Strange Familiar Place comic series

It has been awhile since mentioning a comic strip I’ve written and illustrated. The Indie has published the series since December. It is called Strange Familiar Place and features a magazine A & E editor (at least in the first two strips) and the main character Hudson Stillwater, a graphic designer.

Strange Familiar Place also features Heather (Hudson’s wife) and presents a slice-of-life drama of living and working (and losing a job) in a cultural creative urban mountain city (or at least a city that looks a lot like Asheville).

Published in The Indie, March 1, 2007
Published in The Indie, March 16, 2007

Beginning in mid to late April, Strange Familiar Place will be illustrated by someone else. I’ll still be the principal writer, but I hired an illustrator that I am confident will present the visual narrative with a higher quality of art.

Previous posts on this topic: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE

The Indie features part one of my creative non-fiction comic, Strange Familiar Place, this month. It has been a year of trying to find a place courageous enough to take the risk on a no-name amateur artist.

So I am excited and disappointed at the same time. Excited because it is finally printed. Disappointed because the publisher enlarged the art almost double the size. This may not be a big deal for most of you, but fellow artists (especially those lacking confidence) realize enlarging one’s artwork reveals all the naked mistakes. Nothing worse than being naked in a December issue.

The Indie is available at: Malaprops, True Blue Arts, Pack Library, Woolworth Walk, Rosetta’s Kitchen, Mellow Mushroom, Hannah Flannagan’s, Fine Arts Theater, Early Girl Eatery, Port City Java, Burgermeisters, Lucky Otter, West End Bakery and many other locations.

Previous thoughts and intimations on creative non-fiction comics: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE


inked comic page

The publisher received the first installment of my creative non-fiction comic this week. It has been almost a year since a posted about a creative non-fiction comic I’ve been illustrating and writing. Previous posts on creative non-fiction comics: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

The irony is that Drawn, an illustration and cartooning blog, posted this on Monday:”Goodbye one-page diary comics; everyone’s blogging now.”

It appears the one the inspirations for my work now has a blog (which isn’t bad) but he posted this: “In the old days i’d have made a one-page … but today we squander our narratives in a blog.”

What a pisser.

The first installment is due to hit the streets in December and the medium is horribly dated. Another source of inspiration has a blog as well but hasn’t updated since 2003. However, Vertigo released a five-issue miniseries by him that began in September.

Maybe it’s not as bad as Drawn considered.

Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 5

inked comic page

A while back, I mentioned that the first installment of my creative non-fiction comic is complete and pending publication. The first installment is titled “Higgins: Inside the Box.” Last weekend I completed half of the second installment (four strips or roughly 12 panels) which is the conclusion to the story arch, “Higgins: Inside the Box.” Then I began scripting a 5-part comic strip for a third installment which features a story line about this event. There isn’t an official title to this one. However, “Higgins: Outside the Box” seems like a logical progression.

Last Tuesday was the SECNCS meeting and fellow artists encouraged me regarding my inking techniques and suggested some tips on lettering comic strips. One artist, who is regularly featured in the Rapid River magazine, recommended that dialogue text be all caps and narrative text be upper and lower case. The recommendation is already being implemented beginning with the second installment.

This endeavor of combining illustration and creative non-fiction, have inspired me to study the poet William Blake. The illuminated text is not a new media; many ancient manuscripts were illuminated. For example, The Book of Kells is famously known for its illuminated text. Years ago, I studied under a calligrapher who taught me the secret of the Celtic knot work and spirals represented in the Book of Kells. The discipline of the knot-work has served me well, though not in my recent illustrations.

But William Blake illuminated his own poems and printed his own collections with the help of his wife. It helped that he was trained as an engraver and went on to apply his trade for book and magazine publishers. Being an innovator in his own right, he applied his trade to illuminate and print his own literature. Like William Blake, I studied graphic design (the modern day digital engravers if you will) and know how to produce books and magazines for clients. I wonder what William Blake would think of creative non-fiction comics?

Previous posts on creative non-fiction comics: [1] [2] [3] [4]

Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 4

Last week I sent the first installment of a narrative non-fiction comic strip storyline to an editor. I just received an email from him this morning. He writes: “The comics are bitchin’ good. Excellent work.”

Previous posts on creative non-fiction comics: [1] [2] [3]

Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 3

The first installment is done. I’m a little bit nervous about sending it to the editor.

A couple months ago I began exploring the idea of literary comics; more specifically creative non-fiction comics.

I began sketching a 14-panel demo story and showed the drawings to some other cartoonists at a monthly meeting. The narrative non-fiction comic strip was modestly received and they encouraged me on some drawing techniques.

Casually inspired by Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Jessica Abel’s Radio: An Illustrated Guide and Eddie Campbell’s Alec McGarry, I began work on a narrative non-fiction comic strip storyline in five parts. Each strip, four panels, needed to be enough of a story to encourage a reader to come back next week. This would make it ideal for a weekly publication. The long term goal is weekly syndication (hah, stop laughing–everyone has dreams). The short term goal is a self-contained 5-page story.

Bitter Black Coffee, Issue 6, Summer 2005

The editor and publisher of a zine, Bitter Black Coffee, requested I put together this 5-page comic for an upcoming issue. In fact, the 14-panel demo story featured our intial meeting. So, this is a bit of a test run to see if I can complete something I started. We’ve been discussing this for over two months.

My personal goal (not the editor’s) was to have all 20-panels drawn, lettered and inked by Thanksgiving. However, personal crisis, illness and a full time day job prevented me from meeting that deadline. So, I adapted and gave myself three more weeks. The week before Christmas all 20-panels (plus a few bonus ones) were completed and scanned and ready to send. Only one hitch (actually two)–I didn’t have a name for the strip. Then I upgraded my laptop to Tiger and somehow lost the files I needed to email the editor. The naming of the comic strip still didn’t come to me. The muse must be on vacation or holiday or something. Maybe she has the stomach flu like I had last week.

During the Christmas holiday I found myself flipping through a copy of Alec: How To Be An Artist and I thought of a working title. I told myself it was too simple and too silly, but I went with it. I haven’t thought of anything else ingenious so the strip will be submitted with a working title. Maybe that’s the whole Malcolm Gladwell thing about snap judgments and split-second decisions.

Last night I got the files ready to email. Tomorrow I submit the self-contained 5-page story to the editor and publisher of Bitter Black Coffee.

Previous posts on creative non-fiction comics: [1] [2]

Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction Continued

I had tea not long ago with the writer of a very nice article about Asheville blogs. I didn’t realize he was such a comics aficionado. Over tea, he presented me with the idea of illustrating non-fiction narratives and personal memoir. I illustrated a 14-panel story about our meeting. The drawings are quick suggestions of setting and characters. I didn’t want to get too realistic.

Brian commented: “Such an exercise cannot help but broaden and deepen your writing… This is really fascinating. Taking everyday situations, finding the drama, illustrating them – you’re developing a wealth of back-story. I could see one of these scenes popping up under a bigger story… I don’t think you’re wasting time on this project.”

I hope he’s right in regards to the exercise assisting my writing.

Narrative Non-Fiction Comics is not new. Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor was famously made into a movie. Jessica Abel’s journalistic comic Radio: An Illustrated Guide records the making of a This American Life show. Joe Sacco’s books “Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95” and “Palestine: In The Gaza Strip” are journalistic graphic novels.

Eddie Campbell’s Alec McGarry stories offer extensive inspiration in the genre of autobiographical comics/graphic novels. Alec McGarry is Eddie Campbell’s stage name (or rather comic page name). That is like Samuel Clemens writing an autobiography in which Mark Twain was the main character.

I must confess I’m enamored by that idea, but not as a narcissist. In the arena of stories, the most compelling tales are true, personal accounts–narrative non-fiction. Also, persuasive arguments are often won by personal example/experience. That’s what makes Elie Wiesel’s book, Night, so riveting–he was there. He survived Auschwitz, Buna, Buchenwald and Gleiwitz. He has first hand experience.

I know, I know–I’ve just sprinkled a lot of names throughout this post like confetti. Mark Twain I am not. Nor have I the life experiences of Elie Wiesel. I don’t know if I really want to follow in Eddie Campbell’s footsteps, either (he reveals all areas of his life–i.e. no trouble drawing himself nude which unnerves me–but maybe that helps him gain perspective on his own life).

I have a sketch of an idea of where I want to go with narrative non-fiction comics. This is what they call in Corporate America the development stage. It’s what I call drawing 1000 black lines before presenting a finished drawing.

Previous post on creative non-fiction comics: [1]

Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction

pencil layout

A few years ago I illustrated a four-page comic version of a poem by Nate Pritts. To my knowledge there aren’t too many literary comics that tackle the idea of visually representing a poem in comic format. Not that my four pages was ground breaking. It was good exercise for me and provided the kernel of expanding comics into the literary realm.

You’re probably familiar with the publisher of Great Illustrated Classics. However, comics as a whole tends to be marginalized as tights-and-capes adventures at best or adolescent porn at worst.

comic page layout

A couple weeks ago, another comics aficionado presented me with the idea of illustrating concert reviews, interviews, non-fiction narratives and personal memoir. I jumped at the opportunity and began sketching out ideas immediately.

The biggest challenge for me was the limitation of the form. Illustrating a concert review requires a simple plot: I went, I saw, I reviewed. But will anyone read something that simple? I thought about adding a bit of narrative. In other words, tell a story about people who attend a concert; include brief backstory, dramatic tension, climax and conclusion.

inked comic page

Last weekend I began with two pages. The story was simple: my meeting with the other comic aficionado/publisher.

Backstory: artist has been trying to publish his comics for over ten years.

Tension: interviewer loves artist’s work and desires some new samples.

Climax: artist feels intimidated by the task but accepts.

Conclusion: artist begins a new direction in creative communication–comics.