THE VAGABONDS #3 in the House!!

The Vagabonds #3

The Vagabonds #3

A loooooong time ago, back before The Influencing Machine, before A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge—before Phoebe was even born—I had a solo comic book series called The Vagabonds (at that time published by Alternative Comics.) It took me three years to produce two issues, but at least it was a real thing—it existed. And now, a mere eight years after the last issue appeared, April will see the release of The Vagabonds #3! In partnership with Hang Dai Editions, I’ll be debuting The Vagabonds #3 next weekend at MoCCA Fest.

To be fair to myself, as I mentioned at the top, there were a few things that have happened since 2006 that slowed the release of this issue. In addition to the “births” of Phoebe, A.D., and The Influencing Machine, there was the Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan, which ended just last year.

But now The Vagabonds is back—and in full color. It’s really nice to have a place to collect assorted pieces of mine from the last few years, as well as have a venue for new work. This issue highlights my journalistic work over the past few years, including reportage on Hurricane Sandy, the Arab Spring, the education wars (with writer Adam Bessie), and the life of a “comics journalist.”

What with A.D. and The Influencing Machine, I’ve spent the last half-decade or so in the trade books arena, with publishers like Pantheon and  W.W. Norton. As wonderful as it has been to work with those major players, I really missed the world of alternative comic books and indy shows. That’s another reason why I’m so excited to be joining forces with Dean Haspiel, Seth Kushner, and Gregory Benton at Hang Dai Editions.

What draws me to Hang Dai is the emphasis on creator-owned publications and personal interactions with readers. There was a great quote from an interview with the HDE guys that went like this: “You’ll get the books made by hand from the hands of their creators, which puts the ‘artist’ back in ‘comic arts’ and puts you, the reader, in a position to engage directly with creators.” I cut my teeth in this business through self-publishing, and it’s refreshing to go back to my DIY days.

As many know, my professional relationship with Dean goes back to Keyhole, the two-man anthology we produced in the mid-1990s. (We’ve actually been friends even longer than that—back to our high school days producing superhero comics!) So it’s awesome to join forces with Dino again; as well as with Gregory and Seth, who I’ve also known in the industry for quite a while. (Bleeding Cool did a nice little piece announcing my joining HDE right here.)

So come get a signed copy of The Vagabonds from me at MoCCA Fest. I’ll be at the Hang Dai table (F15/F16) on Sunday, April 6, all day long. The book is $5, and you get a free sketch in each copy you buy. (I’ll also have copies of The Vagabonds #1 & 2, and my other books, should you be looking for those.)

And I swear you won’t have to wait eight years for the next issue of The Vagabonds. In fact, I don’t think you’ll have to wait eight months—look for The Vagabonds #4 in September 2014 at SPX.

Atlantic Center for the Arts “Master Cartoonist”: Take Two

Back in 2012 I was forced to give up my ACA Master Artist gig due to my receiving the Knight-Wallace Fellowship and moving temporarily to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Well, ACA program director Nick Conroy was nice enough to invite me again, so this fall (October 13–November 2, to be precise) I will be leading a three-week residency focusing on the nonfiction graphic novel.

I still find it a bit intimidating to be called a “Master Artist,” but at least since 2012 I’ve also done a lot more teaching—including two consecutive years conducting week-long courses with the Fine Arts Works Center Summer Program, and more Speaker/Specialist programs (like the one I did last fall in Mexico). So I’m probably more “prepared” for the experience this time around.

The Atlantic Center for the Arts, located in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, is a nonprofit, interdisciplinary artists’ community and arts education facility. Their mission is to “promote artistic excellence by providing talented artists an opportunity to work and collaborate with some of the world’s most distinguished contemporary artists in the fields of music composition, and the visual, literary, and performing arts.”

During the three-week residency I will be working with eight “associate artists” on their long-form nonfiction comics projects. As part of the residency, we will be spending (at least) two hours a day together, conducting workshops, talking about the challenges we face, and working in a studio setting. I look forward to helping my associate cartoonists explore the best ways to make their ideas come to life.

By the way, my buddy Dean Haspiel took over my residency back in 2012—making it very much is own—and his group had a great time. They dubbed themselves Studio Yolo (“You only live once”), engaged in various team-building activities, and even produced an anthology. Read more about the experience here…

If you’re interested in applying to be an associate artist in my residency, or know someone who would, please check out the ACA website for further details. There are descriptions of the residency requirements, a FAQ, and lots more information. The application deadline is May 18, 2014.

Jewish Comix Anthology Kickstarter fail?

Sadly, things aren’t looking too good for the Jewish Comix Anthology. Its Kickstarter goal of $50,000 CAD seems to be falling far short—they need more than $35,000, with only five days to go. The anthology features such luminaries as Will Eisner, Michael Netzer, Joe Kubert, Art Spiegelman, and Robert Crumb (um, not Jewish ;->). And me too. I was looking forward to doing an adaptation of the very funny folk tale “Digging a Pit,” about the Wise Men of Chelm. There are tons of other great contributors too—Trina Robbins, Rachel Pollack, Joe Infurnari, Harvey Pekar… the list goes on. Let’s hope Alternative History Comics (the publisher) can figure out a way to fund the book even if the Kickstarter doesn’t hit its goals. In the meantime, please think about backing the project. Shalom.

Evolution of a book cover: Piracy Crusade

PC-cover-final-150pxI illustrated the cover of Aram’s Sinnrich‘s new book, Piracy Crusade: How the Music Industry’s War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties (University of Massachusetts Press), and I thought I’d take you through the process.

As the title indicates, Sinnreich’s argument is that so-called “piracy” is really the battle between those who believe information (e.g., music) should be shared and the media cartels who want to control that flow. In the spirit of openness, Aram even made a draft of the book available online under a Creative Commons license.

Before I got to work, Aram and I talked a little bit about the cover. (Unlike with my previous book cover, for Alissa Quart’s Republic of Outsiders, Aram was acting as his own “art director” on the project, so I dealt directly with him.) One thing he was keen to include was traditional pirate ship/pirate flag imagery, as well as the symbols for copyright and “copyleft” (essentially, the same concept as the Creative Commons movement). He even drew up a sketch, which featured two tall-masted ships firing on each other, with the cannon balls, smoke, and water splashes forming a “Jolly Roger” death’s head between the ships. His drawing looked like this:

PC-Aram-sketch-450px

Using Aram’s sketch as a starting point, I drew up four sketches of my own. As I worked, I tried to incorporate as many of the same motifs as his sketch, but I found that trying to use all three image ideas was too much for one cover to bear. There is only so much visual information you can squeeze into one image, and I wanted the cover to be punchy and quickly graspable.

The first sketch was closest to Aram’s original. An un-dynamic image, I felt that to make it work I’d have to create very simple, almost childlike drawings of the pirate ships…

PC-cover-sketch3-450px

The next sketch was the same basic idea, but without the lingering death’s head. To me, it was dynamic, straightforward, and showcased the title via the smoke from the cannons… 

PC-cover-sketch1-450px

The third sketch was probably the most dynamic of the three, but maybe was too basic. It was more about the exciting pirate ship battle than the concept of copyright vs. copyleft… 

PC-cover-sketch4-450px

Just for the heck of it, I made a fourth sketch that went in a very different direction. A black cover with a death’s head in white, the skull’s eyes were made up of copyright & copyleft symbols (and the nose was music symbol). I got rid of the ships entirely. This cover was very stark and iconic. 

PC-cover-sketch2-450px

Despite my reservations about the first sketch (the one closest to his original concept), Aram was still leaning toward it, though he agreed it was cluttered. But, in the spirit of openness and crowd wisdom he suggested posting the sketches on his blog and letting the book’s audience weigh in.

I have to admit that at first I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, mostly because when it’s come to these sort of creative decisions in the past I’ve often found the phrase “too many cooks” to be very true. But I couldn’t argue with the point that the whole project was about openness, so I decided to jump into the crowd-sourcing idea and see what resulted.

Well, lo and behold if the consensus on Aram’s blog wasn’t clearly in favor of my last sketch, the “dark horse” death’s head! It so happened that Aram had also shown the first round of sketches to his publisher’s editorial/design team, and they also had liked the last sketch the best. Clearly, just the right number of cooks!

(I have to hand it to Aram that he stayed true to the crowd-sourced results. Even though he personally liked his original concept, he showed no hesitation in signing off on the death’s head cover.)

At that point, I did another round of sketches, all variations on the death’s head cover. Basically, I made the skull a little scarier, simplified the nose/music symbol, and played around with the treatment of the eyes a bit. In the last one (“C”), I zoomed in on the skull, making Aram’s author credit the skull’s “teeth”…
PC-cover-sketches2-450px
I liked the last sketch (“C)” the best, but the consensus was “A,” which was fine. We also agreed that I would hand-letter the title and other cover lettering. For the title treatment, I went back to Aram’s original sketch, where the “c” in “piracy” was the copyright symbol, and the “C” in “crusade” was transposed to form the copyleft symbol. This was my initial pencil drawing, with the title treatment and other lettering in place (the blue outline shows the bleed and the crop marks of the actual book dimensions):

PC-cover-pencils-450px

The client was happy with the pencils. (At this point, the publisher was taking a more active role in giving me feedback.) Their only change had to do with the title: They didn’t love the transposed “C” in “Crusade,” and asked me to just render it normally. They also were slightly concerned that my hand-drawn lettering—particularly in the subtitle and the author credit—wouldn’t be crisp and readable enough. I was sure it would be fine, but we left the option open to typeset those elements if they ended up deciding to do that. While I was finishing the drawing, I also moved the skull’s eyes a little further apart. Here are the inks…

PC-cover-inks-450px

The lettering looked good to them, so at this point the drawing was done!

For the color treatment, I again gave them a few options: the basic black-and-white version (above), one with yellow accents, and a “distressed” look. (I had long ago created a spatter pattern in PhotoShop that I sometimes used to give images that distressed look. I used it for the paperback cover of A.D. and also for the A.D. giclee prints I sell on my website…)

PC-cover-colors-flat-450px PC-cover-colors-spatter-450px

Happily, the consensus was the the “distressed” look gave the image “character and depth.” And, voila, the cover was done!

The book came out last month, and I guess it’s been doing well. Aram recently told me he’s planning on making some Piracy Crusade “swag”—T-shirts and the like. I can’t wait to own some!

“SuperStorm Stories” on Medium

RHF01-pn2In commemoration of Hurricane Sandy’s one-year anniversary, Medium is debuting “SuperStorm Stories: A Red Hook Family” (part one), a piece I reported and drew about a Brooklyn family’s experiences during the storm and its aftermath. This segment specifically deals with the family’s love of books (and music), and the horror of seeing some of their most treasured memories destroyed by the “gasoline- and poop-filled water from the Hudson River.” Jim, the dad, speaks memorably about “black-bagging a favorite book” and its resemblance to “a mangled body.”

For some reason in recent years it has been my lot to be connected to hurricanes; first with Katrina and A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, and now with my home city of New York and Sandy. (I wrote in this space about the frustrations of being “stranded” away from New York during the actual storm last year, while on my journalism fellowship in Ann Arbor.) As an artist, I can’t stop thinking about floods and rising waters—nature’s inexorable, nightmarish consumption of all things fragile and man-made. I think I was first awakened to this fixation by the horrific events of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. And my contributions to the 2010 ABC Primetime special, Earth 2100, about catastrophic climate change, only contributed to that obsession. Well, if Al Gore is correct, I’ll have plenty of fodder for this in the coming decades. ;->

So check out “SuperStorm Stories: A Red Hook Family,” and look for part two (which promises a happier conclusion) in the coming days…

Evolution of a book cover: Republic of Outsiders

I illustrated the cover of Alissa Quart’s new book, Republic of Outsiders: The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers and Rebels (The New Press), and I thought I’d take you through the whole process.

The book is about how a diverse group of outsiders who seek to redefine a wide variety of fields—from film and mental health to diplomacy and music, from how we see gender to what we eat—are succeeding in various ways in changing the status quo. So from the get-go the initial concept was to show a large crowd of people on the cover, something to convey the idea of “here comes everybody.” The book’s particular subjects—including  an Occupy Wall Street “alternative banker,” a transgender activist, an autistic artist, and indie musician Amanda Palmer—would be prominently featured at the front of the crowd.  I wanted the art to “bleed,” to extend past the edge of the cover, to help convey the “infinite” size of the crowd of amateurs, dreamers, and outcasts (at that point the book was subtitled “The Power of Rebels, Amateurs, and Outcasts”).

My initial sketch looked like this:

RoO-sketch-lorez

The client was pretty happy with the sketch, with their only major comment regarding the Amanda Palmer figure. Because of some recent negative press, they asked me to downplay her somehow—suggesting I “anonymize her, so she could be a more generic glam genderbending figure.” I pointed out that with my cartoony style I doubted many people who would recognize the character as Amanda Palmer, but I was happy to do as they asked.

We also agreed that I would hand-letter the title and other cover lettering. Given that, the client felt the subtitle needed a little more air. At that point, I came up with the idea of the crowd holding signs making up the words of the subtitle. I thought it further sold the concept of this group being paet of a movement effecting change on society.

This was my first attempt at the pencils (the blue outline shows the bleed and the crop marks of the actual book dimensions):

RoO-pencils-lorez

Although generally happy with the pencils, the client asked for some changes. There was some concern that the central figure (based on a real-life autistic artist was “too prominent and particular.” One way they suggested to do that was to eliminate the plastic iguana she was holding and make her expression less vacant; the second adjustment took care of another unresolved issue, which was how to display the author’s name. They came up with the idea of setting in a foreground sign which also would partly cover the autistic character. In addition, feeling that the “Amanda Palmer” avatar was too aggressive, they asked me to tone down her expression a bit as well.

At this point, I was a bit concerned about the changes being requested because frankly I thought they weakened the impact of the image. My understanding of the project was that the people on the cover were outsiders dancing to the beat of their own drums—and succeeding by doing that. And my feeling was the client’s suggestions were making the cover blander and less memorable. But… in the end, they were the client (who is always right ;->). I expressed my reservations and made the changes they asked for. (I also found out later that there were some legal concerns regarding the autistic artist character, who is only referred to by her first name, Katie, in the book…)

Finally, they asked me to replace the chunky “Outsider” title lettering with a simpler “font.”

This is what the second round of pencils looked like:

RoO-pencils2a-450px

By this point, the client and I were pretty much on the same page, and they gave me the go-ahead to proceed to inks. Wait! There was one more last-minute change: the subtitle of the book was changed from “The Power of Rebels, Amateurs, and Outcasts” to “The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers and Rebels”. So, here are the inks:

RoO-inks2-lorez

After a little more back-and-forth (thankfully, nothing too onerous), they gave me permission to color the piece, which I did in PhotoShop. As is my wont, I went with a reduced color palette, focusing mostly on greens and yellows, with a optimistic blue sky and red lettering to really pop. Here’s how it looked:

RoO-colors-lorez

The first color treatment made it all the way up the line to publisher, but she felt the palette was “too retro.” The client’s direction was to “maybe lighten the skin tones and add a bit more cyan to the clothes, so they’re not so contrasty with the sky.” Given how “unrealistic” the original color treatment was, I  was prepared for some pushback, and thought their comments made sense. So I warmed up the skin tones and made a few other adjustments (including making the “Katie ” painting a bit more distinctive from the rest of the scene). I thought the changes relieved the “monotony” of the original color treatment while staying true to my original concept:

RoO-colors2-lorez

Success! Everyone liked the new color treatment. So I was done, right?

Wrong! When it came to mocking up the book, the artwork on the right-hand side didn’t extend far enough to cover the bleed on to the dust cover flap. Left as-is it would show the art “fading away”—which I thought undermined the “infinite” feeling of the crowd. They also wanted the line “author of Branded and Hothouse Kids” added underneath the author’s name. So… I went back to the drawing board (literally) and extended the artwork to the right (as well as adding the “author of” line in PhotoShop, using a font of my lettering). And, voila:

RoO-revise-lorez

We were finally done! This is how the “mechanical” (front, back, flaps, and crop marks) looked on publication:

Republic-of-Outsiders_1st-mech-lorez

The book came out last month, and it’s been cool seeing my work on the cover—a first for a book I did not myself draw.

After all the back and forth, I obviously felt very connected to the process, and to all the individual decisions that led to the distinctive final product. So I was a bit chagrined when this image was brought to my attention: the cover of Eric Alterman’s 2008 book, Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America (Viking), illustrated by the very brilliant Tom Tomorrow

Alterman-WhyWe'reLiberals-cover-lorez

Oops! I don’t remember ever seeing that book cover before, I swear!

Influencing Machine Korean edition cover

Just for poops & chuckles, I thought you’d like to see the cover of the Korean language edition of The Influencing Machine, published by Doddle Saeghim. They took the art from the last page (with Brooke’s head blown up a bit) and colored it—in a much louder style than I use in the book itself. They also added a bunch of shadows. 

IF-DoddleSaeghim-cover-sm

P.S. Anyone out there have a Korean URL for the book? I can’t seem to find it…

Influencing Machine featured on 1book140 (The Atlantic.com’s Reading Club)—Twitter convo tonite!

IF-paperback-coverThis month The Influencing Machine is one of two graphic novel’s being read on 1book140, The Atlantic.com’s Reading Club. And tonight at 7pm EST, writer Brooke Gladstone and I will be taking part in a live Q&A via Twitter. Please join in the conversation!

1book140 has been running since May of 2011 and they’ve read & discussed works by living authors and by dead authors; they’ve read thrillers, mysteries, beach reads, science fiction, poetry, history, and travel writing. Some of the previous entries from the 1book140 reading list include Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five,  P.G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves, Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, China Mieville’s The City & the City, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. And they’ve even read comics before, including Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Alan Moore & David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, and Neil Gaiman & Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg’s Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.

1book140 is currently being run by J. Nathan Matias, and the process seems very democratic. Books are nominated on by readers and the finalists are voted on in online polls. And now, after some runoff voting (against  very esteemed competition), The Influencing Machine—along with Chris Ware’s masterwork Building Stories—has emerged as this month’s 1book140 selection! The first two weeks of August were spent on Building Stories and now it’s our book’s turn.

Tonight from 7-8pm EST, Brooke & I will be sitting by to answer any and all questions related to our collaboration. To join in, tweet your question to #1book140; we’ll do our best to respond!

Adventures in Comics Journalism

Adventures in Comics JournalismA new piece of mine was published today in The Mint, India’s second largest financial paper (and “a content partner of The Wall Street Journal“). I was commissioned to do the 100th edition of their weekly full-page (tabloid-sized!) comic, “The Small Picture” —and the editor and I decided to do it about the field of comics journalism. The result, “Adventures in Comics Journalism,” can be read here.

My comics and sketches in Steve Heller’s COMICS SKETCHBOOKS

Comics SketchbooksLast fall, just when I was learning the ropes of the Knight-Wallace Fellowship, I received a contributor copy of Steve Heller’s Comics Sketchbooks: The Private Worlds of Today’s Most Creative Talents (Thames & Hudson).

When Heller first approached me about being in the book, I immediately felt my stomach clench. Like most cartoonists I’m pretty insecure about my art; most times, it’s bad enough to see my finished work in print—the idea of exposing my half-assed doodles and thumbnails felt really risky. But how could I turn down an invitation from design legend (and former New York Times chief art director) Steve Heller?

My first problem was that I don’t really have a sketchbook per se (e.g. as a thing I sketch in). I’ve kept my sketchbooks since high school—and thanks to my packrat mother, have artwork dating back to when I was four years old. (No matter how brave I am, I wasn’t about to show any of that!) But I really had to dig deep into old work to find anything suitable. For one thing, the purpose of my sketchbooks has radically changed as I’ve gotten older and as my career has progressed. In going through all the old books, I was amazed  how they reflect my evolution as an artist and as a cartoonist.

In high school, I kept a sketchbook to draw character ideas for various superheroes I created, or to do full-color “pin-ups” of some of my favorite Marvel or DC heroes. My friends and I at Music & Art High School would also trade our sketchbooks and draw in each other’s books, so they were ways of having samples of each other’s work for posterity. For awhile after I graduated from college, I kept a sketchbook at my day job at The Nation magazine, just to keep my skills fresh. That was the first time I really used a sketchbook for doodling and sketching, and as a record of the world around me: my girlfriend, co-workers, guest speakers, people on the subway, and the like. (I was also losing interest in superhero comics around that time, and was casting about for another way to express my artistic impulses.)

Then, in the early 1990s, when Sari and I embarked on a round-the-world backpacking trip, I took along the Eric Fischl/Jerry Saltz book Sketchbook with Voices (Van Der Marck Editions, 1986; now re-issued). The book is essentially filled with blank pages, but at the top of each page are instructions from  contemporary artists of that period; ideas which served as jumping-off points for various drawings. Oftentimes I would ignore the directives and just draw or paint whatever I felt like during my travels, but the ideas in the book are sharp and fresh, and often helped me when I needed a little prodding. That was also an important period where I did very little comics work, instead just sketching from life and painting watercolor landscapes and the like. The book helped me unlearn a lot of bad habits I had picked up during my youthful years as a wannabe superhero cartoonist. I kept Sketchbook with Voices all throughout my travels through Southeast Asia and Central Europe, and it’s filled with all sorts of memories—and even a few illustrations I’m not too embarrassed to look back at.

Nowadays, however, my “sketches” tend to be highly directed, either character studies or thumbnail layouts for scripts I’m working on—not so much sketches as preliminary drawing for finished comics.

The trip down memory lane was less painful than I feared, and I found a selection of things to submit for the book. I answered a few of Heller’s questions for the profile section, sent everything off, and then basically forgot about it. As I mentioned, the book arrived at my door just as I was immersing myself in my fellowship. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until the fellowship was over (last month) that I was finally able to check out the book.

One thing I really appreciated was Heller’s acknowledgment (in his introduction) of the inherent vulnerability evoked by the project, whose subtitle, “The Private Worlds,” etc. really rings true for me. (And I was relieved to see that a lot of the contributors admit that they too don’t spend a lot of time sketching for sketching’s sake.)

That said, the book features quite an impressive list of contributors, including masters like Crumb, Burns, Seth, and Mazzucchelli. It’s always instructive to see the sketchbooks of guys like that—like peeking into their brains and feeling a bit of the spark of their creative process. Another one of my long-time favorites, cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, gets really metaphysical about his sketchbooks, talking about how they’re attempts to explore what mystifies him in life, to get to deeper meanings, to discover new paths. And he quotes Matisse, who, when asked to explain one of his paintings, said, “If I could explain it, I wouldn’t have painted it.”

I loved looking at Peter Kuper‘s sketchbook work, much of it from his recent sojourn to Oaxaca, Mexico. Peter Kuper’s Comics Trips: A Journal of Travels Through Africa and Southeast Asia (NBM, 1992) was the only comic book I took with me on my round-the-world backpacking trip. Comics Trips is part comic, part sketchbook, and part photo album. It’s punctuated by beautiful watercolor sketches, ticket stubs and collages, and humorous photo essays like “Toilets of the World.” Comics Trips was a huge influence on my own travel work, and the main inspiration behind A Few Perfect Hours. So it was exciting to me to see more recent sketchbook work from Kuper—the images are energetic, filled with personality, and vibrating with color.

I loved reading British cartoonist Posy Simmonds comments, and looking at her sketches from one of my favorite recent graphic novels Gemma BovaryCarol Tyler‘s work was a revelation. With cartoonist/friend Lauren Weinstein it was cool to see the various styles at work in her sketchbooks, from intricate inked landscapes to watercolor figure drawing. That’s another great function of a sketchbook: to play around with styles you don’t normally use in your professional work.

I really identified with what David Heatley says about struggling to retain the energy of his thumbnail sketches. There’s definitely a spontaneity, looseness, and economy to my sketches that I struggle to evoke in my more polished work. For this reason, my buddy & fellow cartoonist Dean Haspiel is always encouraging me to publish my sketches/layouts as completed comics—more on that later.

Upon returning to the States after our backpacking adventure, Sari and I ended up in Chicago, where I soon got hooked into the cartooning scene. I happened to get to know Chris Ware a little bit during that time, and he once gave me a very useful bit of sketchbook advice. His own sketchbooks were filled with hilarious one-pagers and strips which he did for fun—and as far I know, never published. Anyway, Chris recommended that I use my sketchbook to write and draw open-ended comics stories, to just go ahead with Panel One and see where it led me. I normally work in a very controlled way—full script, layouts, pencils, inks—so I followed his advice a little bit, and found it very useful in un-blocking my creative channels. Spontaneous sketchbook comics were a very good way of breaking habits and rethinking the comics-making process.

sketchbook-questions-lorezStill, old habits die hard—the only sketchbook comics I’ve ever published are the humorous travel tip “How to Squat;” and the one-page sketchbook comic that appears in Comics Sketchbooks. Created almost 20 years ago, in the piece I muse upon the very purpose of a sketchbook. So meta! Even though it’s quite an old piece, it still reflects my questions about the whole sketchbook practice, and I still find it an amusing little story.

The other pieces of mine used in the book were some character sketches and floor plan layouts from A.D., two pages of layouts from American Splendor, a pen & ink & watercolor Tintin cover pastiche called The Adventures of Josh & Sari, and a drawing I did of actors and assorted characters from the late lamented HBO show Bored to Death (which I drew when I was on-set).

# # #

P.S. Ironically, this past year I sketched more than I had in years. All during my fellowship I used my Moleskine notebook to sketch speakers who came in for seminars and presentations. I collected over 50 of those sketches in a booklet I printed up and gave to each of my fellow Fellows at the end of the year.

P.P.S. Regarding Steve Heller. He shows up as the art director from hell in Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage (originally published in the 1990s by Fantagraphics). I’ll never forget the scene where Fingerman’s sweaty stand-in, Rob Hoffman, an up-and-coming illustrator, visits Heller’s offices at the Times to show his portfolio. The Heller character whips through it like a flip book, never actually looking at the images, and sends Rob on his way. I read that scene right before I myself went in to show Heller my illustration portfolio. Talk about bad timing! However, he was kind enough to actually look at my work and gave me a few specific pointers before he rejected me. Well, I guess he didn’t technically reject me—he did give me the coveted contact list of all the art directors at the Times (the heads of the various sections), and eventually I did get a piece published in the paper’s Travel section. (It’s still up on my illustration website!) That was the last contact I had with Heller—I think he left the Times not oo long afterward—until he contacted me out of the blue to be part of this book. Clearly, in his mind at least I had grown as an artist in the intervening decade. Thanks, Steve!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,417 other followers