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There are good things and bad things about this venerable classic, so I’m going to start with the bad things and end on a positive note.
This is a great book for time-travelers who want to go back to 1975 to get jobs as hack assembly-line illustrators for Marvel. By this I mean that it is full of archaic technical information and artistic cliches–it actually advises artists to draw the same archetypal hero face over and over for every single hero. It also steers readers toward the homogenized Marvel style, so if you take its advice too seriously, you will be a generic illustrator with no personal style, whose drawings are indistinguishable from anybody else’s. And it doesn’t really tell you how to do any of the things it tells you to do. There are no in-depth instructions on how to construct figures such as one might find in Loomis’s book on figure drawing. Instead, it just gives a quick overview and moves on.
At this point, you’re probably thinking that I’m going to tell you not to waste your time with this book, but wait; I’m not done yet.
If you’re a beginner, learning the cliches is actually not a bad place to start. Devices that are overused tend to be so because they work. The book nicely collects, in one volume, overviews on every topic you will need to study more in-depth; anatomy, perspective, gesture drawing, and so forth. This is valuable, because now you at least know what topics to research elsewhere. Lastly, there are some things that Marvel legitimately does do better than anybody. Making scenes more dramatic. Making figures more heroic. John Buscema’s clean, uncluttered drawings make the concepts easy to grasp.
So in the end, I recommend this book to anyone who does sequential art, especially since you can often pick up a used copy for $6. Just take its advice with a grain of salt.
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A year or two ago, my buddy Bruce from Under the Doghouse gave me some advice. He said, “You’re not a very good artist, but you have a talent for making things fun to look at, and in the end, nobody gives a shit how good you are, they just want to have fun.”
Well, that’s not strictly true. People do give a shit how good you are, but indirectly. Something that’s done well will always be more appealing than something that’s done badly. But I get what Bruce was trying to tell me: don’t lose touch with your fun side in an effort to become Frank Frazetta–an effort which, by the way, is foredoomed, because I don’t have that kind of talent.
This is good advice. So while I continue to fix my drafting errors, I am mindful of not losing the fun factor; the particular way I blow the doors off reality when I cartoon. And it seems to be working. Every critique I get on Penciljack seems to contain the word “fun,” right before the author of the critique reams me out over my numerous technical shortcomings. But the errors are becoming fewer and fewer, and I’m indebted to the pros on Penciljack who take time out of their busy schedule to help the less-experienced like me.
The late Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead said it first, and maybe he said it best: “Don’t be the best at what you do, be the only one who does it.”
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As I mentioned in my last post, I had the remarkable good fortune to stumble on a copy of Skidmarks at a local used book store. I am a longtime fan of Tank Girl. I own a copy of The Hole of Tank Girl, a massive anthology collecting every Jamie Hewlett Tank Girl ever produced.
Alan Martin is still doing the writing, so the new Tank Girl is very much in the spirit of the original, however, since Hewlett has no further interest in drawing comics, art duties have been taken over by the amazingly talented Rufus Dayglo.
In this book, Dayglo apes Hewlett’s style so successfully that if Hewlett’s name had been on the cover, I’d have been none the wiser. He even does parts of the book in color, and parts in B&W with those obnoxious zipatone dots, just like Hewlett used to do. The only giveaway that it’s not Hewlett is, Dayglo appears to have done the finished art in pencil, darkened in Photoshop to look like ink. This was not entirely successful on the fat lines, which look a little washed-out. Also, Dayglo doesn’t draw penises all over everything like Hewlett used to do, which, as much as I love Hewlett’s art, is a habit of his that I never really liked.
I have mixed feelings about Dayglo imitating Hewlett. On the one hand, Dayglo is stepping into an existing creation with an established look. I get that. On the other hand, I’m glad Frank Miller didn’t ape Neal Adams when drawing The Dark Knight Returns. I was looking forward to seeing what spin an amazing talent like Dayglo would put on Tank Girl, and I didn’t really get to see that.
But these are minor nits. Skidmarks is still the same crazy, stupid, rollicking good time we all remember and love from the nineties. Overall I recommend this book. The Harvard Book Store has several used copies left for $6, so if you live near Cambridge, head on down and grab one.
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Speaking of good omens, I just had the remarkable luck to find a used copy of “Tank Girl-Skid Marks” at the Harvard book store for $6, which is a very good omen indeed. I like the idea of omens, and on some days, I almost believe in them. Even though I know they’re not real, I choose to live as though they are, because doing so has brought me good results in the past.
Omens, for me, are what psychologists call a “frame,” i.e. a way of looking at the world. Good vs. Evil is a frame. Cartesian coordinates and polar coordinates are frames. The right question to ask of a frame is not “Is it true?” but rather, “Is it convenient?”
The best omen story I ever heard was second-hand so I can’t confirm its truth. but the story goes like this: a guy who hates his job has been chewing his guts up for six months over whether to resign, because there are several rational reasons not to, so he is paralyzed by indecision. One day on the way home from work, the guy is detoured by road construction and finds himself on a road called Quitman Street.
What, do the gods have to hit you over the head with a hammer?
Lately, I’ve been fretting over my efforts at publicizing the Hootie Comics. Am I trying hard enough? Am I doing the right things? Then I was in Harvard Square listening to a street poet, and this is what the poet said: “Poetry is a relationship between the poet and the poem/ The audience is a third wheel/ If you cannot write for yourself, you cannot write.” Just in case I didn’t get the hint, the gods gave it to me again when I opened a random book in a book store to a random page and started reading: “You must not worry about things that are beyond your control, particularly the esteem of others(or lack thereof)”
So I take this as an omen that I’m on the right track. Slowly but surely accumulating readers, but mainly doing the comics for me and Hootie.
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Mass Independent Comics Expo coming to Porter Sq. 9/28-29. Free admission! If you’re in Boston area, check it out!
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Hey Hootie fans. Long time no post. Well, it looks like I’m going to have to stop doing gray wash, at least for the time being. It just adds too many extra steps. Right now, I’m putting serious effort into drawing better backgrounds, as you can see from this work-in-progress:
It’s difficult and time-consuming, so something has to give. I love the way gray wash looks, it really adds depth to a scene, but it takes too long. Doing it digitally takes hours per page because the tools are so clunky. Doing it with a brush is fast, but then I have to scan the page in gray-scale mode, which means the paper scans as light gray, no matter how white it is. That introduces the cleanup step of re-whitening the paper. All things considered, if I have to choose, I think spending the time doing more convincing backgrounds is a better use of time.
Anyway, there are more than a few gray-washed strips in the queue, so it will be a little while before this change turns up. But compromises are inevitable when you’re trying to get it done, and I think this is the best compromise.
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