As I've mentioned in past blog posts, my wife and I are making our first trip to The San Diego Comic Con this year, and I'm in the thick of prepping for the show. I've put together a portfolio to show anyone at the con who wants a peek. Speaking of peeks, here's a good one of my portfolio's cover:
For those unfamiliar with the reference, I've caricatured myself as the "Little Caesar's Pizza" mascot, and the title is a take off on their slogan, "Pizza! Pizza!"
Honestly, I don't know what to expect of this con, the gran'daddy of them all. I'm trying to shed any expectations and just experience it for whatever it is when I get there. But there are two things I'm counting on, and they're very, very special to me.
Cartoonist Greg Evans, creator of the syndicated comic strip"Luann", will be in attendance, both as a guest of the con, and in his usual role as overseer of The National Cartoonists Society booth. Because I'm an NCS member, I get to bunker down there, sell my drawings and comics, and best of all, meet my heroes face to face. And Greg is top of that list.
When I was attending Delta College (my beloved community college) in 1998, I was starting to cut my teeth as the staff cartoonist for The Delta Collegiate. My work on the paper gave me aspirations towards becoming a syndicated cartoonist in the newspapers. I blindly sent out e-mails to a handful of cartoonists whom I admired, seeking their advice and encouragement in my cartooning. The only one of those cartoonists to write me back was Greg Evans, whom I'd never met before, and who had never previously seen my work. Greg was warm and welcoming, and seemingly eager to look at my comic samples. He went to great lengths to compliment and critique my work, teaching me about the basic mechanics of comic strip layouts, of character development, and of plot development. He also gave me the cold facts about what newspaper editors typically looked for--gag a day family strips, catering to a readership of ages 50 and older. It was the education I needed if I wanted to try to work in that industry. And though my cartooning has since veered off onto the path of comic books, Greg's teachings stuck with me, and I've applied them to my cartooning ever since.
Not long after Greg and I met, I thought it would be kinda neat to do an interview with him for the school paper (I'd recently become the arts and entertainment editor, as well as staff cartoonist). I proposed the idea to Greg, asking if he'd like to do an art jam to illustrate the article, where I'd draw the left half of a cartoon with my characters, and he'd complete the other half with his own. Greg agreed without hesitation, and this wonderful piece soon came to life (and proudly hangs in my studio as I type this):
Greg and I continued to trade e-mails for the next ten years. When Laura and I moved down to Ann Arbor, I became friends with another syndicated cartoonist who would also shape my future in comics, Dave Coverly (my frequently mentioned pal and creator of the comic, "Speed Bump"). Upon our first meeting, Dave looked at my work, and asked me point blank if I'd like to join The National Cartoonists Society. I was floored. I didn't even know Dave was a member, let alone the Membership Chairman, as I'd soon learn. He said he'd sponsor me, but I'd need one other cartoonist to back me as well. Naturally, Greg Evans was the first name to come to mind. I rattled him off an pleading e-mail, asking for his endorsement. This is what Greg (whom I frequently referred to as my Jedi Master of cartooning) wrote back to me:
"How personally rewarding it is to have one of my young Jedi inkslingers ascend to the ranks of Pro, all due to my wise counsel. Of course I'm more than happy to endorse you for membership to the NCS."
That's the kind of wonderful guy Greg is. He's been just as welcoming of me coming to Comic Con for the first time, and I cannot wait to shake his hand in person, able to thank one of the dearest and most influential friends I've had over the past fourteen years.
I'm also on the edge of my desk chair at the prospect of meeting Chris Sanders, creator and co-director of "Lilo and Stitch" for Disney, and co-director of "How To Train Your Dragon" for Dreamworks. Chris has been a big
influence on my work, and a great pal since 2008.
Back then, I was in the throes of working on my "Dead Duck" graphic novel. The idea had struck me to seek out artists I admired, and to ask them to draw their rendition of my characters as a back-up feature in the book.
Chris, being at the top of my wish list as well as the least likely to connect with, was the first guy I tried to reach. Through Myspace (anyone remember that ol' social networking site?), I sent Chris a wordy plea--"I know how unlikely it is that you'd want or even have time to do something like this, but I think it's worth a shot..." I didn't really expect a response, but I always try with stuff like this. Turns out, my tenacity paid off. Chris wrote me back right off, saying he had been a fan of my work as I was his, and that he loved Zombie Chick. He agreed to draw a pin-up of Zombie Chick, and he took the assignment to heart. He'd send me these gorgeous rough sketches, asking for my approval and suggestions. Each sketch was a masterpiece, and could have easily served the purpose of a pin-up. But Chris, ever the perfectionist, gave me a fully inked and colored rendition of Zombie Chick that was and is absolutely unbeatable (as a cool bonus, I got to draw the tombstone she was leaning on). Heck, I began studying his drawing for how I should draw Zombie Chick after that! Here, along with the preliminary sketches, is the finished piece:
To make a long story longer, Chris and I have kept in touch ever since. And like my face-to-face reunion with Greg Evans, I'll be meeting Chris Sanders at Comic Con. It's daunting to meet your heroes. But when they're as warm, open and inspiring and Chris and Greg are, it makes thing a lot easier. So that's what I'm most looking forward to at Comic Con. Anything beyond that is too much to comprehend.
Talk to you all soon!