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Archive for the ‘Comix Creation’ Category




The Pace of Doodling

Written on Sunday, October 7th, 2012 [permanent link]

Almost every page you see in the Chester comic books was drawn and written on a tight deadline. I’ve spent my whole life practicing that skill: hit some part of the target — and hit it on time.

That’s the curse to the blessing when you get to do what you love for a career. When there is a paycheck at stake, you may run out of time to fine-tune that drawing of an elephant or to find just the right word for “stubborn.” You don’t have to hit the target’s bullseye — but you do have to deliver SOME drawing and SOME words by a certain date. For five years I delivered Chester the Crab adventures that the Daily Press of Newport News, VA, could run Monday through Friday throughout the the school year. It amounted to a giant mountain of one-man content. For four more years after that I did the same kind of educational comic strip for another newspaper in Virginia. Another mountain.

The way to accomplish this deadline art is to keep the Big Picture in mind. Writing a Chester story always meant thinking about all five days of the story at once, being mindful of just how much space I had to fill. (No need to go down a rabbit hole about drawing rabbits just the right way if there’s no room for that kind of detail!) It felt like thinking from the outside in — because if I ran out of time, the first thing to go would be the detail. Draw the outline of a brick building first, to get the idea across; the individual bricks only get drawn if you have time. I still have that dynamic on comics I do on commission — I get a deadline and 24 pages to tell the story of a famous town in Ohio, so I start thinking from the outside in to figure out how fast and well I can fill those pages.

But today, in the corner of my office, in a life of running my own business, lives the exact opposite dynamic — the Doodle.

Most of us remember the Doodle from 5th grade math class or sophomore year German. Many still practice it in committee meetings. After two decades of shooting out drawings like arrows at a target as some for-hire hawkeye, I LOVE going back to the Doodle!

My Doodles help me fill in and expand my old newspaper stories as I convert them for mobile devices. My goal is to double the number of panels from the old print versions. So when I have a spare 10 minutes at the kitchen table, I start a Doodle that may add a panel to the future expanded biography of Patrick Henry. Or I take a cool detail I sketched during a Civil War reenactment with my son and doodle that for a future iPhone version of the Battle of Gettysburg. Here I think inside-out. Because I drew the spine of a story years ago, the big moments of the story are already covered. NOW I can expand a story at any point that seems interesting to me — maybe I’ll draw more panels about the childhood of Clara Barton but focus more of my new Helen Keller panels on her later globetrotting life. Who knows! Each panel I noodle around with now is its own little world.

I’m giving myself the freedom to poke around at the details in each panel. Some of these new panels have taken months to finish.  They’re my little basket of deadline-free fun. But don’t worry — I’ll share them soon.

After I add a few more lines to that barn in the background . . .

 

 

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History comix for the iPad

Written on Thursday, February 9th, 2012 [permanent link]

When Apple announced last month that it will push to make digital textbooks more available, many bloggers noted just how few titles are available. Well, now there are eight more titles.

Converting some of the most popular Chester Comix titles from printed book to e-book was one of my big projects in 2011. It feels fantastic to look into Apple’s iTunes store today and now see eight of my books ready for download: American Symbols, Founding Fathers, Moving and Grooving, The Jamestown Journey, Go West Young Crab!, World War 2 Tales, GOVERNMENT, and Revolutionary Rumblings.

If you do a search for “Chester Comix” in the iTunes store, you’ll find these books AND the three apps I published in 2010. The books are clearly for the iPad (much too big to be viewed on the iPhone) and the apps were drawings that I cut specifically to be easily readable on the iPhone and iTouch. Those apps can be viewed on an iPad, but they don’t fill the iPad screen. The commercial success of the iPad meant I could present my Chester adventures in their original vertical design. With even MORE vertical-ness! Part of the process over the past few months was making the page layouts that I drew 10 years ago stretch out to fit the iPad screen’s dimensions. For most readers on most pages, the differences between the print version and iPad version aren’t noticeable. But I as the author got more and more excited to see how the added space gave the drawings more room to breathe. I think these iPad versions are more readable for young people, and the history lessons within them flow more easily. The format has helped the storytelling! (By the end of the five-year run of Chester in the Daily Press newspaper in Newport News, VA, I was clearly trying to tell too much story and cramming too many words and detailed images into the space I was given on the page. You could see that I knew the project was coming to an end, and I was trying to say as much as I could in the pages I had left. Some of the Chester pages make me claustrophobic when I view them now 😉

Please help me share this great news about Chester for the iPad. The goal is to get all 27 titles into the iTunes store this year!

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Talk20

Written on Friday, March 25th, 2011 [permanent link]

IMAG0903Talk20 is a great idea run by a great group of artists in Richmond, VA. It borrows from a national movement to mix many genres in a casual setting in a rapid-fire way — think fresh vegetables in a Cuisinart in your kitchen packed with friends. With the top of the Cuisinart off. Each artist gets 20 slides (great!) and only 20 seconds to talk about each slide (AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!)

I was honored to be invited to this week’s Talk20 at The Corrugated Box Building. But I was nervous about making any sense with only 20 seconds per.

Yes, yes, I’ve spoken in public plenty. It’s a big part of my business! But speaking to elementary school students for 45 minutes seems much easier — there’s time to recover a flub or to cruise through some well-practiced patter or to follow an idea that pops up because of a student question or suggestion. A 45-minute talk is a like a wandering walk with my dog. This was going to be a rollercoaster ride.

They tell me the crowd laughed. I couldn’t tell because the wind was whipping by as I crested the coaster hills. Five minutes? It felt like 60 seconds max.

Here’s what I meant to say (and maybe I did make these points; who knows??! We’ll have to see what the video shows once we post it): It’s taken me 33 years to build this wonderful life I have and to get a mastery of the white space I use. People assume it’s easy for me now after all that practice, but I’ve picked an artform with real tension built into it. The historian part of me wants to add MORE WORDS all the time, but my artist part has to resist and remind the historian that it is always better to SHOW THAN TO TELL. I’m glad I’ve had the chance to explore that fight between word and picture. I’m glad I can make money by communicating ideas through art. Rarely was there a lightning bolt moment that showed me the way. I’ve gotten here by a long, patient exploration of doors — some were wide open, some only cracked a bit, some were closed completely until I turned the handle. It’s not easy to make a career of being an artist, but it can be done. I’ll keep exploring that blank space again tomorrow. 😉

Hmmm, I think that was another 5 minutes right there . . .

The good news is that when I wasn’t speaking I learned a lot from the other artists — muralist Ed Trask reminded me of bold artists that used to hang out at my house because they were my Dad’s students, and culinary artist Ellie Basch reminded me of my sister! And many of the 102 people in attendance seemed glad to get the free comix I handed out and signed for them after the event. And I can’t wait to be in the audience for the next one!!!

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