Sunday, April 14, 2019


I would share with you the bitter memory of traumatic incident which I still carry the emotional scars from to this day, for which I shall never forgive the people who I once thought of as my friends. I'm speaking of a day back in the Eighties when my co-workers at the restaurant where I was working as a waiter snuck a snail into my baked potato. And yes, much to their amusement, I was indeed far too drunk to notice under the blanket of sour cream, chives and butter was buried one of the more disgusting items from our menu. 

On a more serious note, this panel wound up being edited so as to avoid any unintended interpretations - it's a valid point to not stereotype with the lameass igloo thing. So in a bid to push the whole package even further out into the realm of the absurd, might as well swap out some anthropomorphized animals as handy little stand in instead. And this perfectly illustrates the point I make every so often to an aspiring talent who wants to cross the line and use people as props: ask yourself is there some other way you can maybe do a workaround - and maybe then there will be an opportunity you to discover a better, more creative (or at least weirder) solution. So it's not necessarily a dodge, sometimes we just needed a push to get past the lazy shortcuts that also quite often serve as a valuable tool for a cartoonist.

It also remains to be seen if the swear word will make it past the editor: since it doesn't refer to the specific place it's supposed to be a no-no. But then again, cartoonists are the greasing the skids in our societal race to the bottom, eroding away the standards of decency. At least in my case the psychological roots can be easily traced back to a couple of coworker assholes at a bar in Alaska.
Yay - let's here it for cartoonists doing their part in paving the highway to, uh, Hell.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

"AK Paddleboard"

It's all downhill from here...
There's actually increasing numbers of these floating about. Personally I have more than enough trouble feeling comfortable on my ass in a canoe, so the idea of standing up doesn't sit well with me.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

"Cheeseburgers & Chickadees"

This winter - more so than any other I can recall - has seen a veritable non-stop flash mob of chickadees around the feeder. At least once a week I'm reloading the supply... even quicker when the ratio is mostly sunflower seeds. Pretty much once a day me + the kitties take up position bu the big window in the cabin and watch for a while with binoculars. Me, that is, since their little paws can't grip them very easily.

Their unerring capacity to stash food throughout the surrounding woods means a steady stream of traffic to and fro the feeder: even though recent science tells us that they are exceptionally intelligent, I've almost been nailed in the head more than a few times as they do their little dive-bombing runs back & forth. Sometimes when I look up at the mob scene up in the canopy of bare-limbed birch trees, it's a scene straight outta Hitchcock, excepting they're so dang cute.

Also some Boreals have been recently ID'd, and every so often the local Downy makes an appearance. Notably absent are the hordes of Redpolls that usually pillage their way across the neighborhood. Nobody ever seems to get excited about the suet cakes I put out - maybe I'm just unlucky with routinely getting stale or bad batches from the feed store.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

"Good Cabinkeeping"

Got the inspiration for this particular panel while sitting around a waiting room, and looking over the morgue of magazines. Definitely channeling a George Booth vibe here what with a snapshot of a sourdough couple enjoying a shared moment of domestic tranquility amidst the accumulated detritus of typical cabin dwellers (flotsam and/or jetsam?). These two characters show up every so often as a frontier version of Pickles... absolutely no relation whatsoever to anybody, no sir. Nope.

This was one of the demo pieces I had going on in the background as a sort of continually unfolding work-in-progress. In other words, it served as a case in point that there will be stretches of time when one just simply cannot spare enough time to complete something on one sitting. It will require the frustrating and scatterbrained approach of snatching ten minutes today, again tomorrow and/or in a few days while sandwiched inbetween innumerable other tasks.

I like to think of it more like scattering seeds across the mental landscape, returning every so often to prune, water + weed. In this way I have panels in varying stages of completion at home, at the office, classroom, car and shuffled into numerous sketchbooks.So even in the penciling phase it took several sessions of sneaking in ever more details, and the subsequent inking was also accomplished after four, maybe five different pit-stops to work up an area here + there.

Here's screen-grabs of just the first few initial passes of shading in Photoshop after scanning the pen + ink piece. Ostensibly to save time, I tried a different approach that may actually in retrospect circumvented the burnout stage, as after a few sessions of attempts at finishing the panel were aborted when all I did was stare at it while mentally repeating to myself "damn that's a lot of stuff to shade in... and why do I keep doing this to myself when cartooning is supposed to be be both simple + easy?"

So setting a neutral mid-tone as a background to work from was a great way to set the stage and break the creative log-jam that sometimes happens when confronted with a dense array of detail. This way I could in successive passes across the panel keep pushing general areas further back with darker values, and then conversely hit highlights by pulling out certain areas. This push/pull kneading of the piece is exactly the same process I drill my students with in classroom exercises using charcoal.

And then finally comes the day when you peek into the nest and one of 'em starts hatching.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

"Trailside Assistance"

Sometimes the load just gets too heavy. Originally it was captioned without any "Good Boy" but I recalled seeing the ubiquitous signs for Good Sam in all the touristy spots, which even though I'm not all that familiar with it, a heck of a lot of folks who make the pilgrimage to Alaska (and residents with RV's) would "get it."

It all started with this little doodle, which has admirable sentiment but not suitable for family-friendly publication. These mushing cartoons never fail to remind me that someday I really ought to sit down and seriously study dog sleds for real. Added to the artistic bucket-list. In the meantime, this'll do just fine as far as getting the idea across (the "it works" criteria). Here's the panel in process  - shown in excruciating detail here - of being all fancied up for fine artsy-fartsy display at the next annual retrospective.

Bonus round: This panel was also picked as the official calendar art for one of my top favorite recurring clients, Parks Highway Service & Towing (here's 2017 + 2018 posts). Just some slight tweaking before a couple hours of coloring fun. Always so pleased to see a piece really come alive and pop off the page.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

"Tailgating on the Trail"

Back when working M-F/9-5 gigs, I enjoyed the job and the people enough so that the worst part of the day by far was enduring the "parade of assholes" mostly in the morning commute. Given the rash of random incidents of violent road-rage (and other methed-up sordid escapades) recently occurring in our community, it's best to let these folks run on down the road.

Friday, March 15, 2019

"Dunleavy's Dumpster Fire" + "Mushing with the Mayor"

Every single person I've been talking to has expressed the same disgust, bewilderment and betrayal over this recent decision of the mayor to veto the non-discrimination ordinance. One of the reasons is it really brings home - literally - the abject ugliness of an administrative policy + partisan philosophy that is currently being played out on all levels of government (and indeed, reflective of society at large).

Hence this classic sequence from The Holy Grail perfectly encapsulating the sudden realization amongst many folks how shit rolls downhill all politics is local. As in, it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt... in this case friends, family and neighbors alike, regardless of political affiliation. In fact, it's a positive sign how many people across the spectrum are slowly recognizing the insanity of this style of governance and how it threatens everybody across the board.

Case in point being the hand-in-glove disaster of the governor as he continues to corrupt and cripple Alaska. On account of outrage fatigue I can't keep up with the veritable tsunami of idiocracy and moral malfeasance he and the rest of the Republican party is unleashing upon us all, so I suggest you follow the efforts of Alaska's preeminent journalist Dermot Cole (plus Midnight Sun and also the Alaska Democrats).

Suffice to say we are witnessing firsthand a resurrection of the Grand Ol' Party's "Corrupt Bastard Club." I've long joked about Alaska being just a few years behind the rest of the country when it comes to catching up on both the good and bad as far as current events unfold in the Lower 48. Well here we are, watching the tide roll in and begin to eat away at the foundation of everything. On a happier grimly satisfying note is how people are getting off their apathetic asses and rallying to the cause: I really dig how one of my recent panels was made manifest in meatspace:

image: John Robert Ancheta

Sunday, March 10, 2019

"Bear Den"

Had somewhat of a conundrum after coming up with this one: Given my recurrent obsession with artists - cartoonists especially - getting their work ripped off, it makes for an interesting example of how copyright can be used to both stifle + protect creativity. I'm reposting it here with the caveat of educational intent: critiquing it within the context of a classroom discussion should make for some good discussion. I'll include some background material for additional prompts and points below.

Since it’s an amalgamation from fifteen different corporate trademarked intellectual properties, obviously it’s problematic from a legal perspective w/copyright infringement. That said there’s plenty of precedent with fair use - it being both parody & transformative - and the gag turns on the concept of readily identifiable characters being recontextualized (“appropriated” in the artsy-fartsy nomenclature). These officially trademarked characters with “secondary meaning” as “source identifiers” include: Walt Disney Company (Baloo & Winnie The Pooh); Coca-Cola (Coke’s Polar bear); Miller/Coors (Hamm’s Beer bear); Hanna-Barbera (Square Bear of the Hair Bear Bunch); US Forest Service (Smokey Bear); NBC/King Features (Berenstain Bears); HarperCollins/News Corp (Paddington); Henson Associates (Fozzie Bear); A&W/Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (Root Beer Bear); Sun Products/Vestar Capital Partners (Snuggle bear); American Greetings Corporation, LLC (Care Bear); Post/Genral Foods Corporation ((Sugar Bear); Media Rights Capital/Universal Pictures (Ted bear); Hanna-Barbera (Yogi Bear).

It might just not be worth the potential hassle, but then again, me being a relative nobody, who the hell cares. Or it could be a fun experiment. No worries either way, I wasn't gonna make a free expression case out of it (though arguably that’s what it’s about). I did however flag it for my editor to make the call: dodge or run with it? After he bounced it on up the chain of command at the newspaper, and their legal counsel weighed in with a thumbs-up it ran. I use it also now in the classroom as a literal illustration of how convoluted and complicated copyright issues can be. A note here to state the obvious caveat/disclaimer: nothing in this post is remotely intended to serve as legal council or advice, nor should anything here be taken as such.

"Nominative fair use defense may arise in situations where a defendant uses a trademark of another party to describe the other party’s product. In other words, when a defendant uses the other party’s trademark in a trademark manner but claims, as a defense, that it is impossible to refer to the product or service without the use of the trademark."- Ivan Hoffman
In other words, in order for this joke to make sense, it hinges completely on the usage of these characters in order to be funny: it wouldn't work without them. This as opposed to (or in conjunction with) fair use doctrine in copyright law.
“… parody entitled to free speech protection under the First Amendment. The court stated that the ultimate question was “whether defendant used the mark for an expressive purpose, or to create an incorrect association in order to confuse the public.” The court defined “parody” in a couple of ways, including “an imitation of a work more or less closely modeled on the original, but turned so as to produce a ridiculous effect.” - Gisselberg

top: Robert Leighton excerpt/bottom: Theo Mo

The classic MAD magazine parodies serve as the best examples of this principle in action, and thoroughly documents the established allowances for work of this nature. But this is contrasted with another landmark case that used one more additional character than the sixteen I used in this panel:
“The use of 17 Walt Disney cartoon characters in an underground comic book that portrayed Mickey Mouse and the other Disney characters engaging in sex and drug-taking was found not to be a fair use. - Walt Disney Productions v. Air Pirates, 581 F.2d 751 (9th Cir. 1978).”
This case became one of the worst examples of corporate greed at the expense of creativity ever fought in the courts: “It became one of the longest and most absurd in the history of attempts to use copyright to stifle artistic expression in America. The lessons learned from it are more relevant than ever to anyone who chooses parody as a way to speak to power, especially corporate power.” (Reason). The fight continues even today over the limits of the law as it applies to music, as in the landmark ruling on 2 Live Crew’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” controversy:
“The Court’s majority opinion, by Justice David Souter, reached its conclusion through a step-by-step analysis of the four factors of fair use set forth in the Copyright Act of 1976. Among its conclusions were that the crucial question about the infringing work’s “purpose and character” was not whether it was commercial or noncommercial but whether it copied the original in order to “supersede” it in the marketplace or to “transform” it into something new. When the infringing work was a parody, this question became whether the copying cast new “light” upon the original, enabling the public to view it in a new way.”
This topic is of major concern to all artists, and impacts cartooning in particular, so I frequently engage students with current cases and continually stress the importance of having at least a rudimentary awareness of the legality of the many issues. It's a mess, and overwhelming at times, but entertaining nonetheless.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

"Baked Alaska" #5-8

Here's a second installment for the, uh, budding feature as published in the Alaska Cannabist magazine, which has been generating quite a buzz amongst the local industry.


This one in particular I was quite pleased with everything, from concept to execution. Kinda botched the watercolor phase, but on the other hand, the digitally colored one will be a flagship product on tshirts + mugs... stay 'tooned for future posts about upcoming merchandise opportunities.

Each of these three different concept drawings were spaced out over five year intervals, with the first one just a random concept done for no reason whatsoever - it actually turned up by chance on an unrelated search through the archives well after drawing the new variation - I had long forgotten about its existence. The last one had been doodled out on the sly while working at a recent job, using the office materials at hand like a medley of highlighters, a Sharpie and old bottle of white-out. So sometimes the mulch-pile theory of incubation until an idea is ripe enough to harvest is an accurate way to think about these long-term processes.

As an interesting aside, the middle panel actually getting published as an editorial, incidentally generating some irate letters-to-the-editor. When I created the Baked Alaska version, the assumption was that the demographics for the publication were presumably pretty relaxed about heretical depictions of higher powers.


With this one I finally settled on a customized variation of the font, which evolved from initial lame-ass penciled version that was done on the spot in a panic over needing something as a placeholder.

The comparatively detailed compositions of interior spaces proceeds apace - a challenge when consciously constructing clutter is randomizing enough elements to "fill in the blanks" as it were, without creating an imbalance that results in aesthetic incoherence. Don't have to look very far for inspiration or reference for such organized chaos - it pretty much depicts my own surroundings at the studio.

Ooo - kitty! That's my very first cat, Sneakers, who was an extremely large and loving companion for many, many years

When it comes time to color these in (one client has already reserved the first year of originals in advance) sometimes I kick myself on getting carried away with all the details. Usually something like around a minimum of two-dozen different colors get applied. Quite the contrast from the normal shades of gray, but then again this is another example of me operating well outside my habitual comfort zone. Like, whoa dude.

Now this one I got really excited about, at least as far as concept-wise - almost bummed about not being able to "double-dip" and have this appear as a Nuggets. It's that good I thought to myself - followed quickly by the realization if you have too many proverbial irons in the fire, well then it might be time to get a bigger forge, and turn up the heat.

Also, as with the first initial four in the feature (shit-eating grins), an obvious pattern developed in retrospect: the reclining on a couch theme. Have to nip that in the, er, bud.


Friday, March 8, 2019

"Gilded Heart"

From the desk of His Honor the mayor comes one of the most craven acts in Alaskan politics - and that's really saying something in a long list of absolutely amoral opportunists and hypocrites. Matherly has now effectively lost any right he will ever have to the term "leader" - this is an act of a coward and a bully. It hurts real people in our community, including many personal friends of mine.
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - The mayor of Alaska's second-largest city vetoed a new local law that gave sweeping equal rights protections to the LGBTQ community.He says he arrived at his decision "after much soul searching." [...]
The Fairbanks City Council approved the equal rights ordinance on Monday by a 4-2 vote. The hotly debated measure extended anti-discrimination protections for employment, housing and public accommodations. - KTUU 
Mind you, this is being brought to you by the maker of such recent hits as…

… and let’s not forget this classic from a couple years ago:

News of the veto was picked up by sites ranging from NBC to The Hill to the New York Times - but by any metric you know the notoriety is gonna burn when you earn an "Asinine" topic tag on FARK.