Yesterday, I drove back out to EMU and spoke to Richard Rubenfeld's grad students. It's something I've done in years past, and every year, I've had a really great time. On this trip, though, I was joined by Scott McCloud and Jim Ottaviani, and what fun it was! It's always a joy to work with Jim; he's so darn smart and eloquent, I usually feel like a gibbering idiot by comparison, but he's quite gracious and for some reason keeps agreeing to appear in public with me. Scott's in a whole class by himself, and to say that he's one of my real heroes is putting it rather mildly. Getting to talk with him for three hours, to a room full of artists, was an incredible experience. I had my MD player running, and so I should have most of it available as downloadable MP3s in the next day or two. I brought three discs on which to record, and the third one punked out on me, so I got about 3/4s of the talk.
We covered quite a bit of ground, and since most of the grad students had already read Scott's book Understanding Comics, they had a pretty decent grasp of what comics were, even if only a handful of them had read comics in earnest before taking Richard's class. This left us free to discuss comics at a more esoteric level than I usually get -- since I'm frequently talking about the absolute basics of comics -- this was also a treat. We compared comics to a lot of different forms of art, talked about the difference between porn and erotica, discussed the possibilites of the infinite canvas, and generally convinced a dozen people to go read more comics. It was really awesome. One guy even told me that my comic was the first one that he'd read as an adult, and one of the attendees, who was pretty skeptical of comics as an art form at the beginning of the class, came out a convert by the end, and one of the turning points for her was getting to see my book -- and how different it was from the rest. That was a real thrill.
Scott, it goes without saying, was an incredibly gracious and intellectual speaker. I could literally sit at his knee and listen to him talk for hours. In many respects, he really is an Engineer, in that he is capable of taking this really really complex idea, "How Comics Work" -- and distilling it down into easily comprehensible concepts. He's made it possible to talk in concrete terms about this big, amorphous, diverse, complex (not to mention sometimes competely crazy) art form that so many of us know and love. It doesn't really matter if you agree with all of his conclusions or personal philosophies, because the most important thing he's done by far is start the discussion, and give us the basic terminology and tools we need to be able to discuss the subject intelligently.
At one point during dinner, Scott mentioned how geeked he was to meet his hero, James Burke ("He kissed my daughter!"), the host of the TV show "Connections," and of course that made so much sense. James Burke was able to take these huge ideas about geography and geology and biology and a zillion other sciences and show a huge audience how they all interlocked and made the world we live in. Scott's doing that with comics, and it's really amazing to hear him speak.
After the lecture, Jim and Scott and I went out to dinner, and after going passed a few favorite Ypsi restaurants that were sadly closed (no DalaT or La Fiesta for us, boo!) we wound up over at the new La Shish that's in the old Bill Knapp's on Carpenter. Man, what a job they've done on that old place! It's a really great restaurant now, completely unrecognizable from the previous chain restaurant, and you should all totally go eat there. </plug>
It was a really great time, and I got to hear about Jim's new project idea, which is a pretty radical departure from what he's done previously, but sounds like a phenomenal story and one that will translate incredibly well into a comic, especially in the format he's considering. With his knack for getting talented artists to illustrate his stories, I'm certain it'll be gorgeous. Scott filled me in on the guys behind the Flight Anthologies and Pants Press, each of which have recently cracked my head open like an egg. Amazing stuff, and you should all totally go read about them. I'll wait. Back? OK, good. The sheer amount of talent coalescing in Portland these days is unbelievable -- we're all pretty sure there's something in the water -- and Scott had the skinny on most of them.
We then got to go have dessert at Jim's house, delicious scones and tea and icecream served by the lovely and talented Kat, and more conversation and sound effects and other geekly delights. Such an evening. I am well and truly blessed.| Comments (0)
A major motivating factor lately has been all the good comics I've been reading. I've spent about two hundred bucks in the last couple months on graphic novels. Collen Doran. Mark Smylie. Will Eisner. Eric Shanower. Harvey Pekar / Dean Haspiel. Guy Delisle. Those Flight anthologies. DVDs on Al Hirschfeld, Colleen Doran and American Splendor, plus the DVD of the panel I was on with Al Feldstein, Len Wein, Marie Severin and Dave Coverly.
The eye-candy has been so good, so luscious that I can hardly get my mind around it. Half the time I read stuff that good, I want to just chuck all my drawing implements down the garbage disposal, knowing that no matter how long I keep drawing, I'll never have that level of artistic capability. And then, those damn Flight Anthologies. Beautiful strings of polished beads, each a gorgeous little experiment. And half the artists are, like, twenty.
I remember being in college, all crazy for the comics, and not being able to find any way to work them into my course of study. Tried for an independent study -- twice -- but the one qualified professor got horrible late-stage cancer and passed away mid-term. I was more-or-less stuck at EMU, and it was both comforting and enraging. I was a smart student; paid for my last two years entirely with scholarships, and actually even covered my room and board as well by carefully working the numbers. The professors, and my fellow students, were outstanding, but part of me still wonders what my life would have been like had I gone to RISD or SCAD or someplace arty.
I don't know that I would have had any better of a time, though. I didn't fit in with the Fine Ah-tists or Graphic Designers at the blue-collar school where I was -- how would I have fared at an upscale art college? I've always considered myself more of a craftsman than a Fine Artist anyway, more focused on the process and the function of art than concepts and statements. The friends that I made in college are some of the most awesome, incredible people in the world, and I still keep in regular contact with at least two of my professors from EMU. The experience there was worthwhile -- but when I see brilliant webcomickers like Spike and Dylan who are so damn talented, I wish wish wish that I'd been able to get started earlier.
I was so unfocused, trying everything from Childrens' books to Fantasy illustration. It was all good experience, and I certainly regret none of the times or friends I made in their pursuit. But the work of those who have focussed primarily on comics from their very first art attempts -- those artists are really damn incredible, and I so wish I'd been on the bus sooner. And then I saw Scott McCloud speak. Lord, what a visionary. He really, truly gets it. Watching him lecture both energized me and made me sad, for the lack of time I have to put all his brilliant ideas into motion in my own work.
I guess what I'm trying to say with this jumble of thoughts is that I'm really overwhelmed by the amount of sheer unadulterated talent in the current comics field. It's incredible. The sheer quality of work that's being pumped out on the web alone is staggering. And sometimes it feels, especially when I'm already down and desperately trying to cram comics into the tiny shrinking holes in my schedule, that I'll never keep up. I'll never be able to get up and over the bar that's being raised on a daily basis by younger and more talented artists. I feel guilty for telling my friends that I want to stay in and make comics, that I won't be coming to the next music session, that I've no time to hang out. And there's all this brilliance around me and I am still grinding out only my second book in ten years.
But at the same time, it's an incredible moment in history. Comics are racing toward ever greater heights, and it's an unbelieveable feeling to be caught up in their surge. Overwhelming! Exhilirating! Scary! So much brilliance, will mine measure up? If nothing else, it's motivation. Hyah, artist!| Comments (0)
It's been a long, gold, dark, damp, sulky, depressive winter. Last autumn I had all these fantasies of spending a nice quiet winter holed up in my studio, making all kinds of art. December was pretty much a wash, what with trying to visit two families and friends and relatives over the holidays. January and February were pretty okay, production-wise, but it was a fight every night to get myself to the drafting table. One more chapter of this book, I'd say. Just another fifteen minutes of teevee. Anything to avoid the work.
The story was constipated, unfinished. I hadn't heard back from one of my critical advisors. The art was unsatisfying, as I'd come to a long boring sequence of talking heads that needed to be made interesting. The weather was gloomy and dreadful; cold and snotty and rainy. It was pretty hard to get motivated. And then I got sick.
With the advent of spring, things have been looking up. As the sun has returned, so has my energy and enthusiasm. I had a very productive weekend: finished painting two difficult pages, did a ton of visual research, thumbnailed three pages and got two pages three-quarters pencilled, including a difficult scene I'd been putting off drawing for ages. It felt good to find a groove again, and I needed a quiet weekend in to just get stuff done. Still a lot lot lot of work to be done. Carla used to say: It's like eating a whale. Just keep chewing.
Munch.| Comments (0)
Scott McCloud is awesome. Well, you knew that, already. But, yikes, is he awesome.
Paul and I hauled out to Ypsi on Monday to hear him talk at EMU, my alma mater. See, the thing about Eastern is that they somehow manage to land some of the most devoted, caring, intelligent professors you could ever hope to meet. Enter Richard Rubenfeld.
I had Richard for a Modern Art History class, twelve years ago (good God, I feels old!). He's quite possibly the only person who could have convinced me at that point that modern art was worth a damn. I'm still too much of a linear thinker to truly appreciate abstract art, but Richard instilled in me a genuine understanding of what modern art meant, something I never had before. I am still very thankful that he helped pry open my relatively closed mind. He's the kind of professor that everyone remembers positively, long after they leave college.
In the years since I've graduated, Richard's gone far, far out of his way to encourage me, and has contributed several very kind statements about my work to the press. He's also managed to pull together some of the most awesome art shows ever held at EMU. The first comic show, he got Art Speigelman to come, the most recent one he got Marie Severin, Len Wein, Al Feldstein and Dave Coverly, and now he managed to land Scott McCloud for seven weeks to teach classes at EMU and lecture. Oh, how I wish I could take those classes -- the chance to learn with one of comicdom's true visionaries.
Scott's lecture was hilarious; I'd never heard him speak before, and boy, what a treat. He put my lousy powerpoint presentation to shame with a fast-paced, quick-witted slideshow that ran concurrently with his talk, emphasizing rather than re-stating what he was saying. Afterwards we rounded up all the Detroit area artists who came and headed over to Abe's Coney Island for some eats. We made jam comics and ate gyros until all of us west-staters had to trek home. What a great time! Thanks, Richard, for making truly awesome things happen at Eastern. Thanks, Scott, for being one of those truly awesome things.| Comments (0)
I can't seem to find it on their website, but it appears that there's going to be a rather nice, lengthy article on me, Colleen Doran, Layla Lawlor and Laurenn McCubbin in the Ypsilanti Courier. Lemme know if it comes out! I'm on the other side of the state and can't get a paper copy easily.| Comments (0)
Hey, everyone. By now I'm sure anyone reading this page is wondering where the heck the next book is. Well, I know I said it might have been done sometime in 2006, but it's looking like there's no way that's going to happen short of a miracle or a lost job (*knocks wood furiously*). By the end of next week I should have 70 pages completed in what I hope will be a 180-200 page book. Yes, I know I'm barely halfway (tell your old man to try dragging Walton and Denier up and down the court for 48 minutes!) but that's what you get when you're working 40 hours a week and producing fully painted pages.
Actually, recently I've been making rather dramatic headway, relatively speaking. In the last four weeks I've put down about eight pages. That's quite a lot for me, and I'm pleased with the direction the book's going. Lots of progress, scriptwise and imagewise, and the new pages are some of the best I've ever done. Slow going, but good going.
Eventually, I'm going to write a long-overdue series of columns for Jen Contino over on The Pulse. When that happens, she'll get exclusive images of the pages for a week or two, and then I'll start running the pages here as a minicomic.
Until then, keep needling me. The only way I keep at it is knowing that people want to see it.| Comments (0)