Cartoon and Illustration

Switching Horses in Mid-Stream

So the past couple of days have been “transitional”.  That is, I had to switch from one client to another–still drawing comics (or sequential art, or graphic novels–whatever you want to call it), but changing from one story to another.

The reasons for this are complicated in one sense and simple in another.

The second client was in a hurry and was willing to pay more, so the first client was kind enough to allow me to take a hiatus on their project and let me move on the second.

Of course I realize this is all sounding very “legal”–that is I might as well be describing them as “The Party of the First Part”, and the “Party of the Second Part.”

The particulars of my working relationship with each of them causes some of the confusion.  The first client wants me to keep a lid on what I’m doing for him until it’s complete.  The second client, Vernon Johnson (a.k.a. Nick Vernon) from Resilient Comics wants me to shout things from the rooftops.

So, “YAAHHHH!”  (That should satisfy Vernon).

My mind, however, is taking a while to adjust.

What this meant in practical terms is that two weekends ago I was penciling the last 6 pages of the first chapter of the book (the one I have to keep quiet about) at Marble City Comic Con.  I was keeping the pages hidden from the view of the crowd in that they were behind the table out of clear view of anyone there–and unlike some convention centers the Knoxville CC didn’t have a bunch of catwalks or glass galleries that someone could look down on me from–say with a high powered camera lens.

Not that I think that anyone is that interested in the comic book pages I’m drawing, but I’d have been more cautious if the situation had warranted. 

Anyway, came home to the studio scanned all the pages, then got notes from the client and made changes to the pages as needed.

Meantime I was working on some character designs for Vernon for his book, “Mob of Zion”–which he described to me as “X-Men meets Dick Tracy”.  A pretty good summation of the idea and I’m trying to roll with that.

I also had to do thumbnail sketches of all 24 pages of this first issue–as well as an illustration for a Domino Lady book I’m working on (4 illustrations down, 8 to go), and a book cover for a publisher in England.  Believe me, it sounds more glamorous than it is.  Mostly it’s just pushing a pencil or pixels around.  I get excited about it, but if you were sitting here watching me do it you’d be BOOORRREEDD.

Unless you were another artist.  Then you’d probably get inspired and go over in a corner and do your own drawings.  That’s how we artist are.  We watch what one another do then go do our own thing after a while.  It’s like conversing, only quieter.

Anyway, the trick is I’ve had to wrap my mind around changing from one project to another. (With a few bumps in between).  Since both projects are set in settings that look historical I’ve had to do a lot of research on each of these.  If either book had been similar to the other in setting I would have had to turn the second one down (this actually did happen about the time I signed on to the first book someone came to me with a similar setting and I had to take a pass).  Fortunately for the clients the books are distinct periods of time.  Fortunately for me they both pay money.  UN-fortunately for me, my brain can only handle so much research at a given time.

Anyway, Mob of Zion is set in a world very much like the late 1920s early 1930s.  So there’s flappers, gangsters, etc.  But there’s also a lot of meta-human stuff going on.  Which is all very exciting.  I get to draw all sorts of goofy stuff.  Funky art deco cityscapes, railroads, mutant hillbillies…what’s not to love?

But as I’m just penciling page one panel one today and need to get the whole job turned around in about two months (so that I can get back to client number one) I’d better not post any of it yet.  Just trying to create some buzz.

So remember that title, “Mob of Zion”.  I did do a preliminary piece 5 years ago, I guess I can post that.

Mob of Zion (Saint Mafia and all related images) copyright © Vernon Johnson.Image.

Cartoon and Illustration

Updates–quickly, then back to work!

So I had a great time at Marble City Comic-Con this past weekend.  Got to sit beside Gil Gerard (TV’s Buck Rogers) all weekend–which was a pleasant experience.  He’s a nice guy–

Also found a way to make money at conventions again–I gave stuff away.  Not kidding.  I made more money giving stuff away and taking donations than I have made in the past couple of years selling stuff.  So that’s my new business model.  I’m not saying I didn’t sell anything, but my approach was, “Can I interest you in something free?  Here, have a Batman or Wonder Woman print.  No obligation, but if you’d like an original page take one of those too–and if you would like to make a donation or tip me, that’s up to you.”

It worked.  Some people were just darned generous.  Other people were impressed that I was giving stuff away and stuck around to buy some of the stuff I was putting a price on. 

My brother, Jay, has been telling me that this is the new Silicon Valley business model:  Give the software away, sell the t-shirt.  I didn’t have any tee shirts, but I probably could have sold those.

The show did have some tee-shirts with my art on them, and they did sell a number of those to fans.  Enough that they’ve asked me to do next year’s design as well.  So I have to figure out how to top this year’s design for impact.  

Met a lot of other nice people there as well.  Hope you all had a great time.  Looking forward to seeing you in 2015!

I also was witness to the most amazing feat of athletic prowess I’ve ever seen this past weekend.  I went to dinner at Steak ‘n’ Shake out in Turkey Creek where I saw their fry cook cook 600 patties in under 30 minutes.  There was a huge rush when I got there and since I was alone got seated at the counter directly in view of this amazing feat.  Dinner and a show!  Worth every penny.

After returning home I had to do taxes.  So Monday was the day for that.  It went amazingly quickly using TurboTax online.  I’m not being paid to advertise them, but it was so easy and I ended up getting a nice refund from both Federal and State in spite of having to pay some penalties for early withdrawal from IRAs last year.  TT found out that we were allowed to take off some of those penalties because we’d used part of the money to pay for medical bills!  I would never have found that exception in a million years.  So, yes, I’m recommending TurboTax to everyone I know.  The thing ran beautifully and I’m done a day earlier than I expected.

Things are looking good.  A smiling Providence after months of hard living.

Cartoon and Illustration

Switching Horses in mid-stream

I’m going to Marble City Comic Con tomorrow.  Knoxville look out!

In the meantime, big news is that I have managed to secure (by the grace of God alone) a new assignment that will pay well enough that I can take time off from the project I WAS working on, go to Reubens Award weekend at the end of May, and still get the bills paid…

Provided that I can turn around all the pages I need to in quick order.  Which means today was spent making sure the last five pages of one issue were posed and ready to pencil while I’m at Marble City Comic Con this weekend.  I’ve got five pages on the drawing board right now–trying to get as much moved along as I can before leaving.  Taking along the portable light table to use–if I can find a plug in at the convention center, or in my hotel room when the day is done.

Feeling like an old pro now.

Oh, and somewhere in there I need to do my taxes.  Repeal the 16th Amendment!

Cartoon and Illustration

Busy little bee…

It has been one crazy weekend!

As mentioned previously in this space, I had a gallery reception on Friday night.  While the crowds were thin, there was good artist camaraderie with the likes of Jesse Clay, Jon Houglum, and show organizer Dominick DePaulo (also Mrs. Taylor, my older brother’s 2nd grade teacher).  Anyway, we all stood around and complimented one another’s work.  I’ll likely be auditing one of Jon’s oil painting classes later this year, just to pick up on some of his awesome technique.  This is what artists do, folks.  We look at the other guy’s work and get inspired–that’s a party for us.

Then Saturday I had to go to Knoxville.  Shane Harris (ShaneHai) came along for the ride and moral support as Karin had to stay here and teach all day.  We got there on time in spite of a huge traffic jam near Lake Dandridge, TN where they’ve been rebuilding the bridge across that lake, cutting I-40 down to one lane in each direction.  Hope they get that fixed soon.  

Had a great time with Bob Longmire (who organized), Charlie and Patsy Daniel, Tim Olphant, and all the rest (about a dozen) of the cartoonists who showed up for this kick off of the new Knoxville Cartoonists sub-group of the SECNCS.  Also, met (or re-met) Chris West brother of Scott West–twin brothers who are both amazingly talented illustrators!  I’ve been hanging around with Scott for some time but forgot that he HAD a twin and so thought Chris was putting me on.  It really was like some situation comedy where the guy puts on glasses and pretends to be his own twin.  I’m sure once I know them both better it will be more apparent how they differ, but for a moment or two it took some getting used to.  However, I’m telling you now–be on the look out for Chris West’s “Kismet” graphic novel.  When he gets it done you will all want a copy.

But the meeting had to end–too early for most, and the security guard at the library was very patient though he really wanted to get the place locked up.

Back home to prepare for Sunday.

Up at 7 am to hide Easter Eggs for Karin’s early Egg Hunt / Monkey party that afternoon.  Then cleaned up and off to Sunday School and Church, then back to prepare snacks for everyone arriving at 2.  The party was fun with something like 25 people (many kids) participating in the hunt for something like 484 eggs filled with candy (what are we Biltmore House?) followed by a visit from Sunshine Monkeyshines and 3 real monkeys and a pigmy marmoset.  Wild stuff and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, but the clean up went well into the evening.

This morning I was up for a dentist appointment to have my second permanent crown installed.  Didn’t hurt much at all and it’s a much better crown than just two years ago.  Dr. Skip (no seriously, that’s what we call him) tells me that in just a few weeks they’re going to go to a one visit crown procedure wherein they will make a 3-D scan of the tooth and a machine in the back will mill the new crown out of zirconia.  No more temporary crowns!  All in a single visit.

The rest of the day has been occupied with sending out emails and contracts.  Which is much less boring than it sounds when one realizes that the contracts will lead to money coming in.

Oh, and I’m firming up plans to go to San Diego for the Annual Reubens Awards Convention wherein the cartoonist community has their equivalent of the Oscars.  “Weird Al” Yankovic is going to be honored with an A.C.E. (Amateur Cartoonist Extraordinaire) Award as he once aspired to work for MAD Magazine before becoming a multi-Grammy award winner.  My “travel agent” Vicky Smart is busy even now wrangling airline tickets for the event, while I arrange enough work to pay the way out, get a tux, pay for hotel, food, visit to the SD Zoo, etc.

Somewhere in there I need to draw some stuff.  So why am I sitting here writing this?


Cartoon and Illustration

the Fame Game

So, it’s interesting to find myself touted as “famous” in various venues lately.  I suppose it’s so in a limited sense.  I have got 30+ years of credits in comic books and illustration, true.  I can generally go to almost any comicbook convention and ask for guest status (I may not get it, but I can ask without massive shame).

“Guest Status” is a variable term.  Minimally that means I can either get a guest pass for free.  For San Diego, I have gotten a free pass, rather than paying the $150 or whatever they charge people in general, a.k.a. “fans”.  At other shows I can expect a pass and a table space for free.  This is helpful when trying to make money selling prints, contributor copies of books I’ve drawn, character sketches, and original art.  Still other shows guest status means that they’ll pay for a hotel room, table space, and a free pass–to do all of the above without losing money on anything but gas and food for the weekend.

The latter version of the term has been (thankfully) happening more lately.  Still not making that much money.

There’s a better version of “guest status”, wherein they fly you to the show, pay you to be there, give you hotel, table, food, etc.  I have yet to attain such status, and have my doubts that I ever will.  But I’ve been surprised before, so who knows?

I’ve done several shows with guest status lately.  Lost money on one show, did okay on another (didn’t lose money, maybe made a little).  


But now we get into the strange area that is the past several weeks and the next few coming.  I’ve been asked to participate in the local “artists invitational” show held by my hometown arts council.  It’s a true honor to be asked and I’ve got 6 pages of comics hanging in a show that includes all sorts of locals, both native and retirees to the area.  So if you find yourself in Waynesville, NC tomorrow evening (or over the next couple of weeks) Gallery 86 on Main Street is hosting the event–and the reception is tomorrow night 6-9 pm.  I’ll be there attempting to look cool, but frankly, it’s really not my element.  Comics is a strange hybrid–to commercial artists it’s kind of a fine arts thing, while fine artists look at it as terribly commercial.  So even getting wall space at this event is a moral victory of sorts.  

(I will say that the artists who set up the show are not snobbish at all, great folks, but there’s no telling what kind of crowd will show up for the reception.  There may be all sorts of pretentiousness, there may not–we’ll see).

As if that were not enough to potentially swell the head, I’ve been asked to come to Knoxville on Saturday and kick off the start of their local cartoonists group.  I’ve been pushing for this to happen for years, but it’s finally coming together and I consider it one of my crowning achievements since taking over the chairmanship of the Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society.  I was just going to show up but they gave me star billing along with Charlie Daniel who draws for the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

I’m really not a big shot.  I don’t consider myself a big shot.  I’ll begin to believe that perhaps I am a big shot when I can pay my smart phone bill without breaking a sweat.  No, check that, when I can book a flight to an important event and not have to put my entire life in hock to do so.

So, it is possible that fame is not all it’s cracked up to be.  It hasn’t yet made my bills any easier to pay–in fact it often takes bread OFF my table.  I keep hearing that it’s all part of the process, but really haven’t seen the results yet.  Just keep praying I’ll be able to play this game and remain humble and helpful to others.  I soooo do not want to get a swelled head, I just want the money 😉Image