Archive for November, 2010

“That’s Earth? We travel 3 zapillion miles and the so called ‘most powerful’ country on the planet can’t even get it together enough to offer healthcare to its citizens…let’s get back to GujKhcbdghakville.”

What exactly will NASA announce at their Astrobiology press conference? Some odd results gathered from examining atmospheres of distant planets? That little green men stopped off at the space station for a Pepsi? That they found intelligent life in Texas? (It’s just a just, just a joke…)  What will they announce? I have my theories, and the geek in me is quite excited.I was thinking that perhaps it was related to the returned asteroid samples from the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft, but I can’t imagine NASA would be in charge of that announcement.

Reading the announcement it seems to imply that they may have a new idea or method that they plan to use to find extraterrestrial life. Perhaps a new set of guidelines that let them redirect our current technology to more sensibly search for signs of life.

I look forward to the news. I hope it’s not just reiterating the fact that the Beatles are on iTunes now…

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Here’s two more sample pages from a black and white version of The Thing with No Head. The color image below is an older painting from a full color version I was working on. Both projects use the redesigned Thing character.  It’s a little less scary, a little more cute and funky. I’m not sure which design I like better. The color piece is using the original  script from the animated short. All the pieces were drawn on the computer using Photoshop.

It’s interesting to work with an idea, try it in different formats and different styles and see how that alters the material.

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The term Commercial Instincts has come up quite a bit lately. Across 2 or 3 days the term popped up 7 or 8 times. Almost as often as the word “donut'” and the sentence “I’m so glad the elections are OVER.”

I had a boss once, she was a writer when she wasn’t running marketing departments (and now is a very successful writer. good for her.) Anyway I was whining about this or that rejection. Complaining that I couldn’t find a place where my work fit in. That maybe my work just plain sucked. You know. All the fun stuff that those of us with artistic personalities are consumed with. The good part is my boss was doing the same thing. She had just had a novel rejected and we were having a long complaint-fest.

She asked me, “What artists do you admire because of the work they do, not whether or not they have had success.”

Well, as odd as it sounds, I had never been asked that question directly. There were lots of writers and artists I admired. But I had never thought about who I admired in a bigger sense. It’s easy to think that whatever the project you are working on only has value when it is OVER. And at that end point, (when a film is released, a book comes out ETC) if the money piles up, that has made the effort worthwhile. So the ‘end’ isn’t the finishing of a piece of work you like, it’s the success, or lack of success when it’s over.

Many of the artists I most admired, were not recognized by the general public in any way. Most of my favorite writers, at the time, were working day jobs.

There were dozens of exceptions of course. I love Ronald Searle’s work. And while his name may not be known in every house, he has had a fabulously productive and successful career. (and I still consider him the single best illustrator/cartoonist. He has 30 year old work that is still fresh and amazing. Same with Saul Steinberg). It’s easy to make a list of the people who are successful who have motivated us. But for me personally, I seemed to like a lot of people whose work was always outside mainstream success. Kenneth Patchen is still one of my favorite poets/artists. And he hardly gets respect in the academic world. One of my favorite films is Deadman by Jim Jarmusch. It didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. Not like The Transformers did…(chirp, chirp)

I went down a long list of favorites. Favorite comics, illustrators, filmmakers, painters, poets, writers, musicians. And overwhelmingly the people I most loved, were mostly unsuccessful if you looked at success as money made and fame achieved. (Which isn’t a bad way to describe success. As the quote says – I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.)

Admittedly, you can’t say that monetary success in the arts defines the ‘best’ art. The best work may not be the most widely received. It is after all, as my wife reminds me, completely subjective.There is never a single ‘right’ answer when creating a story, a painting, a film. There are multiple right answers. And only the human creating a particular item can decide which way to grow an idea. That set of decisions is what gives an artist their unique voice. Some make decisions that communicate more easily with a wider group of people. Some make decision that keep their work isolated from the casual consumer. And more importantly, some artists make choices that broaden their work.

But I started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, my likes/dislikes and interests would mean I simply don’t have a commercial instinct. Because much of the material I love isn’t embraced by a wide audience maybe that means that my vision, my interests will not translate into artistic success.

That conversation happened over 10 years ago. I’ve kept telling stories using pictures. Sometimes they are more successful than others. Sometimes I get frustrated by an editor, a producer ETC who wants that final change to an idea that makes it seem all too uninteresting to me. But I’ve learned just as often that a good set of notes or thoughtful feedback from people who share some of my vision is helpful in allowing me to communicate more clearly to an audience.

As the years have passed the question seems less relevant to me. Less interesting. Because, as I have mentioned here before, you do this kind of work mainly because you can’t avoid doing it. You can’t do anything else. It’s a sickness with no cure other than to do the work. Work that is good, bad, ugly, unsuccessful, stupid, cool, failing or selling like iPads.

The work is the beginning, middle, end.

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I’m really excited to be able to start talking about some of the new books I am working on. Some of them won’t be out for 2 years, but that’s the magic of the printing business. I am putting the finishing touches on The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot, a picture book I illustrated that will be released by Schwartz and Wade books. I’m very excited about it. It’s a fun sci-fi story with plenty to keep a kid turing the pages. That’s a small sample from a spread of the book above. When it’s closer to being released I am going to show some step-by-step breakdowns of how I developed some of the spreads. I’ve been asked a few times about doing this and I just need to make the time to write it up, capture samples and do it.

I’ve just started work on a new picture book I’m illustrating for Tricycle Press. It’s called, Fred and the Bin of Destiny!  I’m not going to ruin the surprise but I like to think of it as a Recycling Epic. And it will be produced with 100% recycled materials. Including me, the illustrator.

Meanwhile, Earthling!, my graphic novel with Chronicle Books is moving along. I’m writing and drawing this one. I have had a great experience with a wonderful editor who has taken a LOT of time with me. Ernest Hemingway I am not…and good thing! Can you imagine an Ernest Hemingway picture book? Actually that might not be bad… It would have short sentences. But maybe too many  references to drinking and bull fighting. Anyway –

I also finished up illustrating a funny middle-grade book that I can’t wait to see. But it’s a project whose name I can not speak. Yet. But it’s coming out from Candlewick Press. I’ll give readers here a heads-up when I can along with some samples.

And I can’t wait to talk about the two picture books after that. But I’ll save that for another post.

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I wasn’t a reader. I wasn’t a writer.

I drew pictures. Teachers always thought I was a reader. I suppose because I talked so much. I had to be getting it from somewhere, right? But I wasn’t. I was too busy playing along the river or hiking in the hills around my parent’s farm. Too busy to read.

Until an 8th grade English teacher gave me The Wizard of Earthsea. Read it, she said.

While I loved science fiction movies and monsters and heros, the idea of a sword and sorcery book held no appeal to me. Zilch. It wasn’t until after I read it that I realized that the sword and the sorcery in The Wizard of Earthsea wasn’t really about sword and sorcery.

I can honestly say that book effected my life. The first stories I ever wrote took place in the wonderful world that Ursula K. Le Guin created. Unique histories that were hinted at. Cultures that saw things differently. And exotic places, wonderful places and places, not unlike the serene river valley where I grew up. I did comics about it. I even wrote (what I now know was) a treatment for a screenplay. I was fascinated by the world she built. A place where magic not only had to be studied to be used, but using it had repercussions in the world and in your life. By using the power of magic, you could destroy others. But in using the power you could also harm yourself.

Recently I saw that Urusla K. Le Guin is writing an occasional blog, so I linked to that on my sidebar. And I wanted to include this wonderful quote from a collection of her essays and speeches called Cheek by Jowel.

” The monstrous homogenization of our world has now almost destroyed the map, any map, by making every place on it exactly like every other place, and leaving no blanks…. As in the Mandelbrot fractal set, the enormously large and the infinitesimally small are exactly the same, and the same leads always to the same again; there is no other; there is no escape, because there is nowhere else.

In reinventing the world of intense, unreproducible, local knowledge, seemingly by a denial or evasion of current reality, fantasists are perhaps trying to assert and explore a larger reality than we now allow ourselves. They are trying to restore the sense — to regain the knowledge — that there is somewhere else, anywhere else, where other people may live another kind of life.

The literature of imagination, even when tragic, is reassuring, not necessarily in the sense of offering nostalgic comfort, but because it offers a world large enough to contain alternatives and therefore offers hope.”

Cheek by Jowl

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