Cartoon and Illustration

Short post (I hope)

So a week since my official inauguration as SECNCS chairman and I’ve been doing a lot of typing.  Seems that being Vice-Chair hardly prepared me for the work load of Chair.  Lots of stuff in the works (most of which is probably left unsaid at the moment, because it’s not all signed and sealed yet).

But things are progressing–slowly but surely–with a very conservative approach toward our group’s budget.

The point is, that there’s a lot of work to be done just running an organization that has around 80 people associated with it.  Surprising that–I don’t know why, it just is surprising.

In the meantime, my buddy Mike Leonard has got me tapped for no less than three projects–and I’ve got him tapped for at least one going back the other way. (Touché).

My game design job just came back and I’ve got to make nearly complete revisions to the work I was doing last week.  (The publishing company in China sent the wrong format for the game-board and so I was working in the wrong size.  Now that’s fixed, but all the files had to be enlarged, so that means resampling so they won’t look pixelated).

I’ve got my painting set up now.  The projector is here, my transparency is here, I’ve got the paints and brushes here.  The only problems:  I’ve got too much on my desk right now to get over to that part of the studio, and with the weather still being cold it’s hard to keep the studio above 60°–not a good idea to work in Acrylic at less than 50°. I found that out years ago.

So it may be just as well that I can’t get to the painting until spring arrives properly.  There’s no point in painting something that’s going to flake off the canvas because the studio is too cold.

I also have another commercial client that I expect is going to hitting me with a rush job any minute now.  So I’d better get the game board done.


Cartoon and Illustration

One reason I’m an Illustrator and not a designer

A lot of people assume because I’m an illustrator and cartoonist that I must also be a designer as well.  And while I’ll admit dabbling in type design, and sometimes page design–the title “designer” doesn’t fit me too well.

Today I’ll be showing you why I am uncomfortable with that particular job description.

It began when I decided I’d like to try my hand at painting again.  I have been primarily engaged in drawing comic books and cartoons for the past 30 years, although during that time I have dabbled with painting in a minor way.

In recent years I have expanded to include a technique utilizing color pencils on a type of drafting media called UC-4 polyester film.  However if you mention the word “film” to anyone they immediately assume it’s some sort of photographic technique and dismiss all the actual artistry that is involved, and other people (when confronted with the resulting slick looking illustration assume that what you are offering is a print, not an original).  At very least they’ll dismiss the piece as “only color pencil” as if that were not REAL ART (and then proceed to dicker on the price).

It may sound extremely mercenary of me, but it occurred to that if I put the same sort of thing onto a canvas I could probably charge two to three times as much–at put up with a lot less garbage from people who know just enough about art to cause aggrivation to those of us who work in it every day.

But having engaged in various means of putting art onto canvas in the past, I didn’t want to be messing with grid transfers, etc.  It seemed to me that projecting my sketch onto the canvas was the better method for me.  Some may look down on this as a crass commerial short cut, but to me it’s simply applying technology to do a more efficient job.

Getting canvas and stretching it over a frame was no problem.  A friend of ours, Bill Cole, who also paints made me a stretcher panel, and I probably stretched a few dozen flats for plays back in my teens and twenties–back when I did a lot of drama stuff.  It’s the same process, and the same tools.

The problem that stymied me at first was that of finding a projector that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.  That problem was eventually solved when I one day opened a closet door at our church and found an overhead projector that we hadn’t been using for over ten years.  “Oh, do you think I could borrow this?” I asked the other members of the Session.  “Don’t see why not,” they answered, “nobody’s touched it in years.”  I promised to bring it back as soon as anyone needed it.

So that problem solved I set about trying to figure a way to make an easel to hold my canvas (that at this point had been stretched, sized, and gessoed for over a year) more or less vertical, by attaching it to the wall of my studio.  This would solve two problems:  A) the price of an easel commercially bought that would hold the large size canvas I’m talking about would be at least $100, probably more, and B) most easels are designed to hold the canvas at about 25-30° angle–which I did not want because this would distort the projected image.

I began sketching:


This was my thoughts on the subject.  I had to get the thing away from the wall so that the bolts would move up and down.  I also had some odd notion about needing a slot to allow for the stabilizing bar in the middle of the stretcher frame.

Looking at this now, I think the thing looks like one of Wiley Coyote’s plans to trap the Roadrunner.  There were a number of moving parts, a lot of extra things that didn’t need to be there.

A few days later I sat down and tried to simplify the design.

ImageAs you can see the drawing is perhaps more clear, but the design is still rather complex.

My wife and I had to go up to see her Dad about this time, and I had planned to work on my design in his basement workshop.  But I came down with this stupid flu and was completely laid out the whole time we were visiting.

When I got back home, I got busy on various jobs for clients and couldn’t really do anymore thinking about it.  Figured I’d get to it sooner or later–but with a gallery opening in October that really needs a centerpiece I thought that “sooner” was the better of two options.

Then one day last week my wife, Karin, who teaches music next door had a problem with an overhead fluorescent fixture.  It had been going bad for years, but it finally gave up the ghost and one of her students, Hiram, offered to help us replace what needed replacing.

Hiram is a semi-retired contractor and has helped us out on more than one occasion.  It’s actually a long story, but let’s just say we owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

So he and I set about putting in the new light fixture and in a few hours of running around (accepted wisdom in repair says that no job is complete until you’ve made at least three trips to the hardware store).

Then as he was preparing to leave I asked him to come into my studio to show him what I was planning.  But I didn’t show him my plans–I just described the dilemma.  He said he’d think about it.  A couple of days later he emailed:  “I’ve got it built, when do you want it put in?”

Yesterday he came in with a design that required one 2 x 4 , four bolts, and several sliding pieces cut out of scrap plywood by a buddy of his.

It took about 45 minutes to install (that was even with a mistake along the way).

Here is Hiram with his handy work.



Don’t know why he’s looking so sheepish.  It’s kind of elegant the way he figured it out.  None of the extraneous nonsense I was planning and it will hold a canvas many times larger than what I was planning originally.

Here’s the set up with the projector and a “test pattern” that I’m using to get the focal length correct.

ImageI’ll have to keep this blog updated as I proceed with the painting.  Then again, maybe I’ll just wait until it’s complete before doing that.  (That way if I mess up, I can do a different painting and nobody will know the difference).

BTW, the whole thing cost less than $25, hardware included.



Cartoon and Illustration

“You’re Chairman of SECNCS? What the heck does that mean?”

While I haven’t actually gotten that literal comment yet, I suspect it’s been going through the minds of several people (who are much too polite to say it that way).

Okay, yesterday I was officially voted in as Chairman of the Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society (or SECNCS).  An appointment that seems to raise more questions that it answers.

If you’re the sort who’d rather go do his or her own digging, go to and poke around.  You can get all the story there–or nearly so.

I should point out that all the “T”s have yet to be crossed and a considerable number of “I”s left to be dotted as well.  But it’s official.  Of the 33 full members of the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) in our chapter, 17 of them filled out the ballots they’d been sent and mailed them back voting in all three of the proposed candidates unanimously.

On the proverbial podium beside me stand John “Shep” Sheppard who draws a military panel called INCOMING! among other things–Shep is now Vice-Chairman taking over my old office.  On the other side is Julie “Jewls” Negron (you have to have a cool nick-name to be in this club) who draws Jenny the Military Spouse.  She’s returning as our Secretary and Treasurer (and doing a bang up job of it too).

Apparently I’m the only one of the three of us who doesn’t have a military comic.  Hmmm.  Maybe I should start some GI Joe samples.

Anyway, none of this answers the question does it?

The NCS was started by a bunch of superstar cartoonists back in the 1940s when they were doing USO shows for the troops fighting WWII.  After the dust settled guys like Milt Caniff and Reub Goldberg decided that it was kind of nice to hang out with one another and formed a club for cartoonists that would continue the tradition of public service they’d begun.

I first heard of the NCS when I was 13 years old and checked a book out of local library (Haywood County Public Library, I love you); the book was called How to Draw and Sell Cartoons by Dave Breger.  I’d never seen his panel, Mister Breger before that time, but I really took to the wealth of information he included in the book, and a whole appendix on the NCS with profiles of various members therein.

From that time on I was salivating to join up.  It possessed me nearly the same way that I longed to have a girlfriend–not quite, but close.  In my early twenties I found out that my mentor, Sam Grainger, was a member of the NCS and so began hinting that I’d really like to join up.

But it’s not as simple as that.  Seems that you have to be recommended by two NCS members, submit a portfolio of work, have been working for at least 3 years, and earn most of your income from cartooning.  It would be years before I’d qualify for that.

About 10 years back I was invited to participate in an NCS chapter meeting by comic book letterer, Steve Haynie.  Steve was at that time serving as chapter Secretary and Treasurer (in fact he’d continue to hold the office until Jewls took over).  I, of course, jumped at the chance to have anything to do with this group.  So I got myself over to the hotel where they were meeting in Asheville, plunked down my chapter “non-member” dues and never looked back.

Looked forward a lot though.  Almost before I knew it I was asked to head up a local sub-group of the chapter, and I took up hosting regular monthly meetings of people in and around Asheville, NC who were also interested in cartooning and comics (or as I joking refer to us “the similarly affected”).  Soon I was recruiting folks into the SECNCS left and right (I had help, for sure, but developed a reputation as the “flag carrier” for the SEC).

In 2006 I was awarded the Tim Rosenthal Award for Volunteerism within the group–sharing this honor with my buddy Greg Cravens (who I’d met that very first weekend in 2003), and started looking forward to joining the NCS proper.

And so I began marking off those various items on the list to submit an application to join NCS.  I got our Chapter Chairman, Bruce Higdon, and Vice-Chairman Jack “Cass” Cassady to recommend me to the NCS membership committee.  I assembled a portfolio of work.  I could show I’d been working professionally for more than the required three years, (and was prepared to show them my tax returns if necessary).  The dues for joining up were a bit of a difficult thing, at the time they had just been increased to $150 annually–but I scraped that together, mailed the whole thing to the proper address only to have it returned, unopened.

Long story short, it took three times of submitting my stuff to the NCS before I got in in late 2007.

As soon as I was in my name was floated for holding office.  The reason being that any of the three offices is a lot of work–not paying work, just work.

At first I begged off any nominations, but eventually gave in, and after serving 4 years as Vice Chairman under Jack Pittman, I was nominated by him to take over the reigns.  Now the work begins for real.

I’ve been informed that as Chairman I’m supposed to attend the Reubens Award Weekend this year–in particular the Chairman’s Breakfast.  I’m also informed that it’s usually about two grand to make the weekend costs–minimum.

 That’s probably a slight exaggeration based on the cost of flying to the host city, booking a room at the host hotel, renting a tux, paying for one’s wife to buy a suitable formal gown, paying for the program track (that alone usually runs $325 per person–not counting annual dues that have to be paid in advance of that date), meals, and gratuities.

Thankfully the event is in Pittsburgh this year.  So I won’t have to fly to the West Coast.  Maybe we can drive up.  We’ve done that trip before.  Maybe I can finagle a cheap tux from another source.  Host hotel though?  Probably stuck with that.  They do try to get a good group rate every year.  Meals?  Does the phrase “you want fries with that?” ring any bells?  I can always smuggle in some Pop-Tarts for breakfast.

But for sure, I’m going to be needing more income and doing more saving that spending.  I may not make it anyway–but I’m going to be praying for it to work out and doing my best to make it happen.

So that’s what this all means?  I have to spend a lot of money?

No, it’s more than that.  It’s a great opportunity to network with other cartoonists.  The folks who attend Reubens are in many cases big names in publishing, television, and movies.  For the past several years Tom Gammill (Simpsons, Seinfeld, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, etc.) hosted the Awards ceremony.  So even though you won’t see it on Network Television, or cable, or public access–it’s a big deal.

On the regional front this means I get to work to put together our regional annual meeting–a scaled down version of the national get together, but still a lot of work.

I hope this answers the question.  My fingers are tired.

Cartoon and Illustration

What to post

I’m at a loss about what to post.  I’ve begun a few posts recently dealing with things going on in my life–only to realize that they are much too personal to present to the public at large (or much too controversial, or both too personal and too controversial).

So I haven’t been posting much.

Sorry about that.

I am still dealing with trying to keep a decent work schedule and trying to get over the remaining symptoms of the flu bug I caught a full month ago.

In the meantime, let me see.  Maybe I’ll post a picture.  I do draw you know.

Okay, so below is an advertisement I’m going to run soon in a comics trade magazine that’s starting up.  It kind of sums up my attitude about comics as a livelihood–plant as many seeds as you can and in ten years or so they may produce a yield of some sort.

Artwork by James E. Lyle.  Mr. Jigsaw © Ron Fortier, used by permission.  Game of Horror © Shane Berryhill, used by permission.  All other images © James E. LyleImage


Cartoon and Illustration

Now, the details (well, some of the details) and a long pep talk to myself

So for weeks now it seems I have been hinting at what is occupying my time lately, but didn’t want to get into details to much–at least not until the ink was dry on the contracts.

Of course there’s very little wet ink involved in my contracts anymore.  Most of them are signed digitally.  This sounds very advanced and I think it may even impress some people that I know how to do a “digital signature”.  But it was actually a necessity with some of the clients I work for who seem to need the finished work BEFORE the contract is finalized.  So I somehow figured out how to do this in Adobe Acrobat, and have only had to fix it once when somehow my computer “ate” the information (I think it was during an upgrade of Acrobat).

But that’s got nothing to do with the details.  The details are, that I’ve been signed to design elements for a new board game called “Kings of Israel”

Specifically I’ve been called on to make the game-board itself, building on the beta version to hopefully make the game play more compelling by giving it those little tweaks that will delight the eye in such a way that each time you play the game you’ll find something new to look at.

I’m also supposed to be working on a common element for some of the game cards–but for now we’re concentrating on the board itself–which actually contains many elements that will have to be combined to make the whole thing work.  It’s been fun so far (one whole day!) and the client, Lance Hill is a nice guy–who actually has a budget for this project.  (Some of you other clients out there could learn a thing or two from this fellow).

The other project’s contract is as good as signed, so I’ll talk a bit about it.  It’s a comic book called Spectra/Polaris, written by a fellow I’ve known for around ten years now, Brett Frankel.  He owns a comic shop called “House of Pop Culture” in the DC suburbs, and I first met him at Wizard World Chicago.

The show hadn’t even opened officially when Brett stepped across the aisle, smiled, shook my hand and then proceeded to buy a bunch of art from me.  What’s not to like?

Brett then commissioned me to draw a sketch of a character he’d created.  Then a few months later hired me to draw a whole issue of Spectra/Polaris for him.  We’ve had occasional other S/P related projects since that time (I did a logo, turn-arounds for two of the main characters)–but never got any further along with the story.

Now Brett and I are working toward making it a regular gig.  Or as regular as anything gets in this business.  I’m supposed to begin penciling a new issue sometime mid-February, with plans to continue after that issue is done.

Of course, there’s still the relaunch of DoorMan as a webcomic coming up sometime in the spring.  The good news is that is all “in the can” already, having been completed back in the 90s when Mike Leonard and I worked for Cult Press and Caliber Comics.  I’ve got all the old pages scanned, and aside from a lettering tweak and small correction here and there they’re ready to go.  Mike will be handling most of the logistics on that.

Game of Horror continues as well.  Author, Shane Berryhill and I (hopefully helped along  by costume designer, Kaysha Siemens) will be putting our shoulders to the wheel and trying to get group funding to complete the remaining 66 pages of story art.  So some time will have to be devoted to that soon.

To complicate matters more, I just got a note this morning from EGBA Originals out in LA.  I’ve been doing work for their line of custom invitations for several years now.  The owner of EGBA, Mo Taxon, has had a number of health issues recently, but seems to be getting back on his feet and has yet another project in the offing.  I can’t discuss those details as it’s still in negotiation phase, but it does give a better idea of the sort of schedule I may be facing over the coming months.

The thing is, for years I’ve operated on the idea that one good project at a time was all I should attempt to handle.  While many of my friends have been juggling multiple contracts simultaneously, and making a success of it by many standards.  I consoled myself by thinking things like, “well they’re more talented at juggling than I am,” and, “they’re doing single illustrations, while I’m engaged in telling long complicated stories.”

But the reality of this business (perhaps of any business) is that sometimes things simply fall apart.  When that has happened to me, I have often found myself scrambling around for work to fill in the schedule.  My friends and associates (as well as my circumstances over the last couple of years) have convinced me to try a bit of juggling.  That is, say “yes” to just about everything (within reason) and then let Providence work out the scheduling.

Much better than sitting around twiddling my thumbs when someone else’s schedule gets bogged down.  And such things will happen.  I think my problem has been that I have treated assignments as if they were events, rather than work-a-day challenges to be met.

Now I’m going to see about making a real living at this job.  It’s not like there’s anything standing in my way.  My family needs me to make money so we can pay the bills; I do have a unique skill set and people asking me to utilize it for their projects; and all other avenues for employment seem to have been cut off.  Might as well load up on jobs and see how things progress.