatisfied with where his path had gone, despite that fact that it was what he'd always wanted. But, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I wanted to work in advertising. It really is a case of falling into a good thing. I've always been lucky that way. Or have I? Because now I'm stuck. I make too good a living to walk away from it. Giving up a good thing just isn't in my nature. Another character flaw. But there's a part of me that just screams at me that I should take a chance. Take some real illustration classes. Learn how to draw better. And just do it.

We recently had a couple of people just up and leave. I asked them what they were going to do and their answer was, "I don't know. Do some things I always wanted to do." I told them, "Damn. I wish I had balls that big."

Who knows. Maybe I just need someone to tell me I can't do it. Then I could say, "Fuck you; I'll show you."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Black Lightning

My last post kind of "sparked" this one. I'd mentioned that I wasn't really that into Metamorpho growing up but that's not entirely true. I'd forgotten about the Element Man's membership in The Outsiders. Back then, I'd found Dad's stash of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, DC's version of MARVEL TEAM-UP featuring Batman and an ever-changing roster of superheroic guest stars. I fell in love with the book and started buying up back issues by the handful at The Treasure Chest, Lynchburg's comic shop at the time. I also started buying the current issues as they came out. Almost immediately, the book was cancelled in favor of a new title to be called BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS. Batman was going to start a new team of misfits and mentor them. I was horrified. My favorite part of TBATB was seeing Jim Aparo drawing all those great DC characters. Now the roster was going to be fixed and full of a bunch of new characters I didn't care about. I knew about Metamorpho, of course.

But there was one character I was interested in. Black Lightning. Despite falling under the comic book curse of being an African American character with the word "black" in his name, I was drawn to the guy. It probably had something to do with his cool costume. Most of DC's B- and C-list characters had forgettable outfits. But Lightning had one that was on a par with some of John Romita's best designs. It also had the benefit of the brilliant addition of fake hair to hide Lightning's true identity. Unfortunately, if I remember correctly, Lightning didn't quite fit in with the rest of the team as they were portrayed as a bunch of misfit losers. I didn't see Lightning that way. As I recall, he was a teacher in his civilian identity that was trying to improve conditions in his inner city neighborhood.

I was hoping the sketch above would turn out cooler and had intended it to sort of work as a companion drawing to the Metamorpho piece but it didn't turn out like I'd planned. I'm a little embarrassed to post it but I don't really have anything else. I'm particularly humbled because I just finished reading Dave Stevens' final interview in the latest issue of BACK ISSUE! Stevens was a real artist's artist. It was never about money or prestige with him. He was always just interested in producing good work and improving himself. I think Stevens' ROCKETEER has some of the most beautiful art I've ever seen in a comic but he revealed he was so dissatisfied with his work that he went out and took dozens of courses in drawing and painting to try and improve his drawing. Reading the interview was so inspirational. I'm in my forties now but I want to run out and enroll in drawing classes.

Anyway, that's all I've got for now. I apologize for the disjointed post. It's very late and I'm pretty tired. I've got a full day tomorrow but Heywood, I promise that includes finshing up lightboxing the pinup I promised you. Then I'll just have to ink it.


Friday, April 1, 2011


Whew. Generally speaking, my job is not that stressful. Exhausting, yes. But not stressful. There are usually so many layers of process between me and making a mistake that I have no trouble sleeping at night. But this week has been different. All the layers have been stripped away because of insane deadlines and outrageous workload and so my blood pressure is in the red zone this week. So I needed something to relieve the tension.

I haven’t had much drawing time lately. I made a deal with Heywood Jablomie to draw something especially for him but once that was laid out, I could only work on it at home. And it’s next to impossible to draw at work. But since I’ve had a couple moderately late nights waiting for Suzanne to get off work, I’ve had this chance to knock out a quick drawing.

Over on his Perhapanauts blog, Todd posted a great drawing of Metamorpho that Ramona Fradon had drawn for him. Literally, that was all it took. My pencil was in my hand in seconds. I’ve never been a rabid fan of Metamorpho but I have an affection for the C-Listers, both Marvel and DC. I picked up the Showcase edition of Metamorpho reprints a year or so ago and loved, loved, loved the artwork. But the stories weren’t really my thing. However, the great thing about comics is, even if the story doesn’t hold your attention, there’s always the chance that the artwork will. Ramona Fradon’s stuff is like nobody else’s and I could stare at it for hours.

If you think about it, Metamorpho is a really silly concept and wonky character design. But it works. That’s one of the great things about superhero comics. Pretty much all of it is silly. But it’s only when you try to take the silliness out of it that you notice it. Metamorpho is a fun character. And a hell of a lot of fun to draw.

Okay, that’s all I got. I’ve got to get home early and get some sleep. I’m running (Okay, walking. Well, limping.) in the Ukrops 10K tomorrow morning. After 10 weeks of training, I exacerbated a case of tendonitis (plantar fasciitis) in my right foot that’s so bad I’ve been limping around for almost a month now and had to see an orthopedist. After tomorrow, I’ll be taking it very easy. The plan was to run the race this year but that’s just not possible. So maybe next year. Cross your fingers.

Cross them as well for the VCU Rams basketball team. They’re playing in the NCAA Final Four tomorrow against Butler. After the race, Suze and I are going to grab a bite to eat and then sack out for a few hours and then try to find somewhere with an open table and a TV and watch the game. Unless you live in Richmond, you wouldn’t believe what this has done to our little town. This is unheard of around here. We just don’t see our schools or local sports teams in big national events like this and it’s really brought out the best in Richmond. The whole place has VCU-fever. I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been waiting nearly 25 years for a VCU football team and maybe this will be the spark they need to make it happen. Not to get ahead of myself. So be sure to watch the game this Saturday and root hard for our guys Rodriguez, Burgess, Skeen and the rest. And if you need a laugh, check out this link to THE ONION that Christian sent me:,19871/

I know they’re joking but I wouldn’t put it past the NCAA. They haven’t exactly been making a big deal out of our improbable run to the Final Four.

Okay, I’m out! Later.