i'm not really sure why i came up with the brilliant idea of turning this blog into an archive of 25 years worth of my art. there's plenty of other things i could be doing with my time instead of late night archeological digs through boxes and boxes of old artwork, scanning and archiving the important pieces and putting it all up for public display. but, for whatever reason, my instincts are telling me that this needs to be done, and now is as good a time as any. maybe it's because as i get closer to 40 years old i can see the sands in the hourglass moving a little bit faster now, that all of this doesn't last forever and it's time to preserve it all before it fades away to dust. maybe it's for my kids, so they can better understand why dad does what he does. or maybe it's for me... maybe i can only properly set sail for the the next 25 years as an artist if i first make a pilgrimage into the past, to follow my footsteps and see where i'm from and where i've been. and hopefully get a glimpse of why i got into this drawing business in the first place.
anyways, thanks for stopping by. take a look around. i hope you enjoy it.
IN THE BEGINNING
i have a memory from when i was probably 4 or 5 years old of begging my Dad to take me along on Take Your Child To Work Day. he worked as a service technician for Xerox, fixing copy machines. it wasn't exactly his dream job, but it provided our family with everything we needed, and i was curious to see what my dad did during the day. but he pulled me aside and said, "listen, don't follow in your dad's footsteps... find what you love in life and make that your career." even though i was young, i understood the gravity of what he was telling me and i took his advice very seriously. so from that moment on, i always dreamed big. i felt like it was my duty.
when i was a kid, there were alot of things i wanted to be when i grew up, but an artist was never one of them. kinda weird considering that i have drawn as long as i can remember, and have always been pretty damn good at it, i must say. not once did the thought occur to me to do anything with my abilities. i doodled purely for my own amusement and my dad, sneaking reams of paper from work, always made sure i had something to draw on. it was fun, and nothing more.
somewhere along the way i got into comic books. a cousin of mine gave me a few samples from his gargantuan collection, and soon i was scooping up as many books off of the rack as i could get my hands on. i was reading them for pure escapism, but i soon began to realize that i was enjoying some artists' work more than others.
john romita jr
all of their work seemed to have a little more flair to it, more style, and nowhere was that shown off more than with Paul Smith's page layouts in uncanny x-men #173.
i was surprised to see the action slowed down to a series of frozen
moments in time, like still frames from a film. no speed lines, no
bombastic sound effects, this was a highly sophisticated piece of
sequential art and design, especially for mainstream comics in 1983. it really spoke to me on alot of levels (and still does) and i could immediately recognize those pages as something special.
strangely, i still wasn't interested in drawing comics myself. still hadn't even thought of it yet. i was probably working harder on my writing at this point in time, going to after school creative writing classes and filling up pages with my own G.I.Joe adventures. i found the creation of these stories to be great fun and extremely satisfying.
things began to change, though, after marvel comics released a spiderman story called "fearful symmetry" by J.M. Dematties, Mike Zeck, and Bob McCloud in 1987.
it was an unrelentingly dark and intense story, climaxing with the suicide of the old spidey villian Kraven the Hunter. i remember being emotionally drained and thoroughly shocked by the power of Dematties' script and blown away by the weight and mass of zeck and mccloud's artwork. hell, even the lettering was impressive. i never knew that comics could be used for telling such powerful stories, and my idea of comics as pure escapism was being challenged. it was a hard act to follow and tho i loved "fearful symmetry," i needed a break from comics to kinda cool down a bit.
the fuse was lit. and in a few months, everything would be turned upside down.
december, 1987 (i believe). i was 12 years old and, with a copy of Amazing Spiderman #300 in my hand, stood wide eyed and frozen in place at the local bookstore. as i flipped through the book, i was entranced by every line drawn on every page. the artwork of Todd McFarlane hit me like a lightning bolt... there was an electricity to the art that i had never seen before and every panel was drawn with unbridled enthusiasm. i couldn't find a square inch of the book that wasn't visually exciting.
and right then, at that very moment, there was a chemical reaction going on in my head. synapses were fusing. i vividly remember a moment of complete clarity staring at those drawings and declaring to myself that this is what i wanted to do with my life. i wanted to be an all-time great comic book artist. somewhere, the Fates etched these words in granite, my path was chosen, and my life forever changed. i knew that it was not going to be easy and that there was alot of work ahead of me, but i was confident and willing to do whatever it took to reach my goal.
so i stole my good friend Jeff Neumann's copy of "how to draw comics the marvel way" (he was never gonna use it and he knew it) and immediately got to work. this is my first serious drawing, done following john buscema's step by step example.
and this is my first drawing using the new techniques i had learned, but using a pose from my own imagination
within a couple of weeks, i was ready to write and draw my own comics. these were my first pages.
it was not long before i realized that i was in waaaaaay over my head doing full comics, and was convinced that, i dunno... maybe i should learn how to draw first (it would be a year before i seriously attempted sequential art again). i continued to draw obsessively, keeping every piece of art that i was even moderately happy with so i could go back and study my strengths and weaknesses. i was focused like a laser beam on my goals and would let nothing stand in my way.
soon after, things really started cooking when my neighbor/lifelong bud Ed Waara started to get interested in comics and art. we had spent our childhoods together creating complex storylines involving our Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures, or running around the neighborhood completely immersed in our imagination, so it seemed a natural progression after we were too old for those things any more. we would spend countless hours at our drawing boards, for long stretches of time without any breaks or words spoken between us. every once in a while, when someone was done kicking out something hot, it would be held up and praises given or critiques made. the most famous of which was when Ed, trying his best to be nice about it, pointed out that i, with increasing frequency, was drawing thumbs on the wrong side of the hands. he had been noticing it for a while before, but never said anything. note wolverines left hand.
it was a steaming hot slice of humble pie to choke down, but i learned from it. i gotta say that Ed was a far more good natured critic, he almost always offered something enthusiastic when looking at my stuff. but when we were checking out something of his that he was really proud of , looking back and being honest with myself, i usually was unnecessarily critical. even when something looked great, i would nit pick while inside i was really jealous and pissed that i had just been out-drawn. it was a dickish thing to do, and i apologize, Ed.
here's an ultra rare jam piece, Ed on the left, and that's me on the right
here's a couple of mine that i remember being pretty hot stuff for those early days
probably one of the first characters i tried to create. the backstory it completely ridiculous.
by 1989, i was completely obsessed and always drawing, but i wasn't trying to improve as an artist at all. i was nothing more than an aspiring Todd McFarlane clone, and most of the drawings from this era are just shockingly bad. regardless, i sent him a letter and some of my drawings, and funny enough, he wrote back and said that my drawings were great and to keep working hard on it. validation from my hero was a really important step to solidify the path i had chosen as a comic artist, but if McFarlane's work was my only source of reference for anatomy and proportion and sequential storytelling, than, wow, i was going to run straight off the tracks.
these ones were pretty good though.
by the end of that year, i was at a fork in the road. my work wasn't improving, in fact i felt like it was regressing, and i realized that i would never be a better Todd McFarlane than he already was. i remember going out for breakfast with my Grandpa one sunday (just the 2 of us), and we had a really deep conversation where he told me "if you can't be better, be different." it was a profound moment. i could keep drinking the McFarlane kool-aid, or i could stretch out and try to find my own personal voice. i chose the latter.
by 1990, i had started to branch out a bit with my interests. other comic artists' works were starting to filter into my own (whilce portacio, jim lee, early rob liefeld), and i was discovering the power of music, specifically Led Zeppelin. i found their fierce individuality and creative bravery very inspiring and still, to this day, use them as the high water mark for artistic integrity. around this time i was discovering Stanley Kubrick's "the shining" and Sergio Leone's Man with No Name spaghetti westerns. i started to become aware of composition, timing, and design through their work, tho i wasn't really incorporating any of these lessons into my work just yet.
here are a few from this era:
in 1991, i met John Romita Jr at a convention in Minneapolis. as i stood in line for a critique, the guy in front of me (with his heavy leather portfolio full of finished inked comics pages on professional-grade art boards) was getting a brutally honest review. i nervously clutched my cheap school folder, crudely jammed full of drawings and sketches on the back of math assignments, and felt very much that i was not ready for this. it was my turn at bat and i handed him my folder, ready for what was to come. but he loved it. or at least that's what he told me. he was showing all of his friends, just glowing over the pages, and offering no criticism whatsoever. he just pointed out all of the things that were working and advised me to really focus on anatomy. "boy, i wish i had your future," he told me, which was obviously a load of shit, but he sold the line beautifully. after the show, i hit the drawing board harder than i ever had before. which i'm sure is exactly what Romita intended. thanks JRJR
drawing the teachers instead of doing my school work
and an important development: realizing that rob liefeld represented all that was cheap, easy, and lazy in comics. after daring to actually tear open a plastic bagged copy of x-force #1 and trying to read the travesty that lay within, my friends and i gathered up all of our multiple copies and ritualistically burned them on a dirt road outside of town. i guess x-force was the first time that my newfound artistic integrity was challenged, and i railed against it. hard.
and maybe starting to vaguely experiment a little bit.
i wanted to draw out some scenes from Zeppelin's "gallow's pole," but this is all that i did. i still really like this one, i think the drawing is pretty advanced for this era.
a rare woodcut, done in art class... junior year of high school
it's maybe also worth noting that in late '91, i stumbled on the music of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. now, this was a big deal cuz i was pretty much listening only to classic rock generally and led zeppelin specifically. there wasn't a whole lot of variety on my plate at this time. but finding their music in a (sorry to say) culturally stifled town like the one i grew up in was not easy and when i did find it, their music was a breath of fresh air. great stuff, CLASSIC stuff, being made NOW. AS WE SPEAK. it was an intoxicating idea that new ideas could stand shoulder to shoulder with past titans.
here are some sketches of chris cornell and kim thayil from soundgarden, and jeff ament and eddie vedder of pearl jam:
by the middle of 1992, i was pretty much over superhero comics. still am. the whole industry felt like a sham, and i didn't want any part of it. as my goals of becoming a famous superhero comic artist withered on the vine, my tastes were drifting towards Dark Horse Comics and DC Comic's Vertigo line. that's where the action was. that's where the important stuff was going on.
the work of these new artists was speaking to me on far deeper levels than i had experienced in the past:
for some reason i was really drawn to the Kid Eternity character. i thought visually he was very interesting, with the long hair and the john lennon glasses.
one of the art teachers in high school commissioned me to produce caricatures of a few faculty members. it was a mild scandal when i turned in a series of absolutely brutal renderings, mocking everything from one teachers' bad toupee to another for his penchant for huffin' rubber cement. everyone was mad except the teacher who hired me to do the drawings... he thought they were great. here's one and i'm sad to say it looks almost exactly like the guy. i barely exaggerated anything.
sometime in, i guess it would have been early '93, i found a book in the high school library by Ron Goulart titled "the great comic book artists vol. 1." it was my education into the history of this art form i've been working in. jim steranko. neal adams. graham ingles. alex toth. etc etc. i feasted on that book but one guy's entry stood out over the others. Bernie Krigstein. i was really drawn to the page that was shown, the first page of a krigstein classic called "the catacombs." i was really stunned by the design of the page, specifically the 5th panel, the widescreen stree-level shot. it was like a still frame from a Leone movie. the whole page spoke to me, in ways similar to the previously shown Paul Smith x-men page. i had never seen time shown that way in a comic. and the one page bio was a brief look into Krigstein's basic raison d'etre... stretching and splitting up time, graphically, in new and interesting ways, and bringing a fine art sensibility to the rarely-taken-seriously medium of comics. i was very intrigued by these ideas.
strangely, i felt Krigstein's influence mostly just with his theories... specifically panel subdivision (splitting panels up into thin slivers to mimic fast movie edits). other than the one page of art that was in the book, it would be quite a few years before i ever saw another example of his work. now, the last time i had been working in sequential pages, back in late '89 (and not featured in this blog cuz they are fucking horrible), the attempts were extremely clumsy and had no cares for layouts or pacing or anything of the sort. just big ugly splash panels. but i decided to step up and give it a serious try once again. Todd McFarlane had said in an interview how much of a challenge it is to make mundane scenes interesting. so i chose the act of making a velveeta sandwich as my first new attempt at sequential art and integrating krigstein's panel subdivision theories. i was pretty happy i fit 26 panels together on a piece of paper probably 6x9.
so i started to focus on sequential art once again. it was fun.
Kid Eternity looking for The Keeper. i think i might have even sent copies of this and some of the other pieces above to Karen Berger at Vertigo. obviously i never heard back.
my senior year i was given the Art Student of the Year Award, which was very cool, but i really didn't deserve it. while i was kicking out goofy cartoons, Katie Dugan, a quiet Jahova's Witness girl, was regularly producing really thoughtful oil paintings. nice heartfelt stuff. she deserved that award. she got robbed. oh well, i'll take it.
so, this is where i was at the time of graduation, 1993. the path i'm still on today was being blazed back then. it's definitely not the easy path (i'd like to go back in time and warn myself of this, but i doubt i'd listen anyways), but it is the most creatively fulfilling.