This Friday, I'll be drawing ferociously (alongside a formidable group of local artists, architects, and designers) for a great cause: The 2nd Annual Monster Drawing Rally, sponsored by Women in Design-Kansas City. All proceeds from the sale of drawings will benefit Synergy Services, a non-profit violence-prevention program. Here are the details, straight from the Facebook event posting:

360 Architecture
300 West 22nd Street in the Crossroads
Kansas City, MO

6:30pm happy hour
7:00pm live drawing session begins
8:00pm drawing session ends; silent auction begins
9:00pm silent auction closes; winners are announced (bidders must be present to win!)

Robot Manny (1 st. completed page)

I am proud to announce that I have officially completed the first page of the Robot Manny comic.
The rest of the pages will need to be completed in time for MOCCA fest in April, which is technically about a month or so away. I am sure that it will be here be before you even know it. I have been working at the book steadily and I still don't feel like I am even close to being done with this.

I am not 100% sure that the dialogue is final. There are also a few other things that I might change about the page. However here is this page for now. I sill need to do a cover, which hopefully I should get to soon. When the entire book is done, I will post a step by step of how I completed the pages start to finish.

Penn's Palette

Irving Penn's photo of his own paint-stained palette, cropped and rotated to suggest a comic... you know, like Garfield or Cathy.

The Animation Guild Blog Interview with Ed Gombert

Steve Hulett did a great audio interview with Story artist Ed Gombert that's posted on The Animation Guild website. Ed is very honest and direct and gives a very good sense of what it's actually like to work as a Story Artist. It can be downloaded in two parts, part one is here and part two is here.

It's all great stuff, but in particular I liked hearing about what he learned working with legendary Disney animator Frank Thomas, and how, more than anything, Frank placed an emphasis on artists thinking for themselves and not looking to other people to supply answers for them and tell them what to do. I think that's an essential attribute for any successful artist. One of the biggest challenges of working in a big animation studio on a project with hundreds of other artists is to make your work dovetail with and compliment the work of all those other artists, without copying what they're doing or following their direction blindly and/or literally.

Walt Disney famously said that "Artists are a dime a dozen". The way Joe Grant used to explain that quote was that Walt was saying that there are an abundance of people who can produce pretty pictures. But the really useful artists are much rarer, and they are the ones who can think. These are the ones who can produce artwork that has character and personality to it and can use their talents to tell a story well.

Anyway, definitely give it a listen.

Wikipedia entry--update

We now have a bare-bones Wikipedia entry:

Anybody care to add to or edit it?

Thanks to Goedele Van Kerkhoven for getting this ball rolling.

Wikipedia entry for "Abstract Comics"?

I received an email from a reader asking why there isn't a Wikipedia entry for the subject of this blog. She offered to do it herself, but wondered whether there might be anyone else working on such a project at this time. Is there anyone? Or else, would anyone here like to help her? I could put you in contact with her. As practitioner, editor of the book, promoter of the concept, etc., I feel I shouldn't write the entry myself, but I would be happy to provide any information necessary.

Parade of Horrors

The Last Exorcism

After the movie...pretty creepy..

The 15 Minute Working Method

So now it's February, and before you know it will be April. In addition I have also started  a color/digital painting class at SVA. So between all of that and working that hasn't left me with a lot of time to do posts and sketches as much as I used to. My hope though is that when the class does end, and when I do start posting again that the stuff that I am posting will be even better than before.

When I do have extended amounts of time, I do homework from class or work on the comic.
How does one find time for anything else and balance time?
Well I can no longer sit for hours on end and paint and draw without taking breaks.
My ass starts to hurt and my arm and shoulders cramp up (ergonomics).

So what I do is set a timer for 15 minutes (or 25 minutes). When the timer goes off, I then get up and do something active for about the next 5 to 10 minutes that I would otherwise put off. (dishes, put my laundry away, circle the block, run to the store etc. etc.). When done I then go back and work for another 15 minutes.

The point is that it's healthy to take breaks, but your breaks can be productive as well.  You can also take a real break and do nothing, it's all about how you want to spend your time.

I will start to post the promotion work and comic pages as they are done. I need to crank it up a bit.

More to come....

page 17

Have a Rockin' Presidents Day

In celebration of Presidents Day, that often-ignored semi-holiday, here are a couple of drawings from a simpler time (college) when I had faint aspirations of becoming a political cartoonist. Aside from a handful of greats, most political cartoonists have been victims of the declining newspaper industry that no longer values their contributions. This is unfortunate - I think it's still a noble and essential profession. It may just be in need of a few new ideas, a new publishing platform, and better self-promotion.  

I've drawn a few cartoons that I think put forth some well-reasoned political stances. However, I'm not going to bore you with them here. I realized early on that my strengths lied not in biting partisan commentary, but in the obscure fusion of political caricature and pop culture reference...


Gerhard. Gare-hard? Jer-ard?

Sean Michael Robinson at The Comics Journal did an exhaustive interview with Gerhard, Dave Sim's background artist on Cerebus. It's a must read for every cartoonist who cares about technique, as the Robinson asks Gerhard about specific pages throughout the comic's decades-long run, with Gerhard talking about everything from his preference to toothbrushes over airbrushes for snow effects to showing photos of the models he built ho help him draw rows of houses on slanted streets.

Gerhard with his models.

Gerhard is one of the best draftsman in the last 50 years of comics, and this interview is one of the richest resources I've ever had a chance to bring to your attention. Read, and watch as a man grows from a talented amateur into a true virtuoso, sharing his secrets with us.

A floor plan to a room in Cerebus.

Jesus, I love how loose Guy Davis' pencils are. I always learn something about keeping freedom in my inking looking at them.

Oh, by the way, I'm selling some clothes on Ebay, if anyone's interested:

Rare Red Swiss Army coat
Green double-breasted jacket
Tailored brown suit

Comic Abstraction redux

In case you haven't seen it, here is a post with good images from our evil twin, the "Comic Abstraction" show at MoMA in 2007, featuring pics of the only actual abstract comic in it, Rivane Neuenschwander's "Ze Carioca, no. 4" (which is based on an old Uncle Scrooge comic):

(And thanks to Brendan Monroe for reminding me of Neuenschwander, which is how I ended up finding that post.)

Brendan Monroe, "Between Here and There"

Click the image for the entire minicomic combining text and abstraction.

"Shikansen" by Tim Lisko

"Shikansen," a series of images taken from Japan's Shinkansen high-speed train, is on show this month at the Harrison Center in Indianapolis. See the entire series here.

My New Yorker Cartoon Phase

Just as most teenage boys go through a Led Zeppelin phase, most young cartoonists go through a New Yorker cartoon phase. This was an early attempt at drawing in that trademark style. I've mostly recovered from my Led Zeppelin phase, but I still have visions of my drawings appearing in the same hallowed pages as a Roz Chast or Charles Barsotti cartoon - ideally in the middle of some impenetrable article on Mideast foreign policy.

The Three Magic Questions

If you've ever spent any time reading this blog before, you know I basically spend most of my time writing about two disciplines: drawing (and/or painting, etc) and story telling. The older I get and the more time I spend working at improving at these two things, the more things I think they have in common.

Both are incredibly difficult and both are constantly humbling. In order to do well at either you need to fail constantly and learn from each failure. Every story is different and every drawing is different.

In both areas, people are constantly looking for easy answers, formulas and short cuts.

And in both areas there are none to be had. And trying to find them will lead to cliched and unsatisfying drawings and stories.

The only way I know for sure to make good drawings or good stories is to constantly work at them and rework them and rework them and rework them and rework them until they are as good as you can make them. That's why good stories and good drawings are rare and both are things of great value. Because very few people have the patience, discipline and humility to create great ones.

Here is some simple advice about storytelling from David Mamet's "Bambi vs. Godzilla". He makes the point that storytelling isn't really complicated but it's very hard to do.

This chapter is entitled "Secret Bonus Chapter: The Three Magic Questions". And I have found that storyboarding is, in many ways, constantly answering these three questions in every panel. Sounds overly dramatic, I know, but I mean it. This is the single greatest thing I have ever read about writing and I con only say that, based on my twenty years of storyboarding, all that he says is absolutely true. Anyway, enjoy:

Secret Bonus Chapter: The Three Magic Questions

Here is the long-lost secret of the Incas. Anyone who wants to know how to write drama must learn to apply these questions to to all difficulties. It is not only unnecessary but also impossible to know the answers before setting out on the individual project in question, as there are no stock answers.

The secret of the Incas, then, is like the Torah, beloved of my people, the Jews. We read the Torah, the five books of Moses, every year, in the same order. Every year the meaning of the Torah changes, though the text remains unchanged.

As the writer changes, year to year, his or her perceptions and interests change. At twenty he is interested only in sex, at thirty in sex and money, at forty in money and sex, at sixty in money and validation, et cetera.

No one can write drama without being immersed in the drama. Here's what that means: the writer will and must go through exactly the same process as the antagonist (for what is the antagonist but a creation of the writer?).

The writer may choose to supply stock, genre, or predictable answers to the magic questions, and the drama will be predictable and boring. The writer will have saved himself the agony of indecision, self-doubt - of work, in short - and so, of course, will the protagonist. The audience will view this pseudo-drama much as the graduate views a liberal arts education: "I don't think anything happened, but I'm told I went to college, so, perhaps, I somehow got an education".

All right, you may complain, get to the fairy dust portion of the entertainment and vouchsafe to me the secret of the Incas.

Here it is.

The filmed drama (as any drama) is a succession of scenes. Each scene must end so that the hero is thwarted in pursuit of his goal - so that he, as discussed elsewhere, is forced to go on to the next scene to get what he wants.

If he is forced, the audience, watching his progress, wonders with him, how he will fare in the upcoming scene, as the film is essentially a progression of scenes. To write a successful scene, one must stringently apply and stringently answer the following three questions:

1. Who wants what from whom?
2. What happens if they don't get it?
3. Why now?

That's it. As a writer, your yetzer ha'ra (evil inclination) will do everything in its vast power to dissuade you from asking these questions of your work. You will tell yourself the questions are irrelevant as the scene is "interesting," "meaningful," "revelatory of character," "deeply felt'" and so on; all of these are synonyms for "it stinks on ice".

You may be able to dissuade your yetzer ha'ra by insisting that you were and are a viewer before you were a writer, and that as a writer, these three questions are all you want to know of a scene. (You come late to a film and ask your friend there before you, "What's going on? Who is this guy? What does he want?" and your friend will, as a good dramaturge, explain that the subject of your inquiry (the hero) is the vice president of Bolivia, and he wants to determine where his boss is, as the bad guys are going to ambush him, and if he, our hero vice president, does not extract the info from the reluctant mistress, whom the president has just thrown over, the bad guys will kill his boss and bring down the country.)

1. Who wants what from whom?
2. What happens if they don't get it?
3. Why now?

As one becomes more adept in the use of these invaluable ancient tools, one may, in fact, extend their utility to the level of the actual spoken line and ask of the speech, no doubt beginning, "Jim, when I was young I had a puppy...." "Wait a second, how does this speech help Hernando find out where his boss, the president of Bolivia, is?" And you may, then, be so happy - not with the process but with the results of your assiduous application of these magic questions - that finding the puppy speech wanting in their light, you will throw it to the floor and out of the scene it was just about to ruin.

These magic questions and their worth are not known to any script reader, executive, or producer. They are known and used by few writers. They are, however, part of the unconscious and perpetual understanding of that group who will be judging you and by whose say-so your work will stand or fall: the audience.

Saturday Coloring Class

This past week I started a coloring class to help get an understanding of how to apply color to drawings (one of the things that I still don't know how to do properly. I mostly apply color using techniques that I am copying..or I just make up the process as I go. The results for each of those tactics have been spotty at best. So Instead I have decided to take a class and get these aspects down, so that I can get better at applying color. I am super excited for the class and will post work as I go.

One of the things that we did in class was take a look at a few other artists to see how they work and use color. So I thought that I would post a few and share:

James JeanJosh CochranJeffrey DecosterSam Bosma

Check them out..their work is pretty inspiring and will hopefully serve to give ideas down the road..

Abstract comic (with words) by Garth Simmons

In the tradition of El Lissitsky. Click through for the entire piece.

And here is a more text-heavy one:


My internet's been spotty all night, and now it's late, so I'm going to bed and writing this thing Tuesday night. (Monday is Valentine's dinner with the lady.)
This week on Comic Tools: Futzing with nibs

I'm insomniac tonight, so I'll type this sucker up now:

A few weeks ago MK (Remember MK? Started this blog? Wrote the fantastic comic Americus, illustrated by Jonathan Hill, to be published by First Second later this year, which you can now read in webcomic form? That MK.) wrote me with this:

"Hey Matt. So possibly right under your feet all day at work are these scroll nibs, which are usually used for making filials and jazz for fancy calligraphy. Also, at the very bottom, is a thing called a music nib, used for making musical notation lines, it is made by Brause, not Mitchell, so it won't be in the kit. I got mine from scribblers in the UK after seeing them in someone else's catalogue, and I assumed they must be hackable for cartooning short cuts. Double vision, quicker hatching for bgs that must be covered in them, plaid shirts, checkerboards... the list is not gigantic, but you can get some interesting results. I'm not entirely certain that they are in NY Central, but I believe I saw mitchell caligraphy kits hanging over the doorway to the little room the G nibs are stored in, so if you see them, you could probably come up with some ingenious use for them that I am missing. I've used them for a bit of grass in the new comic already, and it was delightful to use something a little different."

She included this photo:

Indeed we do have these nibs downstairs at New York Central. If you walk straight into the store about halfway, you'll see these cheesy looking beige cardboard bubble packets sitting way up high where the managers sit:

You'll have to ask for someone to help you reach them, unless you're seven feet tall. These are what the packets look like up close, and what they cost:

New York Central got the whole lot of them in a buyout of another closing supplier, so once these are gone, they're gone. Fortunately, for anyone who might want them, they don't seem to sell well. Anyhow I've got them back at home now, and I've been playing around with them. I've narrowed it down to 8 that produce various effects I like, and I've been futzing around with them, like MK did.

My first impressions are that either these types of nib are either all made of unusually crappy and thin steel, or that the tinyness of the individual nibs having to share the space makes them weak, much like too many babies sharing a womb, or that this particular brand may just be crappy. I don't know, but nonetheless I've found some uses for these that might induce me to buy more anyway.

The nibs with evenly spaced, equal-sized points make hatching large areas really, really easy and SOOOOOOO much faster. They also make great speed lines.

The evenly spaced nibs with one point larger than the other make pleasantly dynamic and perfectly spaced pipes, dowels, poles, and rope. If I wanted to to an entire series of knot-tying illustrations, one of these nibs would very possibly save me from insanity.

The nibs with multiple slits cut going to the same point hold extra ink like a lettering nib while remaining flexible like a quill, and so far the best use I've found for these are really fantastic willowy tree limbs that you can draw with the line variation of a brush, but with a line quality that is unmistakably of a nib.

Anyhow, I'm gonna mess around with these some more and then do a proper post on them.

Finally a link: A fantastic interview with Mike Mignola about setting and architecture. One lesson learned: you neither need to like drawing, nor even actually draw, straight lines or perfect perspective in order to draw houses, cities, and other settings in a convincing and lively way. Slanty lines and age are your friends.

See you next week!

A Picture is Worth...Well, You Know

One of the most basic (and most important precepts) about film making is that the story most be told entirely by the visuals. Meaning that you should be able to watch a movie with the sound turned off and still get everything that's happening on screen and understand the whole film. The great film makers of the past knew this and that's what made their films so great.

Like any basic and irrefutable truth, I find that people often reject it and question why it's important. And it's always hard to articulate why it's important because (to me) the answer is obvious.

People will say "well, we're making a movie with sound. We have dialogue at our disposal. We can just use words to convey our meaning".

What I would answer is that whoever said "A picture is worth a thousand words" had it right.

The problem with words are that words can be cheap and disposable. We don't always pay them a lot of heed. When you're talking to people in your everyday life, do you always catch every single word they say? No, we're frequently distracted by our own thoughts and we don't catch 100% of what people say. The same is true of movies, and if the audience misses a bit of dialogue because the person behind them is coughing or opening a noisy bag of Skittles, you don't want them to be lost for the rest of the movie.

Also words aren't always the truth. When we listen to people talk in real life we run it through our filter, trying to figure out what is the underlying truth about the words they are sharing with us. We know that sometimes people lie to us, and sometimes they are telling the truth from their point of view but they may not know the whole story. There are a million reasons why their words may not be truthful - deliberately and otherwise - but the point is that we never take what people say as the absolute truth because we know it's not.

On the other hand, visuals don't lie. With a picture what you see is what you get.

Sometimes film makers will lie to us with their visuals, based on showing us a false image, or leaving out a key image that makes us interpret the ones before and after it differently, and then revealing the truth to us later with an additional image. And that's always more powerful than just finding out someone used false words with us.

We can remember an image that we saw with perfect clarity for the rest of our lives. But how often do we remember exactly what someone said?

So when I try to explain this concept to people I just say that a story that's told through images has a deep, visceral impact on the psyche of the people watching it because images operate on a much deeper level than words. Obviously, the best movies use both in concert to convey their story. But images are always, always, always more powerful and supercede what the dialogue is telling us.

The biggest reason why people seem to reject the wisdom of this concept is that - like most basic concepts - it's really hard to do. It requires discipline, knowledge and hard work to tell a story through images. And in my experience people will (ironically) go to great lengths to avoid having to use discipline, knowledge and hard work.

Usually if I've gotten this far in my explanation they're still not convinced. So maybe the words of author David Mamet will convince you, instead. From "Bambi vs. Godzilla", page 152:

"The perfect film is the silent film, just as the perfect sequence is the silent sequence. Dialogue is inferior to picture in telling a film story. A picture, first, as we know, is worth a thousand words; the juxtaposition of pictures is geometrically more effective. If a director or writer wants to find out if a scene works, he may remove the dialogue and see if he can still communicate the idea to the audience.

Ancient theological wisdom put it thus: 'Preach Christ constantly - use words if you must.'"

To be honest I'm not really a fan of Mamet's films, but he's written several great books on film and acting that I definitely recommend.

Robot Snow Fight

This is a piece that I just completed called robot snow battle. Done in Painter.

Robot Manny Vol. 1 Page Preview Part 2

It's been a suuuuuper busy week with work, and in my spare time I have been working on the comic, watching tutorials and setting up the new MacBook Pro. So not a lot of time to do process work. is the latest page from the Robot Manny vol. 1 comic for Mocca fest.

This is just a post of a preview page from the first story. It's a work in progress of course, and there is still more work to do, but I have been working away steadily towards getting this done in time.
I still have to print and assemble.

Hope you guys enjoy! More to come..

This week on Comic Tools: Eraser Showdown 2!

As I've mentioned before, I currently work at New York Central Art Supply in the paper department. Downstairs on the side of the checkout counter alongside all the other impulse buys, they have a bunch of little bins with erasers in them. There were three I'd never seen before, so I decided to buy them and test them out against the current champion, the Tombo Mono eraser.

The new contenders are:

  • Pentel Hi-Polymer
  • Faber-Castell "Dust free"
  • MOO eraser

Unlike in the last test, all of these erasers erased a well dug-in line cleanly and completely. None of these products fails in role as an eraser. That leaves us with the next characteristic, amount and size of dust. This is how each of them fared with each eraser brand-new, using the corner to erase the line:

It seemed like a pretty clear-cut win for the Tombo, with the MOO a close second. My next test was to see how they affected ink, whether they'd lift your drawings off the page. Some erasers can be so aggressive that they remove not only pencil but ink and paper fibers, like an art-destroying tornado. All of these performed roughly the same in that test, but as I used them to erase over the ink with their now ground-down corners, I found that the two really dusty erasers were now producing snakes, as they should. I made new pencil lines and tried again, with these results:

The scale of these photographs is slightly out of whack, as the Tombo's snake of dust was actually smaller than the Faber-Castell's. Nonetheless, with a blunted corner all of them performed adequately, and certainly better than the losers in my previous test. Now a new problem revealed itself, namely that certain erasers were using themselves up far more quickly for the same amount of erasing. The MOO, in particular, crated a hilariously long and thick snake of eraser waste, enough that an earthworm might have tried to mate with it were it any larger. The Tombo won again, with the MOO second in creating less dust, but the Faber-Castell coming in second in not using itself up too quickly. They all erased adequately, and I'd recommend any of them.

Links time!

Sarah Glidden has been regiggering her watercolor process for her comics. Here she is experimenting with different techniques:

She finally settled on one, and the results are beautiful to behold.

Becky Cloonan step-by-step process art? Hell yes please.

Evidently the best perspective book for cartoonists ever made has a sequel now:

Extreme Perspective! For Artists: Learn the Secrets of Curvilinear, Cylindrical, Fisheye, Isometric, and Other Amazing Systems that Will Make Your Drawings Pop Off the Page (Book & DVD)

In this sequel to the classic bestseller Perspective! For the Comic Book Artist, David Chelsea takes perspective to a whole other level—by exploring the most dramatic viewpoints employed by today’s artists. Many of these techniques have been carefully guarded secrets for centuries. But David, and his hollow-headed friend, Mugg, make them accessible to a new generation of artists, cartoonists, illustrators, and animators. In Extreme Perspective! For Artists, you’ll learn how to

• Render complicated multi-sided objects in perfect perspective
• Create accurate shadows and reflections from your own imagination
• Master the most difficult kinds of curvilinear perspective systems
• Draw eye-popping images in fisheye perspective
• Use your computer to create elaborate scenes quicker and more easily
• … And much, much more!

Also included is a comprehensive library of perspective grids on DVD, suitable for printing or using with Photoshop and other applications.


Bill Peet's "Mickey Mouse Club" Articles

Back in the 50s, Disney published called "Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club Magazine". Disney story artist Bill Peet wrote and illustrated these articles about the history of train travel for the magazine.

They are interesting because they may be the first published version of his writing, because they were published in 1957 and his first children's book was released in 1959.

The Library

I spend an inordinate amount of time browsing the shelves of Kansas City's downtown public library. To the staff there, I'm probably known as the weird guy in scrubs who lurks about the children's section and always leaves with more novels and compact discs than any one person could hope to consume. I've accepted the fact that I have a book problem.

In deference to you online readers, I expanded the width of my blog to accommodate the format of this drawing. The unfortunate people who saw it in the newspaper had to turn their head sideways to read it, resulting in numerous complaints of strained necks. If you'd like to view it without squinting, order as a poster here.