Cartoon and Illustration

A Good Friday to you

While I normally reserve this blog for items about my career, it seems appropriate on this day that commemorates a portion of the most amazing event in history that I talk about that a little.

I did a lot of thinking about this last night (couldn’t sleep due to various reasons, so there was plenty of time for thinking).

Mostly I thought about Good Friday and what is meant by that.

When I was a child I recall asking my Mother why we called it “Good” Friday when it’s the day Jesus was crucified.  I can’t recall her exact words, but they were to the effect that He died for us.

If you didn’t know, that’s the heart of the Gospel that we Christians are always going on about.  Our apologies for not making that clear.

And when we talk about being “saved” we mean that we have been saved from the consequences of sin–that is, ultimately, death, the grave, and eternal punishment in Hell.

I know such things as death, and Hell aren’t necessarily popular subjects.  They get used in conversations a LOT, but nobody really wants to talk about them.

Sin is in a similar place in our culture.  Everyone wants to define whatever they don’t like as a sin, but nobody much wants to be accused of sinning.

Well, I’m here to tell you that I am a sinner.  Not “Whoo-HOO! I’m a Sinner!” No, I mean a sinner who deserves to go to Hell.  (I won’t go into details here, as we’ve all got things that we’re ashamed of and I’m no different).

The point is, I’m not going to Hell.  Jesus paid that price for me (and all His people) by taking the penalty I deserve on Himself.  He died willingly on a cross–on a Friday during Passover, around two thousand years ago–then on the following Sunday morning rose from the dead to prove He had paid the penalty.

A lot of people will say; “You can’t prove any of that!”

I can’t prove the Grand Canyon is anything other than a hole in the ground.  But having been there, I can tell you as a reliable witness that it is well worth visiting.

A lot of other people have been to Grand Canyon and say the same thing.  Just so a lot of people have received the saving that Jesus has freely offered, and can witness to the fact that it’s really true.  (And I should point out that a lot of otherwise hostile witnesses have corroborated the facts as well).

Whether you believe it or not does not change the facts.

Sorry if that last line sounds harsh, but some people are going to believe and some aren’t.  The Bible teaches that, and having seen so much of the other stuff taught in the Bible played out in my life I’m not willing to discount any of what it contains.

Anyway, on this day when we commemorate the ultimate sacrifice–that of the Creator of the Universe taking on the penalty for the sins of His people–it just seemed like a good time to remind people of these things.

So I wish you a Good Friday, and a Happy Resurrection Day.  I hope you hold these truths as well, but if not now–someday I pray you will.

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Cartoon and Illustration

Back to Fandom (and the quest for legitimacy)

Yesterday (after finishing up with the long deadline) I managed to get caught up reading Michael A. Leonard’s “Public Domain” blog (http://michaelallanleonard.wordpress.com/).  One of the items he covered while I was doing other things was a book by Gerard Jones about the “Secret Origin of Fandom”.

I haven’t read the book myself, just Mike’s blog.  (Sorry Gerard, I love your work, but money is still tight).  But it’s interesting because the subject dovetails into something I’ve been contemplating about comics and fandom in general–specifically the quest for legitimacy.

What I mean by this is right now webcomics are in the process of declaring their legitimate right to be considered on the same level as “real” comics–you know the ones printed on paper?

(BTW, I will not be using the term “dead-tree” to describe these, as I find that description grating.  My family has survived for several generations now, in part by running a pulpwood farm.  It’s not a big bucks operation, neither is it eco-evil.  Trees have a life span and when we harvest them, we replant new trees that supply everyone around with oxygen, give habitat to many woodland creatures, prevent erosion, etc.  I could go on.  Obviously I have a sore spot about this.  When Mike refers to it that way, I cut him slack because he’s being funny.  But the rest of the world has to be quiet.)

Anyway, getting back to comics, webcomics, etc.

This struggle for the webcomics crowd is not new.  It seems ever generation goes through it.  In fact it probably goes back before there was “fandom”–because human nature does not change.

In my own life I’ve been part of the “alternate comics movement” of the 1980s.  But any number of people did not think of black and white comics as a legitimate form of the medium.  I have to include myself in that, as my ultimate goal was to get work in color comics (defined as DC, Marvel, etc.) even to me, at that time, they were the legitimate publishers.  To a certain extent that mindset is still true.  Nevertheless many fine pieces of work have appeared in black and white comics.  Several have won awards (at least one pulitzer prize, and any number of “lesser” awards as well).

But the fact remains that few at the time (many times the creators of these works themselves) thought of the books as “legitimate”.   That would be achieved when we moved on to other companies where they could afford color printing, big licensing deals, and newsstand distribution.

Seriously.  We may have kidded ourselves that we were “just as good as those guys”, but we didn’t believe it–not really.

So when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out, few, if any of us thought of it as anything “real”.  It was a fluke.  A flash in the pan.  Sure, we bought it, but with jealous and covetous hearts.  We went to see the movies (taking along a few little kids we knew to make sure everyone knew it wasn’t us that were going to see this film–it was, “you know, for the kids–they seem to like it.”)  But again, seeing the Turtles 18 feet high on the screen all we could really think was, “Why isn’t MY creation up there?”

Of course all us “alternate comics” types rankled anytime that someone called one of our books “underground”.  I personally hated that label.  Underground comix were all about dope smoking hippies, sexual deviants, and subversive politics.

To us alternate comics were actual literature–not thinly disguised subversive propaganda.  But the very fact that the previous generation lumped them in with undergrounds made all us alternates a little uneasy.

A generation before that there was Marvel Comics.  Seriously.  Have you ever hung around with any of the “really old guys”?  You know the ones that have mostly passed on now?  The ones that were drawing comic books back in the early 1930s?  I won’t say that they all held this view, but more than one had harsh words for Stan Lee.   So far as they were concerned he was a punk kid who wouldn’t know a “real” comic if he bit into one.

Not so for my generation.  I was born in 1963, so Marvel was just as legit as any other comics publisher.  Spider-Man held as much respect as Mickey Mouse or Superman.  He was on the newsstand, right?  He was on TV, right?

The weird thing is all those “really old guys” probably didn’t think that working for DC, Fawcette, Fox, and all the other companies was real comics either.  Real comics to them were daily strips in the newspaper–or if not comics at least doing covers for Amazing Fantasy, and other Pulp magazines.

Of course to the legion of artists who were painting the covers for the pulps, the goal was to break free from that and work for Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and other such magazines.

And for the generation doing magazine illustrations the real goal was to do book illustrations like Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, and other superstar illustrators of their own formative years.

We artists are too hard on ourselves.  That much is clear to me.  Each generation both over estimates and under estimates ourselves.

The thing is that each generation has had to aspire to “greater things” while simultaneously settling for venues that will pay the bills.  When I work on webcomics, I’m not all high-minded about it.  I want to see the things collected into “real” printed books on paper.  But I also recognize that this may not have any bearing on the generation growing up with webcomics.

To those many who are presently working in webcomics because they want to–my hat is off to you.  But I hope that many of you will come to the realization (in 25-30 years) that you were likely working from that same jealousy/covetous place I was working during the 80s.  (This is not to say that I dislike working in webcomics, but so far it’s been more of a “I guess I have to move in this direction to stay afloat, and less a “I really WANT this!”)

The thing is it seems you HAVE to want more in order to rise above those who are just doing it for now.  You can’t hope to survive without a goal in mind–even if you never attain that goal, you have to keep striving for it in order to make your work better.

Does this count as a rant?  Call it a rant if you like.  It’s still true.  Sorry if anyone’s feelings got bruised in the process.  I respect you webcomic creators.  I hope you have some respect for me.  I respect you my fellow alternate comics creators of the 1980s–and so forth.  The thing is we need to be honest with ourselves–would we ever really create anything worth creating if we were not trying to do something more?  Some of the kids that are reading our comics now will aspire to be what we are now–whether we’re satisfied with it completely is not the point.

The point is, do the best you can and keep dreaming and striving for what you believe will make you legitimate.  From what I’ve observed, it’s the only way to get anything done.

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Cartoon and Illustration

Been busy

I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long.  Well, sort of sorry–but I had to pay the bills.

In this particular case paying the bills meant working on a rather secretive project for a very well-to-do client.  And that’s about all I can say about it.

I guess I can say that it was rather a lot like drawing comics, though not exactly.  The style was comic book, but the process was unlike comics in that there was no pre-existing script to work from.  I simply had to think up comic book things for the main character (in this case the birthday boy of said client) and then thumbnail those out, get approval from a number of sources then flesh out the ideas.  Which, when fleshed out, were submitted again for approval by various people and then assembled into a story like structure by the job broker.

It was time consuming–about three weeks total working time.  The first couple of weeks were pretty easy going, and I was able to devote a lot of time to other projects while waiting for feedback.  But the last week was a lot of long hours, revisions, and corrections.

Still it was a lot better than the jobs I did twenty-five years ago.  Twenty-five years ago I was engaged to my wife, living in a basement apartment in Macomb, IL and doing work for clients that were way picky–for $15 jobs.

This latest job pays considerably better.  I also got to draw stuff that looks like comics.

Back in 1988 I was drawing pictures of local birds.  Staying up all night to do so with a light table I’d cobbled together out of a lamp held between my feet and a sheet of glass borrowed from the apartment refrigerator (‘fridge which didn’t work, BTW).

I’d work into the wee hours of the morning, get up and eat a bowl of cereal (that came in a bag) doused with powdered milk (no ‘fridge, remember?), shower, then carry my latest drawing of some bird into the office, have the editor gripe about how worthless I was as an artist, then take my lousy $15 check to the bank.  Then walk 5 miles to see my fiancée at Wester Illinois University.

Now I work in a nice studio.  I have a custom built light table which doesn’t singe my kneecaps.  My clients are rich (well, some of them).

Not bragging–just saying God’s been very good to me.

Oh, and I’ve been married to my wife for nearly twenty-five years.  That’s the best part.  No more walking ten miles a day (although I could probably use some more exercise).  No more sleeping in a spider-infested basement just so I can be in the same town with her.

Still, I’m out looking for work.  That hasn’t changed.  It’s just the way I go about it has changed slightly–thanks to the internet!

Still, it’s going to be nice to pay some bills with the money from this latest job.

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Cartoon and Illustration

How to host a casual group–of “whatevers”

I’ve been informed that if I do a blog with bullet points I’ll get more traffic here.  So I asked myself, “what is something I do that could actually help people, and include bullet points?”

For the past 9 years or so I’ve been hosting an informal gathering of cartoonists in Asheville, NC.  This informal gathering began when, Bruce Higdon, the (then) chairman of the Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society (SECNCS) told me that I was their man on the ground in Asheville–and it was up to me to do it.  (Nine years later, I’m the chairman and hoping that this set of suggestions will help others have similar success).

• Gather those with similar Interests.  I like to call us cartoonists “the similarly affected” because nobody in the whole world seems to see things quite the same way as a room full of cartoonists.  But I suspect that the same can be said for gymnasts, cross-country skiers, orthodontists, etc.  You’ll be well ahead of the game if you have a group of folks with at least one similar focus.

• Find a neutral meeting place.  There is no single ideology amongst cartoonists (or probably any other group of enthusiasts).  In spite of what you might think, we vary wildly in our religious views, politics, and any number of other hot-button topics.  Yet somehow we seem to get along.  However, if I had chosen a place that catered to a particular crowd in Asheville I might have given some the impression that they were being singled out as the odd one, and others the impression that this group was about some agenda beyond cartooning.  

As it was we settled on Frank’s Roman Pizza on Tunnel Road.  It’s family friendly enough that they support little league teams, but they also host various local rock bands on some Friday nights.  Church groups meet there, but then again it’s been the local hang out for artsy types since the 70s.  They serve beer and wine, but also have video games for the kids.  A great mix.

• Send out personal invitations to each participant.  This one seems like a no-brainer, but many people would simply post something online, or put up posters–then be miserable when nobody showed up.  This doesn’t mean you can’t send out generic e-mails later on, just make sure that you give people the personal touch when making that first invitation.  That will get your core group started.

Follow up your personal invitation with reminders.  That’s reminders, plural.  I send out a reminder approximately one week before our monthly event, then one day before I follow that with a shorter reminder about the event being only  24 hours away.

• Offer something to contribute.  With cartoonists it’s easy.  I always tell our gang to bring along their latest samples.  Artist love to show off their work to one another, and look at other’s work.  (For gymnasts maybe it’s a medal, new leotard, or box of sequins, I don’t know–but I’m sure there are things like that each group can share).  But be sure to make everyone feel comfortable sharing their latest achievement or creative struggle.  And be sure to remind everyone that’s one of the reasons you’ll be gathering.

•  Encourage regular participants to bring friends and family.  You might think that since your meeting is in a public place, and you’re friendly with the various participants–maybe even with their families in other contexts–that people would simply assume it’s okay to bring their spouse or kids along.  But not everyone thinks that way.  They’re probably just trying to be courteous (nothing wrong with that) but in this sort of thing you have to be extra courteous.  Be sure to remind regular participants they friends and family are more than welcome.  (And believe me, the inclusion of a few kids in a cartooning group is a great conversation starter.  Give the kids some paper and crayons and see how the cartoonists begin to compete trying to be the bigger kid).

•  Take names.  Get the names of everyone that comes to each meeting.  Get their contact info as well.  Email address if you don’t have it, phone, mailing address (if they’re willing) just in case you need to contact them when your computer is in the shop.  Of course, get their permission to send them emails to remind them of the group’s next meeting.

•  Follow up AGAIN, after the meeting.  This is one that people seem to miss.  That list of names you took during the meeting will come in handy.  Give a roll call of all that were able to be there, and tell a little bit about what each person contributed (even if it’s just that they brought along a friend or a smile).  

Don’t feel like you have to take copious notes, but if you hear something particularly interesting during the meeting, you may want to jot it down for your follow up report.  If something particularly important to the group was discussed then be sure to include that for those on your mailing list that may not have made it (or for those who were there, but weren’t listening so closely).

At the end of your report remind everyone of the time and place of the next meeting.

• Continue to build your list.  This is accomplished by keeping an eye open for other folks who might share your interests.  Arrange for demonstrations of your group’s skills in public places (libraries, church groups, civic organizations, all like to host this sort of thing from time to time) and get the names and addresses of folks who come.

If some other organization has a similar bent to your own (or something that dovetails into your interest) visit one of their events.  Perhaps the local college has invited a speaker on a similar subject to come to your town.  Get a contingent of your own people to go to hear the presentation, maybe engage with the professor who invited the speaker–there are many possibilities for building your list of participants.

Don’t stress over numbers.  Understand that your group will find its own size.  When we began the Asheville cartoonists group had a list of around 8 possible names.  Since that time we’ve had dozens come and go.  My email list now numbers around 35, the crowd varies from 10-20 each month– but we keep a good solid core of around 10 people I know will usually be there.  (Many of which I’ve had the pleasure of working with on various projects since meeting them).

The important thing in this sort of informal gathering is to gather a group of qualified participants.  People will come and go as they please, and that’s all right.  The ones that stay and become involved will help many of those on the fringes to increase their own interest, skill levels, and create new opportunities for the whole group.

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Cartoon and Illustration

Dreamgirl

No, she’s not my dreamgirl–not in that sense.  But then again, I did help create her back about 14 years ago, Michael Leonard and I were working up some other Vertigo-esque type comics properties and we came up with this one (I’m not too proud to admit that DoorMan was compared to Sandman–in fact I’m flattered).

I’ve shown her around a bit in the years since, because I’m very pleased with how this artwork came out.  But in the past couple of weeks Mike and I have been revisiting the property, and it looks like we’ll be doing something with it.  On the advice of some marketing guru friends (okay, Matt Mulder) I thought I’d post Dreamgirl here and show off the new artwork I’ve done for her tank top “insignia”.

Keep in mind that the Dreamgirl property is something I co-own with Michael A. Leonard.  But hopefully this will catch a few eyes and whet some appetites for what the two of us will be coming out with in the near future.

We will probably be moving in a slightly different direction with this character than trying to take on another comic book / graphic novel at the moment.  We’re looking more at illustrated teen fiction–but she’s a prime candidate for that out of all the stuff we’ve created.

And Mike, sorry if I’m scooping you here.  We do need to be generating some buzz, right?

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Artwork (and all distinctive designs included herein) copyright © James E. Lyle.  All rights reserved.  Dreamgirl property is co-owned by Michael A. Leonard and James E. Lyle.Image

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Cartoon and Illustration

Old joke

Today I’m posting an old joke.  I realized I’d self referenced it yesterday when exchanging some emails with a friend who owns a gallery in Asheville.  She thought the in joke was funny and that’s when I realized that it was part of an old cartoon I’d drawn–from my sketchbook, back in 1996–but never shared with anyone.

I still think it’s funny.

 

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