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Archive for February, 2012

I’ve been wondering when exactly middle age begins. I think it’s an imprecise term. I remember kids in 4th grade who were more middle aged in their behavior than some people I know who are in their 50’s. My definition looks like this.

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I wish I could draw like Ronald Searle did.

I wish I cold tell stories like Stephen King.

I wish I could paint like Howard Pyle.

I wish I could draw like Walt Kelly.

I wish I could write like Charles Dickens or Ursula K. Le Guin or Kenneth Patchen.

I wish I could write and draw like David Ezra Stein or Peter Reynolds.

We choose our heroes haphazardly as the list above demonstrates. The ones who move us, the ones we admire, the ones we want to emulate. Hero worship is particularly rife in certain areas of the commercial arts. It seems a natural state for many cartoonists and illustrators.

When I was young my list went on and on and on. It was pointed out to me once, when I was too young to understand the implications, that this hero worship doesn’t do you any good in the long run. Of course you look around and find things that resonate with you. The art and the writing that you think is absolutely THE best. But you also have to understand that hero worship becomes a personal dogma, no more worthy to fight about than which ice cream flavor is best. Often it stands in the way of a person developing their own POV.

In the commercial arts it gets one step more complicated because commercial success seems tied to the creation of the artists. It’s easy to think, the secret to success is in how they draw hands, it’s hairless young kids talking like adults, it’s how they paint clouds or in how they introduce characters.

You don’t have Charlie Brown without Charles Schulz. But the mistake that is too often made is to try and reproduce that thing on the paper. The lines, the paint, the style of the words. But of course, that is a meaningless quest. The images and words left on paper are a manifestation of its creator/artist, more personal than a signature and the reasons behind its success are impossible to copy. And even if you did imitate the lines and the words perfectly, all you’d have is a forgery in the broadest sense.

I’m stuck with my solutions. Not as elegant as Walt Kelly, not as poetic as Ursula K. Leguin, not as grand as Charles Dickens. It’s a good thing to appreciate and admire the work of others. It’s good to look for ways to improve your work. But hero worship doesn’t help the heroes you’ve selected and it certainly doesn’t help you.

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I watched the Oscars for the first time in years last night. I didn’t win one. Again. I guess you need to be nominated or something…

But William Joyce won for best animated short. Congrats to a ‘kids book icon’, or is it an’ icon of kids books’? You can download his short for the iPad and it’s filled with interactive elements that take away from enjoying it. Better to just watch it here.

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This is a toot-your-own-horn-while-you-still-can post. So toot-toot. Earthling! has received some nice reviews in the UK recently. The book was released in the UK in February, but it won’t be available in the US until July. Earthling! is a young reader graphic novel I have been working on since 1972. OK. That’s not true. But it did take a bit of time to get done!

This one is from Christopher King. Check it out here.

Here’s an excerpt:

‘…What follows is a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging graphic novel for children, with a commendable plot based around themes of science and the needless misunderstanding and paranoia of unfamiliar cultures.’

Here’s one from Win Wiacek. You can read it here, and by the magic that is clicking be taken to the review. I love clicking.

Here’s an excerpt:

‘Funny, thrilling, wildly imaginative and utterly engrossing, Earthling! blends elements of Tom Brown’s Schooldays with Joe Dante’s Explorers and Harry Potter’s best bits with the anarchic wit of Rocko’s Modern Life or Camp Lazlo to produce a delightfully compelling adventure yarn with endearing characters and a big, big payoff. This is a book any sharp, fun-loving kid can – and should – read… and so should the rest of you…’

And here’s another review here on Readaraptor.

And an excerpt:

‘I really would recommend this graphic novel to all kids in the 8-12 range, especially if they have a thing for aliens and space. Bud and the friends he makes have to fight the baddies and get Bud back to earth without his identity being uncovered and it makes for a great adventure. If you kids like comics and great illustrations they will probably love this one too, it was a great read and I’ll be passing it on to my stepson to see what he thinks of it too!’

And one more. This from the blog, We Love This Book.

And an excerpt:

‘This is a very good example of one-shot graphic novels for the under-twelves. The page layouts are easily readible; the characters and the author’s own inking are boldly and simply defined while never being over the top….The plot is great fun, covering as it does the propaganda against Earth on board the school, the sport, the escape plans – and Bud’s new-found life with his new alien friends. It’s a very successful debut piece from this creator – it ticks all the boxes and shows great promise for future works.’

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Spam in my Blog email.

I enjoy reading the emails that the Spam filter catches here on my WordPress Blog. There is a fair share of crazy ramblings in a language I do not speak or read. I think it’s Klingon. The occasional rant from a Libertarian. Some offers to win ‘millions’ in a ‘blog contest’….and the ones that read, “Your blog posting was quite helpful. I thank you for your patient sharing of useful information. I will share with all my friends.”

And I think…wow. That is one response that this blog would never rightfully get. No wonder it’s easy for the Spam filter to pick out.

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No, the title of this post is not my new lazy-manifesto, self-help-book for procastenators.

This may not be news to other writers but I do far better writing when I am NOT sitting in front of my computer writing.

What I mean is, when I am not working, I work best. I know, I know. It doesn’t really make sense. I mean, when I was a baker, I didn’t bake things better when I wasn’t baking…At least I don’t think I did. It was 4 in the morning so my thinking wasn’t exactly clear. I apologize for the strawberry muffins that had no strawberries…

What I’m trying to get at is that my best ideas and solutions usually come when I am walking the dogs, or washing the dishes or waiting in line at Safeway. (Hint, always pick the longest line, you get the most work done while standing in it.)

When I sit down in front of my computer to write I can get a lot of pages done IF I have already thought it out. If I sit down in front of my computer and expect to be inspired, I’m in trouble. Maybe this is just my weakness. I get Type-fright when the keyboard is in front of me.

Sometimes making sure I get a certain amount of writing in each day can help. Once in a while I stumble across something while I click-clack-away. But most often that doesn’t lead to much. If I sit down in front of the computer I need to have the Big Idea already under my belt. Because the inspiration usually isn’t there, as in here – in my chair in front of my monitors. The inspiration is out there somewhere, walking the dogs, bringing the cat to the vet, explaining to my daughter why she can’t have cookies for lunch, sitting in traffic or filling the bird feeder.

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Walking the dogs today reminded me why I did this cartoon. I was stuck knee-deep before my dogs pulled me out.

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I spent most of my career working for very large companies. I lived my professional life in the land of cubicles, offices, booking conference rooms for meetings, trying to understand incoherent whiteboard presentations. Getting regular paychecks…

Now I am self-employed. A freelancer. A stay at home dad. A stay at home everything.

This place has less office politics than I ever imagined. Although there’s no ‘free’ soda or snacks. And it’s not a completely tension free workplace. Sometimes I have to sit myself down and let myself know that if I don’t want to work here, I can walk out that door and find something else. If I don’t want to give 110%, then find a new career.

I tell myself it is impossible to give 110%. You can only have 100% of anything.

Then I tell myself right back, Listen, if I want to be a smart aleck I can find someone else to do this job. Drawing silly cats, writing wacky stories, cleaning out the litter box which happens to be in the studio. (What’s up with that?) There’s no lifetime guarantee that you get to stay here Mr.

No. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. I say.

Good. Now, get back to work. You’re on deadline. And I wouldn’t mind seeing another draft of that last manuscript. Honestly, it kind-a sucked.

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Something I have learned about myself is – I’m a plot guy.

I think in plots and story beats. I have more opening scenes and endings for stories than I will ever have time to write.

But writing character has not come gracefully to me. Too often plot overwhelms them. I’ve tried the various methods to help with this. I’ve created back stories for my characters, written resumes for them, even put them in the place of well known characters in fiction to see how they would act differently.

But it’s a tough slog for me to get a rich character on the page. I started to make improvements when I wrote Earthling! The editor kept me on my toes, thinking about character first, even when I wanted to write more story beats. Even when I DID write more story beats. She always asked I return to the character issues. Now, I didn’t always do this successfully. But I learned a lot. And I am still putting it into practice.

I am not a big fan of How-To style books, other than for medical training, including dentistry…But here are a few things I have been doing lately on some of my manuscripts.

I follow an individual character through the story while keeping one trait in mind at a time. I try and see how that trait is effecting the character. And more importantly, does that trait change through the story. Does the character change? I also see if the plot, which sometimes seems as if it was plopped atop my character like Stonehenge, can be changed by this character. Could they interweave and create a richer story? One where the unique traits of the character alter the plot.

Now, I know this is like the ABC’s of writing character. But it has helped me out of some jams lately. it’s also stopped me from continuing to write some stories because they are not working on a fundamental level. The character isn’t dynamic enough. They don’t have enough richness to exist in a story. And knowing when to stop working on something because it isn’t working, is as important as knowing when to stop revising something that is working.

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This is a front and back promotional postcard I did a few years ago. When I get the time I love to do postcards celebrating the Holidays that are a under the radar. Happy President’s Day!

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