Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Just Foolin' Around...

...with my new Cintiq.

I'm actually surprised at how much pleasure I'm getting from this new digital drawing tablet. I've been using it to create some nice, finished work for different freelance jobs, but it has also been a great tool just for sketching out quick ideas and concepts. Never underestimate the power of the "undo" function!

Here are a couple rough sketches just for fun...

Yeah, I've been watching all of Breaking Bad lately. Awesome show...

Above, are some VERY rough ideas for a character I'm creating for a future story (tease!). The beauty of the Cintiq is that I probably spent all of two minutes roughing this out, and decided that it was worth saving as a JPEG for further development. Easy peasy, lemon squeezie. Or whatever.

And lastly, this is basically a "phone doodle" that I messed around with while talking to someone about something completely unrelated! This was after reading Mike Mignola's terrific illustrated horror novel, Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, which I really enjoyed, BTW. Worth reading!

I'll share some more finished stuff soon!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Time Flies...

Yeesh! Imagine my shock when I pulled up my blog this morning, and realized that I have not posted in over 2 months! (Sorry 'bout that) I'm still in full-on busy mode, and that's a good thing. No complaints. Keep it coming, I say.

I have a few items that I can share today. First, some basic design work that I did a couple of months ago...

Nothing earth-shattering here; just some basic package design for some DVDs that are currently on sale from Kino Lorber. I haven't done a lot of these before, but they're kind of fun! I think key art is interesting to me simply because of the subject matter; I love film.

Here are a couple of unused designs I worked on for another client earlier this year...

These were an interesting challenge for a few reasons. There are 2 packages, each with a different number of films/discs included. The designs here are for 2 covers (each), split down the middles. The idea is that you could line up the two packages side-by-side and they would create one cohesive design. There were several of us working up comps for this project, and I think the client (WB) went in a completely different direction. On this project, I really enjoyed creating the different type treatments for Tim Burton's name.

I've also been doing some commercial storyboard work and sketch art for the entertainment biz. Here's an example of a sketch that was used for a photo shoot...
Here's the photo, from the website of the new Disney TV show, Jessie...
Interestingly, when I drew the sketch, the show was not yet cast, except for the lead, Debbie Ryan. The rest of the kids were just described to us by "type." This was my first time doing this kin of "sketch art" for entertainment marketing. I think it's cool how similar the photo ended up being to my sketch. For fun, here are a couple of alternative sketches, they didn't use...
I've done some sketch art for a few other projects,lately. It's been educational. I also recently met a guy who does this regularly, named Jesse Vital. He does all of his sketch art digitally, and he talked me into buying a Cintiq, so I could do the same. I got mine in early September, and it has truly changed the way I work in a profound way. It's an awesome tool, and I'll need to devote a blog post just about how great it is. Since I got the Cintiq, I have finished several illustration projects (including some comics stuff), without touching a oiece of paper.

Here's an example of a comic book page, drawn (or "painted") completely digitally, for LION magazine...

And a nifty "background" that I used for the same job...
I'll tell you more about that particular project next month.

Lastly, I'll share this:
It's a page from the second issue of Firestorm from DC Comics. I'm doing the digital coloring on this series (yes, using the Cintiq!) over line-art drawn by the talented Yildiray Cinar. The comic is a great part of DC's "New 52" relaunch and worth checking out. Unfortunately, issue #2 had some printing problems, and the actual comic doesn't look this great. Very sad, but I hear that the digital version available on Comixology looks terrific, and that they will try to fix the glitches in the collected trade paperback.

That's all for now. I'll leave you with this blurry phone pic of me working on my new toy...

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Hey everyone. yes, I am still alive. Can you believe it's September??? Haven't been posting the the old blog lately, because I've been crazy-busy this summer...which is a good thing! Normally, I like to share images from my projects here, but lately I have been working on a lot of things that I'm not (yet) permitted to share. Besides the usual comics stuff, this summer I've been working on video game projects, advertising sketch art & storyboards and a bit of graphic design. It's made for an interesting change of pace that I'm enjoying a lot. Here's a little sample; mostly heavily cropped and out of context...
The obvious bits are the comics stuff. The Kitty Pryde piece is for a Marvel magazine that, alas isn't published here in the U.S. (line art by Scott Koblish), and the Firestorm piece is from the new series debuting this month as part of DC's "New 52." I'll be the regular colorist on the book, working over the line-art of Yildiray Cinar. I have a bunch of other cool stuff that hopefully I will share with you soon. 'til then...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Old Glories

While digging around the disaster that is my office, I recently found some of my early work for Marvel. This 8-page story featuring Captain America appeared in the Marvel Comics Presents anthology, back in 1990. It's one of the first published comic book stories I ever drew, when I was but a wee lad!

The story was written by Len Wein, pencilled by Yours Truly, inked by Gerry Talaoc, lettered by Janice Chiang. I colored the story, as well. Obviously, this was from the pre-digital era, hence the hand-painted photocopies with the mysterious codes written all over. Definitely old school.

Naturally, a big part of me is horrified to look at my old artwork, and I fully admit that I am reluctant to share it in a public forum. Especially here where I have my current portfolio galleries; I wouldn't want prospective clients to think these are examples of my recent work!

Still, looking at these color guides after all these years, I can't help but be fascinated and amused by them. It's like an archeological dig into the depths of my own career and artistic education. These pages are drawn in a classic storytelling style that completely went out the window, right about the time this comic was published. No splashy "pin-up" panels or "decompressed storytelling" here. None of the action is drawn out or cinematic; cause and effect all happens within each single panel. Entire conversations elapse in the time it takes for Cap to throw his shield.

It's interesting to look at these pages through the lens of today's visual storytelling sensibilities. Those conventions that I used back then were the norm, built on decades of tradition. The classic text, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way was the Bible. I was just a kid at the time, so I don't think I ever intellectualized it, but I learned to tell a story this way.

And then, I suppose I "unlearned" it. Or, I built upon those lessons with a more modern sensibility, having the same influences as my contemporaries who were coming into their own at the same time (Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Mike Mignola, etc.), and, in turn, being influenced by them, as well. I've often wished that I'd spent more of that time honing my drawing skills, rather that taking a detour into comic book coloring.

People say that modern audiences are more sophisticated. I'd agree, as a gross generalization! But looking back at this particular work, I have to admit that I miss the simplicity inherent in these old stories. They were designed to be a jumping-on point for any reader, sophisticated or not. The problem with my generation of comic book creators is that we were overly-fascinated and influenced by the game-changing "Mature" superhero books of the time (Dark Knight, Watchmen, Elektra, Etc.) With every new knock-off, narratives became more convoluted and storytelling more obtuse.

Looking at these old pages, I must admit that the art is pretty weak, but at least it's clear.

Ahhhh, I must be getting old!

In other news: this week is Comic-Con! What better way is there to make me feel like a kid again?! The crowds alone are enough to make one feel small as a toddler! Seriously, though, The crowds are pretty unbearable these days, but I'm really looking forward to making the rounds and being inspired by the fantastic work that the "kids" are producing today.

That, and I can't wait to see the new Captain America movie! I think the trailers are awesome!

I'll see you in San Diego!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Yikes!" Magazine Illustration

More sophisticated humor for the teen gossip crowd...

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Last night I attended a very entertaining Writersbloc event featuring the hot new Scandinavian Crime writer, Jo Nesbø, interviewed by the incomparable James Ellroy. Nesbø has been something like the literary flavor of the month around my house, thanks to my in-laws, who have hooked my wife on Nesbø's crime novels, and my son on his little-known children's books. Actually, I have not read Nesbø's work yet, but his novel Redbreast is officially on my massive "To Read" pile, and the description of his work sounds right up my alley.

Furthermore, this article from CNN last Sunday lists some of Nesbø's influences as Jim Thompson, Knut Hamsun, Henrik Ibsen, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, and Frank Miller. Sounds good to me!

Of course, I'm a huge James Ellroy fan, so this event was something of a surprising treat for me (for some reason, I didn't realize that Ellroy was part of the program). As a public speaker, Ellroy is larger than life; his speech is deliberate, eloquent, unapologetic, and peppered with "colorful" expletives (they don't call him "Demon Dog" for nothing!). He asked Nesbø about 8 (excellent) questions about his background, writing process, the recent spotlight on Scandinavian Crime Fiction, and the genre in general. Both men were impressive in their thoughtfulness and candor.

Nesbø did not approach writing as a serious pursuit until he was 38, after successful careers as a musician, stock broker and economist. But his family life was always rooted in storytelling, and understands that there is something intrinsically human about the act; storytelling is in our blood.

Some highlights:

Ellroy proclaimed that the entire genre of crime fiction is complete bullshit, and nothing like any of the typical investigations we read about has EVER happened in real life. Yet, it's an agreement between the writer & reader. We're all in on it; everyone knows it's bullshit--but it's OUR bullshit. And we love it, with all the trappings.

He also disparaged all other types of fiction, saying that crime fiction is "The Real Shit."

Love that.

Nesbø admitted he was not an expert at any of the many disciplines that he evidently writes so eloquently about, but writes how he believes things could or should be, in those worlds. Afterwards, he turns to experts in those fields tell him if he's way off. Imagination is more important than accuracy.

He said that his writing is a "reaction to reading," humbly stating that he stands on the shoulders of tradition. That is, all he has read, by many masters of this and other genres.

"The punch line is NOT the story."

Regarding research, and extrapolating from it: "You lie better if you know you are lying."

All in all, a very entertaining, lively and enlightening conversation between two master storytellers. I'm looking forward to getting sucked in to Jo Nesbø's stories, and Ellroy's new memoir, The Hilliker Curse. His earlier autobiographical work, My Dark Places is among the very best books I've ever read.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

LA Arthritis Walk

Guess what? Today is my birthday!

Another one of those pesky milestones when we can look back and ahead, and reevaluate the progress of our lives. Tuesday isn't such a great day for a birthday, but I had some very nice times celebrating with friends & family last week. I feel very lucky, indeed.

Today I'm thinking about someone who isn't so fortunate, yet who has a wonderfully positive attitude. Our family friend's daughter Sophia was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of two. This is a debilitating disease that has devastated her young life, as well as the lives of 300,000 kids in the U.S. alone.

This June, my wife and I are participating in the LA Arthritis Walk, to support Sophia , her family, and all the others. If you'd like to help, please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Arthritis Foundation by following this link. Your support would be great gift to Sophia...and to me, on my birthday! :)

Below, you can see Sophia, herself...


Friday, May 06, 2011

More Samples

In my continued effort to diversify my portfolio with design samples, I've put together this game package. Nobody has given me any feedback on this yet, so I hope I'm not posting this prematurely! Anyway, consider it a work-in-progress, and let me know what you think!

The logo is actually a type treatment for a webcomic side-project of mine, that I'll tell you about sometime when it's more "real." I decided to repurpose the logo for this fictitious western-style video game. The image on front is a composite of photos "found" on the internet, and the back cover images are (obviously) from the video game Red Dead Redemption. I haven't played that game (yet) but it looks super-cool. Rockstar Games published Red Dead, so I used their logo apologies!


Thursday, May 05, 2011

Revised DVD Cover Design

Here's a revised version of the To Live and Die in LA DVD cover that I posted last week. Just to be clear, this isn't a "real" job, but something I've been doing on my own to build up and diversify my portfolio. I've been fortunate enough to have been able to get some very good feedback on my original comp, by some generous people who do this stuff for a living (including one legendary designer who I met last weekend--more on that later!)

Take a look, and please leave me any feedback of your own, if you have the two cents to spare!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


I just read this article about my good friend and mentor Klaus Janson, and thought I'd share it here.

I've worked with Klaus several times in my career, most notably on Batman: Death and the Maidens and Batman: Gothic for DC, and on the Daredevil Visionary books for Marvel, which collected his legendary collaboration with Frank Miller. I first met Klaus when I was just a teenager at Marvel, and was always impressed with how personable and supportive he would be toward me and my fellow interns. I believe that's a terrific way to judge a person's character; to see how they treat people they don't need anything from. Sadly, not all of my teenage heroes lived up to that particular test.

Later, when I was editing the Shadowline Saga titles for Epic, I had the pleasure of really getting to know Klaus, as worked with us on St. George. Shortly there after, when I decided to go freelance, Klaus was very supportive, and took me under his wing. I worked alongside him in his studio on Gothic, and I can confidently say that every important thing I know about coloring comics, I learned from Klaus. I can even give him some of the credit for getting me into digital coloring, as my first digital project was Batman/Spawn, which he illustrated. It was largely due to Klaus's support that DC gave me a shot to color this high-profile book, using my fairly untested Photoshop skills!

Klaus is a great guy, and I'm proud to have him as a friend! He's been there for me many times, including when he flew out to LA for my wedding. Congratulations on his induction to the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy! (Even though he once put me and my family out in the snow during a blizzard...Now, that's a story...)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gallery Links

I just put together some new portfolio galleries at I like their simple UI design a lot more than the Picassa galleries I've been using for my online portfolios. Check 'em out & let me know what you think.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

More Photoshop Phoolery...

I'm just fooling around, burning the midnight oil, and working up some sample design comps for my portfolio. This one's a DVD cover (obviously) for one of my favorite films. The real DVD cover is kind of a tough act to follow, because it re-uses the awesome original movie poster from the 1985 film. No great points for originality, but it looks great. I think my version is pretty cool, but it's hard for me to judge.

I could use some constructive criticism, if you feel like throwing some my way...

This was fun to put together. What do you think about it?

EDIT 05/05/2011: I've just posted a revised version of this cover here if you want to see how this thing has evolved!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I'd like to direct you to some interesting writing going over on Jim Shooter's new blog. He is currently posting a series of edited transcriptions from a 1994 seminar he presented on storytelling.

This is a subject I've been thinking about a lot lately, in regards to my own work and a new project that has been percolating in the back of my mind. Jim's thoughts on storytelling are valuable, succinctly stated and well worth reading.

Jim has certainly been a controversial, and often polarizing figure in comics. He was the Editor-in-Chief at Marvel back when I started as a high school intern. In the time that followed, there was a period of legendary, well-publicized bad blood between Jim and his editorial team. Personally, I must say that I have never had any unpleasant interactions with him, and I certainly respect his reverence for creators like my old boss, Archie Goodwin.

In any case, that was long time ago. Today, Jim's contributions to comics are undeniable, and it's interesting to read his thoughts and shared knowlwdge with the perspective of time.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Sorry that I'm falling behind on my posts here; I have some interesting stuff to write about when I can sit down & do it! Meanwhile, check out this interview that I did for the Design Department at UCLA Extension.

Come back here after and let me know what you think.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Fooling Around with Photoshop...

Using Photoshop strictly for comics work has been driving me batty lately, so I've been trying to "stretch" my photo manipulation skills a bit. I put together this fake movie poster, just for fun.

It's made up of a bunch of photos found on the internet, so the original is pretty low resolution. Below are some of my "raw materials" and quick sketch that I used as a guide...

I think overall it turned out pretty well for my first attempt at something like this. Adding Martin Freeman's face was tricky. Not sure I buy it completely (but I think he's going to be a great Bilbo Baggins!). What do you think? Feedback is always welcome here on this blog! Don't be shy!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Comics Symposium / WonderCon 2011

In two weeks, comic book fans will invade San Francisco once more, for Wondercon 2011. It has been a few years since I've attended this convention, but I'm looking forward to going this year, at least briefly.

My main reason for traveling up to SF that week is because I will be taking part in a Comics Symposium at the Academy of Art University. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before in this blog, but I am currently working with AAU to develop a course in comic book coloring for their Online Academy. The class is scheduled to be offered in their fall semester, and I'll post more details when it gets closer to the date & available in their catalog.

The Symposium should be a fun event. I'll be appearing with several other comics pros on a panel discussing digital comics. Some details are below--check out the attached flyer for more. If you happen to be an AAU student, prospective student, or grad, you should check it out. See you there...and at WonderCon!

Thursday, March 31st
7-9 PM
New Montgomery Theater
Academy of Art University, San Francisco

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Speaking of Storytelling...

Check out this TED Talk by founder, Jessica Jackley. She speaks about the power of stories to dramatically improve people's lives and, frankly, her own story is quite inspiring...

Pretty good, eh? (here's a link in case the embedded video doesn't work for you)

If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area on March 30th, you can have the opportunity to hear Ms. Jackley (and other people with great ideas) speak live at an after-work event called IdeaMenschLA. Follow the link for more details and bookmark the IdeaMensch website which is a platform for interviews with inspiring people. I plan to be there.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Process & Storytelling

One of the cool things about my gallery show in Rome was that the people at the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica were very interested in showing my artistic process. While preparing for the trip, I hoped this would be the case, so in addition to packing the original finished art from my Rotarian stories, I also grabbed up as much of the layouts and sketches as I could find.

Generally speaking, I consider most of these preliminary sketches as garbage, and more often than not, that's where they end up; in the trash. The funny thing is, that usually it is the first, rough thumbnail sketches that I like the most! They are deliberately drawn on bits of xerox paper or flimsy tracing paper. To me, the fact that they are disposable provides freedom to be creative. I don't...CAN'T get attached to my drawings at this stage, and as a result, these comps often have a liveliness that can be difficult to maintain in the tighter, finished drawings.

The truth is, that the initial solving of the problems of storytelling, page design and layout, are the parts of the process that are most interesting (and fun) for me. They also comes most naturally.

It was a real pleasure to be able to share some of that process during the exhibition, and I realized that I don't often show that kind of work here on my blog! I think that artists are used to only showing completed work for a couple of reasons. First, we are taught to show only our "best" work in our portfolios. Usually that means finished work, since half-finished work doesn't exactly inspire confidence that you can complete jobs! Secondly, we only promote the finished work because because that's the end product; the final version intended for public viewing. The preliminary and exploratory work is just process, usually for the artist's (and client's) eye's only.

But, what if the "process" is some of your best work? Or, at least, some of your favorite work? The work you may be best at?

I am very proud of my work on the Rotarian stories. The Paul Harris biography, in particular. There were many, many challenges, and I think the end product reads and looks awesome. What could be a very dry, boring subject turned out to be emotional, entertaining, thoughtful and visually rich (if I do say so, myself!). It is certainly some of my finest work to-date.

That said, most of the real challenges were solved in the initial thumbnail stage of my process. It was while working on the thumbnails that I submerged myself in all the interesting research, looking for authentic photo reference from the time periods that spanned Mr. Harris's long life. It was in the thumbnail stage that I had to work out the details of the visual storytelling; how to design the page layouts, how to draw the readers' eyes through the story, where to place the copy, et cetera.

I think this part of comic book creation is the most interesting because STORYTELLING is what comics are all about. I know many amazing artists who draw comic books, who are actually lacking in these fundamental skills. Some can draw about a zillion times better than I can, but they treat each comic book frame as a stand-alone illustration. Beautiful illustrations, to be sure, but their focus is to be admired as single images rather than to serve a larger vision--STORY.

I may never be able to craft my illustrations to be as gorgeous and refined as masters like Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Robert McGinnis, Leyendecker, Frazetta or Drew Struzan. These true masters of illustration could tell entire stories--epics--with single images. Guys like that provide me with an endless well of inspiration.

I do believe that I am an excellent storyteller, though...

An open question: Does story trump imagery?

For me, the answer is contextual. A single, powerful image can beat almost anything, in most media, for quick impact. But if we're talking about engaging an audience and making connections, whether it's in a comic book, film, or an advertisement, then I put my money on story for a lasting impression and deeper involvement.

What do you think?

And now, here's some of my process! Below are a few pages from my Rotarian story. First, are my comps; those rough thumbnails thAt I enjoy so much. Then you can see the pencil, ink & color stages...those individual steps that many comic book fans may already be familiar with...

This spread is my favorite of the story. I loved drawing Victorian-era Chicago, the people and all the details.

This next spread--like most of my work--is all about using diagonals to draw the reader's eye across the page. Another favorite of mine. The last panel makes me grin...

Next is a favorite of most people familiar with the story--the "map" spread.
This was a fun storytelling device that crammed a lot of information into a small space. Much of the detail was added digitally...

While we're "behind the scenes" here, I'll also share this; I am extremely picky about where the narrative captions, word balloons and other type is placed on my artwork. Very often, these decisions are made by the editorial & production teams, or by the letterer or designer. Luckily, with this story, my editor Deborah Lawrence indulged my nit-picking, citing me as the "expert!" Sometimes my decisions have to do with simple clarity, sometimes they are purely aesthetic, but mostly I'm concerned with the flow of the storytelling, and using shapes in the artwork and the captions themselves to direct the reader's eye. Below are two examples of where I asked for editorial changes to the balloon & caption placements...

Does that just look crazy to you? Anyway, I know what I want!

Lastly, I'll share some of my process for the magazine cover art, including an unused pencil sketch (I don't have my rough comps for this, anymore)...

Well, I hope that was interesting to you! In my next post, I will reflect a little on my experiences in Rome. Maybe I can find some video from when I was interviewed for Italian TV...