Robot Spotlight Concept Illustration

So I decided to give myself a crash-course in using Adobe Flash and Final Cut Pro to create a video that turned out, well, not so great (the resolution stinks). But it’s my first time using those programs and I was in a hurry to actually complete something before the morning. Well, it’s almost 8 am and I’ve been up all night, so I probably spent too much time on this stuff.

In any case, Plain Joe Studios sent me on a bluesky to Gateway Church in Arizona to help create a new spatial story for their children’s ministry environment. I was there several days, and there was one night I woke up at 4am and couldn’t sleep because I had this idea for a rotating spotlight light-fixture; so I got up and created this in Procreate in several hours.

Speaking of sleeping in, I’m off to bed. I just can’t seem to get on a regular sleeping schedule…

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Clip Studio Paint is the New Photoshop … For Me

Although I illustrate almost exclusively in Photoshop, I’ve used Clip Studio Paint EX for lettering comics because it has useful tools designed for making that job so much easier. Otherwise, I haven’t really played with the program at all, even though I’ve been wanting to do so.

While up late into the night (because I’m a night-owl and can’t seem to get on a normal schedule), I decided to launch the program and check out its brushes. And honestly, while I’ll still be using Photoshop for a while, I have to say that inking and painting in CSP is so much more fun and its brushes are so much nicer and natural that Photoshop.

Here’s just a page of doodles done while playing with the program. Nothing fancy or “nice” because I was just enjoying getting a feel for the pen tool and brushes and wasn’t trying to create something to post.

Another nice thing about CSP that I think is better than Photoshop are (as I already mentioned) the tools available for creating comic books, not to mention tools for simple frame-by-frame animating. And best of all, you can render in vector without the STUPID, counter-intuitive techniques required by Adobe Illustrator, a program I (and many other artists who came from traditional media) simply loath.

As far as the many custom tools or blending options Photoshop offers for photo-editing which we artists utilize for illustrating, I don’t know how many such tools CSP has yet. Maybe not as many (for now). However, the advantages it has over Photoshop is still pretty impressive.

So while I won’t be switching to this program just yet, I plan to learn it and keep it as a backup program when/if my OS X no longer supports CS6 (I haven’t updated my iMac OS in years because their updates tend to take things away or mess things up. Gone are the days when I was actually excited about an Apple OS update and was willing to pay for it. Now I don’t even want it for free). The thing is, I suspect that day will eventually come, and I refuse to allow Adobe to extort a monthly tribute from me rather than sell me a copy of Photoshop, so I’ll be looking for a new program to replace Photoshop CS6 for illustrating. At first, I thought Corel Painter would be my go-to replacement program if I had to leave Photoshop behind, but now I think CSP will most likely be the software I turn to. In fact, if I can find the time to learn it, I’d like to start using it for my professional work right now, or maybe bounce between CSP and Photoshop and use the best feature of both programs.

So if you’re worried about what you’ll do when your Pre-CC copy of Photoshop is no longer supported and you want a software you can purchase and own, you may want to check out CSP.

Incidentally, Clip Studio Paint has a mobile version for the iPad, but it’s a subscription-based app, which baffles me because the only reason I’m willing to use their desktop version is because I can buy it. Hopefully they don’t do something stupid and start requiring a monthly fee for their desktop version. If they do, I’ll dump them in a heartbeat and use Corel Painter.

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Miscellaneous Ramblings About Comic-Book Stuff, Part 2

Unlike Part 1, this rambling about comics will address something I’ve seen in comics as of late that personally annoy me. The two examples provided are from titles of pulp characters that deserved a better treatment.

Disclaimer: The following is just my opinion. If you happen to like these comics, don’t let me rain on your parade.

These days many comic-book colorists handle a lot of the shading, highlighting, and special-effects decisions because of the available digital tools. With respect to effects, I’ve seen some comics where the colorist took it upon himself to add effects independent of whatever the penciller or inker intended. Here are two examples below. See if you can guess what’s wrong with the following page from a Doc Savage comic:

Did you catch it? Here’s a similar example from a Spider-Man title:

In the first example, you’ll notice the penciller drew clouds. In the second example, the penciller drew smoke. However, in both cases the colorists decided to include their own clouds and smoke over, under, or around the drawn effects using Photoshop brushes.

So what’s my beef? Well, in the first place, the penciller already designed the page by indicating precisely where they wanted clouds and/or smoke. In the second place, graphically-drawn clouds and smoke clash with realistically rendered clouds/smoke. Now, it’s not that you can’t mix styles on an illustration, but doing so requires intentional planning which doesn’t involve different styles of the same objects. For example, you can have a figure designed in one style in front of a landscape rendered in a different style and that can look just peachy. But you probably wouldn’t want to see Wilma Flinstone with realistic hair. The thing is, in the examples above, the colorist made stylistic decisions that were an afterthought, and it shows. Now I’m not knocking the talent of the colorist as far as the application of coloring goes. I’m really just commenting on the editorial decisions that were made independent of what the penciller’s design seemed to indicate.

Okay, I have one more beef with something else I’ve seen in modern comics. The thing is, there are different genres of comics and that’s fine. But comic writers really should keep comic stories in their respective genres. Now, there’s something I like to call “white wig movies.” Those are the kind of movies catering mostly to women, which usually involve people two centuries past wearing white wigs who apparently have no jobs; they usually sit around all day, overdressed, drinking tea and talking about who is or is not good enough to marry so-and-so (ya know, girly relationship stuff). It seems that the sitting or standing around and having conversations (stuff that puts the average comic fan to sleep) has crept into comics in a bad way. These talking-head comics seem to use repetitive panels that feature nearly the same thing, over and over. It’s really a waste of ink and paper, in my opinion.

Continuing along those lines, I recently picked up a Shadow comic and flipped through it. The first red flag was that the Shadow, the main character, was only on a few pages in the entire issue. What was really conspicuous, however, was that it seemed like I was looking at the same panel over and over throughout the entire issue. Here are some of the pages, which I’ll show kind of small so as to not take up too much space and also so as not to bore you to death (these are not presented in any particular order, because it really doesn’t matter for the purpose of making my point):

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just glancing at these pages this small allows you to grasp just how repetitive the pages and panels appear. Now I realize that the writer was trying to be clever and tell a story from the patient’s point of view, but that kind of story just doesn’t fly for a medium that has limited space, is dependent on visual design and appeal, and is consumed by persons who want to have some fun enjoying intellectual junk food. Personally, it would torture me to have to read this comic story, much less have to draw it.

A final example of this repetitive-panel practice is seen below: Because the characters are very well drawn, it’s difficult to know whether the boring repetitive panel design was the artist’s idea or if it was required by the script, but I suspect it’s the latter because writers seems to have more control over what the artist must draw. Plus, I’m assuming that an artist who can draw this well is a better designer than this.

So I can only conclude that this awful trend in comic design is really the fault of writers who have no idea how to write for a constrained visual medium like comics. A great character drawing isn’t enough to overcome a poorly written story or script. The story is king, and the art is simply a means to communicate the story. (Though, if the art is really great, I’ll buy a comic just for the art, but my idea of great art includes great layouts as well.)

So there’s my rant. If you agree or disagree or if you just think grown people shouldn’t be reading comics, feel free to comment.

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Miscellaneous Ramblings About Comic-Book Stuff, Part 1

I came across some old and new comics in the last six months or so and decided to ramble a bit and share some pointless thoughts. So here goes…

I saw these two older issues of Marvel’s Amazing Adventures, both from 1973, and I would have ignored them entirely had I not noticed that the stories took place 45 years into the future, i.e., right now in 2018. Well, actually, I noticed the future date of the story and then ignored them entirely. But I kept it in mind to share these pages because it’s interesting what kind of scenarios people think might represent a believable future. Half-naked people fighting in the streets with swords and axes clearly missed the mark. The page below, however, accurately predicted one thing about 2108. Can you guess what it is?

If you guessed “man bun,” you win.

Let’s move on to the false advertising in comics to which I and countless other children were subjected. While this may sound like a complaint, those ads managed to fuel my imagination with their wildly false promises like “a bowl full of happiness” (which sounds more like an ad for a laxative). That sense of wonder remained with me for a long time, mostly because I was never able to afford a lot of that stuff and consequently never discovered it was all junk (unlike like the poor souls who pedaled their hearts out delivering newspapers to earn money, only to find out they were duped).

The most popular and well-known rip-off were Sea-Monkeys. Check out the now-familiar-to-everyone-not-living-in-a-cave ad for “instant pets” below…

This wasn’t even the most blatant misrepresentation (in later years, the company ran its ads showing a small image of how these creatures actually appear; probably an inclusion that was necessitated to fend off angry parents and their lawyers. However, I wanted to show you one of the misleading versions of the ad I saw as a kid). Some ads actually featured these critters in lab coats and, as you can see above, these critters were “so eager to please. They can even be trained” (a promise sounding like it belongs in mail-order bride catalogs). Honestly, I thought this is what they looked like and I wanted to own my own little people so bad. I dreamed about training them to do cool stuff and they could be my minions (I have kids now, so that itch has been scratched, though not really because they wont perform juggling tricks for me). This is the only product from a comic ad that I eventually was able to see in person because some friends of mine were duped into buying them. Imagine my chagrin when I saw what looked like small bits of pulp floating in watered down citrus juice rather than a collection of Lilliputians that included what would be the closest thing to an actual naked lady a ten-year-old boy would ever get to see in person (I’m kidding. That thought actually never entered my mind. No, seriously, it didn’t. No, really, I’m being serious). Anyway, that dream ended on a sour note, but there was always … the nuclear sub!

What better way to bomb those school-yard bullies back into the stone age than with a nuke from an actual submarine costing less than a sawbuck? Well, I never had the opportunity to see what this falsehood-in-advertising actually looked like, but, like the sea-monkeys, I’ll bet it was a big disappointment despite the promises of “rockets that fire” and “firing torpedoes.”

“PATCHES ARE IN!” …

And now they’re out. Moving on to other comic ads…

“TOO SKINNY?”

And if you ordered their tablets and ate too many of them, they had you covered with what might be considered an antidote…

I wonder what you’d look like if you alternated between the two tablets? probably like someone walking through a carnival fun-house with those distorted hall-of-mirrors: “Now I’m fat, now I’m skinny, now I’m fat again. Woo-hoo, now I’m getting car-sick! Now I’m taller!” Speaking of which…

“BE TALLER!”

I was trying to guess how they accomplished the magical feat of making you grow taller, but those sneaky ad writers anticipated my wanting to save a quarter and eliminated my speculations as to how it’s done by listing how it’s not done. Is it done with exercise? Nope. “Drugs?” Nope. “Elevators?” Nope. “Appliances”??? I’m not sure why anyone would suspect the secret to growing taller is by being strapped to a blender or washing machine. Maybe attaching a vacuum hose to your head and hoping it’ll suck you closer to the ceiling would work for some people, but, no, that wasn’t my first guess. I suppose if I really wanted to know, I would have had to send two-bits to the “Height Increase Bureau,” probably located in the same building as the ‘Women’s Mustache Reduction Agency.’

“75 FREE GIFTS”

Sure, the “gifts” are free, but the list of free gifts will cost you a buck (and it’ll turn out that in order to collect the free gifts, you had to collect them in person at a dark alley from a shady-looking guy named Rufus who keeps these gifts in his car trunk, next to the dead bodies). This is how lots of companies made money. It wasn’t the products that made them rich. It was selling catalogs or information lists. Moving on…

“Learn how to become a GAME WARDEN, GOV’T HUNTER” and you could catch “America’s favorite pet” for free, saving the cost of $29.95 (but be careful, because that “Rascal” will tear your eyes out given half a chance).

“YOU CAN HAVE A HE-MAN VOICE.”

Or, you can keep your she-man voice if you like. Maybe alternate between the two when you want to have fun during a job interview.

Okay, enough silliness for now. Keep an eye out for more comic ramblings later.

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In My Mailbox Today! – Wally Wood IDW Artist Edition

Well, not really in my mailbox, because it’s much too large to fit. More like, on my porch…

As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I’ve been reading, perusing, and acquiring more comic-related art books because I’m currently working on a comic series and I’m always looking for new sources of inspiration. IDW has turned me on to artists’ work everyone in the industry is familiar with but which I never really appreciated until I was able to see in the Artist Edition series. This series reproduces artist’s work at their original size after having been shot/scanned in color from the original pencil/inked art, retaining the actual color of the aged pages with all of the blue pencil and correction marks. It’s the closest thing to holding the original art in your hands. What’s really nice about these editions is that they allow you to see the black and white work without any coloring to distract you from the beautiful pencil or ink work. It also gives you a better insight into the creative process.

IDW started producing these books around 2010 or so, the first being Dave Stevens Rocketeer Artist Edition, which is the first one I acquired a few years ago because I’m a big fan of Steven’s work. The second Artist Edition IDW produced was an edition of Wally Wood’s EC work. It immediately sold out and was so popular that IDW released a second edition, however, both editions have out of print out now for years and can cost over five times their original retail prices on those rare occasions they pop up on the market (which is why I’ve never purchased one).

Because of its popularity, IDW has released an Artisan Edition which is a small, soft-cover edition with a different cover and a little less content (for about a third of the original retail price of the Artist Edition). I had this in mind to eventually get since I never thought I’d find an affordable copy of the Wally Wood Artist Edition. Recently, however, a first edition popped up on ebay at a little over the original retail price so I nabbed it.

I’m not going to review it because it’s been thoroughly reviewed online since it came out in 2011, but I’ll link to a couple videos. I’d also encourage you to check out this excellent review of it (as well as other Artist Editions) HERE.

I’m savoring this tome as I study it (it arrived this morning and I haven’t gone through it all yet).

To give you an idea of the size of these twice-up editions, here’s a pic of the book next to my guitar. Yes, it’s huge (the book, not the guitar)!

The following are from YouTube (i.e., not produced by myself). But they’re interesting to watch if you want a quick flip-through of the book.

And another review for our Spanish-speaking friends…

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IDW Artist Edition: Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four “World’s Greatest”

In 2015, I wrote a post about how I had acquired some IDW Artist Editions. At the time, I mentioned how I was never a fan of Will Eisner’s The Spirit until I saw scans of the original art in both of the IDW Artist Editions.

In like manner, I was never a big fan of Jack Kirby’s figure drawing. Frankly, I never got all the hoopla over him or why he was crowned the “King of comics.” And then I had the same experience with Kirby as I had with Eisner. I saw the IDW Fantastic Four artist editions of Kirby’s original work and it blew me away. I suddenly “got it” and understood why Kirby was king. Every page of his work seems to be filled with action and dynamism. His compositions and story-telling are powerful and they never bore you. It’s something that really manifested by seeing scans of the original inked pages without the distraction of color or poor reproduction.

This really hit home for me when I was taking a stroll with my daughter and came across a comic shop, which we entered. I picked up an issue of The Shadow and the entire comic was essentially dialogue and boring panels of people just talking (or so it seemed from the flip-through of the pages). In fact, I think I only spotted one or two panels containing The Shadow in the entire comic. And this is something that I seem to see more and more. It’s as if no one is capable of telescoping a story into essential elements so that it gets to the point in a single issue or maybe three-issue-at-the-most story arc. Or perhaps comic-buyers today just enjoy slow, drawn out soap-operas. Who knows. Frankly, I’ve gone back to reading the stuff printed on newsprint that I read as a kid. No, it’s not fancy stuff and the stories may be campy, but they’re more entertaining than almost anything I see today (of course there are exceptions and some stuff today is great, but my comment is addressing what seems to me to be the general trend).

Anyway, from now on, count me in as a fan of Kirby.

I’m too lazy to do a flip-through video of the book, but I’d like to link to this YouTube video of a gentleman reviewing the first IDW artist edition of Kirby’s Fantastic Four (the book above is the second volume of Kirby’s FF work, both books being released in 2017 by IDW to commemorate Kirby’s 100th birthday). The reviewer does a fine job commenting on the artwork. If you’re a fan of Kirby and still haven’t seen either artist edition, watch this video and you’ll want to run out and get them.

Enjoy!

The soullessness of modern comic art…

I’ve been at the art game long enough to remember what being an artist entailed before the internet existed.

For one thing, artists used to clip pictures from magazines, books, pamphlets, and other sorts of ephemera and save them in what was usually known as a swipe file. If you needed to draw a lion running and wanted some reference, you went to your swipe file and hopefully you had clipped something from a National Geographic that provided enough reference for you to do a believable drawing.

Artists also often accumulated libraries of books and magazines on art, photography, and general reference on animals, anatomy, costumes, architecture, and so on — you get the picture.

And then there were times you couldn’t find what you needed so you loaded up a roll of film in your camera and went out and shot your own reference. That could cost you some money, depending on how much film you bought, not to mention the cost of developing, and then you hoped your pictures came out right.

Finally, when you just couldn’t find what you needed, an artist just relied on his imagination to best approximate what he wanted to convey (hoping that the viewer was unfamiliar enough with the subject matter to not notice any errors).

My studio and library full of reference.

I relied on all of the aforementioned sources for reference as well… until the world wide web arrived. The internet made reference ubiquitous and rendered swipe files and library sources obsolete (in all honesty, I was grateful I could throw away file-drawers full of clippings, though I continue to expand my book reference). The problem with internet reference (as I’ve written in a previous post) is that everyone is often using the same reference, so that there’s a sort of creative inbreeding occurring.

And digital photography has made the taking of reference photos cheap. No more cost of buying and developing film, so one could keep on clicking away until he gets the right shot, even if that means taking a bazillion photos.

So what’s my problem with this and why do I think this can be a problem in comics (and other art)? Well, comics in the late 80’s and 90’s seemed like they were going through a drought of talent where, in my opinion, there were few artists that I thought were really impressive. On the flip side, digital coloring and fancy printing was raising the bar on comic quality and was a far cry from the cheap newsprint comics I grew up enjoying. What this meant is that some artists who I will not name got a lot of attention and were hailed as great artists when, in my opinion, it was the novelty of digital coloring and fancy printing that made their art stand out as something special. And I’m not suggesting that digital coloring or slick paper is a bad thing, but only that it shouldn’t be a crutch when other aspects of good art are lacking.

Today, however, I’ve noticed the quality of draftsmanship in a lot of comics is over the top. By that, I mean it looks too real, like it’s heavily based on photo reference (and to elaborate further, I’m suggesting that some renderings look like they’ve practically been traced from photos), so much so that the characters lack style and the overall look seems to lack imagination. And it’s that style and imagination that I miss. No one will mistake Will Eisner’s Spirit for a photo-realistic drawing, but it’s filled with style. No one will accuse the team of John Buscema and Alfredo Alacala of using a photo when rendering a Conan page, but their efforts exuded talent and imagination. Certainly Jack Kirby’s figures provoked some debate as to the quality of his figure-drawing, but few artists have his imagination or are able to lay out an action scene with the same dynamics. Now I’m not suggesting that the artists mentioned would never have relied on a photo for reference if necessary; but if they used reference, it was only to spark their imagination and point them in the right direction.

Another problem with relying too heavily on photo-reference is that not every panel in a comic may do so. Consequently, you have a real change in feel when the artist is not using photo reference and now has to draw a character as well as the “photo” drawing from his imagination, which rarely works. Most of the time one can browse through such a comic and point out where the photo reference was used and where it wasn’t. Moreover, having to match the style of the photo-referenced-drawn panel restricts the artist from employing his own style (because photo reference has no unifying style, which is another problem in itself).

Does this mean I hate realistically-drawn comic art? No, it’s impressive on a certain level. But I noticed that what made a lot of past artists great is their talent for cartooning and unifying style. Cartoons may seem silly or childish to some, but they’re filled with animation and life that portrays an ideal. Renaissance artists were great precisely because they sought to capture this ideal and not simply recreate reality.

So why do I think much of modern comic art is soulless? A well-posed wax statue might initially seem alive, until you realize it’s stiff, making the lack of animation all the more conspicuous. And a photo-realistically drawn comic may initially impress, until you notice the same dead stiffness. I personally prefer a cartoony comic full of life, than a comic filled with a realism that lacks animation or style.

The best example I can give to sum up what I’m trying to say (and this is really aimed at those who are familiar with the artists I’m going to mention, even though the example is not from comics) is to compare Frazetta and Boris (here’s a good article discussing their differences in depth). The former painted mostly from imagination (yes, he used reference on rare occasions, but it was strictly as a springboard and nothing more), while the latter’s figures were almost entirely based on photos. After a long examination, it’s clear which artist’s work is brimming with life and energy and which represents “nice” paintings (no disrespect to Boris, whose work I still admire greatly).

In the same way, I think realistic comics are “nice,” but I’d rather take the comic art of a Will Eisner or even an Eric Powell (a contemporary comic artist oozing with style and talent…and weirdness), or any number of other artists any day over a lot of the realistic comic art of today.

Did I also mention how I miss those Sea-Monkey ads? … And don’t get me started on the perversion, profanity, and propaganda in modern comics. I’ll save that rant for another day.

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Comic Con 2017 – THE LOOT

I acquire a lot of art books. I mean, a LOT. Most of them serve as inspiration when I just feel like getting into a certain mood before tackling a project. Others provide ideas for color palettes, lighting, or anatomy reference for animals and people, and still others help with period costuming (unfortunately, I have no access to a theatre company’s costume or prop department, so I make due with period films or period artwork for reference).

So my trek to the Comic Con is really to see what’s new in pop art and to hunt for new and inspiring art books (as I’ve stated elsewhere, Comic Con these days is less about comics and more about pop art, gaming, films, toys, with some comic stuff thrown in there to appease the die-hard comic fans).

In the past I made a beeline to Bud Plant‘s booth, which was a great booth for art books. Unfortunately, Amazon has killed small book dealers and Bud Plant, after surviving going completely out of business, has been reduced to a small table in the back, near the food area. It’s really sad, because I’ve purchased some hard-to-find art books from them in the past.

The other book-seller I make sure to peruse is Stuart NG, who seems to have a healthy business due to his plentiful offering of imported books (usually from France) which aren’t something you usually find on Amazon or in your average bookstore.

And then I may purchase a sketchbook or something from the many artists who are there to show their stuff.

So here are some very poor iPad pics of the stuff I hauled back home…

The two books on top are children’s picture books in that unspeakable language, French. I’m a sucker for a charming children’s picture book. It doesn’t matter that I can’t read them, because I really only enjoy them for the art. The Dean Cornwell book is something I’ve wanted for years because I really admire his art. He’s simply a fantastic Golden Age illustrator.

The books in this unforgivably blurry photo were all free. The top two are James Bama books which were given away by Flesk publications. I suspect they had quite an inventory they couldn’t move and it would be cheaper to get a tax write-off by giving them away than to let them collect dust in a warehouse. I already own a Bama book with his DocSavage illustrations. These two are more personal western art, art which is well done, but not really of much interest to me. Still, who am I to turn down free art books, right? The bottom left item is a Heritage Auction House catalog featuring a lot of Disney and other animation art for sale.

Oh, and I didn’t shoot a pic of it, but in case you were wondering, I got DC’s The Flash pin with the Con bag (for those of you who know to what I refer).

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Comic Con 2017 Badge

So my Comic Con badge arrived in the mail today. Here’s a video of the package opening.

I’m not sure why they’re mailing it in a box when an envelope would have been more than enough room and would have probably been less expensive to ship. Maybe they’re trying to counter the ticket-price sticker-shock with a somewhat pleasant badge package.

I wonder if people are already selling the box, pin, and and ephemera on ebay. I’ll probably save mine since this is the first year they’re doing this. I suspect as ticket prices increase, the fanciness of this package will get even more, er, um, “fancy-schmancy”?

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Comics – Dandelion Odyssey

For those who’ve never bothered viewing my website, here’s a cover I did some time ago for a comic called Dandelion Odyssey (actually, I illustrated the entire issue, not just the cover).

This style was a departure of what I normally do, but it was fun trying something what for me would be out of the ordinary. I hate feeling like I do the same thing all of the time, so attempting to do different styles is a good change of pace. Falling into a creative rut or settling on doing one thing over and over tends to stunt creative growth (or perhaps is a symptom of some other issue).

Dandelion Odyssey

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