WonderCon approaching

So I am positioned at table E-07 at WonderCon 2018 this year. After getting stuck on the waiting list for a few months, I have a new sketchbook prepped, a new comic almost finished, and another comic in production with an oft collaborator and friend Jamie Gambell.

Jamie’s podcast can be found here https://www.whoiampodcast.com/
Jamie and I collaborated on this piece for Nix Comics Quarterly.

Both of us work in post production and met through Karl Altstatetter of Extreme Studios. Karl used to host a meetup called Koffee and Komics in Universal City which turned into a broader collaboration culminating the Samurai Graphic Novel.

I knew Jamie worked on various projects around town, and I primarily worked out of the Universal backlot. For a few years, I would walk past the CSI soundstages on my way to lunch NOT knowing Jamie worked right inside stage 21 or 22 (CSI used stages 21-25 for almost ten years) depending on the schedule.

On one of my longer lunch breaks, and after finally figuring out we worked on the lot at the same time, I hung out backstage during a shoot once to talk about some comics stuff. Pretty laid back set, and every once in a while Jamie said the trams Universal is famous for would bleed into the audio of the shoot. Not something you can avoid, but you make do.

Jamie has had a podcast (at one time featuring your truly) about creative people processes and projects at https://www.whoiampodcast.com/. It’s worth taking a look at a lot of creative variety in there – musicians, actors, writers, comedians, publishers and more. If you are one of those struggling “below the line” like me, it’s always worth a listen.

 

The Art of Who Cares

I have always had a serious problem with “The Art of So and So” books.

I’m already pretentious enough without showing off a bunch of work no one saw in the waking world, that the idea of many sketchbooks just seems, well, selfish.

I get it. And I have done some of my own at the suggestion of other creators. But I have to admit I refrained from calling it “The art of …”

The real reason? Who cares. Who flipping cares. Note the lack of a question mark. It’s not a question anymore if everyone and their brother can publish a sketchbook of random stuff you didn’t make any money doing. To put it into really simple – and sometimes incomprehensible business speak to some – it is monetizing your sketchbook.

Why does that bother me? Why do I hate it? I think it’s seriously too much to ask for someone to proclaim what they do is really art by slapping it right there on the cover. It really only bothers me when people slap that moniker on there and the book is filled with rehashes, remixes or reinterpretations someone else’s intellectual property. And yeah I’m picking on fan art monetization. That should bug every artist but it doesn’t.

At some point you may find yourself at the nexus of copyright and theft – the real question then of your art is whether you are the thief or the victim. And I’m not talking about that Steal like and artist nonsense. That phrase has been abused so profusely the original author should have disowned it by now. But the lecture circuit is too profitable these days.

Stealing like an artist, as I define it, reminds me of something Frank Lloyd Wright said about his work. Nature was his inspiration, where you might say he “stole” his ideas. But he called it organic – as in organic architecture. That an architect experienced nature, it passed through their soul, and something new emerged. THAT is how you are meant to steal like an artist. It doesn’t mean selling prints of Poison Ivy having sex with Black Widow (mashups are fun, don’t get me wrong, but calling it art or stealing REALLY begs other  embarrassing questions).

SO my ranting continues. And I chose a theme for my sketchbook – a simple 24 page convention first for me. It’s themed around the ideas of the apocalypse – everyone’s favorite way to mull over the end of days, only I am using the doctrine of fair use CORRECTLY,  borrowing phrases from authors around the world, and coupling them with pieces I have created over the years. The effect, I think, is new, at least for me.

A funeral, flowers and a ring

So Wednesday is Valentines Day, and this is not a rant about romance or relationships or any of the usual vitriol about corporate reasons to spend money.

Well, in part it might end up that way. But for the few years after my father died I made sure I sent flowers to my mother. My father was a loving guy, and there was a cute look and grin he always had when he would tease my mom about this or that. It’s that look that says I love you, life is good, laugh with me and everything will be ok. It was usually after something broke, or more accurately, he broke something.

My mother always said that their first home, in a village on Guam called Mongmong, was her favorite. Their first son, daughter, their first car – a lot of family firsts were left in that house when the rest of the kids came along and made it necessary to move.

Few people in the world even live life as long as my parents were married – for nearly 60 years. And like a lot of kids, I felt like I both added and subtracted from their happiness at times. Bad grades and slight delinquency aside, I think I tried later in life to be more additive in that respect.

They were married for more years than I have lived even now and I know I’ve never made any commitment nearly as important or as lengthy as their marriage. For that matter I think they were married for longer than the popular notion that Valentine’s Day represented an obligation to spend money on restaurants, candy and expensive jewelry.

In the classic notion that money doesn’t equal happiness, my parents would always exclaim their higher form of wealth. As long as happiness, love and more often than not – FOOD – were in good supply, everything else was superfluous and wasted. Which was often why I was a total hero when bringing home fresh fish, caught that morning with my father. At least I thought so.

So when my mother finally passed, it was harder than ever to understand – given the national pastime that Valentines Day represents these days – that someone had by either ignorance, misplaced or by greed and malice, stolen my mother’s wedding ring. No one, not the nursing home staff, the ambulance crew, the hospital staff or the mortuary employees could find it.

I get that it is a small object, but the relationship it represented was more valuable than it’s setting or jewels. But our family did not pursue the matter further than official channels allowed at the time. It was more important to meet with cousins, talk about old times, and imagine them together again somewhere better than a place that lets symbols of devotion fall through cracks.

I’m not entirely sure I’m as forgiving as I should be on any given day – cut me off in traffic on a Monday morning and you might catch a clever adjective or two and some sworn penalty when I come to power. But being incredibly devout people, my parents impressed me more with their virtues as I got older. If only those virtues were genetic traits passed on to future generations. It’s that lack of forgiveness that would have me believe I am adopted were it not for the resemblance being rock solid.

I made a joke after the funeral to try an ease what I felt were still some tense nerves regarding the missing ring. My Dad had a pretty abrupt sense of humor, like a lot of his family did. In passing through the pearly gates, my father welcomes my mother with that grin, but then things get a little serious. His expression droops into a familiar disapproving stare usually made when one of the children has broken something expensive.

He stops her, and says “Hey,” pausing for effect, “Where’s your ring?” And before she can explain the whole folly of dozens charged with her care on earth, he chuckles, smiles and maybe even winks and says “Did you leave it at your boyfriend’s?” At which point they would laugh, forget about it, and get on with the rest of forever.

So this Valentine’s Day, there are – I am sure – any number of reasons to spend silly money on toys, trinkets, vacations, and all manner of ways to validate to the world how much your current relationship means to you. But I guess I just like flowers.

Making new samurai

I spent most of my time since Christmas writing the next comic – graphic novel, whatever people care to call it anymore.

But this one is going to take a while – even though I have most it outlined, mostly scripted, and I have roughs for the first chapter.

 So most of the work I have done on the book has been writing – I always save certain bits of dialogue for the last phase before the book is done and sometimes that has caused a few typos to slip through the cracks. But when working on the more tedious parts of production, little bits of lines here and there get tweaked as I spend more time with the work.

 

This book is going to have a lot of internal monologues – thoughts and information presented in a style a little different than I am accustomed. I wanted to experiment with storytelling that comes across almost completely as data – with meaning and weight that makes sense only when attached to the events portrayed in the imagery.

One of the general weaknesses of mainstream comics, one of the biggest things that bothers me about the medium as a whole, is the level of dialogue. Basically, I just don’t feel like the adults in comics sound like adults. While comics aren’t the best medium for drawing out conversations, no pun intended, the vocabulary, meter and weight of some of the actions depicted never seems to have a matching weight in words.

I get it though, for the most part. You write for the audience in mainstream comics or any medium. Some people say you have to write for yourself, or some version of that axiom. I prefer to say that I write to explore ideas and the world that supports those ideas.

Some writers are great at this. The characters get written with a careful attention to personality and education. But one thing is obvious, and it’s that when a writer who is not as smart as they want their characters to be tries to write those characters doing something very difficult, personal or remotely interesting.

If it’s out of your experience as a writer, it’s your job to seek out a similar experience, someone who has that experience or anything to get you closer to it to have a genuine response for your characters. Short of anything illegal, dangerous or impossible – you have to find something analogous. Then you have to be honest about it.

Is graphic novel still a dirty word?

So I don’t really care, arguing about whether graphic novel is still a novel is pointless mental masturbation. Call it a first world problem. Call it anything but an argument.

If you bemoan the idea of someone trying to dignify a really long comic book with a word like graphic novel it kind of ignores the impact that medium has had.

And that’s really what I enjoy – the medium of comics. I lost my taste for mainstream comics and even many less than mainstream comics a long time ago. But I always appreciate seeing something being done with the medium that in the mainstream that shows appreciation for the craft and medium.

I had a long talk a few nights ago with a friend who used to work in comics retail about how mainstream comics and fans have struggled lately – in my opinion they have always struggled. Struggled to be taken seriously, to be accepted, to reach new readers without losing old ones. It’s a publishing dynamic that hasn’t changed since the first time someone held out a floppy issue and said “Hey, wanna buy this?”

My friend and I then started to argue about something that IS actually important. Knowing your audience is something that is key to making anything get off the ground in business and publishing. I always hate listening to other comics creators muse about making something, then “Not caring about whether or not anyone likes it.”

That’s almost suicidal. You’re going to need to care about how much people like something eventually, because that often determines what you do NEXT. If they hate it, do you quit? If they love it do you make more? Pretty simple right? But so many creators miss a beat – everyone knows what they want to make. What most people miss is whether or not an audience exists for that thing you want to make.

My friend Vince argued that if I was making something, that I could assume there were other people out there like me who would be interested in it. With that, I agree, but what eludes many comics creators is reaching those people in enough numbers to make something financially worthwhile.

A long time ago, I concocted a model of making comics that has near zero costs until they actually get printed. Open source software, no material costs, only the sweat equity and meager cost of (more often than not) someone else’s electrical bill (thank you Starbucks – that’s not a plug, but a fact).

Time, of course, has enormous costs, and approaching convention time I rack up some bills – adding everything to a nice spreadsheet, looking at profits and losses – and weighed against the more intangible and sometimes more important metric of emotional success.

But I always weigh the results of small shows appropriately – when you have a small following you have to weigh things properly. I never took statistics, but I know that to weigh the results of something too heavily can spell really just make you spin your wheels. But at the level of a mainstream title, you can really (as a British friend puts it) “cock” things up.

All that said, I grit my teeth when someone talks about their followers and likes – especially when I see that they don’t have particularly large numbers. That constant social media drug that creators listen and get lost in is too often am irrelevant blip that creators mistake for the arrow on a map.

The only thing that moves me to action when the sample is so small is unanimity – to total lack of deviation, the uniformity of the signal. I’ve only seen that once in any of my work and to my regret it was for something I did not own. A piece of fan art, which I will not link to, has become the most popular thing I have ever created.

A lot of people would say I should chase that IP theft train, because why not? Everyone else is doing it – it gets you noticed and blah blah blah. I can’t help but feel it’s a dishonest way to make things – and while some companies consider it flattery until the courtship (translation: do fan art until you get noticed), I want to spend my time making MY work. I don’t care about making Disney shareholders richer.

I have made fan art mostly as an exercise in media studies – I have sold some of it. Enough to keep my website fees paid for a few months here and there, but I table at conventions where people who have never worked for a mainstream publisher in any capacity sell nothing but other people’s intellectual property.

I had a nickname for it – Popularity piggyback, but that’s too un-meme worthy for the general public these days. And even as legal counsel for Deviantart once pointed out, even if you did a mash up or self styled version of a property, the phrasing of copyright’s gives the original owners a wide range of tools to come after that work. Mash ups – another word for “expose me to more than one lawsuit.”

And yeah, go ahead and lecture me about fair use. When you’re broke all the time, doing mostly but fan art, aren’t very talented to begin with, yes – of course you’ll make a fair use argument. I’ll give you a more accurate term – small use. As in your work is too insignificant to merit the attention of an intellectual property holder.

Before I descend into nothing but ranting – too late – when I DO go to shows where this stuff happens (i.e. ALL of them), well, I just kind of shake my head. People make a lot of money at shows doing their IP dance, I make enough to get through the show with my own work.

So, I just keep working. On my graphic novel.

Another Pencase update

So the latest version is looking very clean – I made some serious print setting modifications which make it a little more durable. It’s not bulletproof and it was never really meant to be – but I am confident that with the right materials, the current version will suit people well if they fit a certain customer profile.

And that’s the big rub – one of the things I gleaned from a very small (and thus not dependable) customer sample was that people who got the first version were – uh – on a continuum of clumsiness.

I am REALLY trying to be politically correct about that because everyone who tried out the first version was without a doubt SUPER. But there was an obvious continuum on which they fell when it came to the amount of use and wear they put on the pencase. It ranged from carrying it carefully in some other case, protected from most of the elements to being wielded full bore while riding a Harley (really not kidding about that last one).

Now, there is no way ANYTHING I print using PLA (Polylactic Acid Thermoplastic for printing) will survive a full speed crash off of a Harley on the freeway. I didn’t create it for that. But I am pretty sure if I printed one of these in the current range of Nylons from some of the higher end service bureaus, I would get seriously close to that survivability.

Anyway, I had put this project on hold for a LONG time because of some other interesting and time dependent projects. And the Fuse 1, Formlab’s new SLS standalone solution is nearing market release. Now there is a longshot at being able to afford that full system – which when figured might clear 20K – but it is an ideal way to actually, personally, and repeatedly manufacture the Pencase for real on my own.

If there was enough of a market for them, I would love to go that route. But then again, an SLS Machine of my own? Avoiding the desire, distraction and capability of creating things in that format would be like Ulysses resisting the Sirens. As the meme goes, I would MAKE ALL THE THINGS.

So the next step on this round of the Pencase isn’t really clear.

Gawk or GTFO

I hate to use such a loaded acronym but to be honest – it is just a weird observations to make while sketching this weekend. The odd docent or two at a certain facility (if you know me, you already know which one I am talking about) can be just this side of hostile when I spend time in a museum.

I get it – I know full well the value of the stuff on the walls – probably in ways more meaningful as an artist than to many who walk around aimlessly gawping at the walls.

But I’m ranting. Places like museums have become entertainment complexes and profit centers as well as serving legitimate educational goals. And one of the sweet spots they hit psychologically is that of a “luxury good.”

In one of my favorite movies, “The Art of the Steal” forces aligned to acquire the famous Barnes collection of artwork. The wishes of the man who amassed these works was very different from the goals of the political forces that eventually wrested control of them. And I admit, I am deeply conflicted sometimes about the nature and purpose of many museums these days.

But most of the time, I am incredibly grateful that I get to visit these works of art that I only used to read about. Nearly every time I visit the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, I visit the mausoleum, pay my respects and say than you.

New day, New Haircut

There are a few things that challenge sculptors moreso than anatomy, clothing, details.

Hair. It’s just one of those things you can’t actually represent as a solid object without changing it dramatically just so it can be represented in the medium you’ve chosen.

A few people can rock this haircut pretty solidly – gone are the bullets and some of the locks. Still working on details and elements, and soon – there will be a full final pose. And that in turn will require more sculpting.

But that’s another post.

Check out Emma in Stained on Comixology.

Out of character

A base is something people too often skimp on. A dais, a disk, a square, it’s one way to save money when manufacturing figures but I don’t really like putting a character into – well – nothing. The base should say something about the character standing on it if you have time to do it properly.

I got this one a little wrong – and in light of the recent events, I thought it should change. I asked he creator, David Baron, about it and since the character is more into darts and stun guns than bullets and bombs, some details had to change. So I’m taking out the and and bullet holes of the base and going more tech/urban details.

But the cracked concrete, still kinda cool. What’s a modern dystopia without some broken concrete, right? Emma doesn’t do bullets.

Be sure to check out David Baron’s Stained out there on the internet.

The Super Group

Misleading title – polygroups, if you don’t know Zbrush – is just a way to help organize sections of your model. Combined with the polyframe viewing mode, sometimes you get interesting renders.

In this case, the model looks much more complicated than it really is. What’s more interesting is how easily the model is to manage at this point because of the way it’s organized now.

Panels of cloth, separate details, smaller parts and larger section all get a group. After this, I can get started on the base for the print.

Be sure to look for “Stained” by David Baron in your LCS, or on Comixology.