Archive for July, 2008

tracing, drawing, creating

Lessons from high school art class.

When working from someone else’s image (be it a photograph or a drawing), you receive your own artistic training. Depending on how you copy it, or what you copy from it, you can learn a lot from an image.

Tracing is the most basic way to learn how a drawing was put together. Take the drawing, slap some lightweight paper on top, and follow the lines. Most people consider this cheating. I don’t mind as long as you’re not using it for publication or to show off your awesome art skillz.

Tracing helps you understand composition and structure. Especially in comics, which show so much using so few lines, getting everything exactly right in a panel is imperative. When I was a kid I traced Garfield. By ten or eleven I moved on to FoxTrot and Calvin and Hobbes. Each cartoonist helped me better understand how to make good character design.

Drawing, as I call it, means simply looking at the image and drawing the same image yourself. This is more difficult, requires much greater concentration, and is ultimately more rewarding. Not only do you learn how to put compositions together, you do it without training wheels. I believe the muscle memory of drawing other people’s good comics can help you draw your own good comics down the road.

Since I was paying such close attention to an artist’s linework, I began to try out different pens to emulate the line quality. I went through a brief phase in high school when I used a brush, just like Bill Watterson. It was kind of a failure, but I had fun trying. I kept thinking that I’d come around eventually, but I’ve found that I like my drawings with a finer line than brushes allow. I’m always changing, though.

I had an art teacher who told us not to look at the page at all while we were doing figure drawing. At first it was difficult. You get what you’d expect: lines everywhere, no shape of a human body to be found. After some pretty intense concentration and practice, I could draw the model without the need to look at the page more than once or twice. This was great. I was spending more time concentrating on the person I was drawing and less time on the paper. (And, really, paper is a lot more boring to look at than a nude model.)

A strange side effect of this was that I had a harder time drawing when I had a cold. That level of concentration was hard to maintain in good health, but being sick made it incredibly tiring. I made some pretty bad drawings the days I wasn’t feeling well.

Creating is my word for taking what you want from an image and integrating it into your own work. I like to think of that general from Dr. Strangelove: I’m stealing the image’s essence. This is kind of what I do for Friday Robots, or when I’m sketching for new character designs. I’ll take a look through pictures of the Book of Kells:

And come up with this:dirch_like_kells
Dirch was one of the monsters from the comic strip I did before Falling Rock.

Or I’ll look through a book of Vincent Van Gogh’s ink drawings to better compose a background. van-gogh-ink-landscapejosh-desert-background-like-van-gogh

I don’t feel as bad about that because Vincent openly stole images from Japanese woodblock prints for his paintings. I also read that Watterson took some landscapes directly from Krazy Kat. The moral: if you steal, steal from the best.

Of the three, I only do drawing and creating now. You can’t keep tracing forever. Not only is it bad form; it’s kind of stifling (and boring). Drawing “freehand,” as we used to call it in high school art class, is more rewarding. You learn more, and more quickly, that way.

Now go forth, and be creative.

If You’re So Smart, How Come You’re Not Syndicated?

Every day millions of faithful Falling Rock readers write in to ask me, “why aren’t you syndicated?” Sadly, Welcome to Falling Rock National Park remains one of countless comic strips orphaned on the internet. Why do the syndicates turn their backs while this poor cartoonist toils away as an anonymous day laborer? And how do I respond to my fans, many of whom read Falling Rock in their college paper and are forced to leave it behind after graduation?

My answers vary, but the real reason is absurdly simple: I have enemies.

Powerful enemies, enemies who will stop at nothing to ensure Falling Rock remains merely a cult sensation and not the mainstream powerhouse it ought to be. Enemies like these:

Nosferatu   Nosferatu   
Blood-sucking dweller of the night, Nosferatu cannot stand comic strips.

The JokerJokerMHBTAS
The cackling Clown Prince of Crime is completely insane. He will not abide another source of humor coming into the depressed slums of Gotham City.

Death himselfdeathseal
Were I to play Death at a game of Chess, he would inevitably take away not only my comic strip, but also my everlasting soul. Death is inevitable, but I fight him off every day in order to bring you four panels of funny talking owls.

The Phoenix Mars lander found evidence that ice exists on Mars. The next step is to send an army of robots to destroy the Red Army currently gearing up for an Earth invasion. These green-blooded ne’er do wells will attack the cartoonists first.

Speaking of the Red Army, Communists will stop at nothing to sap us of our precious comic strips. They have no sense of humor and they don’t like flowers or sunshine either.

My brother
He says that he cares about me but I have my doubts. We were not able to fight to the death when we were growing up together (Mom wouldn’t allow it), but a reckoning is coming. I can feel it.

Norah Jonesnorah-jones
Don’t let the soft, soothing voice and the long dark hair fool you. Norah Jones is out for blood. She plans on hunting down every cartoonist until they become as extinct as the dinosaurs.

Richard Nixonnixon-elvis
He’s been keeping an FBI file on me for years. He knows how much I spend on Bristol board paper and he hates me for it.

There you have it. Before Falling Rock can achieve the success it was clearly destined to have, I must first defeat this rogue’s gallery of swarthy arch-nemeses.

Wish me luck, dear readers.

Friday Robots

Happy Fourth of July everybody. Or as they call it in France, “Bastille Day.” Those French. They have a word for everything.f-r-7-4-8

When you’re done admiring these fine independent robots, could you take a minute to write a review of this very blog at Blogged? The tone is up to you. Gentle caress, chaste embrace, knowing glance. Go wild, but remember: this is the internet, not some seedy paid-by-the-hour motel. We have standards to uphold.

Another place to stick your opinion of my work is at Powells City of Books! Here or here for my two Falling Rock book collections. You can also purchase said books at those convenient locations.

Enough details; let’s celebrate this gosh-darned country of ours!

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First Superstar President

Barack ObamaBarack Obama is set to become our first Superstar President. He is more than a mere politician. To many of us, he is the change that we want to see in the world.

Like most of us outside the state of Illinois, I was introduced to Obama by his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. In what turned out to be the highlight of that election cycle, he gave a speech so great that it outshone the nominee himself. What was that guy’s name?

I spent the next four years wondering why that dude who gave the speech wasn’t the one running our country. Certainly someone capable of introspection and abstract thought would be better than the current resident of the White House, a groundhog scurrying about in a man’s clothes. When Katrina and then Rita tore through Louisiana and Mississippi, our supposed leader holed up in his Texas ranch while Harry Connick Jr. demanded help for his fellow citizens. Why a singer became a better leader than our president remains a mystery. If you’re a person who believes things happen for a reason, maybe you’d think that it took two hurricanes to wake up half the nation from our national nightmare.

As the 2008 election year grew closer, it seemed that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic candidate for president. This filled me with sadness. Sad because it would really be wonderful to see a woman President – just not that woman. It would be like your parents giving you booger-flavored ice cream.

-Yay, ice cream!
-Wait, what is this? I’m not hungry anymore.

She has obviously been preparing her resume for years. Running for Congress in New York, joining the Senate Armed Services Committee. Yeah, she wants everyone to have healthcare. But booger-flavored ice cream with strawberries really doesn’t make it more appealing. (Let’s see how far I can take this metaphor, shall we?)

The great thing about Barack Obama is he hasn’t become part of the institution yet. He’s still young, smart, and has plenty of political mistakes to make. Sometimes he’ll say something that I’ll agree with wholeheartedly and get blasted by the media for saying it. I’m not sure when speaking your mind and stating the obvious became unwise for politicians. Maybe it’s always been that way. In any case, Obama has not yet become that stone wall where information cannot pass freely. What he says, he means, and what he says, he says eloquently and with passion.

Obama’s speeches are one of his greatest strengths. Unlike the mole-man currently squatting in the White House, Obama can elicit change with his words. You’d think that a man giving speeches for at least eight years would get better at it. The current President proves that public speaking is a talent as well as a skill. After the 2004 Democratic Convention speech, my other favorite Obama speech was the one he gave soon after he was attacked for belonging to a church whose reverend was a weirdo. Known as the Race Speech, Obama answered many of the unasked questions of an African American running for President. More importantly, he addressed a wound that we as a country have yet to fully comprehend, let alone heal. As a white guy, it is hard to adequately discuss the deep divide we still have in this country. One of the best things I can do is listen. We must consider is the amazing diversity of this country: not just black and white but Latino and Asian and just about every other region in the world. Obama’s family background speaks to the way America really is. When Kennedy got elected as the first Roman Catholic president, it was a big deal. Forty years later, we need to keep making steps toward progress, toward understanding.

In the coming months a lot will be said and not much understood. The wrong details will be analyzed to death, words taken out of context and misinterpreted. A cloud of confusion will cover the nation. Keep your wits about you, dear readers. Try not to throw your shoe at the TV. On November 4th the cloud will lift.

We need to remember that we are electing a leader, a representative for us all. We are also electing, in my opinion, a person who we strive to be: the best of ourselves. Obama is just a man, with failings of his own, but he is more than a politician. He is heroic because of his humanity and because he has the capability to show us where we can go.

May our leaders make us leaders.

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Dinosaur National Monument

A special shout out to NPR for running a short piece on Dinosaur National Monument, which sits comfortably on the Colorado/Utah border. A. and I camped there a few years ago and it was a special kind of bliss. Their visitor center is built into the side of a hill which is actively being dug out for fossils. You can get up close and personal with dino bones, and even have your picture taken by one. It’s like Disneyland for geeks.

Colorado is a great state to live in if you love dinosaurs. They have a state fossil (the stegosaurus) and the venerable paleontologist Robert Bakker lives there when he’s not canvassing Wyoming for relics of a bygone age. They also have one of the best collections of dinosaur skeletons in the world at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

P.S. If you think the only good place to spot a dinosaur is in Colorado, think again. For a short time, you can find them in Cleveland.

100 Most Influential People

Thanks to my friend Andy K (of the Jukebox), I’ve learned a way to make Top Ten lists. Just pick a topic and list the first relevant things that come to your mind. This is both definitive and hilarious. Here is my list of The 100 Most Influential People of the Past 100 Years, in order of ascending influence. Ask me again tomorrow, and I’ll give you another 100.

The 100 Most Influential People of the Past 100 Years

100. Charlie Chaplin
99. James Joyce
98. Virginia Madsen
97. Jimmy Hoffa
96. Mr. Magoo
95. Hank Williams
94. Donald Duck
93. Chelsea Clinton
92. Al Gore’s Daughters
91. John McLoughlin
90. Frank Capra
89. Yoda
88. Sonny Bono
87. L. Frank Baum
86. Dr. Seuss
85. The Lorax
84. Chris Farley
83. Bigfoot
82. Albert Einstein
81. Cher
80. DJ Jazzy Jeff
79. Jon Arbuckle
78. Fatty Arbuckle
77. Fats Waller
76. Fats Domino
75. Georgia O’Keefe
74. Thomas Kinkade
73. Jackson Pollack
72. Mary Engelbreight
71. Frankenstein
70. Dracula
69. Wolfman Jack
68. Teen Wolf
67. Steven Spielberg
66. Larry King
65. Richie Sambora
64. Robert Oppenheimer
63. Samuel L. Jackson
62. Lois Lane
61. Clark Kent
60. Bruce Wayne
59. Calvin
58. Hobbes
57. George Foreman Grill
56. Bono
55. Kurt Cobain
54. Andy K
53. Lennon/McCartney
52. Robert “Zimmy” Zimmerman
51. Homer Simpson
50. Rocky the Flying Squirrel
49. Keanu Reeves
48. Albert Brooks
47. Winsor McCay
46. Michael Jordan
45. Bill Bowerman
44. Ronald Weasley
43. Charles Bukowski
42. Hunter S. Thompson
41. Johnny Depp
40. Donald “Duck” Dunn
39. Keith Richards
38. Buddy Holly
37. Norah Jones
36. The Great Gonzo
35. Dustin Diamond
34. Stabbone
33. McGraw
32. King Kong
31. Shigeru Miyamoto
30. Yukio Mishima
29. Son House
28. Dave Eggers
27. Natalie Portman
26. Winston Churchill
25. FDR
24. Nelson Mandela
23. Ringo Starr
22. Prince William
21. Robin Williams
20. William Carlos Williams
19. Wilson Pickett
18. Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster
17. June Carter
16. Reese Witherspoon
15. Johnny Cash
14. Joaquin Phoenix
13. Ray Charles
12. Eddie Murphy
11. Stephen Hawking
10. Justin Timberlake
9. Charles Baxter
8. Grace Paley
7. Raymond Carver
6. Clive Cussler
5. Mark Twain
4. Barack Obama
3. Jimmy Carter
2. Hans Conried
1. Kenneth Lay

from the sketchbook



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I’m like Nike

I was in Eugene on Independence Day to run in the Butte to Butte 10K. It was a really fun race. Special thanks go to my friend Jody who kept telling me how awesome it was going to be for about six months leading up to the race itself.

One of the reasons that made this year’s Butte to Butte so special was the Olympic Track & Field trials, which took place in Eugene this year. For those of you not up on your track history, Eugene is Track Town, USA. Steve Prefontaine ran for the University of Oregon (and sported a darn fine moustache). Bill Bowerman (and here) and Phil Knight, the guys who co-founded Nike, coached and ran, respectively, at the UO. The Olympic track trials have taken place there four times in the past 30 years. It was somewhat humbling running in the town with that kind of history. But we took it all on and finished with admirable times. We even got our names in the newspaper.

One of the things that caught my attention in Eugene was the ubiquitous presence of Nike. Specifically, the graphics promoting the track events were really eye-catching. I liked them so much I decided to try my hand at replicating them. Nike, let this be my formal submission as graphic designer.nikehardestteamtomake josh-like-nike

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Friday Buddha Robot

This Friday Robot is a bridge heading towards its river. There’s nothing more beautiful in this world than the moment you’ve figured out your place in it.friday-robot-7-11-08

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air conditioning is not an option, friends

mr-freeze You’ll find some people who believe air conditioning is one of the evils of our time. I am not one of those people. Yes, air conditioning uses energy which could, theoretically, be used to transport food to a starving child. Energy could also be used to prevent more wars, end the AIDS epidemic, find a cure for cancer, or make sure my brother never becomes a US Senator. These are all noble causes. None of them, however, should be done instead of air conditioning.

I know I am taking an extreme stance here. The globe keeps on warming, and if we don’t cut our carbon emissions drastically, we’ll need a lot more than air conditioning to save our skins. But air conditioning is not a luxury item like SUVs or those pools that you swim in without going anywhere.

Air conditioning makes life bearable. You flip a switch and a wonderful cool breeze caresses your tired body with a lover’s touch. Air conditioning, not opposable thumbs, sets us apart from the uncivilized animals. We used our gigantic brains to come up with this miraculous invention; why don’t we take more advantage of it? When it’s 95 degrees outside and you’ve been out all day, how does it feel to come home to a 90 degree apartment? Not too good. When you’re trying to think of witty jokes and you can’t move due to the heat, how easy does that make your task? Not easy at all, dear readers. Good jokes can come from anger, but so can heart attacks. Also, the crime rate is higher in hotter states and during heat waves. I’m not going to even bother finding a reputable source for that information: I just know it to be true.

And don’t tell me to use a fan. Heat makes me angry, but dumb people flapping their mouths about fans enrage me. Fans are a false prophet. Do you know what fans do? They move air. They don’t cool the air, the don’t even run air through water like swamp coolers. They take air that has been sitting in Point A and transport it – magically – to Point B. Does that really change anything? If we’re going to have a conversation about wasting electricity, I’m making fans Exhibit A.tucson+jan08+(43)

Why are movies so popular? For a long time theaters were often the only places that had air conditioning. Why do so many people spend their weekends at the mall? Again, air conditioning. When it gets to be a certain temperature I begin to think of errands I need to run, just so I can be enveloped in that frosty synthetic air.

Let’s make a deal. All buildings be required to install air conditioning by the year 2010. It doesn’t always have to be on, but it should be there just in case. In exchange, I will take the world-destroying laser I have currently pointed at Earth and redirect it to some lesser planet, like Venus. I’ve heard it’s hot there.

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