Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Game of Life

There are a lot of Artists on FaceBook... at least where I hang out. As an Artist, I looked into some of the very popular games on FaceBook like Pirates! and Castle Age, at first for the artwork, and then for the fun. And along the way I've made friends with other Artists who are also checking out the art and having fun! These games are very addictive, as you may know if you've tried them. But why?

First of all, the games reward you! Depending on the game, you perform quests to achieve certain goals, and when those goals are reached, you get Favor Points that you can spend on cool exclusive stuff that you can then use back in the game. There are random events that occur, where you might get cool stuff 'dropped' at random, and there are different layers of 'quests'. In Castle Age you can battle other players, battle monsters, perform heroic quests, and Demi-quests, and more, with each coming with their own requirements and rewards. That's right, you need to EARN the right to do certain quests, and by finishing a certain number of quests you can unlock monster fights and other stuff.

What's my point? Well, my point is that the games are fun, but also addictive. When you sit back to actually analyze the game, what are you actually accomplishing? Well, honestly, you're pushing a button and getting a treat. Just like a rat in a cage, or some poor monkey in an experiment. Yes, here we are, some may argue the pinnacle of evolution, and we're voluntarily acting like rats in a cage... and enjoying it!

But the game is fun, right, and there are levels of strategy, you argue, so for those two points we can say that gaming is good. But what have you got when the power is off, or your internet connection is gone? You're guessing 'nothing', right?

Wrong. You've got a pretty good business model for success!

Yes, you heard me. By taking what we learn from these games and applying them to real life, you might actually become more successful, and more fulfilled, for real!

Of course, the games are great because you know that as long as the program works, you will get a certain reward for certain behaviour, where as in real life, we don't get those guarantees. Still, what rewards we do get in life can't be taken away from us, and can lead to some rather awesome random events. :0)

So what the heck am I talking about? Suppose you want to be an Illustrator of Children's Books someday. To make that dream come true, you have to set yourself some goals, and pursue those goals until you earn some achievements, and eventually some rewards.

Goals should be something like, "Create 5 illustrations in 5 different styles", and "Create 10 illustrations in the same style". Aim for Achievements like "Send 25 submissions to 25 different Publishers" and go for the big ones like "Receive 5 replies from Publishers that are not photocopied rejections".

This last one has a great reward. You need to figure out why you are getting photocopied rejections in the first place. Did you follow the submission guideloines of the Publisher? No? Now you've earned a reward! Wisdom! Wisdom allows the bearer to submit at the very least professional looking submissions to publishers! Now you have levelled up! Your chances of getting a photocopied rejection letter have now dropped 20% or more.

Carry out this logic and you'll see that by setting goals and accomplishing them in a reasonable amount of time you will improve as an illustrator and become professional in the process. Extend your goals and achievements to running a business or getting an agent, and your chances of becoming successful have increased significantly. Of course, you still need talent, but if you can apply the discipline you have towards gaming to your art, well then! Good for you!

Of course, in a game, the computer automatically sets the clock, and doles out energy and tells you when to take the next step, so you sit there watching the clock, eager to take the next step.

To be a successful Artist, you've got to set the goals yourself, and watch the clock yourself, and make sure you take steps every day to achieve your goals. Heck, why not make that your New Year's resolution?

Hope 2010 is a great one! JOHN :0)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pepper's Ghost Done Right!

I hope none of you remembers my last attempt at showing you the Pepper's Ghost effect... the technique used in Disney's Haunted Mansion to show many of its ghosts, in particular the stunning scene of the Ballroom Ghosts dancing.

The technique is fairly simple, although care must be taken in set-up. Now, fortunately I have a real workshop in which to work... something between the Weta workshop and your Uncle's basement Ah, but it's not the size of the workshop, but what you do with it! In the Haunted Mansion, you ride above the ballroom in your DoomBuggy,and watch breathlessly as ghostly dancers glide across the floor below you. In reality, you are looking down into the ballroom through a very large clean piece of glass and the dancers are quite solid and dancing below you. With the right lighting, the dancers are reflected off of the glass in such a way so that they appear to be in the ballroom, and quite transparent!

Watch the video to see how I demonstrate this phenomenon, and then I will show you how it was done! Faint of heart, beware!

Catch your breath and remember, this was just a demonstration! No actual little plastic girls in pink coats were injured or even scared silly!

See in the photo at top how the 'ghost train' appears to come out of the tunnel through solid foam rock and straight through the little girl? Pan back (second photo) and the magic is revealed. High tech gadgetry and a steady nerve were required to reproduce this wonderful effect! But remember, I accomplish so much because I stand on the shoulders of Giants. ( Meaning, others did it first, I copied, but with my own twist)

Now, below is a quick photo of the workshop itself. Once the Imagineers at Disney see this video, I'll be sure to be snapped up into their inner circle, but don't worry, dear readers... I will always be here to entertain you.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Rush

Artwork from my 2004 Holiday Card

It's that time of year again, and I'm hard at work... trying to get out my Holiday Cards! I thought writing and illustrating my own cards was tough, but now I have to sit down and write them out, put those little return address labels on, and address them.. sheesh! What a lot of work!

So why do I do it? A few years back it occurred to me that I was an Illustrator, and that creating my own card was something I should really do. THis was back when people actually sent cards to one another, via the US Postal Service, and not something that you clicked and forgot about.

I know... technology, customs... the world is changing, and it is exciting, but still... there's something to be said for receiving a bunch of cards in the mail, and finding creative ways to decorate your studio with them. And a good card is something you can keep for a long time, either in a scrap book, or as a bookmark, and you can enjoy it long past the time when the Holiday bills are just a memory.

And a good card, whether created by you, or hand chosen in a store, should mean a lot to the receiver; especially in this day and age. Yeah, we're oh so busy, and tired, so actually taking the time to write a card out, hopefully with a personal note ,or a family newsletter, should be truly appreciated!

Oddly enough, I really wanted to be the first one to send cards out this year, and surprise people by how early my cards were done. Honestly, I shouldn't have worried! Apparently, Holiday cards(okay, Christmas cards) have apparently gone out of vogue, and rather quickly. I can understand... honestly, I'm exhausted by the whole process each year. But I will miss this Holiday tradition when it is gone. I can remember my Mom grousing about how many cards she had to write each year, and I'm sure she can remember her own Mother kvetching about writing out cards. :0)

Still, I am a Cartoonist. That's what I do, and when I see cards from Walt Disney or Walt Kelly or other Cartoonists from days of yore, I love being part of that unique tradition of Artists sharing their art. I create these cards as a thank you to my audience, whether they realise that or not. (You should... I've reminded you guys enough!) It does fill me with pride to see a job well done, even though I've probably cursed during the last few days of creation. And I always get a few compliments on the cards... not a lot, but every comment is greatly appreciated!

This year, I've actually sold out of my excess stock, before I even finished sending them out! That's a good feeling, I can tell you, when people see something and immediately say "I have to have this!".

I just hope I have enough left over to send!

Happy Holidays, and Merry Christmas! JOHN :0)

PS For more on my Holiday Cards, please read this old blog of mine:

PSS if you would like one of this year's cards, if i have any left, that is, please sign up for our newsletter here, or send me a request with your address via email.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Disney's Princess and the Frog and Ultimate Disney Experience: a review

I was fortunate to attend one of the hottest tickets in town... the premiere of Disney's The Princess and the Frog. The premiere ran in New York and Los Angeles, and online the tickets sold out long ago. Obviously, after the years of hype and controversy, many of us wanted to finally see the film. The result: an instant classic.

The songs, the animation, the story, the setting... all top notch. My ticket also came along with the "ultimate Disney experience", which I will also review. The experience consisted of a host of related events that took place at a separate location, including Meet the Princesses, Bayou Adventure, Learn to Draw from a Disney Animator, a peek at the Disney Archives, games, crafts, and more.

First off, I suppose only Disney would attempt to create an 'experience' out of a movie premiere... at least an experience in which one stands out in the cold two hours before showtime, gets hassled in line, and then has to walk three blocks away at movie's end to another location to complete the experience... in 90 minutes time! Confused? You won't be, after this blog. :0)

The movie premiered at the Ziegfeld theatre, and the ultimate experience was held at the Roseland Ballroom, three blocks away. When I arrived at the theatre, a little after five for the seven o'clock show, I asked innocently to the guy out front when a good time to come back for the show would be. He pointed behind me, and said "Now. I'm not kidding. We were swamped at the last show." Behind me were two lines already forming; one for the Royal Ticket holders, and one for the implied 'rabble'. I paid extra for Royal status, so got the Royal treatment. This included some purple beads with the movie logo on them, and the feeling that I was special because I was in the shorter line.

All this was great until they started harrassing us for our cameras. Yes, this was a Premiere, so we were lucky to see the movie a week before anyone else. God forbid we show the world pictures or video of the film that millions were going to see a week later. I mean, we could upset the apple cart quite severely, I suppose, although with a film this good, I am sure that any publicity will be good. I know, Disney is extremely cautious, and perhaps with good reason. Still, I don't think the fear of bootleg video warranted being threatened while I stood in line. They took people's cameras, put them in bags, and returned them to the people after the show. After the first wave, however, they started saying things like "We mean it! If we find you have a camera, then "insert threat here"." Some weren't so bad... I heard one guy offer a lady the chance to sign a waver instead of surrendering her camera, but they did take the camera in the end. The joke was, of course, that once we were in the theatre, the cell phones came out and people were taking photos left and right.

Enough of the complaining. Overall, the experience had the usual difficult moments, with standing in line too long here, standing in line too long there, and people around you complaining. However, the experience was enjoyable, and those uncomfortable moments were forgotten when the good times rolled around. The film was great, the Princesses were professional, and I got to take an Animation class with a top Disney Animator, which is always enjoyable. Our instructor was Anthony DeRosa, who was friendly, courteous, and fun, and incidently was an Animator on such films as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast! The class was great, although I find these classes to be rather fast-paced... and I'm a professional! I think Disney designs these classes to give people an idea of just how difficult it is to be an artist, but at the same time, the sense of urgency keeps people from fussing over their work and just drawing. It's fun, and I recommend anyone interested in art to take similar classes at Disneyland or World.

The rest of the experience was crowded, and full of wild children running amock, so I avoided the Bayou and craft areas. I did enjoy the archival material, such as Elizabeth Swann's dress from Pirates of the Caribbean, and props from movies like Narnia. The games seemed rather quiet, but I did not take the opportunity to check them out.

The evening ended with me realising that I had lost my tickets. I realised this when I was told that I couldn't recieve my free lithograph without the ticket, even though I had my wristband, purple beads, and an angry expression on my face. Eventually, after discussion with several managers of arying politeness, I recieved my lithograph. As an Artist, and art collector, I was looking forward to this. Sadly, I was disappointed. The lithograph had the muddy murkiness of an amatuer artist who doesn't know when to stop adding colors. Admittedly, it was a night scene taken from the film, but there were so many more beautiful moments they could have captured, or at least they could have captured this scene a little better.

But this does lead me to a very important realisation about this film: it has to be seen in its entirety, and in its medium of motion. I have not been impressed with any still ads I have seen for the film. The characters do not grab your attention at all until you see them on the big screen. It is the animation itself that truly brings this film to life, and makes it so magical. The characters must be seen in motion, and heard, and observed, and then they become so real and interesting. This particularly goes for Mama Odie, but can be said for any of them.

Again, despite the few glitches, the evening was fun, interesting, and worth traveling to New York for. The movie was the highlight, as it should be, but the experience had enough to interest everybody who attended it. And for those of you with kids? The Disney Princesses are wonderful, and always make your kids feel special.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS On a more personal note, I am a big fan of Disney's two great dark rides, the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean. The setting of the Princess and the Frog is New Orleans, of course, which fits right in there with those rides, and their location in Disneyland. I can't believe that noone at Disney has noticed this, and i really would have loved to see some 'tributes' in this movie. However, many elements were already there to remind one, from the stately manor houses to the meandering fireflies. Hopefully they will incorporate Princess into New Orleans square... without taking out any of our beloved places already there. :0)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Self Publishing 101: Book Sales

I received an email today from a new self publisher, asking just when he could expect his first book sale. Well, that's a great question, but there is no standard answer. I will say this again and again... you have to get the word out. With over a billion websites out there, and nearly that many people trying to sell something, you have to a) have great product, and b) find a way for people to hear about that product.

The first mistake everyone makes is building a website, or opening an e-store, or joining a site that sells stuff, and then just sitting back and waiting for the people to trickle in and buy stuff. Hey, that could happen... but once Mom has bought your book, and your sister, and favorite Aunt, well, things will start to slow down.

Here's the first bit of knowledge to share... once you start a website, it takes time for your keywords and images to get into the search engines, so it will be weeks before people start to find you. Until then, only people you actually give the web address to will find you. Unless you pay big bucks to Google, you can expect to wait a few months for an audience to build up.

Bit o'knowledge #2: Yo haev to have fresh content to get those people coming back. Trust me on this one... when I take a break from cartooning to do freelance stuff, my audience finds something else to do.

If you are writing a book, then you may want to post teasers once in a while, or offer a free download of your first chapter. An Artist may want to create a series of work, promising more for visitors to come back to.

Still, the biggest thing, even today, is getting word out somewhere OFF the web. Web advertising is so intense right now, it is easy to ignore 99% of it, and that bit you can't ignore is usually so repulsive that you may even get off the web for a day or two. :0)

Scott Adams became big when he started adding his web address to his cartoons... in the newspapers. All the big cartoonists, writers, movie makers.. everyone has websites, but those sites are suplimentary to their main product. They offer something additional, and ways to buy, of course.

It is possible to grow your business being web only, but I'm sure that strictly web businesses still advertise and make appearances in the real world. They have to.

So... my advice? Advertise, blog, or go to conventions... anything and everything to get the word out. And yes, it will cost money, and lots of it, but that's what it takes to run any business. And most of that is tax deductible!

Just promise me one thing. Don't SPAM people, or throw your advertising in our faces. That's a great way to lose business forever.

More about Permission Advertising later.

Have a great one... JOHN :0)

PS the above cartoon has nothing to do with selling books... or does it? That's a new comic strip from Knight and Day. You can read more about them in their first two books available at or at my Lulu store. :0)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fall Cleaning: A Treasure Trove of Comics

For various reasons, I needed to do some research into my own career, and therefore dug through the hundreds (or more!) of original comic strips that I have drawn over the years. What a delight! It was great seeing strips that I haven't thought of in a while, and seeing the originals of some favorites, and totally awesome to find some strips that for some reason or another were never finished or published!

Okay, you're thinking that maybe they were rubbish, if I never got around to drawing or finishing them, and truth be told, I thought the same thing. Then again, you probably don't know me like I know myself. :0) I try to hide the fact that I make mistakes on occassion, and that I can't draw everything no matter how hard I try, and especially that I can sometimes get terribly disorganised... a state that is very hard to recover from.

So... if I didn't finish drawing a strip, it was probably because I got swamped with other projects, or was moving house, or something earth-shattering like that. It is entirely possible that I could have forgotten I was in the middle of a strip. Of course, it's also entirely possible that at the time I found the strip to be challenging, or that at that moment I did think it was rubbish. Who knows?

What I can say is that finding them now I really like them! Nostalgia? Possibly. Change of heart? Probably. I'll leave you to judge whether they are good or not. I've finished The Inquiring Minds strip and colored it, even though the original was a mess of smeared ink and random notes. The Sunday Knight and Day I just redrew it neater, but it is far from finished, but worth a read. The Knight and Day daily was finished, but never published for some reason. I truly think it was just lost in the shuffle. Then again, this was from a time when I was trying to figure out if I should pursue The Inquiring Minds, Knight and Day, or both. A tough time for me, mentally.

There was some other stuff, but these ar ethe strips I thought worth sharing, and I am pretty sure that there are no more 'lost' strips to share. Knight and Day and The Inquiring Minds are now all caught up, discrepancies in number and continuity repaired, and all is well... except that I really need to find time to draw some new stuff and to finish The Ghost Pirate Skeletons of Three Craters Lake!

But, another big deadline looms, and there are last minute changes to the beautiful magazine cover I am illustrating, so new strips will have to wait a few more days. But they are coming! Promise. :0)

All the best, JOHN ;0)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Baltimore Comic-con 2009

Just got back from the Baltimore Comic-con... my first time there as both visitor and exhibitor, although to be honest, as an exhibitor I spent nearly the entire time behind my table. It looked like a terrific show from where I was sitting!

Overall, it was an excellent learning experience. The first day started out slow, and moved to depressing, until it was explained to me that most of the crowd head for the freebies, the big names, and the mainstream stuff first, and then eventually migrate to the independents like myself. Good to know for a first time convention go-er! And it was true! The afternoon picked up quite nicely, and Sunday went very well. Made some great friends, both fans and pros, sold some books, and just had fun altogether. :0)

HappyGlyphs Comics will definitely be doing more shows next year, and we'll be back bigger than ever once we've implemented all that we learned inthe last few days!

Meanwhile, until the coffee hits, and my brain clears, here are some lovely photo high-lights from the show!

The very awesome Leanne and Rod... 2 great talents that work great together! Expect great things from these two!

Check them out at and

This Lady in Red is an awesome artist and all around great lady. People like her make conventions fun. :0) I'll post name and link as soon as I track her down!

SuperFan Jen showing off the new HappyGlyphs Comics Bag, which made it's debut in Baltimore!

The littlest Art Lover, checking out our most popular print. :0)

The Awesome Matt, who went beyond the call of duty to help me survive 15 hours sitting behind a table!

"Who was that masked man?!" Inside this costume is a great guy who took the time to pose for hundreds of photos, and was nice to everyone who stopped him. And what a costume, huh?

See? Buy a book, get your picture taken, end up on the internet. Fun!

If you were at the show, and especially if you stopped by the table, please comment below. We'd love to hear from you!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Monday, October 05, 2009

The ABC's of 3D Movies...

Okay, perhaps the title is misleading, but I wanted something catchy. :0)

I went to see the re-release of Toy Storys I & II yesterday, along with a preview of Toy Story III in 3D. Actually, all of the movies were in 3-d, which seems to be a 'fad' again, all these many years later since the first time 3-d became a fad.

A lot of the new movies are either coming out in 3D, or offering a choice of 3D... for an extra cost, of course. Movies are already expensive, but a 3D movie is even more so, which leads me to ask the question, "What do YOU think of 3D movies?"

[Sorry. Poll removed for being ornery]

Personally, I don't care much for them. With Toy Story, the movie is so well done that the figures are often nearly 3D without the 3D. Of course, you HAVE to wear the glasses, so without them, the film becomes blurry in bits, but in standard movie mode, the Toy Story movies are fantastic, so the 3D did not add any value to the movies. With the new Christmas Carol movie coming in 3D, there appear to be a lot of 3D gimmicks... where objects come toward you, or appear to float in front of you.... and these are just that. Gimmicks. Tricks that have been done, and done enough. A 'cute the first time' kind of deal, but not that exciting, really.

All I can think of is that a company like Disney is looking at the big picture, and that 3D is a sterp towards something else... Or maybe just technology for technolgy's sake, to further mankind's knowledge. I can also hope that this is not just a gimmick to edge a few more dollars from movie-goers, and I pray that this is not leading to Virtual Reality. God forbid we have to watch movies in 'immersive environments'! I mean, a small pair of smudgy glasses is bad enough, but if they ever bring out virtual reality movies, I'll have to say 'pass'.

I like going to the movies and watching them on the big screen, and with Pixar's technology, I can enjoy them completely, without the characters 'leaping' off the screen, or me having to miss something while I wipe a stray fingerprint from the left lens.

But that's just me. What do YOU think?

JOHN :0)

What I am listening to? Fish, Communion. Most excellent...
What am I reading? The new Dan Brown book, about symbols. Yawn....

Monday, September 28, 2009

Comic Strip Superstar

In case you haven't heard, I received notification that I have advanced to Round 2 of the Comic Strip Superstar Contest, "an international search for the next popular comic strip artist, sponsored by Andrews McMeel Publishing and hosted by"

What this means is that from the maximum of 5000 entries worldwide, I am one of 250 chosen to advance to the next round. Now, Universal Press Syndicate will judge us and then the next chosen 50 will advance to Round 3. In this Round, professional Cartoonists such as Gary Trudeau and Lynn Johnston will narrow the list down to 10. Those 10 will then be posted on, where anyone registered with Amazon can vote. The Winner will get paid to develop their comic strip further, with the goal of being placed in newspapers world wide.

A big deal, but remember, I only made it to Round 2 so far, so wish me luck.

For your info, my entry consisted of The Inquiring Minds cartoons. I know, some of you may have preferred Knight and Day, but the contest called for previously unpublished work.

I'll keep you posted. The winners of the next round should be announced the day after the Baltimore Comic-con, October 12th.

We shall see... JOHN :0)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Return of Ghost Pirate Skeletons!

Well, since I'm not on my way to California for the big 40th Anniversary party at Disney's Haunted Mansion, I may as well do some work, eh? And grumble. Lots of muttering and grumbling going on here over not getting to Disneyland for my birthday, and for the big 40th anniversary.

New studio, new clients, new cartoons! Here's the latest toon, from The Inquiring Minds in The Ghost Pirate Skeletons of Three Craters Lake!

There's also a new Knight and Day comic... the first in a loooong time, but not the last. Yo can see that at, or check out the previous blog where you can also see pics of my new and awesome studio!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

My New Studio

All right, so it's not everything I've dreamed of (there's no closet), but I'm pretty happy with my new work place. HappyGlyphs Studios has a new home, where I can finally get back to work. :0)

Don't believe me? Check out the brand new Knight and Day cartoon.

Why a new Knight and Day toon when The Ghost Pirates of Three Craters Lake isn't done yet? All will be revealed, in time! Meanwhile, The Inquiring Minds will return to their Pirate adventure shortly, and we'll have some new Knight and Day stuff as well.

Also, we have a brand new Art Gallery, where you can purchase some of my best art as high quality giclee prints. Check that out here...

So, back to the studio... I finally have a place to hang my original artwork again,and most of my cartoons, comic strip collections, art, reference, and other important books are all in one place. And of course there's room for lots of toys!

I also have a new work shop, so expect more models and other projects sometime... probably after winter hits. :0)

Of course, now that I'm working again, the studio is already becoming a bit dishevelled! Oh well, I'll clean up a bit. Just a bit, though... all this chaos inspires creativity, don't ya know? :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS What's on my iPod? Fish: Communion What an awesome Live Album! I've been listening to it non stop for a week now. :0)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Leggo my LEGOS!

What's better than The Inquiring Minds? Could be LEGO Inquiring Minds!

This illustration was a lot of fun at first, but became a major endeavor. That's fine, because I wanted a nice portfolio piece to show off my Adobe Illustrator skills, but man! What a lot of work. OF course, I was in the process of moving at the time, so it might not have been so tough if I just sat down and worked on it, instead of working while packing my studio up. :0)

Anyways, this is yet another reason for the delay on The Ghost Pirate Skeletons of Three Craters Lake, which shall return this week! Huzzah! This and another LEGO piece are featured in the next cartoon, as you'll see soon.

Meanwhile, please enjoy the illustration and feel free to comment on it, unlike my freinds at FaceBook who only seem to comment when someone posts a baby picture. I mean, c'mon, people! I worked hard on this! :0)

Meanwhile, I'm working on yet another book, and you can find snippets of that at my travel blog, The Travelling 'Toonist.

And oh yeah, the new HappyGlyphs Comics Website is just about ready, so check it out!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Monday, June 29, 2009

The House on the Hill

As a young lad, I grew up listening to stories about a certain haunted mansion... no, not THE Haunted Mansion, but the Harry Packer mansion in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania. It was a spooky old place on the side of a very steep hill overlooking a very beautiful valley not far from where my father grew up.

You have heard of Mauch Chunk, haven't you? What do you mean you can't even pronounce it? How do you think I feel? My Dad grew up in Nesquehoning, so just learning how to spell and pronounce Mauch Chunk and Nesquehoning put me way ahead of the other kids at the spelling bee. :0)

ANYWAYS... Dad used to sneak into that spooky old place long before it became a Bed and Breakfast, and well after it was abandoned to the elements. Upon crawling through a basement window he said that the walls still had huge dusty wall hangings, and crumbling furniture, and apparently the world's first air conditioning unit, composed of an ice house and a big fan that blew cool air up into the house.

So, imagine my excitement when I read in an old Ripley's Believe it or Not cartoon that said that Disney's Haunted Mansion was modeled after the Harry Packer mansion! Coolness!

As I grew older, I realised that the Harry Packer mansion is one of two mansions on that hill in Mauch Chunk, and that The Mansions in Disney World and Disneyland were different, so it took a while for me to piece it all together. Yes, it was the Harry Packer mansion, and not the neighboring Asa Packer mansion The Mansion was modeled after, and it was the Disney World Mansion that was modeled after it. The original Disneyland Mansion was modeled after a place near Baltimore, MD.

Those familiar with Disney World's Mansion can see the resemblance... that fantastic turret on high, and those brick walls with that thick painted trim. Oh, it's not an exact match, but The Mansion in Florida was definitely inspired by the Harry Packer Mansion, and walking by it you can really see why. The Harry Packer mansion sits HIGH on that hill, and as you can see in some of the photos it looms over you. This is the idea the Imagineers wanted to capture when they created the two wings of Florida's Mansion that loom over visitors to Disney World.

I'm not going to go over all the architectural details, but the resemblance is strong not just in appearance but 'feel'. There's a lot of layers and details to the Packer Mansion, and even not in it's current overgrown state, it has a presence. Not seen in the photos is the tall leaning black iron gate that runs up the path to the mansion and all along it's front. Disney doesn't have that black gate, but it sure adds a spooky air to the place.

Today I saw some people talking outside, and lots of large lights around the place, and what appeared to be a van full of Actors. My guess is there is a commercial being filmed here, but who knows? Maybe Disney is revisiting the HP mansion? I did see some shovels leaning against a wall, and a creepy pumpkin standing beside them. Maybe this mansion is getting a Halloween make-over?

The Asa and Harry Packer mansions are neat places to visit, but after all these years of walking around outside, I still haven't been inside the place. My timing has been bad, but so far seeing the outside alone has been inspiring, and has certainly added to the magic of The Mansions at Disney, and to those stories from my childhood. As long as I remain outside, the inside is still quiet and covered with cobwebs, and long tall faded tapestries stil hang from the walls, and the crumbling furniture covered with dustcloths remain as ever ghostly images in the filtered light spilling through that broken basement window.

Cheers, and "hi" to my friends at DoomBuggies! JOHN :0)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Blockbusters

Since I'm losing my Optimum Account when I move, I've been taking advantage of the free movies, and enjoying the Summer Blockbusters so far. Here are some quick reviews of what I've seen so far, and will add more if I see 'em.

Land of the Lost ***1/2

I've reviewed this earlier, and may hav ebeen a bit harsh. As I mentioned, the potential for greatness was there, but they fell short. A few dumb moments really took away from an otherwise fun movie. Worth seeing for the fun of it.

Star Trek****1/2

Much better than I thought it would be. I mean, the original Star Trek series was so long ago, and seems hokey upon viewing these days. Then again, Next Generation looks a bit hokey by today's standards. Still, once the movie started, it was exciting to see certain events coming together that any Star Trek Fan will know about from the famous first episode all those years ago.

Once the story deviates, however, expectations go out the window as the characters remind us "We're in an ALTERNATE UNIVERSE.", and things are now very different.

As a stand alone movie it rocks... exciting, and fun, and a fair addition to the Star Trek legacy. I believe that even a non Star Trek fan can appreciate this movie for its self.

Night at The Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian ****1/2

I may be being generous with my 4 and a half stars, but I really enjoyed this movie. As Johanna Carlson mentioned in her review, Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart really stole the show. Her character's spunkiness, and outgoing spirit were great, as was her mix of vocabularly that nicely shows her from another time, but still fiting in. Other critics have said the movie was crowded with all of the old characters appearing in this movie with a whole host of new characters, but I do not see this as a negative. It just added to the zaniness of the movie that I'm sure kids especially, but many movie-goers will love.

Special affects were nice, and even though reality was stretched a bit, and the villian conquered quite suddenly and easily, there is much to appreciate here.

Hank Azaria was a nice surprise, as he played the villian with a bit of an unsuspected twist. I'm glad I came into this film without any foreknowledge of the plot. Other actors all added to the movie, and I even like Ben Stiller in these movies.

I am not a Ben Stiller fan in general, nor am I a Will Ferrel fan, but I can appreciate these actors when they do such good jobs as they do in these movies.

UP was really well done, as expected. Very enjoyable, and there's a lot more going on than you see in the commercials. Not as good as Wall-e, perhaps, but top notch. Great animation... I really like the retro feel to the movie, and the blend of exxagerated cartoon and realism.

Watchmen (on DVD): Very good. True to the graphic novel in many ways, and thankfully left out much of the disgusting, long-winded stuff. Also, thank goodness, they changed the ending which probably would have been too hard for many people to understand. Captures the spirit of the comic well, and the characters are well done.

Time Traveler's Wife: absolutely one of the best movies I have EVER seen. Not only true to the book, but it really brings to life the very best of the book in a wonderful way, and leaves out the few weird little bits of the book that I prayed they would leave out. The editing, filming, casting... everything is perfect about this film. Tragically sad, wonderfully beautiful. Beautiful is the best word to describe this movie. I loved it.

Still to see.... Terminator, Harry Potter, and others.

I've heard mixed reviews for Terminator... none of them good, but I really love the franchise, so have to see this. Who knows? maybe I'll be surprised?

I'm a bit tired of Harry Potter, but I loved reading each book for the first time, and I will probably enjoy this movie when I see it, and the old fun comes back.

I'll let you know, and please, let me know if youv've seen any of these.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Imagineering 101: Haunted Mansion SFX II

I know... I'm a Cartoonist, so should be cartooning, but I had this sudden urge to reproduce the Pepper's ghost effect that makes the Haunted Mansion's Ballroom so very special... and haunting!

As you can see in the photo above, this was a very low budget stunt, cobbled together in my studio very quickly. I promise that one day I will do this much better.. and hopefully wil not be as embarrassed as I am now of the results. :0)

Here 'tis... live and in color;

So the dancing ghosts in The Mansion's ballroom are an illusion... another happy accident in which it is discovered that you can see images reflected off of glass while at the same time seeing objects through the glass. This effect actually goes back decades ago, and was a quite popular effect in the theatre.

So... if there is an award out there for Worst Movie Created by a Cartoonist, please be sur eto nominate me. :0) And if you liked this, you'll love the Haunted Statue demonstration I made last time, here.

And please forgive me for explaining the magic behind The Mansion, but I really don't think anything can take away from it's wonder.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

UPDATE: I actually have done this on a larger, better scale, so check it out, please! At this link.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Imagineering 101: Haunted Mansion SFX

I love my work. I have two very different parts of one company, and each keeps me expanding my creative horizons. However, working for oneself can be nice, but working with other creatives can be very invigorating. For this reason, if I were to work for someone else, it would have to be as an Imagineer with Disney.

With this in mind, I'm going to demonstrate today one of the secrets of that wonderful experience, Disney's Haunted Mansion! Yes, I will reveal the secret of the haunted marble busts that watch visitors as they stroll, or ride, through the Mansion.

Before you ask, I don't think this will in any way spoil the experience for you. The Haunted Mansion is something one can enjoy over and over again, and while you are in there, you're too busy enjoying yourself to think, "oh, so THAT's how they do that!"

Here is a video clip I made, demonstrating the effect. Please enjoy it because it took 9 takes, and much of my patience, to create. :0)

Hope you saw that. So, the marble busts aren't marble busts after all! They are the negative, or reverse impressions of busts, turned around and lit from behind. The very subtle shadowing created by the back-lighting creates the illusion that the busts are three dimensional objects, and the shadows moving as you move create the illusion of movement. (say THAT three times fast!)

To make this work, the 'cast' of the 'bust' must be realistic, as seen in the first photo, and deep enough to capture the details of the face. Keep in mind that in the photo below, you are seeing an optical illusion... the face is actually facing away from you, but the light and shadows make a convincing 3-d appearance. The photos are all taken at different angles, but the face is still, so really does seem to be moving. The video shows this best, though... what appears to be a ghostly skull moving around and turning to face you!

A very convincing optical illusion, eh? By the way, today's model came from a paint it yourself plaque that came with a Pirates of the Caribbean model kit I got as a kid. Nothing like keeping it in the family. :0)

Hope you enjoyed today's lesson. Please check our homepage for my current comic experience, The Ghost Pirate Skeletons of Three Craters Lake, in which The Inquiring Minds create their own haunted Pirate Ride!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Land of the Lost, the movie: a Review

The best thing about the new movie Land of the Lost is the fact that they've been showing the original tv series on SciFi channel, and some episodes can be found on I know... that doesn't say a lot for the movie, does it?

I actually enjoyed the movie, or at least most of it. The video clip above sold me on it: it's brilliant, funny, and well edited... 3 things that the movie itself is a bit short on. The movie had the potential for greatness, and though it does have its moments, somewhere along the line they took what could have been a blockbuster family movie, and decided to dumb it down to a typical potty humour movie we expect from many Saturday Night Live Alumni. Anyone named Jethro who managed to grajiate the 6th grade will love this movie. Will Ferrel fans will probably love this movie. Fans, like me, of the original tv series will like this movie, and go away wishing the creators would have had more consideration for us.

What went wrong? Well, those of us who grew up on this show, and who were heavily influenced by its imagination and creativity, are labeled as Baby Boomers. The Creators of this movie obviously decided to aim this movie at us Boomers, 'adults', and dumbed it down to adult level, and therefore left out the huge potential of the kid market. They also forgot the fact that us 'boomers' love to share our glorious childhoods with our kids, who were deprived of that glory.

On to the review.

The Land of the Lost was a brilliant television show in the 70's that had us kids glued to the tv set every Saturday morning. Although a bit goofy looking back at it, it still stands up as a great show. Hidden within were many messages like 'do your chores' and 'be honest and fair', but that was all subliminal. We loved the dinosaurs, and the lizard people, and even the primitive Pakuni, and all the wonderful weirdness that occured in a pocket universe that can only be accessed through transdimensional portals in time and space. Yeah, that's right... pocket universes, alternate realities and dimensions... advanced physics in a 70's show made for children. And it was great.

The Marshall family... Rick, a Dad who cared for his kids, and taught them the values of self reliance and hard work, and his two kids Will and Holly, who fought all the time, fall into this strange pocket universe and spend several years trying to find their way out. Meanwhile, they explore ancient civilisations, missing links, degenerate lizard people, aliens, alternate and future versions of themselves, and many others passing through the Land of the Lost.

The Movie is loosely based on the show, and pays homage to it. Right off the bat, though, we're dissapointed to learn via the Internet that the original Will and Holly Marshall were in the movie and then cut out at the last minute. Strike one.

Then there's Will Ferrell. Strike Two.

Okay, so I'm not a Will Ferrell fan, and I blame him for whatever faults this movie has. His famous ego, and his 12-year-old-boyish potty humour, dumb this movie down a bit too much. Silliness I can stand, but not stupidity.

I actually watched the Bewitched remake, another tv show turned movie starring Will Ferrel, and enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It was hard to get past his other stuff and watch Bewitched, but I did and was convinced that Ferrel could actually do grown up stuff like Jack Black or Jim Carey before him. Apparently that didn't last. He is actually a good choice for the job, so I have to blame the writers a bit as well, although the parts I did not enjoy seem tailor made for him.

Any writer worth his weight in salt knows that in fiction you need to keep your audience with you. There is about a ten minute segment of the movie that involves a 'trippy' scene in which the three 'men' ingest a hallucinogenic substance and act uncomfortably weird. There seems to be no point to this scene other than a funny moment when a giant crab falls into a steam pit and gets cooked before their hungry eyes. A nice scene for the movie, but the lead up is enough to make you get up and walk out. It's long, pointless, and stupid, and worst of all takes you out of the action except for a brief scene in which Holly wanders off alone and gets captured. Why this smart sensible girl wanders off, alone, in a strange place, is beyond me, and not the best plot element by today's standards.

The actors who played Will and Holly played their parts well. The actor who played the missing link Chakka could have been better. The special effects were downright brilliant, and very convincing. See the video clip above for some great scenery and fantastic dinosaur animation.

The clip shows that with some decent editing the movie could have been better. Personally, though, I think with a different focus this movie could have been awesome. Why ignore the family element of the movie? I mean, even Terminator:Salvation has a line of kid's toys, and I can't imagine anyone taking their kids to see that! As a family movie, you can sell more tickets, have movie tie-in toys at McDonalds, and action figures and books, and oh so much marketing stuff that any kid, and many a grown up, would enjoy. More importantly, though, you could have had a better movie.

In this movie, Rick Marshall is supposed to be a brilliant 'scientist' with multiple disciplines, but for the most part is portrayed as a loser. Somehow he created this amazing device, and convinced Holly that his theories are sound, but this is all very hard to believe. Sure, there are some humorous moments, but why couldn't he be a brilliant scientist and father, who has created an ingenius device but is ridiculed for the subject matter of time travel and multiple dimensions? Why couldn't it be his kids who convince him to try it out and thus get the family stuck in the Land of the Lost. Better yet, the kids could activate the device, and either take him with them, or he has to rescue them. We would then be in a position to explore this 'dumping ground of multiple universes', instead of it just being in the background.

Well, I can go on and on.... obviously. :0) This review is long enough, so I will say go see the movie if you're looking for some summer fun. Keep your expectations low enough, and you'll enjoy the good parts all the better. You may want to keep the kids at home, though... there's a good bit of language and situations that are just not for them.

JOHN :0)

PS I'd love to hear what YOU think. :0)

And you can see the original shows at this link until November 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Walt and Skeezix: 1925 1926, A Review

I came across this book the other day, and found it full of both biographical tidbits and historical stuff from the early days of Cartooning, so on a whim bought it. I say on a whim, but in actuality I picked it up, flipped through it, and repeated that process several times. In retrospect, that's the way I've picked up most of my favorite books... they pick me.

The cover art has a warmth of color that can only be found in vintage comic strips. Take a well done comic strip, print it in four colors on newsprint, and let it sit for several decades, and magic happens. The soft yellow of the paper enhances the colors in such a way that the appeal to an Artist such as myself. I felt the same way about my favorite biography of George Herriman. The art pulled at me, and without even reading any strips, I eventually purchased the book, and took it home. There it sat for a few days until i found the time to pick it up.

I'm really glad I did.

This is actually the third book in the series. I thought it was the second, and that I'd only have to run out and get one other, but no... now I've got to find enough money for two more books, because after having read this one, I want so much to go back and see how the story developed. And yes, it is a story. Reading a comic strip in the newspapers can be a good bit of fun that lasts a few seconds, maybe a day if it's particularly good, but some strips just rally work well as a book. Walt and Skeezix are the characters from Gasoline Alley. You've probably heard of Gasoline Alley, although honestly I haven't seen the strip outside of professional books and journals, and even then, you usually see the gorgeous color Sunday strips. I had no idea what to expect, and that may have helped, actually.

The book started out with great stuff.... biographical information on Cartoonist Frank King, and then a wonderful look at the strip's merchandise over the years. Nostalgia, history, Americana... good fun for me!

Then the strips... a very slow start as I wrapped my mind around strips written for a generation long ago. This is America before the great Depression, and it is captured really well. The strips at first appear muddy, until one realises that they were probably printed even larger than we see in this book. This was also the Comic's heyday, when Creators had space to play, and were true artists. The strips are also longer, with more words, and not necessarily a strong gag. Sometimes the 'gags' are very subtle, and again, we must realise that these were written in a day before television, before the Moon landing, before iPods and all the gadgetry we have today.

In Frank King's America, even the town mechanic has a servant, and this is one point which makes me wonder: is the portrayal of African American servants considered too much for today's audience? True, the appearance and way of speaking are very innapropriate by today's standards... the maids appear to be in black face, and their mannerisms are often made fun of. To be honest, though, Rachel the Maid was the first character to grow on me in this book. The Author does not portray her as a stereotype, but instead she is a very real character, and the first in this book to be rounded out. She is warm, smart, and funny in her own way, and a darn hard worker. Some may be offended, but in Rachel and Mandy we are seeing a very different life for African Americans... a big step up from slavery to paid servants, but they face their struggles with a quiet dignity, and don't complain about their lot in life. As Walt says often concerning his adopted son, "Skeezix couldn't get along without Rachel", who helped raise him.

What is most interesting in this book, in light of today's troubles, is the land speculation, boom, and bubble burst of Florida in the twenties. It's almost comforting to see that this has all happened before, and that maybe we'll get through this economic nightmare we are currently in. In this book there is much humour in the land speculation of Florida, where buildings go up overnight, and paupers on Tuesday are Millionares by Friday. Land becomes so valuable that swamps are drained and islands are made just so more people could buy more land that they could then sell later. Amongst all this sudden and inflated wealth come rumours that the bubble is about to burst, and even then, the buying and selling continue. I'm curious if all this leads, or helps lead to, the great depression a few years later?

The strips grew on me, as I mentioned, until I got heavily involved in the characters, and couldn't wait to see what happened next. The book became ver hard to put down, actually, which was a big surprise. It really did creap up on me, and suck me in. The story is basically Walt being a confirmed batchelor, raising a child who was left on his doorstep, while falling in love with a lovely young widow. At the same time, his married friends tell him to maintain his batchelorhood, all the time laughing at his naivete. He's convinved that getting married will be the best thing, and that everyone should get married. What's most amusing is the portrayal of the widow Phyliss who seems so conniving and devious! She openly admits to roping Walt in, and throughout the two years of strips 'plays' him like a cheap fiddle. It's almost enough to make one dislike her heavily, but somehow she redeams herself by being down to earth at times, and King convinces us that she truly loves Walt. She just can't help 'moulding' him. Oy...

The early American stuff is great as well. People openly dumping their garbage in the vacant lot in town, and cars that are so simple to repair, and the RFD, a Rural Free Delivery system that aided the post office in providing mail to small rural towns. A really fascinating look at times long gone... a simpler, less harried life.

I could go on, but this post is getting way too long... All I can say is that this book is heartily recommended to comic strip fans, and those interested in the early 1900's, especially the grat Cartoonists of the time.

I cannot wait to read book one... when I can raise the dough, of course. :0)

JOHN :0)

Walt and Skeezix is published by Drawn & Quarterly Publications. This volume contains extra material by Chris Ware, Jeet Heer, and Tom Samuelson.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Ghost Pirate Skeleton Update!

Yes, I'm still working on The Ghost Pirate Skeletons of Three Craters Lake, a The Inquiring Minds adventure. It may not seem like it, but I am in the process of moving, I've got the art for a magazine to finish, including a terrific cover which I shall post here sometime, and I'm still converting the comic strip part of the story into comic book pages. I've discussed this latter part before, at this post, but wanted to give an update with page 2.

First, the originals, here and above...

Nothing wrong with them, but they are too wide to just slide into comic book format, which is one of the ultimate end uses for this project. Since I'm remodeling these to fit the new page size, I may as well go over the writing, and tweek things a bit to remove the 'stops' you get at the end of each strip, and make the story flow better.

Here is the result:

A little better flow, and a bit more artwork. The original storyline will be printed as is in the forthcoming eventually Complete Inquiring Minds, and the comic book version should come out by Fall, if all goes well.

And if the Publisher I submitted this to ever gets back to me, maybe you'll be seeing this in a comic book store by you. :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Free Comic Book Day 2009

It's Free Comic Book day again! Yay!! That time of year we go to the local comic shop and check out what the comic companies are giving away this year, and if it's worth the trip. :0)

Still, remember, that your local comic shop owner is paying for those books, so while you're at the shop, please take some time to look around, and maybe actually buy something while there. Believe me, it's good for the community to support local shops, especially shops that are not giant chain stores.

Huh? You wanna know what HappyGlyphs Comics is offering this year?

Well, right now, nuttin. I'm moving my studio, and everything else right now, so things are on hold. However, HappyGlyphs placed it's offering early this year. In the spirit of Free Comic Book Day, you can download Part 1 of The Ghost Pirate Skeletons of Three Craters Lake for FREE at the following link: That is, if you haven't downloaded it already. :0)

The Ghost Pirates will return shortly, as well as some awesome new projects in the works.

And HappyGlyphs Comics is now offering Mini Comics! Just a buck for a nice quality little book with a beautiful color cover. That's The Wolfman of Beckenham, Kent, of course, with more coming soon. Check out all our comics at this link here:

See? We may not be proficient, but we are persistent!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Bit of History

I opened a local newspaper the other day, and had a "whoa!" moment when I thought I saw my old house pictured! Rapidly flipping through the paper again, I found the photo and saw the headline "Country Comfort in Lake Hiawatha, 1930's". Well, my last house was in Lake Hiawatha, and it was a Log Cabin as pictured, but I thought the Realtor told me the house went back to the 50's. They weren't sure, though, and to be honest, sometimes Realtors don't always want the buyer to have all the facts. :0)

Anyways... that sure looks like my old home, and if it's not, it's the same model. Compare the two photos. Mine had siding put over the original logs, but I did see them while doing some work on the outside. I also know that the fireplace was added later, so that's no worry. The triangular bits on the roof are similar, but switched, and the steps come down on the opposite side, but those could have been changed later, since I know work was done on both of those.

Chances are it's just a similar house, but it does look like a corner property like mine was, since there appears to be a vehicle in the background to the right. All in all, great fun for a history buff like myself, and exciting to see what my little Lake Cottage looked like once upon a time.

Times have changed though, considering the house was on Lake Shore drive, but there's no longer a lake! Originally, these properties were built as lake homes... cheap little vacation houses for people visiting the lake in the summertime. Later they became permanent homes, and fireplaces, furnaces, and other extras were built on and added. Honestly, considering New Jersey's harsh winters, it's a miracle any of the old log cabins are still standing!

Okay, so the photo is probably not my house, but what a nice surprise it was to see it in the newspaper. And speaking of history, I did find some interesting artifacts while digging in the garden! And old forged wrench and a quarter dating back to 1976! Won't the fine folks at Wyre Archeology be jealous of that! :0)

Addendum: Not only was this a former residence of mine, but the house was also featured in "Take Me Away From All This!!", a Knight and Day comic strip collection, as seen here:

Cheers, JOHN :0)