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Archive for April 2008

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Adventures in Odyssey Comics Bible

After several years in the comic book industry (at first self publishing, then working for established publishers like DC Comics), I began looking for chances to do comics outside the comics field. With The Adventures in Odyssey Bible, I got my first opportunity. Originally published in 1994, this bible utilized characters from the popular Odyssey series from Focus on the Family, now enjoying over twenty years of audio dramas, CDs, books and cartoon DVDs. odyssey.jpg From rough scripts provided, I adapted into comics form eight four-page color story inserts, adding dialogue where necessary, breaking down and laying out the story. Each morality tale features and takes its cue from a verse from the bible. We also provided the cover art, and forty or so black-and-white spot illustrations interspersed throughout the text of the bible. To begin work on this project, I was provided with a couple animated videos from which to determine character likenesses. Frustratingly, I was finally given model sheets only towards the end of the project. I did small page roughs on 3 x 5 cards, going directly to pencils then in larger 10 x 15 original art, sometimes penciling, inking and lettering more than a page a day. I had to work quickly, so as to keep feeding finished pages to the agency here in Minneapolis to the young guy coloring the pages. I found the coloring of the first story to be a tad too dark, but things improved rapidly after I spent an hour with him talking about coloring in general and how color can be used to aid the storytelling. During that session, it was the first time I saw my art blown up on a large computer screen, and I was sold. Within a year or two, we invested in a computer set-up of our own, and no longer had to farm out or sub-contract our color work. From then on, we've had more control over the work and schedule, and have kept more of the income in studio. Some sample comic book pages can be viewed in our Prime Projects section of this site (among work from other projects, so take a gander while there). Now out of print, used copies can still be found at amazon, ebay or half.com, etc. odyssey_cov.gif

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Charlton Heston: 1924-2008

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“With his perfect, lean-hipped, powerful body, Heston is a god-like hero; built for strength, he is an archetype of what makes Americans win. He represents American power — and he has the profile of an eagle.” - Movie critic Pauline Kael, 1968
That's part of what made him such an icon. His look and aura made him appear larger than life. How many others could fill those shoes, all those great icons he portrayed? But he was a very good and solid actor, too. Had to be, to pull off those big roles. And he did well more subtle roles, just watch his performance in the western, Will Penny, if you don't believe me. I saw on a blog last week after Heston died:
When I read "remembered chiefly for his monumental, jut-jawed portrayals of Moses, Ben-Hur and Michelangelo," I wondered, by whom? I'm pretty old but I've never seen those movies. I was alive when they came out, but too young to go to movies like that, and they weren't the kind of movies I was ever interested in over the decades I've spent catching up on old movies...I think most people younger than 60 remember him chiefly for "Planet of the Apes." Ask the man on the street to imitate Charlton Heston and I bet he'd say "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!
Well, certainly he is also remembered for Apes, but he was already quite well known by then, having won an Oscar for Ben Hur a decade earlier. I'm fifteen years younger than this blogger and grew up watching those movies when they ran on TV at least annually. My parents saw all those movies on the big screen when they were first released, and passed on to the next generation an appreciation for Heston and his peers, and for those movies from an earlier period. By the time Apes showed up, I was already a fan. It was one of the first movies I saw on the big screen (I was six), which only paved the way for me to love Chuck (please don't call him Charlie). A word on the art above: I initially struggled with a few pencils, overworking them and not quite grasping his likeness. Frustrated, I jumped in to ink. The brush saved me. I inked boldly and quickly and achieved the look I was after, finding more of the likeness along the way. The scanned inks were than colored in Photoshop, and I played with "chalk" brushes for the background, but am not sure if I overdid it. What do you think? This has turned out to be a long post, so you're probably wondering when I will make an end? When I am finished.

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PROOF Short Story

I've done plenty of comics the last decade, just not any that have appeared in a comic book. After having drawn hundreds and hundreds of pages within the comics industry, all the comics I've drawn since have shown up beyond its borders. That's about to change, as I've signed up to do a short story that will appear in the pages of Proof. I've not yet received the script from my pal, Alex Grecian, but the story sounds like it will be a blast to draw. Alex has divulged to me I'll get to draw even more crazy creatures from the book, and one that will be making his debut in the story I'll be drawing. In preparation, I doodled a couple pages of character studies of Elvis Chesnut and the Dover Demon, two of Proof's best buddies, and a couple of my favorites from the series. Here's a sneak peek, although Elvis will look different; he's had a haircut since I did these studies, some in pencil, some in ink.

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PROOF trade paperback in May

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I'd mentioned last December the new comic book, Proof, from Image Comics, co-created and written by my pal, Alex Grecian. The series is making quite a splash, some may say the surprise hit of the year, and has been nominated for many of Britain's Eagle Awards. Issue 6 was just released, with #7 due out in a couple weeks. True to their word, Alex and his artist co-conspirator, Riley Rossmo have delivered their new book monthly, with more already in the can. For those who've been late to the series, it'll be easy to catch up, as the first story arc, Goatsucker, is to be collected and released in May, at the special, low introductory price of just under $10! So jump on board and catch up with the series, now beginning a new three-issue story, promising plenty of action and, as usual, weirdness galore. And check this blog tomorrow, for more Blue Moon/Proof-related news!

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Sunday Funnies

A couple humorous diversions: The 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time This usually short form translates well to the internet. Who doesn't have a few minutes to watch the likes of Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch? And there are plenty more. Many are obvious classics, some you love but haven't seen in a while, and some are more obscure. Rated, compiled and presented by nerve.com and the Independent Film Channel. RiffTrax

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The latest venture of Michael J. Nelson, one of the masterminds responsible for Mystery Science Theater 3000. Affordable at just a few bucks each, order one online and sync these audio "RiffTrax" with your favorite, and not so favorite DVDs. It's easy -- just play the DVD and RiffTrax MP3 together and get ready for laughs. This one looks to be funny:

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There are so many dumb and weird things that happen in Jurassic Park between the dinosaur scenes, I can't wait to watch and listen and see what these two came up with. And this new one looks good, too:

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I liked the first two Spidey movies, but the third far less. Joining Nelson in tearing apart Spider-Man 3 is fellow Minnesotan and writer James Lileks. His Daily Bleat is also well worth checking out.

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Better Off Dead

In the early '90s, for some odd reason, I agreed to ink a horror story for Comico Comics. They'd published my comic, Trollords (with partner and co-creator Scott Beaderstadt) in color for a short time in 1988-89, before the company imploded and came into new hands. A couple friends were doing work for them, and I took on the story as more of a favor at about half my regular rate, throwing in lettering, too.

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"Better Off Dead" is a horror story drawn in a style similar to horror comics great, Bernie Wrightson, though I can't for the life of me recall the name of the penciler. Patrick Something? It was fun enough, but I hadn't seen it in years before stumbling across this page online. Someone else had seen it, too and emailed me to inquire whether I'd want to draw something in this style for him. Not so much. It remains the only job, in the comics field or otherwise, for which the check bounced and I was never paid. It became clear I was never going to see my money. While attending a Chicago comic book convention shortly after the check bounced, I sought out the new Comico head honcho, one Andrew Rev, with a plan in mind. My buddies who'd enticed me to do the work saw me coming and scattered like bugs. I walked right up to Rev and shook his hand, introducing myself...then wouldn't let go. He tried to finish the shake and pull away, but I wouldn't let him. I held on to his slimy, increasingly sweaty hand and calmly but firmly laid into him about the money he owed me. I held on until I was finished, then finally let him off the hook. This isn't close to my usual style, and I'd never before made a guy squirm and sweat like that, but I think he'd earned the treatment. Anway, I never did see the money, and I had figured that would be the case going in. But it was worth a shot, and man, was it ever satisfying! Here's a larger version of that same page, from that infamous story:

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We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

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One of the baseball books I've read this Spring in anticipation of the new season was Kadir Nelson's gorgeous new book, We Are the Ship. The eight years he dedicated to its making are much-evident and make it well worth multiple readings. Not just a children's book, or a coffee table book, pure history or a simple collection of paintings, this book transcends genre or format to be a thing entirely its own.

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Written in the collective "we" voice, Nelson's narrator speaks for all players of the Negro Leagues, the "everyplayer" that tells the sad but inspiring story of these fine players who were not allowed to play in the major leagues. So, they carved out their own place; their own ship. The book doesn't flinch from the hard, shameful truths of racial bias in our history, or sugarcoat the weaknesses of some players within the Negro Leagues. Rather, it's a full and ultimately hopeful portrait and tale, of proud men doing what they loved, paving the way for integration, not only in baseball, but more broadly in all of American society.

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The book is filled with reproductions of Nelson's outstanding oil paintings: strong portraits; blazing action; quiet anticipation; and the obvious pride these players had in themselves and what they were doing, that Nelson feels for them. These works are rich and powerful, meticulously researched and executed, bringing to life for us the subject(s), many of them otherwise largely lost to history, lifting them up to mythic and heroic proportions, while remaining true and real.

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The book covers greats like Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson and Satchel Page, but also gives lesser known players their due, as well as the men who not only played but started and ran the league, while acknowledging the important roles played white owners and general managers like Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck, who were instrumental in breaking the color barrier to the major leagues. Without this league, without the efforts of these players, the careers of Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and a host of others would not be fully realized or known to us. The smaller images I've included here do not do this tremendous book justice. It can be enjoyed in many ways from many angles. One can just pour over the paintings, or read through the text while scanning them as illustrations, or it can be lingered over to revisit favorite chapters. Grab a copy from your local library today, or pick up a copy of your own. This one's a keeper.

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Superman vs. Hollywood Cover Layouts

In creating the cover for the Superman vs. Hollywood book (about which I've written here before), I was asked to do three initial layouts, then two more additional compositions. In all, we needed to suggest Superman without outright showing him. Each rejected layout shown here has its own strengths:

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• the first shows a full figure, and has a pop art feel, what with the sound effects • #2 was a later exploration, and an obvious approach, suggesting the iconic action of the reveal of the logo and costume behind the street clothes; this idea has been used on other covers for pre-existing Superman-related books • The third has more action, but was a bit too literal with Supes punching out a Hollywood agent; not an easy read • The last is my favorite, with Supes in the foreground and largely in silhouette, striking a confrontational before a movie theater marquee, on which would be displayed the book title I can see why the final cover art was chosen, as it retains the confrontational elements, while adding more action lacking in others. It was a fun project, all in all, and its always a kick to see the final art in print.

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Softball in the Snow

One of the perks of working at home is that I've been able to walk my girls to the bus most mornings, and be here when they arrive home from school. As long as they're interested, I'll take advantage of the opportunity, 'cause I love it and simply 'cause I can. It seems both girls like it, and may even appreciate it more when they're all grown up. You can't buy that kind of time together, and can't beat the power of those personal rituals.

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Since second grade began for Emily last September, while she and I have been waiting for the bus nearly every morning, we play catch. In an act of defiance against the frigid cold and harsh Winter, we toss back and forth a 16" softball 'til the bus arrives at our driveway. We've experimented with and have honed a handful of trick tosses and catches, with high or straight throws, and a variety of spinners. With all this practice, Emily's improved skills and confidence, and during the cold months, no less. We've played catch whether it's been below zero or during a blizzard. It helps keep us warm, or busy, at least, and we have a blast.

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When we see the bus coming, I send her off with a mantra: "Be good; work hard; be smart; have fun; and most all -- be cool!" Her trusty bus driver, Troy is always friendly and fun. The mornings wouldn't be the same without him. Troy whisks all the kids off to school, and it's back to work for me.

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Move On, Already!

It was weird watching baseball on TV opening day last Monday, with big, fluffy snowflakes falling here in Minnesota. We got 4-5 inches that day. And though it all melted during the rest of the week, we got a little more snow yesterday. It's Spring, can't Winter take a hint?!? They're out there playing baseball, for gosh sakes! And I see I'm not the only one who feels this way:

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One great thing about comic strips is how they can sum up or comment on a mood or idea so quickly; in and out. The first features Nancy, currently drawn by Guy Gilchrist. Blog nod: Heidi MacDonald's The Beat. The second: I receive Mutts comics every day via email. It's easy for you to do the same to read regularly Patrick McDonnell's timeless strip. Lastly, of course, features good ol' Charlie Brown in an edited Sunday Peanuts strip from late March, 1956. You gotta admire that kid's tenacity...or is it stubborness?

And if you think I'm done writing about Spring, snow and baseball, just wait....

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