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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:





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....


April's Fool

"This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four." ~ Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894
Welcome back to the blog; thanks for checking in again. We're still plenty busy, but have posts at the ready for the coming days (I even jumped the gun with a post yesterday about baseball). A couple years back, I did ten illustrations for Disney's Family Fun magazine to run in their April Fools' issue, with ideas suggested from readers of the magazine. Borrow a prank to fool a loved one today and enjoy the laughs.






I was chosen for that particular assignment as they wanted to vary the illustration styles, while still using one artist. Of course, Mary pitched in on the coloring on most. I scanned these from the printed magazine, and they still look all right. For more April Fools tricks, visit the Family Fun site.


What Happens in Vegas....


If the Jewish GrungeBoy wasn't enough for you yesterday, here are more done for American Jewish Life magazine. This series of illustrations depicting an improbable scenario. For obvious reasons, these were a ton of fun to do.


Comic Book Page Composition

When doing layouts for a comic book page, the artist considers a variety of options quickly. Working with the script to tell the story as best as possible, one breaks down the page in a series of panels. Each of those panels has its own composition, but must also work within the overall page composition. Each panel is presented from various points of view, which correspond to and support all the other panels. And through it all, the artist must make sure the information and story is communicated clearly and doesn't lose the reader. The challenge is to make the art and layout fun and interesting, while still following sound and solid storytelling and layout principles. For example, here's a page from Dreams Of Looking Up, an historical and educational comic book I drew for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. dolu13_diagram.jpg In this page, we see an old woman looking at photos and a painting of an eagle, recalling her youth. The page begins in the past, the young woman holding her baby, looking up at an eagle taking off from its nest on a high peak. I decided a long, vertical panel would best depict this, also establishing a connection (both physical and emotional) between the young woman and her surroundings. This long vertical panel on the left is balanced by a column of panels on the right. The trick is to make sure the reader doesn't just skip to the last panel. In that regard, I have a few things going for me here. In America, folks are trained from early on to read from top-to-bottom, left-to-right, so it's ingrained and natural. In that first panel, though the vertical shape pulls the eye down to the woman and the baby, even for a split second, the reader's eye is pulled back up (rather than to the right) to see the eagle, and follows its flight path to the first caption, which is bridged between frames one and two, linking us to the row of panels on the right. Now, it's possible the reader will be drawn to the eagle, then to the caption, or directly to the caption (as indicated by the diagrammatic dotted red line above), but people take in images rapidly, and you'd be hard pressed to convince me a reader wouldn't see the entire first panel, even if only for an instant, before their eyes dart back to the top. Once there, readers will follow smoothly south, reading words and pictures 'til rejoining the present day conversation between her grandchildren. This is just one page out of twenty-four in this particular comic book story, each presenting its own layout and storytelling challenges. A lot of thought goes into each panel, each page, each story at this stage, before the real drawing begins. This page, and more pages from this book and its companion volume can be viewed in our Prime Projects section. Or order your own copies at the official Mille Lacs Band web site.


Grammy's Antique Tray

We've completed the latest installment of Tzivos Hashem Kids comics, which I wrote about last month. I'll blog a link when we've posted the finished pages after it's printed, but here's a little preview of one panel where our hero, Joey is searching for an important book in his grandparent's attic. joey_attic_layouts.jpg While laying out the pages, in this panel I just quickly added boxes and brick-a-brack to frame Joey with the book, and to establish an attic environment with the limited space I had. In the foreground I indicated an old lantern sitting on a box. By the pencil stage, it struck me to change that object to an old tray my grandmother had left me when she died. It means nothing to anyone else, but it's a plus whenever an artist can connect to material with references to personal emotional or nostalgic touchstones; it can bring the work further alive. At the very least it makes it more fun to draw and look at later. joey_attic_color.jpg It doesn't end up being much in the final art, and will be partially covered by a word balloon, but I know it's there. I was pleased when Mary said, "Hey, I know what that is!" as she started coloring the pages. There aren't many more on the planet who would recognize this obscure little object. grammy_antique.jpg I'm not sure why this is the single trinket Grammy chose to leave me in her will. Maybe when I was a kid it caught my eye sitting on her dresser, and I commented on it to her? It's not much to look at, as it's dirty and beat up, crinkly in the center and off-kilter. But it means a lot to me because she chose it for me. Over more than thirty years now, I've used it to hold pins and buttons other such stuff, usually on my dresser or nightstand. Every time I see it, I think of her. I just moved it to the studio, where it holds and displays marbles, as I've been collecting them since the summer. I don't know if you'd call it a tray, or a dish, or a dish-tray. Laura thinks it looks like a hat. lauratrayhat1.jpg Here's to the little knick-knack my Grammy wanted me to have, in all its glory, awesome power and might! lauratrayhat2.jpg  


Color Sketch: Thing


I still attend the occasional comic book convention, but usually only the local Minnesota cons twice a year, in the Spring and Fall. I take the opportunity to do a few convention sketches. The Thing from The Fantastic Four was heavy on my mind at this time, apparently, and this sketch now hangs on the wall of a fan. Twenty years ago in my early days of self publishing, I'd cart my brush and ink with me to all shows, and eventually found it cumbersome and messy. Within a few years I developed a process of doing color sketches on colored paper. Dark paper works best, at least a mid-tone. I begin with a thin black line drawing, beefing it up and adding shadows with a thicker black marker, then add the punch with color pencils and Bic Wite-out pen. The materials travel easy and are virtually no-mess. I can execute these quickly and still achieve a colorful image that pops.


Picklehead Valentine


Happy Valentine's Day from Picklehead and his li'l pal, Olive! You can read the one-page Picklehead comic strip from which this image is taken in our Toons section of the site. Or check out this Valentine's illustration or this one in our Gallery. And here's our musical playlist that's helping us get in the mood and celebrate today: • I've Got A Crush On You - Stacey Kent • Our Love Is Here to Stay - Blossom Dearie • God Only Knows - The Beach Boys Pet Sounds • Bleed To Love Her - Fleetwood Mac • Oh, It Is Love - Hellogoodbye • Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic - The Police • Have You Ever Been In Love - Swan Dive • I'd Like That - XTC • I Can't Give you Anything But Love - Mel Torme • Let's Call The Whole Thing Off - Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong • Someone To Watch Over Me - Ella Fitzgerald • My Funny Valentine - Chet Baker • Gotta Have You - The Weepies • Come Away With Me - Norah Jones • Dance Me To The End Of Love - Madeleine Peyroux • Nobody Knows Me - Lyle Lovett • Then She Appeared - XTC • Like a Star - Corinne Bailey Rae
    XOXOXOX - The Blue Moon Crew


    Comics For Kids' Health

    In the late '90s, BlueCross BlueShield tapped me to draw a strip called Healthy Street for their quarterly magazine/newsletter, the BCSB Health Journal. Distributed to hundreds of thousands of households in the Midwest, they found comics to be a clear, entertaining and effective method to carry their message to families about children's health and safety issues, such as diet, TV violence, second-hand smoke, fire safety, car seats, bike helmets and many others. hst_helmet_smalljpg.jpg Written by friend, Cindy Goff, it was originally conceived to feature baby Katie, who, not being able yet to speak, offered ironic, comedic or insightful commentary through thought balloons. That Katie is a sharp one! As the strip format expanded and contracted with space considerations, the character of Katie evolved and aged, growing a bit older to better deal with health concerns for toddlers and young children. It was fun to grow the strip along with Katie, to get the chance to apply the medium of comics to these important issues to a broad audience, in a light and entertaining manner. Comics, a hybrid of words and pictures, attracts people because of their visual nature, and therefore can also convey sometimes complex ideas in seconds. When married with the right words, even more supporting information can be gotten across. That particular combination or synergy is what really gets my juices flowing. A dozen or so Healthy Street comic strips are readable here on our web site in their entirety.


    Demon Boy Sketchcast

    While on the phone with my brother last night, we got to talking about one of my early characters, Demon Boy. Inspired by Jack Kirby's The Demon, and his Moon Boy, Devil Dinosaur's pal, I threw in a little Mowgli from Jungle Book, and...voila! Instant Original Character! He's almost thirty years old, but the little guy can still scare the skin off a pickle, as this quick Demon Boy Sketchcast I did during our phone chat will attest.


    Web Comics


    That opening line is still true, after all these years. The first panel from a one-page comic strip called Smoke Story, drawn in 1992. It's one of a handful of comic stories appearing here in the TOONS section of the Blue Moon site. If you haven't before, take a few minutes to read the short tales of comedy and drama, chaos and corruption, guilt and heartache, love and friendship. All this for less than two bits. A lot less. Enjoy!