Jack Kirby, Goals, and Fear(lessness)

I had hoped to update this blog weekly for a while but it looks like I let things slide since November. Will things improve in 2018? Let’s find out.

It has been a pretty mild winter overall, apparently the least amount of snow here in Halifax in a long time. Nicole and I made it to Saint John for just under a week’s worth of holidays, with requisite (but too short) visits with friends and family.

I find myself testing the limits of my ability to process new levels of stress lately. Mostly with success. If nothing else, it has given me a chance to dust off my Buddhism, and refresh the principles that I am supposed to be using as a foundation for how I interact with the world. (That sounds grander than it actually is. For me, it’s just the importance of keeping things in perspective, and especially resisting knee-jerk fear reactions to things.)

Anyway. Stress. I feel like I am doing a decent job of going with the flow, which is a goal for me, and not getting anxious about deadlines, especially self-imposed ones. That said, I have also attempted to organize my many projects for this year so that I can jump from one to another, from relatively simple things that I can crank out frequently to more complicated things that will be one-offs. (I apologize for saying “crank out frequently,” it won’t happen again.)

Over the holidays I randomly caught an episode of the series Electric Dreams, based on Philip K. Dick’s short stories, and it made me think about his pink beam of alien(?) light, and how the world since he died feels increasingly like something he might have dreamed up. Sometimes I feel like I should go back and reread Phil’s books, and maybe one day I will. At this point I would rather catch up on the many unread books I have accumulated, plus my ever-growing list of library holds.

Speaking of books, I bought myself a bit of a present after Christmas – the omnibus edition of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, which reprints all of his series of The New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. I used to have all of the original issues of them except for Olsen but I sold them at one point years ago when I needed money. The new volume is pricey, but not compared to trying to collect the originals again, or even compared to buying trade collections. It is quite a trip to go through those stories again in linear order.

Part of the reason for that is the way that those old stories- clunky as they often are in their vernacular- are like a pair of heart paddles for someone at my age, who loves both Kirby and comics. Their energy, their imagination, and the way that they distill the man’s feelings about the art form, about young people, about war, and hope. The Anti-Life Equation that Darkeid sought could have been many things, but I always think of it in relation to fear. Kirby was fearless, and driven to keep making art that both brought him commercial success so he could take care of his family, but also pushed the boundaries of the art form where he had already tirelessly innovated by 1970.

Fear has been on my mind a lot lately. Fear of failure, fear of change, even fear of success. You would think that an old Buddhist would recognize the dangers of it more readily, but I still have to remind myself, and I still have to push myself to do some things that other people don’t even have to think about, like interacting with strangers. So, apart from the creative goals I have this year, my main personal goal is to stop allowing fear from playing a role in my day to day life. Easier said than done, of course, but I think it is achievable eventually.

 

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Finding the People

Last year around this time, maybe a little later, I was thinking about how I could “level up” my creative work and complete a worthwhile challenge or two. I’m generally happy with my progress and my output in a lot of respects, but I don’t always feel like I’m good at getting things in front of the audience that would appreciate it.

So, I thought a good way to start would be to level up my publishing. I explored my options for print on demand and wound up trying CreateSpace, Amazon’s in-house solution. I was pleased with it, so I published more books, and now I have several that I can bring with me to shows or just sell online.

Now that I am planning for next year, I am excited about a few potential projects but I also want to continue trying to extend how I reach the audience. It’s been obvious to me for some time that I probably won’t ever create something that has mass appeal, like Spider-Man; but there is definitely a group of people out there who seem to like my work, and I want them to be able to access it easily. And I’d like to be able to access them easily too, to let them know first if I’m doing something I think they’ll like.

So, I think I will start a Patreon. In fact, I already have, but I haven’t activated yet while I’m still figuring out how it will work. I plan on keeping it as simple as possible, basically with a level where subscribers can access a bunch of digital exclusive stuff and another where they can access both digital stuff and periodic physical shipments of comics, little bits of art, and so on.

It’s intimidating, but I think I need to get out of the habit of assuming that people would not subscribe to such a thing. I didn’t expect them to buy as many copies of my books as they did this year either! So why not try?

Not that it’s about making money. I don’t expect to profit from a Patreon- at best it will pay for the time it takes me to make and ship patron-exclusive stuff- but having the additional “channel” of Patreon to point people to could be very useful for building and maintaining an audience and giving them a sort of virtual convention table to go to for the 48ish weeks a year that I’m not doing shows.

So, that is kind of the big effort for next year. I already have a long list of ideas for Patron-exclusive stuff to do in addition to everything else I want to do- more details as they come, including the Patreon link after it launches.

What else to talk about this week? We started a new month, so my participation in Inktober ended and my participation in National Novel Writing Month began, as it has for the last few years. I was overall quite pleased with the stuff I did for Inktober this year – some of the illustrations will definitely be included in an upcoming art book of some sort and one or two favourites might also get used as cards or prints. Again, I’ll keep you posted.

The novel this year is a comedy and a Western, something which we don’t see as much as we used to – I grew up with the “They Call Me Trinity” movies, Blazing Saddles, and so on. Not that I expect the novel to turn out to be a classic like the latter of course, but I am enjoying where it’s going so far.

As for the week coming up, it’s Remembrance Day next weekend here in Canada, which is a big deal to me and many others. Thanks to those who have served to defend their country and others from tyranny. May you never be called to action by poor commanders.

One Last Push…

2017

Hard to believe it’s almost Halloween. Last weekend was my last show of the year, the Halifax Pop Explosion Zine Fest, and I had a good time.

If you’re interested, I did manage to put together a new illustrated zine for it, an adaptation of Carmaig DeForest’s song “Hey Judas”, which was originally written as a takedown of then-President Reagan. I updated it for the current occupant of the Really White House and created some illustrations that depict what Hell would be like for Donald Trump. I decided to make it an extra challenge for myself by making the zine through 100% analog tools; it was all hand-drawn, painted and lettered. Fun, right? Anyway, there are a limited number of printed copies of the zine left – I will list it in my comics/zine store for those who want it.

As you can see in the picture for this post, there is also a new print called “Donair Trail” that borrows the design of some Nova Scotia provincial highway signs. I’m going to look into local distribution but if you are out of the HRM and would like one, you can order through InPrnt.

One of my goals for 2017, after a 2016 where I did some shows but was a bit disappointed with the results, was that I was going to upgrade the things I had to offer; I wanted to collect and publish some of my favourite older material, create and publish some new books, and work harder in general on the quality of my illustrations and prints. Overall, I feel like I have achieved those goals, so that feels good. Having the books available for sale, especially The Insult and Young & Dumb, had a positive impact on sales and generated some very welcome feedback. It was interesting and invigorating to “level up” my publishing efforts from trying to do everything myself to working with print on demand. I feel like it helped me turn a page, if you’ll pardon the pun.

There is still some older material I want to publish, most notably my old MA thesis as a monograph and my first three NaNoWriMo novels, but they all need significant editing, so if I can get those done by this time next year, that would be great. Of course I also want to get some new comics done, and illustrations, and perhaps look into listing my stuff on digital services like Comixology. I have also been thinking about a new project that would consume a good chunk of time, but I think it would be a fun challenge, so… we’ll see.

If it sounds like I am talking as if it’s the end of the year, it’s because it kind of is for me. The last few years I have been loosely planning my projects month by month, with a general plan for the entire year done in advance so that I can try to have something new to launch at the shows that I do.

But the end of the year has pretty much been the same since 2014: in October I do Inktober, a daily challenge for artists to draw something in ink every day. I’ve been doing it this year too- you can see it on my Instagram– and I think this year has been my best overall.

In November I’ve been doing National Novel Writing Month, a great way for experienced and amateur writers  to quickly knock out the first draft of a novel and raise money for school writing programs. I was able to complete the challenge on my first two tries but came up short last year due to some personal issues. I’m about to do it again for this year, so wish me luck.

December is not exactly a month off – I usually wind up doing an illustration or two for xmas presents, plus I draw custom gift tags and plan projects for the next year. Mostly I try to relax and enjoy time with family and recharge.

So, yeah; one last push for this year- NaNoWriMo- and then the holidays and snow and all that will be upon us. I’ll try to post here a little more often, especially about the new stuff as it becomes available. If you’ve made it this far, thanks as always for your support. I hope you have a great remainder of  the year. I hope we all do.

 

A Book! A Book Comes!

young_dumb_coverIt’s true! This past weekend I had the pleasure of launching a new book at the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival, a retrospective of my 25+ years making comics called Young, Dumb, and Full of Comics. It contains material dating back to 1991, including many out of print stories and mini-comics.

If you are in the Halifax area, you can get a signed copy at Strange Adventures or watch for it to roll out to some other local spots (including other Maritime cities) over the next few weeks. If not, you can order online through Amazon – see the Books page for links for the US, UK, and Canada.

Special thanks as well to my old friend Jason, who wrote the introduction, and to my wife Nicole and son Jack for their love and support. My old pals Mark Dykeman and Kari Smith are represented in the book as well. I’m really happy with how it turned out and how it makes a nice sort of time capsule of my developing years as a cartoonist. I think another reason why I’m happy about it is because it feels like a good place to close the door on the kind of comics I’ve been making and move on to some that would be more challenging to make. Maybe even some in colour (gasp!)

If you buy the book, thanks. If you can’t for whatever reason, that’s OK! Request that your library order a copy, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, tweet about it – it all helps!

Adventures in Publishing

I’ve dusted off this old blog and will try to post something useful here once in a while, probably about projects that I am working on.  If you’re interested in other kinds of content, you can also enjoy my angry retweets on Twitter, reblogs of useful art tips on Tumblr, and a very infrequently updated Facebook page.

Anyway. I’ve posted before, here and there, about how I am a project-oriented artist. So much so that I keep an Access database of things I want to get done, from comics and illustrations to animations and card games. I usually have more than one thing going on at a time, for the sake of variety.

As 2016 came to a close, I realized that it had been around 25 years since I started drawing comics in earnest. Most of them were self-published at copy shops and distributed around wherever I was living at the time, and while I still have decent scans and file copies, most of them fell out of print. Sometimes I would make them available for download online as PDFs.

I thought that it might be nice to mark that 25th anniversary with a collection – something I could publish through a print on demand service, make available to actual bookstores and libraries as well as comic shops. So, I looked around at my options and decided to try Amazon’s print on demand service, CreateSpace.

Then I realized: why not bring back other stuff into print? I have also written plays, novels, tons of film reviews, and webcomics. I decided to try publishing one of my plays, An Otherworld, first. I already had the interior pages saved as a decent PDF, so all I had to do was design a cover. The entire effort took less than a day, and within a week I had copies in my hand. The quality was good, so I did another book of plays and then decided to try a collection of comics, to see how well the artwork would print.

That collection of a webcomic I did last year, The Insult, turned out very well, I think. So, I am currently dividing my time between getting that book into stores and assembling the pages for the next one, the aforementioned retrospective which will be called “Young, Dumb, and Full of Comics.” After that, probably one of the novels, and after that, a collection of film reviews and essays.

If you wind up checking any of them out, I hope you enjoy them. Watch this space for updates on their progress.

How to Make a Mini-Comic (Extreme Edition)

So, as you know if you are a regular reader, I managed to scrape together a mini-comic in time for last weekend’s Harbour Con-Fusion. I thought that some of you might like to know how the publishing end of it works, so here is what I did to make the “5 Seconds Summer Fun Special”:

1. Created the pages in Manga Studio. You can do this however you like, of course. You can create your pages digitally from start to finish, or you can draw them on paper the old-fashioned way and then scan them, or you can draw them and make your master pages on a photocopier, which is what I used to do. These days I prefer to do all-digital, because printing and photocopying and re-copying can result in lost gray tones. Plus, it’s the 21st century. :)

2. Laid out the master pages in Adobe InDesign, which is a publishing program. To create a booklet like a mini-comic, you need to arrange the pages so that they will be in the correct order once they are printed and stapled together. So if you have a 4-page comic on a single folded sheet of paper, the master pages will look like this:

Front – Page 4 (L) / Page 1 (R)
Back – Page 2 (L) / Page 3 (R)

The mini-comic I made was 12 pages, which means 3 sheets of paper with the pages figured out as above. An easy way to do this is to create an “ashcan”; take some sheets of paper, fold them the way your comic would be folded, and then write your page numbers on the sheets in sequence. When you’re done, unfold your ashcan and you will see how you will need to arrange your master pages so that you can duplex them (make double-sided copies) correctly.

3. Once the master pages were set up in InDesign, I printed them on my little laser printer. And here is where things got crafty. Because the style of the comic was meant to resemble an old Archie comic, I decided to print it directly onto newsprint. I found some newsprint pads at the art supply store; they were 9 by 12 inches, so I used my guillotine cutter to trim them to 8.5 by 12 inches, so the pages would be narrow enough to go through the printer.

4. Once the pages were printed, I collated them (combined one copy of each page in the correct order) and used my binding stapler to staple them in the center of the sheets.

5. With the comics stapled, I folded the pages in half. It looks like a comic now, but I’m not quite done; because not only did I want the comic to look like an Archie comic, I wanted it to be the same size as an Archie digest. So, back to the guillotine trimmer with the folded copies. I trimmed each to about 4 7/8″ wide by 6 1/2″ tall.

All done! I made about 50 copies altogether. If I ever do another printing, I don’t know if I will do it on newsprint again, but it was nice to make a unique object this time around. There are copies left, so if you want one, email me or leave a comment for details. I’ll be distributing some copies to Maritime comic shops and a few other places in the next few weeks as well, and eventually there will be a PDF available for download here.

Fun with Sexualized Punishment in Comics

I have seen a number of articles online lately about the depiction of assorted kinks in comics, especially Golden Age comics. Part of the academic interest lately is I suppose part of the larger mainstreaming of kink culture and its siblings, queer and LGBT theory. That’s all fine with me. I am a little dismayed, however, by a couple of trends:

1) a tendency for writers, when discussing the Golden Age and Silver Age comics, to make a meal out of stuff like Wonder Woman’s lasso (used for bondage, of course) or Superman spanking a (usually female) super-villain. Yes, obviously there is a sexual undercurrent to such depictions, but they are also products of their time. We don’t need to assume that the Silver Age writer or artist had some dark agenda by depicting a spanking; they could have just been depicting a punishment that would have made sense to a 12-year-old kid in the 1950s. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, guys.

2) these days of course, spanking is not a normal punishment outside of the kinky community (and even there it is not necessarily a punishment). I cringe at the ham-fisted attempts on television and in comics to depict a character – usually a villain – that seems to have, for lack of a better word, a “superkink”. The latest example is in the solicitation for Keith Giffen’s Superman #9, in which Big Blue battles “Masochist”, a female supervillain who apparently becomes stronger the more she is struck, like a berserker or Sebastian Shaw from the X-Men. She wears a t-shirt that says – sigh – “Hurt Me.”

As someone pointed out on Twitter this morning, Masochist sounds like a riff on the villain mentioned in Watchmen who got dropped down an elevator shaft because he kept pestering the “heroes” to hurt him. I don’t even want to contemplate what ridiculous psychological hogwash Giffen has prepared as a backstory. These two-dimensional depictions are a sign of trying too hard at best and titillation at worst. There have been some interesting takes on it, by the likes of Alan Moore and Rick Veitch, but more often than not it seems to be a way for unimaginative writers to exploit something they don’t understand.

Being kinky and getting off on receiving or administering pain (or restraint, or whatever) is not unlike being gay; it is a biological and neurological luck of the draw. It is nothing to be scared of or wonder at; it is simply the normal state of affairs for a significant percentage of the population. Perhaps someday we’ll see a truly realistic depiction of such things, in a story where it makes sense to do so.