Sunday, January 30, 2011

Shrunken-Head Joe Pencils Vs Inks

As I mentioned in the previous post, when KW Monster and I were collaborating on the Shrunken-Head Joe in The Terror From The Desert comic strip, I would pencil it and he would ink it. The finished result was interesting; not quite my style and not quite his, but a weird synthesis of the two.

I would lay out the panels and word balloons in Freehand (which doesn't even exist anymore; swallowed up by Adobe), then print it out and draw the art on the printout in pencil. I'd then give the penciled sheet to KW, who would ink over it. Pretty much just like real comics are made.

Because all my pencils were inked over, no samples survive save this one I scanned for some reason. I include it here for comparison purposes. Those are my pencils at the top, and KW's inks over them below.

It's interesting to me to see the subtle differences between the two samples. By the way, most comic artists don't go into nearly as much detail as I did when they pencil their work. They usually draw fairly tight characters and then sort of rough in the background. My penciled art was way off the deep end as far as detail was concerned. But then I was never one to follow the rules.

Shrunken-Head Joe in The Terror From The Desert

In 1998 my friend KW Monster created a character called Shrunken-Head Joe to star in a comic strip in the local free newspaper. Joe was a swinging singer/adventurer who traveled the world with his inexplicably hot girlfriend Gwen. Oh, and Joe just happened to have a shrunken head. I read it in the paper, became a big fan, contacted KW by email, and a friendship was born.

In 1999, we collaborated on a second Joe comic strip. This time I wrote and penciled the story and KW co-wrote and inked it. The end result is interesting; the art sort of looks like both our styles, but not quite. It's a weird synthesis of the two. KW often accused me of packing excruciating detail into each panel, knowing that he would have to ink over it. I don't know where he got that notion. Doesn't everyone draw every single leaf on a tree?

Our collaborative strip was planned for 12 issues but ended up running for 14 and was a moderate hit; for many years after we would get compliments from local citizens. Then one day the editor of the paper actually read the comic and we were unceremoniously fired. Shrunken-Head Joe, we hardly knew ye!

Anyway, without further ado I present our strip, Shrunken-Head Joe in The Terror From The Desert. Obviously you'll have to click each image in order to read it. I'll try and keep my comments on each installment to a minimum.

The story is an homage to 1950s sci-fi giant insect movies such at THEM! and The Deadly Mantis. I wanted it to have a definite B-movie structure and feel.

KW, who in addition to being an artist is also a fine musician and song writer, wrote the lyrics to all the songs that Joe and Gwen sing in the story.

That Joe really knows how to treat a lady, doesn't he?

That's the classic "Something The Character Can See Just Offscreen That The Audience Can't" trope there in the last panel.

Just for fun, I named most of the characters in the story after those in various giant monster movies. Patricia and Professor Medford were named after characters in THEM! Mitch Macafee is named after the hero of The Giant Claw (one of my all time favorite movies). I can't remember what movies Sheriff Andrews and Joe Burch's names are from. It's been too many years.

Obviously Patricia Medford's appearance owes more than a little to 1950s pin-up queen Betty Page.

Note the sign in front of the diner in the second panel: "Get your Supper, Dessert & Dinner at the Super Desert Diner!" That's KW's joke. He noticed that if you double the middle consonants of "super," "desert" and "diner" you get three new words all related to meal time. Weird. He's always sitting around noticing things like that.

As I mentioned earlier, I penciled the strip and KW inked it, and he accused me of packing way too much detail into the panels in order to torture him. Look at the bottom left panel. Now I ask you, does drawing the cups and plates underneath the diner counter seem excessive to you? I call it attention to detail.

Another song written by KW. If I'm not mistaken I think he actually recorded this one, singing the lyrics and playing all the instruments himself.

As previously mentioned, I wanted a 1950s B-movie feel here. To that end, I wanted the Ant Men to look like they were men in rubber suits, and tried my best to draw them that way, complete with seams and eye holes.

Panels four and nine are sporting a definite manga influence. As for the last panel, I was never one to pass up an opportunity to show some gore. 

I love this chapter, if I do say so myself. One of the hallmarks of 1950s giant bug movies was the ridiculously inaccurate science, usually involving radiation or radar doing things they can't possibly do. I did my best to come up with the most preposterous "scientific" explanation possible.

So in what era does this story take place? The 1950s? The look and attitudes are definitely from there, but I'm not sure. When I was writing it I honestly didn't think about whether it was taking place in the past or a weird version of the present. Maybe it's like the universe in which the Universal Studios Frankenstein and Wolfman movies occur. Those movies had castles and villagers with torches, yet people were driving cars and using phones.

Hey, we get some visual Com-O-Dee there in panels eight and nine. Wakka wakka!

Also note the wiener dog in panel five. That's KW's dog Lucy. For some reason I drew her in at least one panel in each chapter. Take my word for it, she's in every one.

I tried to always make sure that the characters in the background were "acting;" that is doing something as opposed to just standing there like mannequins. It makes things seem more realistic. For example, in panel two Mitch isn't listening to the Sheriff and is trying to keep an eye on Patricia, who he thinks is devoting a little too much attention to Joe.

Ah, the old "The Monsters Don't See Us As A Threat So They're Ignoring Us" trope there in panel eight. If only I had a dime every time that's been used in a movie.

Again, KW accused me of deliberately adding too much detail. I don't think it was unreasonable to draw every single person visible in every one of the hundreds of giant pods, do you?

Say, that Ant Queen's kinda hot!

I actually felt bad when I killed off Sheriff Andrews, but someone needed to die to show that the group was in actual danger, and he was the only character I could spare.

Finally we get to see why Joe would bother dragging his guitar with him down into a dangerous giant anthill.

Note that everyone's word balloons have normal straight lines except for Joe's, which are all wavy. That's to show that Joe has a weird, monstery voice. KW once said he imagined Joe sounded like a cross between Boris Karloff and Humphrey Bogart.

In virtually every giant insect movie from the 1950s, a civilian would invariably end up commanding or at the very least strongly influencing the military.

General Buskirk was named after a character in The Giant Claw

Ah, the giant pile of something to lure the monster into the middle of town. Another classic B-movie trope.

When you get down to it, Joe's really a sadistic and manipulative bastard, isn't he? And yet he's still somehow likable. 

Always end your movie with an explosion.

The strip was not without its problems though. Each month I'd dash to the local grocery store to pick up a copy of the free paper and eagerly turn to the back to see our comic printed in glorious black and white. I'd invariably be disappointed as it would be a fuzzy, downright muddy mess. All our hard work and detail was for naught. In some cases you couldn't even read the text. I didn't understand what was wrong; each month I'd email a crisp, clean jpeg image to the editor of the paper, and each month it would print out blurry.

After many inquires we eventually found out that instead of simply using the file I emailed him, the editor would download my nice clean jpeg, then print it out to paper and then scan the printout in order to get it into his computer! Why he was doing this, I have absolutely no idea. We explained and explained and pleaded with him to stop doing this for months before it finally took, and finally the last three or four chapters were readable. Some people's children!

By the way, the free paper paid us the princely sum of $30 for each comic we drew, which KW and I split. So we definitely weren't doing this for the money.

We also had quite an elaborate Shrunken-Head Joe website going for a while back in the late 1990s. Then in 2000 the company I worked for folded, and since they were hosting the site, it vanished as well. 

I think there's still some life left in Shrunken-Head Joe. Maybe one of these days we'll bring him back.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

THIS Is Why Al-Qaeda Hates America: Canine Aromatherapy Candles

You know how when you watch the news and see a story about al-Qaeda and they're always out in the streets chanting, "Death to America?" Did you ever wonder, "Gosh, what's their problem? Why do they hate us so much?"

It's because of things like this. 

Behold Sniff Pet Candle company's Aromatherapy Candles for dogs. No, that's not one long typo, there's a company that's actually selling aromatherapy candles for dogs.

It's things like this that make me pretend I'm Canadian whenever I'm in another country.

Here's an actual attempt an an explanation from the company's website:

Sniff pet candles are created especially for the well-being of one of your most beloved family members - your dog.

The aromatherapy of individually combined natural essences promote your dog’s optimum health and well-being.

They come in five exciting scents, including Day in the Hamptons, Fart & Away, Field of Dreams, Splendor in the Grass and Friends to the Rescue.

Each candle costs $32, or you can buy all five scents for a mere $150. You know, I love dogs as much or more than the next person, but in these end times in which we live, this seems shockingly excessive and inappropriate.

Despite marketing such a ridiculous product, the company's heart does seem to be in the right place. Supposedly they donate a portion of each sale to local animal shelters, which is nice of them. I just wish they concentrated on selling something a bit more practical and less embarrassing, like maybe a dog blanket or some sort of squeak toy. Not some new-age hooey for animals that feel comfortable drinking out of the toilet.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Morty The Friendly Corpse #16, March 1971

Morty was of course Morton Comics' most popular character, and his book was their flagship title for many years. Some of their other well known characters include Filthy Richie, Wikky The Wicked Little Wiccan, and Big Bloata.

Wow, it's been a long time since I did one of these comic covers. 2007, to be exact! In fact it was so long ago that the last time I did one I drew it in pencil and ink and scanned it into Photoshop to color it-- I wasn't even drawing digitally back then. I have all kinds of ideas for more, but as usual there's just never enough time to do them.

I always loved Harvey Comics as a kid. You know, Casper, Hot Stuff, Richie Rich and the rest. Now that I'm older I see that the majority of their characters had some sort of deep-seated psychological problem. Casper the Friendly Ghost had a pathological need to be liked. Richie Rich secretly despised his wealth and longed to be a normal child. Little Dot had an unhealthy obsession with dots. Little Lotta was a morbidly obese over-eater. Makes me wonder about the mental health of the Harvey brothers.

By the way, in compliance with our nation's insane politically correct movement, Harvey Comics' official company line is that Casper is not the spirit of a dead child. The concept of death might upset some soccer mom's delicate little snowflake, don'tcha know. As far as they're concerned, Casper is simply a supernatural creature like a goblin or troll. I wish I was making that up. 

Morty was drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet. I went way overboard with the fake aging on some of the past covers, so I tried to restrain myself here. I'm still not entirely happy with my aging (you can say that again!), and I'm trying to find a better way to do it.

I usually post my preliminary sketches here on my blog. There was a digital sketch for Morty, but trust me, it was very, very rough and wasn't anything to look at.

You can see more Morton Comics covers here:
Filthy Richie #2
Filthy Richie #10
Filthy Richie #15
Wikky #4

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Belated Christmas Post

Here's one more belated Xmas post, if you can stand it. Like most American families, it's become our annual tradition to watch the A Christmas Story marathon every year on TBS. We end up watching it all the way through at least once, and will then watch bits and pieces of it throughout the day.

My dad particularly enjoys the movie, and especially likes Darren McGavin's performance as Ralphie's Old Man. His absolute favorite part of the movie is near the end of the movie when the Old Man yells, "Sons o'bitches! Bumpases!" out the door after the neighbor's hounds eat the family's turkey dinner. My dad will dutifully sit through the entire movie just to see that one scene, and will then roar and guffaw every time he sees it. It is a pretty funny scene, especially considering it occurs in a Christmas movie. Dad's reaction to it is just as funny, if not more.

He's done this every year since TBS has been airing the marathon. We all know the movie by heart now, so we can sense when that scene is coming up and all activity in the house stops like a Pavlovian response so Dad can watch and hear the Bumpass scene. If that scene played on a continuous loop 24 hours a day, Dad would probably watch it and laugh every time.

So without further ado, here's the Old Man yelling at the Bumpass' on Christmas morning. Enjoy.

*This is my first attempt at posting a video, so my apologies if you can't see it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Frankenstein 011: Frankenstein Comma Young

I bet you thought I forgot about my 100 Frankensteins Project, didn't you? Well, you're right, I did. So it's high time I remedied that oversight.

Here's my version of the Frankenstein Monster from Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. Peter Boyle put in a memorable performance as the Monster, giving him character and depth without saying a word (well, almost). In fact the entire cast was firing on all cylinders in this movie. 

I much prefer Young Frankenstein over Brooks' Blazing Saddles. Blazing Saddles starts out as a satire of westerns but quickly degenerates into a big plotless over the top free for all. Young Frankenstein manages to satire horror movies while still maintaining an actual storyline. It could even pass as a legitimate sequel to the Universal Frankenstein movies. I love the fact that it pokes gentle fun at the source material without ridiculing it. That's a tough line to walk, and the only other movie I can think of that successfully pulls it off is Galaxy Quest .

I saw Young Frankenstein in the theater when I was 14. I begged my dad to take me to see it, and he begrudgingly agreed. When the movie started up and he saw it was in glorious black and white, he almost got up and left. But after a few minutes he got into it and roared and guffawed throughout the entire film, slapping my leg at every joke. I was at that age where I was embarrassed by the fact that I even had parents, so of course I was mortified. Don't worry, I'm out of that phase now.

My dad still laughs uproariously every time he sees the movie, even after all these years. The man knows what he likes, I guess.

Note that in the movie the zipper was on the right side of his neck. I moved it to the left so I could include it here. Artistic license and all that.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

 Here's the original sketch of Young Frank. I thought he was a bit stumpy, so I ditched this one and tried again.

This sketch is much closer to the final drawing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Doctor Who Infographic

Hey, it's another infographic. Here's everything you've ever wanted to know about the Doctor, but were afraid to ask.

I think this is the first time in my life I've ever drawn the TARDIS. It was surprisingly hard! It seems like it would be simple; after all it's just a blue box with some windows. But there are tons of little details and recessed panels and whatnot, and it took forever to get it all straight.

This piece took quite a while to finish. I worked on it a little at a time over several days. There was a lot of moving around of elements and a lot of text editing to get everything to fit in an efficient manner. Hopefully there aren't any glaring errors in the information.

I've had the grid system drilled into my head since design school, and normally I'm a devoted disciple of it. This time I said nuts to grids and just sort of let the design happen organically. I kind of liked it. I may start ditching the grid more often.

Laid out entirely in InDesign. All the Doctors, the Sonics and the TARDIS were drawn in InDesign as well.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Eye Exam

Uh-oh, looks like Xlegg just got the results of his eye exam, and the news isn't good. He's gonna need glasses. There goes the money he was saving up for a new big screen holographic TV!

If you're a true sci-fi geek, you'll recognize that Xlegg is wearing the same outfit that Dr. Smith wore on TVs Lost In Space.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

Here's the rough Sketch I did for Xlegg.

And here's the original sketch I did. I liked this version, but for some reason I just couldn't get it to work when I started drawing it for real, and had to start over from scratch. Sometimes that happens. Things that work in a sketch sometimes refuse to work in a finished piece.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


When I was a kid, my all time favorite toys were Mattel's Major Matt Mason line. America's space race was in full swing and MMM was Mattel's attempt at cashing in on the sudden interest in all things space related. I was crazy about rockets, planets and aliens, so the MMM toys were right up my alley.

I loved all my MMM toys and played with them constantly for years. The line started out with just Major Matt and several vehicles and accessory packs. Most of these early accessories were based on actual NASA equipment and plans. Later on Mattel added more fanciful, sci-fi hardware. They also added three more astronauts to the lineup, and then as Star Trek started to become popular, they included several aliens in the mix as well.

The first of the alien figures released was Callisto, the Man From Jupiter. That's my drawing of him above. I remember the package boldly called attention to his green transparent head, complete with brain that could be glimpsed inside. Of course his "brain" was just the post holding his head to his body, but I thought it was cool anyway. Callisto was a friendly alien, and he accompanied my Major Matt Mason on many dangerous missions.

Like Many of the MMM figures, he came with an air-powered weapon. You hooked a plastic bellows and clear tube to his gun, squeezed it and a yellow string would flick in and out of the end of his weapon. Simple but effective, and best of all, no lost projectiles. By the way, Mattel's official word was that the flicking yellow string was a "sensor line to gather planetary samples." We kids knew better-- it was a laser beam!

Most of the figures in the line were bendies; rubber bodies covering wire armatures. Unfortunately no matter how careful I was, the inner wires didn't hold up to too much posing, so after a while my figures had "dead" limbs that would no longer bend.

Each birthday and Christmas I'd get a few more figures and vehicles, and my little space program would expand. There were a few of the larger playsets that I wanted but never managed to acquire, but I still had an impressive space fleet.

Then as so often happens, I grew older and entered college and decided I was "too old" for toys. I boxed up all my Major Matt figures and equipment and sold them in a yard sale, no doubt for next to nothing. It's a move I've regretted every day since. It still makes me sick thinking about it. Why I got rid of them instead of leaving them in the closet, I have no idea.

You can still find MMM toys online, but mint condition copies are prohibitively expensive. I doubt I'll ever have any again. Excuse me while I go kick myself.

Here's my original digital sketch of Callisto. 

Callisto was drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Do-It-Myself Calendar

Cheapskate that I am, I always wait until after Christmas to buy a calendar, because they're always marked down at least 50%. Unfortunately this year I didn't find even a single one that interested me. I don't want a calendar with photos of puppies, Thomas Kinkade paintings or scenic Tuscany.*

So, since I couldn't find a store-bought calendar that I liked, I decided to make my own.

I measured my old calendar to get the dimensions, then used InDesign to lay out all the pages. Then I went through my digital illustrations and found twelve that I liked and inserted them. I printed it out, and Violin! My very own homemade calendar featuring my art work.

Here's a few sample pages from my do-it-myself calendar. As always, I apologize in advance for the poor photography.

* This brings up a pet peeve of mine. I like looking at photos of China. I've been there in person, and I can say without a doubt that China has some of the most unusual and breathtaking scenery on the planet. But go to a store and try to find a calendar containing photos of China. It can't be done. They've got scenic calendars of Japan, New York City, Paris, Rome, Tuscany, even Ireland for poop's sake, but God forbid someone publish a China one.

Do the calendar makers think China's not important enough? Let's see... population of Tuscany: 3.7 million. Population of China: 1.3 BILLION. So where are all the frakin' China calendars?

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Buy one, two or go for broke and get all three. You can even buy multiple copies of the same poster and give them as gifts. The more you buy, the more you save!
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