Monday, September 3, 2018

DragonCon: 1998 vs. 2018

 I was going to start this out by observing that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Or maybe, “Look at the difference twenty years makes!” But I won’t. That’s too clichéd. Seriously.
Dragon Con 1998 wasn’t my first convention. I had previously attended Dragon Cons ’95 and ’97. Dragon Con 1998 wasn’t my last convention. However it does hold a special place in my heart.

If I back track just a little bit, Dragon Con 1995 was my very first comic book convention. I attended as an aspiring sixteen year old comic book artist. I brought HORRIBLE sample pages to the convention. I knew enough to bring pages that showed sequential storytelling so I brought ONE page for every prospective publisher. I gleamed what advice I got and put that knowledge to my next set of pages. I took the following year off due to the 1996 Summer Olympics. I brought a new batch of comic book pages to Dragon Con 1997 and learned more ways to improve my art. I applied every lesson taught to me, thinking that each one was the last thing I needed to master; facial consistency, anatomy, line weight and its effect on visual unity, perspective, storytelling, set-up and pay-off. If someone told me everything I sucked at in 1995, I probably would have decided to do something else with my life. Through the perspective of history, Dragon Con 1998 was kind of a turning point in my life.

By the summer of 1998, I had just finished my second semester of college. I was in a very melancholy mood. My paternal grandparents had passed away that semester and school has NEVER been something I looked forward to. I was in love with the idea of being an aspiring comic book artist. Unfortunately without a writer, I didn’t really have anything to draw. I had a dead-end job at a movie theater that but I did like my coworkers. One coworker in particular, Dwain Currier, was as obsessed with Indiana Jones as much as I was. We kind of fed each other’s obsession. In 1996 we made an Indiana Jones fan film. Dwain provided storytelling input and starred as the titular action hero. I played the part of storyboard artist and director (and evil mechanic)!  The following summer, we made a James Bond fan film, and the subsequent fall, decided to make another one. These projects were fun distractions; exercises in storytelling while making both movies and memories. 

We had just completed our second James Bond short (Yesterday Always Lives)and I was eager to get to Dragon Con ’98 and submit it in their amateur video festival. Our creative chemistry came easily enough that I told him we should pitch Dark Horse Comics an Indiana Jones series. We could co-plot, he would write and I would pencil/ink. I showed him an interview with Indiana Jones comic book cover artist Hugh Fleming that appeared a few years earlier in Star Wars Galaxy Magazine #7. In the interview he talked about how a failed Indiana Jones comic book pitch led to him painting covers for their future Star Wars and Indiana Jones comic books. I read the words that made the most sense to me and ignored the parts of the interview that didn’t apply to me (either out of ignorance or inexperience). Even though I didn’t have an A-list artist going to bat for us and/brokering a deal I figured the fact that we would basically work for free would help push our pitch over the top.

Dwain and I spent all summer working on this Indiana Jones proposal. We would meet up at work and compare ideas, we would work at cafes until they closed and gave away the day’s pastries, we even “rented” a study room at TCC. We tried to stick with the Lucas/Kasdan formula of a cliff hanger every ten minutes. It’s harder to pull off in a comic book. The Indiana Jones comic books of the time may have done a good job of storytelling and research but lacked that Speilbergian art. The visual flare of Image comics at the time came closer but lacked story and heart.

Step one in crafting our adventure was finding the right artifact for Indiana Jones to chase after. Once we had that down as our foundation, adding our own decorations was easy. This experience was the first time I ever collaborated with a friend on a comic book from step one. No egos to deal with. Creative symbiosis. It was great! Too bad it wasn’t meant to be…

It’s fascinating in retrospect how “not ready” the artwork was. If I were playing the role of thirty-nine year old editor, I would be telling nineteen year artist me, that I was close but just not there yet. If I had the power to greenlight the project, I would give nineteen year old me co-plotting credit and hire another artist (hint: thirty-nine year old me.) Hindsight is 20/20, y’all!

Speaking of hindsight, I can’t believe how low-fi everything was in 1998. All of my notes and ideas were hand written on index cards. All research can Xerox copying reference books and articles from magazines. Sure, the internet existed, but in the way it does now (or even two years later from 1998.) You could tell how fast the college internet was by how quickly the Netscape Navigator icon was animating.

I filled sheets of paper with drawings/studies of Indiana Jones and assorted characters from the books I owned or picture clippings from the T.V. guide. (I cringe at how inconsistent those look. Yeesh!)

Back in the 1990’s painted covers were more of a thing than they are today. I have always had my favorite visual storytellers, but even back then, if they painted stellar covers AND provided the interior art, I held them to a much loftier ideal. Those select few were ARTISTES! Alex Ross was at the top of his game, but I always preferred artists like Steve Rude, Tony Harris and the living legend Brian Stelfreeze.  I think those guys were the cream of the crop (and I still do!) I figured painting a cover as well as providing the art inside made you a better artist. I still believe that. In fact, I apply the same attitude to this day to my own comic Flash Trotter.
It is hard to believe that there was a time that I didn’t use Adobe Photoshop. I remember not understanding the point of doing tutorials in high school back in 1996. Tutorials just meant extra work. It wasn’t until college when I was exposed to people slightly older than me showing me how it could be used. I didn’t get a computer upgrade until 1999. That computer had Photoshop. It’s hilarious to see that just the year before, we were taking reference photos for the covers with actual film! These would have to be lit, photographed and developed days apart. After that, I was literally cutting and pasting pictures together like a collage. It feels soooo 20th century. 

I had taken pride in the fact that we were making this comic book for US as FANS. This is the book that we felt Indianan Jones SHOULD be. The Marvel stuff in the 80’s started out great but were never given the care that the property deserved (in my humble opinion.) Maybe that was due to low sales and the book got just the right amount of attention it financially deserved. Who knows? I know that comic books deal with colorful superheroes and colorful sci-fi and horror really well. Maybe an adventure comic book is a hard sell. Whatever the case, I do know that it is sad that the Marvel version died a slow bimonthly death in between Temple of Doom and Last Crusade; NOT an ending befitting the greatest adventurer of all time. The Dark Horse versions were a little better: multi-issue miniseries with painted covers similar to the movie posters of Drew Struzan. Unfortunately the covers often outshined the interior art which is something that the glorious Struzan posters were never able to do to the movies. As fans, Dwain and I were both entertained by Dark Horse comics’ last entry into the Indiana Jones universe: “Indiana Jones and the Sargasso Pirates.” One story detail that tickled me in that book was the opening panel. It featured a picture of an iceberg that was very triangular. As a fan of the movies, I recognized that this would be the opening shot of the movie that the Paramount Studios logo would dissolve into. I was so taken by this opening panel that we opened our story with young Indy in a restaurant spying on an illegal artifact exchange. The first panel would have been a tiny drawing of a napkin folded into the shape of the Paramount Logo. Maybe you can see it in the thumbnails for issue one. I didn’t thumbnail the entire issue, but thought that laying out most of it would be more advantageous in the long run. I would redo 70% of it today.
Video complete, and comic book proposal in hand, I set off to invite my best buds: Dwain (of course) my best friend from “high school”; Eric, my best friend from middle school: Chuck, my best friend since elementary school. I had spent my entire life absorbing pop culture story-telling with these dudes. I had spent my entire adolescence honing my craft as a visual storyteller.  I had spent my entire summer vacation working on this proposal. This was it: an epic road trip with my best friends! What could possibly go wrong?


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Friday, August 24, 2018

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Monday, August 20, 2018

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Back in 2006 (Page 1)

Seeing as how I just had my second short story printed in an issue of Savage Dragon, I figured I'd take the time to share the first one. Here is page 1 in all of it's pencilled and inked glory. This ended up being my first published comic book "job." I was really into reference back in 2006.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Friday, August 10, 2018

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Savage Dragon 237!

    So here it is: The newest issue of Savage Dragon featuring art in a back-up story by yours truly. I've been buying Savage Dragon since day 1! And I've following creator Erik Larsen longer than that! I had the honor of having my first published comic book art appear in  an issue of Savage Dragon (#130 to be exact; about ten years ago.) As a fan of anniversaries, I realized that Mr. Larsen was approaching #230(!) back in December. As a new year dawned, I kind of invited myself to the party by writing and pencilling a back-up story featuring the Deadly Duo (the stars  of my last back-up story ten years ago). They had appeared in the book for years, I think they open themselves up for some PG-13/R Rated humor. I'll have to post pages from that old story sometime in the future.
    I guess Mr. Larsen liked it enough and remembered me, and wondered id I'd be interested in drawing a different back-up story that another artist kind of dropped the ball on. Of course I said "yes" and proceeded to draw thumbnails. I really wanted to impress him by how much better I've gotten as an artist over the last ten years. He tore those up. I got a free master class in "clarity of story telling" and "dynamism." So that was cool. After I fixed those thumbnails, I saved time by enlarging them in non-photo blue so I could go straight to inks. That didn't take too long considering my life outside of comics. The part that always takes me a longer time than it should is coloring. I really wanted to bring on local Tallahassee colorist Dash Martin to color the pages. He had worked in the Savage Dragon universe before me and wanted to dip back in. Unfortunately, by the time March rolled in, I was knee-deep mural planning, Youth Art Month, and Spring Break vacations. Dash had his own commitments too. In order to speed him along, I decided to "flat" the pages. Once Dash had some free time, he colored the pages in record time while we were vacationing in New York. He pumped them out in three or four days. He texted me the final colors while I sat waiting for the post credit scene in Ant-man and the Wasp. Those pages put just as big a smile on my face as a multi-million dollar superhero movie. They look great! If you don't believe me, go get yourself a copy. (Mature Readers only!)

Monday, August 6, 2018

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Friday, July 13, 2018