Sunday, November 29, 2009

Work In Progess: sketches for The Carnival

Not having a good time trying to make this figure work. Not sure why, I "saw" the body language in my head, but when I tried to draw it, the figure simply didn't work, making me wonder if I had perhaps exaggerated the movement in my head... resulting in a stilted and unnatural figure on the paper. The second scan if a more finished version of what i went with.

Anyone else ever have this trouble?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Do We Care: Do We Never Learn?

I'm reminded of the old Oingo Boingo song while I read through this series of messages on Live Journal and found myself thinking, again, about the level of emotional investment that we get in what are, lets say it out loud, CORPORATE PROPERTIES.

Hell hath no fury like the scorned fan, and yet, should be surprised? We put all this love into these characters yet they don't love us back. No matter how much the authors love them, even, one day they will have to turn them over to someone else, someone else who will retcon everything that you love out of existence. Jean Grey fans I'm talking to you. Birds of Prey fans, I'm talking to you too.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that suddenly girls read comics, especially now that there are more options other than superheroes out there (not that they don't read superheroes as well). And it should come as no surprise to anyone, although I think that it has, that women fall in love with well written characters and they blog and write shipping stories and they email and they communicate far more than men do about these characters. They care passionately about the characters they love and they get PISSED when those characters are doing things that make them look idiotic, or make them fall back into the morass of poorly written characters, or perhaps worst of all, marginalize them. That last seems to be particularly galling given the lack of strong female characters in the two majors.

Is that why they hold onto Birds of Prey and Manhunter? Given that Wonder Woman, the only strong female character with her own marketing plan of the Holy Trinity at DC is a cypher that has been rebooted so many times that she should have footprints in her logo, no wonder they hold on to the few books that have actually had characters taht they can care about and believe in.

Please note on that LJ thread, when one poster basically tells another "to relax", it sets off a whole chain that the original poster is basically never going to talk his/her way out of, whether they wanted to troll or not. If they're not a troll, then on one side i can agree with them somewhat. "Yes, I know you care, but its a comic and its a property and they're subject to editorial whims that can derail even the best characters and the strongest storylines. Try not to have a heart attack." And yet, they're on a board where the people care passionately about these stories and these characters and saying that is like waving a flag in front of a bull. Its the wrong audience and a very, very bad idea.

I alternately care and don't care as much as i used to. Working in mainstream comics and being part of the assembly line, you just do the work and move on and you try to care and control the part that, basically, you have control over. I cared too much and it made me a pain to deal with because I wanted to the work to be better, and that was pushing against the editor's inflow and outflow. And because they didn't think that the work NEEDED to be better. You go back and look at some of the Acclaim Comics and let me know what you think. Did they need to be better?

And this is why I quit working in mainstream comics. I could sit there with a new book on my board ready to ink and I desperately wanted to work to suddenly become the Byrne/Austin X-Men and for all the sweat that I put in to reflect in the final product. And it didn't. And I got a mental ulcer getting as angry as the people on Live Journal to no avail. It didn't make a damn thing better.

Now I care deeply about the art that i do on the webcomic and it can be reflected in the finished product. You may not like it, or care, or you may, but at least its worth having an opinion about. When i see my friend Tim Perkin's work on his graphic novel World's End I don't have to wonder if its what he wanted his work to be, I know that it is. And then its worth investing some emotional energy into. Personal work, love it or hate it, usually is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Irene Vartanoff and Romance Comics

Over at Sequential Crush Jacque Nodell has posted a wonderful interview with Irene Vartanoff who had worked at both Marvel and DC back in the early '70's. It covers a variety of topics and is just great reading both from the sociological aspect as well as the comic aspect!
DC Comics made a heroic effort to produce modern, relevant romance comics. But they never dared cross the line into the sexual revolution (or even the social revolution) that was the key to reaching the mass of women. All the comic book heroines were still crying over men and living soap opera lives and hanging out at the country club.
and Irene goes on to make her case as to why the romance comics died in a very conclusive manner. Comics could not approach sex, premarital sex, whatsoever, and so lost the little relevance that they had.

What I have always rather discounted was the effectiveness of the Gothic Romance culture from the 1960's, something that Irene brings up:
A strong line of female-oriented Gothic romances might have worked a few years earlier to transition the romance comic audience, but the Gothic comics eventually produced were mostly male-oriented weird mystery tales. And they were all started too late, after the subgenre had peaked, and after the romance comic audience had wandered away.... This would be like doing vampire love stories à la Twilight (but from a male point of view) five years from now. Too late.
Ah yes, this is comics all over. Late to the party and poorly done even when they finally show up.

The discussion in the comments section then veers off of this question from Pat:
One question I would have asked her is whether she feels that the reason comics are so male-dominated is that men are much more visually oriented.
And that is an interesting question. My personal take, without having the time to go research things on line and see what studies might or might not have been done: men are more visual when it comes to sexually oriented material, but certainly not more visual over all. Far from it. I think that women are extremely visually oriented, and that there is a likelihood that they will process visuals differently, taking different cues from them.

I believe that romance comics suffered from being stuck in a male oriented industry: male writers, writing from a male point of view, with male artists doing their level headed best to do comics that they might want to look at (and thus with a male-centric point of view when it comes to storytelling as well as character design). Certainly 40 years ago you wouldn't have had a huge stable of female artists with the chops and skills to draw from when putting together your gothic romance comics, even if you could have found a distributor. You only have to go find a collection of female written porn edited by Suzy Bright to see that there while there are certainly similarities to porn written by men, there are clearly differences as well.

The reality is that, had you founded a magazine (so as to get around the comics code) in 1972, and found someone to print it and distribute it, you'd have had a tough sell to put enough sex into the romance to have found an audience.

I also think that very few artists in comics excel at the smaller moments which are easy to describe as a writer, but harder, much harder, to pull off in a comic format. Anyone who has read Love and Rockets thinks it looks easy because Los Bros. pull it off so easily... and pretty much everyone else fails miserably. Since comics oriented towards women wouldn't be about people punching each other through walls, you really would have to find artists who could communicate on a more sophisticated level as well as making art stylish enough to intrigue the readers. Some of the Filipino artists in the 1970's that DC employed certainly had enough style to do that (although everyone looks a bit swarthy, but the women were always very sexy.).

Manga sales demographics have shown us that the old chestnut that women don't buy comics, don't like comics or aren't visually oriented is just that: an old cart before the horse myth brought to you by the old men of comics who couldn't figure out how to sell comics to girls. Way to go guys, way to go.

Figure Study: The Carnival page 14

A marker and pencil study for a panel of The Carnival: The Human Hourglass page 14. If you've not gone over and read the story, click here and submerge yourself for a bit in some future nior.

Let me say it right here and now: the regression on the head for this shot is incredibly difficult to do. Gil Kane made it look way too easy.

Gil Kane was a badass.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Unused Layouts

They got this far before i started to rethink the information on the page. How much did i really need to show? Was this the most effective use of the third of the page?

I decided it wasn't. Partly because the action is in pantomime, and partly because it doesn't set up what happens to Lauren in the following pages. I do like the upshot of that would have been the second panel... but it was not to be. This is one case where the thumbnails that I was so sure would work really didn't once i got the page to full size. That hasn't happened too much recently, but this certainly is the case here.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Work In Progress: The Human Hourglass page 12

...not finished, but getting there. Added the trash can in the lower left foreground to create an additional layer of depth that i saw in my head, but realized that i was missing in the pencils. I tend to want to creat a three level depth system every couple of panels or so as a visual orientation system. Gives you a sense of spatial identity, especially when you're asking the environment to be one of your characters.

Also started to change the shadows on the gunman. Certain things that worked in pencil aren't working in ink, so, well, you start to make the changes as you go. Original pencils are a few posts back if you want to compare.

Was doing an interview on inking and, more specifically, the work that I did in the 1990's on the Black and White series The Grackle: Doublecross with Paul Gulacy. Answering the questions certainly made me think of the aesthetic choices that I made over 10 years ago and also got me looking at my current work through those eyes again. Looking over some of that artwork made me see some fairly ballsy choices that Paul made with spotting blacks. But then, thats why he's a master at this stuff.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Work In Progress: The Human Hourglass page 13

halfway through the inks.

Sometimes a panel will surprise you and become far more interesting without visible effort. Usually it is working and working and sweating and using craft to get it to work and become special.

I believe in work and work and work to make things good.

They don't call it artfun.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Everything that is wrong with modern comics...

Well, no, not really. That would take a lot of work and time to go over. But i feel a rant coming on.

Ran across this page over at and I have one question to ask: has this artist ever even seen a real woman's body?

That stance in the 4th panel practically says it all: I've learned to draw comics by looking at cartoons and if I've ever been to an anatomy or life drawing class in my life then I'm not carrying it over into my comic work.

Not mention that relying on the computer to take care of almost all your textures and colors means that you've done very little to make the blacks and negative space on the page interesting or even work well. The tilt on the final panel is meant to convey something, perhaps that the Widow is off balance in her assessment of the mission and that bad things are going to happen soon, but the crop on the panel makes it not even work well.

As well, the artist shoots himself in the foot on the size of the air duct. He shows up how large the air ducts are in the second panel, giving them a size relationship to Natasha, and then completely destroys that relationship on the final panel. No way that she can stand up in that vent, as shown in the 2nd panel.

And this is professional work?

Work In Progress: The Human Hourglass page 12

Panel is process of being transferred from my rough layouts for The Carnival: The Human Hourglass page 12.