Friday, May 30, 2008

Autumn's ears do actually point up, y'know

So I noticed something. All of Autumn's appearances on this blog so far have had her ears down. This is a consequence of the short window of time this blog has been up and running. As I am still getting these characters down, my sketches focus on experimentation with technique. I've read several annotated anthologies of comics recently and one note came up in all to which it applied: If you have an animal character, playing with the ears makes them so much more expressive! (Or, in the case of Get Fuzzy, permanently set ears indicate an "angry mode" all the time.) As I am not skilled enough to play with the folded ears of Bud and Jacob (and Tiffany's space cadet nature favors certain ear positions), Autumn's natural intensity and big fox ears were perfect! I've played with her expressive ears so much that I've half-forgotten how to draw regular Autumn. It's the curse of early development: Taking time to sharpen one skill allows the others to grow dull.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Someday this will be a t-shirt!

Ahh, such an inspirational message for the children...

It's a variation on a tried and true theme, which has been broached in both The Incredibles and in my rationale for not driving medium-weight racers in Mario Kart.

If Roddy wasn't such a jerk, you'd almost feel bad for him. See, Roddy is one of those well-rounded geniuses. He's the guy who scores evenly in all standardized testing and has a knack for several of life's disciplines. Problem is, in a world of geniuses and prodigies, there's lots of specialization. (Heck, even the dreaded normals can have one attribute that is excellent!) No matter the competition, Roddy will always be trumped by a specialist in the field. His awards wall may be larger than anyone else's, but there are precious few #1 honors hanging. As Roddy is ultra-competitive by nature, this leads to inevitable frustration.

As all characters are a reflection of their creator, Roddy's struggle is my own. In art school, I hated the idea of specializing and suffered the consequences for it. See, you need to establish a stylistic identity to make an impression on people, and if you spend your time showing off how you can work in several styles - guess what? NO ONE CARES!

I eventually found my compromise. I have my own style that is present in all my work, making all of my pieces recognizably mine. With that identity, I can use my style as a base on which to expand to suit my need for variety. The major I chose, printmaking, is more of a consolidation of skills. It can incorporate drawing, painting, photography - any combination of techniques can be used to produce a print. For graduate work, I'm focusing on illustration - a discipline where versatility is key! It's a balance in life that keeps on moving forward. It took me until 25 to learn this. Roddy's 10, so he's screwed.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


I've yanked a bunch of sketches out of my sketchbook. Enjoy.

First up is a Bud Oven progression. The most notable thing here is that flipping the image horizontally made everything look really messed up. Behold the mysteries or art, composition and the human brain!

Next is a shot of our gals, just 'cause. Autumn is concerned, while Tiffany seems awfully cheery considering her dress' smiley face is gone.

This is the first image of Quincy Wozwax to make it online since the itty bitty class roster posted months and months ago. As he is the token super nerd, he is wearing a Flash shirt. (Or, to go with current events, a lightning bolt from Mario Kart!) Quincy won't be making an appearance in the strip as anything more than a background character for a long time (and, yes, I've already scripted it despite it being at least a year down the road) but it's always fun to share class members.

Unlike Quincy, Suzette Grady is a regular character in Precocious. She's the militant one who always has something to be angry about - be it feminism, class warfare or being excluded from whatever group is relevant. It's always fun when Suzette shows up! What really makes me love Suzette, however, is that she is by FAR the easiest character to draw! Considering my artistic aspiration for the strip, it's a nice change of pace to have something simple to draw. The biggest challenge with Suzette is the bell on the collar she wears around her neck. (To symbolize the discrimination she feels she faces constant in everyday life.)

Because these things haunt me, I want to correct something I said below. When I mentioned Dionne is a character that changes her clothes, that wasn't entirely the case. Like most cartoon characters, Dionne has her default outfit she wears on most occasions - which is pictured above. She is just more likely than the others to change clothes when the need arises. In the first story arc, Dionne wears three outfits, which makes this nascent cartoonist sad. Of course, Bud and Autumn change their clothes during the arc too, so maybe I just like pain.


"Was that wrong? Should we not have done that?"

I have to pry myself away from Mario Kart (I've unlocked everything!!) and get back to work! It's about time to get back to producing strips again and it's very scary.

To keep this blog moving along, it's time to share more sketches. Here we have Autumn, Bud and Tiffany (whose left ear isn't properly shaded) getting in trouble. We go from "I'm very sorry," to "I am shocked at this accusation," to "That was wrong? Huh?" Why I didn't draw a sorry Jacob - the only one of them who genuinely feels sorry in these situations - is beyond me. Oh well.

Monday, May 19, 2008

It was the manual transmission that held me back!

So what have I been up to while my internet was down this past week? Mario Kart! Turns out that by switching to automatic, I suddenly got WAY better! And now it's fun, which might be the worst thing that could happen to me!

It's not like I could have dabbled online anyway...but when the internet returned what did I do? ONLINE MARIO KART! Not good.

Here is my attempt to make up for it... (click for the large version)

Bud (in his Dr. Oven supervillain goggles) is driving the ducky...whatever it's actually called. It's ultra maneuverable, and thus handy for twisty tracks! Tiffany seemed perfect for the cloud-flying Latiku. Autumn and Roddy are driving whatevermobiles. This is not an accurate recreation.

Oh yeah, that's Roddy Finnegan - the one non-Gemstone kid who my kids will recognize. This was accomplished by brute force, antagonism, pestering and general annoyance. Roddy is frustrated by the insular group, and it is his purpose to make them face the world. Good luck, Roddy. You're doomed!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I like the color because it matches my I shallow?

As I am just about the most unpopular person on the planet, I have to make decisions on what to do with the time someone normal would spend socializing. Do I fill the void by playing video games? Watching TV/DVDs? Taking up a substance abuse problem? All of these are good options. Unfortunately, I am less than pleased with the new Mario Kart (do I have the patience to keep going until I stop sucking...I dunno) and my worthless waste of resources brother has lost all his netflix DVDs, so movies are out as well. Ritalin means I'll die of a bad reaction before I get the hobby-ish devotion that eventual comes from drug addiction, so I can't even destroy myself in rock star fashion. Dammit! What the heck can I do with my void of a life if destruction is (for now) off the table?

The only options I had left were blogging about emotions and likening my life to various songs...or being productive. So, hey, check out the first mock-up for the Precocious web site!

Yes, that would be one of the strips sitting on the page. I didn't want to share a full strip this early, but what the hey. I think I can trust all zero people that read this blog to respect my intellectual property. So, nonexistent readers, you can send me some feedback on the design - in case you suddenly become real. (By the way, if I have such conjuring powers and I've spent it on a blog readers instead of bringing the woman of my dreams into my life, I will be quite upset.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Diamond Bluffians

Life in Precocious Land is mostly sketching this week. I'll have to get back to churning out comics soon... but I'm scared! The next few strips I have to draw involve the two Diamond Bluffs characters, Dionne and Max - neither of which I'm that great at drawing yet. I'm still at that stage where it's not automatic for me. Some days I'm a dynamo at sketching my beloved evil kids; Some days I can't even make Bud (my most drawn character) look halfway decent.

Dionne is seriously fun to write for, but figuring out how many spots she has or how many ringlets are in her hair will drive me crazy. Even worse, she's a rare comics character that CHANGES HER CLOTHES! Clearly, I like to cause myself pain. Hey, my goal is to be *that* comic with both humor AND art. I'm going to aim HIGH... even if it means my strips might resemble Peter Gabriel videos.

Let me explain. Peter Gabriel is admirably progressive and artful in his music. In the late 80's/eary 90's, this meant using all those new digital effects...which had not been perfected. Instead of working comfortably within those limits, like the still-awesome Dire Straits video, "Money for Nothing", Peter aimed high and and did videos like "Kiss that Frog" and "Steam" - videos that then won praise for technical achievements, and now look hopelessly dated. "Money for Nothing" used new technology, but stayed within a comfort zone. The block figures of that video look exactly like block figures should look! The computer-generated Peter Gabriels in the other videos are a big, frightening dose of uncanny valley.

With Precocious, I'm trying to hit somewhere between "Money for Nothing" and "Steam." I want the ambition to be noticeable, so readers will know the visual potential the strip has, but it can't be forced. If I can't draw a complex scene correctly yet, it's better to find a way around it than draw something that is clearly awkward to all audiences. (I've already violated that rule a few times. Whoops.) I just want the strip to look as good as possible. I know I'll keep improving and my best possible look will just keep getting better. For now, I've got to roll with what I've got. Eventually my drawing style with tighten up and my questionable penmanship will improve.

Until then, however, I'm going to be stressing out every time Dionne shows up.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Elusive Sydney Oven

I've been trying to draw the Precocious parents more and I figured sharing sketches is a good excuse for padding the blog count. As I'm still not that great at drawing adult males, I've focused mostly on the easier-to-draw moms. Sydney Oven is the one I've drawn the most, since she wasn't fully defined. Before yesterday, I had two total sketches for her that I liked, so I needed the practice. (Click the image for full-size...which goes for most images posted here, actually.)

The size of the portraits are related to the confidence Sydney has in each of her roles. Sydney is a business woman above all, so she's her most confident dressed for success. In these sketches, I wanted to also cover her in her more casual forms. After all, when she appears in the strip it will be when she's at home unwinding. That's when you see her lounging around in Pokemon pajamas playing video games and refusing to do any household chores. (She is very strict about her unwind time.) The sketch of her with a cocktail is to show her awkwardness with *casual* socializing. She wants nothing to do with small talk unless she's doing it for business. That thing on her chest was supposed to be a gaudy necklace, to further highlight the awkwardness, but I didn't sketch it well. Blah.

Family Entertainment

Some more Precocious sketches.

It's become one of my things to include librarians in every story. Libraries, and reading in general, are so important... and yet I *never* read a damn thing. As a kid, I read all the standards but none of them were engrossing enough to keep me going. As a result, I never learned "how" to read. Even if I'm reading something I enjoy, I fail at dedication. (Yeah, ADHD *really* doesn't help that.)

I voraciously plow through comic collections. At the moment, I have 12 books of comics by my bed - all of which I've read in the past few weeks. Right now I also have three "real" books by my bed that I might never finish. One has been there over a year. Another a few months. I have two more I bought and haven't even started across the room. I just bought a new one last week - but it's about Charles Schulz and Peanuts, so there's a chance I might actually get through that one!

So librarians are my way of atoning for my literary failings. As I am not a crazy raving in a street corner way, it is safe to assume that both Pingos are librarians. Soren is the good librarian. He reads books, he helps others experience the joys of reading - he actually has a top job as a librarian! Ivy... she's more like me. She's between jobs right now and the most reading she does involves general-interest magazines. (In case it's not clear from the sketch, Ivy's right arm is tucked behind her back. She is not an amputee. I'll save that twist for sweeps week!)

(If any Winchester folk are wondering, yes, since I have a friend whose parents are both librarians, I did use them for inspiration. Here's to hoping I don't get sued down the line.)

An Oven family portrait is truly weird. One like this - cobbled together from various sketches in a way that has proportional relationships and lighting (line thickness) a bit off - is fairly accurate in terms of how they'd normally appear in a group photo. It's sort of a canary-in-a-coal-mine thing...if all Ovens are in the same room together something very important is happening. Bud really raises himself - it's why he's become such a top notch chef. Mom Sydney is mostly off in the city managing her apartment buildings and networking. Sister Casey is off at college. Daddy Joseph doing whatever he does. The Ovens are weird, weird people.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Where do you see yourself in 10 years?"

1998 self: "Married and successful, living in a metropolitan area!"

2008 self: "Gee, I seem to be standing in the same place as my 1998 self. Uh oh."

Don't get so depressed, 2008 self, you're not in the *exact* same place. Shepherd moved on and grew, so you're standing in a new and improved art building! Huzzah!

Today is my last class at Shepherd. EVER. (I know I've said it before, but this time for reals!) This was a school I chose because my high school art teacher went there, someone I barely knew was going there and I just didn't care enough to put any effort into finding a school at the time. I went in thinking I'd knock out some general education requirements on the cheap and transfer to a *real* school after two years.

I tried that. It, uh, ruined my life and set me back at least four years. Whoopsie.

Eventually I pulled myself out of the void, slid into the studio art program, got my degree and even took some graduate classes. I went from a loser student to someone the professors respect. Turns out that tiny college packed a strong contemporary art program. I'm confident in my art as well as my ability to present my art, and I have some wonderful feisty professors to thank for it!

At least I've made the best of living in a rut. I've learned all Shepherd could teach me (transcript-wise) and the program I need for my MFA isn't offered there.

So now that I've knocked out nine credits of graduate studio courses on the cheap, it's time to transfer to a *real* grad school!

Let's hope this plan goes better than the last like it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The rich lives of background characters

Every one of my storytelling efforts is a chaotic conglomeration of countless characters. Complexity is my drug of choice. In my mind is an archive of hundreds of my characters - each one stuffed with history and back story. It doesn't matter if that information never makes it to the page; by knowing minor characters' motivations I can create a richer tale.

What can I say, I'm a guy who watched Star Trek and wondered if the show used the same stable of actors to play miscellaneous crew. It just seemed sloppy to have new extras every week. Wouldn't it be more fun to see the same person popping up in the background again and again? Maybe some lowly ensign (that remained unkilled) could rise through the ranks as the seasons progress - even if he never once speaks or gets addressed by the main cast. That's an awesome touch! For a less geeky twist, imagine the show Lost. There are 40+ survivors out there, although most are boring. I've never checked for, fear of disappointment, but I hope the show reuses the same group of extras for continuity's sake. The hard core fans demand it!

Subtle touches aside, creating characters is a fun challenge for me. We might not ever see this character do anything, but any regular characters in the story hanging around them would. Those characters would be subtly shaped by that random figure walking by in the distance.

What I'm getting at - the Precocious kids have parents. Parents that have shaped them into the crazy souls they are. I'd be remiss if I didn't give them their time to shine. In fact, the second story arc is all about the main cast's parents. With them in the story as full characters, I have that many more opportunities for storylines.

But what of the other kids in the class? I'm planning a story for the future that revolves around a PTA bake sale. Parents will be needed, even if they don't get a line. The challenge falls to me now to figure out exactly who these parents are. I've got to look at their children and reverse engineer. It's a fun experiment, and I'm giving it a shot. My goal is to figure out the families of the nine remaining kids in the class.

So here is an example of the thought process behind the ancestry of one of my characters. In this case, I will examine one of the major secondary characters: Dionne Crup.

Dionne is Bud's foil - a girl who uses her intelligence to exploit the weaker elements. Instead of ignoring the normal world - which is Bud's MO - Dionne actively attacks it. She's a pageant girl, who dolls herself up and then sings, dances and fakes her way to victory. Now, even Dionne isn't so malicious that she'd take this path on her own. She started pageantry because of her parents.

First, what about physical appearance? Because she is from the upper-class Diamond Bluffs, I made Dionne a high-end animal: A cheetah. Logically, at least one of her parents must be a cheetah. Dionne's coloring is also improbable for a cheetah (artistic choice/I can't draw that well yet) so we'll explain that by making her a mixed breed. Her father could be a cheetah and her mother, keeping with the high-end models, a black panther.

Now comes the question of Dionne's family life. Her personality clearly implies she is an only child, so there's no need to think up siblings. Next, we look at her parents' relationship. Is Dionne the product of a happy home? There's no easy way out of this. It could seem cheap if Dionne is twisted from divorce and unbelievable if her parents are happy and pleasant. I'm going with divorced.

Coming from a rich lifestyle, I can see Dionne's mother using her gifted daughter as a status symbol. This would explain the pageantry. Dionne is smart enough to see the motivations behind these acts, but she clearly loves pleasing her mother and enjoys the game. Dionne's pageant wins, along with paychecks from her commercial work, would be the best revenge for a father that left them long ago.

It's time to give the mother a name. Dionne is pretty-looking name, but it can sound flat when pronounced. Still, should one wish, the lettering could imply a fancier voice. (DEE-ON vs Di-yonne.) The mother's name should fit with that. Something like Caryn. That's a name that can be pronounced boring (Karen) or fancy (Cah-rin). I like it. It's because of that borderline fanciness Dionne was given the ugly last name of Crup. There's no way around it, Crup sounds awful. Thus, class and power are needed to offset it.

Another twist appears. Exactly whose last name is Crup - the mother or father? I'm still torn on this. Logically, it would be the father's last name. While I imagine the divorce happened when Dionne was still a toddler, his name would be on Dionne's birth certificate. If Crup was Caryn's last name, that would make her too similar to your stereotypical pageant mom - the ugly southern women barely removed from hickdom and happy to pimp her girl around. Dionne's goal is to make fun of those women, so it's no good if her mom is one. No, Caryn has lived a full live of privilege. She is a panther, after all, which is still exotic.

My current solution (and this could change) is to have Crup be the name of her stepfather. Caryn could have married again years ago (say when Dionne was five or six) after meeting a man who is a great match for her. This is not implying a knight in shining armor by any means. Percy Crup (a first name I made up on the spot) is not an exotic species, but just a regular house cat type. He'd be flawed, but proactive and upwardly mobile. An advertising executive? Small business owner? Real estate agent? (Dear lord...he could be the character, formerly Robert Dobbs, that sold the Pingos their house!)

In some strips I have written for Dionne, I've implied that much of the money she has earned has been wasted on her parents' shopping sprees and online gambling - two clear signs of people who enjoy disposable income. (Provided it's casual gambling and not a gambling addiction - which, as creator, I can say it is.) It might not be the sweetest family on the block (that would be Max's) but it's a happy life for every Crup.

And there you have it. Dionne has a family. When it's time for the PTA story, there will be an elegant looking panther with flashy earrings in the back who seems annoyed and uninterested. At first opportunity, she'll write the other parents a check and drive off in her cherry red sports car.

Friday, May 2, 2008

It's pubescent - huzzah!

With the addition of the House and Home artist's statement, the last incomplete page on the my website is now flush with glorious content! (Or commented out, so you don't KNOW it's there and incomplete!) Marking this momentous occasion, I have finally removed the note about the site being in its infancy. NOW IT IS A SURLY ADOLESCENT! It will steal your beer and try to impress its friends with video game prowess.

My site isn't full grown yet - as it's still leeching off its parent ( - but it's growing and that's awesome. Yay me!