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Archive for the ‘Comix Creation’ Category

How the art changes when it goes mobile

Written on Sunday, January 29th, 2017 [permanent link]

I actually love hacking my old cartoons to pieces.

I’ve been doing that a lot in the past three years, to transition Chester the Crab’s adventures from the printed page to mobile digital devices. Chester’s library of digital stories is now available for Android devices and for the Kindle Fire. Don’t panic — I plan to keep at least 30 titles in print even as I dig hard to put more of his adventures onto the screens where today’s students are reading. Adding Chester’s stories to smartphones and tablets just makes good business sense. The revelation here is how interesting the transition process is to me as an artist/writer/educator/historian.

My dad was an Artist, capital A. He had gallery shows and sold his original pieces. A painter or sculptor doesn’t have an editor beyond their own personal sense of mission. Having an editor is the exact OPPOSITE of the freedom an Artist needs to pursue self-expression and challenging themes. But I am not an Artist. My art is very functional and directed — it has a purpose that is fitted to my writing and my educating, like parts of a rocket that must work together to get the rocket to a specific place. I need editors to get the rocket there in the best way possible. I trained to be a journalist, so for decades I have practiced and welcomed the dynamic between an editor and a creator.

If you think your art can be edited, that means it can be changed for the better. I am terribly proud of the work I did for the Daily Press in Virginia when I created Chester in 1995 and then produced daily educational comix from 1999 to 2004. But it was also a mad dash through a burning forest to get all those stories researched, written, rough drafted, edited, drawn, colored and edited again. Fellow cartoonists couldn’t believe my workload to get the stories into print on a newspaper schedule. Looking back now, 15 years later, some of those stories hold up really well. Some DON’T!!! Some of the art is painful for me to look at. And I’ve learned a lot more about many of these historical topics in the time since I drew for the Daily Press.

So instead of it being painful to take these big pages of cartoons and hack them down into little horizontal panels for little screens, this editing work to put Chester’s old stories onto mobile devices actually feels like FREEDOM, in my own framework of making art. This transition work completely challenges my storytelling skills and makes me rethink the point of each panel. The rethinking is so revolutionary that they feel like completely new stories. Woody Guthrie kept reworking “This Land is Your Land” throughout his life, so if Woody can do it, I can do it.

Some of the changes will be unnoticeable to most readers: I have literally found commas that were backwards! Other changes may be noticeable to the sharp-eyed fans: as a writer, I’ve enjoyed trimming a word here and a word there to make the comix storytelling smoother and tighter and more expressive; when I trim a word or two, I often redraw the word bubble so the spacing is balanced again; that leads to a little bit more image in the panel. I can feel the art breathing better. Comix is like alchemy — there is a magic to getting just the right balance of words and pictures in each panel and across a whole page. Some of my old pages for the newspaper version of Chester were WAY OFF that balance as I rushed to cram educational information in.

A lot of the changes will be wildly obvious to longtime Chester readers — these apps have stories with entirely new panels!! But just as significant has been the turn of the images from vertical to horizontal. My space in the newspaper was vertical, so my storytelling was oriented that way. Now I’m recutting panels so that the stories are always read by holding the phone or tablet sideways. That seems to fit the flow of historical storytelling better — racing across the timeline as you swipe from panel to panel easily. Plus, Chester is wider than he is tall, anyway.

If you still want to see Chester’s adventures in the exact way they were first drawn, you can buy them as iBooks for an iPad. And when we get to holograms, I’ll figure out how to tell the stories there, too.

Posted in Author's Purpose, Comix Creation | Comments Off on How the art changes when it goes mobile

Apps for Sale

Written on Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 [permanent link]

This week the Chester Comix app finally hit the Google Play store for Android tablets and smartphones. Now kids and parents and teachers can download the reader app for free and find within it a bookshelf of expanded Chester adventures, for sale at a buck apiece. There are 13 stories for now, and each one has MORE drawings, MORE jokes and MORE fun historical details than the versions of these stories you have read in the printed books. It was a long slog to get this. I’ll write more about it soon. But as I pushed myself through the mud of the past three years, I started to tally all the events that were going by me while the app slogged. iREVERE59

In the three years since my wonderful friends, fans and family backed my Kickstarter campaign to develop this app:

* My oldest son took a year off from college and spent it living and working in a dumpy apartment in Baltimore
* My youngest son got his First Car
* In my consulting work at Jamestown I helped promote and then assist-on-the-day-of a beautiful, sprawling re-creation of the wedding of Pocahontas and John Rolfe on the 400th anniversary of their vows
* The headgasket on that First Car blew
* My youngest son served as the editor of his high school newspaper, a job I loved having in high school; I didn’t even know that high schools printed papers on paper anymore
* My youngest son graduated from high school
* My youngest son earned his Eagle Scout badge from the Boy Scouts of America
* My youngest son went off to the University of Virginia
* Uh-oh. NOW what?!?!?
* I finished a four-year project to draw and write a comic about the archaeology at Historic Jamestowne, and I turned it in and . . . well, I hope we’ll all get to see that book someday
* Our beagle fell ill and was given a few days to live by the vet who had always cared for her
* The beagle lived
* My artist father inspiration co-conspirator buddy died
* I packed a moving truck to carry me away from Virginia after 23 years
* There was too much stuff for the truck so I had to make another trip
* Then I made a third trip
* The Ohio farmhouse that I was renting caught fire; the beagle and the comix survived
* I got a job in the Communications department at Kenyon College, where my artist father inspiration was teaching art when I was born
* As I searched for a new house and tried to hold the pieces of my business and life together, I spent 6 months sleeping in a sleeping bag on a hardwood floor in a dumpy apartment in the town where I was born
* My oldest son graduated from college
* I finally got my sons to a Joe Jackson concert

And then the app went on sale. Please check it out and help me spread the good news!

Posted in Author's Purpose, Comix Creation, literacy | Comments Off on Apps for Sale

Keeping Up With the SOLs

Written on Thursday, September 19th, 2013 [permanent link]

So this 10th anniversary year of Chester Comix has seen a brand new title (“Lexington, Then and Now” published in February) and will see more new features by the end of December. That’s the easy stuff. This year also features my commitment to go back and redo what must be redone.

“Vital Virginians” was published in the second round of Chester Comix titles, way back in 2004. It’s a book specifically built to help teachers of Virginia Studies in fourth or fifth grade classrooms across Chester’s home state. (uhhh, actually, Chester’s “commonwealth.” I’ll explain another time!!!!) Because it’s a book tied to just one state’s curriculum, it doesn’t sell as quickly as books with broader appeal, such as the Civil War titles or “Wonder Women” or “Comix Economix.”

This year is the first reprinting of “Vital Virginians” since it first came out in 2004. The list of names of important Virginians that little Virginians have to know in Virginia Studies studies has changed. So a revision of the book was in order. I’ve spent September adding a full page on civil rights lawyer Oliver Hill (using panels I drew for a teacher in-service in Newport News two years ago), I dug back into my archives of pieces and parts to fashion a new page on first African-American governor L. Douglas Wilder, and I drew from scratch a whole new page about Linwood Holton, the first Republican governor in Virginia since the Reconstruction Era just after the Civil War.

It’s fun to go back to topics I drew for the Daily Press 10 and 12 and 15 years ago and draw something fresh. I like the way the three new pages weave together in the connections of the three people (for example, Wilder came to the state government as a state senator the same year that Holton became governor). The new edition of “Vital Virginians” should be available in a few weeks. Let a Vital Virginia Teacher know!

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