Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An interview with Hitchcock

Sorry, that's Red Flag Publishing writer extraordinaire James Hitchcock being interviewed. Who'd you think it was? Anyway, this is a short conversation but nice to see the Red Flag crew get some press. Check it out here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Can comics be scary?

I've been thinking about horror comics lately, reading them and reading about them. There's something I've wondered for a while and it's really on my mind now:

Can comics be scary?

I have never truly been scared by a comic. Wait... yes, but just once. A girl in my class (I seem to think it was either 4th or 6th grade) gave me an old copy of Marvel's Man-Thing. The story was by Steve Gerber and the art by Mike Ploog. According to this, the issue must have been No. 9 (the first cover pictured above) and was released in September, 1974.

The story as described by the Marvel wiki page:

Ezekiel and Maybelle Tork are a couple who have lived in seclusion in the swamps for years, although Maybelle believes that Zeke neglects him and favors his pet, Dawg (a dog naturally enough.) When the curious Man-Thing approaches Maybelle one day, the appearance of the muck-monster startles her enough to have a heart attack. When Zeke arrives to check out what the commotion is, he scares away the Man-Thing with his rifle. He then leaves to get a doctor, leaving his wife behind with Dawg, however she tells the Dawg to go away, having another fainting spell doing so. Dawg, joins up with Zeke (who is being observed by the Man-Thing) when suddenly, Zeke is attacked by the very trees in the swamp. The Man-Thing comes to Zeke's rescue, saving him from the killer trees, alligators, and snakes. Getting to the mainland, Z eke is suddenly attacked by the bones of people who had long died in the swamps, although the Man-Thing once more saves Zeke, it fails to save him from being harmed, when one of the zombies strangles him until he passes out. With all the corpses smashed, the Man-Thing picks up Zeke and begins carrying him the rest of the way.
This story is continued next issue...

That description ignores a red mist that floats around and brings all those things to life. However, I didn't go around being scared of red mist. That wasn't what got to me. I think what got me was Mike Ploog's depiction of the woman and the lifeless things. The woman's mouth seemed to be made of melting wax which really got to me. The other thing about the story that struck a nerve was the isolation of the couple in the swamp and the desperate man's attempts to help his wife. There was something really bittersweet in the old man's love for his wife but there's a sense of doom built up by Steve Gerber. I seem to remember the red mist arising from the woman's body which lead me to believe that she was dead. That might have been why I felt like the old man's mission was doomed, the red mist being the old woman's vengeful spirit trying to punish him for loving his dog more than his wife.

But as much as the story struck a cord with me, I can't say it truly scared me. And I've never found a story that even came as close as that issue of Man-Thing. It may not help that I was born in 1973 and just missed the '70s horror boom. I always wonder what might have been if I'd stumbled on an old EC title or an issue of Creepy.

Comics have a long tradition of horror, dating back to the fact that comics' origins in the pulp magazines. At the time, it made sense since horror movies were in their infancy and most people got their thrills and chills from radio dramas and dime novels. Those early horror comics may have been truly shocking to many. When Johnny Craig drew a severed hand it was probably as outrageous an image as most had seen in popular culture. As time passed though, movies became much more outrageous and in the rear view mirror those EC horror artists are about as shocking as those schlocky old movies with their bright red fake blood and obvious latex and prosthetic effects.

Given the plethora of movies with gruesome and realistic effects has the heyday of horror comics simply passed by without a whimper, let alone a shriek? Has culture and technology simple passed the horror comic by? Can comics truly be scary in a world with computer animated flesh and bone presenting convincing frights in high-definition HD, Blu-Ray and widescreen?

Is there something inherent in the comics medium which makes it harder or even impossible to produce the same thrills and chills as other mediums? Many writers and artists have discussed how hard the surprise reveal is to pull off in comics. Such dramatic moments almost always have to be reserved for left hand pages due to the reader being able to see both pages at once. Thus any surprises not hidden behind the page turn are susceptible to being seen as the reader's eye strays, especially if the image is larger or more provocative in any way. Obviously, this is something that doesn't apply to web comics. What other limitations are there in the comics medium that stunt the ability to create terror in the audience?

Is there something to the fact that comics are a combination of drawings and text that inhibits the creation of true frights? Horror novels may have one advantage over comics because of the way words are processed as opposed to words combined with images. Fiction is recreated completely within a reader's mind thus allowing the author the chance for the reader's own imagination to take over and fill in any blanks. A writer can paint a full picture by using the reader as the screen and stage on which to stage his horrific visions.

It's also possible a reader's brain is pulling memories and images from the subconscious and is actually triggered into being more scared because of the words acting like a trigger the way smells can recall vivid impressions of time and place.

On the other side of the equation, horror films have the advantage of using real actors, lighting and effects to create a full range of frights, from a black cat jumping out from a dark corner or a zombie's putrid flesh falling off the bone. Sound and light combine to evoke moods from mild dread to full terror to the point where there is almost no limit to what disturbing visions can be unleashed. Not to mention, the mere ability to actually create sudden and loud moments that are startling can cue all the effects of terror and help sell the horror even if the horrific images are themselves not all that unsettling. Comics seem to lack this very important and basic tool- the ability to startle. Shock and surprise are words that get applied to comics but I can't say that I truly a remember a comic being shocking or surprising.

Meanwhile, comics rely on an artist's ability to evoke mood. But the artist is limited in that a reader can see a whole page and even two at once. Can a scene be claustrophobic if each panel is seen to be surrounded by others with perhaps dozens of panels across a 2-page spread? Can a comic book create an atmosphere where a reader is afraid to turn the page for fear of what haunted visions await? Can comics create a visceral repulsion conjured by gore and guts? Too often it seems that such attempts in comics fall short, but is it a failure of the medium or its practitioners? Are comics mechanically incapable of producing real horror the way a car is incapable of flying or are comics simply not used to their full potential like an airplane taxiing on the runway, simply waiting for proper speed and for the pilot to pull back the stick?

Style likely plays a part as artists with less "realistic" styles tend to be even more limited in their ability to pull off horror. I'm a lot more creeped out reading a Nestor Redondo drawn story than I am a Sergio Aragones one. The only exception to this might be the works of a Rory Hayes or Mike Diana which seem to be almost so crude and contain such dark imagery crafted in a such a naive way that they remind one of thew works of prison artists or the mentally ill.

I'm not sure comics can be truly scary but I'm also open to the possibility that there's an untapped potential there. It's just a matter of finding the tools that work and not trying to mimic things that work in more effectively in other mediums.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Astro, part III

Continuing the improvisational comic I've been creating in my sketchbook.
Previous installments (part 1 and 2, respectively) are here and here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Where's my time machine?

From Crypt of Shadows #19 (September 1975)
©Marvel Comics Group

Here's a close up:

Makes me wonder who ended up taking this class. I wish I could go back in time and study under Buscema. I've been wondering lately why there's not more of this sort of thing available. I know more and more colleges are offering course in comics but it would be interesting to just be able to take a workshop style session with a pro. This would be great for people (like me) who have some skills but other things they could work on and who could use a pro's eye to help push them in the right direction. Can't we get C.B. Cebulski to engineer something like this?

I see where Frank Santoro offered a workshop to teach his method of composition. That's something I'd like to see more of. As a matter of fact I looked into taking it since it was being offered for only $40 but I couldn't justify the cost of travel from West Michigan to NYC to take a 2-hour workshop. Matt Madden and Jessica Abel offer something like four-week sessions but then you have to be able to take a month off of work in the summer and afford to stay in New York that long. I think one-week sessions would be perfect so people like me could consider using a vacation week to get the time off and one week is long enough to learn a decent amount of stuff without being a major scheduling headache.

If anyone is interested, I bought the comic for $1 at a used bookstore. It's in rough shape and I almost balked at paying the dollar but it contains some great old Atlas comics when they were basically doing the EC style sci fi stories with the twist endings. The comic reprints "I Fought the Colossus" from Strange Tales #72 which looks like uncredited pencils from Jack Kirby, "The Hidden Martians" from Uncanny Tales #14 with art by Dick Ayers, "Earth Will Be Destroyed" from Tales of Suspense #9 with art by Steve Ditko and "He Never Reached the Ground" with uncredited art by (I'm fairly certain) Bernie Krigstein. I should research those credits since only the Ayers and Ditko stories are signed but I'm fairly good at spotting artists so I'm confident in those guesses, especially since Kirby and Krigstein drew some of the most distinctive faces in comics.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Today at work I was doodling a picture of a girl and had an idea to have a fake Twitter theme day on this blog called Femme Friday. Basically, every Friday I'll try to post a drawing of a girl. Here's the first (and probably last) effort...

This drawing was sketched lightly in blue pencil and then I went over it with a regular #2 pencil to darken it up and hide the stray lines. Then I added some contrast and cleaned up some remaining stray lines in Photoshop.

Astro, part II

Astro is just a working title for a sci-fi story I've been improvising in my sketchbook. Trying to average a page a day but working on two at a time so hopefully I can post 2 pages every 2 days. Though, since I don't quite know where it's going or how I get there it may just fizzle out and this will be all I post. Also, trying not to fuss with it in "post" (i.e. Photoshop).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


One reason why I was excited to see the British small press comic Decadence, which I linked to in my last post, is that recently I've been toying with some SF-themed stories myself. These are the first couple of images I've bothered to scan.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Decadence is a good thing

Thanks to a recent episode of Panel Borders, a podcast from England, I found out about Decadence, an English small press comics anthology featuring science fiction which, from what I've read and looked at so far, is like Fort Thunder meets Metal Hurlant. And if that isn't something that sounds good to you then I'm not going to waste anymore time talking to you!
I haven't even checked it out too much yet but what I've seen already looks amazing. Hopefully this post will not only remind me to go back and look at everything I haven't yet seen but also encourage anyone who comes here to check out these mind-blowing comics.

(Images nicked from the Decadence site- hopefully they don't mind!)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

If I ever started what I finished...

...maybe I'd have accomplished something and people might actually check out my blog. So, here's yet another story I've spent years working on but never completed. I got lost in the hundreds of ways I could tell the first 5-10 pages of the story and never got around to finishing it because it's more interesting for me to play with storytelling options and see how they affect the emotion of the story than it was to actually commit myself to one way of telling the story. I guess I should go in to storyboards as I seem to prefer the laying out of the story to the actual drudgery of drawing it. So, here's some roughs for when I was going to do this story as a mini-comic which for some reason I never followed up on after completing these pages.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Is there a Steve Jobs in the (comics industry) house?

Heidi MacDonald's The Beat had a post today which linked to Hervé St. Louis' piece where he tried to find a "Steve Jobs" type in the comics industry:

Steve Jobs, the founder and somewhat CEO of Apple is regarded in the American technology industry as a bright mind and someone that although may not spearhead the new trends, unleashes them with style upon the masses. His input in the computing industry has made Apple Computer the darling of many and the one to beat of many challengers. In the comic book industry, is there anyone that has the same profile and profound influence that Steve Jobs has in the technology industries? Is there someone that continuously challenges every other industry player in the comic book industry, coming up with new products and new ways of being more relevant for readers, collectors and shareholders?

His list consisted of Todd McFarlane, Jim Shooter, Jesse Garza (of Viper Comics), Chris Ryall (IDW), Joe Quesada, Steve Geppi (Diamond, Gemstone), Mike Richardson (Dark Horse), and Joe Nozemack (Oni Press).

My initial thoughts:

  • Todd McFarlane might have deserved to be on that list 10-15 years ago but nobody cares about him anymore unless he goes back to drawing.
  • Jim Shooter is too into superheroes and any Steve Jobs that "rescues" comics is going to have to bring something more to the table than one more shared superhero universe.
  • Joe Quesada could be the guy but that might be like asking Bill Gates to be Steve Jobs since Quesada's working for "the man" and making lots of dough- though, eventually he'll get deposed and then maybe it could happen.
  • Steve Geppi is barely holding on and I've always had problem with the guys who owns the distribution monopoly also being a publisher- and he couldn't even keep publishing Disney comics which he loves so what would make anyone think he could start something new and make it work?
  • Mike Richardson is busy trying to sell properties in Hollywood as IDW takes over his market share. Also, he has zero cult of personality.
  • Joe Nozemack- someone from Oni? I guess I forget they even existed anymore. They do seem to have a cult audience but not one big enough to do much but barely sustain the company.
  • Jesse Garza- In order for Viper Comics to be copied maybe I'd have to actually see one in the store which I'm not sure has ever happened to me- if the list needed an underdog how about Chris Staros who went from making a self-published zine to publishing Alan Freaking Moore and who's company was way ahead of the curve on the OGN thing.
  • Chris Ryall from IDW is the best on that list since they seem to have come nowhere to a major player in 5 years without relying on any one gimmick, making it possible to ride out any fads. Once again though I don't see a crowded room full of people gasping at his every movement.
At first I was going to post that in the comments but I hadn't posted anything here in a while and figured this would make a good blog entry. Then I couldn't stop myself from saying something so this is what I posted in Heidi's comment section:

Mark Waid (Boom Studios) and Chris Staros (Top Shelf Productions) should have made that sort of a list. Rantz Hosely (editor of Tori Amos' Comic Book Tattoo from Image) is a creator, editor and now inventor of the Longbox project so I’d suggest him since any ‘Steve Jobs for comics’ is likely going to bring some new technical innovation that leads to new distribution channels (or improved ones, anyway). As much as I’d hate to do it, that Platinum Comics guy (Scott Rosenberg) should have been there too though I don’t think he deserves it, he should at least be in the conversation. I think I’d also have put Joey Manley (webcomicsnation.com) on there even if it’s been way too long since the new ComicSpace was announced without much to show for it- WCN and the rest of his sites likely get tons of hits and he’s often trying to find the leading edge and innovate new ways of getting comics out to more people. Scott Kurtz (PVP, webomics.com) should probably have been included.

I’d also keep at eye out for some of the people blogging or podcasting about comics as some of them may very soon branch into other avenues (I’d already be interested to see if any creators notice a podcast effect and which ones can bring measurable sales increases).

Now, that I think about it more- what about Jim Lee?

I imagine I'm still leaving off 5-10 quality names because I'm a nobody in the industry who doesn't know who some of the players behind the scenes are. I know there's a few top level editors who've had a had in the successes of various companies who have potential to be power players in the field- I just don't know who they are or can't remember their names. Also, reading St. Louis' intro paragraph I assume he's talking someone who CAN BE a Steve Jobs type in the future, not who might have been in the past and maybe I'm mis-reading that. Anyway, I thought it was interesting in a way and figured I'd share my thoughts here since The Beat's comment section often seems to get derailed and good points ignored (which seems to be a problem everywhere I go to discuss comics. Which is why I think it's funny when people wonder why comics never live up their potential- maybe it's because you get ignored unless people know who you are and think you can give them work in the industry).

Monday, May 18, 2009

3 heads

An old doodle from a pile of stuff I've done at work while waiting for my scanner to warm up or email to download, etc.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Radio tower

I always thought there was something about those blinking lights on radio towers. On one level they're just plain beautiful in the night sky but also that they might be tapping out some Morris Code to aliens looking to land. This is another test animation now that I found out how to make animated GIF files...

Crude animation test

Playing with making animated GIFs. Right now I'm just using stuff I'd already drawn to test it out. Seeing how it works gives me ideas for more complicated and better looking stuff...

Monday, March 30, 2009

When will you meet Mr. Smith?

The first story I ever did in comics was a 5 page short story about a man who at first appears to be a typical hired assassin named Mr. Smith. It was originally done for a horror and noir comics contest- the winner would be published as a backup feature. A story about a murderous teddy bear won.

My art, being my first real attempt at drawing comics, is rather crude but the story by James Hitchcock is a very dark and haunting take on what it means to be trapped by fate in a situation you despise but can't seem to break free of. I had planned to add in some spotted blacks in Photoshop, being afraid to cover up the line work with a short deadline and not wanting to have to draw lost details if I didn't like the results, but I just ended up over-shading the whole thing a sort of muddy middle grey which sort of captures the moral ambivalence I suppose but didn't nearly do enough justice to Jim's awesome script. It really deserved some dense blacks to portray the bleak and grim emotional vibe of the story.

After we lost the contest we decided to not let the story go to waste and that's when we jumped into self-publishing, creating the Red Flag Publishing empire and launching our Red Flags anthology with a first issue that contained the full "Mr. Smith" story along with the first part of a longer story which has yet to be completed called "Snatched" in which an FBI agent and a reporter investigate a series of mysterious child abductions. The second issue of Red Flags was published on-line at Web Comics Nation (and can be located with the link at the top right corner of the sidebar on this page).

You can read the Mr. Smith story for free by clicking here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How I waste time at work

I work at a printing company. We often end up with scrap paper which I hoard at my desk to doodle on while the hamster wheels powering the outdated computer and servers catch up or while waiting for large emails to come through (if I try to do other activities often my computer crashes so it's better to find other ways to occupy my time). The following are just a random assortment of those doodles. OK, not totally random since I tried to pick ones where I used color...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Nothing like a drunken leprechaun...Originally drawn last year for a friend who was selling t-shirts in New Orleans during the holiday festivities. Never did get to see how it turned out...

Monday, March 09, 2009


Higher benchmarks make for better comics? BS!

Dirk Deppey links to the newest Dirk Manning column at Newsarama saying Diamond's new higher benchmarks will make for better comics. Sorry, but I've got to call bullshit on that one.

I spent a couple hours yesterday combing through the dollar bins at a local comic shop. The amount of sheer crap produced by the Big 2 and the "mid-majors" is astounding. And people want to beat up on the little guys who at least have excuses for being bad- it's pretty damn hard to put out a great comic when you're doing it yourself in your spare time. The Big 2 and their little siblings have produced so much drek over the years that now sit in dusty longboxes begging for someone to buy them for a dollar or even a quarter... and no one is buying. Those longboxes aren't filled with half as many issues of self-published and small press books as they are with endless issues of some 52, numerous X-Men mini-series and spin-offs, Image imprint franchises nobody has cared about since the early 90s, or the last Big 2 crossover after which "nothing would be the same." How many issues of that "Lost Teen Titans" book did I run across yesterday? Dozens, perhaps. How many issues of long-forgotten Iron Fist or Dr. Strange mini-series did I find? Too many to count. And people expect me to think Diamond's benchmark is going to eliminate the crap?
"After all – let’s be frank, people – Previews has agreed to distribute a lot of sub-par comics for a long time... and now... those days are over."
If only this were actually true...

Shame on you, North American comics industry!

Never having read any Jonah Hex comics, I'd always assumed him to be a magic character due to his name (a "hex" being a form of magical spell), and I always associated it with the non-superhero branch of DC which produced lots of mystical/horror books in the 1970s like House of Secrets, Swamp Thing, etc.

Despite my initial confusion, I began picking up the series for a couple of reasons. First, it follows the "one and done" formula which means I don't need to know 15-20 years of back story to appreciate the book unlike most mainstream comics. More importantly, the book features art by Jordi Bernet! The fact that the book doesn't sell more is yet another sad indictment of the North American comics industry. Bernet is a God whose work should guarantee top 10 sales. Another factor in buying the comics is that, probably due to the aforementioned poor sales, I can usually grab old issues in the dollar bin at a local comics shop. What could be better than buying comics by a Euro master for a dollar? Shame on you, North American comic book industry for allowing a book with art by one of comics' best artists to be on the edge where many people gossip about its chances for survival! People should quit fawning over the photo tracers and imitators and start buying this book and realizing those Wizard top 10 artists aren't fit to wash Bernet's brushes! And then go back and buy those old Torpedo volumes