Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shaking Things Up!

In today's strip, I vicariously ask the reader's indulgence in fast forwarding the plot a bit, since summer is fading fast, and we have a lot of story to go yet. The idea would have been a great one, except for the fact that we aren't really fast forwarding! This strip was actually a lot more work than if I just told the story in a more straight forward way.

There's another big summer story going on right now, over at For Better or For Worse. Lynn Johnston has been running that strip daily for what? Over 25 years now? I've followed it from the beginning, and in a way will be sorry to see it end. My point is, though, that after that much time, there are occasionally a few not as exciting dailies. She has no choice in the matter, since she runs in your favorite newspaper every day, and I'm sure it is not always easy to plan a long story in a set format. She also has the bonus that she will be back again the next day, and the reader will forgive the occasional dull strip. Overall, it's the story that counts, and overall she does a great job.

Me? I've got to get your attention when I have it, and I was afraid that a few more straight forward strips to get through the next part of the story would not have been exciting enough. Especially when this strip is a week late, and I cannot promise another strip tomorrow!

So, I decided to have a lot of fun with the story, in the hopes that if I'm having fun, you will as well. :0)

Admittedly, it's a bit odd for me, so at the risk of seeming off my rocker, I present to you today's comic strip, puppets and all. :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS What's on my iPod today, tomorrow, all week? Fish, 13th Star. Fantastic album!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: A Review

I got a gift card recently, and of all the things I could have done with that 25 bucks, I went and bought Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Season 1 dvd, the moment it came out. I don't buy every dvd that comes out, whether movie or tv, but I really love this show. I love this show so much that I wonder if there are subliminal messages within it, to make me love the show? I mean, can the acting and writing and sfx and producing and directing and photography... every bit of a television show, really be this good?

First off, I enjoy Sci-Fi, and always have. Once upon a time there just didn't seem to be enough of it, but it didn't take me long for me to realise that a lot of the blowing up robots stuff was junk, and put there to capitalise off of me and every other little kid who grew up with Star Wars. Even today there is a lot of Sci-Fi that I don't touch, and I would like to think that my tastes now cater to great Sci-Fi... stuff that rises above blowing up stuff, and actually tells stories based on characterization.

So here I am watching a show about blowing up robots, and it is so compelling that I've actually watched the same episodes several times last week, just because they came on and I couldn't turn them off! Sure sounds like subliminal messages, but I'm not susceptible to hypnosis, so maybe there's more to this show?

There is a lot more depth than you might think, and if you can, watch it from the beginning. There really is a whole lot happening, and from the start you can see the sacrifices the characters are forced into making.

You also see the love the mother and son have for each other, despite the difficulties they face. The family dynamic becomes much more interesting over time as Summer’s character (a troubled teenage terminator!)becomes, essentially, another member of the family.

The characters are in a seemingly impossible situation, being hunted down by time travelling cybernetic beings who can disguise themselves as humans, and have the knowledge of an ever changing future. Also in this series, the Terminators are branching out, and actually using strategy. The future is inevitable, but our heroes keep fighting it anyway.

Sarah just wants her son to be safe, John just wants to be a normal teenager, and Cameron just wants a heart. (Yes, Tin Man reference.) The true beauty of the show is in the characterisation, and the actors do it right. How many of us would continue a fight that doesn’t seem to end, that comes back just when you thought it was over, and sometimes comes back stronger than ever?

Imagine trying to be a mom or a teenager or just a normal human being when any minute of the day you can find yourself under attack, and you know that unless you do everything in your power, the world as you know it will disappear in a flash?

And yet the show gives us one thing... hope. As the inevitable future keeps coming, John Connor is learning, getting smarter and stronger, and gathering allies for the fight to come. The future keeps changing, and when it does, the good guys still have a chance of winning. Maybe. :0)

I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Friday, August 15, 2008

100 Comic Strips

Today I am proud to announce my 100th comic strip of The Inquiring Minds! This is a big deal to me.

Okay, so some of you are saying, "but doesn't Take Me Away From All This!! have 226 Knight and Day comic strips?" Well, yes, but almost all of those are black and white dailies. "How about 3 Knights in India then?", the most observant of you ask. "Weren't there 101 comic strips there?"

The answer is yes, so this is the third time a comic strip of mine has reached such a milestone. The Inquiring Minds have been around a long time now, so it's actually hard to believe that there are ONLY 100 comic strips so far. However, right now they are all in color, and over a third of them are full sized color Sunday strips. Also, this 100 strips does not count illustrations, or strips drawn by Brian Hughes, or the dozens of strips drawn of the original Inquiring Minds.

I'm also doubly pleased that this 100th strip falls smack dab in the middle of the 2008 Big Summer Adventure currently going on. I honestly believe that when this is over, the Big Summer event will be my best work to date. I'm very pleased with the art and the writing both, and for me, this is something that's been a long time coming.

The original Inquiring Minds were the first to catch the interest of a Syndicate. If I had been more prepared for that then than I was, maybe the strip could have been syndicated! What it came down too, though, was that the Syndicate did not want a strip that told stories... they wanted gag a day humour. For me, The Inquiring Minds were made for stories, and now, finally, The Inquiring Minds as they are today are getting their chance to tell one heck of a story.

It's fun, and getting funner, and big things are yet to come!

If you aren't up to date with the story, please read through it before reading the new 100th strip below, as it is a culmination of what's been going on so far this summer. But this is by no means the end! Plot twists are a coming! :0)

See the whole story at

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Math: The Necessary Evil

All right, I actually like math, but sometimes the details can bog you down when you'd rather be drawing or something else a bit more fun than calculations. However, as we've all been told, math really is a big part of life. Can you live without it? Maybe. You'll have a lot of problems, though. :0)

Now, I've gone on and on about the importance of learning to do things right, or do things the 'old fashioned way', or by hand. The reason is this: you learn why you are doing things, and in so doing, understand better how to do them. Okay, I'll admit that Paste Up and Mechanicals are a heck of a lot easier to do on the computer than by hand. Any of you taking Graphic Design can attest to that. All of that drawing fine lines in exacting places, and pasting your little registration marks, and all that stuff can be a real headache. In Pagemaker, Quark, or InDesign, you just type in a bunch of numbers, and voila... right?

Wrong. These programs are easy to use, but not totally intuitive. I've laid out several books by now, and of course each of them have to be different... different sizes, different margins, this one bleeds, that one doesn't. My problem is, at least with the current InDesign, I don't seem to have all the options I would like. The printer's specs have changed, and now I'm finding myself trying to change a full sized document midstream! Retroactively, it doesn't seem to be working. The program handles bleeds differently than the printer asks, so I'm finding myself working out the numbers myself, carefully checking that math, and now basically laying out the book on paper, the old fashioned way, and saying bugger all to the program.

So where are you when all you know is the computer and the program? Up a certain creek without a paddle, especialy if you have a deadline, and do not work well under pressure! :0) (I work well under pressure, but my math skills jump ship)

So here I am with my little calculator, my ruler and pencils, and heck, I may as well go get some graph paper, if they even make that anymore. Yep, the same tools that Cartoonists and Designers have used for the last century still do the job just right.

And best of all, these tools work when the power is out. :0)

Beat that, Bill Gates, Adobe, and the lot!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS I love my Adobe programs... mostly. I do.

What's on my iPod today? Crash Test Dummies, A Worm's Life and Genesis, Abacab

Monday, August 11, 2008

HELP!! DSL connection not working!!


If you're reading this, and have an opinion to share, then please do. I need some help with my current DSL connection, or help getting a new one. The problem is this:

My Verizon DSL does not work consistently. The biggest problem is one I have not heard mentioned anywhere, although now a few people have concurred: Verizon DSL does NOT work when it rains! What's worse, is that my DSL does not work before it rains, after it rains, or if it is the slightest bit humid out.

I am NOT kidding. I have a college degree, understand quite a bit about computers and engineering, and yet cannot understand why humidity affects a DSL connection. Thunderstorms I can almost understand, but humidity?

At first I thought it was a fluke, but now there is no question, and since this has been a summer of thunder showers, I have been sorely limited in how much work I can do over the internet... it's been so bad that I've even considered suing over lost revenue, but who has time for that?

And NO, I am not bashing Verizon here, and have no wish to. I haven't had any other DSl or broadband or high speed internet service beside this one, so I have nothing to compare with. However, my frustration level is such that if Verizon were to call today, I am sure they would hang up in a second when they sensed how angry I was.

It is now 12:27 PM as I write this in Notepad. I have been trying to get internet access since 7:30 AM. I have gotten access, but it doesn't last long enough to log in and type a password.

Does anyone have any information for me? One, I am curious as to why humidity and rain can cause my DSl to not work. Second, I have a job to do... is there a fix for this problem, or can anyone recommend an alternative? Third, does anyone else have this problem? I'd love to see how widespread this is, and to also know that I'm not nuts. :0)

And please, no company bashing... just the facts, please.

Cheers, and thanks in advance for any help, JOHN :0)

Update: Please read through the comments for loads of information on this subject. Basically, after my land line went down, it was repaired, and my DSL seemed to be working better, and not crashing. That assessment was premature, however, as my DSL still goes down on occasion, but for not as long as previously.

Update: June 2009

I have switched to Optimum Online, and have not had the same problem as before. It is pouring down rain now, and connection is fine. I'm sure the outside lines did have an affect on things, but it is still up in the air if DSL has any inherent problems. In all fairness, Optimum isn't perfect either, but at least it doesn't seem to rfeak when it's humid out. :0)

Monday, August 04, 2008

How to be a Cartoonist

Since I'm already in a mood, I'm going to say something that I've been holding back on. Every once in a while, I get emails from people which basically say, "I've got a great idea for a comic strip. How do I go about creating it so I can be rich and famous?". I honestly don't think I've even replied to one of those emails because a) the person writing wants free advice without a "how do you do?", usually thinks the answer can be summed up in an email, and c) has done absolutely no homework whatsoever.

Now, if you have a specific question, I'm usually happy to answer it. However, I've been burned a few times by people who have 'befriended' me, and then disappeared after I divulged hard earned secrets, so I can still be shy.

What really bothers me is this... today's generation horrifies me in it's lack of ability. When I wanted to be a Cartoonist, I didn't write a Cartoonist, I... sit down for this... went to the library!! Yes, believe it or not, but libraries are not a place to dump your latchkey kids after school, are not places to 'hook up', and certainly not places to sit and chat on your cell phone. They are places, like schools, where you can actually learn things.

When I knew that what I wanted to be was a Cartoonist, I spent about a month in the library, photocopying great comic strips, reading about Cartoonists in their biographies, memorizing books like the Artist's & Graphic Designers Market, and basically learning all that I could... before even sitting down with a pencil and paper to draw! I also cut comic strips out of the newspaper, measured them, and tried to figure out the original drawing size that my favorite artist's drew at. i also started buying comic strip collections of my favorite comic strips.

In short, I wanted it so bad that I invested a lot of time in learning the craft, before even starting. On top of this, I had already taken drafting classes, which I recommend highly, and some art classes. As I became a Cartoonist, I realised just how much I had to learn, like Life Drawing, writing, anatomy, biology, painting, 2-d design, typography... the list goes on. I went to art museums, took classes at the local college, and was lucky enough to be close enough to the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning to be able to take night classes there.

In short, I learned Cartooning the classic, traditional way, and again, I recommend this highly. There are some tht do everything on the computer these days, but I'm willing to bet that most of them learned the old fashioned way.

This consists of thumbnail sketches, rough sketches, tighter pencils, inking on paper with a pen or brush or both, then correcting with whiteout or a razor blade, a neat trick I learned in reading George Herriman's biography. If you draw on two ply Bristol or art board, you can actually cut mistakes off of the paper with a sharp razor and steady hand, which copies better than whiteout or erasing.

Knowing what you are doing by hand helps to do things on the computer better. Computers are a great tool for a cartoonist who knows what he or she is doing. On a computer, you can lay out your panels, do the lettering, make the word balloons, and even draw easier, neater, and often faster. This seems real neato, but look at the result: dullsville. Not always, but there's something about the slight flaws you find in hand drawn art that appeals to the eye. Some Cartoonist's say you're not a real Cartoonist unless you draw with a sable brush, because pen lines don't have the variety of line that makes a good cartoon look so nice.

I'm also a firm believer in doing your own lettering. Your lettering is like your art... very personal, and your lettering looks best next to your art. Other lettering, and computer lettering, again could look wrong, or dull.

Now,do I follow my own advice? No, of course not. :0)

Actually, I try to. I got really out of practice for a while, and my lettering was getting atrocious, and worse, illegible, so sometimes I use Comic Sans, which closely resembles how I learned to letter, so it doesn't look too bad.

I am attaching a Sunday cartoon autopsy, to give you who are really interested an idea of how I work. You can see hand lettering and computer lettering, a thumbnail sketch, and a tight pencil sketch, and the inked art before and after coloring.

By all means, write if you want to learn more. I won't bite, but I also won't answer unless I think you are serious. Do some homwework first, huh? Show some commitment, will ya? And buy original art, whether from me or someone else, because you can learn alot from studying the original drawings and comparing them with the final print versions.

All of this is only scratching the surface of course. Writing a strip, as I've mentioned in other blogs, is a whole other boatload of fish to fry.

Whew. I'm exhausted. Hope you learned something. JOHN :0)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Review: Stargate: Continuum

Since I reviewed Stargate: Ark of Truth here, I thought I would take the time to highly recommend Stargate: Continuum. Of course, if you're already a Stargate fan, and have seen how good Ark of Truth was, then you probably have already picked up a copy of Continuum. Still, here goes.

Stargate: Continuum rocks. The movie brings back the excitement of the early days of Stargate SG-1, when earth faced a big bad dangerous galaxy, and were unprepared. The Goa'auld (bad guys) are scary again, and powerful, and the odds are against us.

Now, I do not wish to reveal any spoilers, so this is awkward. Also, I do not wish to imply that the later seasons did not 'rock', but let's be honest... there came a time when SG-1 had virtually eliminated a galaxy full of superior beings... seemingly quite easily. All that has changed for this movie, and that uncertainty and vulnerability is back.

I knew this movie was going to be great just from reading the back of the box, but do yourself a favor and don't... don't read the box if you haven't, don't read anything about it if you haven't, and get the movie now. There are quite a few surprises here, and they were done very well. The creative team cut no corners, and nothing is as simple as it could have been. The drama is very real, although I wished they had given the movie a few more minutes from what I saw in the 'Making of' featurette.

Again, without spoilers, the movie is exciting... the premise is fun, the action is great, and the big screen budget makes it all so real for the viewer. After Continuum is over, you realise just how close eveything came, and for some reason the drama is much more exciting than in a weekly television series where things 'suddenly' get wrapped up in an episode or two. Here, you have your doubts as to the outcome of the movie, which is a good thing. It's all very 'real', and very exciting.

I cannot honestly say which of the two Stargate SG-1 movies I liked better! They are both enjoyable in their own way, and I hope there will be many more of this caliber. Richard Dean Anderson fans will welcome his 'guest' appearance in Continuum, although I would have liked to have seen him more in the action, and would have thought he'd be part of the excitement of the later half of the movie.

One sad note is that I just learned that Don S. Davis has passed away recently, so Continuum marks his last appearance as General Hammond. At least we get to see him one more time, although briefly, as a character who is as much of SG-1 as anybody else.

Stargate: Continuum is highly recommended for you Stargate fans. Non fans may want to pick it up as well, if you enjoy great Science Fiction. Trust me, you'll be wanting more SG-1 after seeing this one.

Cheers, JOHN :0)