Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Phantom, The Bat, The Kryptonian And The Minivan

This was one of the heaviest lifting weeks in the studio for a long time. On top of the two strips which keep me plenty busy, I also got a rush 10 page penciling job for DC Digital books, written by old buddy Phil Hester and inked by Comics god, Tom Palmer. I think it will show up on Comixology.

Tom and I last worked together over 20 years ago on Spirits of Vengeance.

you can see more of Tom's great work on his website

Its Supes and Bats vs Darkseid and DeSaad. It was a fun romp, better for an annual than a 10 pager as it was very dense and I had to get used to the DC Digital format which breaks things into two tiers for the cellphones and tablets.

The rough for page 1 on the left and the finished pencils on the right.

Still I was happy old Marvel buddy Steve Buccellato asked me to do it.  I got to draw the new costumes on Supes and Bats which made me miss the old ones--well at least on Superman.

This weeks was also a hard drawing week on The Phantom as week get Kit to his new school hidden away in the far off Himalayas. Great vistas and people, new character and street scenes, so it was a fun lush week written by Tony that called on all my drawing muscles!

 And here is last week's worth of The Phantom strips.

The band's trip back from Morrisville/Morristown continues in the Judge. This is from a plot I pitched to Woody back at the beginning of the year. Woody is scripting and adding his own flair of course. The band is on the way back and there looks to be some back seat hijinks. Oh, Oh, drama!

It was also a cleaning out week, out with more old and unwanted  comics and books into the recycle--I have acquired so much of everything it seems---so my rule is if I haven't looked at it in 5 years--it goes in the "out pile". Some stuff I will keep, but frankly its so easy to keep things you think you will look at again--then never do!! I brought crap home from my studio in school that I thought I'd want or would go through two years ago that I am just going through now--and most of the stuff I am tossing.

I think all mid career artists have to do this, out with as much as you can so what you have is good and easily found. One of the museum conservators at PAFA told me that when they get in an artist studio, all their material, sometimes after they pass, it's so daunting the family goes ,"Here you guys can have this stuff".

Then they have to go through a huge amount of junk that is basically mostly just junk to sort out the envelope with a doodle  that was some link in the artists work or process that is important, from the real junk mail. She told me to toss away as much stuff as I can along the way to avoid the huge pile of art debris she was going through. It was sound advice I should have listened too!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Catching the Digital Wave

 This week was the first all digital Sunday strip I produced for Judge Parker and the direction I plan to head with that strip, though I will continue to produce The Phantom "old school" with traditional tools. Nothing beats pencil, pens, brush and ink! I never loose anything, paper doesn't crash or have to be migrated to another format, tech, but I can't keep putting it off either. I'm hopping on the digital wave.

It was a bit tricky to draw this as I was using my Wacom tablet and have yet to purchase my Cintiq, which will probably happen this week. That means I was not drawing on the screen but looking at the screen as I drew which made it a bit slower and having to redo things a few times to get the line right. Here is where the 30 Plus years of muscle memory come in. I know how to make the strokes from memory, practice, its just a bit of finagling to get them in the right spot using the Wacom, the Cintiq will solve that.

After nearly 7 years on the Judge I have a huge stack of art and I need to save space as I go forward doing two strips, essentially doubling my output, and there is not much of a market for the art on the soap strips, though there is a big demand for the Phantom art, I have already been getting inquiries for dailies.

I also hope to be able to speed the art up by going digital--or that is the theory that all my fellow artists who have gone digital say will happen. Terry Beatty produces both his Phantom and Rex Morgan strips digital and he says its faster. I think doing backgrounds with programs like Manga Studio is faster as I can go over my swipe without having to draw it out then ink it. I used to do this in a way back when I used my projector and I could project the swipe/photo and ink it directly under the projector. Its also the way things are going commercially and I have to adapt to the needs of the jobs.

A year back I had to produce a Star Wars kids book and they need the art all inked digital so Disney could re-purpose any of the art later. I also want to produce some digital paintings and concept work for myself. If I continue to teach in the future, something I am sort of on the fence with at the moment, I will want to be proficient with the digital tools--besides I think it will be fun!

                                              The most recent week of the strip in process

I just turned in my 12th week on the Phantom and I think its my best week so far and Tony DePaul's scripts are a joy to draw, especially when he gives me room to stretch out like this week. The Phantom is a fun job but a hard one as any long running legacy strip is full reference issues. So far I have received love and also a bit of hate from the Phans. I knew coming on some folks are not gonna like it, they hate change just like when I came on The Judge, but it's mostly love, and some are great folks, welcoming me in and following my work over the years and some are whack jobs, going over every single line and are quite insulting. To those types well, they can take a long walk off a short pier. They are the type you can never appease and I know from many Parker Snarkers they are the type to just always say negative things no matter what.

I have a lot more Phantom reference now and that helps a lot, and its still a job I feel I'm growing into and will for a long time. I haven't even draw The Phantom himself more than a few times in the purple costume, I've drawn him in his civilian guise the most. Studying Sy Barry's work on the strip I can see his evolution on it as he grew with each story, and the different pencilers he had draw the strip also evolved and change his style. He started the strip the year I was born, funny to think 54 years later I'm doing the strip.
                              Below is the most recent week of the strips which ran in the paper.

Here is another Judge Parker week drawn by me and guest inked digitally by my best buddy Bret Blevins. Bret has been doing a lot of digital work for several years now and I think he really knows how to use the programs and give it that "old School" juice!

I have also been on a bit of a buying binge with all the great books coming out now on comics and strips. This is the haul from the last few weeks, the IDW Artists Editions are really fantastic! So great to see the Adams one and the Wrightson as well. I think Thrill Kill might be Adams best drawn story and the Muck Monster leads us right to Wrightson's never topped Frankenstein adaption. These guys were huge heroes to me as a teen and still are a big influence on my work today as well as Toth and the great DC War Gods of Kubert and Russ Heath. For up and coming artists we live in a golden age of great repro of great work to study, love and learn from.

 I have also had a chance to get out and do some painting which you can read about over on my Philadelphia Plein Air Painters Blog!

I have also been really going through a huge cleaning and purge of the studio which will go on for a while. I recently got rid of my stereo in the studio as I listen to all my music over my computer now, and which loading the equipment out I came across this old tape of the voice track from working as a storyboard artist on the Batman cartoon. I have many of these tapes and eventually the switched to CD's and then MP3's. I'm sure in another 20 years I'll have a similar pic of some old and no longer used platform or tech.

Monday, May 30, 2016

First Day In The Skull Cave

 Today marks my start on The Phantom as the regular artist on the daily strip as the torch is passed officially on the comics page from the late Paul Ryan to me. Its hard to still process that it all happened so fast, Paul passed away only two months ago and within a few days of his passing I was hired by King as his replacement and had to hit the ground running fast. Luckily Tony DePaul the long time Phantom scribe as well as the folks at King and fellow Phantom artist Terry Beatty who does the Sunday strip gave me as much help to get up to speed quickly as I came in on the very end of the current story line. I also did all of this while still keeping up on drawing Judge Parker.

This was exactly the same situation that lead me to get the Judge Parker strip when Eduardo Barreto passed away back in 2011. No artist likes to inherit work this way but the comic strips must go on and this situation is very similar to what happened to John Prentice jumping into the drawing chair on Rip Kirby when artist Alex Raymond was tragically killed driving Stan Drake's new sports car. King was is a panic to replace one the the greatest cartoonists ever on short notice.

I met Paul only once that I remember clearly at a con many years back though we rubbed shoulders at Marvel on books like Quasar with me following him on that book when he left to do other books like The Avengers and The Fantastic Four. Paul left us all a great legacy to enjoy and be inspired by for the ages with his art for Marvel and his long run on the Phantom.

I posted the pencils for today's first strip and the final versions and you can see there were some changes swapping the King and the Colonel. its hard to jump in on something like this and grab the characters and the feel of where the story is at and the actors as it were so I spent as much time as I could reading over the last several weeks of the story and Paul's art.

I also belong to s small club of artists who have also drawn both Batman and The Phantom. They include Jim Aparo, Terry Beatty, Don Newton, Carmine Infantino (As a Ghost for Sy Barry), Joe Giella ( Ghosting for Bob Kane), Graham Nolan, Paul Ryan and myself. That's pretty good company!

 Here is a recent commission just off the drawing board I completed for a fan of Bats and Killer Croc based on my cover for Batman 512. For now back to the drawing board!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Playing Catch Up

 Its been a month since I last posted here on my blog and it has been a very busy month between doing the two strips, teaching and attending the East Coast Comicon. Cliff Galbrath is a great guy and his con is a lot of fun because its NYC without the NYC and mostly just comic guys and not TV stars, though he did have Nichelle Nichols form Star Trek there. The best part of the con for me is seeing fellow artists and hanging out with my buddies Jamar Nicholas and Bill Wray. Bill even pitched in and helped me ink some Phantom and Judge Parker in the hotel to keep up on the deadlines.

The Ghost Who Walks has been a lot of fun though, and I am really enjoying myself so far and each week I feel like I'm settling in a bit more. Still, I know based on Judge Parker, it will take me at least a year on the strip to really sink into the feel of the strip and the characters live in my head on The Phantom in the same way they now do on Judge Parker. Maybe it will happen faster on The Phantom than the Judge, but every week is something new and I haven't really drawn any character that much yet, especially The Phantom himself. Luckily a great Phantom Fan helped me with links to the Sy Barry strips which really helps with feel and research and you can see how the character changed stylistically over the years as Barry changed and had several other artists ghost pencil the strip. Everybody draws the mask differently--even Barry.

Another one of the main differences is how heavily or almost over-muscled characters are now compared to the classic years. They were more Steve Reeves than Arnold, more athletic than pumped up and full of steroids as most comic characters are drawn today. That muscled but more lean build is how I want to handle the character, not super jacked, but  built more like Reeves, or Billy Zane in The Phantom movie. I also love how so many artist used the classic figure model and actor Steve Holland for the face of the Phantom as well. Holland is most know probably as the model James Bama used for his fantastic Doc Savage illustrations. Holland must have been the most in-demand and used figure model of all time as he can be seen in literally hundreds of paperbacks and illustrations including these Phantom ones below.

 Here are some of the dailies for my sixth week on the strip which still had to have the lettering, zip and touch-up yet to be done. A few of the strips were drawn in Photoshop as they required maps and a lot of extra work. The Phantom requires more production with adding zip-a-tone which takes extra time on any daily he is in, but it does look nicer.

Meanwhile in JP land I have pitched a plot to Woody Wilson for the next story arc featuring Sophie and her rock band. I did up this sketch for Sophie in her typical young rocker gear with ripped up pants, which never seem to go out of style. I also want to have some fun here as most of the strip is pretty dry style wise with soap opera type characters. That's why I pushed it with the Chubbs by basing them some characters Frazetta drew in his short run comic strip Ace McCoy/Johnny Comet, mostly the Pop Bottle character and making his wife more like Aunt Bee from the Griffith show. That gives me some fun characters to play around with compared to Sam or Abbey who are really straight characters with not much room to push as far as expression or acting.

Keeping up with doing two strips is a crazy amount of work, and everybody wishes me well and thinks I'm crazy to try, but its mostly just sitting in the chair and not getting up except for meals, coffee and the bathroom... and not painting for a while, which kind'a sucks right now to be frank. However I can see that I will soon gain enough time to get back to the oils!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Double Duty

As the birds chirp outside of my studio window and I have my first cup of morning coffee I look back on my second week of double duty doing both The Phantom and Judge Parker with satisfaction. It was a hard week, but I've had harder for sure, the main thing is getting the reference I need for The Phantom, but luckily both Tony DePaul and Terry Beatty have been great at helping me with anything I need.

I'm so comfortable with the Judge now I can sort of wing it, and I look forward to getting some years into The Phantom so I can feel the same. I have spent time surfing the web and finding a lot of great sources on "The Ghost Who Walks". I'd love to get some reprints of Sy Barry's run on the strip, but everything seems to be currently out of print and unavailable.

I'm looking forward to doing a little painting today and catching up on my commissions list.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

New Artist In The Skull Cave

The news has finally broken about King Features hiring me officially as the new artist on The Phantom, picking up from Paul Ryan who passed away suddenly two weeks ago. I was just as shocked as everyone else to read about Paul's sudden and truly sad passing at only 66 years old. I didn't know him well, but had met him a few times at cons over the years back in the 90's, and I followed him at Marvel on Quasar, my first regular book in my career as a penciler.

Ryan was a sold artist, in there delivery strong drawing and great storytelling and he excelled at doing those group books like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, etc. Those books are a lot of hard work, much harder than most fans realize. When times and styles changed in the 90's it was great to hear and see he landed doing The Phantom. Paul was a great fit for the character, did great work and I hope to follow him and fit in too. My dad was probably the most excited about the news as he was a huge Phantom fan as a kid.

Brendan Burford and the folks at King Features have been great and very helpful, but Tony DePaul the long time Phantom writer has really been fantastic as well as my fellow Skull Cave artist Terry Beatty who does the Sunday Phantom Strip.

The announcement on social media has also been great, I don't think I have ever had news of me working on a character better received. Hundreds and hundreds of comments and "likes" as well as overseas fans from around the world flooded my inbox.

No one likes to take over a gig this way, due to a death or tragedy, yet this is exactly how I inherited the Judge when previous artist Eduardo Barreto passed away back in 2010.

If I passed away suddenly, the same thing would happen and the syndicate would be forced to hopefully find a worthy successor for me on the strips as well, its the nature of he business. Luckily Tony and Paul were months ahead on the strip so I had a bit of cushion, but I will be burning a lot of coal to do both strips as I will continue to do The Judge and The Phantom. My first strips on the Phantom won't appear till the end of May-first week of June.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Happy 7th Anniversary!

Though time in the world of Judge Parker moves at a snails pace, it seems like time has flown in my world. In a way the idea that I am starting my 7th year on Judge Parker this week seems kind of crazy, but the huge stack of 2555 originals tells me this is true.

Here is my first daily and my first Sunday strip from way back in 2010. The strip came along at a great time as I had just been burned by a comic project that went south and left a huge hole in my finances and I was still in my undergrad at PAFA, which made that hole even deeper.

But the first few months, even the first few years were a lot of growing for me as an artist in getting used to the characters and Woody Wilson's stories as well as comic strips vs comic books, the big difference in the restrictions in format, but I feel very comfortable now on the strip. It was tough to follow Baretto's run on the strip as he passed away so suddenly, and he did great work. You never like to inherit a job in that fashion but the reality of a comic strip is that even death or sickness doesn't stop the deadlines.

I feel very comfortable drawing the strip now and the characters are real for me and live in my imagination now, which is great, as it helps me draw the strip in a way I couldn't when I started it, the characters are like actors for me now. This is never an easy job to be sure, many days or weeks its really just having to sit in the chair and push the pencil, but its much easier than my first few months where every week was more of a challenge as I didn't know the world of Judge Parker or characters as well.

Jungle adventures, marriages, break-ups, retirements, kidnappings all have swirled by in the past few years, but I still figure since we have never had a change of seasons, any holidays or Sophie going to a dance or going to the 11th grade we are actually still somewhere in 2010, the year I started on the strip.

We did however age her the most of any character in the strip to make her a more modern teen girl. The strip has been pulled and put back in some papers, it seems we are lucky to have some real loyal fans who bombard the papers if we are dropped of fall victim to an editor who tries to nix us from the comic section. Its a yearly fight for all of us comic strip makers as it seems the newspapers are always trying to dump the strips, or even worse sometimes, shrink us down to the size of a stamp. But the Judge still has is white streaks in his hair--so here's to maybe another seven years!