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!

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Plein Air Painting from Photographs Workshop

A few weeks back I taught a two-day painting workshop at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts entitled Plein Air Painting from Photographs. 
It was a lot of fun for me and my class to work together for the two days, which went by fast.

The idea to pitch the class came to me because I know many, many people who love to paint landscapes but for a variety of reasons find painting out doors difficult. 

I also know many people paint from photos, so I thought about the strategies I have come to develop and employ when painting en Plein Air that aid me when working from photography, as well as the limits and the benefits of a photo, which are many. 

How we see verses how the camera sees, lens distortion, the contrast of photos tends to be greater, the color more intense, what the processing of  traditional or digital does to the color verses seeing it with out own eyes. The limit of the position of the camera in that moment, etc. There is a trade off when using photos, and the trick is to not let them or the  photo limit you or hem you in, but become a springboard for what you want to paint. An aid, not a crutch.

I do a fair amount of work based on my own photos of subjects I wouldn't be able to paint live on location. So having spent several years doing this I thought I could show students how to use the photos in the right way, to adapt them and ways of working in a classroom setting instead of outdoors.

Now nothing beats being out in nature for your senses as an artist, the sun on you, the sweat, the wind, the smell of the location, the meal you ate, the humidity, bugs, etc. Your sense memory is very essential, vital to pull from when working indoors and using photography, and that is something I stressed first off in the class.I try and remember the feeling of a place I took the photos and imagine myself back there and the conditions of the weather, etc.

Of course one of the biggest arguments that continues to play on like an endless game of badminton or tag is the argument against or for using photography as tool in painting. My students all told me they had been told to,"Never paint from photos!"  Of course one man's never is another man's must!
Photos--Bad! If I had a dime for every time I heard that in school I could buy the most expensive camera ever!

This is big art crime in art schools and was something I heard when I was first in college in the early 80's before dropping out, and I still found the same argument going on when I went back to the academy decades later. But at the same time everybody seems to be using pictures to paint from. And lets not even get side tracked by the whole Photorealist movement which started in the late 60's.

Honestly its a very silly and boring argument for me, and one I never heard Illustrators going on about, just mostly "Fine Artists" and those of a certain generation who grew up during Abstract Expressionism. And you hear all kinds of conflicting arguments form all camps in school as a student which my students said they found very confusing. Looking across the vast plain of contemporary art you can see the camera is a tool used by thousands of artists from Eric Fischl, Jenny Saville, Alex Kanevsky and David Hockney to name just a few. My favorite Illustrator Norman Rockwell used photography extensively as a tool and there is a great book on it Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera. Just using a camera will not make you a Rockwell, that's for sure, there still has only been one of him.

To prepare the class I brought in a lost of paintings to show, paintings done plein air and those from photos and where and why I decided to shoot pictures that sometimes I would not come back to work from as a source for months, even years later. My Commuter Series was a good example where I have done many paintings from photos I took commuting on SEPTA into and out of Philly,

I gave a slide show talk on my laptop to start and next I did a demo for the class working from a photo I snapped in the Brandywine to show how I used the photo and the changes I make, which might be the same ones I would make on location. How the shadows were very dark in the picture but were not in real life, now the computers colors were much more intense and how I could decide which way to push these things as well as adapt what I see into a more pleasing composition. Move or eliminate trees, fences, etc., and in the end what my painting needs to work as a painting that trumps anything in the photo. Every painting is a process of choices, statements and corrections, of memory, even on location, you look at the subject, think and then look away to your canvas to make a stroke---in that few seconds you must use your memory to hold that "thought stroke" as I call it.

I finished up the demo and then we took a lunch break after which I had the students use their photo sources to develop their paintings with sketches first, starting with thumbnails and playing with the compositions. That took most of the rest of the day which ended with the students just starting to paint before the end of the first class. But I feel they got a lot out of the thinking part of the workshop on the first day.

The second day we started off painting again and worked till early afternoon again pausing for a lunch break, I worked a lot with each student as the class size was small, which was nice. By afternoon most had finished their paintings and wanted me to do another demo, which I did and they wanted me to do a night scene.

I choose a scene from 69th Street near my house which was very mysterious and sort of blasted out in parts which i told them allowed me a lot of freedom to interpret and play around and invent. 

 It started very abstract and I worked explaining my thought process as I moved along. It takes practice to do this two-brain way of working but the class was very good with questions which helped.

In the end the workshop was fun for me and for 
the class and went over so well I'll be offering another one in the summer.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Judge Parker Process

Here is the process from pencils to inks on the latest Sunday strip. I was able to adjust the layout a bit on the bottom tier to get the bigger panel. The Sunday format is very restrictive as none of the upper two tiers can change panel size. I used my trusty Hunt 108 and a brush for inking, except the ruling which was done with a rapidograph.