Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dusting off the old...er, new airbrush


This is some art I was asked to create for a new website, (run by the syndicate that distributes my comics). It was a little different in style than my usual cartoons and it required the use of shading and highlighting. I'm not sure whether I really like the finished product or not, to be honest.

But I thought I'd post it for another reason; to discuss the creation process.

In the old days this sort of thing required an airbrush and lots of paint changes...and worst of all, a few days of time. Fortunately, Photoshop allows one to do very similar things with just a drawing tablet and a perhaps an hour or two of time... (No messy overspray, masking tape and paint spills to clean-up, either.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sunscreen?





This never actually happened to me, but it's a glimpse of what it was like growing up with my Dad. And now that I think about it, when I was very young, sunscreen wasn't in vogue. It was suntan lotion/tannning butter/oil. We had a good supply of Hawaiian Tropic Super Professional oil in our house. The label suggested that "professional tanners" (I dare you to try entering that occupation on a tax form), used it exclusively. Being that pro sun tanning is about as safe as working in a coal mine, I wonder how many of these pro tannners are alive today...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Oktoberfest approacheth

Summer is bordered by Spring and Fall...by Memorial and Labor Day...and by Cinco De Mayo and Oktoberfest.

I like the food elements of those last two festivities very much. (I can still taste the large steins of full-bodied beer and freshly-roasted chicken at Oktoberfest in Munich from a trip there over ten years ago.) There's no need to talk about how good food at Cinco De Mayo celebration can be. Once, I mixed German beer with Mexican food. Seemed like a good idea at the time...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Original Art



This card was created for a client and it fits today's subject because I didn't simply email the card art to him. I printed the card on heavy card stock and mailed it to him. (Not an uncommon request...but it happens less often these days.)

Yesterday, after blathering on here about how changes in technology have affected the drawing of cartoons, I became nostalgic for the days of old. (A time stretching from the era of "golden age" cartoons to not very long ago.) There were no digital files, just ink, pencil and possibly some paint on paper. It was simple and seemed closer to real art back then.

Does an emailed series of 1's and 0's, digitized from a scan of Charles Schulz's Peanuts have anywhere near the same inspirational ability as a large piece of bristol that he personally splashed with jet black india ink? I say nay.


Most cartoonists draw digitally now. So does original art even exist anymore?
Increasingly, it only exists if a client asks for it.

In my case, (where we're not talking about collectible art, like that of Schulz's), some clients simply want a large piece of art for their homes or offices, so a nicely printed copy will do. With some of the new types of printers with 'solid' or laser-bonded inks, you can provide a long-lasting, almost archival print.


Some clients however, are more discerning. They want an actual drawing, with the sketches in blue pencil or graphite visible in areas, and also the look and feel of the ink on the bristol board. They are willing to pay more for it and they honestly appreciate the art itself when it is done.

Despite my regular use and high appreciation of digital tablets, I agree with some of this thinking. Looking at an original piece of art -- especially one created by another cartoonist -- is fascinating. Because of this, I have some originals from some of my idols and I go to see cartoon art on exhibition. You can see some of the writing and drawing process. There are wording changes or whited-out areas...you see the abandonment of one position or facial expression for a better one. It's a lesson almost as good as sitting right next to the cartoonist at the time of creation.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The evolution of craft



This is my Dad, to a "T". Seriously. He hates computers and the Internet.

I just had a brief discussion about new technology with a fellow cartoonist, (Mark Anderson), and we introduced each other to new gizmos/tools, (or write-offs). So, I thought I'd expand on that subject here and detail how the "craft" of cartooning has changed with technology.

I used to be a purist, with all my work done in india ink on paper. But with client deadlines overwhelming at times, I decided to try a digital drawing tablet for inking over my scanned sketches in Photoshop...and later, after becoming more comfortable with the hand-eye coordination differences, sometimes sketching into Photoshop, with no scanning.

I traded my first tablet in for a
Wacom Intuous 3 a couple years ago, when it debuted on the market. The main innovation over the well-liked Intuos 2 is that you can program the buttons and touch strips to zoom in and out, increase/decrease your brush/eraser diameter...and also handle functions like switching among brush types & paint bucket, and stepping backward and forward in time with your non-drawing hand. It all becomes a big time saver, in addition to the time and materials saved by drawing digitally.

Recently I've been drawing some things without sketches, because with quick steps back in time possible, every stray stroke can be removed easier than erasing. It's scary in a way how the process has evolved for many cartoonists, (as well as animators and illustrators.) Still, if a client wants frameable, original art, then I break out the india ink and bristol -- and happily oblige them.


The other half of cartooning, the ideas, (the more important half, I think), hasn't evolved at all with technology. The only innovation worth mentioning is Microsoft Word...and it isn't much help in actually finding the spark of humor or cleverness needed to fuel a good cartoon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Back from vacation...





My apologies for the lengthy time between posts. I was on vacation for a week and for a week or two prior to that, found myself swamped with client work and staying up until 2 AM most nights to meet deadlines...

But I will do my best to make up for it and post regularly this week. Hope your summer is winding down nicely.

Best,

Mark

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dance the night away




Due to a heavy client workload I'm going to have to tighten the valve governing the flow of my commentary down to light sprinkle.

I'll just add this: My readers in another blog sometimes ask me if I'm Burr. I should divulge here, (with this comic dealing with age and time), that I'm actually a bit older than Burr...so, let's just say he and the other characters at times may have a vague similarity to actual people. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, "Who are these people?"

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A blast from the past


Since my last entry pertained to editing standards as they're applied to newspaper comics, I thought it would be fitting to go back a few weeks and further illustrate the point with this 4th of July strip that was done for my syndicate.

This particular cartoon would never make it into newspapers. Flatulence gags are a strict no-no.
It would be axed the second the sketch hit the editor's monitor. But as I explained earlier, my current syndicate is a bit more lenient.

As it turns out, this cartoon elicited more positive emails from readers than any cartoon I've done in months. As much as I like positive feedback, this is a bit disappointing to me. After all, I try to cover many subjects with varying styles of humor, ranging from subtle social satire to expressive slapstick to politically charged hyberbole.

But a fart joke is what really gets them. It figures.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Trends in humor and comics





This "Sunday size" comic is appropriate for today's entry...not only because today is Sunday but also because it underscores the widening difference between newspaper comics and those created for other venues.

It used to be that most cartoons adhered to a similar level of 'cleanliness'. There was no cussing, no toilet humor and very little sex. Outside of a few exceptions (like cartoons seen in Playboy magazine and 'shorts' seen in small animation festivals), most everything was edited with the idea that children might see it.

Then came Beevis & Butthead, Ren & Stimpe, South Park and a few other animated cartoons that decided to throw all the editing shackles off...mainly because they were aired on cable channels, venues that did not have to follow the same FCC decency standards as network TV.

It was a new product and it was a big hit with teenage & twenty-something viewers. Cussing and fart jokes became the rage and many of these same viewers, (a demographic group valued by advertisers), became bored with the now comparatively milquetoast comic strips and cartoons they saw. (Add to this the popularity of the Internet for news and entertainment, and you have very few in that demographic reading a newspaper comic anymore.)

If the greatest comic of all time, "Peanuts" were to debut today, it likely would never reach the popularity it attained decades ago. It is simply too clean to appeal to a wide-ranging audience today. Newspaper comics are stagnating, with many features currently published being 50 or 60 years old. (Many of these are reruns from cartoonists who are deceased or comics being produced by hired imitators.)

The syndicates are now afraid to lose readers from older generations, who complain loudly to newspapers when comics like Blondie or Beetle Bailey are dropped for something new and probably more relevant. Can you imagine never seeing Seinfeld because the networks refused to make room for it and continued running I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners? Seems ridiculous, but that's exactly what is happening in newspaper comics.

Compare the humor and subject matter in comic strips from the 50's to the comics of today. (They're the same.) Now compare the editing standards of 50's era TV shows to shows of today. One has moved forward, the other has not.

I don't think that profanity or sex belongs in newspapers and general readership magazine cartoons. But my feeling is that cartoons should be given a little more leeway from newspapers, say along the lines of The Simpsons, (whose content and language would never be allowed under current editing standards), just to be able to compete on a level playing field.

Two of my comic strips have been under contract with syndicates, and I have seen the tug and pull between cartoonist and syndicate editor. It is a narrow path to walk as a humor writer, and while it is certainly negotiable, it is not one that leads to a wide readership any longer.

Cartoonists are now faced with creating "50's era" comics for a diminished newspaper market, (with less readers and less revenue), or going to the web with a feature that doesn't pay one for the actual cartoons...but allows one to sell T-shirts and posters. (My current comic strip is distributed by a smaller hybrid syndicate, where the main clients are direct email subcriptions, cell phone content providers and popular blogs...and though it looks promising, it has been building slowly.)

It will be interesting to see how comic strips evolve over the next few years.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Eclectic or eccentric?


My feeling about the subject of Botox and recapturing one's youthful looks should be fairly obvious in the cartoon, so I'll talk about the art today.

For fun, I thought I'd play with the color on this one. First, I broke out three different brushes: watercolor, airbrush and oil paint. I use all three regularly in my work, but rarely all together in the same cartoon. Only with a Wacom tablet and Photoshop can oil, water & air propelled paints mix.

Second, is the color itself...and that requires some background.

My wife loves to watch the H&G network and specifically, its interior design shows. I've sat through enough of them, (as repayment for her willingness to watch Sportscenter with me), to spot a few trends.

The most amusing to me is the overuse of the word "eclectic". The designers like to strut around on screen and proclaim virtually every finished room or interior as being wonderfully eclectic. To me, this means that they just toss a bunch of colors or unrelated crap together and hope that it might work. Another word for such designs: hodgepodge.

So, in honor of this new style, I created a living room in Burr's house with my version of an eclectic color scheme. --Do you think it works?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Calvinism revisited


One of my favorite comic strips lasted for only ten years, (1985-1995), and has only been seen in best-selling book collections since. I'm taking about "Calvin & Hobbes", a comic about a boisterous, imaginative eight year-old boy named Calvin and his stuffed companion, Hobbes. Its creator, Bill Watterson decided to retire (as a multi-millionaire), and his decision is our loss.

I got to wondering what Calvin would be up to today...especially if he were to age, as do the characters in strips like "For Better or for Worse" and "Gasoline Alley". I'm sure it wouldn't be pretty but it might well be interesting to watch...

Monday, July 17, 2006

What do you call that exercise?


Want some more gym terms? I know a guy who pulled a hammie doing hack squats. I also know someone who blew out his ACL while doing deadlifts. (An aptly named exercise in that case.) Rotator cuffs, (no starch needed on these, thank you), are a big problem for many athletes.

Fortunately, as a cartoonist, the worst injury I can claim is repetive stress syndrome with my drawing wrist...And even that hasn't occurred since I switched from brushes and india ink to a Wacom digital drawing tablet a few years ago.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Added motivation to keep in shape






I know several people who are walking and biking more than usual these days. (It's hard imagine such an increase in a community like Boulder, Colorado where every street has a bike lane and the average citizen often bikes or walks to stores and restaurants anyway.)

But sure enough, gas prices have changed behavior, even here. People are trading in their Ford "Excavations" and Toyota "Land Bruisers", as I like to call them, for smaller cars. As for smaller cars, the media and Hollywood types have been trumpeting the value of Toyota Priuses, (or is it Prii, like a Latin plural?), and Honda Hybrids.

[BTW, as a quick aside, hybrids are great for the environment and helping to decrease overall oil consumption...but they don't help individuals or families save money. Studies by Car & Driver and Consumer Reports have proven that one would need to drive a hybrid over 100,000 miles before breaking even on the added cost (over a similar size traditional car.) Because of their tiny tires, they also don't handle as well on dry or wet pavement as a regular car.]

The overall change in behavior is a wonderful thing to see. As people drive different vehicles or drive less and exercise more, we are becoming more like Europeans, who are used to high fuel costs...folks who generally weigh less and live longer than we Americans.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Customer service: Help thyself





As we all know, customer service seems to be suffering. Store clerks are quite often rude or just plain ignorant about the products and services they are employed to help customers with.

Something like the situation in the above cartoon happened to me a while back. It was beyond the simple lack of help one often encounters these days; it became a situation where the store employee actually added to my problems.

I took our camcorder in to the local camera dealer, (who is reputable and normally has top-notch service.) However this time, the service department technician was on vacation and the 'new guy' handled my repair. The original battery was not working and a brand new battery didn't work, either. (The camcorder worked when the power cord was plugged in.) I often repair simple electronic items myself, but I thought I'd defer to the experts on this.

I received a call a week later from "Clyde",
saying that he had looked and looked, but couldn't find the problem. He even tried putting various amounts of voltage across all the terminals and nothing happened. (This didn't sound good to me, but I figured he must know what he's doing.)

So, I picked up the camcorder, took it home and looked at it myself -- just for the heck of it. Surprisingly, I found a loose terminal, soldered it...and it the camera turned on! But to my disappointment, the speakers and the LCD screen no longer functioned. I discovered that the speaker and LCD connection wires had been melted...most likely by a power spike. (The phrase "various amounts of voltage" came back to me.)

I called Clyde and asked him if he had noticed the speakers and LCD not working...and he said yes, but he also noticed the camcorder was smoking after he ran his "tests"...and that I must have a defective unit. "By the way", he offered, "we have a sale on new camcorders."

AAARRGH.

Fortunately, after replacing the wires (without Clyde's assistance), everything works fine now.



Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Romance (Beware the Ides of March)




The subject of dating and relationships has always fascinated me. It can require all of one's wit, creativity, patience and intelligence to navigate relationships, (especially over a lifetime with a significant other). It's a subject that we must master to find happiness in life...yet it's the one in which we receive the least amount of training. It's not covered in school -- and call me crazy -- but I think it should be.

As for today's cartoon: I'm a big college basketball fan...and it occurred to me that finding "the one" is not unlike March Madness.