Monday, October 31, 2011

Nursery Rhyme Comics ... For Adults!

The folks from First Second Books recently asked me and a few other cartoonists featured in Nursery Rhyme Comics (see earlier post) if we would take on the task of illustrating some not-so-nursery rhymes. It seemed like a fun assignment! Editor, Chris Duffy, pointed me to this pleasant piece of poetry:
Round about, round about,
Maggotty pie,
My father loves good ale,
And so do I.
So that's what I illustrated—right? You can view this and the other cartoons by Aaron Renier and Vanessa Davis over at Not to mention the fun rhymes that go along with them.

I inked and colored this in Flash—here's my pencil sketch:

...and a few variations (I always prefered the first one, though).

Happy Heeby Jeeby Halloween!

Just in time for Halloween, a new comic for Heeby Jeeby Comix.
You can also view it on my comics site, here.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pumpkin Carvin' Party 2011

Last night we had our 4th Annual Pumpkin Carving Party—which this year perfectly coincided with my birthday. We had a bunch of friends over to knife into some orange gourds. Here you see us setting them up.

Hit the lights!

I'm really happy with the variety this year from some very talented folks.

Another assembling of the freakish lot. And now for some close-ups...

Pumpkins by Matt Boehm and Ellen Crenshaw.

A beautiful skeleton with a flower in her hair, by Tami Wicinas.

A stoic looking dude, by Dan Brennan.

This crazy character is by Hannah O'Neal. Great teeth!

A friendly feline by Heeby Jeeby's Dan Moynihan.

Two great pumpkins by my wife, Loren Lee, and Liz Chrastil.

And my contribution!

These are the 4 pumpkins that have been selected for this year's aging process. You may remember this evil soul:

Here are his mummified remains, a year later. He's a keeper!
(recall this post from last year: The Story of 3 Pumpkins)

Thanks again to everyone for coming out!

And here are the line-ups from years past (2010, 2009, 2008).

// update: I created a combination image of all 4 years of pumpkins, which you can view over at my tumblr.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Inktober is here again.

It's the month that comes only once a year, and by the decree set forth by Jake Parker (king and ruler over all that is Inktober), I've cracked open a much-neglected sketchbook and put INK to paper. Anything goes. Here's a small dent...

Ink forces you to commit in ways unlike other mediums. Something is black, or it isn't. And in a sketchbook, there is no turning back. Take these next two pages:

There are plenty of things I don't like about either of them, but there they are (numerous decisions I want to take back in plain sight). But there's no starting over on paper. Computers let you get rid of all those marks you don't like, instead of building on what you have. It's a very different way of making a drawing. And as much as I'd like to be able to go in and redo certain marks and strokes, I like that I can't.

If Adobe is listening, I would highly value the ability to password-lock the UNDO feature (thereby disabling COMMAND-Z). Set it on a timer, or something. (THE HORROR!!)

Trust me—it wouldn't be such a bad thing. The reason why you NEED undo is because the computer doesn't always get it right; it doesn't always translate your true intent. When you make a mistake on paper, it happens at your control at the tip of your brush or pen. The computer attempts to process your input, and there's a gap that exists between your brain and the screen (especially if you're still on an tablet, like me). One day that barrier will no longer exist, and then we'll remember the benefit of making a line and leaving it.

If you're traditional when it comes to inking, you have all sorts of methods in place for corrections (even if they're digital solutions), but I bet you're much more comfortable with your mark-making. If you're all digital, I challenge you to work with ink. Even if just for the next couple weeks. It's a good exercise to shut off the editing part of your brain—to just keep making marks until you're done. And then you move on to the next thing.

(don't ask.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Elastic Character Design

So, we're looking at about 2 days since John K's animated intro to The Simpsons aired on Sunday night—and the effects haven't worn off on me yet. If you haven't already, definitely watch the couch a number of places (1, 2, 3), and read the interview he did with Amid Amidi on Cartoon Brew.

There are so many ideas to take away from the couch gag and the interview. Too many to discuss; all equally compelling. But one big point-of-interest is this notion of 'on-model' animation and drawing—where you follow a strict set of guidelines and formulas to recreate a character so that each drawing is consistent with the next. John K demolishes the rules that normally govern production on The Simpsons, and even breaks the internal rules of his own concoctions. He is explicit here in saying to avoid consistency.

(image courtesy Cartoon Brew)

This has HUGE implications when it comes to the production of animation—namely, whether or not to allow animators to distort or give individual voice to the drawings they create. And also, how consistent you want a character to appear from shot to shot. Some shows and directors allow more freedom than others. Most studios today arguably follow a rather strict 'on-model' approach (to which I might credit the impact of the productization of characters for merchandizing). The need to develop a system is understandable when you have a number of artists working in production.

It also got me thinking about how this applies to comics—where artists are also making an effort to draw the same character over and over again from panel to panel.

I will speak to my experience.

Here, a character is born—in multiples, as I posted a year ago.

No one drawing represents the character. Each drawing is a study in the design I'm trying to work out—which I do by moving the character around and giving him different expressions.

Fast forward to this summer, when I decide to feature a version of him in a comic called The Cave. You can read the full 8-page comic, here.

We all understand the importance of maintaining a certain amount of consistency so that the reader can follow the character from one panel to the next. But I try not to set hard rules for myself, because it's important to me that the acting of the moment drives how I choose to draw the character. I don't create a model sheet to figure out turnarounds. Instead, I get to know the character with each panel and with each requirement.

As an exercise, I've stripped out an assortment of images from this comic, isolating the character and giving him a uniform color treatment (in the comic, the lighting and mood required a variety of colors).

I would argue, with a good deal of certainty, that you should have no problem recognizing that this page features drawings of a single character. Sure, color acts as an aid, but that is a big part of his design in the comic—and definitely helps bind one drawing to the next. Even without color, he should be fairly recognizable as one character.

There are rules to his design, but they are not absolute. Features morph, eyes change shape, and arms may lengthen or grow a little. (He's a cartoon character after all.) Sometimes he has defined elbows, sometimes he doesn't. And again, no one drawing defines absolutely what he looks like. His design is the combination of all of these drawings and the variations within them. Which is why I'd call this an elastic character design, one that accommodates freedom for unique expressions and poses. The design is not rigid—allowing room for variation and fluidity from one drawing to the next. That said, the variation here is pretty conservative. It's not like I've given him square eyeballs in one drawing or he loses his lips in the next.

Comics are different from animation in that you see multiples of a character at the same time on the same page. But you can still get away with a certain amount of variation, just like you can in animation, and preserve the essence of the character.

Bringing this back to John K...he has reminded us that a huge part of what makes cartoons fun to look at is this elasticity in characters. I think he's challenged us all to think about what that means, and how far we can really take it.