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...

Monday, March 07, 2011

To Be Continued...

Hey Blogosphere,

Last week I promised a full report on my trip to Rome, but I've been a bit bogged down, catching up with everything. I'm still under the gun, so I will just tease you with a few images, and promise to get back to you soon...

(all photos were taken by my lovely wife, btw)

On the subject of travel, let me recommend two other blogs from friends of mine: Marie Javins, globetrotter and comic book editor is at it again, spending the next 10 months hopping around the planet just to entertain YOU. Meanwhile, my family friend (and Fulbright Scholar!), Hilda Poulson reports from Venezuela, where she is studying community development. Whatever that is! Great reads!