Wednesday, September 30, 2009


"I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else." - Pablo Picasso

A follow-up to the previous post on compositional exercises - for the first portion of that class I had us do the ol' "Famous Artist" lesson with arranging just four simple elements each. In 15 minutes they had to experiment using four different thumbnailed panels to rough out a scene containing a lake, mountain, rock and sailboat. After selecting the most effective variation on this theme they then drew up a full-sized one on newsprint using charcoal. Then we gathered around to compare & contrast the different approaches everybody took to resolving the problem. We noted also how the use of value began to also assume a part in evoking a sense of story and influencing perception of content above & beyond the formalities of the assignment. Predictably most everyone stayed within safe (boring) parameters, and I took the opportunity to emphasize how to push the depth of the pictorial plane by exaggerating the fore/middle/background, and use of radical foreshortening and overlapping along with selective and deliberate cropping of the elements.

After that encouragement, the second take using a woman, table, lamp and door yielded much more interesting and creative solutions. This in-class exercise will dovetail quite nicely with many upcoming problems, and I've found it extremely useful to constantly refer back to it when similar situations arise. Time & time again there will be choices to make on how to rearrange elements within a drawing to make it work better, I deal with it every time I sit down with pen in hand, and more often than not it's the deciding factor between a ho-hum halfassed effort and a job well done.

Taking what's given to you and remixing it into something that's your own is one of the cornerstones in this class.

"In a world where discovery is more important than delivery, it's the people who find, remix and direct attention to old stuff that should be rewarded, not the people who deliver it or sit on it waiting for someone to show up." - Joichi Ito

Perennial Creative Husks

"We are not interested in the unusual, but in the usual seen unusually." - Beaumont Newhall

One of the stereotypical visual icons of Interior Alaska is the ubiquitous fireweed, which gets a lot of aesthetic attraction from tourists and artists alike when in full bloom. Personally I much prefer the plant when all is said and done; blown, dried up & dead.
So I spent the evening before class culling the hillside around the cabin picking out individual leaves for use as a simple still-life with which to explore the concepts of basic composition, and also experiment with the new medium (charcoal) plus introduce contour line.
After a couple warm-up exercises for the first part of class + a little lecture on composition including previous examples from students on the next assignment I also handed out.

I'm stressing composition and basic design concepts earlier and earlier each year, as I keep realizing just how fundamental it is regardless of (and often in spite of) any student's individual skill level. Picking out what one feels is the most important part of what makes a good drawing and focusing on only one element can be quite the juggling act. Sometimes it seems as if I should just try and cram every single thing I know about drawing into just one damn class; it's a challenge to parcel out information sequentially when everything's so tightly interwoven. Though it frustrating to seemingly teach each aspect in isolation there's fortunately an entire semester to rake everything up together into one big pile of art at the end of and take a flying leap into.

The form and shape of just one solo leaf reveals so much intimate information and a wealth of material to draw from. Learning to slow the hell down and examine with due patience and care the little details that get lost or overshadowed by the frenetic pace of everyday life is almost an important skill as learning how to draw.

"I am a leaf on the wind - watch how I soar." - Hoban "Wash" Washburn

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Comics in the Classroom: Internshippin'

Today I had the pleasure of entertaining a few interested students from the UAF School of Education who were in their 5th and final year towards a Bachelor of Arts & Education degree and certification to teach in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. So for this semester they each have been assigned to intern under and teach alongside a teacher in various local schools (4th + 6th grade) plus complete this particular "Local Artist Project Assignment" for an ED 414 course "Art, Music & Theatre Integration." That's where I came in.

I was chosen from a roster of available and willing "local professional artists" to meet with and be interviewed so as to provide them with material and inspiration for creating a "developmentally appropriate" lesson plan to use in their own classrooms. This includes images, background biographical information including artwork and process, and a related art activity.
Integrating comics into the curriculum has been somewhat of a mission for me in this community, and this was the second year I volunteered to try and convince aspiring educators to the potential of using this unique medium as a powerful teaching tool. As far as a "problem solving skills and creative thinking" comics are a deceptively simple and sneaky way to introduce a whole bunch of valuable and applicable skills. And have fun in the meantime too, what a concept.

I hauled along a portfolio for the hour and half show & tell and a bag of comics, graphic novels and a slew of student examples from exercises included in a little resource material packet I passed out as well. Also I pitched the whole concept of making minicomics and collaborative group approaches to creating successful projects, and gave a quick run through on both how I go about drawing cartoons and how I teach it to my own classes. In theory this meeting is supposed to take place at the artist's studio, but seeing as how I live in a one-room cabin way out in the woods, we all agreed that meeting in town at one of my usual haunts would be logistically better.

We had a special bonus appearance by a friend and former student (on both sides of the desk) Heidi Atkinson. She is an "Elementary Art Specialist" here in our district currently teaching an "extension project" based on yers truly (part of her "embedded professional development" which is almost as awesome a term as "pedagogical").
Along with many other local gigs and shows of her own, she appears in nineteen different schools (every single 3rd grade class) and spends one hour and fifteen minutes with the kids and an "art kit" that introduces both the class and the teachers to the whole idea and range of possibilities in comics. This plants a seed as to future sessions and assignments the hosting instructor can pursue on their own later on.
Last week Heidi previewed to me her sweet and simple Power-Point presentation she had assembled from various places that my work appears on-line: it serves as part of her approximately 10-minute introductory show & tell where the students get some backstory on me, discuss and ask questions about particular sample cartoons and get a brief overview of process and techniques. The remainder of classtime is devoted to a variation of the "exquisite corpse" timed, collaborative drawing exercise we've played with in our occasional cartoon jams. So far it's been a fabulous success and I wish Heidi luck in her continued quest, I only wish I'd been so lucky when I was a kid to have someone like her visit my classroom. This also explains why I got an email from a former editor last week wondering A) how it is that actually they let me into schools to indoctrinate the youth and B) why his little girl came home from school talking about "the Nuggets man."

Note to self: after teaching a morning class on three hours of sleep, don't have a stromboli + pilsner for breakfast, and expect to be articulate at a meeting afterwards...
(all pics by Jennifer Ruis)

"There was a teacher who recognized that I was interested in cartooning
and he was great." - Jonathan Shapiro

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's Sticking

... the first snow, that is. After the smoke and the rain, the fluffy white stuff has officially pushed folks over the edge of the seasonal abyss.
OK, more like slamming on the mental brakes and then uncontrollably fishtailing right on over. Optimistic Fatalism...

“It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily. "So it is." "And freezing." "Is it?" "Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately.” – Winnie The Pooh, A. A. Milne

Deviant Heterosexuals

“We’re here to help.” - Karl W. Sapp, Campus Bible Ministries
"We must have great respect for these people who also suffer and who want to find their own way of correct living." - Pope Benedict XVI
"I'm not knocking the poor homosexual, I'm not. They need salvation just like anybody else." - Rev. Jimmy Swaggart
"All homosexuals should be castrated." - Rev. Billy Graham

"If you got to castrate your miserable self with a piece of rusty barb wire, do it." - Pastor Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church
Edward Delgado is a self-proclaimed “ex-gay” evangelist preaching "reparative therapy" as an evangelical back-door to Jesus, and courtesy of Campus Bible Ministries, gave a series of talks on his experiences. Leaving aside the obvious and wistfully sadomasochistic undertones of the title of Delgado's speech - “From Sin’s Bondage to Christ’s Freedom,” his recent visit to UAF flipped over a few rocks as far as creating controversy and prompting community outrage. And as evidenced by the still-active comment thread over at the News-Miner's website, the issue is still flaming away. Nothing riles up the bigots in Fairbanks or Alaska like any mention about homosexuals (except perhaps Native Alaskans). And few things fail to piss me off more than reading about it.

Delgado was quoted saying "the homosexual lifestyle leads to promiscuity, abuse, alcoholism and drug abuse" and that “The things that I speak are not a lie..."

Well, Ed, let me plainly state it for you here: you are a liar.

Fact is, the vast, overwhelming number of promiscuous, diseased, abusive drug-addicted alcoholics (some of the darned nicest folks you'd ever ask for as friends I might add) are heterosexuals. You know, the very same people who keep constantly screwing up marriage; that righteous bastion of American moral purity, the sacred institution threatened with destruction by same-sex unions.

Never got around to hearing any of Delgado's speeches, or a chance to confront the guy with his hypocrisy in that if he really wants to help people, why not provide information that covers the full spectrum of his issue - like maybe including the damage it does. Fortunately there are lots of resources on campus and in town, and better folks (and more diplomatic) than I rose to the occasion to counter Campus Bible Ministries' message of intolerance.
But when all's said and done, I'm left using the tools that I have been blessed with, lobbing poo from the sidelines. So I went home and drew about it; just submitted the above panel to the newspaper (*update: will be running next day or two in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner), and shall also drop off a copy to the campus rag on Tuesday, see if anybody bites. Damn good thing the UAF Chancellor really believes that "tolerance of opposing views and freedom of speech are at the core of the campus’ values," because I'm sure the cartoon'll put that warm and fuzzy inclusiveness to the test.

"Indeed, Miss Manners has come to believe that the basic political division in this country is not between liberals and conservatives but between those who believe that they should have a say in the love lives of strangers and those who do not." - Miss Manners Rescues Civilization

"Dear Abby: [upset because a gay couple has just moved in across the street.] How can we improve the quality of the neighbourhood?" "You could move." - Abigail van Buren

"Every time you see a rainbow, it means God's having gay sex" - bumpersticker

"Time to get Homer-erotic!" - Homer Simpson

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shady Situation

After hacking away at leftover matteboard with an Xacto blade for twenty minutes before class, I had enough hand-crafted "viewfinders" for everyone. I used to just poke out the film in old slides to use, but nobody knew what the hell those were anymore. Maybe it's an ingrained reflex with single-panel cartoonists, but I tend to go through life automatically framing everything in neat little boxes by default. For normal people though, it helps to have a handy little cropping devise such as this with which to block out extraneous detail and focus in on composition.

Today's class introduced value; using shading to give shapes volume in space, and also began to explore compositional elements in designing their drawings. Many teachers traditionally start off with having students create swatches of gradations from dark to light: I abandoned that in favor of having them experiment with the same exercise in principle but by producing a full range of values using smooth gradations from black to white by drawing toilet paper wadded up in front of them on their desks. In other words, taking the theory and putting it into practise on a drawing. Also directional sources of lighting are added using the studio system of track lighting. Keeping the compositions simple (often isolating a single fold), they use a variety of graphite pencils to see what effects can be achieved by subtle alterations in angle and pressure, and other factors such as the surface they are drawing on (ex: hard tabletop vs paper still in the drawing pad). Finesse and control will develop over time as they gradually become more comfortable using the tools of the trade; developing a sensitive eye in sync with a sensitive touch is an acquired skill, and prior to this class most folks haven't ever cultivated the discipline and familiarity with anything held in their hands.

Getting up every so often to roam the room and see what ideas can be gleaned from fellow students is a useful habit I start prodding them to adopt. Plus it has the added bonus of maybe inspiring each other, or cultivating that deep, burning feeling of inadequacy that so often serves just as well.
Another by-product is the making of an image that begins to open up the world of strict representational exercise and maybe introduce an interpretive element: quite often these little exercises result in some abstract images which viewed in another context assume interesting potential. The illustrative possibilities are mentioned: planting a seed for later in the semester. The last portion of the class was spent slavishly copying any one of the Fred Machetanz lithographic prints collection housed in the Rasmussen library. This doubles as a de facto "old master" copy exercise along with instilling hopelessness and futility that they will ever be able to draw as well as Fred.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stick 'Em Up: 1st Critique

"Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. " - Tim Notke

Handed back the graded first assignments along with some collected in-class sketches before getting everyone's critique piece stuck up on the review wall of the studio.

Also made photocopied sets of different approaches to critiquing, and went over some key terms that we will incorporate more and more as the semester progresses: formal elements of design such as shape, form, space, line, texture, movement, rhythm, harmony + compositional elements like a/symmetry, focal points, emphasis, fore/mid/background, balance + stylistic conventions, techniques, mediums, etc. ("there will be a test"). Expanding their vocabulary is a crucial aspect of this class, nomatter how much of a challenge it is to forcibly extract articulate commentary at 8am.
After examination, we talk over initial responses and reactions, premptive boundaries are set with respect and consideration (real-time comment moderation), not getting hostile or defensive during discussion etc. - etiquette seems to be as much of a dying art in today's society as the humanities in general.

Brief mention is made of the relative standards with some comparison and contrast between representative vs abstract art; in this class emphasis is placed on a more classical, traditional method of acquiring the basic tools for observation and visual problem-solving, and so the works produced here tend to reflect this outlook. Beginning drawing is the gateway prerequisite course to the rest of the department, and there are more than enough other members of the faculty who will push them in different directions assumably after getting the basics under their belts. Also the crucial distinction is made with regards to content, as in these particular works at this stage in the class are fairly rote assignments devoid of much of anything in the way of personal interpretations. Not too much controversy in a drawing of a dorm room, though I take pains to always remind them of the caveat in having artistic license with an option to interject creative elements. I appreciate the unexpected, it's nice to be surprised after viewing the upteenth interior.

"Criticism should not be querulous and wasting, all knife and root-puller, but guiding, instructive, inspiring."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
As one can see with the handful of samples posted here, there was a full spectrum of efforts on display: slackers to overachievers, careful to careless. Overall I was personally very pleased, and even the worst was salvageable enough to hold out hopes for the reworks. Some truly heroic accomplishments, especially given the steep learning curve for a few special cases - which is a legitimate factor to consider in overall grading. Can't mention it enough how much it makes my day to see a struggling student make the breakthrough and put up a piece that might not be half as well rendered as someone else's work but shows a quantum leap in evolution as far as demonstrating understanding.
After the initial establishment of expectations during review of the first assignment there was also a vast improvement in basic presentation, besides the predictable blunders and a few that I suspect just don't get it. And by that I mean simple fundamentals that trip up many freshmen, like not forgetting the homework back at home, reading the specific guidelines on the handout and following directions, accidentally ripping one's piece while tearing it from the pad, to name a few more obvious ones.

“A man draws with his brains and not with his hands.” – Michelangelo

Reiterated the importance of keeping this phase of the class in, er, perspective, as in when all is said & done this might just not be your strong point or even something that'll have to be used ever again in your artistic career. Just because one doesn't master linear perspective in a beginning drawing class doesn't necessarily doom one to having a future as an artist. In fact, some of the strongest student who consistently did excellent work remained clueless about perspective. However, in the same way the first assignment dovetailed into this critique, so in turn will future pieces incorporate everything we've covered and to some degree rely upon some basic understanding of each successive concept.

I like to defuse the tension with instruction on basic snobbery: poise is important when judging or discussing works of art, so assuming the position of aesthetic superiority is always fun. This is where the ol' Kaupelis Guide to Critically Evaluating Art comes into play, especially descriptive phrases like:
handsome, half-baked, cutesy, slumsy (great typo), facile, cliche, repellent, placid, charming etc. "It works" or "it doesn't work" only gets one so far and is just slightly more descriptive than the taboo "I like it/don't like it," which is promptly lobbed back with a "why?"
A couple pokes are made around the edges of titles and how the dynamic between image & text can influence a viewer's interpretation: labeling the examples shown here with provocative and amusing titles like "Death" or "Sex" provides good fodder.

"If Michelangelo had been straight, the Sistine Chapel would have been wallpapered." - Robin Tyler

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kick Out the Jams

This last weekend a few of us got together for another cartoon jam. There hadn't been one for quite a while (summer in Alaska tends to preempt a lot of activities) and this was a good jump-start for some upcoming cartoon related events. Plus a little show & tell of some recent acquisitions and autographed books, and caught up on shop talk. Inari Kylänen, Heidi Atkinson and myself are also all educators as well as artists so that was a bonus connection - how cool is that to hang out with teachers who cartoon.

Sometimes in the past a lot of folks that attend these, so this was a nice change of pace, a little more intimate and relaxing, more like sitting around drawing with some friends. Of course, these gigs aren't ever advertised per say, just word-of-mouth, a spam email announcement and a Facebook events page.

Getting the juices flowing sometimes takes effort: exercises like these can really torque the brain, not knowing what to draw much less how to draw it in the allotted time tends to inspire all sorts of random, spontaneous weirdness. Staring down a blank sheet of paper is like the square-wheel syndrome at forty-below, trying to smooth off the rough edges and get rolling.

The timer was abandoned early on, as we seemed to be pretty much in mutual sync, and we also each penciled stuff out first before going over them with an assortment of pens.
The goal - shown here with these posted samples (click for larger image) - was for each of us to take a blank strip of paper (a tabloid/11x17" cut lengthwise in two) folded in thirds and begins a story on the first panel. After that's completed, the strip of paper is folded over so as to hide what was just drawn, and exposes only the third/final panel before passing it over to the next person.
This second person then does a drawing on the third/last page that completes a story, and lastly the task of the third person in line is to unfold the strip, viewing both panels one and two, and attempt to construct, if possible, some sort of a narrative bridge between those two random events or depicted scenarios. The resulting non-sequiturs run the gauntlet between hilarious to disturbing, making some sort of twisted sense more often than not.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In Through the Outhouse

HANK: You're like a pioneer, Chappy.
CHAPPY: I live in a shack, I poop in an outhouse, I eat what I kill. Let the grid go down, Lord, I don't need it.
- King of the Hill ("Hillennium")

It occurs to me just how fertile a creative wellspring the lowly outhouse really is: I've referred to it on many an occasion here on the blog in light of it's inspirational capacity, and also mention it as my personal gallery where the best art becomes enshrined (second only to the refrigerator).

"The first draft of anything is shit." - Ernest Hemmingway

Not to flog the metaphor to death, there's one final, functional and practical aspect that bears repeating: long before dealing with any artsy-fartsy shit, one first has to put i the time and energy digging oneself a hole.

There's far better ways to describe the creative process, but in the end, it all comes out the same. When it's done, after investing sweat-equity, there'll be plenty of time to produce great works... monumental even.

"When all is shit - become a fly." - Josh Holman

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Matter of Perspective

Talent and all that are really for the most part just baloney. Any schoolboy with a little aptitude can perhaps draw better than I; but what he lacks in most cases is that tenacious desire to make it reality, that obstinate gnashing of teeth and saying, "Although I know it can't be done, I want to do it anyway". - M.C. Escher

Day four of the Beginning Drawing class, and a little sortie over to the Wood Center. First day was a primer on one-point linear perspective; lecture + demo + accompanying in-class exercises (department hallways & bowling alley); second day was spent split between a symphony hall and a theatre practicing multipoint perspective + primer on basic sketching techniques, along with reviewing sketchbook thumbnails of their upcoming first assignment piece; third day was the first assignment due for posting and review (also doubling as an informal warm-up to the first critique). Today's in-class exercise was to do a rough sketch on newsprint first, and with my vaunted oversight and approval, a completed drawing done with graphite on good paper.

Given the wonky and intimidating architecture of the Wood Center this can be quite an overwhelming undertaking, but the majority of the class rose to the challenge. Bottom line is creating that convincing illusion of a 3-dimensional space on a 2-dimensional sheet of paper, regardless of individual style (ie: rigid, ruled lines vs gestural, organic ones). Observing and analyzing a given scenario, stripping away all extraneous details to get at the underlying shapes and distilling them into simple geometric forms, all the while struggling to stay conscious while reclining on a couch is the goal.

   Amazing how nineteen students is a whole different ballgame than the supposed class limit of fifteen for studio courses. Not whining, as I personally know many grade-school art teachers that would absolutely kill for a student/teacher ratio like this, but the simple logistics of making the rounds and making sure everyone's respective needs are met is a juggling act. Accommodating the extreme range of diverse talents and abilities takes careful assessment and attention. Some mornings are just bad art days, an I have to allow for that in both students as well as my own personal artistic life. Nice thing about drawings as opposed to most of the other disaters in life, it's easy to just start over.

   On a related side-note, I sent off a letter + package of memorabilia to a former long-time instructor who was my adviser (for eight freaking years) while I muddled through my undergrad degree. There's a fairly-well documented psychological phenomenon common to middle-aged men where one slowly realizes with mounting horror that you've morphed into your own father: last year it dawned on me that I'd turned into my old art teacher. His enduring legacy is assured; as I had a smoke and a cup of coffee outside while my beginning students labored away inside the Wood Center mastering linear perspective - I could feel the love. Seriously though, the perspective mulled over in hindsight of how much I've done and how much I've grown as an artist since flailing around so long ago under his tutelage was a trip. I rarely stop and look over old works, as the "this is the greatest thing I've ever done" schtick wears thin, plus there aren't any laurels for me to rest upon at any rate. Still, putting together an assortment of efforts accumulated over the years to send to someone who at one time had my artistic and academic career by the proverbial short hairs was an introspective moment. At the least, I know his sense of humor is on par with my own, in that it's probably gotten better, as opposed to maturing, so he'll no doubt have a good laugh. Even at my expense, that's ok.

Afterwards, in the final fifteen minutes left of class, we held an impromptu review of the works done in class, a bit of comparison & contrast and an opportunity to point up various strengths and weaknesses to the many different approaches and styles on display within this one class. Even a week ago they wouldn't have had the gumption to tackle such an assignment from a dead run, so nomatter any relative individual shortcomings, as a group they've already begun to excell. Ramping up the inexorable march to our first critique...

Lastly, for a few students that are still somewhat behind, there's always an open-ended offer to get some one-on-one time. So I did another demo using the drawing studio as a stand-in for the interior space assignment (two walls + ceiling + floor), walking and talking them through the methodical process of breaking a basic drawing down. It's common to become confused at the interplay of abstract theory and the application of such concepts to an actual drawing, and even if I personally find it fascinating to explore, one has to keep in mind that for others it amounts to needless information and actually might undermine their efforts at understanding how to draw better what they see. Some folks respond better to this method of instruction, others do well enough being left more or less alone, and then there are those who benefit from seeing firsthand examples of how it's done. At this particular stage we're all still learning from each other.

"The rule in carving holds good as to criticism; never cut with a knife what you can cut with a spoon." - Charles Buxton

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


"There is always someone to kill the doves." - Sheila Watson
Posted up top here is a sample of a student piece with tracing paper overlay showing some suggested improvements. Usually on at least half the first assignment the objects are correct relative to each other, but the fundamental flaw is in that the items aren't correctly aligned with the surface plane of the tabletop. A common error that requires minor tweaking of the edges, often a simple dropping down of the table's back edge will do the trick. At times I send a few students home with a small sheet of plexiglass and a dry-erase marker with which to do a rough sketch while squinting with one eye of whatever they are trying to draw in front of them, then by placing the plexi down onto the sheet of paper they can more accurately gauge the correct angles.

Here's a random sampling of four other pieces that were turned in: might be surprising to hear that they all received roughly the same grade. There's always mitigating factors such as one being turned in late, another having the issues outlined above, plus being accidentally done on the corrugated back of the drawing pad instead of the actual paper. That almost beat out last semester's classic whoopsie of mistaking spray adhesive for workable fixative. Funny as hell in hindsight, not while trying to peel apart other student's pieces from it.

Another one shown is obviously well rendered, but missing the gist of the entire assignment - no linear perspective visible after being buried by luscious and extraneous value. These are the sorts of quandaries you encounter while grading: how much of a hardass to be, and when to to strictly adhere to the letter of the law. On the one hand, creative personalities suffer from the stereotype of attracting people who don't follow the rules. On the other hand, if the task of a teacher is to instill the sometimes harsh realities of the art world, there are some simple fundamentals one is expected to adhere to in order to succeed. At the very least, my goal here is to set the standard high enough to meet both basic expectations and inspire consistent improvement.

So overall, overwhelmingly underwhelming work, mostly C-minuses with a handful of opposite extremes (A's and F's). The oft-repeated mantras made their debuts on sticky-notes posted on backs of the pieces: "See me for further instructions," wishy-washy-wimpy line weights (as in "make bolder marks/more definitive" = DEFINE forms), general tightening up and improving presentation. These little annotations get reiterated in person while handing back pieces, and, in theory, set the cornerstones for better quality works throughout the remainder of the semester.

"Why should I resent it when an ass kicks me?" - Socrates

Monday, September 14, 2009


"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." - Mel Brooks
Here's a couple that probably won't pass the arbiters of taste, which doesn't necessarily mean it has to be in good taste, just not so bad. It's a nebulous gray area which I usually at some point every month get lost in, hence the prudent need for someone operating in the capacity of an editor, and incidentally is one of the reasons I stopped passing around my unedited sketchbooks to classes when I do show & tells. The last batch yielded the impending death of a small child, a moose's rack festooned with a person's remains and a poop joke. I mean, how much lower you figure one could go, right? Well, for one, sexual innuendo is a topic that's on a rather short rope:

This panel is in reference to a local custom of our newspaper to print the heroic head-counts of each hunting season with a bizarre fetish-feature called "The 60 Inch Club," which is in reference to the top end of the trophy class for mature bull moose and their antler spread. Leaving alone the use of such revealing terminology like big racks and honey-holes, there's more than enough Freudian compensation to cover just the ritual itself. Actually, the biggest fault of the cartoon would be the absolute no-no of mixing of alcohol and firearms, which perversely enough would be the tripwire or, eh, trigger for censoring , at least for a small-city family-friendly publication. Someone would complain about that, of all things.

Now this particular panel underwent some subtle changes in an attempt to come right up against the envelope and poke it just lightly enough to keep it on the side of acceptance. In the sketch version it originally went in the direction that easily could have turned graphic: blood and even the expressive pose of the hands themselves are just a bit too far over the edge. Retreating into the territory of cartoony representation affords me some leeway as far as creative license to depict violence, but still after sleeping on it I went ahead and judiciously edited it down even further (see below), plus a last-minute fix of cutting in a couple more cast shadows.
In fact, sometimes the reward in humor is in not revealing such obvious gags, dropping instead subtle hints or leaving little clues to make the viewer reach the conclusion and connect their own dots. Which will unfortunately put it out of reach of some readers, but that's the balance of choice: I'll always err on the side of not catering to the lowest common denominator in any given audience, as everyone appreciates not being treated like they're an idiot, even if it offends their sensibilities when they don't get it. After all, there's so much more to be offended by anyways, and after all, it's a joke. In the end, as always, it still comes down to what I think is funny, as twisted or stupid as that might be.
So this cartoon actually came about after being put on the spot by a friend over some coffee who works for the Alaska State Health Inspector. "Hey - you should do something about _______" is a pretty common comment I get, and all it takes is a doodle like this to preempt any further discussion. Also why I'm usually sitting off in a corner by myself, I might add.

"Everybody doesn't have to get every joke. People really appreciate not being condescended to." - Matt Groening


"Getting out of bed in the morning is an act of false confidence." - Jules Feiffer

Roll off the couch, displacing disgruntled cats and groggy dog, do a little pee-dance while prepping Mr. Coffee (about the extent of my planning for the immediate future), then shuffle out the door and up the hill to the outhouse. Transcendentalist leanings aside, this ritual ranks more of a white-trash Walden experience than just simply heeding Nature's call.
Tabula rasa: skim over some reading material (any one of various dictionaries, reference books and cartoon anthologies currently shelved in the rack), and eventually assume the vacant stare as the infinite and random associations begin to play out in my fresh, empty head. I used to have an old folk toy as a kid, a Jacob's Ladder, and my thinking process is similar to that; an initial idea is turned over and over, clunking down a string of attached concepts and then begun anew, constantly shuffled and remixed into ever-expanding and frequently less rational and unpredictable non-sequiturs.

That'd be why there's a pile of scratch-paper and Sharpies (at least until the temperature gets sub-zero, then its pencils) to annotate any doodles that are sluiced out of the mental tailings of the morning.
Daily exposure to the seasonal environments obviously informs and inspires to some degree: Camp Robbers and ravens provide an entertaining soundtrack as birch leaves cascade down around me and the sweet-rot scent of fall permeates everything. Thoughts of hunting and Halloween are prompted by a moose calf with two yearlings wandering around the cabin. Yesterday, a young bull came through with its rack tangled up in rope, dragging more than twenty feet behind it, and I was halfway towards it think about grabbing the loose end and tying it to tree so as to figure out how to cut it off, when I had a vision of the girlfriend coming home after work and finding my flattened corpse out in the yard. That or being dragged through the neighborhood, which probably wouldn't raise too many eyebrows with my reputation. See, these ideas just come to me; you sometimes just have to sit and wait for 'em.

Back inside the coffee's burping away, as hot & ready as my itchy fingers. I tip-toe over to the computer and drawing table trying not to rouse grumpy-bear from bed this early on a weekend morning. When that's a moot point everybody in the neighborhood is woken up with Wagner and the creative juices really start to flow. I love whipping up and riding the vortex: simultaneously reading a little here & there, jotting down notes, some sketching, penciling, inking, scanning, finishing, uploading, posting, writing, emailing: the evolving dance of art for me is more like being at a multiday-long music festival; punctuated equilibrium in action, never know quite what will happen or how, hey, just go with it man. And no, for those of our viewers keeping score at home; nope, no projection at all here, it's a metaphor: nomatter how many folks assume otherwise, it's never a good idea to draw the girlfriend in a cartoon. Especially as a walrus.

So posted here for edification today are some raw scans of doodles, and some slightly more refined preliminary sketches before reworking and editing into a final piece for publishing. Some undergo major compositional changes, others are pretty much as they sprang out of consciousness onto the page. Note the original sketch was to include the whole skeleton of another bull moose, then that got edited to just a skull, which then in turn morphed into a human skeleton instead (requiring breaking out the old anatomy books for reference), revealing something psychological I'm sure. Some will never see print or the light of day (save here - see next post); some are funnier than others, a couple are obtuse to the point of obscurity, but it's all good. Timing is a factor as well: the outhouse gag is actually from last year, but I missed the seasonal window of opportunity within which to have it be relevant (some cartoons need as much help as possible), and the Halloween one is a fine example of me for once having my shit together far enough in advance of a holiday to be ready for it.

Those couple took a bit more time + attention than usual; taking it as far as I can go or at the least pushing the envelope as far as my artistic comfort zone with the drawing end can be frustrating. Keeping in mind the mantra "a good joke will sell a bad drawing" I'm aware that this isn't creative compensation in trying to shore up a dumb joke - they all are, so that's never an issue - I'll instead try and see if the scenario I envision can actually be executed. Or at least have it make sense to someone other than me, which more often than not is the rub. After an hour or so of struggling to ink in a fairly detailed composition (for a simple cartoon) one begins to fight the nagging question of what's the point, and worse, only to have it fail right before your eyes after not pulling off whatever scenario you hoped for. Maybe it can be successfully resurrected using digital means, which'll take another hour invested in what still might eventually turn out to be hopeless and futile, but hey, this isn't necessarily a deliberate, outcome-oriented process anyways. And this medium isn't exactly one known for painstaking attention to details, so there is a definite point of diminishing returns where one mentally throws up the hands and says it's good enough, time to move on. I mean, one of the enduring bits of advice I've heard: don't sweat the petty stuff.

"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." - Carl Sagan