Blog comic con

how to draw a black cat

Longtime readers of this here blog know that I live with a black cat.
Sambora is an enjoyable companion.  There are times when she is my muse.  However, there is one thing that has long vexed me about her.  I have a hard time drawing a completely black cat.

This might not be a problem if my media of choice was paint or photography.  As you can see from the picture above, there are gradations in her fur.  Depending on how the light is hitting her, she can appear to have reddish or bluish highlights.  Mostly, though, the light that hits her immediately gets sucked into her body and the energy is used to create even more fur, which is then shed onto every single object in the house.

Since my preferred means of artistic expression is black ink on white paper, drawing a completely black cat is tricky.  Do you fill the picture in completely, so she looks like a silhouette or a shadow?  Do you use crosshatchey lines to indicate depth?  And what if you’re depicting her at night?

I was relieved to hear from no less a master cartoonist than Patrick McDonnell that he, too, has trouble drawing black cats.  At his ComicCon panel, Patrick discussed his solution: a tuxedo cat.
Mooch is a black cat, yes, but he’s got white patches, making his features apparent.
Patrick showed us a photo of a recent addition to Chez McDonnell, “Not Udi.”  Not Udi is a stray who Patrick and his wife began feeding, then giving shelter.  He got his negative name when a woman, who was looking for her runaway Udi, came to see this cat.  Immediately upon inspection she proclaimed, “That is not Udi.”  A name was found.

Patrick admitted that, without any other colors with which to distinguish features, he is having trouble drawing Not Udi in his strip.

I have therefore decided to not even try to draw a black cat in my comics until Patrick finds a solution.  Too much is at stake for me to lamely attempt and fail.  The world needs a black cat.  The world will have to wait.

Blog friday robot

friday robots in the country

Every time I’m on a plane, I keep my camera ready.  You never know when you’ll look out the window and see Friday Robots livin’ their lives.  In this case, the robots were in central California, somewhere between San Jose and Portland, Oregon.  Is everything really better in California?  You’ll have to ask the robots.

Blog comic con

comic con 2011 in photos

Blog comic con

comic con 2011 in words

Every year I promise myself a succinct ComicCon post, and every year I break that promise.  San Diego might not be the biggest comics convention in the world, but it is certainly in the top two.  This year, my third attending ComicCon, I spent more time checking in with friends made in previous years than I did meeting new people.  That makes me happy – both that I have a community of cartoonists and that I still have the opportunity to make new friends.  It constantly surprises me that, amidst a sea of people (some dressed as Ghostbusters, Marios or zombies), there is the chance to make a meaningful new connection.

If you don’t want to read the post in its entirety, here are a few highlights of my Con:

Getting a hug from Patrick McDonnell.  I attended his panel and got him to sign a copy of Earl & Mooch and thought that would be it.  On Saturday morning I saw him eating breakfast and went over to say hello.  He did the whole going-for-a-handshake-then-thinking-better-of-it bit.  Patrick is one of my heroes: a great cartoonist and a great guy.

Attending a panel on superheroes and spirituality with Deepok Chopra and Grant Morrison.  This may be the only time at ComicCon where the audience takes part in a guided meditation.  “Superheroes as modern myth” may be standard fare by now, but it was refreshing to hear the theme discussed by two guys who really know what they’re talking about.  Best takeaway: superheroes are here to help us confront real problems in the world.  If we can imagine a fictional solution (Grant Morrison’s childhood fear was the atomic bomb), we are much closer to achieving a real-life solution.

My only celebrity sighting this year: Bruce Campbell walked right past me.  His tan was outrageous.

As a rule, cartoonists are nice people.  That is part of what makes ComicCon so great.  You stand in line to get Jeff Smith’s autograph and, regardless of how many fans he has greeted today, he takes the time to smile and say hello, even exchange a few words while he signs the book.  Perhaps it is the solitary nature of cartooning that makes the convention fun for fans and creators alike – for five days everybody finally gets to meet each other.  This of course is true of other conventions, but at ComicCon it happens on a grand scale.  Plus you get to see dudes dressed like this:

Actually, I don’t think this guy was even going to the convention.


Flew into San Diego to find it just as beautiful as ever.  Preview Day, as it is known, has become a for-real day at the Con squeezed into three hours.  I made the rounds to a few booths where I knew I’d find a familiar face.

Keith Knight
Kevin McShane
Raina Telgemeier – she won an Eisner Award for her book Smile!  The Oscars are the Eisners of the movies.
Craig Thompson
Jeffrey Brown
Dave Kellet

Craig was back in San Diego after a seven year hiatus.  He’s finally completed his 700-page graphic novel Habibi, which drops in September.  He was signing a brand new edition of Blankets, which I bought for the first time.  I first heard of Craig upon moving to Portland, and checked a copy of Blankets out from the library.  That made a lifelong fan of me, one of the many eagerly anticipating his next opus.


My most busy day.  I took advantage of the (slightly) smaller crowds to see as many cartoonists as possible.  Some, like Eric Powell, were mobbed Friday and Saturday due to his creation being turned into a movie.

I attended a panel on digital coloring using Photoshop.  It could have been called “how to make everything shiny.”  For some reason the style right now in mainstream comics (mostly superhero) is to make everything look like it’s made of metal.

In the evening I spent a relaxing dinner with Palle Schmidt at a gallery directly across from the convention hall.  Tr!ckster was put on as a creator-oriented alternative to the main show.

Also seen around the show:
Nate Powell
Stephen Notley
Miriam Libicki
Stephen McCranie – neither of us has a booth, and we never plan it, but we always see each other at the convention.  Serendipity!
Emi Lennox – another Portland cartoonist! She was helping out at the Boilerplate booth.  Boilerplate is a Victorian-era robot with a long and interesting history, as documented by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett.
Katie Cook
Elise Fachon


Wow, I thought I remembered the crowds at ComicCon, but Friday shocked me again.  I kept wandering over to the Hollywood side of the convention to see what was happening (something was always happening).  I witnessed Felicia Day hunched over a salad, so I  shouted and waved my hands trying to get her attention.  Just kidding!  I didn’t bother her.  I was also caught in a crowd going crazy for a True Blood signing.

I attended three panels.  Patrick McDonnell was first up.  He started talking about Jack Kirby and almost stopped himself.  “I guess this is the right place to ramble on about Jack Kirby,” he laughed.  Mutts is one of the most creative, best-drawn comic strips out there and I was lucky to finally hear the man himself.  One thing that struck me upon listening to him speak: he sounds a lot like Alan Alda.

Jeff Smith brought his wife and business partner, Vijaya, to his panel celebrating the 20th anniversary of the beginning of Bone.  Jeff’s panel is always entertaining and this time he talked about the 13-year history of working on Bone, which made it even more special.

The third panel I attended, The Boy Who Loved Batman, was unusual in that it was not in Hall H, but it well could have been.  Michael Uslan, who produced the Tim Burton/Christopher Nolan Batman movies, spoke about his lifelong love of comics and Batman in particular.  When he was a hippie in college, he taught the first course about comic books.  Later, he worked for DC Comics and eventually became a producer.  His greatest achievement is bringing The Dark Knight to theaters.  What’s next?  Maybe he’ll murder some kid’s parents so that kid grows up to be a real-life Batman.  Seriously, it was fascinating listening to this man, obviously so in love with Batman that he made it his mission to bring a suitable version of the character to the screen.

I was fortunate enough to sit next to Tom Gammill during the Patrick McDonnell panel.  Tom is a cartoonist; his day job is writing for a little show called The Simpsons.

Also seen:
Scott C
Katie Shanahan
Leland Myrick
James Kochalka – this was the first time I’ve met James in person, and I was surprised to find he doesn’t have large elf ears.  James’ diary comic American Elf has long been a favorite of mine.  His composition within the small daily-strip sized panels is something I aspire to.


The day of the auspicious hug (see above) and Deepok Chopra/Grant Morrison panel.

I also went to a panel on graphic novels, where I heard from Craig Thompson, Jason Shiga, Joelle Jones, and many more.  I met Mark Tatulli and got a signed copy of a Lio collection.  Talked to some editors about my own graphic novella.  Got free stuff.  Started feeling overwhelmed.  Held it together.


Gustavo Duarte
James Burks
Octavio Rodriguez

I attended Max Brooks’ panel, Zombie Survival 101.  Saw him for the first time at last year’s Con and had to come back to see him again.  He’s funny, witty and daring, just like his old man.

The other panel I attended was Full-Time Creator on a Part-Time Schedule.  Hosted by a slew of interesting freelancers, they gave us tips on how to manage your time, network, and work with clients.  Useful information.

At dinner I had a great conversation with the guys who do the Stumptown Trade Review podcast.  Then we got cupcakes.  It was delightful, a bunch of dudes standing around nibbling fancy pastries at the end of a five-day comic convention.  What can I say?  ComicCon is the best kind of surreal experience.

Blog friday robot

friday robots

Although I’m in San Diego right now, enjoying the beautiful pop brilliance that is ComicCon, Friday Robots never take a holiday.

Today’s robots are dedicated to my brother.  We watched The X-Files every Friday night when other kids were joining gangs or dealing drugs.  Those early seasons of The X-Files are still some of the best TV I’ve ever seen.

Blog comic con

see you at ComicCon

I’m headed off to sunny San Diego, where I will spend the next five days indoors.

This will be the third ComicCon I’ve attended.  Each time I go there are more people I know.  I’m beginning to feel like I’m part of a community of cartoonists.  Of course I’ll also be doing my share of star gazing.  Patrick McDonnell and Mark Tatulli will be there this year, two cartoonists I’ve never met but whose work I’ve admired for many years.  Also, these kids will be there.  But I’m going for Patrick and Mark.

If you’re going, look for the red-headed kid wandering the aisles.  That’s me.

Blog friday robot

friday robots

The first landscape you see upon entering the Valley of Friday Robots…

There will be more landscapes, maybe not next week but in the future for sure.  In the meantime, try to imagine what it would be like to hike through this misty alpine scene.  I bet if you focus hard enough you will achieve enlightenment.  Or the robots will eat you.  One way or the other.


Happy Friday everybody!


thinking of you, rupert

Sometimes when you’re down
A friend will come around
To help you feel better
Which is the purpose of this letter

Dear Rupert,

I know exactly how you feel.  Times are rough, people are saying mean things about you.  You lost your newspaper and a majority share in a TV network.  But I’m here to say that you’ve got a friend.  If you ever want to talk, I’m just a phone call away.

Rupert, it will get better.  At least you’ve got your health, and family and friends.  You will live to conquer another media company.

Words can only do so much, I know.  Next time you’re in the Pacific Northwest I’ve got a big hug with your name on it.

Kid Shay
PS If you want to publish my comic strip, we can split the profits.  Don’t answer now; think about it.

Blog comic con

tomb of the zombies

After a year of drawing, my new comic novel is finished.

Tomb of the Zombies is 88 pages in beautiful black & white.  Kate Crane, while on her summer college break, travels to Egypt to help her mad scientist uncle with his latest project.  When Kate discovers that her uncle has been raising zombies, she must decide whether or not to save the undead from a life of slavery.


While Tomb of the Zombies is a stand-alone story, I like to think of it as the second in a thematic trilogy that began with Dancing With Jack Ketch.  I don’t yet know how Zombies will be published; I’ll be taking samples to San Diego to drum up interest at Comic Con.  If you, dear readers, know of anyone who might be interested in publishing a comic book about Egyptian zombies, please direct them to me.  I will love you forever.


While it took me a year to actually draw Tomb of the Zombies, I got the idea many years ago, when I was living alone in a basement studio in Boulder, Colorado.  The original story was about a huckster who was raising zombies in the shadow of a pyramid and teaching them to dance.  He was going to take his show to Vegas and make a million bucks.  I was writing it as part of the comic strip I was drawing at the time, The Family Monster, but the story became so long and involved that it was going to take a month or more to tell the whole thing in strip form.  I put it aside but never forgot the idea of zombies who weren’t just intent on eating the brains of the living.


About two years ago, after the runaway success of Jack Ketch,* I was trying to decide what my next big project would be.  I found my notes about the dancing zombies and decided to give it a go.  After maybe six months of writing I got a draft that made me happy.  As I was penciling, I decided to make this doubly challenging by inking with a brush.  I’d been wanting to try the brush again after leaving it behind in high school.  Bill Watterson inked with a brush, and that turned out pretty good.**  Maybe I could achieve good results as well.  88 pages + a cover later, I’m glad I went with a brush.  The line is more expressive, and I think it gets closer to the style I have in my mind – the style I’ve been aiming at for all these years.


I hope that you will all get to read this book soon.  I’m certainly excited about it.




*Overstatement alert.

**Understatement alert.


rickmania returns!

Upon the release of the indie art house film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Alan Rickman will complete his portrayal of Severus Snape.  The world will not be the same.

I like to imagine this was filmed at Alan's real house.

Alan, you have given us so much throughout these 8 Harry Potter movies.  Specifically, you have driven traffic to my blog like no other celebrity or event.  Perennially, the keywords “Alan Rickman” (and more than a few misspellings of that name) have brought dozens and dozens of visitors to this little blog.  Why does your name bring up my blog?  Are there no other worthy writers extolling your virtues as master thespian?

Hands off, Helena. Rickman is for all of us.

New readers may think I’m not being serious.  They may wonder if I’m just using Mr. Rickman’s name in a cynical attempt to drive traffic to this blog.  To them I say BEGONE.  For this is a place where Alan Rickman is revered only slightly less than Bill Watterson and Moses.

Alan Rickman making Maggie Smith look even cooler than usual.

Alan, if you Google your name and visit my blog, welcome.  You have found a true fan, not just of your work as Snape, but for all the wonderful roles you’ve played throughout the years.  From Die Hard to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Galaxy Quest to the Ang Lee version of Sense and Sensibility, you always make your roles your own.  You play badass as easily as comic, something I admire.


Even though Harry Potter has come to an end, let us rejoice!  We have many more years of Alan Rickman ahead of us.


Long live Rickman!