Posts made in May, 2011

Theo a la Theo

Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

Here’s a picture I did of Theo and the other characters from Savage Nobles in the Land of Enchantment in the style of local cartoonist Theo Ellsworth. Consider it my modest tribute to this awesome artist.

I actually got to chat with Theo Ellsworth over burritos last weekend when we were both in Washington for the Olympia Comics Festival. Even though I was bumping elbows with much more famous comics artists during the festival, none of them intimidated me so much as Theo. I feel as though in this candid photograph of the two of us you can actually see the nervousness in my facial expression and posture.

Why would this be? Festival guests Larry Gonick and Paul Chadwick are both excellent artists, but I basically understand how they got that way. They practiced a lot, studied the works of artists they admire, probably read a few instructional books on art or storytelling, or got pointers from fellow cartoonists. By contrast, Theo’s artistic process is completely opaque to me. If his comics are to be believed, he basically gets inspiration by delving into some weird interior mental zone and meeting a bunch of thoughts incarnated as fantastical creatures.

This might be why meeting him in person was so intimidating – anyone else who’s met him can tell you that Theo has about the gentlest, least intimidating personality you could imagine. The cognitive dissonance comes from knowing that his mind is nevertheless capable of concocting bizarre mystical visions, and may be doing so at any moment. As he was talking to me, was he imagining tassled antlers springing from my head or little monster-men driving on my shoulders in tiny cars?

Even though I’ve spent the past year honing my “craft” by studying the Masters, and even though I have a long-standing aversion to the “Vesuvius” school of creativity – i.e. the muse strikes you and you simply spew out its inspiration on the page, there’s something I still seriously admire about this kind of self-taught, highly personal/intuitive creativity.

When I was a younger and less technically schooled artist, I loved putting little weird things in my drawings, cramming every inch of a picture with whatever quirky idea struck me at the time – sometimes without even knowing what to expect would come out of my pencil. I sort of miss that now!

(By the way, don’t take any of this to mean that I don’t think Theo’s work is also technically very good – it is! Nor is all of it psychologically ponderous – it can be very lighthearted as well.)

(Also, just so you don’t think I’m an obsessive fan-boy, I named the character Theo long before I had ever heard of Theo the artist. It’s a coincidence, I swear!)
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Olympia Comics Fest 2011

Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

I had a great time this weekend (my birthday weekend!) visiting Olympia, WA for the comics fest. It’s organized by Chelsea Baker who also let me stay at her house and sleep on her futon, and who also draws a terrific daily auto-bio comic that you should check out – it’s totally addictive.

The guests of honor at this year’s Fest were Paul Chadwick, Megan Kelso, and Larry Gonick! Paul Chadwick is extremely charming in real life, a very soft-spoken fella who put up with our sycophantic fawning with dignity and generosity. Megan Kelso is really funny and smart and I’m mad that I missed her panel on feminism in contemporary comics. But the reason I missed it was so that I could attend the hour-long panel with LARRY GONICK!

I sketched Larry while he was giving his slideshow. Until yesterday, it was literally impossible for me to picture the man as looking like anything other than his authorial proxy, the Einstein-haired professor who narrates most of his non-fiction books. The actual Larry Gonick is tall and lanky.

During Q&A, I asked him what he thought was the proper role for a modern Marxist in the world of comics. Larry, who used to be a card-carrying socialist, gave the laudable and succinct answer “to sit back and reconsider,” before launching into a pretty weird biology lecture about kin selection. From what I gathered then and later at the book-signing, he thinks Marxism’s exclusive focus on the economic aspects of life overlooks the importance of genetics and evolution in shaping history. If this is really his view, then I think he’s skewering a straw-man Marx, perhaps his parents’ Marx or the Marx of 1970s San Francisco. And why the evolutionary-biologist perspective? Perhaps this is the logical worldview of someone whose “history of the universe” begins with the Big Bang and the Primordial Soup. I worry that a biologically-based view of class struggle can end up being even more mechanistic-deterministic than allegedly “purely economic” orthodox Marxism.

Anyway, that’s a minor quip. I’m not even sure I understood him properly. And I still agree with Gonick’s politics 1,000x more than last year’s guest, the insufferable libertarian Peter Bagge!

Spent Sunday exploring the sweet town of Olympia. Hey, do y’all remember the comic I did about a time-travelling Olympian back in May of 2010?

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Katy Ellis O’Brien Coloring Book

Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Blog, Uncategorized | 1 comment

My friend and housemate Katy Ellis O’Brien is having a coloring contest to promote the upcoming release of her coloring book. I encourage all of you to enter it. Digitally coloring Katy’s images is particularly fun, since all of her linework is closed, animation-style, meaning you can select areas using Photoshop’s magic wand tool instead of the tedious lasso.

Katy originally drew most of these drawings for her after-school-care kids at the YMCA. Often the kids themselves will request the subject matter, resulting in some really quirky images like a dog riding a motorscooter.

Since I’m pretty certain that, as her housemate, I’m ineligible for the contest, I decided to color this image deliberately in a way that would annoy Katy. She has often expressed her distaste for the current trend in computer animation to apply photo-realistic textures to cartoony, malproportioned characters. I guess she thinks that cartoony characters should be rendered in a smoother, more graphical way. I definitely see her point. When this is done badly, it’s one of the worst looking things you could imagine.

But there are also times when I think it works, and I don’t know exactly what to peg this on. There’s something about that Joe-Sacco-type big-picture-little-picture imbalance that I kinda like, where each little piece of stubble is delicately rendered on a figure who is basically a few squares and circles.

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Praise Song for Every Hand-Painted Sign

Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Blog, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Today I painted a sign for my friend Rand’s new farm, One Leaf Farm up in Carnation, WA. I can’t take credit for the design though – somebody else created that logo. I think it’s pretty good. Logos for “organic” products are usually characterized by earthen tones and tedious images of red barns nestled in quiet valleys. (Yes, nestled. Always nestled.) This black and white logo will stand out from the colors of the surrounding booths and from the vegetables themselves.

Interesting fact about my friend Rand: the Black Flag t-shirt she used to wear around the farm inspired the one Tonya wears in Savage Nobles in the Land of Enchatment!

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A few NYC sketches

Posted by on May 7, 2011 in Blog, Uncategorized | 0 comments

I visited New York City last weekend and was kept so busy with friends that I barely got to draw at all. But on my last day there I did manage to sketch a bunch of people having lunch in Union Square. I like the quizzical woman in the center – she really did look like that.

And this dog with a tennis ball, and this other guy.

Drawing from life is really fun, and I wish I’d gotten to do more of it while I was in New York. The city is full of such interesting-looking people, even if most of them won’t stand still. These picture all had to be scribbled in under a minute.

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