after graduating from high school in '93, i stuck around my hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota for a bit longer and went to the local community college for a year.  my friend Kevin Kelley and i would routinely skip class and drive around the back roads in his chevy nova, and it was here that the idea for publishing an underground magazine took root.  i can't really tell you how or why that idea popped in our heads, but i suspect it was boredom and a realization that my having a dad that worked at Xerox could be put to good use.  over the next year and a half, we put together and released 4 issues of The Four Walled World.  my dad photocopied a print run of around 300 copies each which we handstapled and distributed around the area.   we enthusiastically got up on our soapbox and yelled as loud as we possibly could, and it was a helluva lot of fun.  finding out i had a personal voice was a very important development, and opened up alot of doors for me.

i wasn't drawing too much, being an 18 year old  was taking up alot of time, but most of what i was producing were spot illustrations for the Four Walled World.  these are some of them:

even tho most of these drawings are in color, the four walled world was a black and white magazine, and i was forced to think in terms of a drawing style that would reproduce effectively on a photocopier.  this was probably the first time i started to experiment with the bold line/minimalistic style that took over my work years later.

i decided to give sequential art a more serious try in the pages of the Four Walled World with a serialized strip titled "Scarecrows and Disease."  it was the first time that i attempted to meld words and images together while being mindful of pacing, layout, and design.

i also started writing and doodling little political cartoons for the FWW, using words and images to express an idea or a belief instead of telling a fictional narrative, something that is very important to me to this day.  here's a couple of dumb but well meaning ones:

in the summer of '94 i made up some Kurt Cobain tribute tshirts and sold em to friends.    paid for alot of beer that summer.  my first capitalistic adventure.

in 1995 i moved to a suburb of Minneapolis and attended a small community college in Brooklyn Park that had a surprisingly good graphic design program and a small handful of great art teachers.  this was my first exposure to life drawing and the conscious use of negative space in a composition.  up to this point, i had drawn almost exclusively from my own imagination, but life drawing forced me to observe the world around me a bit more, and to develop a little more hand-eye coordination when drawing.  i was not reading superhero comics at this time but for some reason i began to draw the Submariner and Iron Man alot, probably because with Namor there were no costume or clothes to monkey around with and it was just pure anatomy and Iron Man was pure design. at this time i was looking for more anatomical realism, but was also wanting to push it into heavy stylization while using a bare minimum of lines.  the concept  of negative space was a huge development too, but it wasn't something i was actively employing in my work for a while longer.

oh and by the way, yes, i WAS drawing women this whole time and NO there is not a chance in hell that i will put them up for public display.  they are awful.  the male face and anatomy can be warped and caricatured to just about anything, but the female form needs to be done well and i was not achieving that yet.  just wait, it's coming.

i did this page for a student exhibition.  it was another exercise in taking a boring, mundane scene and attempting to make it visually interesting.  it might be of note that this is the first of many instances where i've been compelled to illustrate a scene of a guy, usually exhausted or defeated, contemplating his reflection and cleansing himself and starting anew.  it has popped up an inordinate amount of times, even in stories that i did not write (there is a similar scene in Narcoleptic Sunday, written by Jeremy Haun which i thought was very odd).  you will see this basic theme appear a few more times throughout the art archive.  it also appears at least two other times in scripts that have not yet been drawn, but will be at some point down the road.  George Lucas has his issues with heads and hands getting chopped off, Quentin Tarantino has his camera shot looking up out of the trunk of a car in every flick, and i've got my reflection/baptismal issues.  at least i can admit it.

i was also continuing to dink around with quick little observational strips.

kicking out bootleg concert posters for bands rolling through town, just for fun

and  illustrated a short story i had written in high school.

it's may be worth noting too that even tho i wasn't really buying ANY comics at all at this point, superhero or otherwise (silly things like eating and paying for shelter and electricity were using up funds), i was still going to the comic shop occasionally to see what was up.  there were a couple of artists working for Marvel that were really impressing me:

adam pollina
 and chris bachalo

i didn't buy any of their stuff, tho, and was only looking at their books out of the corner of my eye because i felt like they were at a place where i was trying to get to, stylistically, and i didn't want their work to influence me at all.  someday i'd love to go back and look at these issues again.

in late 1996, i moved to, of all the places on the globe, Fargo North Dakota to attend school at Moorhead State University.  the life drawing classes were far more intense there, and it really taught me alot. i saw almost immediate results. 

this one was an exercise where the teacher set up a live model with a skeleton in the same pose next to him.  we were to incorporate them into the same composition.  i decide to merge the two and, completely by accident, the pastels were mixing with the charcoal, making a sickly greenish color. i decided to just go with it.  it turned into an awesome TOOL-esque drawing.  still one of my favorites.  in class, i was going to finish drawing the legs and the teacher demanded i quit.  "it's finished" she told me.  and she was right.

in the summer of 1997, i went back down to minneapolis to get out of dodge for a bit.  it was a very inspiring time, and a time when my mind was expanding at a very rapid rate.  now, up to this point, my artistic ideas were kinda half assed... i would have something vague in mind and pencil would touch paper and, by the end, whatever i came up with was basically a happy accident.  i had never seen something clearly in my mind that i just had to get down.  it didn't work that way. but one night i was  in complete darkness, headphones on, listening to TOOL's Aenima and was dozing off to the song "Pushit."  and what i can only describe as my first true moment of artistic inspiration came to me... flowing like a dream... like a movie... (once again) there was a guy, standing exhausted in front of a mirror, pondering his reflection... pondering reality... and when he tries to touch his reflection he pushes through to the other side,  to a dark shadow dimension where he is lost and floating into oblivion... he suddenly crashes into a deep ocean and is almost resigned to drowning, but his will to live causes him to burst into flames like a phoenix and rises from the sea and back into reality, where he awakens on the bathroom floor.  i woke up with the entire scene etched into my head like movie storyboards, fully formed, compositions already figured out... and immediately got to work drawing them out. it took me a while, and i never got every one of them done, but i finished the ones that were most important to me.

that final image is the one that really stuck when i awoke, and after a couple of foul starts,  i nailed it within a day or two.  my entire artistic world opened up to places i had never been, and i was now able to see images in my head more clearly, with more detail, and to dream up concepts, compositions and scenes more completely and confidently than ever before.

so by the time i moved back to Fargo in the fall of '97, everything was in place to tackle my most  ambitious project to date, a new comic book story that had been brewing in my head for the previous year and a half... The Eavesdropper Cafe.

to be continued....

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