Thursday, September 29, 2005

Cantankerous Mike--SPX Mini-Comic Reviews Part 2

Continuing on with the reviews I started yesterday, today I'll review two more of the comics I picked up at last weekends SPX.

I also want to make mention of some of the feedback I've been getting from people in regards to my reviews of not only the comics but the con. It's been gratifying to know i am not alone in my frustration with the way things are. To some I may come off a bit cranky about things, and I guess that may be true to a degree, and it's a crankiness brought on by a constant frustration I've had with not the medium of comics as much as the business of comics and the almost complete lack of co-heasion, co-operation, clear, forward-business-thinking and solidarity amongst the artist and writers who work in comics, the near rudderless and myopic, short term business practices of the big companies. Too many artists sit and wait, too many are not proactive enough in their careers, happy to just let the fates determine their careers. I have friends who are guilty of this too. And it's hard to do, but I don't see us as having any choice but to be more proactive and less reactive. And I'm not saying any of this is easy mind you.

I think we need more artists to be cranky, more artists to be mad and frustrated who then take some form of action. Too many artist in comics are complacent, too many are bad businessmen, too many are waiting for the good wind to come in and lift them out of the shallow dank waters of the babymen shops. The fact that there has never been a union or an organization of any sorts that has ever been successful in comics says a lot to me. The strip cartoonists have the National Cartoonist Society, the animators have the pretty shitty and toothless union, Local 839 that at least gives them insurance if they do 300 hours of work at a union studio. How many cartoonist have insurance? I myself don't right now as my union insurance lasped due to the fact i didn't do enough union work, so I am looking to join my local Chamber or Commerce, and get insurance through them. The failure of any positive movement to come out of the Pro-Cons, ( going back to the 70's when Neal Adams tried unsuccessfully to get a union going--partly torpedoed by Infantino's move to employ overseas talent) the lack of any real brotherhood amongst us comic book artists as a group of artists all working in the same medium, all seeking basically the same goals, readers=success=financial stability=the ability to continue to work is really pathetic. It seems you can't get more than 3 guys together to do anything.

I also see a real disconnect at times from our own history as medium. It seems a lot of lip service is given to this in a few circles, "Toth, yeah, Eisner, yeah...", but many younger cartoonist struggle in ignorance, unaware of our rich graphic history beyond the usual names mentioned, and I'll go even further out and say while they may know the name, they don't understand the art. Don't know the craft. Personally what I take from the very successful life of Will Eisner is that he was a successful businessman, conducted himself well, didn't have other businessmen dictating to him what he could do and his business was Will Eisner the artist. Joe Kubert also comes to mind as a successful businessman, who can still today do meaningful comic work and not have to turn to A.C.T.O.R. to buy a pair of support socks or a hot lunch.

I don't see enough sharing and passing down of business acumen as well as craft from one generation to the next. I see more divisions still. I tire of the dumb devisions between so-called mainstream and indy or alternative. In a pool this small I think that is really just childish, something that comics has at it's roots, and I wonder if the juvenile roots of the medium that appeal to us all, the kid inside who became excited and in love with the unique combination of words and pictures that can create these rich fantasies also retard, aid in helping some artists not mature into good businessmen? One might also say that the situation of men like Eisner or Kubert, growing up in tough times instilled in them a drive to overcome their station in life to become successful. We may not live in a depression like the 30's, but the medium, the direct market certainly isn't the healthiest, and everybody is suffering from the lack of real sustainable growth across the board.

Ok, now that I've tung lashed from the pulpit of my laptop, let's get on with the reviews!

First up is Love Is In The Air, ( 22 page + cover) published by De Plaattjesmaker and drawn by Gerrit De Jager. The book in is Finnish or Danish, so I can't understand the credits, but the book itself is another silent comic. By this I mean it has no word balloons of dialogue of any sort. This comic uses to great success the unique power of comics as it shows comedically what a man and a woman are thinking about at the same time while on a date. I love this type of strong clear cartooning! Jager's scrumbly ink line is clearly in the "La Ligne Claire" (The Clear Line) school of cartooning, often used by the Belgian and European cartoonists, most notably by Herge the Belgian artist who created Tintin. Jager's stylization of the human form is also great and it looks like he drew this comic in 2 hours. It reminds me of Shulz and even Ketchum at times.

Again that zip-zap kentic energy is conveyed from this pen to the readers eye and the speed at which he drew the panels also enhances the speed of the thoughts of the potential lovers indicated in thought balloons above their respective heads. If he had labored over this more, done a lot more detail I don't think the jokes would work, I think it would go from funny to PORN, like a Milo Manara comic, where you want to linger over each supple ass and perky boob for tittilation. I hope I am able to find more work by Jager in the future and this just goes to show how many good cartoonist are out there, overseas, in Europe, Japan, who knows where, that we in the states never see or rarely see. I picked this up at the Bries table at the con along with more comics I'll review in the coming days.

The last book I'll review today isn't a comic , it's a sketchbook, or a mini-sketchbook entitled Lunch Hour by artist Marc McMurray.

As much as I love finished art, I think my favorite thing is seeing other artist's sketches, doodles and their sketchbooks. Sketches reveal more about the artist thought process than the finished work. I love seeing the sketch that didn't make it, or was tossed in the trash. I love seeing the honesty in a sketch that is often missing in a finished work, the lessening of vitality as drawings are "purified" into a finished piece. I know that from the constant battle I have in that regard with my own work, I always love my sketch more than the finished piece. I picked up a few books from McMurray, all at 50¢, a real bargain. Lunch Hour contains sketches McMurray did at the M&M diner from 1991 to 2003 while on his lunch break. So you can see growth in McMurray's work from the beginning to the end of the book, something I think is really good. It reminds me of Wyeth's Helga series on a single subject over time, and Crumbs sketchbooks without the sexual overtones. McMurray's line is much more hesitant in the beginning, scrumbly, and more confident at the end, even sort of "Crumb like" in his rendering, favoring the odd, weird or ugly diner dweller. I share that affinity as well. Why is it so much fun to draw the off or ugly person? Must be the cartoonist in me. I'd love to see more sketchbooks by more artists of observed subjects instead of the usual "invented" subject.

On the spot drawing always improves ones skill in observation, execution/facility and empowers the made up or fantasy work with power ful doses of reality which hopefully will keep your work invigorated and not static, full of cliches. This is a handsome little sketchbook full of McMurray's honesty and love for his lunch spot, now gone from a fire. You can see more McMurray art at:

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Twomorrows Speaks With Geeks

Twomorrows head honcho and publisher of Draw! Magazine John Morrow is interviewed at comicgeekspeak.

SPX Mini-Comic Reviews

One of the things I will be doing over the course of the next week or better is take time to review many of the cool comics I picked up at last weekend's SPX con in Bethesda. I hope to spread the word and hopefully some sales to these publishers and artists. As I wrote in my last blog entry, the SPX show was a real mixed bag of comics and cartooning. Top notch looking work, inspirational even, mixed together with really poor, amature, less effective work. I suppose that's one of the things that gives this type of show a charm, it's like a big treasure hunt spread out over three rooms full of some of today's best...and not so great, cartoonists from all over the US and a few from Europe.

I don't know if the ratio of good comics vs. bad comics is any better or worse at the SPX than say any Wizard World con, that probably depends on what your own criteria is for comics, good or bad. Wolverine killing Ninjas vs a Thimble Theater looking lout cutting off a princesses head by accident. For me it's simple. I want good, strong drawing, clear effective storytelling and design as well as a sense of fun and joy from the artist who's creating the work. I like seeing artists in command of their skill, not artists in confusion, poor staging, bad, lazy drawing, photo traced corpses, detail instead of clarity and form, as compensation to hide weak drawing, I want good cartooning.

Sometimes journeyman-like craft is enough to get me to buy a comic. I dare say 90% or better of the comics I buy fit this category alone, since I am an artist and the art is what attracts me to comics, keeps me coming back. If it has a good story, is entertaining, well even better...but I don't buy comics for the story, I buy em' for the art, though that doesn't mean I don't always want a good story too. Being a professional cartoonist I also think puts me in a different spot than 99.9% of the readers of any comic. I am behind the curtain, I make em' for living for 20+ years now.

I'm a way harsh critic dude! In recent years my buying has decreased, I find myslf putting way more comics back on the shelf after scanning even just a page or cover in the comic shop. I can't seem to justify buying a book I think is just "OK", they cost to goddamn much and in the end I have piles of "eh, comics" laying about my studio gathering mites, silverfish and dust. Comics are worthless for the most part now, so you can't trade em' back for anything. I'm also just more impatient with the overall stream of crap all media and mediums spew out. I have only so much patience, money and time then to spend on comics, TV, movies, music of any sort.

But I love comics. I really do, there are few things to me as great as discovering some great new art, cool new cartoonist. I was hoping that the SPX show would give me an opportunity to do just that. As I walked about the con I came across The Artist With Problems table and chatted with Damien Jay. I picked up some of Jay's work at the MOCCA show, a great little silk screened, limited edition comic entitled, A Case in Tokyo. I picked up a few more books from Jay this time, one called The Probe.

The Probe is a mini-comic that packs a lot of storytelling between silk screened covers. It's about an alien who comes to earth and it's attempt to lure and capture a rabbit for study. Jay employs a standard nine panel grid to good clear storytelling effect, only employing splash pages or full page drawings on the first and last page. How many mainstream comics are told in this clear and linear a fashion? I showed this comic to my students this week as a great example of good comic storytelling employing clear staging and gesture, all the more important as there are no word balloons, the action told in a pantomime/silent film way. There is a certain "fast drawing" crudeness to the art that I also like, a speed that carries from Jay's pen or brush to the reader.

While this comic didn't have the mood, poetic and "hand crafted art" feel that A Case in Tokyo did, it was hand made and an enjoyable exercise in storytelling and craft. Jay seems to be a natural storteller and I look forward to reading more of his work. You can find out more at: Damien Jay
P.O. Box 344 Brooklyn, NY 11222 or via his website.

The next comic I'm reviewing is a cool comic called Blar by Drew Weing. Blar, a big loutish looking fella, with a pin-head atop a small torso with huge arms and legs looks like a reject from Segar's Thimble Theater, a very retro, throw-back type character with a bit of Lewis Trondheim and Hagar tossed in to boot. The cover of the comic also sports a die-cut, the splatter of blood trailing from Blar's sword. The red of the blood made up of the interior page or front piece. It's a handsome little comic. I don't know if Weing went to the trouble of hand cutting out each copy or had the printer do the die-cut.

The stories are fantasy fare with minimal dialogue as we follow Blar as he hacks his way through, trolls, monsters and more. Blar only speaks once, in the first panel of the first story "The Legend of Blar". So Blar is a man of action, not of word, as most barbarians or strongmen are. The staging Weing employs throughout the book is very much like an old comic strip, where we have a fixed camera view of the action before us, like we are watching a play. This is standard fare in comic strips, and Blar seems to read more as a comic strip in a comic book format. The drawing, pen inking and detail are nice, lush without being overly rendered or ugly, again reminding me a lot of Trondheim's the Dungeon and Segar's Popeye. This might be the nicest comic I bought at the show as a design and production, simple yet elegant. It's oblong format is also cool. I love to see this type of experimentation with formats, something the Babymen always hate. Fuck putting everything in a goddam plastic bag! I also picked up a few other books from Little House Comics that I'll review soon. I look forward to more Blar!

More reviews tomorrow!

Monday, September 26, 2005

SPX The Indy Fest Weekend

This was the first SPX I've attended in several years, the last few years I wanted to go, but either due to a Hurricane or a sniper, even worse, a horrible deadline, I was forced to bag the trip. I arrived late on Friday, missing the first few hours due to the storyboard and needing a few hours of sleep to avoid crashing the car on the way down. The last SPX I attended I had to leave early as the transmission in my Jeep went Ka-Boom! That cause me to pack it in and have my jeep towed back to Philly, costing me a nice round $350 buckeroos. So I was hoping this trip would be less eventful on my pocketbook but more eventful art, business and experience wise. I also need to get out and have some fun as I have been killing myself with work this last few weeks, late nite after late nite, sleeping 4 hours a fun indeed!

The Holiday Inn where the con is I hate the Holiday Inn...

This, the 11th annual SPX was pretty darn laid back I have to say. I guess Harvey Peckar was the big guest for this show. I passed him several times and he seemed much less cranky than the persona I was used to. Maybe movie money makes one happy with the security it can bring?

Peckar and a few associates eat some free lunch in the candle lit pro hospitality suite

The show was otherwise really quite it seemed to me, and of course since there was no Marvel or DC there was only once costumed dude dressed as a mouse walking around passing out comics. Plenty of young, hipster types, the kind you see at First Friday's in attendance. I wish there were even more female cartoonist though, I think the medium would be even better served by more, good female cartoonist, maybe it's also because these things end up being such a "sausage factory" after hours. Dude, dude, dude, dude, chick, dude etc.

I didn't make a ton of money selling books or art, and I didn't go expecting to, I had really wanted to have some mini-comics myself along with some cool t-shirts to sell, but my work schedule just didn't allow me to get any of what I had planned done. However, I did find a huge bunch of cool comics and in general had a good time, I did give away or trade plenty of my sketchbooks and got a lot of good feedback that way, especially on the naked Velmas.

Some of the really great comics I picked up this weekend

The show was pretty low energy at times, at least in our section, people seemed to come in waves amd more than once I heard that people felt attendance was down and it really was a mixed bag art/comic wise, really top notch material right next to somebody self-publishing crap not worth the staples holding it together. I think Diamonds new policy will clean out some of they bottom feeders while it makes tougher on many who are doing good work. I circled the small show many times, taking breaks and getting up to stretch my legs, I'd pass table where the artist pleaded with you with their eyes, "Please look at my stuff!" yet the work made me want to look away...very far away...

So the show was like a treasure hunt, I'd walk along checking out the various tables, finding a little gem of a mini-comic, I found many of those or even more appealing book from Ad House or this great publisher called Bries from the Netherlands. I spent a lot of $$ at that table and wanted to buy a few more books from them, but I decided to hold off and see what else there was at the con. I picked up the first volume of the essential Dennis the Menise and even shook hands with Gary Groth.

I did have a good time, sharing the ride and a table with my pal Jamar (I laughed at every time he got a gal to stick one of his 'I met Jammar " stickers on their boobs) and good times and good eats were shared with the crew from the Philly Cartoonist Society.

Jamar sketches for a fan

The Philly crew

But the show was a bit of a letdown too, the attendance seemed off, was less than I expected and I don't think the facility is the best. I think the show needs to get a better hotel, a better place to host the show. I will say right off I liked MoCCA more. The Puck building is a superior place, despite the lack of air conditioning in some rooms last spring, (What is it with small press cons and air conditioning? Must we all be forced to sit there and pit-out or shirts top sell our stuff? Isn't self-publishing hell enough?) MOCCA seems more up scale and more pleasant. It's bolo tie vs. faded t-shirt.

The Holiday Inn in Bethesda gave me a feeling like I was in the Shinning.

"Your money is no good here Mr. Torrence."

I expected to see somebody in a pig mask blowing a clown every time I walked the halls there. It just has a weird vibe. I also thought it was funny that there was booze available the whole time from the bar.

The artist mingle into groups after the Ignatz awards.

There were many a indy-cred cartoonist soaked in booze like Sinatra at the show. I just never connected drinking during the show. I guess my con hours are viewed as business and the drinking after as pleasure. There were times at the show I really wanted to head back to my hotel, the American, and take a nap.

An Alex Raymond drawing becons you to drink!

The first thing I really didn't like about SPX is the fact it was so crowded space wise and the facility isn't easy to get in or out of. The elevators are way slow, no easy way to load your stuff in and out. The tables are small too, too small for my taste. I think 8 foot tables are a must. So my vote is that it gets moved to a new venu and a new time of year. I think Baltimore is a better place as the show could be a bit spacier and the hotels are cheaper and the inner harbor a better place for food as well. Though I have to say Bethesda does have good eats. I know running this thing must be a thankless job on some levels, people are probably always bitching about something, but the show did run very smooth I have to say. I didn't feel it was very high energy though. MOCCA seemed more high energy to me. Maybe it's the set-up at the Holiday Inn. I already have a hate for the Holiday Inn because of how they fucked us in San Diego with our reservations this summer, so they are already on my shit list.

I have to admit, maybe I feel I'm a bit of a strange man in a strange land at the SPX show. I'm sort of an artist that straddles dimensions a bit. I am chiefly known to many as a mainstream guy, doing lots of work for Marvel, DC , animation designs and storyboards, etc., in the past, but since 1995 I have been self publishing under my Action Planet imprint. I plan to do even more books in the next year as well, more experimentation maybe than I've done in the past with the type of story I do as well. And while I love a good super jock yarn, having drawn many, I am pretty tired of what is put out today by Marvel DC, etc. Tired of the humorlessness of much of todays material. The craft alone has slipped drastically since Liefelds success broke the line between immature and professional, and we've never recovered there in the mainstream. the current crop of photo-traced comics just another nail in the coffin of creativity to me. And on top, how many times can we have some dumb "Crisis of the Impossible Bullshit Infinity". Oh god, I can't bear the mess. That stuff just doesn't interest me at all. Last spring when I did the MOCCA in NYC show I was just so excited to see all the great, cool comics that people were doing, there seemed to me to be a lot more creativity on so many levels in this part of the business, something that the stagnate Babymen end of the pool has long since given up on. Just endless retreads and repeats, sequels and dumbness. So I was looking forward to being excited and wowed again at the SPX.

There has always been, since I can remember, going back to my teens, a sort of constant low level animosity in the two creator comic camps in America, mainstream fat guys with beards and classes on one side of the comic watering hole and thinner ( soon to be fatter) indy artists with glasses and chin beards on the other side. The brackish and decade plus, stagnate direct market pool of water we all depend on for life, in the middle. No new water coming into this pool...ever again I'm afraid, that new land of promise is out in the bookstore market, not hidden in dank dungeons of male power fantasies.

Now between the"mainstream" and "the underground", or what was then in the 70's, "the underground",and what people call the "Indy movement or Small Press" now there are many rocks and glares thrown and people sneaking off from one camp to the other, some going back and forth several times. There was the Fantagraphics crowd which seemed to spring directly from the loins of the Zap Comics era. I never really understood this animosity there seemed to be between the different camps. For me there are either two kinds of comics. Good comic and bad comics. Good comics can mean any type of comic book, graphic novel, magazine or strip. I don't care if it's Little Nemo, Crumb, Moebius or I include manga too. Often I think the barriers are put up because of not only jealousy, but maybe because of a certain sense of frustration with the entire ball of babyman wax, know as the direct market, and it's narrow focus on just superjock adventures. the bad retailers who have just about strangled us as an industry to death. However I can easily say that just because some 20-year-old shoe gazer self-publishes a book about him masturbation experiences after his girlfreind dumps him, doesn't make that work any better or more accessible, legitimate than an issue of Marvel Two-In-One.

The Pancake House served up an awesome breakfast before we headed back to Philly.

So in short I was looking forward to being awed again at SPX like I was at MOCCA... and I was to a certain degree at the SPX. This show was very different than the last one I attended, the atmosphere was really different, and that might be due to the fact that there is a whole new crowd of artists coming along, which I guess could make these artists a third generation in a way, Crumb and the Zap era being the first and the Love and Rockets era defining in my mind, the second wave.

Little House was one of the many small publishers I picked books up from. They stamped thier bags with their logo.

And I noticed right away something about many of these artist. A) They seem to all smoke. B) They are pretty skinny and don't often comb their hair, or comb it with candle wax. C) They all wear the same type of glasses and they remind me a lot of the art students I teach. I always associated independent or alternative artist with being health conscious, being vegetarian, eating cous-cous and smoking the pot. These guys seem more like indy rocker types. They seem maybe less hung-up on labels and seem to want anyone they can to read their comics. Maybe these worlds are merging? Maybe I am just showing my age, remembering how it was in the 70's and 80's. They also seem more likely to blend genres. Street Angle and Scott Pilgrim come to mind as a good example. Oni Press and Ad House seem to put out books that are more reader friendly. I think you can give Capote in Kansas to anyone. I find many of the newer generation to be also less against the mainstream, often being fans of it. There seemed to be a lot less bile in the room.

What was really funny to me was that I drew several sketches of Darkhawk for artist at this show, including O'Malley and Corey Lewis and it turns out Jim Rugg was also a Darkhawk fan. Funny to think these guys were digging what I did on that book 14-15 years ago. Maybe it should make me feel old...but it doesn't. I seem to be hitting the time where guys drawing comics now were reading what I did back in the early 90's trying to make my living as a pro cartoonist, DH is getting a lot of love now.

Many of the cartoonist headed out for dinner at the Mongolian Grill.

There were more artists outside smoking Friday and Saturday nite than inside the hotel. This may also have been because it seemed that they either turned the air conditioning off completely, or turned it down so low it wasn't effective. I have to say it also reminded me of high school, where they had the "smokers wall" with the cool kids hanging out and puffing their way to early crows feet and lung cancer ––while looking cool.

Everybody lines up fro free hamburgers and hotdogs

I didn't know about 99% of the people there, and there seemed to be a certain clickishness too, and maybe that is natural, artist always seem to break into camps, we are by nature a bit clickish and loners too. there is that stare we all do....that " who are you and should I be the first to say HI?" stare. I see that at the college too, certain clicks just seem to form amongst artist, and again this sort of cliskishness seemed to carry over to the after hours mixing. I did meet a few cartoonist and introduce myself around, but I was pretty dam drained the whole show as I had been burning the candle heavy, getting 3 hours sleep the night before as I finished up my Venture Brothers board right before Jamar and I headed down to the show. My friend Bonaia who's been assisting me didn't get a chance to come along as she had a bad tooth ache and was trying to get into a dentist. Since she's new and trying to break in, I would have been interested to see what she thought and felt. I admit, I do have certain prejudices and a certain lack of respect for artists who don't display what I consider a certain level of craft. More than one mini-comic I picked up made little or no narrative sense. I don't subscribe to the thinking that anyone who can make a mini-comic is equal to anyone else at the show. I guess I believe there are standards, levels of craft where either you are an amature, not of pro caliber, or you are professional. I'm sure many at the con would have disagreed with me. But I think there were many tables where the artist had little traffic because the work was just bad.

I would have probably had more energy to shmooze if I had a good night's sleep. I had many people tell me how much they dig DRAW! which is always good and I plan to have an "All Indy" issue out next year featuring interviews and step-by-steps with Carla Speed McNeil, Bryan Lee O'malley, Jim Rugg, Frank Cammusos and many more. This work I have to say excited me, there were a lot of great looking books at the show, especially the books put out from Bries an publisher from Netherlands and Six Hundred and Seventy-Six Apparitions of Killoffer published by Typocrat press. I saw this big comic at the end of the row we were set up at and I was immediately attracted to its stylish design. I love over-sized comics, even published one myself, the Action Planet Giant Size Halloween Special and have dug the over-size comics since I bought all those Treasury sized editions Marvel and DC put out in the 70's. Killoffer has created this dark tome that reminds me of a cross between Raw, Munoz and Jeff Darrow. Stylish and graphic, a black and white hangover almost, employing to good use what one can do in a comic narrative, a certain dream like quality that one can't really do in any other medium except maybe animation. The use of standard panel to panel narrative is juxtaposed strikingly with open boarded hallucinatory scenes of nightmarish violence. I really haven't had a chance to fully digest it yet, but recommend you grab yourself a copy when it comes out. I was able to snag a preview copy at the show and will do a more in-depth review in the next issue of Draw!

A table full of feebies and give-away comics, etc.

Richard Marcej, Jammar, Jeff Kilpatrick and Andrew Hoffman sketch Fat Wonderwomen in Jammar's sketchbook.

I snagged a copy of Street Angel which came highly recommended and I was digging Ruggs work since I saw it in the Superocity anthology published by Ad House. One of the favorite comics I got was a little comic called Love is in the Air by De Plaaatjesmaker, a great funny little comic showing what a guy is thinking on a date and what a gal is thinking on the same date. Crisp, funny cartooning! I picked up more books from the Artist with Problems gang and a few funny T-shirts. I plan to go along again next year and I have to say the SPX gang did do a decent job having things organized from my perspective. The free food wasn't bad either in the hospitality suits. I didn't go to any of the awards or panels just like I don't attend any at the other shows I go to. I find award shows just too boring and I'd rather spend that time hanging out with friends. So all in all a nice sorta' slow weekend full of alt-comics. Next year I'll be sure to bring my own mini-comics along. So this brings to the end my con going for the season, I don't see myself doing any cons until maybe the NYC show at the Javits next Februray. I did more shows this year than I have in a long time.

A sign shop down the street which used the cover for the Rocketeer in its window display

The faded Americana food franchise icon, now only located in rest stops along the highways of America's interstates

Monday, September 19, 2005

Blogging from Baltimore

Marc Nathan knows how to put on a show! This was my 3rd time at the Baltimore Comic con as easily the best one I attended and my favorite con this year, really the best I've been to in a while. Hey, I love San Diego, especially for the awesome weather, but that show is so huge, such a tactical nightmare at times and it seems it really isn't that much about comics now and it can just beat you down financially and endurance wise. But Nathan's show was all about the hobby. That's right, I called it a hobby, bro. Buying, reading and collecting comics is a hobby, something I think is really overlooked now. Something that is missed, like the throngs of new kid readers we used to get every few years.

Besides Mick Foley, AKA Mankind the wrestler, who was in attendance to also promote a comic, there was not one aging TV star or movie star. No Hulk, no Beast Master, Mike TV, no Buck Rogers or chick from Galactica. Nope, just people selling comics, buying comics and people who draw and write comics, and you know what? It was great, like an old time con I'd go to 20 years ago, like a comic con from my youth, where you could actually go up to people and have a conversation, no loud theme music blaring from booths. There were a few dudes and dudettes in costume, even a whole family dressed like the Matrix. The con was bigger this year, and there were definitely the usual mass of babymen trawling the floor, but it somehow seemed way, way way less smelly and oppressive than many recent shows, so while it was pretty slow at times where I was and I didn't make as much dough as I would in San Diego, I did more sketches, signed more books and smoozed with more fellow Pros than I did in SD. Wizard could also take some serious lessons from Nathan also on how to keep the "fun" in a show and treat people not on their "Top 10" list.

Marc comped many artists table, including me. Now this used to be a common practice, artists and comic creators were given free tables as we are/were the draw for the con. Step up and get a stack of books signed, get a sketch , critique etc. But in the last decade that courtesy has mostly been discontinued at many shows. The "Hollywoodization" of comics has often for my $$ taken the fun out of comics and made too much like a cheaper version of Hollywood where everyone scrambles for their 15 seconds of camera time. It often seems more about deals, doing deals, than it is about what got us all into comics anyway...they are a lot of fun! Fun to write, draw and read. I think the blossoming of self publishers and wanna-be's also attending shows has forced there to be less freebies too. As shows get bigger and more expensive I'm sure there has to be lines drawn and hard choices made, but still, a free lunch, a free table can really make the difference at a show, makes it sometimes go from being affordable to not being possible for many professionals.

Another reason I had a good time was that a lot of my peeps were there. Jamar Nicholas, Ande Parks, Alberto Ruiz and his familia, Matt Haley, Scott Neely, John Gallagher, Rich Faber, Thom Zaller, Mike "Ringo", Mike Hawthorne, who was passing out some great tasting cigars at the Marriott bar Saturday...The "hang" as I call it after the show was also good and a lot less stressful than the insanity of San Diego's Gas Lamp district. Had a nice conversation with the Beat's Heidi McDonald discussing the new Diamond rules on solicitation and ordering minimums which I think will clean a lot of bottom feeders out of the biz, maybe some who need cleaning, but some of the lowly today will be the mighty tomorrow and I think it shows again where the real weak chink in this business is, the retailers....they have us all by the short hairs buddy.

For me it just continues to show in a crystal clear way that the new blood in this business in clearly outside of the walled City of Babymania, known to you as the direct market. The publishers like Top Shelf and Adhouse had a good crowd, and that crowd is made up of a lot more girls and people with wider reading habits...and you know what that means?

Drawing Batman will not get you laid!


Now Baltimore is a "good eats" town and a town that is pretty rough and can get you rolled for a stack of dimes. The seafood is good, especially the crab. The inner harbor is a bustling place which was chock full of people Saturday night, but we managed to squeeze our group in and bellied up to the steam bar at Phillip's all-you-can-eat restaurant. Oh the agony! The slaughter! The butter!

While the food was so-so, not terrible, not great, I had a good time and so did the gang and we got to see a crazy slap fight between what appeared to be some homeless people and mimes? It was a whirl of slap-fight hands and shoes, some of which were left behind as the fight careened along the harbor promenade. Kookie! Don't fuck with mimes baby!


I was able to get to talk to many cool people at the show like Carla Speed McNeil who does a cool comic called Finder and I also chatted with Chris Pitzer, Bryan Lee O'Malley , Hope Larson
SALAMANDER DREAM at the AD House Books table, Adrian Salmon who draws a cool comic called The Faceless.

Bonaia inking on her comic in my studio.

I was up late Friday night rushing on my Venture Brother board and helping Bonaia finish her first mini-comic for the con, print out business cards, etc. This was her first real big show where she is trying to break in, so it was really great that there were cool people like Carla, Chris P and many others who were there to give her some good feedback and pointers on her work.

Carla giving Bonaia some golden words of wisdom

It was along day and after the show Bonaia, her boyfriend Allen and I crashed out in the hotel room at the Days Inn before we headed out to dinner. The lack of sleep caught up with Bonaia, but I was sort of wired...that tired but jerky feeling you get.

I didn't get a lot of stuff at the con, but I did get score cool comics, especially Scott Pilgrim, which I am reading and really enjoying now. I had been hearing such good things about it I was really looking forward to grabbing a copy. Bryan only had copies of NO.2 with him, so I'll still have to track down NO.1.

And the best news of the weekend was that the Katrina Relief sketchbook John Gallagher and Rich Faber rushed together and I participated in raised $4000 for Habitat for Humanity's "Operation Home Delivery," creating low-income housing for Katrina's survivors. Congrats John and Rich!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Baltimore Con

I'll be rolling down I-95 from Philly to Baltimore in the early morning tomorrow to set up at the Baltimore Comicon. No hurricanes, no snipers, no worries!
Man and can I use the R&R, after the last few weeks of ball busting work, though I don't know if I call walking the land of the babymen a R&R stop.....

Mostly I look forward to seeing friends and hanging out aftershow for good eats and some shmooze and booze. marc nathan puts on a great show, much like comic shows were 10-15 years ago before the speculators and Hollywood ruined the hobby and drove out the all ages readership.

I'll try and blog from the con if I can at night, if not I'll blog Monday for a big update. I look forward to my schedule returning to normal next week so i can get back to posting regular here.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina Relife

Here are two pin-ups or sketches I worked on for the DRAWING STRENGTH Katrina Relife sketchbook that John Gallagher is helming for next weekends Baltimore Comicon. Sales of the book will go towards raising money with the money going to Habitat for Humanity to help the victims of the horrible devistation in Miss, LA and Al.

The first one was done by me.

The second penciled by my assistant Bonaia, featuring her character, Rodolfo the Reluctant Werewolf and inked by me.

I'm not a rock star so I can't write a song, I'm not a celebrity, nor a politician, so this is a venue I can use to hopefully help. Much like the 9/11 book I contributed too, I think the heart is in the right place.

The point is, we should think about it, not get fatigued, let the media cheapen it, tell us when it's over, OK to skip on, let the next news story push these poor peoples plight out of our view and as artists I think we can respond if we so choose in the way we do best, in drawings. I've done this to hopefully give something besides the money I've already given. If it earns some more $$, well then good. I've even thought about maybe adopting an animal from the shelters who was left behind. I already have a handful with my two dogs, so I don't know if it would work. I saw some footage the other day with them leaving dogs behind, one ran around the helicopter as it took off with two other dogs leaving it behind and it just made me sad and angry, I just hate to see and know stuff like this happens.

Things are super busy here until later in the week when I'll finally be done with the Venture Brother Boards and my Nickalodeon work. I'm looking forward to the con next week, I'll really need the time off. I've been working until between 4-5 am every nite for well over a week now and the point of the pencil gets a bit heavier each nite.....

Finally going back to the gym as well, long hours in the chair really require the body be worked out. It helps keep my mind sharp and releaves the stress too.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Goodbye Summer 2005

Goobye Summer 2005! It was a great summer, one of my best as I reflect back upon it. It seemed to become fast paced and time compressed in parts, especially the 4th of July till the San Diego convention. Then August seemed to slow with the heat waves that had me running the air 24/7 in my home and studio.Now another September is here and another terrible trajedy.

This summer was great for friends too. I got to see many long time friends, some I hadn't see in a few years and I got to make new friends and become better friends, a few former students, one whom is now my part time assistant. I have to say seeing and working with younger, talented and motivated artists is a charge and the reason I teach and do DRAW!. If I can have just one student per class blossom in some way...well that is so worth it. The feedback on the last issue of DRAW!has also been really great and it was very obvious in San Diego during the con people love the mag, which makes me feel good. My youngest brother Marc oved back to Philly and is staying with my other brother Dave, so it's Manley brother action! I got to paint some this summer and draw for myself personally , away from the everyday concerns of commercial art. Don't get me wronng, I like the comercial work as well, but the personal work is much more rewarding and allows me to grw in ways the commercial work doesn't.

I can't wait for the first really crisp night, the crunch of leaves. Fall is my favorite time of year and I can see the longer shadows already starting to creep in along with the halloween cand and Santa. I do have to say though I really hate having these hoidays artificially forced on us in a bigger way, earlier and earlier. One can hardly enjoy the left over hotdogs and potato salad without "the Man" shoving candy corn, Frankenstien and Santa down your throat as well. Often that nite or the next day after the holiday, being it easter or the 4th, the stores are stripping out the candy eggs or flags an linning the shelves with the next batch of holiday merchandise. It's sooo commercial and articfical, ever moreso! My operandi is 'go smaller', just reject the push on me by the over commercilization of everyhing. Hey, I like Halloween and X-mas, but dang, let me take a minute between holidays! It's compressing time too, it's rushing things faster, faster! Consume more! When what we all really need to do is be consuming less and taking more time.

Work has kept me so busy I haven't had a chance to blog much, but I hope to get back into the swing of things. The tragedy down in the New Orleans has also sapped some energy too. This is probably the biggest human tragedy we are like to see in the US our lifetimes outside of a nuclear bomb going off in a US city. The coverage is amazing and angering at times. Those jack-asses on Fox news need to be dropped in a shark tank like an old Bond film. And the amazing smallness of soul that is our idiot-in-chief is a great wonder to behold. His gunslinger stance as he strolls the wasteland and devistaion and kisses a few black women on the noggin was so infuriating and tricically funny. I hope this tragedy is the start of the snowball that will grow and roll all of these assholes out of office! How emabarrasing for us as a culture, as a people for this to happen.

So not much drawing outside of work, but here are a few doodles from this week.