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)