Archive for May 2010
Memorial Day 2010
The Gettysburg AddressFour score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth. Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863
TothPix: The Fox - Shadows and Stars
Continuing the focus on Toth's Fox stories for Red Circle, this is actually the splash page to the first one he did, reintroducing a character from the Golden Age of heroes. And while Toth drawing, craftsmanship and skills are far beyond what was done when the character was first introduced, his sensibilities are firmly rooted in that era. It's almost as if he's drawing us back with him to his childhood, crafting an adventure that is no doubt more a memory of what he loved about heroes and comics, but better than what he actually read.
In the opening paragraph at the bottom of the page, the creator and storyteller, Toth is communication directly with the reader, breaking down the fourth wall, before he rebuilds it and throws us into the story. He's telling us exactly what his intentions are, what he holds and values as good comics, characters and stories, and he does it typical Toth style and panache.
Toth's striking use of black and white in this signature chiaroscuro panel of The Fox shows how he's blurred line and form, allowing much of the figure and background to be determined by how shadows fall across them. The Fox is at one with environment, and yet Toth finds a way to separate somewhat The Fox from the background. Though that's made even more apparent in the color version of the same panel below, there's something pure and dramatic in the black and white line art.
But for Toth, good hero comics is not all shadows. It's goofy characters who utter snappy dialogue in overlapping word balloons, slapstick action and comedy, all awash in a cascade of floating stars.
And with that, we're out...'til next week!
Li'l Bedbugs Sketches
I did these couple of small Bedbugs sketches at the MN SpringCon last weekend, keeping them in hand, probably for sale at etsy.com or at the Bebdugs site. I'll update here and at the Bebdugs Facebook fan page.
TothPix: Otis Dumm and The Fox
In 1983, Alex Toth's cover for Red Circle's Black Hood comic caught my eye. It may have been the first time I saw his work, I'm not sure. But it made an impression. And The Fox story inside was a hoot, thick lines, simple colors; both the covers, title logo and comics inside were a throwback to comics and and adventure strips of yesteryear.
The front cover is action-packed, with figures flying, compositional diagonals, stars and bursts, a bold, cartoony logo, and inset for the Fox feature. There's so much action, so much going on, that some visual elements cross over the title, integrated and of a piece, yet it's all easy to take in and process. Open at the fold, and one finds it's a wraparound cover, to boot. Fun! I think the cover could be improved with better coloring, but it was plenty enough to get me to pick it up.
Inside, Toth's story at the back of the book jumped out at me, introducing an old man covering the page from head to toe, one Otis Dumm, an unlikely star of a superhero story, breaking up the page and taking center stage.
Making a one-time side character the focus of the story is an old trick, and one Will Eisner used to employ regularly with his The Spirit strip. The old man in a bright red shirt, bolo tie and pants hiked high in an improbable hero, but throughout the story we find there's much more than meets the eye to Otis Dumm. The Fox and readers become impressed with his ingenuity, smarts and resourcefulness. Toth's story is similar in some fashion to David Mamet's play/movie, The Water Engine, about suppression of a new technology. But where Mamet's play is dark, Toth's is lighthearted and a romp.
One can read the story in large scans at the super blog, Atomic Surgery, which also covers other Toth stories, among others' work. One gets the sense Toth would've like a few more pages than the twelve he had to work with, as the last couple are heavy on exposition and text. It could've been paced better, but still is one of my favorite Toth pieces.
One last panel: yet another where Toth focuses on the most important object of the story and frame, by cropping the character's head from the shot. Rest assured, Otis and his face get plenty of exposure, but not in this panel which is the central conflict of the tale.
These may be Dumm Comics, but they're not Dumb Comics!
MN SpringCon 2010Had fun at the Minnesota 2-day SpringCon this past weekend. Sold Bedbugs books, sketches, buttons, etc. Heard some wonderful stories of kids who've already grown attached to the Night of the Bedbugs book. Also saw some fun folks in costumes and caught up with tons of friends and artists. Here are a couple fave pics. See more at my Convention Photo Album at Facebook.
Super Kiddie Friends Flash, Wonder Woman and The Huntress
Scott Beaderstadt (Uncle Picklehead), Emily and our new Totoro plush
2010 U.S. Census ProgramAfter having worked with Scholastic to develop materials for their program with SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), they called us again to work on a program for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Using a combo of comics and illustration, we created what was utilized in pamphlets and brochures and online PDF guides for teachers, parents and students. These pieces helped communicate the census process, to make sure people made sure they were counted.
TothPix: Reflection Pool
Though typical for Toth, it's striking because his approach is different from how so many artists would handle the same challenge. He obscures the face of the man to focus instead on the reflection he himself sees (and thus, us), again the main action and center of interest of the panel. Many would do a close up of the same shot, or show the face of the man and his reflection, but Toth does so much more.
He's created an wildly unorthodox and interesting composition, showing a thin sliver of shadow and background in the upper right, an huge expanse of negative space in the lower left. And with the curve of the horizon, he brings depth to the environment, showing the man's tracks leading to the small water hole. And though we see the man's body, Toth has foreshortened it in to create interest while keeping it secondary, not a distraction to the reflection.
All of this in service to the story. He doesn't over-dramatize, or show off with perfect feathering or concentrate on a superfluous vista. He just smartly and simply gets to the business at hand - and brilliantly so.
More next week.
Update: Thanks to my ol' editor and long-time pal, Brian Augustyn for providing the same panel - he just happened to have black and white copies of the self same story:
Get Along, Sweet Chinaman!The family has been listening to '70s rock the last couple weeks, especially during games of the card game, Pounce. While playing what is essentially a face-paced version of solitaire for four, there's a tendency for people to chatter, sing, whistle and make noises. If we have background music, it helps a bit towards getting everyone in sync and on the same page. Steely Dan is one of those groups we've been listening to, and one of our favorites to sing along with is their Get Along, Sweet Chinaman, which some have apparently misnamed as Kid Charlemagne. In honor of the tune, I did this sketch:
Other than my fave tune of theirs, Reelin' in the Years, I've never loved their music, finding it a bit long, rambling and esoteric, the vocals an acquired taste. But listening lately to their best, I've found I know and like most of their tunes - they must've played the heck out of these tunes on the radio in the 70's and '80s. By chance over the weekend, I saw a commercial for a Midnight Special DVD, including a quick snippet of the band doing Reelin'. Gosh, that Walter Becker was not an attractive man - a face for radio!
Walter Becker, center top; Donald Fagen, 2nd from left
He's improved with age, though, a much better look:
Fagen & Becker, circa 2007
After disbanding in 1981, they regrouped for concerts in 1993, and released two studio albums, in 2000 and 2003, respectively. I've gotta check those out, 'cause they don't seem to have missed a beat.