Monday, May 21, 2007

I just never take enough pictures…

I just spent the best weekend with the love of my life and a handful of my childhood heroes, and I only have a couple pictures to show for it, most of which were taken after the fact. You can stop scratching your heads, I’ll explain.

This past weekend marked the 25th birthday of my best friend and fiancée Laura Tanner. To commemorate, headed down to Novi, MI to the Motor City Comic Con, bi-annual Mecca of comic books, bootleg movies, sci fi toys, anime and manga surplus and plenty of celebrities from movies, television and the cartooning field.

In preparation of meeting my pop culture heroes, I had drawn caricatures of some of the celebrities, one copy as a gift for the celeb and one to get autographed for myself. Amongst those I drew and met were:

Legendary character actor Robert Picardo!

Picardo has starred in some of my favorite sci fi and horror films, such as The Howling (as Eddie Quist), and Legend (as Meg Mucklebones), so I drew his caricature below with him flanked by some of his screen personas.

Picardo was a nice enough guy, but it was obvious that he was there for his Star Trek fans more than he was for us old school guys who knew him before he joined Star Trek Voyager. Our brief encounter felt really rushed, so I didn’t try to get my photo taken with him. Still, he genuinely seemed to enjoy the caricature and autographed it for me. That’s still pretty cool.

I also met veteran voice actor Billy West, seen below in a great photo with Laura and I at the con!

In Billy’s caricature, I drew the man with three of his most famous characters, Stimpy, Doug and Fry. But I also tried to make a statement about how A list celebrities (such as Bruce Willis and others) are stealing work away from professional cartoon voice actors because studios can bank on a celeb’s name to sell their cartoon. I knew West shared my disdain for “Movie star” voice casting, so I figured he’d enjoy this piece. I was right.

Billy was the nicest and most real celeb I’ve ever met. He really took the time to talk with Laura and I, answered our questions, asked questions of us. And he gave me some great advice. After receiving the caricature, he says to me, “Are you humble about your work?” To which I shrugged and nodded. He told me that, essentially, you can't be afraid to have an ego. If you come across as loud and confident you may inspire others who look up to you and your work. His own story of overcoming adversity and accomplishing his dreams is tragic and inspiring, and I feel very lucky to have shared a moment with such an incredible guy.

Possibly the greatest experience I had at the con, though, was meeting cartoonist Sergio Aragones (NOTE: This photo is from another con Sergio attended. I regret not getting my photo with him when I had the chance. But I will correct this one day…).

In my youth, the man entertained and inspired me with his cartoons in Mad Magazine and with his comic book barbarian Groo the Wanderer. Through Groo in particular, Sergio taught me how to fill my drawings with minute detail, how to create simple yet hilarious cartoon characters, and how to tell stories with such visual punch and appeal that they transcend all cultural and language barriers.

When I approached Sergio’s table, at best I’d hoped to get him to autograph my original 1987 print edition of “Death of Groo.” That would have been plenty cool. But I decided to go for broke and asked him if he’d be willing to do a sketch of two of my characters, Dead Duck and Zombie Chick. As I asked, I pulled out my Dead Duck portfolio featuring the duo in full color on the cover. Sergio, in the kindest and gentlest way possible, explained that he really didn’t do that sort of thing anymore, which I totally understood (Rumor had it his sketches were being hawked on E-bay rather than treasured as they should have been. I’d be hesitant to do sketches, too). However, he said he really wanted to look at my Dead Duck portfolio. As he slowly turned the pages, he began to laugh quite a bit, and couldn’t stop saying how much he liked my artwork, and also how cute he thought Zombie Chick was. He just loved her! He even did his impression of what he thought she would sound like if she actually spoke! We talked a bit about how there really isn’t a good outlet for humor in comic books these days, what sorts of pens he used (I touched the pen he draws with!!!), he threw in some advice about drawing backgrounds, and said how he thought Dead Duck and Zombie Chick would work best in color. All these things I took in as best as my fevered mind could manage. It was equivalent to a film student getting praise and advice from Orson Welles! Through it all, Sergio was warm, friendly, quick with a hearty laugh, and ended it all with the warmest two-fisted handshake I’ve ever had. It was like a hug, I swear to god. I want this man to be my godfather. Anyway, that was the all time greatest con moment I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot. Oh, and I should mention that as he autographed my comic book, Sergio still managed to draw me a quick sketch of Groo on the title page, which is just precious.

Much love, Sergio.

Another neat connection I made at the con was with Nathan Kane, the art director of Bongo Comics. Bongo is the comic book publishing house of Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons (and named after Groening’s one-eared bunny character from his Life In Hell comic strip). Bongo publishes comics about the Simpsons, as well as their second-tier characters, and Groening’s other major creation, Futurama. I showed Kane some of my artwork and asked him what I guy had to do to get work with Bongo. Kane immediately gave me his contact info and instructed me to send him my mailing address, and he’d send me a pencil test. What this is essentially is a hand-drawn audition to see if you’re good enough to draw the Simpsons. If I did well, I may land a gig drawing Groening’s brainchildren for Bongo comics. As of this writing, I’ve hastily sent off an e-mail to Kane to set the ball rolling and get the pencil test as soon as possible. If anything comes of it, you can bet you’ll read about it here.

The rest of the weekend was just a luxury, with Laura and I basking in the warm glow of comic books, expansive (and expensive) shopping malls and great fast food restaurants that you can’t find here in the tri-cities. It was a much-needed vacation that provided a richer bounty than I could have possibly imagined. I just had to share these wonderful moments with you guys because they were that special to me.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Am I truly back? It feels like I never left…

This has been my expression of angst lately. Thanks to a crudded-up computer, I’ve been out of online commission for roughly two weeks, which for me is a very big deal. A stinky little virus kept me from e-mailing, blogging and accessing such programs as Photoshop and my Kodak program used to download pictures off my digital camera. Had it not been for a conveniently-timed dry spell in my art gigs, the loss of these programs alone would have been devastating to my income. Fortunately, Laura knows computers and made it all better at the zero hour, when a gig came my way for which Photoshop was a must have. So long story longer, all was fixed, I’m back on track and bursting at the seams with a new blog to share. So here we go…

Laura just finished up a two-week run in the show CATS at the Bay City Players. I cannot speak highly enough about this production, due to the remarkable quality of the show itself, as well as the wonderful experiences that both Laura and I had during the course of this show. During the multi-month rehearsal schedule, as I’d drop Laura off at the theater, I was brought in sporadically to create scenery artwork. I also spent a lot of time sitting in the back of the theater or backstage getting to know the cast and crew. Towards the end of rehearsals, when it was still up in the air as to how the makeup for the cats themselves would be created, I offered my limited experience in stage makeup application and design. As it turned out, the show ended up using two extremely talented airbrush artists, respectfully known as The Airbrush Cowboy (known to all of us as just Cowboy) and Greg (seen in this photo, Cowboy in the hat and Greg with the beard), to apply the makeup since they’d already airbrushed color on the costumes (Dig the photos of Laura in mid-airbrush mode, mid-makeup mode and the great end result of each).

But I was still brought aboard to do more intricate makeup touch-ups after they applied the main blocks of color (such as on Laura's eyes, my best makeup work probably). These photos show Danielle as the cat Cassandra, whose eye makeup I did with the points going off into her temples...

Andres as Mr. Mistoffalees, whose mouth, whiskers and eyes I created...

...and Alyssa, whose whiskers I created.

This proved to be an incredible experience for me, as it allowed for close working environment with the artists, actors and techies, and I made some very good friends in the process.(These are photos of Rayechel as the cat Jemima, and without her makeup at our after-show party)

During the run of the show, I drew some colored pencil and marker caricatures of Laura and I couple of the actors from the show. These proved popular enough that a couple cast members had me draw them without their makeup when the show was through. These photos show dancers/singers Danielle and April, sans makeup, in the flesh and in the ink.

Being even as small a part of this show as I was made me feel incredible, like I haven’t felt since doing Christmas Story last December and in my days in CMU’s theater dept. So I’ve decided that I’m going to audition for my first show in about three years, “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel”, a play by Mitch Albom being produced at The Bay City Players. That place has really grown on me, like a second home, and to do a show there again would be such a thrill, so I’m going to take steps to hopefully make that happen.

I mentioned in my last blog how my Florida friend and puppet builder Michele had commissioned me to create artwork for her Ebay page. As a sort of barter for my services, she built a puppet of my Children’s book character, Pillow Billy. Which turned out just wonderful. Here’s a couple photos showing the result. I intend to use the second pic (and the puppet itself) as publicity for my Pillow Billy children’s book whenever the time comes.

On the art front, I’ve had a lot of gigs and commissions in the past couple months. My latest have been pretty unique. A woman and her husband from Bullock Creek (just south of Midland) are starting a pet care business called “The Poo Patrol”, and they hired me to design the logo for their business. When they contacted me to do it, my computer was still all ganked up, but right after I drew it all out, Laura brought my system back to life, and I was able to color it in Photoshop. Here’s the end result.

Another commission came from a client of my birth mom. The lady wanted a caricature of her friend who was turning fifty. She game me a photo for reference and made some suggestions to incorporate into the drawing. I pulled it off pretty quickly, and I’m happy with how it turned out. See for yourself.

I’ve got a bunch more gigs coming my way in the next month or so, which is always good news. I’m currently in deep negotiations for a project I’d mentioned before. It’s all very hush hush, but I can say that my potential clients chose me above other artists for the project, and we’re currently hashing out a fair pay scheme. Once that’s figured out, I’ll probably begin creating the art. This has the potential to be the biggest project of my career, with good odds of future work and potentially a steady position with the company if this project becomes successful. So crossed fingers, knock on wood and all the hoohah. I need every bit of good luck hokum I can round up.

Next time I post, I’m hoping to have some pages from my recently completed Dead Duck origin story to showcase, if not the entire story (we’ll see if I’m feeling “saucy” enough). There will be other stuff to share as well, and lots more verbal rambling from yours truly. Until then, thanks for hanging in there with me. I appreciate your audience and friendship.