What does one do with old, unpublished artwork? Dozens upon dozens of illustrations remain hidden. Housed in art portfolio cases and cardboard boxes. These sketches, drawings and illustrations remain artifacts of decades of work.
They resurfaced this summer. Drawings and illustrations created with the purpose of advancing a career as a children’s book writer/illustrator, comic book artist and/or cartoonist. Several four-page comic book stories present an exercise toward a full-length comic book. Inspired by the 1990s indie comic scene, a lot of the stories are slice-of-life scenes and dramas. One collection of illustrations is a story written by a friend. Another set of drawings features character drawings for a writer seeking to pitch a proposal to Image Comics.
There is a portfolio case filled with pages of a first issue and half a second issue of an indie comic. It was created for a writer who contacted me to collaborate on the project. The pages display pen and brush illustrations. Think of the early work of David Collier. If he drew every page with his right hand. (He is left-handed. If I recall correctly.) On second thought, maybe it doesn’t look anything like David Collier’s work. The struggle with this indie project was that I learned that I do not illustrate fast and well at the same time. Back in those pre-iPhone/pre-Twitter days, I worked as a graphic designer during the day and an artist by night. A 30-day deadline to complete 22 pages plus cover art was a difficult task. If I had worked eight hours a day on the project instead of two hours a day, maybe the results would have been better. The indie comic was never published.
Another sketch book has pages of comps for a cartoon strip. The idea was that if I cannot draw detailed panels and pages fast, maybe I can draw cartoons faster. So, I created a cartoon character and comic strip and discovered that drawing a cartoon is just as time intensive as illustrating detailed comic pages. I pivoted toward a cartoon style similar to Jim Davis. In short, a comic strip with near static panels and subtle changes in art between one panel and the next. Sort of a pre-Adam Ellis templated four-panel strip. The comic strip was published regularly in a North Carolina alternative newspaper until the paper took an extended sabbatical.
“I like that one,” my bride commented. Dozens of cartoon pages rest on a desk in our bedroom.
“Maybe I should collect these pages into a book,” I offered.
“What do mean?”
“You know, like an artist’s sketchbook or portfolio book. I’ve got several of those type of books.” I think of books like Michael Wm. Kaluta Sketchbook or C. Vess Sketchbook.
“Yeah, but aren’t those more like retrospectives of an artist’s celebrated career?”
“Hm. Yeah. I guess you’re right,” I answered. But why can’t it be used to promote a career, I think to myself.
“Maybe after you’ve published your magnum opus.”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
The illustration boards still rest on the desk I built from salvaged wood. A reminder to keep going.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.