While I take a brief hiatus to work on the Sequential Philly/Contour Philly doc, here is a cover I created recently for the magazine, The Nation, about Laurie Bertram Roberts.
Contour Philly graciously allowed Sequential Philly to shoot our first documentary short with them. We met in the Chapterhouse Cafe basement (thanks, Chapterhouse!), took over for a couple hours, and talked comics.
Here are some unedited stills:
I decided to make good use of an airplane ride, and film some ocean footage. One of the passing islands resembled a horseshoe crab, so I did like Shia LeBeouf told me and didn’t let my dreams be dreams.
This was done with After Effects, tea, and a few extra-long snack breaks.
I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. As many people know, Detroit has a water problem - there's too much lead in it. Flint, located close to Detroit, has even more lead in the water. And slowly, we are all discovering that these issues flow throughout many cities and towns in the country.
I have family in Jackson, Mississippi. Unbeknownst to me until recently, Jackson is one of the places where the water problems persist. One of the people working to get the word out about this was a woman I'd had the pleasure of working with on the Comics For Choice anthology: Dr. Cynthia Greenlee. She asked if I wanted to get the old band back together, with the help of ReWire News, and naturally, I said yes.
I am endlessly proud of this project. Immense thanks to Laurie Bertram Roberts who, along with her children, provided her voice and experience as the background to this comic. Her family, and many, many others, are still dealing with the water crisis around the United States. Thanks to Marc and Cynthia at ReWire for letting me flex my creativity, and for bringing light to this issue. There are so many problems that need solutions, but I truly believe if we all put our heads together, we can tackle this thing.
Here's a page I love. You can read the rest of it over on ReWire.news.
For about 3 years after college, I worked on a short film. It was directed by Chris Magee (of Dreaming Thomas), who wanted to tackle a more traditional style of animation. I spent many hours drawing in-betweens by hand - in pencil - and more hours helping color for a few shots. The coloring mostly went to interns, since that was a full-time gig in itself.
The Ogre & The Mermaid wrapped at 10 minutes, and I moved on to other projects. But surprise, surprise! Chris sent it out to a bunch of festivals, and a few of them really enjoyed the work.
Our first recognition came this past March, for the Moscow Shorts International Short Film Festival. Best Animation of the Month!
And just recently:
I took a long break from doing After Effects projects last year. I was still teaching, and I did one or two commissions, but I had to re-evaluate what I was doing and why.
I dislike the style of motion graphics in which I forced myself to work for several years. I had a habit of focusing on what I thought clients wanted to see, versus creating pieces I was interested in. The result was bland, dry work with very little progress over time. Since my reset last year, I've been able to take the time to figure out what I'd like to see from myself. It's a slow process, but I love seeing something cool in a film or short, and trying to decipher how it was done.
My animated work is back to base level, but it's a base level I am excited to reach beyond. Anyway, here's some base level stuff that will one day be a lot cooler, because I'm actually interested these days.
I recently wrapped up this session of Adult Drawing at University City Arts League, ended one and started a new session of Advanced Drawing for kids in the same space, completed my Art Futures residency with The Philadelphia Museum of Art, finished teaching this semester at Moore College of Art & Design, tabled at the Lawrenceville High School Comic Con, and along with the rest of Girl Crime Organization, held a show at Tattooed Mom and wrapped up our pop-up gallery on South Street. I was also featured as a caricature of myself in Craig Campbell's "How To Draw A Black Lady." Thanks, Craig!
I can't expend an entire post on each thing - I'm exhausted just thinking about that - but a Jim Halpert-style run-down is in order. I'll try to summarize this as quickly as possible:
ART FUTURES RESIDENCY
Art Futures is an artists-in-residence program sponsored by The Philadelphia Museum of Art. It gives Philadelphia students the opportunity to learn from local artists in their own schools, and to create a project to be exhibited in a public space. I worked with Little Flower High School this semester; using pieces from the PMA collection as inspiration, the students made comics centered on social issues close to their hearts. The work they produced was beyond anything I could have imagined, and I am so grateful to have had the privilege of speaking to them about how to build comics from the ground up, representing their own stories, and free speech and censorship in comics and graphic novels.
UNIVERSITY CITY ARTS LEAGUE
In addition to the kids' Advanced Drawing class (which usually ends up in a lengthy discussion on politics or morality - 10 year olds are serious these days!), I also teach the Adult Drawing class at UCAL. It's a ton of fun, and I love when people who've never picked up a pencil in their lives learn to understand line, shape, and contour. I assume it's akin to parents watching their child learn to walk. The world suddenly becomes bigger. That probably sounds pretentious. I don't care.
GIRL CRIME ORGANIZATION
The responses to GCO shows are always fascinating. I'm grateful for the many people that took a look around the gallery to absorb what we were doing, whether their responses were positive, negative, or anything in-between. We're not here strictly to appease, and conversations are what keep art alive. However, I'm uncomfortable mix of curious and dissatisfied at the unbelievably large amount of people who, after stepping one foot in the door, immediately asked how they could cash in on it. The conversations often went as such:
Human: "Hey! What is this?"
GCO member: "It's a pop-up art gallery. There's about 8 of us working as a collective. Take a look around, see what we do."
H: "Cool. How do I get my stuff in here? I make [insert random thing here]."
GCO: "...Why don't you take a look around first, and then we'll talk about your stuff."
H: "No, yea, I will. But, like, can I sell my stuff here?"
9 times out of 10, a visitor in the above situation would take convincing to actually look at our work, and even then, it was only as a cursory glance before deciding it was too hard to convince us to sell their work out of our space without even showing us said work. And 9 times out of 10, once we looked up the contact info they left, their styles weren't a good fit.
Regardless, I loved working with the artists in Girl Crime Organization. They're an incredibly talented and interesting group with whom to create and exhibit work, and while our styles are vastly different, we all come in with respect and the ability to critique each other's pieces to help us all grow. We're like Megazord, but with a cute skirt and an Art History degree. The pop-up was a fun experiment, and the show at TMom's was a nice departure from our usual schedule. Thanks TMom!
MOORE COLLEGE OF ART & DESIGN
There's not much to say here, except I friggen love teaching After Effects. It's a monster program that brings me so much joy, and my students this semester were the absolute best! They make me laugh, they make me think, and sometimes they confuse me, but I'm cool with that as long as they're learning.
LAWRENCEVILLE COMIC CON
Lawrenceville is a wonderful space to table a small con. The students and staff are always respectful, helpful, and interested in the arts. The school does a lot to bring these kids fun activities, and I'm always happy to be a part of that.
ALL THE REST OF THE STUFF!
I'm hoping the next 4 1/2 months won't be quite as stressful, but will produce just as much joy. Let's find out!
For a couple years now, I've been part of a no-holds-barred art collective called Girl Crime Organization. It was put together by MPG (NSFW), with a focus on removing any and all restrictions on artwork made. Because of this, the shows are always 18+ - sometimes 21+, if we show at a bar - and we usually show work that doesn't fit in a more traditional gallery space.
A couple of weeks ago, we secured an old storefront on South Street, Philadelphia. Occupying such a public space has been a fun experience, if a little awkward sometimes. The front wall is one giant window, so anything we do in there is visible. On the other hand, ANYTHING we do in there is visible. The possibilities for work produced are endless.
We're hoping to fill up the entire space as time goes on. You can follow the madness on Instagram, either on the main collective's account (@girlcrimeorganization), or any of our individual feeds. If you're in Philly, stop by 410 South Street and say hi sometime. We pop in an out when we can. Hours are spastic, like our lives.
I made a fake list of reading material for high schoolers, so they'd be prepared for the onslaught of blame and aging they'll face once they graduate. Here's one:
Here's another one:
There are nine in total. Check them out at the link above!
Also, I did laundry yesterday, and lost not even one sock. It was a good day.
That statement feels weird coming out of my mouth. I've been published twice this month, making 4 times this year. It's only December 7th.
It's been an odd year. After coming back to the States, I wasn't sure what to do. I felt like I was back at square one; somehow, that helped. I needed to reset my brain, and living in a place with different rules and schedules really did that. I still have a lot of mental and physical clutter to get rid of, and I've had a few stumbling blocks in production, but overall, I'm tentatively happy with the direction I'm going. I decided to shift gears and focus more on comics, and while it's stressful, it's proving a rewarding change.
On another note, I started a project called Sequential Philly. It's an online index of the people in the Philly area who work in comics. So far, there are a few interviews up, as well as the beginning of the index. It's a much larger undertaking than I thought it would be, but it's my baby, and I'm happy to see it grow as much as it has in such a short time. If you'd like to be added to the index, email email@example.com. Please include a link to your work, and an image you'd like to use as your icon.
"Make good art." Neil Gaiman's quote, spoken at The University of The Arts 2012 commencement, makes the rounds on my social media feed every so often. It's a great speech. The part passed around most often is the bit near the end:
"Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong, in life, and in love, and in business, and in friendship, and in health, and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.
I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you can do best. Make good art. Make it on the bad days. Make it on the good days, too. And fifthly, while you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do."
I sometimes feel the need to write a detailed response, but that's my ego trying to take over. His speech stands on its own without think-pieces and opinion articles (although Gav of Zen Pencils had an amazing interpretation, because Gav of Zen Pencils is himself amazing). But, it did pop into my head again today. So here's my ego-driven response, chiseled down to a palatable two paragraphs, far more for me to tell myself than to say to anyone else - because who am I to have think-pieces?
I try to surround myself with people who make good art. I don't mean hyper-realistic art, or multi-million dollar art, although that can be good. I mean art that comes from love, and from effort. Art that the artist made because the artist wanted to make it. I try to remind myself that while nothing lasts, these things make an impact.
And even that word, "impact," makes people shrivel. They think they have to change the world if they are to change anything, and so, at the pressure, do nothing at all. There's something else that gets passed around artistic circles, though it began in the U.S. Navy: K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Small ripples turn into big ones. Make one piece of good art. Then make another one. And then another. Repeat until you are physically and mentally unable to, and then try again. It doesn't matter if someone on the other side of the world never sees it. Make good art, because good art needs to be made. What you think is "good" will never be universal. That, too, is perfectly OK. Make it, anyway.
With all that said, here's a dumb thing I made to practice vfx, in which The Kraken threatens a beach. Buddy was a good sport about it.
Traditionally, saints are people we may or may not have met, that have blessed the world with their presence. They are positive, negative, or anything in between, and they have specific personality traits that make them the face of a particular state of being.
With this in mind, I realized a while ago that I have a few saints on my social media feeds. They are not necessarily of the highest morals, and they don't guide me in any particular direction, but they present distinct qualities that have become synonymous with their names in my head. Some are continuously salty toward everyone and everything; some are cuddly; some are heartbreakers. The list, and its possibilities for paintings, is endless.
Nik Hampshire, whose painting I completed first as a test run (above), was completely on board with me canonizing him (thanks, Nik!). He's a Philly-area model, known for his lush beard, large gauges, and tattooed body. Most people I follow online are visual artists or musicians; but Nik? Nik is just pretty to look at. He knows it, and so does everyone else. And so, he became a saint: a person with specific traits that bless my feed every day.
When they're done, I'll upload the whole set. There are a lot of saintly characters in my life.
Continuing my creep factor, I made some motion edits to another found photo. This one is from the...early 2000s, I think? Someone took a lovely walk, took a photo to remember it, and then discarded said photo.
Tata?/Auntie? was a short comic about interacting with a 2-year-old in Bondy. I've got several weeks of stories surrounding my time in that apartment, so here's another one! I'm only showing the English version, but a Franglish one exists.
I wanted to be mad, but I appreciate his sense of humor.
Kenty Love is a well-deservedly popular singer/songwriter here in Philly. He recently released a video for his song, Me Estoy Enamorando, on which I was honored to color grade. The video was filmed right here in the city, and the song features Buddy Roc, another talented Philly musician. Check it out!
I'm excited to announce the launch of a comics anthology I took part in a few months ago! Comics For Choice is a collaboration of many artists and writers, featuring stories about women and abortion. For my submission, I worked with a doctor and writer on the story of Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown, a Tennessee surgeon and legislator who, even before Roe V. Wade, pushed for safe, legal abortion in her state. She cared for women who had sought out unsafe methods of termination, and realized a need for change.
The Indiegogo campaign to print all the books is now live. If you can spare a couple bucks for a copy, that would be amazing. If not, share the campaign!
Mad House is a Philadelphia-based literary magazine that features local poets, writers, and artists. Including the cover, I've got a few pieces in the upcoming issue. It's my first publication, which is pretty cool.
I'm all about that local love, and it feels great to be featured alongside so many hard workers. The release party starts at 7pm on May 31st at Tattooed Mom. A lot of people put a lot of work into this mag. Come out and show some love!
A friend of mine convinced me, over several conversations, to watch Yuri!!! On Ice. I hadn't watched any new anime in a very long time. I'd been disappointed with a lot of recent shows; maybe it's my bad luck in picking the worst, or maybe I compare so many shows to Cowboy Bebop that it's difficult to enjoy anything (See You Space Cowboy...). Regardless, although the thought of an ice skating anime sounded cute, I did not truly believe I would enjoy it.
Like many other people who binged the entire 12 episodes in one or two sittings, I now believe I can conquer the universe. Sometimes, I find myself feeling low. Then I remember that Yuri!!! On Ice exists. It's kind of like what happened after watching Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann for the first time (Row Row, Fight The Power!), or growing up watching Rurouni Kenshin and deciding to be a master at something...anything.
I know I'm just linking anime soundtracks at this point. It's a good thing. The opening theme to YOI was nice at first, and a fight song now. It won't sound like that at first listen. It will.
I don't know why it took me two months to make fanart.
There arrives a point in everyone's life when they decide to revisit old work. For me, this point comes often, and usually ends in cringing out of my skull. It's probably a little masochistic to continue the cycle, but art is a little masochistic to begin with.
At some point, back in college, I made a couple short documentaries as part of a class. I would not call myself a filmmaker, and at the time, I don't think I was getting enough sleep to call myself anything. My camera work was shoddy, and the footage is grainy, but the characters I chose to highlight are still charming. One short features a group of competitive board gamers. There are a million things I'd do differently these days, but I'd say for being half-dead from my senior thesis (which I won't even talk about), it's not the worst thing I've made.
Nowhere close to the best.
Still...not THE worst.
In Bondy, I stayed with a very nice family. It included a 2 year old. As it turned out, 2 year olds are exactly the same in every language. Franglish and English versions of our daily interaction are below.
I really lucked out with my host family. They're the nicest people, and since the parents are originally from West Africa, the food was incredible. I'd gladly go back one day!