Saturday, June 28, 2008

Just a few pages shy of THE 100 PAGE MARK!!!

Yeah, I was pretty excited when I finished my latest Dead Duck story, convinced I'd surpassed the 100 page mark. With 44 to go, I felt like I'd made a real achievement. That is, until a sobering moment brought forth by my trust college calculator gave correction to my assumption, and proved I was only at around 97. Still, I'm closer than I was when I drew that first three-page Dead Duck story back in the fall of '06 (Heck, I didn't even have a publisher back then)!

And speaking of my latest story....

I'd teased this tale in my last couple blogs, but here it is, a sneak peek at the first page (click on it for greater detail). When completed, it was about six pages, which was pretty good for working from a two-page double spaced script. It could have been much shorter, but once you read this story, you'll see how I really worked on the pacing. There's no shortage of my standard truck load of dialog, but there's also plenty of wordless panels, where hopefully body language, expressions and subtle changes from scene to scene carry the story along as effectively as I hoped when drawing it.

The story is about Dead Duck and Zombie Chick having to make a pick-up in circa 1914 Bosnia. Dead Duck is forlorn about his job, believing it to be of no positive service to society. However, upon discovering that his pick-up is none other than Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand (whose assassination is the primary impetus for World War I), Dead Duck decides to go against his professional ethics and change history by saving the Duke and erasing the history of war in the 20th century. For her part, Zombie Chick is left alone in a cafe to make friends with the Bosnian locals, specifically a morose young man who is lamenting his own failed mission in life....

The first thing I hope you'll notice is the title. "All Along The Lunch Counter" parodies the song "All Along The Watch Tower" by Bob Dylan
(Yes, I know Hendrix most famously sung it, but Dylan wrote it). And my subtitle "All Quiet On The Western Omlette" parodies the book "All Quiet On The Western Front"
which is my wife's favorite book and is set in WWI.

Using parody titles is a device I've employed in several of my Dead Duck stories, if not all of them. And where did I get inspired to use such a device...?

By the most irreverent, satirical and brilliant cartoon of the 1960's, ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE
(originally known as Rocky and Friends until Rocky's rock-headed sidekick took center stage). After each Rocky and Bullwinkle serial, the announcer would always end with "Be here next time for..." and give a parody title followed by a parody subtitle. It was genius stuff, and stuck with me since I was a four-year-old kid watching Bullwinkle reruns (having to suffer through the pre-dawn farm report to watch the show on WNEM TV 5. Saginaw, represent).

Part of what inspired me to do this story was my growing fascination with history. During my college years I was given a far better historical tutorial than high school provided, and became fascinated by the quirky facts behind the Duke's assassination. The young assassin to-be, Gavrilo Princip, had failed in his initial attempt to off the Duke, and wandered into a local cafe for some lunch. Just then, the Duke's car, lost in the unfamiliar Sarajevo neighborhood, fatefully drives past the same eatery. The rest is history. I don't know which professor to credit with teaching me this fact, but whoever it is, many, many thanks. It's a wonderful basis for one of my best Dead Duck stories to date.

The other part of inspiration came from one of my favorite books, "Ragtime" by E.L. Doctorow. It's a fictional story of the dawn of the 20th century as told through the eyes of some fictional and some historical characters. Upon my fifth or sixth reading of the book, I decided it was past due for me to drop Dead Duck into the biggest event of the early 20th century and see what transpires. I'd love to show this story to Doctorow one day and see what he thinks (hopefully he isn't one of those high-browed authors who equates comic books with outhouse toilet paper).

Lastly, I'd like to discuss the backgrounds and architecture I've drawn for this story. Now, I pride myself on my research. I was careful to study each historical figure before drawing them, researched the gun Princip used, the name of restaurant he was eating at, even the car the Duke and his wife were shot in. But people visiting modern day Sarajevo will be hard pressed to find architecture as I've drawn it here. My knowledge of turn of the century buildings is limited to countless excursions around Bay City and Saginaw. So, drawing from my memories of those places while letting my imagination run wild, this is what I came up with. I tried to create an old world sensibility with the industrial monster of the 20th century encroaching just beyond the horizon, but still, I hope I didn't offend anyone's sense of historical accuracy.

So there you have it. I'm currently in the midst of choosing which story to do next. I'm caught between a vigilante story, a story about J.P. Yorick's history, another story about Dead Duck's secret background, and a story about a circus strong woman who incites Zombie Chick's wrath. Yes, I know. When in doubt, go for wrath. We'll see.

In the meantime, Ape Entertainment is telling me we're in the process of developing an online Dead Duck comic, so more news to follow. Thanks for sticking with me, kids. There's more news on the horizon, and I'm anxious to tell you about it as it unfolds!


Monday, June 16, 2008

Nothing special....

...just an update because it's been awhile since the last one.

Just to get you all up to speed on Dead Duck, I've completed the last story I mentioned, which involved Dead Duck's youth at Camp Scholomance, a retreat for the potentially evil run by the devil. It turned out to be my second longest story, coming in at nineteen pages. What made this story so long was the timing in the story. I've been trying to stretch my storytelling with more visuals than text when possible, and in this story it really paid off. A single sequence, perhaps showing Dracula shaking down Dead Duck for his lunch, which could easily be done in half a page, instead lasts two pages so I can show the evolving action panel by panel, minute action by minute action. Believe me, it's cooler and less boring than it sounds. Anyway, the story turned out very cool, and even managed to surprise me in the end, which is a real trick since I created it. I am, however, hoping to fill the rest of the book with shorter stories, just so I can have a wide variety of adventures in the book rather than just two or three big ones.

I have a backlog of story ideas to pick from for future Dead Duck episodes, but as is sometimes the case, a fresh idea comes to mind and takes precedent over an older idea that's been fermenting for a year. Such was the case with my current Dead Duck endeavor. I've been re-reading E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime (one of my favorite books), and was inspired to give Dead Duck and Zombie Chick their own turn of the century adventure. Without giving too much away, I'll divulge that this story concerns Dead Duck's internal conflict with his job, as well as Zombie Chick's unintentional involvement in the origins of World War I.

The script came to me very quickly, which usually means it's going to be good and a hell of a lot of fun to create. I find in my older age that I'm becoming more interested in history, and though it was never intended as a tent pole for Dead Duck's adventures, I'm finding historical events and characters fit into Dead Duck's formula quite nicely and are a ton of fun to work with. I'm toying with the possibility of Dead Duck meeting Ben Franklin at some juncture, since he's one of my favorite historical figures (and potentially the first American editorial cartoonist!). Time will tell....

I've been in touch with Chris Sanders, and he's still dedicated to creating a Dead Duck pin-up for the book, much to my delight. I have no doubt that Zombie Chick will take center stage in his piece, since he seems to favor her (and who can blame him? Hell, I favor her!). I tell you though, he's really going to set the bar high for me to up the level of quality in my work for this book. I'd hate for people to read the book, see my art and say "Huh. Not bad..." then see Chris' pin-up and then say "Jesus Christ! When didn't HE just draw this book instead? That other guy ain't nearly as good!" Actually, I have no doubt that I'll be the one saying that, since Chris' work is just untouchable. All I know is, when I grow up I want to be Chris Sanders.

On the home front, I'm gradually packing up my life, storing some of it in my grandma's attic, pitching a lot of it in the dumpster, and trying like hell to hold on to as much of it as I can (which AIN'T much) for our big move to Ann Arbor in late July. I'm trying to get as much done on Dead Duck before the move, and as of now I'm almost at 100 pages, with just 44 left to go. I feel pretty good about that. But still, trying to give birth to a comic amidst a life altering move is no walk in the park. I'm doing my best, and with Laura close at hand, I know it'll all come together just fine.

And on a parting note, I just received the news today that one of my heroes, make-up special effects genius Stan Winston has passed away from a long fight with cancer. I've admired Stan's work since I was twelve and saw his work in the Wiz. But it was his sci fi creations, particularly the Predator, that always blew my mind. I'm just at such a loss over Stan's death. I've been coming to grips lately that almost all of my heroes are dead, and that's a tough pill to swallow. Thank god for guys like Chris Sanders, who still give me idols to worship and aspire to emulate. But Stan, I wish you were still here, man. I wish. I wish.

So as updates go, it ain't much, but it's something. Sorry for the lack of "pictures" this time around. Man, haven't called my drawing pictures since I was five, and even then I thought the title was a bit degrading. Still, you'd be surprised how many older folks still use that vernacular. Anyway, I hope to have more stuff to share soon, with actual samples for you to see rather than just a load of blabbering text to slog through. Thanks for sticking with me, kids. Talk to you more later.