Archive for July, 2011


A nice mention of the next picture book I illustrated. The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot comes out in September.

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I spent most of this week at the park with my daughter and her friend as they attended various summer camps. I did a few sketches while sitting in the sun. Well, to be fair there was only a little sun and quite a lot of clouds for July in Oregon. At least the rain held off until today.



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Here’s a black and white page from my upcoming graphic novel Earthling! I’m making final corrections and revisions now. So it’s even closer to being done-done and not just done.

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I was a huge fan of the John Carter on Mars series when I was young. I even made little models of what I thought all the various ships and technology would look like.

I am very excited to see the Disney film in production, which is directed by Andrew Stanton. He has been a big cheese at Pixar for a long while and directed Finding Nemo, which sold 99 gazillion DVD’s back when people bought DVD’s.

Some people have been a bit worried about a ‘Pixar Guy’ directing this action/sci-fi film. They released some new images from the film, a lead up to comic-con I would guess. As I studied the first image I couldn’t help but think I’d seen it before…it looked too familiar…the colorful desert. The misty sunset. It seemed less like Mars and more like – SNAP! I got it! Radiator Springs! And if you look closely, (my second picture) there it is. Proof positive. I hope Mater isn’t in it.

Cars Carter on Mars?

(PS. Just being silly here. The Car’s car isn’t realllly in it. I don’t think…)

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A small image from the almost available, The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot.

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I was asked an interesting question the other day. It was directed at the graphic novel I just finished up (well it’s almost finished). I was asked: When you are creating a graphic novel, do you see the story in pictures first.

Earthling! (yes, it has an exclamation point on its title, like JEOPARDY! the game show) is an epic story. It’s 248 pages long, and, well, it’s a lot of story. I don’t think I could conceive of something this long with pictures only.

The current book was born from a simple idea. Originally I wondered, “What would happen if an alien kid was dropped off on Earth by mistake for his first day of school?” I drew some doodles of lost looking alien kids and funny humans. From this situation the entire project grew.

Stephen King writes about taking his characters and putting them in a situation and seeing what happens. In a way this is how Earthling! developed. Through time the story got switched around, the Earth kid was now in alien school and I did 10 times more thinking about the story than writing for a long time. And I did very little drawing. As time went on I did more writing and more and more drawing. But as the story developed in my mind, I saw the characters, places and events happening. A bit of a dance ensues where images inform story and action informs images.

You need to have a pretty clear idea of both the story and the illustration/art to even start a graphic novel (thus the somewhat cloying headline on this post).

So, does the story appear first as images in my mind?  That’s a trick question because story and illustrations start in my head and are not defined as ‘images’ or ‘not images’. They are ‘story’. Things that happen to my characters.

As I create the story I visualize the settings where the characters are. Images enhance and help define the story. This isn’t that different from how a non-graphic-novel, novel, would be written. Or a screenplay.

The biggest difference between a GN and a novel is in execution. Once you are actively putting pencil to paper and hands to the keyboard a story can change a lot no matter if you are writing a prose novel or a graphic novel. But in a GN as you sketch and create page compositions, the execution of the story can change substantially. It’s not just edits to the words on the page, but starting to see that the images directly affect what words you even need on the page. One simple example – if you draw the characters staring at a computer screen, you don’t need to have someone say, “Hey, look at this computer screen.”, or “The pulsating green light covered their faces as they stared at the computer screen.”, or ‘I spent the day staring at the flashing, green, computer screen.”

One reason why I often don’t like graphic novels with too much third person exposition is that it throws the GN too deeply into the realm of a prose novel. It feels overly disconnected to me when there is page after page of ghost narration telling me what people are thinking or doing. Most of the time this technique is frowned on in films for good reason. You end up telling audiences what to think, feel or see, vs. having your characters active in the first person DOING things.

So the best answer to this question is that I think visually and understand how images can tell powerful stories by themselves. But I am also thinking about character arc, plotting and story structure. Equal partners in the creation.

Here’s another sample page for, Earthling!.

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My advance copy of a new picture book written by Margaret McNamara that I illustrated arrived this week. The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot was mailed out in super shiny, astronaut suite envelopes. Very cool. I just hope the astronauts patched their suites.

The book is a ton of fun to read aloud. Take it from a father of a 4 year old. She already likes this galactic adventure and I am getting lots of reading practice!

It’s due out and about in September.

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