Thursday, December 21, 2006

Self Publishing 201: The Price is Right

Whether you are a fan, or a fellow creator, there is one golden rule to publishing and self-publishing, and that is: Printing ain't cheap.

I cannot afford to buy every book that I would like, and I keep that in mind in creating my own books. It's tempting to publish every little thing that you do, but to be successful, you should only put your best stuff out there. With that in mind, the biggest dillema for a Self-publisher is pricing.

I spent 3 years working on 3 Knights in India, and feel that I should be compensated. On the other hand, I want people to read the book, regardless. If I give the book away at cost, then the printer gets paid for my hard work. If I add some profit to the top for myself, then the book price gets higher, and fewer readers might be willing to give it a chance. The base price for printing is fixed, so any discount comes from the creator's pocket.

PLEASE keep this in mind when buying books, especially from self-published authors or small presses. These books are going to cost more, so if you like a book, or are interested in a book, and are feeling generous, then remember that the little extra that you are spending is going to a great cause. You are supporting the arts, basically, without the tax breaks. :0)

Some printers are greedy, and charge too much... some Creators are greedy, and charge too much, and some Publishers are greedy and charge too much. It's easy to do this for any business, where the slightest profit can mean staying in business... or not. Big companies have little excuse for greediness. Putting aside that comic books are full of advertisements these days, and focussing on Graphic Novels and other books, these companies get deep discounts for printing.

Golden Rule #2: The more you print, the cheaper the base printing cost. This means that when Big Comix has 10,000 issues of a color comic printed, they may be paying say... $1.00 or something for EACH comic. A similar comic will cost a Self-Publisher probably $5 to $6.00 EACH comic, with a print run of only 100 or 200 copies. A few minutes of your time can show you that the Self-publisher, if he or she could actually miraculously sell all of their comics at the outrageous price of $7.00 each, is still not going to make much of a profit. And chances are, only their mothers are going to pay $7.00 for a comic book.

Self-publishers have no excuse for being greedy, though. Sure, a huge profit is nice, but realistically, you are not going to sell a lot of books at high prices. To be perfectly honest, you shouldn't be self-publishing to begin with if you are looking for a profit. Heck, go work at Walmart for a week, and you'll earn a heck of a lot more than you will Self-publishing... in a year. Unless, of course, you have a lot of friends and supporters who really, really love your stuff.

Self-publishers have several options, but when it comes to printing, anything above and beyond photocopied mini-comics is going to be quite expensive. Your options include print-on-demand, vanity presses, and printing presses.

PLEASE do not go to a vanity press with any expectations of selling loads of books. The only good thing about them is that they will usually get you an ISBN number and may get your book into internet stores like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, which will get your name out there. The bad news is, they usually have outrageous fees in the realm of hundreds of dollars that you most likely will not recuperate.

Printing Presses are very expensive, although they do the best quality work. Unless you have unlimited resources, though, it's just not realistic. With higher base costs, your book is definitely going to be priced higher than the competition's. And you will not be able to get your book in bookstores because every bookstore requires a fee to carry your book, which usually is in the 45 to 65% of the cover price range, which sometimes is more than the printing costs, which means you are losing any chance at profit, and may even be losing money.

Print on Demand is your best option if you want qaulity books at reasonable cost. Some of these are ridiculously expensive, and some are not the best quality. I chose for my books because the quality is great. The cost, though, is still pretty high, although they do give discounts to you, the publisher, if you buy lots of copies of your own book. This is great if you are selling the books yourself, or need copies for book signings. If you keep your profits low, you can sell from their shop, assuming, of course, that you have an audience.

THAT is another topic entirely, though.

For now, keep in mind that Self-publishing is expensive. I try to keep my prices reasonable, and have even swallowed my pride for the Holiday Season, and am now offering discounts on all of my books. I said that I wouldn't do that, because hey, I've worked hard on these books!

Still, I want you to read them. I create because of an inborn need to communicate, and tell stories. And no story is complete without a reader.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Seat of Creativity, or To Sleep, Perchance to Dream :0)

This morning my Wife awoke me at some ungodly hour (It was still dark out). She had coffee but didn't offer me any, so, like an automaton, I somehow stumbled to the kitchen looking for a mug. As little gears in my head made tiny whirring noises in their search for 'mugs, coffee, where', I saw a strange orange glow forming in the sink.

It was the sun, and instinct nudged me to stand before it. I stood tall as the glow enveloped me and I thought 'I am Stonehenge'. For one moment I felt as one with that wonderous stone monument, and knew how it must feel each winter when the sun rises before it.

Did I say 'awoke'? Um, no coffee, remember? So yes, I can honestly say that creativity and inspiration reside in the subconscious mind. I am a vivid dreamer, and even remember dreams from my childhood in the same storage place I keep real memories. Many of these dreams have been the inspiration for stories, although I don't keepa dream journal or anything.

Still, like now, I find myself some mornings (or late nights) quickly writing down certain things before the moment deserts me.

And no, I'm not going to write a story about a guy who thinks he's Stonehenge.

I might, however, get a good blog out of this. :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Cartooning 301: The Eleventh Hour

A lot of people make jokes (or complaints) about seeing Christmas stuff for sale in the stores in August, sometimes accompanied by Christmas music, and the cry goes out "It's too early!!". I have to laugh, or at least crack a smile, because like other illustrators and Cartoonists, August is often when Christmas is on our mind. Why? Because that's a good time to begin working on Holiday cards, whether we are employed by the Greeting Card industry, or like myself, creating special cards from our studios.

Perhaps it seems early, but this year it almost wasn't enough! Creating a card from scratch is just soooooooooo much work. Most people look at a cartoon and, in it's simplicity, do not see the hours of work that may have gone into it. The same goes for Holiday cards, and before you ask, let me say this: I do it because I enjoy it.

Yes, I enjoy it, even though it may take 2 or 3 weeks, or even months, to create a Holiday Card. And I do it for my audience, as well as for myself. HappyGlyphs Comics is still a small studio, although we now have several books out. Being a small studio, there really isn't much that I can do to show my thanks for the support my audience gives me, so I create a special card that I send out each year. It really means a lot to me, and thankfully I do get a few responses from people, telling me that they enjoy the cards each year.

Interior illustration from my 2004 Holiday Card

Usually I try to have the cards written, illustrated, printed, addressed, and sent out soon after Thanksgiving weekend. This year? I just finished illustrating them!!
And it's December!!!!

It's been a tough year, and thankfully, I have been very busy with Freelance work. Yes, my Studio work has suffered by being placed on the back burner, and I may have lost a few casual fans by not putting out as many cartoons as usual, but hey, I have to pay the bills, and besides, I really do enjoy my Freelancing gigs. I have some great clients, who give me some great jobs. Also, this year's card was a real doozy to create.

I actually have a small file of ideas for Holiday Cards, each with a lot of potential. Each year is different, though, so I go with whatever mood I am in. Also, last yeas card was phenomenally successful, and I am still getting compliments on it. ( Thanks! ) So this year I have the difficult job of following up on THAT card.

So let's tally up the stress level: Busy with work, tough act to follow, and I came up with a heck of a card this year, both in the writing and illustrating. No, I'm not going to reveal the card here, at least not for many months, since I want those of you who get them this year to be surprised.

So here's what I came here to write about today: the Eleventh Hour!! That time when a deadline draws near, and panic sets in. Yes, panic. We all experience it at one time or another, and sometimes it's good for us. Others, it can be disastrous.

I actually flirted with disaster this year as I started to doubt the design I had chosen. I try to set aside at least one uninterrupted week to work on a card, but this year a lot of work came at me at once, so I've honestly been working on this card since August, which is a long time to be staring at one concept. Like my 2004 card shown above, this years card involves a large, detailed illustration. Because I worked on it here and there, I was having so many problems with it, and started to loath it after a while. I mean, I didn't have time for this!! I needed that card to come together!! So... I actually considered putting this idea off for another year, and do something else. Disaster!

Second guessing yourself can be a terrible time waster. It can also be reaffirming, so go with what works for you. I eventually came back to this, but still I just wasn't happy with it. So I sat down, looked it over, and stopped looking at the clock, stopped thinking about the calendar, and started looking at it like the great portfolio peice that it could become. And as the artwork improved, as details were added, the card finally came together, I made my peace with it, and began to give it the love that it deserved. Much like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. :0)

Then, of course, I started to doubt the front of the card.

See, this year's card tells a story, so the writing was much more important than per usual. Eventually, though, an idea came to me... actually, several, and I put it all together and with much rejoicing finally finished the card. Hooray!!

So today's lessons: To thine own self be true, and, if you bite off more than you can choose, breathe through your nose, and get a drink to wash it all down with.

And if you ever doubt yourself, take a deep breathe, and say "I can do this!"

And then do it.

Happy Holidays, JOHN :0)

PS If you would like a card, please email me your name and address, keeping in mind that your privacy is important to us. If you're outside the US, however, I may not be able to afford the postage. It never hurts to ask, though. :0)

This offer expires December 23, 2006.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Super Hero Movies revisited

The last post I made about Superhero movies, I believe that I expressed little interest in X-men 3, The Last Stand. Well, let me correct myself, and apologize to the fine people who created this movie.

I finally saw X-men 3 last night on DVD, and it was fabulous: just what a superhero movie should be. These people have awesome powers, and in this movie they are unleashed to nearly full effect, without going over the top. Yes, I know... moving the Golden Gate Bridge seems like a big deal, but come on... this IS something that Magneto is capable of. Superman moving planets in the old comic books was going over the top.

I liked a lot of things about this movie. Most of all it was entertaining without preachiness or mindless violence. Also, it was not predictable to any extent, at least not to me, and trust me, most movie plots leave me yawning after 5 minutes. There was an awful lot of violence, but let's use action as a better word. Violence to me is senseless killing and destruction. In this film, there is some of that, but there is good explanation for it all, and it moves the plot forward. This story is an all out war, and as such, there are casualties and property damage, as would be expected with beings of such power.

I was very surprised by the supposedly permanent changes in many of the main characters, which I will not go into for spoiler purposes. Usually, movies have one problem that comics do not face, and that is the real life of actors. When an Actor gets tired of a roll, sometimes they beg to be killed off so that they can go out in style, and never come back again. Of course, in comics, people return from the grave on a regular basis, but unless time travel is used, X-men 4 will be missing quite a few characters who have passed beyond the veil. This movie killed of some big characters, and changed others, in a way that was bold and surprising, and made the movie all the better,which begs me to consider that movies have that advantage over comics... movie storylines end. A comic series simply cannot kill off a major character forever, where, regardless of Star Trek, a movie franchise eventually ends. This allows a closure that we may never see in a long running comic series.

I still believe that movies and comics are, and should be, colleagues. Both have differences which just HAVE to be considered to make either work. This movie does what it should, in the way that it should, and I for one hope the next slew of Superhero movies follows in it's footsteps.

And hopefully inspire some of you movie-goers to go visit your local comic shop :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Cartooning 101: Don't do this!!

All right, I don't like to badmouth other people, but heck, when it comes to Cartooning, that never stopped anybody else. I myself have been recently criticized by someone who thought they had all the answers, and it wasn't fun. I've worked hard to be where I am today, and although I welcome criticism, I certainly don't need anyone pushing their opinions on me.

There are many ways of creating an illustration, and many tools to use. We can certainly argue that using a brush creates a varied line, which reproduces well, and looks great, but many Cartoonists are doing fine right now with the steady line of Art Pens. Some Cartoonists are skipping the inking process altogether, which sometimes looks great if you can reproduce their pencil linework, and other times just looks like they were late for a deadline.

Heck, some Cartoonsits could use crayon on old paper bags, and still look great, so let's agree that much of Cartooning can, and SHOULD, be left to interpretation. However, and I have to emphasize this, HOWEVER, there are some things that you should never do, and I feel the need right now to discuss this before the top of my head blows off.

Today, the use of Adobe Photoshop has changed the landscape of modern comics, and the use of filters and special effects have given comic books some strange looks in the last couple of years. Experimentation is fine, but one thing I see too much of today is cutting and pasting of a single drawing, and using it over and over. Here's an example:

This Image is copyright DC Comics

Now please understand that I don't mean to pick on this artist. I see this happening in a lot of comics today, but these examples are in a best selling book, and frankly are unforgivable for reasons that I will go into.

Please note that the same exact drawing of Green Arrow was used four times in four concurrent panels, and that one drawing of the Flash was used 3 times here. Why is this so awful? First of all, the image of the Flash is a bad expression to begin with... I can't tell if he's constipated, or if he died and was stuffed. The latter seems more likely since words are coming from his mouth, which is NOT open. Damn, I just want to scream looking at this. I understand that Artists have deadlines, and I might have looked the other way except that this is sheer, pure laziness. At the every least, use the same image, but modify it slightly. Zooming doesn't count. Change the mouth, or have the eyes blink or look around. Something! Anything!

Now this isn't new. People have been doing this for decades, except in the old days we used photocopiers or lightboxes to reproduce drawings, in an effort to either save time, or capture a particularly fine drawing that we were afraid we might not be able to reproduce. Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury was famous for this, and I remember reading that a Critic praised him for this innovation. At the time, I thought, "oh wow, that's so clever!" but now that I'm a Cartoonist myself, I know what's going on here.

Why am I so bothered by this? Because there are certain laws of storytelling that you never, ever break, and the most important is NEVER kick the reader out of the story, because he or she may not come back. When a reader is immersed in your world, you have achieved something special. Do anything to interrupt that special bond, such as a bad typo, or a character acting out of character, or some bad artwork, then you have failed.

I do not want to pick on this particular artist, but if I was the writer of this story, and the artist did this to my work, I think I would flip out. I would lose it completely and go postal and probably never forgive them. Here is another example from the same story.

This Image is copyright DC Comics

Again, this angers me because the Artist first of all took a particularly bad facial expression, and multiplied it. I don't want to see this face the first time! And then to have words come out of the characters closed mouth? Once might be an oversight, but here I've posted 2 examples.

As I've mentioned, we have all done this. We've taken images and traced over them, but a decent artist modifies it so that the reader doesn't see that it's the same image. Repetition is a key factor in fine art and even good Cartooning, but placing the exact same image on a page in a comic narrative distracts the reader.

This is something that we just shouldn't do.

Now, having said this, let me now show an example of where I myself have done this. Maybe placing the same image can work, if used correctly? In The Wolfman of Beckenham, Kent, the story is told in narration, while we the reader are seeing through the eyes of somebody nosing around the Wolfman's apartment. In the image below, I want to emphasize the 'hairy feet' by having the viewer zoom in on them. I tried this with the feet in the second panel being in a different position, but found that distracting. I suppose I could add a third panel, crowding things a bit, but go for a 'double-take' effect. Perhaps I will try this later, and post the results.

Anyways, I've broken my own rule, and am leaving it up to you to let me know what you think. Does this distract you, the reader, or does the 'zooming in' serve to emphasize the funny feet? In other words, does this work?

I look forward to your thoughts on the matter.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Press Release: John's Shorts

September 11, 2006 : For Immediate Release

HappyGlyphs Comics is happy to announce an all new series of graphic narratives by Cartoonist John Steventon, aptly titled John's Shorts.

Regardless of the title, this series has little to do with underwear, and a lot to do with a Cartoonist preserving his sanity by pushing his craft in myriad directions, and exploring numerous ideas, characters, and situations.

Lots of fun, and hopefully some delightful stories with a surprise or two. Most of these stories will feature completely new characters, although it is inevitable that characters from Knight and Day and The Inquiring Minds may make appearances.

"I have a new comic strip in development", says John, "and numerous Freelance projects running concurrently, none of which will appear at the in the near future. This project was created mostly for my regular readers, so that fresh content will be available until these long term projects are completed. Also, I have nearly a dozen scripts plotted out, that have been sitting on my To DO list, just begging to be illustrated. These stories are the best of that To DO list, and are terrific opportunities for me to stretch my creative abilities in new directions."

For more, please click the illustration below. Thanks!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I Let My Thoughts Wander, and They Didn't Come Back.

Oh brother...

I always said that I'd be a lot more successful, and a lot sooner, if only I had a better memory. Oh, I've tried memory enhancers, but I could never remember to take them. It's taken me this long to train my brain to visualize properly, a trait that any good artist should be born with, but this memory thing? Just ain't happening.

So what am I blabbing about this blog, and what's it got to do with Cartooning? Well, one of the many projects on my drawing table is a bunch of short graphic stories, all humorous, and dealing with different characters and different themes... a way to stretch the abilities, a bit, and have some fun as well. I'm also still working on that Inquiring Minds kid's book, and a great big Freelance project, and that new comic strip I keep hinting about, but these short stories would give website visitors something to look at while those other projects get done, so...
I wrote out a complete outline for a really great story, complete with dialog and scenes for each page. Or.. I thought I did. The problem is, I KNOW I wrote the entire thing out, but I can't remember if I actually put it down on paper. You see, the problem with this visualization thing is, is that I remember things quite clearly... even if they never happened. Maybe I Visualised myself writing out this story, and never actually did. It's like having a dream that seems to be so realistic, and you just can't shake it off. Of course, maybe I did write it down,and just can't find it?

The problem with that is that I usually write stuff down in spiral notebooks, so that I DON'T forget things, but my notebooks have no trace of this story!

So what, you say. Stop blogging, and write it all down before you forget it!

Oops. Too late.

It's gone.

Oh, I remember bits and pieces of it, but hey... I've got two kids, and two businesses, and all kinds of stuff going on! That's why I write things down! And I could have sworn I wrote this stuff down already, so went about my business, secure in the misassumption that it was there, waiting for me to find the precious time to illustrate it.

So what, you say again.

So... I remember that the story was brilliant. I remember getting the narration just right, and the dialog, and even all of the imagery. It was perfect. Now, I'm trying to write it all down again, and my heart is breaking at the gaps that need filling, and I know that in this case, it just won't be the same. It really was the best it could be.

So let this be a lesson to you. Keep pen and paper with you at all times, and write down those brilliant thoughts, before your brain flushes them out to make room for useless trivia.

Meanwhile, what's a boy to do? Should I keep searching for notes that I'm not even sure exist, or go back to the drawing board, and hope it all comes back to me?

Hmmm... maybe I should see a hypnotist, who can try to drag the story out of my dusty memories?

The problem with that is that I'm one of those people who isn't susceptible to hynopsis.

Hmph... does'nt that just figure?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Scenes From Comic-con!

Just got back from the 2006 San Diego International Comic-con, my first time here, and have some photos to share...

Some of the expected 100,000 plus attendees. This is the volunteer line, where you can help this awesome show from behind the scenes.

That's a big Pikachu balloon, just to give you an idea of how big this show is.

Jack Skellington. Cool!

Another photo to show how big the show is... it took us 2 hours to go from one end of the convention floor to the other in super-browse mode, and we maybe saw 50% of what was there. On each return pass through, we always found more booths / tables / displays that we hadn't seen earlier.

Who? Q!

Who ya gonna call? Possibly these guys, if you need help with a wardrobe malfunction. Seriously, though, you have to give credit to the people attending the con in costume. Brave AND creative :0)

Here's just one more example of the many elaborate costumes out there. Imagine if all of these people lived in one town? Halloween would be awesome :0)

Some of these people got strange looks while walking around downtown, but I thought it was pretty cool seeing a couple of stormtroopers on a coffee break.

The National Cartoonist's Society tables. Could this be the year I finally join?

Well, that's all the photos for now. My comments on the show? Well, I had heard about all the great giveaways at these shows, but to be honest, most this year were pretty lame. Lots of tiny little pins with logos on them, and temporary tattoos. Some of the tattoos were cool, and I did pick up a lot of postcards featuring great artwork. The highlight, though, were these cool Pirates of the Caribbean bags, which were only given out on the hour, so you had to line up fast to get them. I expected a lot more mini-comics, or free comics, but there were few, and many of those I found were uninteresting, and left behind when I packed. {Update: I've been going through my loot, and there are some pretty cool things here. I'll mention the highlights later}

The show was excessively crowded, but fun. As I mentioned before, it takes a lot of time just to see everything, and when you add shoping and talking time, you can easily need at least two days just for the convention floor. I was disappointed in the lack of bargains, though. We payed a lot to be at this show, and I was hoping for a lot of exclusive items, hard to find items, and frankly some bargains.

I did find a few things that I couldn't find elsewhere, and I did meet a few nice people. The highlight for me was talking to Andy Schmidt, the Editor of my favorite title, Fantastic Four, and Annihilation Nova, which I am also enjoying. He told em about an Iron Man project that he's working on, which sounds really great.

Anyways, this was my scouting expedition. I'll be more prepared for the next convention, and hopefully get more out of it by putting more into it. I'll admit that I'm completely exhausted, so I'm off. I'll be happy to answer any questions, though, if you have them.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Freelancing 101: "But, Ma..."

A good question for anyone interested in Freelancing to ask would be, "How do I get started?"

Excellent question, but first ask yourself, "Why do I want to be a freelance Artist (Cartoonist, Illustrator, Fill in the blank with your desire )" This question is important because, like so many things in life, Freelancing is difficult. Oh sure, the work is, well, work, but there's more. There's life, and people, and...

Well, let's make a list of the difficulties;

1) Dealing with clients is not easy.
2) Getting clients to pay you is not always easy.
3) Getting vlients to pay you what you're worth is near impossible.
4) Telling your Mother that you are sitting around drawing funny pictures, for Free, is- well, the words 'Ay yay yay' come to mind. Or 'Oy vay', or 'Ayo Rama', or just about any favorite expletive that comes to mind and immediately makes you roll your eyes upward.

"Hold on", you say. "What do you mean 'free'? Aren't we getting paid to work?"

More excellent questions!

I say 'free' because to get started in this business, you basically need a portfolio. A resume helps, but it is your portfolio that gets you noticed, and gets you work. Beyond that, though, you also need to establish a reputation for reliability, among other things. You may have a great portfolio put together in art school, but clients want to know that they can work with you, and that means you need a paying job before you can get a paying job.

So you work for free. Find a client, any client, willing to let you work for free. Now, looking at the ads in my local paper, I know I wouldn't pay for that crap. Bad drawing, Bad ads, bad design. Do some small jobs that allow you to not only get your work out there, but get you drawing for someone else. If you can't even get free work, then give yourself jobs, like creating your own holiday cards or something. Build up a better portfolio, until you can get someone else to work with you.

All this means that you sit around, drawing funny pictures... for free. And your friends and family look at you like you just soiled your pants, and shake their heads, and wonder where you went wrong. And THAT is one of the hardest obstacles to Freelancing, or Self-Publishing, or any other endeavor in which you have to work your butt off before any payback occurs.

So, ask yourself again, "Why do you want to Freelance?" And if the answer is, "Because that's what I really want to do", then, go. Get started. And don't let anyone stop you, because if you work hard enough, and long enough, it will hopefully, eventually pay off.

Once you get that first paying job, you're off like a rocket!

But it never gets any easier. Remember that.

But it does get a heck of a lot more rewarding, when you see your work out there, and when you have some money in the bank that says, not only can you pay some bills, but that someone out there believes in you, and your work.

And THAT is what I'm talking about :0)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Publish or Perish!

All right, that's not the exact sentiment I'm looking for, but it's a striking headline, and parallels the sentiment of today's topic. My point is this; if you have a website, you need to update, and quite often, with fresh content. If you don't, you risk losing your audience when they stop showing up often, and eventually forget you in the sea of sites out there.

It's easy to add fresh content when you are a Syndicated newspaper Cartoonist, since you create strips everyday for the papers, and you have an Editor helping out, and an established audience, and some Marketing, PR, and Accounting help. Also, the comic strip is already a 'daily' creation.

It's hard enough for a Small Press outfit like ours to get new readers, and even harder to keep them around unless we too offer fresh content. This is fine when I'm doing a comic strip, or a comic book feature, but there are times when I'm putting a book together, or swamped with Freelance work, that I can't put out regular content, or perhaps working on something that I'm not quite ready to reveal. I am at that stage right now, in the midst of several projects, where I want readers to stick around, but not willing or ready to reveal my cuurent work.

What to do? Luckily, I can compromise, and offer a sneak peak at the next book coming out from HappyGlyphs Comics... The Inquiring Minds: Adventure in Hangman's Swamp. It's an all ages kid's book, fast paced, fun, and sometimes silly. The kind of book I like to read to my kids, and sometimes to myself. Not exactly Juvenille, but not The Davinci Code, either.

Anyway, the book is nearly done, so we are offering a sneak peak at Chapter 1. Newsletter subscribers will get a peak at chapter 2 as well, and maybe some other stuff, so head to our website and sign up.

Meanwhile, please let us know what you think of any of our books. HappyGlyphs Comics is growing, and will soon have a diverse range of products to offer. This is a great thing, as far as I'm concerned, although it does lead to some difficulties.

These difficulties will be explained in a future blog, titled "Familiarity's Brood", coming soon :0)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Everything I Need to Know I've learned in...

School. That's right, I actually learned something in school, regardless of the fact that I spent much of my time doodling in the margins of my notebook. And what's more, my approach to life comes from that childhood nemesis; Word Problems!

Now that one paragraph seems to blow out of the water several of life's "givens", doesn't it. To be honest, and frank, though, the misconception of "why do we need to learn this stuff for, it won't do us no good in real life" basically lies with the speaker. Like everything else in life, you get out of an education what you put into it. Any adult that goes back to school can tell you this.

But let's not digress, and please don't get me started on the abundance of ignorance I see each day I walk out my door. My topic today is Word Problems, Shrubbery, and Cartooning.

A week or so ago, the outside temperature was around 90 degrees, so of course I took it upon myself to begin a major landscaping project; the removal of ancient shrubbery. Like most folk, I just took some gardening implements of destruction, and started hacking away, removing branches willy nilly, and making a general mess of things. Please note: this is back breaking and exhausting.

So, although I am an artist, I have been trained in the scientific method. What's that, you ask? Simple. The scientific method is basically a solid philosophy for approaching life's difficulties with your brain first, so as to make life that much easier... and is the method we were all taught to use to solve those pesky word problems.

Yes, that's right... for all of you who have ever wondered why "Joe leaves his house at 7 Am, and drives east at 40 mph" is important to life, and concurrently wonder why life is such a mess, the answer is... Oh, you really should have paid attention in school!

Lots of people have told me that I should have been a teacher, to which my response is, "what did I ever do to you?" Just kidding... teaching is a noble profession, and I do like kids, but I realize that I just don't have the patience and inner serenity to deal with 20 small kids with the combined energy of a nuclear reaction, or worse, 20 teenagers with the combined arrogance of a Hollywood charity fundraiser.

That aside, I will attempt to teach you the philosophy that has made me the success that I am today, all from the safety of my home.

The next time you face a word problem, a tough sudoku puzzle, the challenge of writing or illustrating a graphic novel, or the might of a 40 year old evergreen, do the following.

Stop. Take a deep breath. Look at your givens.

Your givens are the things that you know, such as 7 am, and 40 mph. Or, yard waste must be collected in bundles of 3 feet long or less, or the dimensions of a comic book are 6.625" x 10.25" with a .25" bleed on all sides.

Adding up all your givens should put the problem in focus, and more importantly, it gets you started! Nothing is worse than standing around scratching your head, and few things waste more time. Getting started is the key to everything. Writer's block means that you aren't writing! Grab a pencil and write a letter to a friend, real or imaginary, and writer's block dissappears.

Also, once you lay out your givens, you are now faced with what you don't have. This puts the solution in focus by defining it. We usually call this "X". By defining the problem, we open our minds to the solution.

Now, depending on the size and nature of the problem, the next approach is taking the big stuff and breaking it down into smaller, easy to manage chunks. For shrubbery, you take the small branches off in 3 foot lengths, then remove the bigger branches and trunks again in 3 foot lengths, and then tackle the stump and roots. Ta-dah! You're done, and you bundle everything up in twine, and bring to the curb.

Take things one at a time, step by step, starting with the easiest stuff and keep going until you are done. Ta-dah!

Yes, it really is that easy.

Oh sure, hard work and perseverance are still needed, but a little brainwork can make things so much easier.

And that goes for creating a comic strip, the great American novel, and even landscaping.

Thank Goodness for word problems :0)

PS Now if this darn would only work consistently!

I've lost this post twiceFOUR TIMES now (!!!!), and luckily had saved some of it. I've heard from some of you who have had similar problems, where you type up a brilliant reply, only to have it disappear into the e-void.

Please don't let that stop you. Keep saving your work until blogger finally lets your reply through.

I know people are reading this, but I'm not going to blog more often until I start getting more replies at the blog.

I need to know; am I a rambling nutter or a focused philosopher when it comes to blogging? :0)

YOUR opinions, please :0)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Influences, Part II

Well, my train of thought kind of derailed on that last blog, so I figured I would try again to organize my thoughts.

Influences... How much are we shaped by our early environments, and how much is us to begin with, and how does this apply to our creative lives?

Lots of times we see the same ideas expressed over and over again, and sometimes it seems like obvious plagiarism or outright theft. I'm thinking of comic strips, and sitcoms, and other creative outlets. (As for sitcoms, we're stretching the 'creative' definition, a bit, and giving the writers the benefit of the doubt)

Anyway, read the funnies long enough, and you will see the same ideas crop up again and again, and sometimes nearly word for word. Now, sometimes this is outright theft. I don't post everything I do on the web because there are some people out there who see nothing wrong with stealing ideas, as long as they can benefit from it. Other times, though, it may be coincidence, tribute, or influence. Maybe that Cartoonist read a strip, thought it was funny, and it was filed into his subconscious. Later, the idea pops up again, and seems original to the Cartoonist.

Not outright theft, but definitely an 'influence'. At other times, we may come up with the same ideas completely independent of others. Sheer coincidence, and bound to happen. After all, if 5 people are creating family strips, they will invariably cover the same topics, and revisit those topics. In a comic strip of 4 small panels, with only a certain amount of space for the writing, and with good jokes sharing a similar sense of timing, it is no surprise that the same ideas can arise independently.

Now let's explore this topic deeper. As a child, I read the Hardy Boys, but really enjoyed The Three Investigators. They were three kids who liked to solve mysteries, and had a cool secret headquarters hidden in a junkyard. Today, I have a comic strip called The Inquiring Minds, about three kids looking for adventure.

Coincidence? Was I influenced by those early stories? Probably. So if I never read the Three Investigators, would I not be now creating The Inquiring Minds?

Hard to say, but I doubt it. I have a lot more influences than just The Three Investigators. Besides, in a comic strip, a certain dynamic can be created by having three characters. Two characters can team up against the third, or all three can head off into different directions. And all three can have different strengths and weaknesses that play off of each other. Chances are the Three Investigators were created for the same reasons that The Inquiring Minds were, just for that special dynamic of three characters playing off of each other.

My characters love the outdoors, and are interested in sci-fi. My favorite all time author is Clifford D. Simak, whose stories all took place in nature, and of course were all sci-fi stories. His novel Shakespeare's Planet was about a group of Space Explorers stranded on a planet that has a 'gateway' that connects different worlds together. My very first comic strip was about a group of space explorers who find a 'gateway to the stars' on a planet, and get lost inthis network of star 'gates'. And now one of my favorite shows ( and movie) is Stargate Sg-1. Was I originally influenced by Shakespeare's Planet in creating my first comic strip?


And perhaps Stargate was also influenced by that story, directly or indirectly.

And now, my interest is further reinforced by Stargate SG-1, so that my original influence is reinforced by a current influence that may have been influenced by my initial influences!

An endless cycle of reinforced influences!

Have a nice day :0)

Influences; Who, What, and Why

Invariably, creative people are asked about their influences. Up until a few years ago, most Cartoonists would immediately mention Charles Schulz, especially if their interests run to comic strips. In interviews, this could get dull, but of course a Cartoonist is going to talk about Cartoonists, just as a Violinist would talk about Violinists, right?

Influences actually run deeper than that, and outside of our areas of expertise. For example, our parents, of course, and our early environments. As a kid, I was always playing outdoors. I spent hours just sitting in the grass watching bugs go by, and collecting rocks, or climbing trees, all the while letting my subconscious run things. Surely those hours of pure imagination and daydreaming led to my being a creative person.

Or did it?

Perhaps I spent hours daydreaming in the back yard because I was born a creative person?

I was also an avid reader as a child. Mom always took us to the library, and I always seemed to have books around, so again, perhaps that influenced me into becoming a writer?

Then again, perhaps I devoured books because I already had a penchant for reading?

My point, I guess, is that nature and nurture both shape our being. Perhaps we are inclined to do certain things because of our particular make up, but then, in pursuing those things, reinforce that basic inclination further. So perhaps the word influence should be retermed reinforcement?

I dunno... perhaps I'm getting lost in semantics here, but I'm trying to understand who I am, and why. How much of ME is me, and how much of me was shaped by my environment? And why should it matter so much? Is it curiosity, or an argument for free will?

We all want to be special. It beats the alternative, that's for sure.

But if we are responsible for our own lives, then, along with taking credit for our successes, we have to fess up for our failings and shortcomings. Some people aren't willing to do that, and are more than happy to blame others for their problems.

That's the easy way out, though, which is rarely the best way. By knowing who we are, and facing that, we can make decisions to grow, and change, for the better.

They say to write what you know, which is easily the most misunderstood advice ever given. That doesn't mean to write a novel about a guy who looks like you, eats the same breakfast you do, and goes to a similar job. Borrrrrring!

You need to tap your inner strengths and interests. Dig deep, and release those things that you are most passionate about. Write what you care about most, and let your own passion attract your audience.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Creative Minds need to Re-create

Once upon a time, a great mouse named Brain explained to his pal Pinky the word 'recreation'. "Re-create", he said. The idea of recreation means how it sounds... you re-create yourself. I don't recall the exact words, but the sentiment is genius.

So, it is often said that boys like their toys. I can't speak for the ladies out there, but yes, us guys like our toys, whether they be the latest tools, the latest electronics, or even 'action figures'. Action figures? C'mon... they're just dolls, right? Maybe... but us real men, or at least us creative types, build model kits!

Again, I'm not trying to deliberately rule out the female of the species in any of this, but as a guy, I've always found model kits to be fascinating. I grew up building Prehistoric Scenes, Planet of the Apes, Starships from Star trek, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica, and glow-in-the-dark Classic Monsters, and the coolest of all, The Pirates of the Caribbean collection. (Why don't they remake those? I'd snap them up, and snap them together in no time, if I could.)

Anyways, before you grown-ups go away shaking your heads, I do have a point to make about all this. I choose to be a Cartoonist not for the fame and money, but for the challenge of it. I could do so many things with my life, and most of them would leave me bored stiff. Cartooning is, to me, the most difficult and challenging career out there. Oh, I know... the Great Ones make it look so easy, but you have to be an artist, a writer, and all the things that those two disciplines involve. Cartoonists need to understand science, and psychology, and need to research everything to get their stories and drawings just right.

And after all that hard work, do we just kick back with a beer and let the old brain cells rest? Sure, sometimes... but other times we get the itch to do something just as difficult. Model building, when done right, is a long creative challenge. Not only do you put the model together and make sure all the pieces fit right, but then you have to paint it. Again, you can just paint it, or you can make it look really cool by aging it, weathering it, or adding blaster damage to a spaceship: in other words, have the model tell a story. Take that further, and instead of displaying it on a shelf, or leaving it in the closet, you create a backdrop, a display, that adds to the story. Customizing a model is where the real creativity comes in. Anybody can buy the same model kit that you have, but it's what YOU do with it that makes it stand out.

This is a long drawn out process. You just can't open the box and start gluing pieces together. You have to plan, and think, and design.

My mom threw away most of my models from childhood when I went to school. I should email her their listings on eBay, but I need her to babysit. Needless to say, if my Mother threw something out then, it's worth a fortune today.

Anyway, I got back into modeling recently, because of work, really. I've done a lot of safety cartoons for the shipping industry, so I bought a model ship for reference.( and that's tax deductible, kids!) While shopping, though, I came across Darth Vader's TIE Fighter, and, well, the bug was back.

Two very different models in various stages of progress.

Now, I have finally got the coolest model ever... the Shuttle Tydirium from Return of the Jedi! I've wanted this for awhile now, and I'm so tempted to just dig in and get to work, and if I was twelve, the thing would be put together already, and I'd be cursing myself for all the mistakes I've made.

The most awesome Tydirium Shuttle,
with folding wings and extending landing ramp!

But no, I'm older now, and I know that when the model is done, it's over. It's the journey that is so exciting... the planning, the details, the slow execution. Like a cartoon, really. I love drawing the four panels, sketching in the figures, inking them, and finaly adding the words that make it come alive!

So why does my play time resemble work so much? Why are they two sides of the same coin?

Well, I am re-creating myself :0) Obviously, I'm a builder... a creator. And while Cartooning is my chosen profession, having deadlines, and business hassles kind of takes away from that.

But when I build a model, it's all mine. It's still Cartooning, but I do it for me. The same challenge, thought, and execution, but it's completely mine. I can be a twelve year old, or a four year old whenever I want. No worries... just pure fun :0)

All that remains of my once grand model collection, after the Great Mom Cleaning Frenzies of '78 and '82. The Pirate and Ape model may be beyond my reclamation abilities, but I'm definitely going to refurbish the viper. :0)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

There's No Excuse for a Bad Superhero Movie

Honestly, there isn't. Now, this isn't just a blog loosely associated with Cartooning.. I actually have a lesson to impart, but let's take the long road there and talk about comic books and movies first.

The new X-men movie is coming out, and I find myself not as... excited, as I might be. So far, the commercials haven't shown me anything new or different from the first two. I liked the first two, but as good entertainment.. not anything life altering, like a great movie can be. I do look forward to Spiderman 3 and Fantastic Four 2, although Fantastic Four was more juvenille than I would have liked, and it did get terrible reviews. And that brings me to my first point: There is NO excuse for a bad Superhero Movie.

Why? Allow me to elaborate, and extend that to 'classic Superheroes', meaning Superheroes that have been around for decades in comic books. We can even extend this to Non-superheroes, such as Men In Black and Blade ( Yes, both comic books), but it's not neccesary.

Anyways, let's stop to think a moment. Even if you don't read comics, we are all aware that comic books like Fantastic Four, Batman, etc, have been around a long time now. For a movie like Spiderman, we have something like 40 years of comics as a basis. There are several Spidey titles that have been coming out each month since the Sixties. We also have at least dozens of writers and artists and editors who have expanded on the original ideas, and brought their own takes on the characters. More importantly, they have made mistakes, made breakthroughs, and have made money, which is sometimes a good indicator of what works and what doesn't.

So, with all that, it's no surprise that they made a great two movies so far. Honestly, the villians are a bit cheesy, but the movies work. Somebody got smart and mined the collective Spidey Library, and managed to stay true to the character.

No, the surprise comes when we see movies like the Hulk, or Fantastic Four, and others, and we leave disappointed. Why ignore the history laid down over decades in the four color archives of comic's history? I'll skip the details for you non fans, but let me say that there have been some fantastic stories told with these characters.

Doctor Doom, in the comics, can be a frightful Villian... a Dictator with the resources of a small country, with genius level science, and a knowledge of the dark arts, twisted by his heritage, and his desire to rule the world that he sees kicked him when he was down. There was NONE of that in the movie, and if there was, the movie would have been a lot better.

The origin of the Fantastic Four was also modified. Let's be honest, and admit that things have changed since 1963, and we've seen some advances in science. Still, the original origin of the Fantastic Four was exciting... they steal a spaceship that Reed Richards had designed, to prove that his theories are correct. A mistake has them bombarded by Cosmic Rays, and they crash land back on earth. There, in the confusion of the crash, they start to develop these amazing powers that they have no control over... yet. Very dramatic, and completely watered down for the film.

Well, let's move on to my true point. Great work requires just that... work. You have to write, and draw, and make mistakes, and fix things and go back and do it again until you get it right. You cannot rush greatness.

When CARTOONIST PROfiles was around, each issue talked about how the great Cartoonists from the funny pages got syndicated. They all give as advice the following; write and draw a hundred strips or so, and then choose from those your best 24 to submit to the syndicates.

We're not all making a comic book movie, where we can mine the gold of others. But if you're serious about making a name for yourself in this business, then here's my advice; Create your own four color archive of work. Do enough that you do make mistakes, and don't be afraid to toss out ideas that don't work. So many Cartoonists feel that everything they put down on paper is written in stone. It's paper, people! Toss it out if it ain't working, and draw something else!

There's a lot of competition out there, so make sure that you always put your best foot forward. You only get one chance to make a great impression :0)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Free Comics... YAAAAAY!!!!

Free Comics... YAAAAYYYY!!!!

And now that I've got your attention... :0)

Yes, Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, but did you also know that Friday May 5 is National Cartoonist's Day? Sure, many people see that day as just another excuse to party, but please take a moment to remember those of us who work hard every day to bring smiles and laughter and sometimes even intellectual stimulation to people everywhere through our art.

Read the comics in your daily paper, or your favorite comic book or comic strip collection, and most definitely visit your local Comic Book Store to pick up some free comics. But please, Cartooning is a lonely job at times, working late nights in a studio while the rest of the world sleeps, or worse, during the day while the sun is shining through the windows, and ... oh, but I digress. My point is, if you have a favorite Cartoonist, than write a fan letter, or send an email, and let them know how much you like their work. Bring a smile to their face for a day :0)

As for Free Comic Book Day, I know that many of my readers have never considered going into a comic book store. Reading comics in the paper is more their cup of tea, but today's comic shops have a lot to offer to anyone who likes to read or appreciates a good laugh, etc. There are comics for grownups, for kids, and stuff that even the ladies will enjoy. Comics are not just Superheroes anymore, and even the Superhero stuff is not what you remember as a kid. Heck, it's a fun thing to do with the kids and the comics are free.

As for me, I will be handing out a few copies of a special comic at my local comic shop this Saturday. "Hey, what good does that do me", you ask. Well, I'll tell you :0)

FREE! YES, FREE!!!! For a limited time only, you can download this special edition comic for free as a pdf file. Please check it out at the following link, and download it for free.

This is a special deal, and I am happy to share this with you.

All I ask is that you remember me this National Cartoonis's Day :0)

Cheers! JOHN :0)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Gray Sky Holiday

They say it always rains in England, but that's not true. In all my visits there, always in the off-season, I haven't seen all that much rain. Gray skies, sure, but not all that much rain. I do understand why people may complain, though, since my last trip we awoke each morning to clouds, and mist, and often light sprinkling. You think to yourself, "I'm on vacation, I've got big plans, and it's raining". Fortunately for us, the weather usually cleared up by afternoon, and we actually had some nice weather at times.

When walking the streets of London, a bit of rain can make things a bit gloomy. That same weather at Stonehenge, however, or in the Cotswalds, adds what we writers call atmosphere. Hmm... coincidence that 'weather' creates 'atmosphere'? :0)

Anyways, a Holiday is a Holiday, and it's great to get away from the everyday. Of course, my getaway coincided with the release of my book 3 Knights in India,which was not a good thing in terms of sales. Now that I'm back, I'm anxious to get to work on some new projects, which brings me to today's discussion, and please, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the following.

I was talking to another Creative the other day, and we were discussing newspaper interviews and such and we both suddenly realized something; we like our work. Allow me to clarify: we like Cartooning. Selling the book, Marketing, Publicity, etc. is also work, but we Artists don't have the heads for this stuff. We can do it, but the desire is next to zero.

I spent 3 years on 3 Knights in India, and I thought about the book for every waking hour of those 3 years. Now that it's done, it's like "Time to fly!", and whoosh! Out of the nest it goes, and it had better start flapping!

It sounds cruel, but I have other stuff I want to write and draw. I have more stories in my head than I know what to do with, and a great new comic strip just waiting for me to get to the drawing board, and open that interdimensional portal made of bristol board that will allow those characters to come to life inour world.

Don't get me wrong... I love 3 Knights in India, and I really do want to hear what the critics have to say, and especially my audience, and hopefully new readers. I just don't know how to reach you all. I've been sitting on the Press Release like an old hen sitting on a rock and wondering why it won't hatch. It won't, of course. I've got to do a whole lot more than keep it warm for it to grow, and then I have to find places for it to fly off to, and then set up interviews, and maybe arrange for a book signing or two, but as I said, who has the time?

I've got Cartooning to do, and that really causes some mixed feelings. I mean, books don't sell themselves. I created this book, so I guess I have a responsibility to it, to give it the best chance it has in this world.

Damn. I wish this were easier.

They say fame isn't everything, but I bet Charles Schultz never had to write his own press releases. Heck, I bet he didn't even NEED a press release!

Damn. Damn. Damn.

Pardon my French.

The sun shining on a stone lion in Oxford

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Standing Stones

Hey, it's been awhile. I haven't blogged lately because I've been visiting the UK. I saw a lot of England that I hadn't seen before, got some great Doctor Who books from Forbidden Planet, and visited Stonehenge again. I also got my first peek at Avebury, which thrilled me beyond words!

When you stand on the Salisbury plain, feeling the mist on your face, and watching the weather change from moment to moment, you get an idea of why these stone age people chose this spot to build stonehenge. It's magical. The wind sweeps away all sound, making your time there very personal. The land there hasn't changed in centuries, and you can feel that, even though the hand of man has desecrated this still impressive monument. When you actually see the size of these stones, you cannot help but wonder the who, what, when, where, and especially why of it. What possessed these people to move giant stones across miles of landscape, to cut and polish them, and then stand them up carefully in their well-planned places? We may never know, and that just adds to the wonder of it all.

But what's this got to do with Cartooning, you ask? Well, there's an old saying that says there is no substitute for experience. Add that to the other old saying, write what you know, and it's clear that if you don't get out much, you're not going to have much to write about.

Travel is good for the brain, in any sense. It's good to get other viewpoints, see how others live, what they think of us, and to especially to see things with your own eyes what you may previously have only seen in books, or on TV. Let me say this for the record: books, television, and even the internet are NOT doorways to the world. They are great tools, for sure, but they are no substitute for actually going outside and seeing things. Seeing a photo of Stonehenge, or St. Paul's Cathedral, or the temples of Elephanta island is like reading a recipe; you can guess what the food tastes like, but it won't satisfy your hunger.

As a writer, I find travel very stimulating. I got a great story idea while just preparing for my trip! It was easy then to get the research material I needed, since the story was already forming in my mind. Beyond photos and details, though, are impressions. You know it rains a lot in England, but you really know how that feels when the ice cold drops keep finding their way down the back of your coat no matter what you do, and you realize that the sweater you are wearing just isn't enough to keep out the cold. Feel that rain while standing in a windy field overlooking the ruins of a 600 year old house that has 3 foot thick stone walls, and I dare you not to be inspired!

Trust me... get out there... do something, see something, go places.

It's worth it!

Some of the many stones left standing in Avebury. Don't let the sheep fool you; they are in the foreground, so the stones are larger than they appear. That black spot in the middle is me, for better reference. See detail below.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Timing is Everything?

April seems to be my busiest month of the year, and most American citizens can guess why; no, I'm not talking about Easter, or my Mother's birthday. It's tax time.

Each year at this time, when I suddenly seem to have more work and less time than ever, I sit down and spend a ridiculous amount of time doing my own taxes, and then checking each figure, crossing every t, etc. etc.

Sure, you're asking yourself, "Hey, why does Mr. Bigshot Cartoonist do his own taxes?". Well, Smartypants, I'll tell you. Doing my own taxes keeps me on top of my business, and frankly helps me to run that business more successfuly. This year alone, I've learned a lot of ways to run my business better, and I have been forced to look at how I have been running it, and what I could be doing better.

"We want examples!", you say. Well, for one, the very definition of Small Business is vital, and very important. Small Businesses get decent tax deductions, while hobbies do not. To be taken seriously as a Small Business, you have to prove that you're doing what you do for profit, not just for the fun of it. So... even though I absolutely love my job, I do my best to profit from it. Heck, I can't afford to do my job if I'm not bringing in money to pay the bills.

One way the IRS determines Small Biz vs Hobby is this; advertising expenses. See? Advertising expenses are deductible, and by doing my own taxes, I can see what I am missing by not advertising. Also, by paying for advertising, you are demonstrating a desire to reach a bigger audience, and therefore increase profits. Now, let's be honest. When YOU are your business, it's nice to put the money you make into your pocket. It's NOT nice to see how much it actually costs to advertise, and so you may put it off, but let's face it; the greatest book, or cartoon, or whatever is only going to collect dust unless people actually know it exists, so a business really cannot thrive unless the miracle of word-of-mouth advertising is enough to get the word out there. And even that takes advertising.

So there... that's just one example of how a biz owner can benefit by doing his own taxes, and learning how to run that biz better.

However, the title of today's blog is "Timing is Everything?", so why am I blabbing about taxes and advertising? Well, for one, my new book 3 Knights in India is now available for sale! But how many of my readers are aware of that fact? I need to get a Press Release put together (which is the best form of advertising) and I need to get books printed, and sent to reviewers, and find ways to advertise and get the word out. Oh yeah, I should also be doing some Cartooning, too, huh?

Timing, though. I gotta get those taxes done! I happen to excel in multitasking, so I am actually writing the Press Release as we speak I write this. However, I'm going to be out of the office quite a bit in the next month, so sending out Press Releases and stuff really isn't a good idea, if I'm not going to be available for comment!

So what's a boy to do? I always seem to be in this position each April.

And what's worse?

It's still only March!

Ay yay yay.... JOHN :0)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Some most excellent news from the HappyGlyphs Studios today!

First off, I received the final proofs for the 3 Knights in India Graphic Novel, and they're fantastic! I say final proofs, because when I received the first proof, I liked it so much that I went back and added a few extras to the book (as well as making about 2 dozen corrections! Proofread, then proofread again!)

So today's announcement? 3 Knights in India will be brought to you by the very fine folks at I shopped around, and believe me, I feel this is the best company for self-publishers. The quality of the books is very nice, and the price is very reasonable... I'm honestly at least 99% happy with everything so far.

My storefront address is The storefront is important because of my next bit of news; I am rereleasing my first book, "Take Me Away From All This!!", available soon from

"Take Me Away From All This!!" is the first Knight and Day Comic Strip Collection, and deals with the ups and downs of newlywedded life. There's a lot of great slice of life moments, and includes my first travel comics, as Steve and Amy go to England and France, and Oz the Ice Cream Man goes to Thailand. The events of this book take place eight years before 3 Knights in India, and you will be able to find more about this at as soon as I get the proofs back and approve the book for sale.

I will say this, though; I hate to do this to you guys who have been around a while, and purchased the first Edition of "Take Me Away From All This!!", but the new book will be a SECOND EDITION. First of all, the book has been digitally remastered because I really wasn't happy with the first book's production value, since the art was printed greyscale, and was slightly pixalated in places. I anticipate great quality in the new version. Also, this is a Second Edition because I couldn't help myself, and I went and added about 14 new comic strips that are not in the first edition. These comics appeared at the website sometime before I began 3 Knights in India, and make a nice addition to an already great book.

Both books will not be available at until late April, for those of you who wish to get autographed books, or pick up the new Inquiring Minds comic at the same time. There are lots of reasons for this, so I won't go into that right now.

All you need to know is that HappyGlyphs Comics will soon have all of our books available again, and that 3 Knights in India is on sale now at

Thank you for your support, JOHN :0)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Top 1000 books

I just came across this very interesting list of the top 1000 books held by libraries { that are members of the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center).} One thousand books seemed like a mighty big number until I scrolled through the list and realized just how many of these books I have actually read in my lifetime. I have definitely read most of the top 130 or so, and hold many in our own home library. Honestly, any educated person should have read at least 100 of these books, and your average voracious reader has probably polished off at least half.

Since this is a comic strip blog, let me then say how surprised I was by how many of these books are children's books and comic strip collections. (I was truly shocked to see that Garfield was one of the highest ranked books, but that's another column. And no, I won't be bashing Garfield... I actually think the first book is very funny. I'm just surprised that it ranked higher than Calvin & Hobbes and Peanuts.) Anyway, the point was children's books and comic strips.

One can joke about the decline of Literacy in America, but those would be fighting words :0) The truth is, comic strips are the natural child of the illustrated novel, and in particular illustrated children's books. And let's be honest... using the words "Children's books" is a rough categorization. Alice in Wonderland has great appeal to children because of the silliness of the situations and language, but truly there is a lot here going on on the adult level. Aesops Fables as well still has a lot to teach us grown-ups, but- hey, why am I defending the art form I truly love? Comics and children's literature need no defense, and besides, who says a great book has to educate us, or make us think?

As long as we enjoy a book on some level, then the author has accomplished something magical, especially if that book can reach so many people that nearly every library has a copy of it. It seems obvious, then, that most of these books must have something going for them, so I for one am going to scroll the list for one I haven't read yet, and check it out.

And although this isn't National Library day, or National Cartoonist's day, or anything like it, I will leave you with this; Why don't you check out the list as well, and find something good to read?

And if you want something really different, check out my personal favorite books. Oh, the list isn't complete, but this is a good list of books that have influenced me, or that I found exceptional.

Let me know if you find anything good to read, huh?

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Monday, March 20, 2006

3 Knights in India: The End

Well... it's pretty much official now. I just sent out the last 3 Knights in India to the India Post, and before that I sent the final corrections to the printer for the Graphic Novel. Did I mention here yet that I received the proof, and that it looks great?

Paper, print quality, covers... everything looks fantastic. Once I saw the book, I added a few extras just because I was so happy with the way it came out. Because of that, I have to now wait for a second proof, so we have another week or so before I can start talking about where you can buy the book.

Trust me, it's great, and well worth the 3 years that I put into it.

And for those keeping track of these things, I did add an extra chapter. Like the prequel, it's only a few pages (8), but by separating the last bits from the rest of the book, it really gives it a strong sense of finality... a good ending to the book.

And for those of you who have had trouble responding to blogs here, may I strongly recommend that you write responses in Notepad, or something, and paste it into the blog? That way, if your response is lost at all, you don't have to type all that stuff in again, or worse, walk away and I don't hear from you!

More soon, my friends :0)

Friday, March 17, 2006

What's in a name?


Maybe you've seen the latest 3 Knights in India at the homepage, or are looking forward to seeing it in next week's India Post, but I just had to pull it aside for discussion.

You see, I love moments like this. They shine in a Creator's career, mostly becuase of their unexpectedness. Reading the strip, it appears obvious where the name 3 Knights in India comes from, and I actually did consider calling it 3 days and 3 knights in Bangalore. The point is, I didn't plan this particular strip. I knew the story was ending, and I knew I was going to give each subset of characters their final moments, but this particular idea popped out of thin air just when I needed it, and I had no idea that it was coming. It's perfect, of course, in so many ways, and a fitting ending for the strip, and so obvious to me the subconscious mind at work.

I remember reading that Bill Watterson enjoyed creating Calvin & Hobbes storylines, because he would set the characters loose, and often be delightfully surprised by where they went. Perhaps we creative types have a certain schizophrenia, but it's true that a point comes where your characters have a life of their own. They conduct dialogs in your head, and you find yourself just listening in, and waiting for the good stuff that you can mine for the comic strip.

No, I don't think we're crazy... it's just the creative process at work. The subconscious mind working hard on all the stuff that the conscious mind feeds it. It is wonderful though, when we can surprise ourselves; the artistic equivalent to the "runner's high".

And by the way, the guy in the top panel to the left is indeed the "everyman"or "Common Man" character created by RK Laxman, India's premier Cartoonist. No cartoon book about India would be complete without him :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Day in the Life...

Actually 2 days: That's how long it took to review and edit my graphic novel, going over all 148 pages to check that everything falls within the margins, that there are no spelling errors, or any other dreadful mistakes. I actually went over the book 3 times, just to make sure, because the first turn through revealed about 20 horrible mistakes my former editing didn't find. Then I had to turn the main document and covers into pdf files, and get them to the printer.

Now I just have to wait for the proof to come in. If it looks good to me, then 3 Knights in India will finally be made available to the public, and I can see what everyone thinks of it.

Not that the work is over, of course. Still have to market and promote, but as I've mentioned, it's already strange not having this feeling that I need to draw or write all the time. Honestly, I've often worked around the clock on this, trying to keep the newspaper deadline, as well as self-imposed deadlines.

Wow... no more drawing 3 Knights in India... no more battles between text and images for precious page space, no more scambling for reference material through a table of photos and magazines, no more piles of sketches, or the scratching of the pencil on paper, or the smell of ink at 3 in the morning...

Fortunately, I have a dozen other projects on my list.

Back to the drawing board!

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Back Cover, Part II

A bittersweet moment is upon me! I'm drawing the final strips of 3 Knights in India right now, and finishing off the covers, and some extra interior illustrations. After nearly 3 years, it's hard to believe that I won't be working on this graphic novel anymore!

Oh, I'll be promoting it, of course, which is a full time job in itself, but it just won't be the same as writing and sketching on a daily basis for so long. Still, you have to let go of the apron strings eventually, so that each little book can go off on its own to make its mark on the world.

And I do have a list of other projects to work on, besides the Freelance gigs, so it will be exciting to start something new. More word on those as the time comes.

For now, I've got to finish this book quick; the story will complete itself in the newspapers in just a couple of weeks, and I want the book to be available soon after.

So here's the back cover, for those of you following its evolution here at the blog. I knew I needed a fancy border for the back cover, since nothing says 'India' like a fancy colorful border. I drew up a cool looking Ganesha, as well, but I won't post that here. I'm saving that for the t-shirts :0)

I added the new illustration to the back. Actually, this came from the back of the second comic book, so it's not exactly new, but I wasn't planning on adding it to the graphic novel, so I'm happy to find a place for it. I had something else in mind, but this illustration suits the back cover needs really well. First of all, it's small, so I still have room for a barcode, and second, it does show all 3 Knights again, this time in a more traditional setting than on the front cover. I like the modern India versus traditional India in the illustrations, plus the looks on Steve and Amy's faces goes very well with the starting text, "Ready or not, the Knight family is going to India".

All Most Comments welcome! Just click on the word comments at the end of any blog :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Censorship and Sensibilities

As if I don't have enough to do in getting my graphic novel completed on time, but of course, up crops an 'issue'. Okay, this issue had actually cropped up a long while back, but enough people have now brought it to my attention that it merits another look-see... especially since 3 Knights in India is going to print soon.

Okay, take a look at the comic ahead, and prepare to gasp in shock and horror!

All right, personally I don't see anything wrong with the image, but who am I to argue when my wife my audience demands asks that I perhaps change something in my work. Okay, personally I don't like being told what I can and cannot do within my own work, but on the other hand, I do ask for opinions, and appreciate them when I get them. So I listen, and weigh, and decide.

By the way, the point in discussion here is Rekha's t-shirt emblazoned with the words FCUK on it. All young upscale shoppers know that stands for French Connection U.K., and I've seen their ads in public places, and their stores in upscale malls. For me, I wanted my audience to look at Rekha and know that right away we're dealing with a firecracker here... someone looking for trouble.

So what to do? Do I stand by my guns, and risk offending, and even losing, members of my audience? Or do I see things from their point of view, and look for a compromise?

I could see Rekha wearing a shirt that says "All This and Brains as Well", but that's a little too long and distracting... and not nearly biting enough. And I suppose the words 'Bite Me' on the shirt doesn't really address the issue.

So again, what to do? I have a week or so to decide, so let me think about it. Meanwhile, your opinions are welcome, of course.

What will I end up doing? You'll just have to buy the book to find out :0)

Toodles, JOHN :0)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cover Story: Part III

So here it is, the cover to my forthcoming graphic novel 3 Knights in India. Compare this with the sketch in the last post, and the image for the back cover posted earlier. You can see that I stayed true to the rough sketch, but redrew the image to fit the book cover layout better. I made some small changes here and there, and changed some colors to create a more balanced and dynamic layout.

It's amazing to me that just a few days ago I had no idea where I was going to go with this cover, and now it's done and I can actually picture what the book will look like when finished. It's a great feeling when a book starts to fall into place.

And now that the cover is done, and the back cover in progress, I can begin creating ads and working on marketing. I already have an interview lined up, and will talk about that later when it happens.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Cover Story Part II

Okay, excitement here!

I think I've found a cover for the 3 Knights in India graphic novel that I can be happy with. Surprisingly, it came from the back cover, which just goes to show you why you need to spend time thinking about these things.

So I'm taking the image from the back cover, as seen in my previous post here and replacing it with an all new image that I think will work better. More on that later. As for the front, I chose this image for the same reasons mentioned before;

  1. It shows all 3 Knights. In particular, Iris is singled out here, which is appropriate since she narrates most of the story. Also, her parents are shown here as guardians and protectors.
  2. The idea is humorous, and I just love the look on Iris' face as she acts all grown up with Rekha's friends.
  3. The image shows modern India, which is pretty much what you will find in Bangalore these days. Also, the image has large areas of bold 'Indian' colors, which will look nice as a cover.
  4. It's not 'typical'. There are so many standard ways I could have gone with this, but this seems different enough to stand out.
Well, there are other reasons, but most importantly is that it feels right to me.

I'm probably going to go work this into a tighter sketch and start inking, but it's not too late to let me know what you think!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

What's in a Name?

I'm proud of my work, and not ashamed to admit that. I just wish that things were more cut and dried, if only to make conversation easier.

What am I talking about, you're thinking? Well, my books, in this instance. More importantly, how many books have I created? And do comics count as books, or should I list books and comic books separately?

That's not an easy question for me, so please don't ask. I just don't like staring into space, saying "uh..."; that's just not professional. The reason is this...

I have one book, which is a comic strip collection, followed by 3 comic books, and then The Inquiring Minds #1 which is a comic strip collection in comic book format. Make that mini-comic, since the size is not standard. Soon I will add 3 Knights in India, a graphic novel. Now, the graphic novel is a book, so we have 2 books, and 4 comic books, or 3 comic books and one mini-comic. And those 3 comic books will be in the graphic novel, so do they still count? Do they disappear into the ether, as they are absorbed into the larger graphic novel, or do they still exist, but shadows of their former selves?

Or am I just a loony, blabbing into cyberspace?

You be the judge! Just don't ask me how many books I've made, until I've sorted this out.

Maybe someone at the Library of Congress can help me out with this dilemma?

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Sneak Peek at The Inquiring Minds #1 mini-comic book.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Cartooning 101: How to Make a Christmas Card

Hello, and welcome to this, our first behind the scenes look at the goings on at HappyGlyphs Studios. In this blog, we will see an actual How-to approach to creating a cartoon Holiday card, with helpful hints and delightful insights into the mysterious world of Cartooning!

First, Christmas cards, like any creative endeavor, begin with the idea. Without a good idea, there is no point to endeavoring further. Each year, John Steventon begins thinking up ideas for his annual Holiday card sometime around August. This is easy since here in America the stores begin setting up their Holiday displays at this time, and cheerful Christmas music reminds us that, although it's 95 degrees outside, Winter will be upon us in only a matter of months.

After a handful of ideas are weighed and measured, one lucky idea is chosen above others as being worthy. In this case, suppose Santa Claus, on his busiest night of the year, had a cell phone upon which he could be bothered. (see Figure 1) A silly idea, but funny when you put yourself in his shoes! The idea is then tweaked, the text written and rewritten for maximum humour, and then the kicker added... How does Santa feel about his cell phone? This gives us out punchline of "Why only bad kids get cell phones for Christmas".

Next, the sketch is embellished, and made to fit the print area of the front of the card. The sketch is refined until it is nearly ready to be inked. Impoertant note: The final card is in color, so the sketch is created with color in mind, meaning little shading in the inking stage, and we can leave room for an elaborate background. In this case, I felt realistic clouds and sky would really make this card something to look at, and this could only be done in color. If this were to be in black and white, I would add a lot of shading and texture, such as shadows on the sleigh and fur on the reindeer. Since I do all of my coloring on the computer, I know I can add a lot of the details at the end.

Note the word snow at the top right of the image. I was originally planning on adding a light snowfall to the image until I realized that I was drawing Santa flying above the clouds! Also, note the tiny Big Ben in the lower right. I toyed with the idea of Santa flying low over the British landmark, but found it to be distracting. I opted later to add just a few houselights in the breqaks between clouds.

Now, since this was a tight sketch, there is no need to show the inked version, which is very similar. Instead, I will show in figure 3 the beginning of the coloring stage. I first put in the background sky and clouds because a) the colors are givens, b) they are large areas, and by filling in the large color areas first, I can begin to visualise better the entire color pallete of the piece, and c) these areas are not represented in the black and white sketch, so why not put them in now?

Finally, the rest of the colors are placed, choosing shades and hues that work well together, giving a pleasing overall balance to the piece. Usually I would have added the text balloon in the original inking, but in this case, I opted to add it later, so that the big white oval wouldn't distract me from the overall look of the color image. I needed, while coloring the piece, to keep in mind that the moon is the brightest object, and that all shadows reflect this. For this reason the words and balloon were added last. The web address is not on the final piece, but was added here to dissuade bad people from stealing our hard work.

So there. I hope we haven't spoiled the magic by revealing too much of the mechanics of this wonderful art that is Cartooning.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cartooning 201: 3 Knights in India, the Back Cover Story

I still haven't come up with a design or image for the front cover of my soon to be finished graphic novel, 3 Knights in India. The good news? I think I've settled on a design for the back cover!

That's a big deal here at the HappyGlyphs Studios, because being a stay at home Dad and a full time Cartoonist is not an easy task. At this point, finishing the back cover is worth raising a toast, and breathing a sigh of relief that at least that much is done.

Today's tip: give yourself time to cogitate. I started thinking about these covers several months ago, to give myself time to look them over, walk away, and look them over again, and I'm glad I did. I'll explain why.

Here is a comp of my first concept for the back cover. I had originally wanted it to look like a handful of photos were tossed on a table, and that the text box was one of the photos.

Now this happened to match one of my original ideas, but I had other motivations. Not having found a publisher yet, I am investigating self-publishing. The reality of self-publishing is that color books are expensive, and that you can't add color pages to a black and white book, so... the covers are my place to shine, and show off my color work. In that vein, I wanted to place as many of my color pieces from 3 Knights in India that I could and still have it all look nice and balanced.

To be honest, I'm not sure this works for me. It's not a bad idea, per se, and maybe I could do more with this if I wanted, but another rule of thumb in design is this; simpler is usually better.

So onto another concept. In line with what I was thinking in my last blog, I wanted one image below the text box, and preferably one that would give a firm idea of the story to somebody picking up the book for the first time.

I came up with 3 images, but chose this one because it showed all 3 members of the Knight family enjoying a moment in Bangalore.

In comparison, it may not be as dynamic as the cascade of 'photos', but then again, it's not as busy. Both are good, but I have to now choose which one fits the story better.

Also, keep in mind that we must consider leaving space for a barcode, the nemesis of all cover designs! The second choice leaves space for the barcode without covering any of the artwork.

Hmm... so in a side by side comparison, I'm left with wondering which is the best concept for this particular book? Or am I missing a third alternative?

Any ideas? Suggestions? Comments?
I'd love to hear from you!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cartooning 201: 3 Knights in India, the Cover Story Part I

So I'm trying to finish my graphic novel, 3 Knights in India, right? I'm drawing a new strip every week for the India Post, while at the same time putting the entire book together in Pagemaker, and creating extra illustrations and writings to flesh it out.

Of course, the most important part of a book, the part that grabs the reader and invites them in, is the cover. It's good to have the cover done ahead of time, so you can start creating promotional materials, and show everybody what a great artisty you are, and stuff like that. And the good news? I finished the cover... in fact, it was one of the first things I did.

And it's not bad as far as covers go; it's dynamic, eye-catching, and most importantly, actually shows the 3 Knights... in India.

The problem? I did this two and a half years ago. It's been all over my website, and seen in several newspapers, and my family have all sorts of outerwear with this image emblazoned upon it. I even used it for the cover of my first comic book. The prognosis? It's old.

Besides, I've grown as an artist. I should be able to outdo this, right? Rule #2 in this business is this: Don't keep recycling your stuff. Sure, show off your good stuff, but eventually you have to move on. If you're any good at all, you're going to keep on working, and keep on getting better.

So now I have a new problem... something I really haven't faced before, and it's starting to really, really bug me, like a mosquito in the ear.

I'm out of ideas.

Seriously, I'm not used to this. But let me clarify... I have about 6 ideas that I have sketched out, and I'm not 100% happy with any of them. Usually, when I need an idea, I let it cogitate in the old grey matter for a while, and then sudenly 'boom', it hits me in the shower, just in time to save the day!

So maybe I need to finish this book already, and get to that 'needing' part. Maybe some part of my brain realizes we have time yet, so it's slacking off. It's unfortunate that the conscious brain has very little influence on the unconscious, allowing the unconscious to get all cocky and all "I'll get to it when I'm ready".

Damn. So onto rule #3. Don't go with your first idea, or even the first 6 ideas, if you're not happy with them, 'cause if you ain't happy with it, who will be?

So back to the drawing board. Hmm... I need to show the 3 Knights, in India. Something colorful, preferably involving a cow...

Well, if I come up with anything, maybe I'll do a How-To page, showing the creation of a comic cover? Meanwhile, here are the covers to the second and third 3 Knights in India comic book covers ( available at my website ), just to show that I do get ideas once in a while. Cheers!