Sunday, November 18, 2018

"Chaga Beaver"

As a sort of update to a post made over seven years ago, I grabbed a bottle of Sennelier India ink for this panel, and fell back in love with its luxurious line all over again. Even on the fairly recent inclusion of Stathmore Mixed Media paper (combining the best of both Bristol for the pen + ink and watercolor paper for the wash) instead of the usual (smooth) Bristol Board it skimmed across the surface and held a wonderful, richly organic line with a dip-pen. It was in-between Winsor & Newton (slow) and Dr. Ph. Martin's (quick) as far as drying speed. Here's a bonus shot of the watercolored original after scanning the pen + ink piece (see here for more on that process).

I also noticed after the fact that the beaver has the same exact expression as a stoned moose I drew for another feature for a new magazine about the Alaskan marijuana industry (more about "Baked Alaska" in a an upcoming post). What can I say, rendering all the different ways animals can look under the influence of drugs is not yet in my expanded repertoire.

On a more serious note, this fungus is now the latest "superfood" that promises to cure everything under the sun, not unlike traditional snake-oil sales which spread like, well, a fungus across the internet. See the Sagan standard.

One of the more interesting Alaskan applications of the purported powers of chaga is a spirited libation I recently sampled at a local watering hole: Denali Brewing Co’s Chaga Stout. Except, when paying $7.50 for a pint of microbrew - maybe step up the glassware?

It’s like a MAGA cap on a hippie

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Comics Conundrum

I was invited (hat-tip to Cody!) to sit in on a recent panel at PopCon #8 for the topic of "Comicsgate." While this toxic movement that is spreading throughout the comics industry hasn't touched me directly, the root cause of it has most definitely influenced my students, and thus indirectly affecting everybody. And so the experience which I brought to the discussion was being on both sides of the table as a creator for thirty years and as an educator (plus former editor) who has taught hundreds of students. Probably also critiquing thousands of comic pages over the years afforded me a unique perspective on the issue(s). There is also the fact that I am by default the benefactor of occupying a privileged position, which the awareness of still continues to trip me up.
“Why can’t comics be like they used to and just present worlds where superheroes and villains, who were clearly avatars for the values of capitalism, communism, or fascism, battle each other in narratives that explicitly mirrored the complex geopolitical dynamics of the Cold War?” - The Onion
I shared about the one thing that really has stuck with me was a moment during a cartooning class for this past summers Visual Art Academy. After lecturing about the growing diversity within the field, I turned to the funny pages in our own local paper as a segue into strips and syndication. I realized then how much undeniable evidence there still was of a systemic (not the individual editor) and pervasive bias in the industry - indeed the arts in general - specifically with regards to representation.
“Unless comics creators adopt a zero tolerance approach to racism and misogyny, this abuse of power by ‘fans’ will never end” - The Guardian
Case in point is the ratio of both female and minority creators whose work runs in the newspaper, and how poorly this reflects the general makeup of the population. If you ever wonder why the industry is withering on the vine (sales tactics aside), you need look no further than how irrelevant and out of touch comics are when there is little to none when it comes to content that connects with anybody aside from the stereotypical demographics of geekdom. And indeed what we are seeing is the last, desperate gasps of a dying, insular subculture that is reacting to the threat of inexorable change - much like other arenas in political theatre.
“It’s them seeing types of people they don’t like being successful, seeing superhero comics catering to other demographics and types of readers that aren’t them, and they’re throwing a tantrum,” Campbell said. “We just need to stick together and keep doing comics.”
The awkward insight after lecturing a class on how slowly the industry is evolving when even Hollywood has caught on with the recent success of superhero movies inspired me to drop in the periodicals section of the library right before the panel and double-check some relevant details. I looked at a current issue from each of the three largest newspapers in Alaska to gauge the ratio of syndicated work by women and minority creators.

The Juneau Empire had 17 strips in the comics section of its daily edition: of these none were by a minority, and half of one by a woman (the legacy zombie strip "Shoe" written by Susie MacNelly)

The Anchorage Daily News boasted a total of 31 strips in the comics section of its daily edition, but also had none by a minority creator, and only one by a woman ("For Better or For Worse" by Lynn Johnston - in reruns for the past decade)

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, with 20 strips, not only had two and a half strips by women creators ("The Pajama Diaries" by Terri Libenson, "Arctic Circle" by Alex Hallatt, and "Shoe") but one, "Macanudo," by Latin-American Liniers.

This is embarrassing and indefensible to try and justify - especially awkward before a classroom that is largely comprised of young women. Can you imagine how artistically impoverished we would be if there were no women writers, musicians, actors etc? How sad to ignore half of the population, to say nothing about the (potentially) growing readership of a non-white audience.

And here's the rub: what is especially glaring is the gender ratio of students in my comics classes as compared to the prevalence in publication. Overall my roster has been approximately two-thirds to three-quarters female, but on the shelves of the comics section it's almost flipped. Reminds me of another observation from the years spent in the food-service industry: male waiters are rare in diners but begin to show up as soon as there is serious money to be made in fine dining establishments. The same could be said when it comes to grade-school teachers.

Now there's a little table I have off to the side in the classroom for showcasing the published efforts of alumni, and it boasts a much better 50/50 split. So change, like any evolution is slow, but inexorable and inevitable. Like an oil tanker trying to about-face, there are grudging signs of growth + acknowledgement from the industry... which is good because time's up for the old guard in the comics.

When writing this post I searched the blog for the term "gender ratio" and discovered that I had essentially already paraphrased this entire argument a few years earlier. On one hand it's yet another example of my repeating myself to the point this blog is now an echo chamber + skipping record, and will soon enough be retired, but then again, this sort of stuff -unfortunately enough - bears repeating.
“What you’re each promoting individually is not some divine creative dispensation; it’s just you being an asshole.”- Bill Sienkiewicz 
Also while researching this topic I came across a great post from last year by big-name DC writer Mark Waid, who stepped up and publicly spoke out against the growing problem of harassment. His solution is essentially this:
1) Show Support: call out and reject bigotry, misogyny and racism
2) Champion positivity not hate… talk about what you love

My own solutions dovetail with this in that education is crucial, that said, there’s a time for teaching (ie "teachable moments" in the classroom) and a time for Title IX. Like defending free speech versus the whole punching nazis debate, it’s on a continuum, and everybody has their own personal comfort level when it comes to dealing with conflict. Also the bridging power of humor is a potent tool – it’s getting harder in this current climate of conflict and division, but it’s still a way to connect.

Lastly, speak up. Do something. Say something. I was uncomfortable as another white, middle-age, middle-class, heterosexual male offering up yet another vaunted opinion, but there's a time + place to listen and learn, and a time + place to step up.

(from: Action Comics No. 1, 1938)

On that note, can't think of a better closing than this handout I passed around the room during our discussion so as to literally illustrate the conundrum in contemporary comics. Rather hard to argue against the Social Justice Warrior origins of the American superhero as drawn and written by Joe Shuster & Jerry Siegel. But today we also have the insight + awareness of answering violence with violence. It might mean instant gratification and be cathartic (or, as in the industry, marketed as entertaining) but as far as effecting long-term and societal-wide change, it isn't the only, or even best way. Also, reinforcing the idea that women are weak and defenseless is about as outdated as the stereotype of a superhero.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"Frontier ATMs"

Got the original idea for this while walking with a group of students on a field trip through Alaskaland Pioneer Park. There is an actual ATM right besides one of the historical log cabins, and I made an offhand comment about it, and a student added something about depositing a pelt (he wound up getting the original pencil doodle which I made while they were off sketching stuff).

On a behind-the-scenes note, I deliberately left off any of the usual textural details after inking up the panel, which - like this other classic - just screamed for massive hatching, cross-hatching, scumbling and stippling. Instead I went for more of a softer, cartoony feel by using gradients alone. I'll probably use the original line drawing as a future demo on how to apply texture with pen + ink.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

It's a Wash (Redux)

Previously on Ink & Snow I've covered the evolving application of water-soluble pencils/watercolor wash onto pen + ink originals, and touched on the process and technique. I'm still at it... the materials (via Dick Blick) are expanding if not the ability: recently treated myself to a deluxe set of Derwent "Inktense" water-soluble pencils, and replaced a set of Derwent "Graphitint" ones that went MIA last year (presumably walked of with a student). The painstaking process of creating new palettes is extremely useful as one can immediately see the contrasting aesthetics between the two lines. I use the color keys as a useful template by sticking them both under the sheet of plexiglass that covers the drafting table.

And posted below is the seldom-used set of "Aquatone" pencils which are a solid stick of medium, as opposed to the usual sheath of wood with most pencils, and it results in a particularly fragile tool, as evidenced by the continually breakage. This is no doubt due to a large degree with my heavy-handed approach, which also influences my choices of dip-pen to the more heavier gauge nibs.

Here's a sample of my brutal hack approach as used on a previously posted panel "Sheeple." After scanning the original pen + ink piece for digital shading and/or coloring, it gets the ol' artsy-fartsy treatment so as to be presentable for sale when I peddle my wares at the next gig. Like, for example, the upcoming annual retrospective (see 2016, 2017 and 2018).

I'll frequently go on a coloring binge and spend a few successive days moving into production overdrive: the drawing table gets leveled so as to facilitate mugs of water (I usually hold the bottle if India ink in my opposite hand when inking), and at least a dozen panels will be in various stages of completion scattered about the studio.

Oh and by the way, it finally dawned on me after all these years exactly how truly bad "Artist's Loft" brand materials are. This is the generic-level quality label that Michael's craft stores use, and I can't NOT recommend their stuff enough. In fact, I can't think of a better way to effectively crush the budding hopes and dreams of any aspiring talent than to expect them to create anything of quality using these materials. Speaking specifically here on two main items: their pencils (crappy lead that always breaks sheathed in some sort of fake wood product) and their exceptionally weak watercolor wash pencils (which you will destroy the paper well before you are able to elicit anything stronger than a bad stain from these supposedly soluble colors). This was demonstrated with brutal effectiveness in front of a few intermediate students during a class session where we had the opportunity to test-run a few different brands in a comparison/contrast. Fail.

Also, speaking of coloring comics, I had recently become aware of someone's admirable, if not amateur efforts at colorizing my work as it appeared in the newspaper. Despite recalling the many years I spent ranting about ripping off artists - not to mention the semesterly lectures to art students about intellectual property rights and the concept of copyright - I for once didn't go scorched-earth but patiently explained that, ahh, no, this ain't okay. I mean, it was actually rather touching to see someone invest so much time + effort on their side-project, and definitely they will get the first signed edition of my new coloring book whenever that comes out. Still, that's a real big no-no, especially when posted on a social media site, which, after a couple warnings, removed the work. There's a school of thought that it's better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission, but that doesn't hold up legally.

Sunday, November 4, 2018


Ha - true story: I confess that I neither hunt nor fish, which is an indelible part of the culture of Alaska, both in terms of marketing image and simple subsistence survival for many residents. So even on the periphery you absorb so much terminology just through social osmosis. But if it wasn't for this blog sometimes, I wouldn't catch a handful of simple errors before the cartoon goes to print. This particular panel is a good example, as the appropriate, key term for fishing is "stamp," not "tag" - which is in specific reference to hunting. So while prepping this post for its future appearance on Ink & Snow, I thought it'd be prudent to hyperlink the regulation in question, and in doing so, noticed my error. A quick edit in Photoshop + pilfer of another panel for the required letters "m" and "p" was enough to correct the embarrassing oversight. Now I can resume my worrying over whether or not folks get the mythological reference instead of mixing it up with the other underwater denizen of the deep currently dominating the public's consciousness.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Vote YES on ONE!

In just a few days there will be (among many others) an incredibly important issue on the ballot for Alaskan voters: the Stand For Salmon initiative.

This is not to be confused with a similarly labeled counter-movement, the so-called "Stand for Alaska" (who were accordingly fined for the deliberate deception): one quick check on that group's motives and ethics is to see what campaign signs for which political candidates are also clustered nearby.

In other words, they can be literally known by the company they keep. In this instance, the companies are out-of-state, corporate extractive industries who really couldn't care less about the environment, except when it comes to cosmetic PR.

Once the technicalities & territorial pissings were worked out (ie the state throwing up as many roadblocks - or in this case, dams - as possible to handicap the process) the fight was on to enact and strengthen protections for this critical foundation of our Alaskan way of life.

Thank you Ray Troll

Note that they've pretty much fucked it all up already in the Lower 48, and this state is in many comparative ways the literal Last Frontier for industry to plunder. In conjunction with the destructive policies of the current administration - this is where we must hold the line.

There are more than enough warning signs out there for folks to take this very, very seriously - all it takes is connecting the damn dots: from the red tide in Florida (which, exactly like Stand for Salmon, is being spun as “onerous regulation” by an “overbearing federal government”) to the worsening dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Then there's the unprecedented marine mammal die-offs in New England, to catastrophic collapses in Alaska - we are well past the canary in the coal mine stage.

Citizen awareness + engagement is spreading, local nonprofits like PebbleWatch, United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Cook Inletkeeper, plus the NRDC and many other national organizations are all coalescing around this crucial campaign.

Get the facts: The Alaska Center commissioned an awesome piece with artwork by cartoonist + illustrator Lee Post - check it out here.

Follow the official Stand For Salmon Facebook page for more information. And most of all, please remember to vote on Tuesday.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Outhouse Hatchmarks"

Stumbled around the verbage for this one quite some time, even putting it away for a couple weeks, and then returning to it well after it was finished to edit the caption some more.

You can see the wrangling above in the initial doodle, and again below, with the series of updated variations. Having a clear idea of what you want to say has a foot in both the image and the text, and you won't have a successful transmission of idea if either is compromised or incompetent.

And for the record, inspiration strikes anywhere at any time, just like, oh, say... a mosquito in the outhouse Or in this instance, the satellite studio, where I generate my best shit.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"Polar Bear Stickers"

Perhaps a bit too much of a hyper-local target audience for this one, but on the other hand, that's a peculiar + particular point of pride in my panels - the ability to occasionally cater to the local audience is one of the hallmarks of regional-specific humor that is the first to go when relative fame begins to water down what makes anything special. Catering to the lowest common denominator effectively neuters the initial appeal of a feature that has any sense of place.

Which here, specifically, is the absolutely delightful experience of parking on UAF campus. As an adunct, part-time, I pay half the annual cost, which is around $130 for anywhere on campus - excepting the exclusive "Gold Lots" is anywhere close to a building. Quite the racket - but those tickets aren't cheap to write.

I had originally planned on just using a snapshot of my own Subaru which is sporting a number of theses stickers. But at the last minute I just so happened to run across a fellow artist (hat-tip Alyssa Enriquez) on campus with an even more impressive array. Collect 'em all!

Saturday, October 20, 2018


Marking my triumphant return to the Opinion page after a two-year absence (following the notoriety of this classic), here's an equal-opportunity offender sure to irritate everyone regardless of their political tribe. The situation is once again a depressingly familiar three-way race virtually guaranteed to split the vote and ensure a Republican win (exactly what happened back when I was in Maine with the reelection of LePage).

Required reading on this entire fiasco is The Mudflats post on "The Moderate's Dillema" (plus add to this list the endorsement of Planned Parenthood). Also required would be some spine on the part of Alaska Democrats to actually back the candidates from their own party (see Scott McAdams versus Joe Miller).
*Update: My personal guess is that, when confronted with the inescapable logic of this cartoon when it hit the newsstands, both camps came to their senses and settled the matter. This was a game-changer.

Now this November we here in Alaska have an opportunity not only to elect an actual Democrat as governor, but to also replace our seemingly eternal embarrassment of a congressman, Trumpian sycophant and noted ammosexual (also previously covered here, here, here, here, here and here) with someone much, much better.

Finally we also can at last unseat Pete Kelly - immortalized in these posts here and here - by electing Scott Kawasaki. Who, evidently, is not exactly someone that has possesses a prudent sense of where to spend their money (or Alaska's) wisely:

Oh, and here's all you really need to know about Dunleavy.
Vote... I'll have one final post about another extremely important issue right before election day.

Friday, October 19, 2018

RESIST: Zinke Edition (Updated Repost)

Original post from April (and originally appearing February 2018 in the final issue of The Ester Republic) this probably seals my fate as a forever former interpretive ranger. Can't say I wasn't warned, what with the vindictive vengeance of this openly corrupt administration. It's especially poignant what with the current politicization (and privitization) of previously apolitical positions in public service, particularly our public lands

On a technical note, render animals extending their middle fingers can be a challenge, especially when such ungulates & passeriformes lack the requisite digits to begin with. But this is why we draw to begin with. And nevertheless, they still get the point across…

Mighty appreciative of my editor for the placeholder: she emailed my plea for an extension on the deadline with this: “No way will I go to press without that cartoon!”


Also this particular panel incidentally illustrates the artistic trinity of exposure: in print + on web + on the wall (bonus in appearing in both the infamous annual retrospective and scoring an honorable mention at the Fairbanks Arts Association's annual juried exhibition (appropriately enough themed "Whimsy").

Add to all of that the sale of the original watercolored piece and you have a good run. Now all that's left is to personally deliver a signed copy to his office in the downtown Federal Building (suitable for framing).

Now as a break from the usual accompanying rant, I'm foregoing any annotated breakdown of citations in favor of simply reposting excerpts + direct links. To be honest, it's just basic goddamned outrage fatigue at this point: not being lazy - just can't keep up with the inexorable deluge of daily aberrations that make up this burgeoning backstory. It's only a partial snapshot of the spread of this systemic rot: virtually every agency head installed by the current administration has compromised the integrity of the United States by demonstrated astonishing degrees of hypocritical corruption, incompetence and/or a vested interest in undermining the very same agendas their departments are tasked with upholding and entrusted with defending in the public interest. Notwithstanding efforts at resistance, familiar examples are Education (DeVos), the FCC (Pai), the USDA (Clovis), Labor (Acosta), Justice (Sessions), Housing (Patton), Urban Development (Carson), and many, many more at every level of “governance” and “leadership.” And don’t even get me started on the E.P.A. (Pruitt).

So without any further ado, here's a running master list... so far...

(after the jump)