Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Breaking the Rules

I haven't submitted to the Syndicates in some time, now, but Syndication is still my goal.  As such, I treat my Cartooning as if I were syndicated, and abide by the rules, and try to see things as not only my audience sees them, but as an Editor might. This means that I follow the conventions of a newspaper comic, and go by the inherent rules.

Now Cartoonists are a special breed, and we lke to play. One way I've seen Cartoonists play is with the 'sideways' strip... a daily comic strip (or even sunday) where you have to turn your head, or your newspaper, a complete 45 degrees to read the strip. See above.

Now, I've always hated these strips... often for the reason that the Cartoonist didn't always need to go sideways, but mostly just for the fact that we cater to the reader, and shouldn't make them turn their head just to read our comic strip.

Having said that, I was doodling in my sketchbook recently, and came up with an idea that needed some height to it.  I tossed the idea aside when I realised that I just couldn't do the strip following the basic conventions of a newspaper strip.  Unless... I went ::shudder::... sideways.

The idea stuck with me, until WOW! 

Cartoonists have complained for years about the shrinking of our little rectangle that we get to draw in, and rightly so.  I can't tell you how many times I've felt constrained by that rectangle.  Of course, there's been just as many times when I'm glad it's there, because knowing your limits can help you to quickly make decisions.

Well, let me tell you something... that little rectangle takes on a whole new dimension when turned sideways!  No wonder Cartoonists make their readers turn sideways!  I felt so.... liberated... when I saw all this space, and so excited.  Yes, excited!  After years of Cartooning, it is always fun to try new things, and go in different directions.  And this was fun!  Instead of laying out each panel, I found myself layering my layout as I 'scrolled' down, to keep the focus in the right places... yes, places, not place. Multiple focus points with the two sets of word balloons create a sense of time in one panel!  As you read downwards, time is actually moving, although the image is stationary!

I know... total geek moment, but hey... that's why I love Cartooning.  There is so much to discover when you go outside the box... or turn that box sideways. :0)

Your turn!    JOHN :0)

PS On my iPod today?  The Who, Quadrophenia

Monday, November 15, 2010

Behind the Mask: My Interview with a Costumed Comic Con Character

A Comic Con just would not be the same without those charismatic costumed characters that bravely parade through the shows, patiently posing for fan photos. As a creative type, I've often thought of making my own costume, and going out at Halloween or a comic con, and not let anyone see behind the mask. I think it takes a special kind of person to do so, though... someone brave, outgoing... perhaps an Actor or Actress? What motivates these people? Where do they find the courage?

So many questions piling up, that I just had to go out and ask somebody!

And that somebody was Jen Baker, the woman in my Mid Ohio Con post dressed as Felicia Hardy, The Black Cat.  When Jen posed for the above photo, I took a moment to talk with her, and found her to be pretty cool about everything.  I guess if you're the one in the costume, shyness is not an issue!

I'm honestly amazed at how patient most costumed folk can be at these shows, and how professional they are, and at how much fun they seem to be having!  So, curious as a Cat myself, I asked Jen if she was willing to answer a few questions.  And she did. :0)

John: "First off, Jen. Why do you do it? Why the costume?"

Jen:  "It's every comic book enthusiasts dream to be like the heroes (or villains) that you see on the pages. Dressing like them brings you a bit closer to living out that dream."

John:  "And what do you get out of this?"

Jen: "Dressing in costume really added to the comic convention experience! It's great when everyone recognizes you as one of your favorite characters. You almost feel like a movie star with so many people asking for pictures. It's also a great way to meet people because a costume is definitely a conversation starter."

John: "Do you make your own costumes?"

Jen: "This was actually my first attempt at making a costume. I bought the basic black bodysuit and just modified it with the white fur trim. The hardest part was the mask. I took about 3 or 4 days to make it, and it didn't turn out too shabby."

John: "Nice work... the mask is great!  So when was your first time appearing in public in costume?"

Jen: "I wore the costume for Halloween this year. A few people thought I was supposed to be Lady Gaga! But a surprisingly large amount of people actually identified me as the Black Cat or Felicia Hardy."

John: "How did that come about, and were you more nervous or excited?"

Jen: "I felt a bit nervous at first stepping out in a skin tight costume. The initial jitters quickly faded though, and then it was all fun and excitement!"

John: "Are you into comics yourself? If so, reading or making them, or both?"

Jen: "I've been a comic book collector since I was about ten years old. Comics are one of my great passions in life..they just make me happy! I always thought it would be cool to be a comic book artist, and maybe one day I'll pursue that.

John: "What kind of comics do you enjoy the most? Are you Marvel, DC, Manga... ?"

Jen: "Marvel comics were certainly my first true love, and I still collect quite a bit from Marvel to this day. As I matured my tastes became more diverse. Some of my favorite titles throughout the years include The Walking Dead, Dawn, League of Extraordinary Gentelmen, Watchmen, and 30 Days of Night. I could really go on and on. I tend to follow certain artists too, so whatever they're working on, I buy it. Joseph Michael Linsner, Frank Cho, and J.H. Williams III, just to name a few, will always grab my attention!"

John: "And how do you stand on the issue that some claim that comics are aimed at young males only, and don't address female readers?"

Jen: "That may have been true years ago when women in comic books were mainly used for the 'cheesecake' factor. Currently, however, there are many strong female characters that girls can easily relate to and admire. Sure, there might not be as many girls as there are boys that like to read about superheroes in spandex costumes, but you can honestly find something for everybody in comic books. Vampires, history, religion, aliens...whatever your interest may be, there is comic book that caters to that interest! "
John: "Where do you go from here? A new costume, a new show?  Anything else you'd like to add?"

Jen: "I'm already brewing up ideas for a costume or two for next year. I think I may have found a new hobby in costume making."

John: "Excellent!  Another reason to look forward to next year's Mid Ohio Con.  Thank you so much, Jen. It's been a real pleasure!"

Jen: "Sure thing!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mid Ohio Con 2010

The Mid Ohio Con simply wasn't my show.

I'm not saying that I didn't have a nice time, but... well, let me explain.  I've been to the San Diego comic con, and well, that's a show on it's own.  I've been to other shows over the years, from small comic book shows to full blown comic conventions, and as an Artist/Creator/Publisher/Exhibitor I probably wouldn't go back to a comic book show because I mainly do comic strips, and material based on comic strips.  I do not normally do superhero stuff, as much as I do like that kind of thing, and my artwork is not in that genre.

Call me a geek, but having Lord Vader and entourage march

past my booth was a totally cool moment!

Now, having said all that, the Mid Ohio Comic Con was more comic book show than convention. There was an awesome Costume Contest, to judge by the terrific costumed characters that paraded past my booth, and there was a tremendous amount of Star Wars material, but the rest was mainstream comic books, and tons of it. So much so that I was bored walking the floor after my first round through.

You may know from previous blogs that I've been to the Baltimore Comic Con the last two years, and I loved the energy of the Artist's alley, and the variety of stuff to see. I wasn't neccesarily 'in' to all that I saw, but the variety was wonderful. Here at Mid Ohio I didn't even see that much Manga! Two booths had some manga, and each had under a dozen books.... more like extras they had lying around. I also looked for graphic novels outside the superhero genre, and saw nothing by Chris Ware or any other big name I would have liked to pick up. I did see one copy of American Born Chinese, but nothing else by Gene Yang, or any other favorite Creator. So... the Mid Ohio Con was not my show... as an Exhibitor or as a Spectator.

Of course, there were a LOT of people having fun at the show, so remember, you're just reading one man's opinion.  I was warned by other Cartoonists that Mid Ohio Con was very small, and not worth going to.  Well, it was not small by any means.  There were a lot of booths, and a lot of people walking around.  There was a totally different crowd on Sunday than on Saturday, which I thought was unusual... apparently people chose to come for one day, instead of getting the weekend pass.  Which may indicate that the show was smaller in the past.

I've seen a lot of Ghostbusters in my day, but this guy really stood out. :0)

Now, if you're local to Columbus, and love comic books, then this is definitely a fun event to attend.  And there were a few celebrities from TV and movies, so there is a little more pop culture than I let on earlier.  If you're an independent Creator, then it may be worth a shot, especially if you do superhero stuff.  And of course there's always a fun time at shows like this... like a rock concert, there is an excitement that comes from a lot of people sharing a common interest and gathering together in one spot.  I enjoyed myself, and met some great people, but I have to admit to disappointment at how many people walked by our booth without even looking to see what we had to offer.

I'll freely admit that a lot of women like my work, and so have been fortunate enough to be spotted by women who have been dragged to comic shows by their boyfriends.  Some have even thanked me for offering something that 'they' can enjoy, which is an awesome feeling.  At this show, though, the women who had been dragged to the show either talked on their cell phones the whole time, or ran by... possibly assuming that each booth was the same, which at this show is easy to understand.

I was very surprised at the lack of browsers!  I mean, you're paying to be at an event, so why not look around?  Baltimore Comic Con is a 'browsing' show, and that's why I enjoyed it both personally and as a businessman.  Here, I was frustrated to watch folk run by without the slightest glance.  Still, I don't believe in a hard sell, so what can you do?

I'll wait and see to determine if I'll go back next year.  After the two Baltimore cons, my internet sales went up drastically.  If sales go up in the next few weeks, then Mid Ohio Con just may see me back again.

Cheers,    JOHN :0)

PS I've added a HappyGlyphs Flickr account!  Check out the link at right for lots of pics, from my Studio to Events to Artwork.  Lots of fun stuff to come. :0)

UPDATE:  Looking through the program, I see there were some panels and other events that I did not know about over the weekend.  Manning a booth means that you don't see everything, although at this show I thought I did.  There were announcements of a sort, but no one could understand a word of any of them.  There were also big names from the comic book industry, including Matt Wagner, who I would have liked to have chatted with professionally, and others that are quite popular.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cartooning 101: The Process

I do mostly Illustration work for a Client of mine, but I had started out doing cartoons for them, namely Safety Manuals in comic book form.  Now, I am an Artist, so love creating in different media, and really enjoy the fact that I get paid to do so.  However, as you may well know, I have a definite soft spot for cartooning.

Recently, in finishing the art for our bi-annual magazine, I was asked by the designers to come up with an illustration for dunnage.  Dunnage is basically packing material used for large scale shipping... as in cargo ships.  Technically, to those in the shipping business, dunnage may be interesting.  Realistically, it is not.  No one, as far as I know, has created fine art where the subject is dunnage. 

Now, Artists need to eat, and buy art supplies, so most of us do not turn down any opportunity.  However, on the subject of illustrating packing material, I told my Client honestly, that I saw no way to create art about dunnage, and make it interesting. I mean, the object of magazine art is to grab the Reader's attention as they're flipping through the pages, and make them stop long enough to appreciate the art and be inspired to read the article.  I did not see that happening in this case.

So, from the figures accompanying this post, you are guessing that I came up with the brilliant idea of using a cartoon for this subject?  Well, not right away.  I actually did a bad thing, and changed the subject, ignored the request, and knowing that the deadline was passing quickly, figured the idea would be dropped, or forgotten. I do not recommend this technique to you!  In my defense, we were past the deadline, and there were several other pieces to create.  I was up every night from 1 to 4 in the morning for a week past the initial deadline, trying to finish enough art for the magazine to be it's best.

The subject of dunnage, however, returned.  And returned.  I couldn't blow it off forever, so it haunted me until it hit me one night, tossing an turning, the above idea for a cartoon.  Many a creative person will tell you that a little alcohol and some tossing and turning in bed, mixed with the desperation of a deadline, can be inspiring.

Right.  Another Yes-it-can-work-but-there-are-no-guarantees idea.  Actually, a good night's sleep and a sober head should be great for ideas, but when the first deadline passes, and the second deadline passes, and you haven't slept for a week and you need a fine beer to relax, well.. sometimes you get lucky.  You also get ideas like The Statue of David, A Blowup Doll, and a Traffic Cone, which can make you shudder in horror in the golden light of daytime.

Then again... I would never have come up with the Statue of David being packaged for shipping over a cup of coffee.  And honestly, I like it.  David is recognizable to most people, not because of the fine workmanship, but for his nudity, unfortunately, but still, recognizable is good.  The blowup doll, and traffic cone are just funny, especially when mixed with a beach ball, a bucket, and some bags of garbage!

So, the process.  Normally I would come up with a few ideas, but the great fear that my Client was going to make me illustrate dunnage made me crank this out on paper (figure 1) in 5 seconds flat, scan it, and email it within 45 seconds of completion.  Lucky for me the Client liked it.

I then made a more detailed sketch (figure 2) which I then emailed to the Client.  He had already given the go ahead, but trust me.... Clients are busy people, and you want to make sure that they know there is a blow up doll in your cartoon BEFORE the issue goes to print.  Once you have the go ahead, you're safe.  If the subject comes up later, you can pray that the words "But you said it was okay!" will save your job.

Finally, I ink the piece, adding a few extras like the rat, and scan it in.  Color and cleanup on the computer, in Adobe Photoshop, and et voila!  A creative solution to illustrating dunnage.

Now, I consider myself blessed and fortunate that I was able to create a cartoon for a serious magazine. Honestly, I wasn't sure my Client would allow such a thing, but here is a very important lesson!

It doesn't hurt to ask.

Half of my Career has come about from me making suggestions or offering alternatives to the status quo.  And in this case I was able to come full circle, and revisit some beloved characters, by drawing a cartoon.

For me that was a thrill that you just can't pay for.

Thanks for reading,    JOHN :0)

PS on my iPod, The Who, Who's Next.  Why did it take me 29 years to buy this album?