Thursday, February 15, 2007

GOING BACK TO THE MATTRESSESS (or in this case, the pillow…)

That’s a mob term, “Going to the mattresses.” Y’see, when a gang war escalates, mob bosses scout out empty buildings for their men to occupy throughout the city to keep them both undercover and in the thick of it for fast responses (and as often, provocation) to violent opposition. Consequently, the bosses fill the floor space of these hideouts with mattresses for the various hitmen and thugs to bunk on for the duration of the conflict. Here endeth the lesson. Refer to Mario Puzo’s immortal work, “The Godfather”, to further your education.

However, none of that really has to do with what I’m about to expound upon. I just like the phrase. Plus, mattress made me think of pillow, which is why I’ve brought all you here…

I’ve returned to my children’s book, “Pillow Billy” (page 28 of which you can see above), and have sent it to a publisher here in Michigan. Mackinac Island Press out of Traverse City, to be exact. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me earlier to try this route. I seem to recall that I once sent a long-since abandoned children’s book concept to a Michigan publisher (circa 1996, I believe) and received the response that they only published books about Michigan and the outdoors, neither of which described my book. Maybe that’s what kept me from pursuing Michigan publishing houses. Heck, maybe that will happen again, I dunno. Regardless if it does, it’s worth a shot. I’d just been thinking about a Michigan-based author I’d learned about during my days at Delta College, and how he was successful with a children’s book series he created called “Buck Wilder.” I researched him, and found out that Mackinac Island Press published his work, so it seemed as good a place as any to send Pillow Billy. Months ago, I’d e-mailed Jonathan Rand, author of the Michigan Chiller series, to get some tips on getting your book published. Never heard back from him. So for anyone about to suggest I check that guy out, just know that I did, and it didn’t come to much. Let’s hope Mack. Press yields better results. More news on that when it comes.

I’m also involved in what I can only refer to as a “top secret” project. A company is developing something that they may be interested in having me provide artwork for. I really wish I could say more, but as it stands, I have to sign a confidentiality agreement just to get more info about the product in order to create sample artwork for them to consider. Right now, I’m just one of however many artists vying for a shot as their illustrator. But I think I have the edge. I’ve seen a sample of the kind of work they’re looking for, and right away I knew I could do leagues better than that without even trying. So if ever I can be more specific about what I may or may not be doing here, I will be. In the meantime, bask in the intrigue. Bask, damn you.

No word from that magazine in England regarding the staff cartoonist gig (samples of my submission to which you can view above). If I hear from them, good deal. If not, I’m no worse off than I was before. Plus, it was just cool to have correspondence with industry pros across the pond regarding my artwork. That experience is worth a rejection.

I’ve e-mailed a few companies that I’ve heard of through the artistic grapevine or stumbled upon on A couple animation studios and some magazines. No word back from any of those leads yet, but at least I can say I’m trying.

So I’ve been worrying lately about my artistic purpose. For most of my life, the purpose has been to create, plain and simple. But in the last few years, probably due in part the arrival of my early 30’s as well as wanting to live in better conditions than your average hobo, I’ve noticed a pull towards money. Whereas when I started out as a freelance artist fifteen years ago, and I’d turn away work based on if I didn’t want to drive too far or didn’t like the client or assignment, these days I find myself taking gigs that I know I’ll dislike, just because I need the cash.

I’ve recently been called about speaking to a couple classes and essentially teaching a lesson on cartooning. Well, I hate teaching. And I’m sorry, but you cannot teach cartooning. At least I can’t. I firmly believe that, unlike any other art form, cartooning is pure instinct, that you either have it or you don’t, and that if you don’t, you’ll never get it. Nobody ever taught it to me. It just hit me. Or was always in me, and one day (age two), I noticed it was there, like a baby boy discovering his wiener. But back to the teaching. I basically finagled it so that I could draw the students for two hours while responding to questions they may have along the way. Not so much teaching as a chalk talk, albeit with a felt tip marker. But still, not my favorite thing to do. It’s just the money, y’know? Gotta make the rent, gotta make the loan payments, gotta make the car insurance bill, gotta make ALL the bills, gotta gotta gotta…

But have I gotten to the point where my artistic purpose is the money? If it has, it’s sad for two reasons. 1. Art and finance do not mix. Oil and water are more compatible. You either do art because you love it or to turn a buck. Not both. 2. The other thing is, if I am in it for the money, then I need to pick a new profession, go back to Delta and learn how to change oil or something, because the money I make from my art is not enough to kick up the dirt about. I crunched the numbers, and essentially I spent $10,000 more on my art (in gas, transportation, art supplies, etc…) that I made off it this past year (six grand if I was lucky). And unless my tax deductions all pay out the way I hope they will, then I’m a grade a chump for going into art for the money. Do the math. Carry the two. The end result always comes up chump.

The upswing to this is that my $10,000 deficit seems cold hard evidence that I must be creating art for the love of it. I’m not stupid, I know what I spend on things. And I’m wise enough to have a day job of twelve years to balance out my income. But for me to have spent more than I made off my art means that I must love it. That’s enough justification for losing money on it, or for doing it at all. It’s my life’s blood, and without it, I’m just another corpse floating in a sea of conformity and crushed dreams. I’ve seen that sea. It’s gotten pretty crowded, especially in the Mid Michigan area. James Cameron’s “Titanic: couldn’t replicate that tragedy. And I don’t want to be a part of that. So for the love of my art, I’ll keep doing it.

Laura said to me today, “You make people happy with your art.” She really knows how to make it seem significant, important. How to make me feel significant and important. Do I make people happy with my art? Am I contributing to the world and making it better because of what I create? Laura thinks so, and she believes it when she says it. I believe in her. So in turn, I have to believe in myself. Guess it’s true then. I do it for the art, and the art’s purpose is to make people happy. Somebody get Kermit on the phone and tell him I need to borrow his banjo. I feel a song coming on…

Thursday, February 08, 2007

BIRTH OF A BURGER and other news….

Ever since I began dreaming of a life as a cartoonist (approximately age five to be exact), I also dreamt of a name, a title by which my work could be identified by the viewing public.

When, as an ambitious gradeschooler, I drew greeting cards for family and friends, I emblazoned the back of each card with “Fosgitt ‘N’ Friends” in true Hallmark style. I eventually dropped this nom de plume when it was pointed out to me that there were no friends involved, since I created the cards all by myself.

In my pre-teen years I tagged all my homemade comic books with the moniker “Foz Comics”, placed in Marvel Comics fashion in the upper left corner of each incomplete issue (in those days, I never finished a comic. On a good day I had a complete cover and half the first page before I lost interest).

When I was in my early college years and aspired to one day have my own cartooning studio, names like “Fozworks Studio” and “lowercasegods Studio” were at the top of an ever-growing list of possibilities. “lowercasegods” was a term I coined in 1998 and eventually became my e-mail address until I got the shit spammed out of me and had to create a new account using fourpanelhero.

In this past year, as I toyed around with my old character Dead Duck and his newly created sidekick Zombie Chick, I began to fantasize about on ongoing comic book or graphic novel with the duo. The stories began to flow fast and naturally, and the characters jelled very quickly into fully rounded personalities. I knew if I wanted to that I could make something out of this, for my own enjoyment if nothing else. But still, like all those times before, I needed a name.

That’s when it hit me, as many a fella with a bright idea has remarked in his lifetime.

At the time, I was enjoying online popularity for a cartoon I drew showing the McDonaldland cast in place of Jesus and his disciples in a piece I titled “The Last Happy Meal.” Fast food has always inspired me. There’s a real art to all that cheap and greasy commercialism if you look for it. But to whittle down my muse to its core, cheeseburgers have always been a very significant staple of my existence. Hands down, they were my favorite food from childhood into adulthood. Even today, I can tell you the best places to get burgers within a half hour radius of where I live (Mount Pleasant: Freddie’s Bar and Grill with their Chicago Burger, Midland: The Boulevard with its legendary Bully Burger, Bay City: Steamers Pub, whose burgers are small but their flavor is oversized, and Saginaw: Jason Premo, my best bud from high school, with his indefinable and untouchable Premo Burgers). So it goes to show that I’m a connoisseur of the cow. All this all-beef blather has a purpose, folks, for it’s what ultimately inspired me in christening my comic book company, publisher of Dead Duck and potentially a lot more of my brainchildren. Break out the A-1 sauce kids, for I give you….

Like it? This is pretty much how I imagined the logo when it first came to me around last Halloween. I’d done a few rough sketches since then, but this was the full-out baby that I gave birth two, and man do my mommy parts smart. So anyway, Cheeseburger Press is my little publishing house. That is, when I’m actually ready to publish something. I’ve got ideas for Pillow Billy, a new line of greeting cards, all sorts of stuff that will fit nicely under the Cheeseburger Press heading. I suppose it’s possible that my studio, as a collective entity of my creative process and end product, could be thought of as Cheeseburger Press Studio. Yeah. I like that. Guess that makes it official now. Dig it. Anyway, you heard it here first.

I also wanted to report that Interlude Magazine has allowed me to revisit my old style in my latest assignment for them, an illustration for an article about allergies, and I couldn’t be happier. My Vector-style art is fun to look at, though a bit of a bitch to create. But I don’t want to employ it at the expense of losing my old style, which is truly my creative identity. So as you can see by these samples, my identity is fully in tact. Who needs a thumbprint when you got cartoons like this?

The Vector style will no doubt resurface in assignments which best suit it, so don’t think I’m devolving artistically. Emotionally, sure. I’ve met twelve year olds that could school me in maturity contests. But artistically, I’m at the top of my game. More later, kids. Much more.


Oh, and P.S. A mad love shout out to my favorite TV show, “Scrubs”, for being the best antidote for the weekday blues. Tonight’s episode was absolutely the best. God, I love that show…

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Righto, Guvner! A Spot O' Art News And A Hero To Boot!

This photo was an idea that came to me last summer. I found the shirt I’m wearing in the pic at Steve And Barry’s in The Midland Mall and fell in love with it. I’m a huge fan of the Rockabilly 50’s-style shirts, and this is as close as I could come to buying one without having to sell a kidney (if you visit Rockabilly Apparel sites, you’ll see such garments are hella pricey). Anyway, the shirt made me think of the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk The Line” and its graphically stunning poster, so I wrapped my artistic sensibilities around it, employed my new digital camera and a healthy dose of Photoshop, and what you see is what you get. That’s my tool of the trade, a Micron Pigma Marker, in my sweaty palms. I truly am a rock and roll cartoonist icon, in my imagination if nowhere else.

So I wrote in haste the other day, not taking into account a bit of artistic info that I’d wanted to share with you cats at the time besides the now defunct Bay City Times sitch. So to remedy that mistake, here goes…

A month back I was on and found a listing for a magazine cartoonist in, of all places, London, England. So I sent them a message, linked my website and assumed I’d never hear from them. Fortunately, a few weeks later, they proved me wrong.

One of the magazine’s editors wrote and said she liked what she saw on my website. She asked me to come up with some sample comic strips concerning full figured women being happy with themselves in a weight obsessed world, which was the magazine’s core demographic and mission statement. So I whipped up some samples and sent them off. A few more weeks later I got another message saying they liked my samples, would show them to the editor in chief and get back with me.

So that’s where I stand now. If it all works out, I may be seeing my first internationally published work, which would be a whole new plateau for my career. Excited much? Me too. More later when I hear something.

Now I’m going to do something that I promised myself and Web, Funk, Tetris and Jedi Master Foco I’d never do; break trend, throw continuity asunder and, GASP, write about something on my blog that has nothing to do with my artistic career! So here goes….

Many people have heard me sing the praises of Joss Whedon, the creative brain trust behind the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV show and much more importantly, the Firefly TV show and its theatrical follow up movie Serenity. Firefly made me fall in love with television all over again (a mega shout out to my pal and brother-from-another-mother Pat Dooley for introducing it to me. Wash lives on, my comrade).

So when I heard that movie mogul Joel “Die Hard” Silver anointed Whedon with the holy crusade of bringing Wonder Woman, the first lady of female superheroes, to the big screen, I was all kinds of excited. Whedon, in my opinion at least, wrote heroic women very well. And as soon as I began hearing his ideas for the film, my Joss Whedon semi-hetero man-crush grew to unseemly proportions. He said he was going to ditch the whole “stars and stripes” motif to WW’s costume because logically, she was an Amazonian warrior of Mediterranean stock, not a female Captain America born at the base of purple mountain’s majesty or any such smear (my words, not his). He still intended to keep the general look of the character, i.e. headband, wristbands, metallic brazier and lasso, which was iconic and appropriate.

The next bit of excitement was the possibility of casting. Since Whedon was writing and directing the movie, he had that much more clout to determine who WW would be played by. Film footage of him at the San Diego Comic Con in 2005 saw him with his old Firefly/Serenity cast member, Moreena Baccarin, in tow. When asked by an interviewer if she were up for the role of WW, Whedon coyly joked about the possibility. As he was known to re-use his actors for a lot of his projects, the likelihood of Baccarin being cast seemed fated, and I couldn’t have been happier. From then on, she was the only choice to play the superhero in my mind.

Jump ahead two years. No news on the progress of the project, and I’m getting antsy. The longer it takes for something like this to come together, the more likely it would all fall apart. It’s strange that I would be thinking this, with no new info for at least a year, just to have a buttload of info dropped in my lap the day after I thought of it.

News came out that Joel Silver had purchased a “spec script” (i.e. a script written without studio involvement in the hopes of a studio eventually picking it up) written by a pair of unknowns concerning a certain lasso-wielding, head-banded super heroine. Silver went on record as saying he bought the script outright in the event that, if it were later to turn out that there were unintentional similarities with their script and the one Whedon was writing, that there wouldn’t be any legal shenanigans regarding stolen plot ideas and such.

Then, last night, a bit of news broadsided me like a blimp colliding with the invisible jet. Whedon was fired off of Wonder Woman because, ultimately, Silver didn’t like the work he was doing. Silver, it seems, outright lied about the precautionary measures taken with the unknown duo’s spec script. He liked it well enough to give Whedon the axe.

Now, as sad as I am the Whedon is leaving the project, the one silver lining here is that the guys who wrote the spec script are planning to have the story take place during WWII. That was when Wonder Woman came around, and I think she fits that time period. If only they would have set The Fantastic Four in the 1960’s like I wanted. Anyway, I wasn’t entirely sold on everything Whedon was doing anyhow. He wanted to create a whole new villain for the film and disregard WW’s pantheon of villains from the comic. Though her villains by and large sucked, if you’re doing a movie based on the comic, don’t skimp on the villains. The Cheetah may be a lame villain, but at least she’s part of the source material. Beyond that, though, Silver’s gonna have to conjure up one hell of an impressive director and star to win me over on this new Whedon-free Wonder Woman.

So that’s all for now. I have some ideas for my upcoming blogs, so stay tuned kids.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Kinda Curious About That Bay City Times Job...?

Who’s the guy in the Central cap, Buddy Holly glasses and Canada jacket standing in front of the tridge?
Y’know, they say that cat Foz is a bad mutha…
Shut yo mouth.
But I’m talking;’ ‘bout Foz.
Oh, we can dig it.

So, after absolutely no news for over a month from The Bay City Times, I decided to call up the editor in chief and just ask flat out what the results of the contest were and if I got the gig as cartoonist. It came as no surprise when he didn’t answer the phone, resulting in me leaving him a message. It came as even less a surprise when it took him over a week to call me back. Bottom line is, I didn’t get the gig. He told me that Stoutheart and Cholly (the strip I submitted) was the lowest-voted strip out of all those in the running. The highest voted strip was one about senior citizens. And as he pointed out that senior citizens make up the bulk of The Times’ core demographic, it kinda made sense. He went further to explain that the voters wanted the familiarity of the older strips (i.e. Garfield, Marmaduke, etc.) as well as new strips about old people, so that’s what he wanted to provide. That was basically the end of the conversation. He implied that if I wanted to do the occasional editorial comic for very little pay that such options were still open, but knowing my firm stance on cartooning being my career rather than an unpaid hobby, he knew I wasn’t interested anyway. I took the news well enough. Seeing as how The Times didn’t alert me when the contest began, never called me when the contest was over, and took a week to reply after I called them, I knew we weren’t meant for each other. So that’s the end of that minor saga, for those curious as to how it would unfold. And unfold it did. Quite wrinkly, and with a musty aroma. Fortunately, I’ve cut a fresher pattern from a whole new fabric in the form of Interlude Magazine, who’s kept me in good supply of assignments. Whether or not a steady position on their staff is on the horizon is impossible to forecast. But for now, it’s good work, good people, good pay and good exposure. And though two wrongs don’t make a right and two rights don’t make a left, four goods make me happy. ‘Nuff said.