Sunday, July 15, 2018

"The Shamen"

Saw this hipster sporting their tribal insignia for fetishsized paganism. Ha - what a stupid joke. Er...

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fairbanks Sketchers: Calypso Farm + Ecology Center

It had been an entire year since I made one of these outings... and rumor has it that there will only be one more scheduled meetup before this experiment shuts down (check their official Facebook page for schedule of final events).

This largely on account on there not being a consistent turnout, which in my experience trying to host similar opportunities for artists (a figure drawing group) is a frustrating exercise in futility. But it was fun while it lasted (see archives here), and all due credit to Elizabeth Eero Irving for herding cats.

This past weekend's gig was at Calypso Farm + Ecology Center, right in my backyard in Ester. I gravitated to the smithy and the wood-fired bread oven for a couple quick sketches using Sharpies, ballpoint pen + wash.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Sourdough Hugs"

Yet another in the ever-increasing volume of bearded Nuggets (see "The Beard Trapper" here, and also also "Threat Display" here). Not so much based on a true story per say as just another observation of some truly impressive growths merging between some of my more hirsute acquaintances in the, uh, Bush.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Irony + Joy

Still to this day I am constantly humbled and amazed at the simple twists of fate that have brought me here today. That a drop-out who failed art classes on no small account of just wanting to draw nothing but cartoons can now fast-forward many years later to see this rank & title bestowed upon him continues to make me smile.

But that same perspective gives me pause: not entirely sure how to feel about hearing an anthem to my upbringing piped over the muzak system at the local supermarket.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

"Arctic Icarus"

This panel corners the market as far as baleen-related gags go I guess. Which is approximately the same number of folks familiar with Greek mythology. The amount of the former I can hazard a guess as to, since it was a common question I frequently fielded from visitors to the exhibit halls at FAPLIC/ the Morris Thompson Center ("what is that?). The latter category might be a bit more prevalent in the average base what with a recent documentary film titled the same (my popular culture trivia knowledge only extends to it being the name of the ship in "Sunshine").

If we burn our wings 
Flying too close to the sun 
If the moment of glory 
Is over before it’s begun 
If the dream is won
Though everything is lost 
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost
- Rush "Bravado"

Being personally raised on mythology (and fairy tales) and learning Latin gave me early and easy access to all sorts of random minutiae. That paradoxically increases one's knowledge of the world and insights as to the web of cultural connective tissue underneath everything, yet also effectively pushes you farther away from it at the same time. In other words, the more you know, the less anyone knows what the hell you are talking about, or in this case, laughing over. But one theory is that's the perspective that is crucial to any number of objective studies like sociology, anthropology etc. Helps with cartooning too.

Now as to the Venn diagram showing the overlap between those two relatively obscure points of reference (baleen + Greek mythology), it would presumably be a rather smallish sample of the general population. These are my people. PS: A hat-tip to Mr. Tom Foote for best quipped comment: "flying too close to the pun."

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"The Narwhal's Tusk"

What with all the recent hoopla about documented narwhal behavior that might just solve the mystery, it got me thinking about the real reason why. Also included a bonus hat-tipping homage to the immortal Don Martin for those in the know...

(hat-tip Hanna Rafferty!)

On a related, ah, note, earlier in the season a coworker shared with me some pictures from a visit to the Musk Ox Farm down in Palmer: there were interpretive sign displays that illustrated various postures by the animals and accompanying descriptions of the behavior. This romping baby was for me the best picture of the whole freakin' YEAR.

As seen in the excerpted panels in the pencil + ink stages, the initial blowhole was too much like a "dook" face expression (as it's called by another cartoonist acquaintance of mine), so it got deleted in the digital phase (excepting the last panel which made much more sense after changing the orientation of the whale). Also shifted the position of the eyeball so as to help place the head better.

The Significant Otter weighed in about how there needed to be actual notes too, as opposed to the mystical warbling that I thought was what narwhal singing would look like it sounds.

"They like you very much, but they are not the hell "your" whales."

So I went with big ol' cartoony style notes (cribbed from the Valkyrie Salmon) at first,, until adding more formal (real) notes instead. That turned into a second homage for those who are up on their obscure trivia.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Opera Fairbanks: Run of the Valkyries 2018

Time once again for the annual Opera Fairbanks "Run of the Valkyries" poster + tshirt design (see 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014). This made for my eleventh year, and just when I thought the well of inspiration had run dry, along came a great new concept and direction. Even if it continues to spiral out into complete obscurity and utter weirdness (not unlike a few cartoons).

Creative juices flow at The Golden Eagle Saloon

The winning angle presented itself as a tie-in with the Opera Fairbanks performance of the Pagliacci opera which runs a few weeks after the race. So the bar was set (literally in the image above): meld a Valkyrie with a clown. Challenge accepted!

The mental tone was set with Rorschach's joke from Alan Moore's "Watchmen," and from there astute observers will catch reference to the Baseball Furies, the standout gang from The Warriors, which lost out to Violent Jay's makeup - hence "Insane Clown Pagliacci."

A couple more rounds of preliminary sketches quickly followed, the second one done on-site at a cafe while waiting to present the concept to the members of the board. With an enthusiastic thumbs-up it was back to the drawing board.

I used a lot of historical reference pictures of classical clowns, especially Caruso. The Valkyrie elements - helmet, wings, spear (in retrospect I need to make this more ornate) and breastplates - note the dropping of the chain mail from the early sketches, as it was just too much and besides the clown suit was better. All in all this year's design was one of the more fun undertakings in many years.

Update: Here's a couple snapshots of the schwag I saw around town - the official race tshirt (great job as always by Trademark Screenprinting) and a flier with all the sponsors and other info.

Hat-Tip Melanie!

Sunday, June 17, 2018


Been a few years since we lost ol' Bird-Dog, and there's been many, many more family, friends and folks who have had to say goodbye to their critters and companions since then. I get more emotional mileage out of the Rainbow Bridge cartoon than ever it seems. A while ago someone asked me how I deal with it, and one of the qualifiers was that you never really do - as evidenced by a random memory from way outta left field that just comes up and pokes you in the heart. Like not having a certain somebody around anymore to take care of clean-up after a meal. Hey, it was like having an organic dishwasher in the cabin.

Viewers might notice the series of suspicious vertical streaks across the sketch posted above: either somebody was trying to climb up onto the drawing board (the angle of which usually preempts such activity) or it's an editorial comment about dogs.
Hmm... now I wonder who that could have been?

"Oh hai there... whaca dooin'?"

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Visual Art Academy 2018: Recap


This marked the fifth year I was invited to teach cartooning at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Visual Art Academy. I opted for only part-time, so just two classes starting at 8:30am of 6-12th graders: eight in one class and sixteen in the other. Not only is it an invaluable, lifelong lesson in the camaraderie of comics creators, but we are bonded by the common drive to spend what little of the short season in beautiful summer days is afforded to us in the Interior of Alaska indoors drawing. I think I'm also the only instructor that assigns them homework: best quote of the year "Hey... this is just like school."

'Toon tools of the trade

Once again it took the tone of a boot camp with full-on immersion in techniques and generating material for character design, single-panel gags, comic strips, one-pagers, collaborative pages + comics and their own minimum 3-page piece published in the class comic book.
Check out other backposts from the archive: a couple from 2013 here and here, 2014, 2015, and 2016 for more recaps + samples of student work.

After the students arm themselves with pencils, erasers, ballpoint pens and various thicknesses of Sharpies, we start in on warm-ups to get the creative juices flowing. In this timed exercise we have six panels on a letter-sized sheet of paper, and ink up a character first in five minutes, then two, then one, then thirty seconds, fifteen seconds and lastly five seconds.  Somewhere along this continuum we discover the balance between lavishing detail on a drawing versus the logistics of having to redraw a character hundreds if not thousands of times under the pressure of deadlines.

Another timed exercise that also incorporates teamwork is the venerable "Think Before You Ink" drill. Still amazed after all these years how someone can knock out a rendering of fairly complex scenarios in sixty seconds.

There's also one that I really like to use along with gag charts to help come up with ideas where everybody has ten seconds to react to prompts and write captions (ex: write something you overheard this morning"), then sixty seconds to illustrate another series from another list of different prompts (ex: "draw something you saw in a dream"), and then rearrange the cards to see what kind of random juxtapositions can trigger inspiration.

Interspersed with all the daily exercises I like to drop the occasional jam, either captions for a single-panel gag, or strips, or even the exquisite corpse. These jams are such a great way to unblock and free up the flow of ideas.

They are also really fun to do with friends and can be a way to foment some funny feelings, and serve as a reminder that inspiration is all around us and ideas can be gotten from absolutely anything.

Eventually we all graduate to drawing finished panels on Bristol board, a minimum of two from everybody. By this point there's a huge repository (or mulch-pile) of material from which to literally draw from. It's accumulated on the walls of the classroom, out in the hallway showcases and in their storage drawers and sketchbooks.

Personally I'm continually astonished at what happens when they are left alone to come up with whatever they want to do. All it takes sometimes is a little push, and then providing the time + place to run with their own imagination.

One-pagers are next, and as a sort of prompt we do a round of a "Start to Finish" exercise to grease the proverbial skids. Students are given two random images and are tasked with creating a four-panel page that starts with one and ends with the other. This can be a challenge when it's, say, clowns and astronauts, planets in outer space and asylum residents, or dinosaurs and hamburgers.
I think of these one-pagers in terms of two-tiered Sunday funnies as a way to transition from strips into longer narratives.

Here's a set of sample swatches excerpted from the next phase in cartoon boot camp: the collaborative page. But instead of the normal three-day long exercise, it's compressed into a single session: student #1 has fifteen minutes to write up a simple script (3-5 panels) for a one-page piece; student #2 then pencils the page (11x17") in thirty minutes; #3 inks it p in half an hour; #4 has the same amount of time to add value (graphite or wash). It's intense and rewarding!

The next day we all worked up a class comic book: everybody assembled in front of the huge blackboard and collectively brainstormed what quickly evolved into a fantastically convoluted tale. It gave us a chance to explore basic plot structures and simple story arcs, before knuckling down and cranking out another one-page piece in about an hour.

There were as many pages to the comic as there were students in the class (ten for the first, and twelve for the second) plus a cover, one of which was penciled by special guest artist (and incidentally the dean of the college) Todd Sherman, and inked/lettered by me, the other by a couple of the advanced students who took time out from working on their own independent projects.

This was a new exercise for me, inspired by the visiting artist Maria Franz who turned me onto this delightful group exercise. It's collaborative in that the first and last panels of each student's page has to dovetail with both the preceding and the following student's pages, so there is a lot of interaction and plotting. And even though one primary student is responsible for character designs of each character (and setting) that appears, other students follow their lead but put their own stylistic spin on everything, so there are some great takes on the material as the pages unfold and evolve throughout the process.

Gradually the output from the cartooning classes metastasized throughout the department, occupying about a third of the hallway display cases. This wasn't just to humblebrag showcase the tremendous amount of work we accomplished in just a couple short weeks (not to mention in only one-hour forty-minute sessions per day), but to provide the buffet of ideas from which to literally draw from. No excuses ("I don't know what to draw" etc.) as there were any number of possibilities - a whole freakin' wall in fact - to pick up on and re-purpose into their own stories.


Ostensibly the grande summation of the entire experience is encapsulated with the end product: the official comic book containing everybody's final pages (1-3 pages). I like to think that it's also the overall immersion and exposure to so many varied approaches to creating comics. I almost hope that they are left somehow unsatisfied and yet maintain enough momentum to keep on making more and more. Works for me.

This year I had a couple bonus "advanced" (one repeat attender and another taking both sessions of cartooning for half the day) students who I tasked with creating their own minimum 4-page comic. They, along with a few other folks hidden away among the class, really really surprised me with the quality of their work - there's always some serious surprises in store for me when I discover the depth of talent and passion just waiting to uncap.

Everybody also got a photocopied set of the collaborative pages and also the group comic, so together with all the leftovers from innumerable in-class exercises, there was quite the haul. Of course this was all a cartoon carrot at the end of the proverbial stick: they only got the goodies after completing one final project on the very last day... a minicomic that was copied + traded with everyone. That and taking down all the artwork festooning the department!

The opening was amazing: great turnout of folks plus a chance to meet with friends + family of the students, and watch them proudly show off all the work that they've done. But for me personally the very best moment was in catching a cartoonist who just couldn't resist making one. more. little. touch-up on their piece...

... this is what it's all about

Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Neener Neener"

The tallest peak in North America got lots of attention last year in the media when it was rightfully renamed, a re-reversal of which is presumably on the list of spiteful items meant for petty vengeance and one upmanship by the current occupant of the White House.

What many folks don't know is that Denali also got cut down in size a few years before that, losing eighty-three feet in the process of re-calibration:
"The new information, obtained using special radar technology able to penetrate ice and snow, found Denali’s high point to be 20,237 feet, as compared to the 20,320 foot height estimate obtained in 1952 using photogrammetry." - TIME

While in theory size isn't everything, there is some territorial pissing that occurs in the rarefied air of professional climbing, and notwithstanding egotistical king-of-the-mountainship, bragging rights possess about the same maturity of childlike invectives.

Not that I personally would ever stoop to such frivolity...