Cartoon and Illustration

Artistic Criticism (and how that works–or should work)

Don’t ask me how these things come up.  I suppose the very fact that both I and my wife make our livings from creative pursuits just makes this sort of thing inevitable (not to mention the fact that both our families are filled with artists and musicians).  But I feel compelled to comment on what I consider the facts of “Artistic Criticism”.

Which is to say I make fun of art.

Seriously, I will go to a museum and pick out little bits in paintings and mock the look on the face of a particular figure, put words in the mouths of allegorical characters, poke fun at Louis XIV’s clothes, etc.  It’s what I do.

That is, among other things.

I also look at compositions.  Observe techniques.  Get inspiration.

But it seems to bug people when I make my snarky comments.  So I mostly keep them to myself–although when I start amusing my wife I do tend to escalate the humor part.  She joins in, and we have a grand time of it.

Some people think this is wrong.

I’ve got a real problem with that.

If we as a society have to draw the line at making fun of art–because it’s “serious”–then we’ve no longer got freedom to actually criticize what we’re looking at.  You can’t actually appreciate something unless you’re also free to deride it.  The minute someone says, “You can’t make fun of THAT!” they have robbed the public of the power to appreciate it.

This is also one of the reasons that I feel that comic books and comic strips are such an accessible art form.  They welcome mockery, and in the moment of our mocking them we (well, some of us) became fascinated by the form.

Now, does this mean that I think people should go spray graffiti on statues in the park?  Or that it’s okay to talk at the top of your voice during the local theater production of “Oklahoma!”  Not at all.  

But I’ve had people tell me that I can’t make fun of the fact that I was bored to tears (or sleep) during a “classical” concert–because that’s SERIOUS art.   Is it any wonder that I am less inclined to be as excited about that sort of event than I am a comic-con?

Does this not reveal that the person who has just criticized me has failed to appreciate the artful humor I have previously employed?

Again, not saying that one should be mean spirited when criticizing art of any sort.  But there HAS to be some allowance made for humor in criticism–and not just for well known critics.  Mark Twain was employing humorous criticism way back when he was just plain old Samuel Clemens.  The very fact that he is one of America’s best known and loved humorists to this day is based on the fact that he was willing to mock the work of others–when it needed mocking!

So when some art snob calls you a Philistine for snickering at yet another bad painting that’s supposed to be taken seriously–simply because it’s in a museum (in spite of the fact that it looks like 9 square feet of asphalt someone pulled up from a road)–point this out to them:  The power to appreciate something is contingent upon the ability to mock it if it needs mocking.

Or perhaps simply say, “Oh?  If this is such great art and I am such a Philistine, perhaps you could take the time to explain to me what is so great about it.”

Maybe if someone had taken that step back about 100 years ago we might not have so many museums filled with junk.  Then again, we might not have so many creatively constructed comic books and comic strips.

Cartoon and Illustration

How Advertising works (a case history)

You may expect I’m going to write some snarky comment here about how I hate advertising.  Not at all.  This is not to say that I don’t hate SOME advertising.  Probably about as much as anyone else–but then again, maybe not, since my degree is in Advertising Design.  Not my point.

My point is that I’ve been listening to music on Spotify lately.  Which is pretty nice except for the advertising.  For the past several weeks I’ve been listening to a commercial break for Advance Auto Parts telling how they’ll “INSTALL YOUR BATTERY–FOR FREE!” (The announcer actually practically screams that “FOR FREE!” part.  So annoying, yes?

But then a week or so ago my car was acting up.  It was starting kind of slow.  The kind of slow start up that would not be unusual if it were mid-winter and below zero.  That thing that tells you that your battery might be a little too cold to crank.  The problem?  It’s June in North Carolina!  80 degrees, plus.  Not the sort of weather that normally affects a battery, right?

Well, I’ve been busy, but every time that ad ran on Spotify I’d think, “Maybe I should have my battery checked.”  But didn’t do it.

Then I went to Heroes Convention in Charlotte and along the way I kept smelling something like an egg salad going bad.  Well, sometimes Charlotte can have funky smells, so I paid it no mind.

On the way home, though I stopped off at a gas station to fill up the tank, and thought to check the oil.  I opened the hood and realized that there was something amiss.  A big wet spot above and behind the battery and the smell of acid!  On closer examination I realized the battery was not well–a pool of acid on the platform where the battery rests, and an odd misshapen look to the battery case itself.

This was around 5 pm on Monday afternoon and my wife was going to take the car to Ohio the next day.

“Guess I’m going to Advance Auto Parts,” went through my head.

That’s how advertising works.  I knew just where the Advance Auto Parts place is in my home town, so if I didn’t see one on the way home I’d just pull in there.  Which is what I ended up doing.

The guy was able to set me up with a battery and install it in about a half an hour.  Sure, I could have taken the car to the mechanic.  I’d have preferred to do that, but there’s no way it would have gotten done in time to get my wife on the road the next morning.

So, here’s the lesson.  Have a product people need, sell it for a reasonable price.  Offer to help installing said product.  Even if your advertising is obnoxious you’re likely to sell product.

Now, as for the guy who keeps telling me to get help for gambling addiction–not an issue with me.  Funny how the next commercial is for Vegas, though.


Cartoon and Illustration

Heroes Convention wrap up

I’m back from Heroes Convention 2014 and it’s hard to believe it’s all over.  This year was unusual in that I normally begin planning toward Heroes Con sometime in January and then work toward it as a goal until June, then spend all my energy on it as my main convention of the year.  But this year has been different.  I’ve been on the con circuit since March with Heroes Con being my 7th major event this year so far!  So it was a little odd.  Most years I pull into Charlotte thinking, “it seems like just a week or so ago I was here.”  This year it was more like, “How many years has it been since I drove this street?  What street am I on?  What’s going on?”

But I survived and actually did pretty well.  I’ve had more lucrative years at Heroes, but then again, I’ve had less lucrative.  I did eleven convention sketches this weekend–and boy are my arms tired!  Actually I did more than that.  I did eleven PAID sketches.  I did a lot of freebies for friends and quickies for cute kids with sketchbooks.

And I sold some merchandise too.  So that was good.

Got to see old friends–in between sketches that is.  And I could go into great detail about all the events, but it would take much too long to tell it all.  So I’m going to hit the high points.

Ran into Greg Cravens, who draws The Buckets in the newspaper as well as Hubris the webcomic–as I was coming in the convention center.  Greg and I are old buddies.  Met him back in 2003 at my first Southeast Chapter of the NCS meeting in Asheville and we took to one another like hogs to slop (as I am writing this, I am imagining just how Greg would say that in his Memphis accent).  So he helped me with some items I needed to carry into the Convention Center and I let him borrow my moving dolly.  He was there pushing Hubris to the crowd, set up with fellow Memphian, Charles Ettinger.  The three of us ended the day by going out to Five Guys for dinner and swapping stories about our days in various screen-print factories back in the 80s and 90s.  Seems it’s universal in screen printing to have slightly insane bosses to work for!  Charles and I also share a passion for the Silver Age Green Lantern.

I did several sketches on Friday and finished the day with one sketch cover pending.  So I took it back with me to finish after the show (I was staying with my best-buddy, Joel, and his family outside of town).  But I was in such a rush getting out of the convention center that I forgot my color markers and pencils.  So I finished up the black and white artwork (Harley Quinn and Joker) on the kitchen table at the Merritt’s house, and planned to go back to the convention early on Saturday morning.

Did I ever go to the convention center early the next day.  At 5 am I was up.  God woke me.  He said, “You need to pray before you go in today.”  And so after a bit of reluctance I got up and prayed for a while, then I was too awake to go back to bed.  So I went into town, cruised the block to find good parking and went into the Convention Center around 7:40 am.  Walked into Hall A around 7:45 am.  Nobody questioned me.  So I sat down and got to work coloring the piece of artwork I’d drawn the night before–I was just finishing up when security came and asked me (nicely) to go upstairs until 9 am.  So I did.

For the record, I hadn’t really thought about what a problem this might have been.  IF I’d been someone up to mischief, or someone bent on stealing something valuable it would have been a different scene.  Security did work.  I just wasn’t doing anything wrong–other than being there at that time.  So I left.  Went upstairs and saw Greg and Charles having breakfast at BoJangles.  So had a few laughs with them.  Then went downstairs and got back to work.

Unfortunately when you draw over 11 sketches in a weekend it’s hard to keep up with them all.  I did not get pictures of more than a few of them.  Sorry.  Oh well.  But I did draw, Chewbacca, Boba Fett, Harley Quinn, Joker, Silver Age Batman, Baron Karza, Prince Valiant, G-Men from Hell, Batgirl, Chickadee (from my own Wolfman comic!), Scarlet Witch, and Severus Snapes (my first Harry Potter sketch ever)–as well as a bunch of others (as mentioned above).

Saturday night I decided to put on my tux for the annual Heroes Auction.  I have not officially yet won my place in the Smoking Jacket Society as that was put into place the year after my Wonder Woman art went for $1200.  But I am determined to win my jacket!  This year I did okay.  My Batgirl artwork went for $250 to a very pleased gentleman–who’s name I did not get.  I was also pleased to see my friend Kaysha Siemens’ drawing of Death and Sandman went for $325 at the auction.  She should really be a regular at Heroes.

One announcement was made during the evening that stuck with me.  The rough Saturday gate statistics said that the number of attendees this year were approximately three times as many as last.  As last year’s totals were around 60,000 one can extrapolate that Heroes Con 2014 must have brought in at least 100,000 fans.  So where were the publishers?  There were a few, admittedly.  But not like there should have been.  I do not blame Heroes Convention one bit.  I blame the publishers for not giving Heroes Con enough credit.  From what I understand San Diego Comic-Con (which gets all the publicity of TV shows and movie stars showing up there) brings in around 120,000 to maybe 150,000 fans during five days.  That Heroes Convention can bring in 100,000 in three days should clue in publishers they’re missing out on a grand opportunity.  They could be promoting their publications to the huge fan base that is assembled in Charlotte, while also scouting the 300+ professional artists who show up at Heroes.

Why do these pros come to Heroes Con?  Not because they “have to” (which I hear about San Diego and NYC a lot–like it’s a chore)–no, at Heroes it’s because they WANT to be there.  “It’s like Christmas for comic fans!”  We all get together and have a great time, visit with our extended family and enjoy what we do.

So, comics publishers, get a clue.  SCOUT HEROES CON!

There were a lot of other funny moments as well.  As I mentioned I was staying with my best buddy, Joel, and his family during the show.  I usually do.  But this year, their niece, Elizabeth, (whom they raised from age 4) came back to Charlotte from ECU just for the show.  Well, she and Joel kept walking up to my table, stopping about 10 feet away and exclaiming, “Oh!  It’s James LYLE!” in delighted tones.  They’ve actually been doing this for years, now that I think about it.  Fun-ny!  But what really got me is that there were actually a few fans I’d never met that came up and did that same sort of thing for real.  And they meant me–not Tom Lyle.  I got quite a few of the Tom Lyle mistaken identity moments as well–but a few honest to goodness people impressed by my work.  That meant a lot.

Also, I finally got Joel behind the table where he belongs.  Joel and I have known each other since High School, and he is one of the best artists I have ever known and had the pleasure to work with for over 30 years!  Finally got him to join the SECNCS (Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society) last year.  Even though he keeps saying, “Well, I only design tee-shirts,” and stuff like that.  Anyway, as an SECNCS chapter member he volunteered to help populate the SECNCS table on Saturday.  This table was right next to mine–sort of a time-share for those in our chapter who aren’t yet ready to man a table on their own.  So that table was populated all weekend by a rotating staff of Shane Harris, Kaysha Siemens, Joel Merritt, Derek and Nikki Davis, Clay Elliott, Christine Ramsey, Jack Hoyle, Jer Alford, Jerrard Polk, and Tom Davidson.  They handed out FAQ sheets to all who expressed any interest in being professional cartoonists, illustrators, etc.

While Joel was manning the table, Elizabeth came over and sat with me.  She said “I’ll assist you! I’ll hold your pens and pencils–what else can I do?”  I told her, “Just sit there and you’ll be doing me a favor.”  If you don’t get that joke, just keep in mind that there are a lot of 20-something boys at comic conventions and so any pretty young girl sitting behind your table will likely bring in some business.  Elizabeth got it right away.  So I said, “Remember to smile…but not too nice!” She replied, “Hey I’m not giving it away!”  Funny girl.  It’s weird to be her sort-of uncle.  Of course it’s strange to be anyone’s uncle–so what am I complaining about?

The other weird thing is that last year in San Diego I met a young artist names J.P. Vilchis from Mexico City.  He and I were there looking for work (“In the trenches” is the slang for it) at the portfolio review area.  He wanted to have feedback from more artists and so I told him that he should come to Heroes Convention, because there are at least twice as many pro artists there as in San Diego (which appears to be dead on correct).  J.P. took me up on it!  I never thought that my advice would cause someone to fly to another country!  J.P. showed up at Heroes and in spite of the fact that he is painfully shy and reserved he showed his samples all over the place and got feedback from dozens of artists.  Good for him.  Well, we got down to the last few hours of the show and I was planning to go have a proper meal with the Merritts back at their house–when J.P. asked if he could have a chance to talk about his work somewhere a little less noisy.  I have to confess I didn’t quite know what to do.  So I got him involved in a conversation with Dusty Harbin, told him to meet me back at my table in a while and quickly called Toni Merritt on the phone to see if dinner could go around for five!  Turns out she was cooking a casserole (thank the Lord!) and would be happy to play hostess to our friend from Mexico.  So J.P. came for dinner! Got to know him a little better and he’s got an open invitation to return to Charlotte whenever he’d like.

We also taught him to play UNO.  (But he didn’t want to play any draw fours on Elizabeth.  What’s up with that?)

Okay, my eyes are shot.  Eyestrain.  I need to go rest my eyes.  Hope this gives you readers an insight into the wacky world of being a cartoonist at a comic show.


Bat-gal!  Convention sketch.

Batgirl convention sketch, drawn with pen-brush, color marker, and color pencil–in about 40 minutes at Heroes Convention 2014. I usually get a lot of Batgirl requests at a show, but this year it was only one and they didn’t even want the TV version!! Go figure.

Cartoon and Illustration

Bat-gal! Convention sketch.


Baron Karza convention sketch!

Baron Karza (villain from the original Micronauts series). Drawn in about 40 minutes at Heroes Convention 2014, using pen-brush, color marker and color pencil. Mostly drawn from memory as I was a huge fan of this series when it first appeared and drawn by Michael Golden. (And then when it was taken over by buddy, Butch Guice–which caused fits of jealousy on my part mixed with much admiration).

Cartoon and Illustration

Baron Karza convention sketch!


G-Men from Heck!

Convention Sketch from Heroes Convention 2014. Drawn in about 30 minutes using pen-brush, color markers and color pencil.

Cartoon and Illustration

G-Men from Heck!

Cartoon and Illustration

Heroes Convention begins (for me) tomorrow!

I have not blogged in forever it seems.  I’ve been busy penciling and inking on a new comic book, The Mob of Zion (perhaps best described as a cross between Dick Tracy and X-men), and preparing for Heroes Convention in Charlotte this coming weekend.  It’s going to be huge.  Last year the number of fans who showed up was estimated at around 60,000.  While this may be considered a drop in the bucket compared to shows like San Diego Comic Con, it was enough to shut down traffic in downtown last year.  I can only imagine that it will be even bigger this year.

Besides preparing for my own table, I have had to prepare for a table for my “peeps” (does anyone still say “peeps”?) in the Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonist Society.  I’ll be at AA-306, and they’ll be at AA-305 on the convention floor (or something like that–if it turns out backward, no biggie).  

I’m doing my best to be a working artist and at the same time giving others “permission” to be artistic as well.  This is to say, that I am amazed at the amount of talented artists out there who do not consider their own work worthy to be looked at by anyone.  They come to shows (some have their samples, many do not) and are afraid to show their work.  This needs to stop.  So I’m going to do what I can to stop it.

Believe me, I know what it feels like to be emotionally pummeled when showing one’s work.  It’s happened to me enough in my life, and it makes one “gun shy”.  But I’m going to do my best to make sure that people who come to my table (and the SECNCS table) get some positive reinforcement.  I’m not promising that everyone who comes by my table is going to walk away with a contract to draw comic books for a living (I can barely manage that myself)–but if they’re wanting to pursue comics as a serious job, then they need to get used to the idea of showing their work!

So come by if you’re in Charlotte.  I’ll be handing out free stuff, selling other stuff, and trying to give a little nudge in the right direction to other artists.

Heroes Convention is put on by Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find–with over 300 active creators from the comics industry appearing there it’s the best comic book show in the country!  Held yearly at the Charlotte Convention Center.  $40 will get you in all weekend.  Show hours are Friday June 20 11am-7pm, Saturday June 21 10am-6pm (with auction next door at 8pm), and Sunday June 22 11am-6pm.

Tell them Doodle sent you.