Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Moriarty, The Lazurus Tree

 This month I  have an issue of a comic book out on the stands. It is Moriarty: The Lazarus Tree, published published by Image.

Moriarty is the brainchild of  writer Daniel Corey and artist Anthony Diecidue, and of course the central character is the villain from the Sherlock Holmes stories. However, Dan has added a number of interesting twists to the plots and has really explored the character beyond his relationship to Holmes. The series is a fun read and watching both these creators develop over the past couple of years has been a treat. (They also have a trade paperback version of the first series, Moriarty, the Dark Chamber, that is available.)

(Lira posed for a number of Retrowood paintings I did for development.)
Anyway, Anthony had a big wedding coming up to the lovely  actress and model Lira Kellerman, and this slacker actually wanted to take some time off from his schedule for a honeymoon. So I got recruited to do a fill in issue. Because of my schedule, I realized I'd have to do the job very quickly, so I decided to approach the work less as I would a traditional comic and instead draw it as if it were a storyboard. People are always hounding me to have my comics have more of the spontaneity of my boards, so I thought I'd give it a try.

The entire twenty pages took my seven working days, and I don't think I ever worked more than 7-8 hours a day. There certainly is a freshness to the finished work that I really like. Dan was gracious enough to provide me with excellent reference on the stories specifics, so I didn't have to spend much time on that. I was also very familiar with the period so my reference time was kept to a minimum. And I had the excellent help of my assistant Mitchell Reslock, who handles all the hard stuff I didn't want to spend time on, like backgrounds, spotting blacks, erasing, scanning,etc. Ideally, I'd love to just have him do all the work and then I'd just sign it.

Of course Anthony couldn't keep his hands out of the mix, and he ended up coloring the book. A beautiful job that really takes the work to another level. But that was hardly a surprise since I've worked with Anthony on a number of jobs and have always loved the results. (As I finished the comic in record time, it was ready to go months ahead of schedule. Consequently, Anthony also had me do layouts for the previous issue, which you can also probably find at your local comic shop.)

So break open that piggy bank and head down to the comic shop and look this stuff up. You'll thank me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Prom Night at the White House

    In 2008 I had the chance to storyboard a documentary called Prom Night in Mississippi. The story revolves around a school in the South that, in the 21st century, still had segregated proms (one for blacks, one for whites). Morgan Freeman, who was from the area, offered to pay for the prom and everyone's expenses if instead there was simply one integrated prom. While a majority of the students readily accepted the offer, and plans went ahead, a small segment of the school and their parents insisted on having a "whites only" prom.

(Director-Producer Paul Saltzman and producer Patrica Aquino on the road outside the White Prom.)
    Paul Saltzman, the director who had been shooting footage of this from the beginning, now ran into a snag. He was denied access to film anything connected with the white prom. Paul needed a series of illustrations depicting all of this action. That was where I was called in.

    I wound up doing about thirty plus drawings for six or seven sequences. Paul was always really easy to work with. (With what he was paying me, he couldn't afford to be too picky.) And the project was one I was extremely proud to be a part of. (Two out of three isn't bad.) When I wound up watching the finished film I found  it intensely engrossing; Paul brought a warmth with his interviews with the students that made the film a very personal experience. It's definitely worth  adding to your Netflix list.

  Recently Paul sent me an email to let me know there was going to be a special showing of the movie at the White House. So just in case he'd never seen an episode of Tales from the Crypt, G.I. Joe, or any of the Narnia movies, President Obama was now going to have a chance to view MY work. I'm excited about this. However, when the president does see my drawings, I hope he realizes that, like many Americans, I am often looking for work that is usually hard to find.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mata and Sidney: SPIES

People always ask me what my favorite story is I did for Marvel Comics. It certainly wasn't any of the superhero books that I did. I did enjoy my short run  on John Carter of Mars, but in retrospect it  wasn't my best work;just where my life was at the time I was constantly looking for shortcuts and timesavers while I was working on the pencils. The best stuff I did for Marvel was when I was doing my own creations for my editor and friend Carl Potts: the creator owned Off-Castes, and the short story "Spies".

At the time I was doing a lot of storyboarding work in animation, and seldom had the chance to work in comics. When Carl created the title Amazing Stories as an anthology series, it was the perfect opportunity to do something, and a heartfelt thank you to him for giving me the chance to do something for the book. It also was the first time I worked with the master letterer Kenny Bruzenak; he did  manage to spell my name wrong in the credits, but I'll accept that any day for the elegance and graphic design sensibility he always brought to the job.

When PBS started running the series "Reilly, Ace of Spies", I was hooked from the beginning. Sam Neill was brilliant as the scheming Sidney Reilly, and Leo McKern (best known as Rumpole of the Bailey) was the unscrupulous arms dealer Basil Zaharov.  Set in pre- World War I Europe, the series follows the life of the Russian born Reilly who winds up as an exile, begins working for the British as an agent (and the British are never really sure he is working for them). When WWI breaks out and the Russian Revolution begins, Reilly returns to his native land to try and take over the fledgling government, and comes close to succeeding before his eventual mysterious demise.

Ian Fleming, who worked in the British Secret Service with Bruce Lockhart (whose father worked with Reilly), claimed that SIdney Reilly was his major inspiration for the ultimate spy, James Bond.

At the same time I was reading a biography of Mata Hari who was the other legendary spy of the era. It seemed only natural to me that the two of them should eventually meet, and be pitted against each other. And that the instigator of this meeting should be Basil Zaharov, whose business interests had him selling arms to both sides in the unstable political climate that led to the War to End All Wars.

So here is a reprise of SIdney and Mata, in "Spies".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Using Reference

One of the myths that all artists have to dispel is that we all make it up out of our heads. Everything that ends up on the drawing board is a distillation of the mass of influences that permeate our lives. While some artists might claim they don't use reference, they might more honestly explain that they can't remember where they got their inspiration from. As Mark Twain wryly commented, "amateurs are inspired. Professionals plaguerize."

Above is a painting that I finished a week or so ago of a character I have been developing called Gris Gris Girl. So here is a look at the working process from start to finish.

This is the original rough I did for the painting. I had picked out the model in the photo below for what I thought worked for my character. However, as I was going through more scrap, I came across the second photo and realized this model has much more of the attitude and character that I needed for the story.

For the Voodoo elements of the picture I went to my files on this subject and picked out a few items. From these I selected bits and pieces for arcane props that would apply.

I have no shortage of cat reference pictures, and my little friend Repo wound up modeling for the feline in this shot. For the crow, I googled some reference off the net. For the tree and the swamp reference I went to my personal library and found a National Geographic book with the right image.
Even for color I tend to look at a lot of stuff. While I loved the model I chose for the picture, I had to find some different reference for the proper skin tones for a black woman. Playboy is always a good source. I also pulled out some Bob Peak drawings that used very hot colors that work very well on darker skin. 

I started a storyboarding job this week that will keep me fairly busy for the next few weeks, so my blog might be a bit irregular for a couple months. But I will have lots of time to think about what I want to rant about next.
My lovely wife Annie and myself in a recent photo.