Archive for June, 2009

Babe of the Month: June 2009

Summertime…when the sleeves get shorter and the pants get capri. The time of the year a young Paul Newman strolls into town with nothing but the sweaty shirt on this muscular back. Yes, we know what you’re after and we at Falling Rock National Blog aim to give it to you. It is time to announce Falling Rock’s Babe of the Month.

The Babe of the Month for June 2009 is: Pam the javelina.pam-babe-of-the-month-color

Pam, no longer the young idealistic teacher, still has much to offer the discerning gentleman. She is retired, which means she won’t have any excuses to leave the house (unless it is to get the groceries to make your dinner). She is down to two packs a day, much sexier than the four-packs-plus-a-pint-of-Jameson she was a few years back. She loves to read murder mysteries, so you know she’s got a dark side. Pam is the whole package.

Better yet fellas, Pam is currently unattached. Could you be her Mr. Oh, All Right? Get in line!

mountain lions

2006-09-05-falling-rock-national-parkMountain lions, like Rashida Jones, are best admired from a distance. Both are beautiful elegant creatures, yet both become deadly when approached. Get too close and something (claws and teeth, a huge bodyguard named Big Bip) turns a magical encounter into a trip to the local ER. Today I want to talk about mountain lions, especially as they relate to my character Melissa in Welcome to Falling Rock National Park.

Melissa is, as hawk-eyed readers have pointed out, a mountain lion. She is interested in abstract sculpture, sleeping, devouring small desert creatures, and the short stories of Richard Yates and Lorrie Moore. Like real mountain lions, Melissa can often be found napping on a warm rock in the morning or in the shade during the hot afternoons. Also like mountain lions, she can only be found when she wants to be.

There is an exhibit at the Denver Zoo (in Denver!) featuring a snapshot of a family on vacation in Colorado’s foothills. The picture seems innocuous at first. However, it has been enlarged and a certain area highlighted to the left of the family. In that spot, not twenty feet from where the oblivious parent and children stand, a mountain lion lurks in the tall grass. The family hadn’t noticed anything amiss until they got home and developed the photograph.

That’s just how mountain lions roll. If they need something, they take it. If they don’t want to be seen, they won’t be. I have been told a mountain lion’s roar sounds like a woman shrieking. Though I’ve never heard it myself, I can imagine it would be mighty unsettling to hear that sound outside my tent, many miles from civilization.tucson-jan-07-(230) When I was in Boulder, I often went running along the mountain trails just outside of town. These trails could not have been safer. They were used constantly, sun or rain or snow. I never walked a snow-covered trail that didn’t have multiple footprints already, no matter when the most recent snowfall occurred. This did not mean they were mountain-lion-free, however.
I was helping a customer at the store where I worked. When I was looking up a book for him, he told me he’d seen me running the other day. “Oh really?” I said, somewhat surprised to be recognized. “Yeah,” he said, then he really surprised me. “I’ve also seen mountain lions on that trail, so be careful.” I did my best to look strong and healthy the next time I ran that particular trail; mountain lions are opportunists like the rest of us and won’t work harder than necessary for a meal.

If you have the luxury of seeing a mountain lion before it rips out your throat, you should make yourself look as big and frightening as possible. If you’re with another person, stand together arm-in-arm and wave your free hands like crazy. Make lots of noise too. The mountain lion won’t go after a big scary creature with two heads.

If I ever have a hard time getting a handle on what Melissa would say in a particular situation, it is only because mountain lions are so inscrutable. Sure, they have to eat, and they sleep a lot like all cats. But there is something more to them. A mysterious core knowledge that may only be known by the mountain lions themselves. It is compelling yet utterly unknowable by the likes of me. I do my best to approximate.tucson-jan-07-(222)


exciting portfolio news

My portfolio page now contains these two new watercolors. Both were made with watercolor then india ink for the outlines.watercolor-tiered-desert-landscape2 watercolor-tiered-desert-landscape

Unlike most of the watercolors I’ve done, these were not made specifically for website backgrounds, hence the lack of empty space in the paintings. I was so happy with how they turned out I had to share them with you. Enjoy!


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photoshop experiment gone right

After much experimentation in my home la-BOR-atory, I’ve come up with a reasonable replication of color newsprint. It’s always kind of fun to fake analog processes in the digital world.

These are all from photos I’ve taken:square-desert-pieces Newspapers print in four-color separation and if they don’t line up all four colors exactly during printing, they get variations of this fascinating effect:square-desert-pieces-halftoneMost people would call this a mistake or an error in production, but I always find it more interesting than a crisp focused picture. Sometimes it happens on the Sunday comics pages and can work to some comics’ advantage. Tell me, would you rather see Garfield against a monochrome background or something like the above? I’d take accidental detail any day.

Apparently Patrick McDonnell loves the look of newsprint too, because in his book The Best of Mutts he reproduces his comics from the pages of newspapers. Rather than going for perfect digital cleanness, McDonnell chooses “imperfect” newsprint to display his best work. While at first his choice may seem illogical, it quickly becomes apparent how fitting the newsprint reproductions are for Mutts. A little randomness works in his drawing style’s favor.

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Ian Wilson at Martyrs’

martyrs-6-8-posterI bet you thought today was going to suck. Get ready to be proven wrong.

Faithful readers of this here blog know that Ian Wilson is the greatest folktronic piano pop musician not only in the Chicagoland area, but the world. Sadly for the world but happily for Chicago, he will be playing at Martyrs’ on June 8 at 8pm.

Ian, in his infinite wisdom, enlisted me to design the poster for this gig. You can see this very design all over Chicago, and now thanks to the internet you can see it wherever you are now.

Go see Ian play! You won’t be sorry. He’s already got an awesome CD (with half decent cover art) which you can purchase online or in person right after you see him play at Martyrs’. If you see him in person, he may even give you a kiss.

What? You want more? Well, head over to Ian’s blog and check out a brand-new MP3 for your listening pleasure.

Christmas just came early.

NOTE: Friday Robots have been delayed to make room for this important announcement, but fear not! They will appear before the stroke of midnight. Have a great weekend everybody!

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Friday Robots at the Beach

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together at last

While at Madame Tussauds in London many years ago, I took the opportunity to photograph Mr. T and the Dalai Lama together. I am afraid this Team-Up of the Century will never happen in real life, but a blogger can dream. This is what M. Toussauds is all about: making dreams come true.together-at-last

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a note to the spiders in my house

Spiders, you and I are on the same side. I hate bugs; you kill and devour bugs. We should be teaming up, but instead I had to murder two of your number the other day. One of you was hiding (although “hiding” is not really what it was, was it?) next to my cat’s food bowl. The other was spinning a web in my bathroom. Have you no shame?

I am glad you guys eat bugs. Nobody wants to see more bugs in this world. But here’s the thing: I don’t ever want to see you in my home. Ever. I don’t want to see you scurrying across my living room, I don’t want to see you hanging out on the ceiling directly above my bed. I can understand the webs in the corners of my windows. Bugs can enter the apartment through minuscule cracks in the windowsill and you have to be where the action is. But what I don’t want is spiders near my living space. That includes the spider I found near the dish rack by the sink. Yeah, I murdered him too.

Summer is here and that means you spiders have a field day with all the bugs emerging from their winter’s slumber. That doesn’t mean you get free reign over my living space. You don’t get to spend time with me just because we have a loose alliance. We agree on one thing and one thing only – the mass elimination of bugs. Beyond that, we’re not going to have drinks together after work, we’re not going to play a little pick-up game of basketball this weekend. I’m not going to give you high-fives. Sorry, but this is a fact of life.

Here’s the deal, spiders: you go on living your life and I’ll do the same. You remain unseen by me and I will never go out of my way to harm you. If I awake one night to find one of you laying eggs in my ear, you will all feel the pain. I will make existence for all spiders so hard you’ll wish you had never opened your thousand-million eyes in the morning. But if you can do your bug-eating thing without being seen by me, we’re totally good. I wish you all the best.

I hope this little talk has not been for nothing, spiders. Let’s try to work together and I think life will be better for everyone (except bugs, of course).

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Bill Watterson returns from sabbatical

Right now I’m taking a summer hiatus from Welcome to Falling Rock National Park. It works out well because I can concentrate on other projects and come back to Falling Rock in the fall refreshed and ready to go.

I recently got to thinking about when I was a kid and Bill Watterson took two sabbaticals from Calvin and Hobbes. Each time I was devastated, as if a good friend didn’t want to see me for 9 months at a time. Was it something I said? Now I realize how important breaks are, especially from a daily comic strip.

They say no matter how long your prison sentence you only do two days: your first day and your last day. At least, that’s what The Wire says. For me, Watterson’s sabbatical was only two days: the first day, when the reruns began, and the day he returned. It is the return that I’d like to talk about today.

Rarely does a comic strip combine art and writing as perfectly as Calvin and Hobbes. That kind of feat takes talent but it also takes dedication. Watterson, by all accounts, pretty much worked himself into the ground for the 10 years Calvin and Hobbes ran in daily newspapers. He was not content to be a part-time cartoonist; when he got his syndication contract he figured he might as well quit his day job. Watterson went against the wise words of his syndicate editor because he felt he had more to gain with the time spend on drawing comics than he had to lose with the steady paycheck of a job he hated.

That kind of effort cost him creatively, and after six years he needed a rest. Bill Watterson first took a sabbatical on May 5, 1991, when I was eleven. Until that date I didn’t even know what the word sabbatical meant; now I knew: no more Calvin and Hobbes for nine months. Nine months! To a kid, that might as well be a life sentence.

He intended to make up for his absence; when he returned, he asked for a larger Sunday strip. Newspaper editors balked, but I couldn’t have been happier. Now we’d get even more of Calvin and Hobbes, in full color no less.

This is what Sunday Calvin and Hobbes looked like before the sabbatical:sunday-calvin-hobbes-scientific-progress
And this is what it looked like the first Sunday of Watterson’s return:calvinhobbessabbatical
Suddenly we got to see the world Calvin and Hobbes lived in. To anyone born after the 1950’s this was a revelation. Ever since their inception in the late 1890’s, when the comic strip was born out of a desire to increase newspaper circulation, comics have been squashed ever smaller by clueless newspaper editors.

By the early 1990’s this meant three or four tiny panels six days a week and a slightly bigger, colorized version of the same on Sunday. Some strips, like Doonesbury and Funky, don’t appear to change from their daily versions at all. Except for the inclusion of color, you wouldn’t know anything is special. This is not the fault of the comic creators but of short-sighted newspaper editors. They have been eager to shrink the size of comics, while at the same time have seen their newspapers’ circulations shrink to nothing. Coincidence?

As Watterson said, “I think it’s a mistake to underestimate readers’ appetite for quality. The comics can be much more than they presently are. Better strips could attract larger audiences, and this would help newspapers.”

When Calvin and Hobbes returned Watterson more than made up for his absence from the comics pages by giving readers something new: a large, beautifully illustrated Sunday strip. To a kid like me, it made him even more heroic. Watterson had talent and clout and he was using them to make comics better, to raise the art form all by himself.

He wasn’t asking for more money; quite the opposite, in fact. He refused to license his characters and lost himself and his syndicate millions of theoretical dollars. “I didn’t care if we made more money, and he syndicate didn’t care about my notions of artistic integrity,” Watterson said. He insisted on keeping the world he was creating insulated and pure, another trait unheard of in the latter part of the 20th Century.

Watterson again: “A wordy, multiple-panel strip with extended conversation and developed personalities does not condense to a coffee mug illustration without great violation to the strip’s spirit. The subtleties of a multi-dimensional strip are sacrificed for the one-dimensional needs of the product.”

Watterson’s second sabbatical took place between April 3, 1994 and December 31, 1994. During this time the Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary book appeared in bookstores. In it Watterson described his writing and drawing process (although, agonizingly, not in enough detail for certain aspiring cartoonists hungry for clues). At the end of the book, he wrote an essay on his love for newspaper comics. It ended with this:

“I’ve always loved cartoons. With Calvin and Hobbes, I’ve tried to return some of the fun, magic, and beauty I’ve enjoyed in other comics. It’s been immensely satisfying to draw Calvin and Hobbes, and I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to work in this wonderful art form.”

At the time Watterson hadn’t announced his retirement from comics. To a kid who reread every word and analyzed every detail, this was cause for alarm. It sounded suspiciously like a farewell.

Watterson did return to the newspaper page on January 1, 1995 with this Sunday spectacular. trex-f14
Again, I can’t help but feel he wanted to return with a bang. It shows off both character depth and involving, creative art. Add to that the silliest of endings (dinosaurs in fighter jets), and you’ve got something that really wakes you up on a Sunday morning.

Looking back, it’s clear Watterson was already done at the beginning of 1995. He just had to make it official. That was a hard year for me; Calvin and Hobbes was just one more thing that went away and changed my life. The last Calvin and Hobbes strip landed on Sunday, December 31, 1995.

I’m kind of amazed Watterson managed to keep it going for a full year after his last sabbatical. The last collection, It’s a Magical World, is full of Calvin’s dad complaining like a cranky old man. I hope Watterson has managed to find some peace in his retirement and glad he didn’t force Calvin and Hobbes to limp along like so many of its comic peers.

Bill Watterson changed the way I thought about comics. His work stands as the best in comics’ history, and his ability to articulate his outlook gave me the understanding of what it means to be a cartoonist today. Without those sabbaticals, and Watterson’s explanation of his actions as more than simply “fatigue,” I’d have a vastly different idea of what cartooning is all about. In that way, Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes were the most essential cartooning teachers I had.

Friday Robots: Salvation

terminator-lede-470-0509 terminator Oh, Terminator. You destroy whatever is in your way. Humans, robots, fluffy bunnies. Do Friday Robots even stand a chance against you?terminator-friday-robot
I’m not a betting man, but I bet you should run if you ever see this confrontation. It is likely to be R-rated.

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