Thursday, November 08, 2007

Baby Steps

When my client called me one night, asking for a magazine cover that showed "the entire city of Shanghai, with the river in front of it, and a bunch of ships going by", well, I didn't know what to say. At first I thought the guy was crazy, and then I thought that I was crazy for considering it.

How the heck was I going to do this, using the technique of vector illustrations, to which I was still relatively new?

The answer, of course, is one step at a time. As the old saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.... a baby step, even.

There have been a few times in my career when I've seen some great art, and said, "Wow! How the heck could anyone do that? Are they even human?" THe answer is, yes, they're human. They just have a lot of skill, and probably put a lot of time into developing that skill. And, just as important, they had the confidence to start, and complete, something great.

Trust me on this: if you want to survive in this, or any other artistic endeavor, you need some good portfolio pieces. Not something you did in school, unless you graduated in the last six months, and not something you did while watching TV one night.

Thanks to this same client, I've had a few assignments which have taken me nearly a month to complete from start to finish. Not an easy task, especially in this day and age where we want everything right away. Still, you take a deep breathe, and begin.

The above illustration, actually a photograph of the magazine itself, shows the completed work. It took me between 3 and 4 weeks to do, working hours at a time, and using about 40 different photographs for reference. This reminds me, step two, after taking a deep breathe, is to do some research. Today it's easy to run to the internet, but for something like this, 72 dpi just doesn't cut it. Googled images just don't compare to books, magazines, and a good photo morgue.

So, you do some research, and then what? Sketch, sketch, sketch. That's right... get a real pencil and paper if you can find them, and sketch. Sketching on the computer just isn't the same, at least for me.

Once you have a good sketch, you scan it into Adobe Illustrator, and work it up in steps. Block out huge areas of color, determine your light source, place in large structures... just like you learned in art class as a kid. Use basic shapes and colors until you have a well balanced piece.

From there you add enough detail to suit the piece. For this piece I wanted plenty of detail, and at one point I had about 11 layers of details for the city alone. I worked back and forth until an overall balance was achieved, checked my light and shadows, and tweaked the colors for harmony. I didn't stop until I was happy with the work, and trust me, I'm happy.

Fortunately in this case I had plenty of time to work before the deadline, and had no need to rush. For me, this is one of my finest pieces of work, and I would put it against any other magazine cover of its type. I'm very proud, after the fact, and have a terrific portfolio piece to show for all that hard work.

Cover detail from the November Issue of CURRENTS magazine.

To be honest, though, there were a few days at the beginning when I was pulling my hair out, sweating a bid, and thinking impure thoughts. But that's where the confidence comes in.

Youhave to believe in yourself, take that first baby step, and say to yourself, "I know I can, I know I can..."

Cheers, and let me know what you think, JOHN :0)

PS The original art is even better to see, but I've had too many problems with theft to show any high res stuff on the internet anymore. It's a shame that some people out there have to live their life by feeding off of others, but it is a sorry fact of life.

PSS What's on my iPod today? Bob Dylan, Tangled Up in Blue. The lyrics just slay me.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The End of the Rainbow

Thanks to the fine people over at McDougal Littell, the above Inquiring Minds cartoon is appearing nationwide in their 8th Grade Literature textbook. That's right, one of my cartoons is considered literature by people who know literature, so there. Who says comics are kid's stuff? :0)

Now the school day is that much brighter, and funnier, for school children everywhere. The lesson for the rest of us, though, is this: follow your dreams, and write stuff that is meaningful to you.

As you can read at the link above, John Henry was a hero of mine when I was a wee lad. I wrote the above cartoon in honor of his legend, and how his spirit has driven my life. Sure, the cartoon is silly, but the idea is there about not giving up, and facing even the toughest odds. You might not win every battle, but you've accomplished something just by trying, and not giving up.

Today I get to see my work in a literature book side by side with great writers. This is the result of my not giving up, a lesson I learned as a kid, and a spirit that I've always kept with me.

So write what you know, and do work that is meaningful to you. In the end, you'll be all the better for it.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS For a brand new Inquiring Minds cartoon, please visit

PSS On my iPod today? Genesis: A Trick of the Tail

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tools of the Trade for Today's Illustrators and Cartoonists

My cover illustration for
the May 2007 CURRENTS magazine.

I recently wrote of my learning to create vector illustrations, and thanks to a terrific client, I now have plenty of practice creating this type of illustration. And in creating these, the one tool I use most is the computer, and more explicitly, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. Of course, my language becomes explicit with these programs at times, and all the time with my computer, but software has become a vital tool to today's Illustrators and Cartoonists.

Not too long ago it was said that a Cartoonist only needed something to draw with, and something to draw on, such as a pencil and piece of paper. This is still true, today, of course, but oh, software, when working, can make life a lot easier.

Today's Important Lesson, though, is this: the computer is NOT a substitute, or replacement, for traditional skills. You need to know how to draw and paint, and most importantly, design. You need to know the rules about color, composition, balance, repetition, etc. 2-D Design and Color Theory. Computers can be fun, and the software I mentioned above can do so many things, that some people sit down, fiddle with the effects, and think they are artists. In this day and age, we still see some horrible graphic design, and bad art, because desktop publishing has made so many people mistake themselves for artists.

If you don't believe me, look at old newspapers and magazines to see what kind of illustrators and designers preceded us. Amazing work was done a century ago!

I'm a traditionalist, by nature. I still draw by hand when I can, although today I sketch more than draw. Some talented artists draw completely on the computer these days, and they do terrific stuff because they have learned to take their traditional skills all the way to the computer. Some of us have merged the two: I myself sketch until I have something good, and then scan it in and work it up in Illustrator or Photoshop, depending on the final product. Sketching is still an important part of the process, as I have mentioned before. Going with your first sketch can work, but you'll get better results by giving your ideas more time, and thought. Sitting at the computer to start work can be a mistake.

All that being said, though, software is a vital tool for today's artist. Cleaning up illustrations is so much easier in photoshop when you compare it to the razor blade and whiteout. And coloring? Forget about it! Coloring is so much easier to do on the computer, with much more reliable results. I'll admit that coloring the old fashioned way is a skill that I never fully developed. In a forthcoming book, I will show examples of my coloring from a long time ago, when Doc Martin's dyes were the tools of the day. That work hardly compares to my coloring today, which I am quite proud of.

Also, with the advent of email and PDF files, sending work to a client is as easy as pushing a button. The client no longer needs to photograph your original work, and you don't need to worry about the artwork getting there on time, or getting lost or damaged. That is, if you have original art at all.

That is one loss in these modern times. I collect original art from my favorite artists, and seeing this work is quite inspirational, and educational. You see their styles up close, can infer what tools they use, and how large they draw, and you can enjoy their work every day, looking up at your walls.

Now the next important part. Software is expensive. The two adobe products above will cost you over $1200, and after a few years, Adobe no longer supports these products if you haven't paid for expensive upgrades. Frankly, I could survive using the versions from 10 years ago. However, the new versions have some nice features, and creating PDF's directly from the program has become much easier.

SO.... if you want to be a Professional, make sure you have today's tools, as well as traditional. And it pays to take classes to use your new software. There is so much to learn that you may not get the vital stuff by practicing yourself, or reading the books. Believe me, knowing your software allows you to work quicker, and better, and that allows you to get more work done.

Have fun, but keep sketching! JOHN :0)

PS There's still time to vote for the new HappyGlyphs Logo. Please take a second to vote. :0)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Help me choose a HappyGlyphs Logo

Our Current Logo


Now that Blogger allows polls, I want to redress the HappyGlyphs Comics logo issue that I brought up a short while ago. While working on my latest book, Two Henges, A Hill, and One Long Barrow I created a new logo that I happen to like very much. However, my old logo has been around for a long time now, and means a lot to me. Tradition versus coolness, with only one winner.

Our new alternate Logo

So... I ask you for your opinion. There should be a Poll for this query at the side of this blog, and it should only take a moment to vote, so please do!

I really would appreciate it, and I do value your opinion, or I wouldn't be asking for it.

Of course I get the final vote, but for now, I really can't make up my mind.

Thanks, and Cheers! JOHN :0)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

So Where do Ideas Come From?

A common complaint from Cartoonists and the like is that fans and others invariably bug them with questions like "So where do you get your ideas?". Now, this seems like a reasonable question... until you've heard it a thousand times, I guess, and also, there really isn't a 10 second answer. For a creative individual, ideas are everywhere, show up at the wierdest times, and have their roots in the most mundane of tasks.

Now, unlike other Cartoonists who have come up with trite answers to the question, I am going to take a few moments to give those of you wondering an inkling of where some ideas may come from, and some of the thought processes involved in developing them.

So, let us begin:
Once upon a time I was walking through my neighborhood. I like doing this, except that at times it can be very noisy, and I do NOT like noise. Next to lawn mowers, the most annoying sound to me is that of dogs barking... especially big nasty dogs that act like they want to rip your arms off and chew on them.

Now, dog lovers don't get mad... I love animals, but this is how my brain works, okay?

So after having to cross the street for the umpteenth time because of this giant nasty dog that lives behind a little fence and acts like he wants to tear me limb from limb, AND after his barking was so loud I couldn't even hear my iPod, I started to think. (Take notes, here, kiddies.)

I won't tell you what my first thoughts were, because I'm normally not violent, but after several close calls with dog doo that ignorant dog owners left on the sidewalk, I thought: Do we really need dogs anymore?

Seriously. Once upon a time we domesticated dogs so that we could have a tough ally against the darkness, and the wild animals that roamed there. We gave dogs shelter and food, and they helped us to feel safe at night, and kept the beasties away. Over the years the relationship developed, and the dog changede his job description slightly to be body gaurd, night watchman, and hunting pal. These jobs continued until recently, to be replaced by high tech security systems, police and security, and well, hunting isn't the neccesity it once was. So as hunting becomes less and less about feeding people, and more of a dying sport, the jobs we need dogs for are fading away.

Like good job hunters, dogs keep adapting to fit our society. They have become pets, and even part of our families. Some people even dress them up, treat them like children, and include them in family portraits. We train them for shows, give them fancy haircuts, and basically rob many of the smaller dogs of whatever dignity they once had. However, no matter how much you dress them, and bathe them, and spend on their haircuts, they are still animals. They mess the yard, they bring fleas and ticks into the house, and sometimes get nasty. So who needs them?

Remember, please, that this is a blog about ideas, not dogs. All of these thoughts above raced through my mind as I walked around my neighborhood, in a space of about ten minutes. So... dogs: who needs them?

I sure don't. I love animals, but I hate when I have to smell dog doo at the playground where I play with my kids. I hate finding it in my yard, and I get ill when I enter people's houses who don't clean up enough to get rid of that doggy smell.

So... enough of that. The point is, story ideas started to develop. Imagine a society without dogs, or even pets. Where would YOU go from there?

I imagined a future society where animal lovers are trying to free pets from their slavery, but confused about what to do with them then. Domestic animals can't just be let loose in the woods. Meanwhile, other animal lovers are fighting against the first bunch, for the rights to keep their pets. Now, imagine some guy who really likes some girl, except she's a fanatic in one of the above groups, most likely the first one. So he finds himself at radical meetings, even though he really doesn't care about the issues, but then suddenly finds himself over his head... maybe in an animal rescue attempt, with the police or others involved.

Hey, it could happen.

Where else could this idea go?

The Planet of the Apes movies had Astronauts bring home a disease that wiped out the dogs and cats, making apes move to pets, and then to slaves, which started all that trouble that eventually created a society of apes.

Clifford Simak went the other way with his great novel City. He envisaged a society where people disappeared, and the dogs created a new society where they uplifted other animals and taught them how to get along peacefully.

There are other examples, but I think I've talked long enough. The point is, you get a thought, and it evolves into something else, and again. Then you start putting the thoughts into the context of a story, creating ideas that lead from a beginning to a climax. From there you rough out your main characters, creating a hero that goes through some life change, whether from internal or external sources. Show how that hero changes for the better, to rise above his problems, and bring the story to a successful conclusion.

So you see, there is no easy answer. Either your brain works this way, or it doesn't. For a creative person, the conscious and unconcious minds are always thinking, always looking at everything, and I mean everything, from different points of views, and finding the interesting angles. A good story usually has months of thinking go into it before the typing even begins.

It's a lot of work, but very rewarding.

Until you get asked "Where did you get that idea?". :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS To you dog lovers: Instead of writing me hate mail, go clean up after your dog, okay? Thanks.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Press Release: Two Henges, a Hill, and One Long Barrow

For Immediate Release:
June 15, 2007

Two Henges, a Hill, and One Long Barrow

HappyGlyphs Comics is very happy to announce the release of our newest, and most unusual for us, book. "The book is unusual", explains John Steventon, "because it is not a comic book or cartoon collection; however, it's not that far a stretch. Two Henges, a Hill, and One Long Barrow is a travel book that deals with ancient sites in Great Britain. Our first graphic novel, 3 Knights in India is a kind of travel book, and of course our company logo contains a large stone with a petroglyph on it. I think Standing Stones are cool, and I often include them in my cartoons."

Two Henges, a Hill, and One Long Barrow is a look at West Kennet Long Barrow, the Avebury complex, and especially Stonehenge through the eyes of Cartoonist and Illustrator John Steventon.

Four dozen high resolution, color photographs (most of them full page) give the reader a visual tour of these wondrous places, with the author’s learned commentary adding facts, asking questions, and giving a unique insight into their design, purpose, and meaning today.

John Steventon has visited the UK many times over the last dozen years, and spent a lot of time at many of its historic places. With this book he encourages you to learn more about these fascinating places, and to one day see them for yourself.

Although this is our first non-cartoon book, Two Henges, a Hill, and One Long Barrow does include several illustrations by the Author.

The book is 64 pages, and full color. It is immediately available through our bookstore, at the following link:

While you are there, please take a look at our diverse, and growing, list of books. We also offer free downloads of some material, and free previews of each book.

“Take Me Away From All This!!”
A Knight and Day Comic Strip Collection

3 Knights in India
A Knight and Day Graphic Novel

Two Henges, a Hill, and One Long Barrow
Photographs and Essays

And if you like history, I can heartily recommend Brian Hughes' book, The History of the Wyre (From Harold the Elk to Cardinal Allen). It's fun, informative, and filled with illustrations from my favorite cartoonist!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Vector Illustrations: a Reinvention

Sometimes you have to reinvent yourself, whether for personal growth, or just to get out of a rut, or whatever the reason. It's healthy, and for an artist, sometimes essential. If you do the same thing every day, you will eventually get into a rut. However, if you try something new once in a while, you might just learn something, and grow in the process.

I like Cartooning. I love it, in fact, and plan to continue being a Cartoonist. However, when a client asked me to create a cover and interior illustrations for their glossy magazine, I knew that I had to come up with something different.

Way back when I took some art and design classes, I got a decent background on creating vector illustrations. I like (good) vector illustrations, and have always wanted to create some. Of course, with near constant deadlines, there is very little time to stretch creatively. I knew this was my big chance to try something new. In the process, I hoped to learn something that I could bring back to my Cartooning, as well.

Vector Illustrations are entirely created on the computer, but as with any good art project, I began with some sketches. Sketches, as in plural: That's important. I really should show you all of my sketches, but trust me, they were bad. In fact, I started this project with an earlier sketch, and had to toss it all away, and begin again.

Lesson 1: the biggest mistake that beginners of computer illustration make is that they sit down at the computer and start working without any direction. An experienced artist could possibly sketch at the computer, but I still prefer paper and pencil. Always make several sketches, if not for yourself,then for your clients. Your initial sketch is usually not as good as your 4th or 5th, so do at least four sketches. I like this sketch because it has weight: you can feel how heavy the hammer is.

Now, I use Adobe Illustrator to create my vector illustrations. I am not going to teach you how to use that program here, but I will recommend taking a class as opposed to reading books on the subject. A good teacher can arm you with a variety of time savers and shortcuts that you may otherwise not pick up on your own.

So, to begin. First thing I do is scan in my sketch, and create a second layer to work on above it. I then choose my color pallete, and lay out flat colors in the basic shapes of the sketch. Working in layers is important, and can save you a lot of aggravation later! I am not a pro yet at vector illos, but I quickly learned that you can have thousands of shapes in one illustration, and keeping each unit of your drawing on a different layer will save you a lot of time.

After I am happy with the colors, and layout of the drawing, I then do the next important thing: I choose a light source. I cannot stress how important light is in almost any illustration. I mark this in some fashion, and then start laying in shadows to indicate to the viewer the light source.

Much later, you can see my progress in the image above. I continued adding shapes to create more detail in the image, to indicate the folds and hang of cloth, to emphasize the weight, etc. I deepened the shadows, added secondary shadows, and played with the color pallete a bit to indicate the bright sun of an Indian beach. I also added the chain to create more interest, and to tell the viewer more about this scene: as a stand alone image, you need to add props to indicate 'place'.

Finally, I decided to extend the background. I was happy with the look of the character: He looks tired, the hammer looks heavy, and you can see that he's been working hard. Still, I wanted to further isolate him... make him look smaller, and create more sympathy for him in the viewer's mind.

This illustration is for an article on ship breaking on the coast of India, which is a tough job. I wanted to give the viewer more of a feeling for this work, and more background in this illustration. I created the rusting propeller separately, and then moved it into this illustration. The nice thing about Vector Illustrations is that you can scale objects without losing resolution. I played with the illustration until I was perfectly happy with it, and then added more of the beach, and chain, and some rocks and other stuff, to finish the illustration.

I then went over the entire thing, looking for mistakes, and making sure that all the shadows indicated the same lightsource. That's something you have to look for if you bring two images together like this.

So there. Not bad for a first attempt, eh?

You'll be able to see more of this type of work at my homepage, and at my Freelance Portfolio page.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

What's on my iPod today? Kansas, Dust in the Wind.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

My Guest Blog

Hello all,

For those interested, I have written a guest blog over at Wyre Archaelogy about my recent visit within the stones of Stonehenge. Photos included!

Please check it out at here.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

What's on my iPod today? Echobelly's Dark Therapy.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee

Although I cannot in good conscious recommend a trip to Brussels, Belgium, I can offer you a nice place to visit if you ever find yourself stuck there for a day.

Le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee, or as I shall call it, the Cartoon Museum of Brussels, is a place worth visiting if cartoons and comic strips interest you in the slightest. The museum is bigger than I expected, 4 floors I believe, and has an extensive gift shop offering thousands of comic strip collections, many of which I had never seen before.

Of course, most of them are in French, but there are sections that cater to other languages, and heck, many of the books are worth perusing for the artwork alone. Most of the displays, as well, are labeled in French and Dutch, which can cause a little displacement after a few hours, for those of us who read mainly in English.

Still, there are larger than life displays, numerous activities, and rows and rows of artwork to see. Altogether, it is a very nice presentation, covering everything from the artists, their tools, their influences, popularity, etc.

Tintin, of course, prevails over the museum, although I was disappointed that another favorite of mine, Asterix, was resigned to a small statue in the lobby and a tiny little alcove on the top floor. I really wanted to see several examples of original art from Asterix and Obelix, but could not find any. The museum is a big place, as mentioned, and after a while I found myself walking faster to assure that I didn't miss anything particularly interesting.

A majority of the Artists found here ar European, if not specifically Belgian. I recognized some of the artwork here, but knew very few of the names. There were a few examples of American Artists, so I assume the museum is not strictly European in it's representation. If so, there were many great Artists from America, Japan, and others that I would have liked to see present there as well.

One problem with the Eurocentric displays is that so many of the European artists are very, very much influenced by Herge's Tintin, Asterix, and a few others, to the point that so much of the art starts to blend together. I mean, why look at copy after copy of Tintin, when there are Herge originals to enjoy? None of the copies seemed as interesting as the original, but the amount of them shows there must be a high demand for this kind of work in Belgium.

Now, I do not wish to disparage all of the European Artists. As I mentioned, there were several that I recognized, and many that I want to learn more about. American Artists could learn a few things from the European Comics Masters, especially in the areas of Backgrounds.

We all know that backgrounds are not my forte, so I was especially fascinated to see so much artwork where the backgrounds are so rich in detail, and truly set a scene in mood and place. Very inspirational, which is what a trip to a museum should be.

All in all, a worthy place to visit, although prices in Brussels are very expensive right now, especially for travelling Americans. And if you take the Chunnel train, like we did, I can highly recommend a little cafe near the train station called Le Brunch, which has great food, and, more importantly, friendly people.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

What's on my iPod today? 'All is Full of Love' video by Bjork

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Taxing Time Was Had By All

Once upon a time, the King's men would ride up to your house, take anything of value, and voila... your taxes where done. Oh, for the good old days, eh? :0)

Anyone who knows me has heard me moan about taxes. I actually don't mind doing them, and I even don't mind paying them, but oh, the time out of my life? That I mind. Some years it has taken me 3 weeks to do my taxes (for my business and home). That's a lot of time out of my life that I could be doing something else. Fortunately, I'm becoming more of an expert at taxes, and more importantly, a better record-keeper. Keeping everything organized really, really helps.

One problem though, for many of us, is understanding those darn tax forms. My business can be rather complicated, so each year I always find something new to figure out, and each year I find that I'm on my own. Oh, I've asked other Cartoonists, but mentioning taxes to a Cartoonist is like uttering a very bad word! Apparently, many don't worry about their taxes, and so don't want anyone asking about them. Others have their Brothers-in-law do them, so they honeslty don't know anything.

First of all, why is it always a Brother-in-law, and second, why don't people do their own taxes? I can't imagine being dishonest, and not doing them, or not doing them right. I simply don't have time for an audit, so I go over everything 3 times, and keep carfeul receipts. As for the others, I can't imagine paying somebody to do my taxes if I didn't understand them enough. That's like handing somebody a blank check!

Anyways, I didn't come here to lecture. You do what you want. I , however, want to point out the benefits of understanding Schedule C for you Sole proprietors and Self-employeds out there.

Admit it.... some of you have thought about doing your own taxes, looked at the forms, looked at the time, and said, "ah, forget about it." Some of you then pretend that you have no income, and others just add all their earnings to income and don't worry about all those deductions that they could be getting. Oh, foolish mortals! The first batch are heading for an audit, and the second are just handing money over to the IRS!

If you're a serious professional, and have never even looked at a Schedule C, then you're going to be giddy as a schoolgirl when you realize that all of your art supplies, office supplies, educational materials, and so much more are deductible! Sure, paper clips are cheap, but all of those little expenses add up. My business expenses were well over a thousand bucks this year, and that is a very conservative estimate. By not filing a Schedule C, you're telling the world that your career is actually just a hobby, and you're losing out on all those deductions that you could be taking.

The flip side of taxes? On the back of Schedule C is a little box called Cost of Goods Sold(COGS). That box says that you can only deduct the actual cost that you pay for goods, and ONLY when you sell those goods. For me, and other Self-publishers, that means that we might pay 6 dollars a piece for 100 books, so our COGS is $600. If we sell 10 books this year, then we can only deduct $60 for our COGS.

And that means that we have $540 of inventory sitting around!

These numbers are fictional, of course, but you get the idea. If you pay for books, or t-shirts, or anything that you want to sell, then you better get off your butt and do something to sell those things.

So here is today's lesson for the Self-employed. Why should we a) Pay our taxes, b) be honest about it, and c) do them ourselves? Simple. By doing so you get a very clear look at your
business, and all of it's strengths and weaknesses. You might see areas for future deductions, or
find that you're being wasteful in some areas, or, like me, you might find that focusing on your
freelance career has left you with a very large inventory of books to sell!

If you have $0 in advertising, and $1000 of inventory, it's not difficult to see where you might
need to focus. And that goes for the rest of the tax forms, as well. By doing your taxes right this year, you could go from small time to big time in the next year.

Even if you pay somebody else to do your taxes, it really wouldn't hurt to understand the forms, and in doing so, understand you business.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Helpful links:

Both of these links have their strengths and weaknesses, but together you get a pretty good idea of how to run your business, keep records, and do those taxes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Familiarity's Brood

They say that Familiarity breeds contempt, but is this always the case? Like everything else in life, this is not a reliable cliche.

Let's face it, we're human. Since the dawn of time, the universe outside our front door has always been a big scary place full of the unknown. We can step out through that cave mouth and be eaten by something big and ferocious, or leave our apartment and get run down by a bus. Or worse... we can get to our jobs and have to deal with backstabbers, evil bosses, scary lunch-ladies, and that guy who wears his shoes on the wrong feet and talks to the hamster named Norman that lives in his shirt pocket.

It's no wonder that a man's home is his castle, or a woman's home is where she is Queen. Home is nice. It's comfortable, and... familiar. We're pretty sure that there's no boogeyman hiding behind the couch, and the only real danger is what used to be a potato salad that is now hiding in the back of the fridge.

How does this relate to cartooning and creativity, you ask? I'm getting to that. Familiarity is a comfort, and this is why we see some frankly boring comic strips filling the comic's pages long after their Creators have passed on. And that is why we have some frankly could-be-better webcomics receiving lots of attention, while greater strips go unnoticed.

The internet is a great venue for Cartoonists; we can have archives, character studies, Creator biographies... even a bookstore... all in one place. The trick is getting people to come to our websites, and more importantly, keep coming back. And the trick to that? Yeah, you guessed it: fresh content.

Now, when webcomics first began, the argument amongst the intelligentsia was the merits of Editors, and who needs 'em. Frankly, I believe we all need Editors, and not just to correct spelling and grammar. By the time a webcomic builds an audience, the strip and its Creator are already set in their ways. Nobody wants to then take feedback and rework their strip into something better because, hey, that's a lot of work! So instead we get some comic strips that range from pretty good to please, God, no more. And what's worse is that we get every little thing the creator ever did.

Here's a tip: truly great Creators don't want you to see their early works, and that's why they appear to be so great. You only see their best. To a point.

And that supports my current argument, about familiarity. Some comic strips have been around for sooooooo very long, and yet still have their original Creators. Unfortunately, they don't always have their original Creativity.

Hey, you say. First you tell us that Newbies suck, and now you're telling us that Old-timers suck. Does nothing please you?

Yes, yes.... I'm trying to make a point here, and yes, it's about me. It's always about me, isn't it?

(sound of embarrassed crickets)

So here I am, at the top of my game. I'm very busy, I'm making money, and my work is out there... all over the world. And yet, not many of you know me, my name, my work, and I sit here every week watching my audience dwindle away. And why is this? Because it's my Freelance work that is paying the bills, and my Freelance work that keeps me busy every hour of the day. I very rarely get a chance to blog like this, and I even more rarely update my website. And that's killing me.

Meanwhile, some young twerp out there with sooooo much free time adds new strips to his website every day, and because there are, what? 6 billion people in the world, he eventually builds up an audience, and gets some attention, and who knows? Maybe his strip IS good, and since he has an audience, he says to heck with the syndicates, and Editors, and goes his merry way, making the same old strips day after day after day, achieving enough fame to keep him going. And he gets his fan mail, and sells some books, and his mother is proud of him.

But he never achieves greatness. Maybe if he sent his stuff out to the Editors, he would have gotten a few rejections, and worked just that much harder. Or he would have reworked that strip, and in the process developed better characters, or improved his artwork, or found a better way to tell a joke.

Who knows?

Meanwhile there's a truly gifted person out there, who has a wonderful comic strip, but no time to develop it, or even show it off. She's worked so hard at it, but she has to get the kids to school, and run off to her day job, and by the time she's ready update her website, it's time for bed. So she eventually quits, and nobody notices.

Familiarity's Brood marches on.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Art versus Entertainment

The internet is a strange new world, and has changed much of what we have always assumed to be so. Walking hand in hand with reality television, the internet has given nearly everyone a chance to say hello to the world, and seek a chance at fame. For some, miraculously, they have achieved that fame, and it is out for debate as to who really deserves it.

Yes, popularity is a measure of fame, although let us please draw a line between art and entertainment. Let's give a broad definition to 'art', to include any creative endeavour that requires thought, hard work, determination, and most importantly, originality. Entertainment can be defined as anything else that entertains us, outside of the first definition.

I wish to draw the line here because parody is very popular, but let's be honest... it's also very easy. Anyone could rewrite song lyrics, and be funny, or make a Star Wars / Wizard of Oz mash-up, but this is not art, per se. Creating something original is art. Taking someone else's hard work and energy, and distorting it into something new is not. And doing so without permission can be criminal.

Now, I'm not insulting those who do this, or at least I don't mean to. Parody is an important part of the creative process. As kids, we learn through parody, and as artists, many of us begin by copying other people's styles, or drawing other's characters. From this point we learn the basics and, hopefully, go on to creating original works and develop our own styles. To be a true artist, though, one has to grow up eventually.

Now, this doesn't apply to Weird Al, of course, who has made a career out of parody. I assume that he has permission to rewrite songs and use their music, and he does a very good job of it, I must say. So where do I draw the line? Is it hypocritical to comdemn one, and not another?

I suppose I would like to see original artists get more attention than they do. Why does a band like Echobelly, or a Cartoonist like Brian Hughes get little attention while some boob on youtube gets a million hits and media attention?

Sure, base entertainment lasts as long as a summer breeze, while great art can last decades, but that art has to be found first, and shared. The internet has it all, if one has the time to look, but the big corporations still make sure that their garbage stays on top, making it all the harder to dig down below the surface.

So my point? Support original artists who strike your fancy. The big companies don't need your help, but we independent artists sure do. Even if it's just a kind word, or a referal to a friend.

While everyone else is watching a monkey make a sandwich, why don't YOU do something unique? Find a website that few have heard about, but is worth visiting, and spread the word.

Support the arts, and maybe we can raise the web's IQ a bit.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How to hire, and work with, a Freelancer

Excerpt from the Graphic Novel 3 Knights in India by John Steventon

Believe it or not, but Freelancers are people, just like you. Sure many of us work from home, some even in pajamas, and many of us actually enjoy our work, but we're still people, just like you. We even appreciate the same respect you would give to others in a workplace, and respond well to kindness. And guess what? Just like you, we expect to get paid for our work.

Now, I can't speak for other Freelancers, but I can say that as a Cartoonist, freelancing is not always a barrel of monkeys. Yes, cartoons are fun and colorful, and nice to look at, and yes, a good cartoon sure looks easy to draw, but guess what? It's work. Even though it can be a lot of fun, it is indeed work, and it takes time. That is time that I can be doing other things, like spending time with my family.

So please, if you are considering hiring a Freelancer of any sort, pay attention to the following, which I have taken time from my busy schedule to prepare.

1) Freelancers are not volunteers.

To reiterate, this is work. When you buy a cartoon from me, it may look simple, but it does take time for me to do. Only an hour, you say? A few hours? That's not long. Perhaps, but it is my time, and I value it. You are also paying me for the years it took to develop the skills that I have, for the uniqueness of the work that is mine, and certain rights to use that material.

I have a family to feed, so why do I get called names and insulted or ignored when someone asks me for a quote, and I take the time to give them the most fair and reasonable quote that I can? Hey, I'm not out to rob you, and I know that I have competition, so I am as fair as possible. I may work cheap at times, to help out a charity or small business, but I usually do not work for free (although sometimes it sure feels that way.)

2) Freelancers are professionals: You should act professional as well.

Be polite in contacting a Freelancer, and provide as much information as you can. Pricing for a cartoon can vary considerably. I am not a mind reader, and if it takes me 5 e-mails to find out who you are and what you require, then the price is going to go up.

And please, if e-mailing, provide a useful heading. Most of the emails I get from people who think they are professional usually ends up clogging my Spam filter because they use headings like 'picture', or 'label'. I may not open your email if I cannot tell that it is business.

A freelancer needs to know who you are, what kind of business you run, how big is that business, what you are looking for in terms of size, color, detail, etc. Also, how are you going to use the artwork you hire me to create, who will own the rights, how many copies will be printed, if it will be printed or used on the web, etc.

Please give as much information as you can up front. And if you have a budget, please let us know. If you are only willing to spend a few bucks on a drawing, then go find a high school student and remember that you will get what you pay for. If you don't have a large budget, then go into negotiations willing to compromise.

Please do not respond with insults or rude language. This is a reflection on what kind of person YOU are, and makes me oh so very happy that I did not waste another moment with you.

3) Do respond to all correspondence, and follow up with us.

If you don’t like a quote, or need time to think about it, then please let us know, politely. Failure to respond is very rude, and if I do not hear from you in a day or two, I will assume that you are not interested, and remove you from my schedule.

Often a condition of my working with you is a copy of printed work. If you promise this, or anything else, please follow through, even if it’s just a “thank you, everything went well with the project” note.

And if later on you find a problem with the work, then let us know that as well. I’m here until your job is done to assist you in its completion. That job is a reflection on me, and I’ll back it up completely.

These are just the highlights, of course, and as you can tell, problems that I have to deal with on a regular basis. Now, to be honest, most of the people that I have worked with have been great. On the flip side, there are some lousy Freelancers out there: people who bail on clients, can’t or don’t finish work, etc.

When entering a working relationship, it is best for both sides to be up front and professional. Because you may have worked with some awful Freelancers is no excuse to approach me with hostility. And I won’t be grumpy towards you just because I’ve had some bad clients.

Promise. :0)