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Archive for December, 2011

A little Holiday break and then right back to deadlines. Well, right back after I sharpen these pencils. And get some hot tea. And maybe clean the studio. And I have to take the recycling out…and you know, I’ve been wanting to see Thor. I should just rent Thor and watch it tonight. I’d love to buy some screen printing supplies, maybe get back to doing some block prints too. And my daughter wants to go to the indoor play park. If I take her there I could read notes from the art director and at least think about the work I have to do…

Yup. That’s the fun of ‘getting back to work’ after a break. You find even more things to do instead of the work that needs doing. I have read a ton of picture books the past two weeks and am considering doing reviews. But I’m thinking of doing either one word or one sentence reviews so that I don’t get ponderous. I’ll be posting regularly in the New Year. 2011 is almost over and flying cars are still not the norm. Maybe in 2012…Maybe…

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For all those new iPads, how about a free. read-to-me comic book! Don’t forget to check out the Cave Bear and Duck iPad App for some Cenozoic inspired hijinks!

Download it for FREE from the Apple App Store!

Happy Holidays!

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I am currently working on two picture books and I was recently asked what exactly the roughs I draw for picture books look like. Well, I happen to have a LOT of roughs laying around right now! Each book is proving challenging in its own way.

I start with VERY rough,roughs. I usually draw each 2 page spread on an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper. More often I am using 11 x 17 paper size these days. It provides me more room to change my mind. I create a rough outline of the book shape (taller or wider) and I draw the very first idea I have. Then I move on to the next spread. At this early point in the process I’m mainly worried about the storytelling aspects of the composition and making sure to consider the type on the page and its integration with the image. After I have something drawn for every page, I go back and tinker. Sometimes redraw, often add ideas or elements to the pages. I begin to visualize the details, but only if I think the overall idea for that page works in consideration of all the other spreads I’ve put down.

Here is a spread that ended up not being used on a new book. Most of them don’t get used. It’s the very few that make it though this messy process.

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An now for something – a little different on the Blog. My first interview!

I’ve been impressed with Erik Johnson’s work since I met him in college. I can honestly say I’ve been jealous of Erik’s work for the same amount of time.

He is a designer-cartoonist-illustrator and has recently launched a Kickstarter project to publish a graphic novel/comic book he’s worked on for quite some time.

He was nice enough to answer a few questions about why he decided to go the Kickstarter route and his feelings about the current publishing dilemmas. I’d call what he is doing targeted publishing. If the project is funded he knows who will buy it (they already did) and by removing the hassle of distribution and the expensive risks in trying to find an audience by marketing a book, Erik may one-up even the digital distribution mavens by getting a nicely produced, finely crafted version of his story into the hands of people who want it. Erik’s answers are below.

1. What made you decide to try and do this on your own? And why utilize Kickstarter?

My intention was to become a comic book artist since childhood, but Iʼve always kicked the idea down the road due to my own feelings about being “ready”, or having “something to say”. Iʼve never been that interested in drawing other peopleʼs stories, and made a career as an illustrator and graphic designer. When this story actually came together, I had no experience with the comics publishing industry. Despite making several contacts and getting positive feedback, it became apparent that “The Outliers,” didnʼt fill in a succinct, marketing slot.

2. Have you considered releasing it digitally? Do you read any digital comics regularly?

I suppose Kickstarter is my digital means to a self-published end. Iʼm motivated as a designer and magazine illustrator by the same reason I wanted to become a cartoonist – I like printed art on paper (cheap CMYK on coarse newsprint, even better!) The way mainstream comics are colored, lettered and produced today on glossy paper, I think they should be enjoyed digitally. The artistry and creativity is still there, but not the lithographic charm. I have read a few digital freebies, but it rarely crosses my mind.

3. From your description of the book, this sounds like something that will be a nicer artifact than a typical comic book. Do you feel having a higher quality product is one way to fight back against the drumbeat of Digital Everything?

It feels that way, but only because of where publishing is right now. This is the same book I would have wanted to make 10, 15, 20 years ago- because itʼs just what I like. I honestly believe that when you make an artifact, itʼs showing a courtesy to the reader: you gift wrap the idea theyʼve invited you to share with them.

4. Thanks for your time Erik. I hope the project moves forward. I’d love to see the book. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you Mark, Iʼm really thrilled by the response (knock on wood). Youʼve seen this project from the first concepts, shared great insights and I always enjoy seeing your process as well.

If you missed the link above check out Erik’s project on Kickstarter and kick in a few bucks. I know you won’t be disappointed with the final result!

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Some picture book history to see and read about. There is a retrospective of Ezra Jack Keats in New York. Wish I was there to see it!

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My daughter’s ‘Heart People’ have some issues to resolve, or so she tells me.

My daughter is very busy drawing these days. Both my wife and I have some form of art in our past so it’s not a surprise. And my daughter likes to watch me work in my studio so the idea of sitting and drawing, or sitting and thinking and writing isn’t foreign to her. She often invites me to sit and draw with her and it’s pretty fun. But it’s tempting to become an instructor. And I think that would be a horrible thing.

My father is a cartoonist and illustrator. He worked as the editorial cartoonist for the St. Paul Dispatch for decades. In addition to that he drew comic strips and researched, wrote and drew history books on Minnesota. I hung out a lot in his studio and drew pictures. But he never pushed me to draw and I can’t remember him ever telling me ‘how’ to draw. He’d answer questions, but never ‘instructed’ me. I believe he felt that if I liked drawing, I’d do it. And he was aware that a parent pushing a child in a certain direction usually has unintended consequences. He also strongly advised me not to get an art degree, but to study other disciplines and come back to art when and if I wanted to.

When I sit with my daughter and draw with her I try to remember not to treat it as a lesson. It’s just having fun. Sometimes she asks me how to draw a hand. I remember asking my dad that too. All he said was to think of fingers as a bunch of bananas. And you know, he was right. It works great that way. I shared that wisdom with her. But that is far different from saying – “Here is how you draw a hand.”

I enjoy writing and drawing. The fact that many of my favorite times in my life develop from me sitting alone, writing and drawing may explain a lot about me! If my daughter finds that a pleasure too, I would be happy for her. But if not, as long as she finds something that she loves to do in her life, I’d be content.

I think the specialization and training in today’s culture most often ends up turning art students into automatrons. I understand why it has to be this way in an economy built like ours. We need specialists to make 3D movies and texture map Vikings and design levels ETC. But these specialities are slightly divorced from the traditional sense of an artist being a craftsperson and developing their particular skills. I’m not trying to judge any of this. And I’ve certainly had instruction in many of the particular jobs I’ve had . And I am not saying I haven’t had great teachers and learned a lot in classes. But the obsessive training in technique often leads to uninspired but highly competent results. I’d rather see unique voices being expressed with love, energy and dedication. But what’s the career path with that!? I mean a free market only loves you if you turn a profit, right?

The temptation is strong to tell people how to do something, especially in a parent, child relationship. I mean, isn’t that 70% of that situation? Here’s how you use a spoon. Here’s how to tie a shoe. It’s hard not to like the sound of your own voice professing expertise. Of course that most often means telling people how to do something the way YOU would do it. Which, when it comes to art, defeats the entire purpose.

I enjoy drawing with my daughter and I hope it stays that way. And I hope she realizes that it can be more than just a way to make a living, if you let it.

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Here’s an issue every cartoonist, graphic designer and illustrator has to deal with. What to do with all that old stuff. The picture above is a quick shot of the mess on my studio floor as I attempt to clean out old files. I have ads I designed from when Reagan was President (I think). Catalogs and newsletters and software packages (remember boxed software, so quaint) I worked on.

Pages and pages of roughs, acrylic paintings and tons of old comic strips. I’ve held on to the stuff for too long. A very small percentage is what I would call ‘good’. And of that even a smaller percentage is good enough and interesting enough that I want it with me for another 40 years. But in some cases it has taken me dozens of years to part with it. Some of the work moved with me from Madison, Wisconsin. Really? I hauled this stuff with me across the country, through 3 apartments and a house in Los Angeles AND all the way up here? What was I thinking?

So I threw a pre-Christmas-clean-out-all-the-gunk party and it’s in the recycling bin now. I’m glad we have recycling. At least it’s not all landfill. Theoretically better new drawings can be made on the paper now covered in my old drawings.

I work on the computer for the most part now. I have about 6 terabytes of storage available for back-up and storage and another 2 terabytes on my main computer. I make a point to keep very few of the pencil drawings when I rough out a book or project. Most of the sketches get scanned in and thrown away. That keeps the mess down. I have to admit it’s a little odd to look at one of my external drives and realize that basically, my entire career is on there.

The one box I am hesitating over holds about 200 painted cells from an animated short called The Thing with No Head that I made when I was at UCLA. There were almost 1,100 cells to start with. Each hand drawn. Each hand painted. Each shot under a 16mm camera. I gave some to friends and tossed a bunch when I moved from Los Angeles. But the last 200 still have a hold on me. But once you get cleaning, it’s easy to keep going. So maybe I’ll find the resolve to toss them too. I have a copy of the animated short on my computer. The entire animated short takes up less room on my computer than a double page spread from a picture book.

For all you other artists out there, good luck with cleaning day!

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Pitch This

This is a new version of an old cartoon. Fittingly enough for this post, it’s a remake. But it seems like almost everything that comes from Hollywood these days are sequels, a reimagining (i’m amazed that’s a real word!) and re-launches. They rarely even bother going back to the literary source that spawned a film. They just remake the film (The Thing!). I will give last year’s True Grit a pass. I loved it, and the novel was always better than the John Wayne film.

Granted nothing is truly original, it’s all in the details. But do audiences really only want what they’ve already had? Between a new Spiderman (already!) and a new Evil Dead and 17 versions of Snow White and a movie named after a board game that actually has little to do with the game you wonder where it will stop. Are we really that far away from – Michael Bay Presents – Rock-a-bye Baby! In 3D!

Sooner or later this will happen.

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They arrived. The advance copies of Earthling! showed up this week. The hardback and the paperback. Above are pictures via my cell phone. Maybe I’ll get some good ones, but for right now this will have to do. All 250 pages of full-colored-goodness. It’s a bit surreal to finally see them in this form. Real books. Finished. No revisions due on it. After 3 or 4 years, that part feels good.

The hardcover version really impressed me. The binding is great and the size and weight make it a fun fit to hold in your hands. I promise I won’t say too much more about this until we get closer to the release but get your order in now for the hardcover! Both are available on Amazon and Powell’s Books while Barnes and Noble only offers the paperback. So order away, hit the LIKE buttons, order a copy for your dog.

Maybe not the family dog. But how will we know for sure that the family dog won’t like it, unless you get them a copy!?

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I had a wonderful Skype call with The Boone Trail Elementary School in North Carolina the other morning. I always forget to write about these type of things. Of course the time difference created a very early morning for me, but they put up with my sipping tea while we talked. It was a little before 6 a.m. my time when we video chatted. And I bet I looked like it was a little before 6 a.m. when we chatted!

The kids asked great questions and we talked about The Book That Eats People. They had a call with John Perry, the author, a few days earlier and that prompted them to make the video below. It’s hosted on Facebook. I think the link will work, but I have no idea if you need to be signed into Facebook to see it.

They also had a copy of The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot which they were excited to discuss.

It’s wonderful to see how much fun kids have with these books. I really appreciate them getting in touch and I sent off some materials for the class to share.

Just remember – ALWAYS BE NICE TO BOOKS!

EDIT. I had the wrong video up here! So sorry to all the schools involved. But it’s nice to have so many Book That Eats videos popping up!

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