autobiography Blog comic

weekend process pictures

Some of you (namely, none of you) have been asking to see how a page of Falling Rock comic strips gets made.  This weekend I was drawing up a fresh batch of 22 new strips, so I thought I’d take some pictures of the process.

The first step is to write them.  I write in a spiral bound notebook, usually just dialog with a few sketches in case I don’t want to forget a particular facial expression.  After that, I draw the panel borders.  I do this on Strathmore Bristol board.  I try to do as much drawing as I can on paper and not on the computer, because I’m on the computer enough anyway and it’s nice to get away once in a while.

The next step is to sketch in pencil on a separate sheet of scrap paper.  This is where I get the layout straight.  Then I trace the pencil sketches onto the Bristol board using a lightbox and a non-photo blue pencil.  I forgot to take a picture of the blue pencil only, oops!  This is pretty close, though.  I ink the lettering first in pen, then ink the eyes of the characters with a tiny (#3/0) Raphael brush.

Next up is the characters themselves.  I ink them all up real good, using a #2 Raphael brush.

After the brushwork, I use various sized PITT pens to do the details and backgrounds.  And, of course, the all-important signature.  I usually sign my own signature, but sometimes I ask my army of assistants to do that part for me.  I’m a busy man.

This is it!  The finished page.

The last step is to publish my work in a handsome hardbound volume.

Just kidding!  This is Craig Thompson’s Blankets.  Hey, if you haven’t read Blankets yet you really should.

Once I scan in my comics, I send them through the ether to both McClatchy Tribune for publication and to my own website for “publication.”
Finally, I pour myself a well-earned Scotch.

Enjoy this week’s Falling Rock!

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best autograph ever

I have been fortunate enough to get a number of my favorite cartoonists’ autographs.  I am by no means an autograph hound, or autograph seeker, or autograph fanatic.  If I’m at a convention where, say, Craig Thompson is signing his latest book, for sure I’ll get his John Hancock.  But I’m not going to track him down on the streets of Portland and throw the hefty tome at his right hand in the hopes he will spontaneously sign it.


Cartoonists are, as a general rule, nice people.  This attribute, along with a few other circumstances, created a perfect storm of sorts to get me my favorite autograph.   James Kochalka, (who is now Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont!), was in Chicago signing a little book he co-wrote with Craig Thompson.  My friend Charlotte was kind enough to stop by the comics shop and get James to sign the book for me.  I hadn’t had the chance to meet James and he was (and still is) one of my favorite cartoonists.  Wondering why?  Go read American Elf, then report back to me.


Charlotte arrived at the shop late and the signing was winding down.  James and Craig were nice (there’s that word again) enough to sign the book despite their exhaustion and massive hand cramping.  James was so tired, in fact, that he signed the book to himself, from me.  It took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on when I got this book in the mail:

Once I did figure it out, I loved it.  I have many autographs of other cartoonists, but so far I only have one autograph of myself written by another cartoonist.

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brush with greatness

stumptownPart of the reason for self-publishing collections of Falling Rock at this time was to have them ready for the Stumptown Comics Fest, which happened over the weekend. I went last year with Dancing with Jack Ketch and it was good to have something to trade. Instead of telling people about a website and hoping they’d eventually check it, you have a physical thing to give to them and say, “read this.” Since I have two years’ worth of comic strips, I chose some of my favorites and put them into the two collections, The Great Wave of Falling Rock and Owl and Other Comics.

Stumptown is the best. You get a wide range of cartoonists and publishers. Anywhere from photocopied zines to the hardbound “art books” from Fantagraphics. I took twenty copies of each of my comics with the goal of not returning with any of them. I achieved that goal.

My friend and fellow Oberlin alum Alec Longstreth got to be the Stumptown Welcoming Committee, which seemed to suit him just fine. He was literally the first person I saw when I entered the big room. His table was right in front. He told me that was just a fluke, but I have a feeling the organizers knew he’d be a good person to have close to the entrance. If you have not checked out his Phase 7 comics, do so now. He does a mixture of autobiographical stories and made-up ones (though, like any good writer, he blurs the fiction/non-fiction line when he sees fit).

A Portland cartoonist and Xeric Award winner, Aron Nels Steinke, was showing off his latest book, The Super Crazy Cat Dance. It’s a mixture of comic and children’s story, and it’s pocket-sized! He regularly does a series called Big Plans. He also has a story in the current issue of the comic anthology Papercutter.

The story, about the moment he realized he had to be a cartoonist, is both funny and meaningful. Why do any of us decide to do what we do? In his case, a series of blows to the head. It resonated with me because my own epiphany – “I must be a cartoonist” – was similarly gruesome. In his case, it took a series of blows to the head. In mine, my hand got mangled in a conveyer belt when I was in kindergarten.

The convention seemed to me even more successful than last year. There were rows of tables and the room literally hummed with conversation. I did a lot of trading and now have a stack of great comics I must read.

Stumptown was able to get a couple of cartoonist superstars: Nicholas Gurewitch and Craig Thompson.

Nicholas is the perpetrator of the extremely funny and disturbing Perry Bible Fellowship, a weekly comic strip whose style changes depending on the story being told. He’s a versatile cartoonist. I was beginning to think he didn’t exist at all, that there was a robot making those funny strips. When I first saw original art for the PBF, there was not a trace of pre-production. No stray pencil lines, no blue pencil. I couldn’t even detect the use of white-out. Then, at Stumptown, his table was unmanned for the first few hours I was there. It was only after lunch that I met him. Watching him slowly write in my name and inscription in his book, I realized why his comics look so pristine: the man is the most deliberate cartoonist I’ve met.

Craig Thompson is the cartoonist behind Good-bye, Chunky Rice, Blankets, and Carnet de Voyage. His comics are swirly, sweeping, and full of emotion. He’s been working on a huge adventure called Habibi for years now. I was glad to meet him. His comics seem so confessional it felt strange to meet the man; the character of himself seems so fully realized I began to believe that the character was the real thing. He has been living in Portland for quite a while: “old man Portland” even though he’s not old. Craig was generous; even with the long line to get his autograph, he took the time to chat with each person.

So that was Stumptown.

That afternoon I went for a run. I was doing laps at the high school near our apartment and I noticed something peculiar. A line of people snaking from the high school, down the block, and around a corner.

I finally asked someone what all the hubbub was about. “Bill Clinton’s here. Or he will be in a half hour,” she said.

I ran a few more laps but decided not to hang around. I did get to hear a crazy person railing against Bill and Hillary. Really screeching. He got booed by the crowd. No word as yet whether he was Ralph Nader.