This Week's Read: The Experts by Jaz

Having built a rapport with the people who work in and frequent my usual comic shop, I wasn't too surprised when I walked in one day and was immediately handed The Experts by Sophie Franz, with no explanation other than, "You'll like this." 

The Experts is empty, in a great way. Franz created a story with what has to be at least 70% negative space, in a strange, sci-fi universe where almost nothing is explained. It's more confusing for the characters than the reader. The story is melancholy, as are most stories I enjoy. The main character's hope for reason and progress dwindles to nothing in 24 pages.

It's not a long comic, but it's a good one.

You can stare at Sophie Franz' other work here.

Go read.

Font Doodle by Jaz

I've been teaching a design class that centers around learning the basics of various Adobe Creative Suite programs. Sometimes I make doodles as a result of putting together in-class examples. This is what happened while explaining various font styles after going over Photoshop's brushes.

Fun fun.

We by Jaz

Black America is an incredibly diverse group. Although the majority of us arrived in this country many generations ago by force through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, a good number of us did not. Late last year, I began interviewing individuals who fall into the latter group. Those interviews were recorded, compiled, and I am now putting them out into the world as a series of comics entitled "We."

There were many reasons behind starting this project. I'm not going to get into them, as they form a long list, but so far, it's been incredibly eye-opening.

A huge thank you to everyone who has participated so far. I didn't expect such a warm reception to the idea, nor for so many people to step forward to help. I'm still turning out pages, but I will attempt to have the first comic completed by the start of next month. I'm going to take a short break in between interviews, as there is a lot of information to compress. They will be available to read in their own section of this site (see the toolbar up top!).

The first interview is with Tracey Elle, a California-area animator and illustrator. You can find her incredible work here: 

https://www.youtube.com/user/cuite3000

http://traceyelle.tumblr.com/

I hope the interviews will be as interesting to read as they were for me to hear.

 

 

Do I Look Professional Yet? by Jaz

This weekend, I'll be selling work at Atomi-Con, the comic book art show/cosplay contest/Free Comic Book Day/South Street Spring Festival combo breaker that is May 7, 2016. I almost have everything together, minus my mind. Prints, postcards, and booklets will be available. I'm keeping it simple. Some of the available designs are below. The ones for sale will be much higher quality:

Come by, say hi, and maybe make a donation towards the Keeping My Cat Fed So She Doesn't Kill Me In My Sleep Fund.

The Inner Moxie Girl by Jaz

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a reading of The Adventures of Moxie McGriff. If you're unfamiliar with this series of children's books, they were co-written by an 8-year-old girl named Natalie McGriff, and her mom. They started the books after Natalie's mother heard Nat complaining about her naturally curly hair. Nat wished her curls would lay flat, and be as easy to comb through as the women she saw with straight hair. Wanting her daughter to understand the beauty of Black hair, she suggested that together, they invent a superhero whose afro puffs were the source of crime-fighting power. Thus, Moxie McGriff was born.

Attending the reading was almost magical. The audience was filled with young Black girls and their families who were so excited to see a superhero that not only looked like them, but whose powers stemmed from a feature we are often told by the media to "fix."

I've heard from many people (Black included) that no one creating minority superheroes could be successful, because no one would read their stories. Time and again, those people are proven wrong, yet they stick to that idea. The only reason I can come up with for why they continue thinking this way is that they're annoyed they didn't try to come up with new minority characters themselves. Minority stories were kept out of major media for a long time, but we've found ways around it by developing our own communities for the type of work we want to do. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort, but thankfully, recently it's gotten much easier. Writers and artists like Gene Luen Yang, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Andre Batts have garnered huge followings. Image Comics has pretty much made comics starring female and minority characters into a business model. Even Marvel and DC have been adding more female and minority characters to their titles. Whether or not those companies provide more space for minority writers and artists to create regularly is another discussion, but having more diversity in the products themselves is a rising shift. With a little perseverance, female and minority creators have carved out their own spaces in the comic world.

The Adventures of Moxie McGriff invites its readers to find their inner Moxie Girl:

"A girl that exhibits a strong force of character, determination, boldness, intellect, and nerve." 

Whether we know it or not, we all have a superhero inside. Everyone's inner superhero has a different strength, and usually that strength is what we perceive as weakness at first. As Mrs. McGriff said at the reading, "Our hair can break combs. That's powerful!" It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but she's right. Think you have a weak trait? Work on it until it becomes a strength. Find your moxie and conquer the world. And that's the subject of today's digital exercise. Get your Moxie on, y'all.

Morning Commute by Jaz

Last fall, I tried picking up an early morning shift at a café. I had no problem working the opening shift 5 days a week only 5 years ago. I don't know what happened when I hit my late twenties, but going to work before the sun is up is brutal now. There are some magical moments: the sound of bike tires on wet pavement after nightly rain, seeing all the other early workers trekking to their jobs, and getting to see the sun rise. They almost made dragging myself out of bed at an ungodly hour worth it. Almost. Not quite. This short comic is for the "almost worth it." 

I'll stick to my current work hours.

Dawn of Something Or Other by Jaz

Superman and Batman walk into a bar. Batman pulls out a chunk of kryptonite. Superman dies.

Horribly-told jokes aside, I have work in the Dawn Of Justice show at Atomic City Comics this Friday. It's gonna be a great show with a lot of talented artists. I've got a few other gallery openings to attend that night, so I'll be running around Philly like a madwoman. Such are the perks of having a lot of creative friends.

Part 3 of a triptych: Wonder Woman doesn't like your sass.

Part 3 of a triptych: Wonder Woman doesn't like your sass.

I also took the first round of comic pages from my Black migration project to a few artists for critique. After extensive discussion and note-taking, I'm continuing with a few minor modifications. The interviews are going well, so the work will mostly be in visually describing the lives of people about whose backgrounds I'm just learning in detail. The project is forcing me to study countries I'd never researched; I'm learning a lot about world history, and it's great.

On top of the monthly Atomic City shows and the migration comics, I've got the motion graphics class, mini-comics, a whole list of books to read, and several animations that I have not started (they've sat in my brain for some time) but am prepping for so as to knock them out one by one when I finally can. I figure if I can storyboard them and make any small props needed well in advance, the actual filming can go much smoother later on. That's usually how it works, anyway.

There's no real glory in dying from exhaustion, but it would be nice to knock several items off my "Creative Goals" list this year.

Procrastinating My Procrastination by Jaz

I'm back onto my list of work to complete this year. 

Today, I started drawing a comic series on the stories of Black migration around the United States. I was fortunate enough to find several people who were willing to be interviewed. The stories I've collected so far have been an eye-opening view into the wide variety of backgrounds represented under the umbrella term, "Black."

When I'm not doing that, I've been knocking off smaller items, like messing around in Photoshop and making little animations for fun.

Super cute, and super easy to make.

What Was I Supposed To Be Doing? by Jaz

There's an eerie period between finishing one project and starting on the next. I know what work I need to cross off my list this week, but haven't needed to cross it off until today. Friday morning, I woke up, got dressed, ate breakfast, and was then enveloped in the horrifying feeling I'd forgotten to do something big. After going over my "to do" list, I realized the terror was just my natural reaction to having space between work time. "Is this...relaxing? Am I on a break?" My cat meowed in response and demanded more food. I took that as a "yes." 

I don't run around as constantly as I used to, and I see no glamour in having no down time. Yet, every time I force myself to sit quietly and enjoy my time off, I get queasy. Maybe it's a hangover from working in the service industry since I was 15. I may have taken "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean" a little too  much to heart. Maybe it's because I spend too much time scrolling through other artists' posts on social media, and so feel like everyone works harder than I do, is better at their craft than I am, and somehow has a better handle on life than I can hope to achieve in the next 10 years. Maybe I just need to eat more leafy greens. I should do that, regardless.

In other news, someone asked to buy one of my pieces at the Afrofuturism opening at Atomic City, and I immediately realized I'd never handled such a transaction and should learn how to do so. I don't think anyone has ever offered to buy one of my pieces outright; while my anxiety says that's because I make crappy art, my brain knows it's because I don't hang my work anywhere it would make money (i.e. my living room). "Finding more places to exhibit" is going on this year's "goals" list.

Making a "goals" list is going on the "to do" list.

Afrofuturism at Atomic City by Jaz

Atomic City Comics invited me to take part in an Afrofuturism show this upcoming Friday, February 5th. I thought it would be a good reason to make some pinups of a character or two that I've been mulling over. 

LivBlackwell_pinupinks.jpg

So far, so good. The layer of india ink is complete, so I'm on to watercolor.

Prepping for Valentine's Day by Jaz

I thought I'd get a head start on my Valentine's Day cards this year. The theme is "Fairy Tale Princesses, If They Were CounterCulture." The theme is a bit long-winded. I'll work on it later.

"Pocahontas" inks

"Pocahontas" inks

"Tiana and Aurora," with almost-complete color.

"Tiana and Aurora," with almost-complete color.

During one of many conversations with a fellow artist friend, and a look back on some of my digital work, I've decided to ink these pieces with a brush and India Ink, and color them in watercolor. I feel more zen when working traditionally, I'm more pleased with the results, and I just have more fun with it. 

"Ariel." I've since detailed the inks a bit more, so they don't look so shaky.

"Ariel." I've since detailed the inks a bit more, so they don't look so shaky.

I don't usually do sexy pinups, but they fit the holiday. It's nice to switch things up once in a while.

New Steps. No Sleep. by Jaz

(Originally posted on January 20, 2016)

It is three minutes past midnight, and here I am, unsuccessfully falling asleep. Until today, I had forgotten to purchase new plastic sheeting for my bedroom windows, and the nightly cold blasted through the seams and directly into my bones. Hence, I have set up new sleeping quarters in the living room. It's not quite a fort, but it may as well be. I almost feel 5 again.

The less sleep I get, the more poetic I become. Odd.

In exactly 12 hours and 24 minutes, I will begin the next step of my career: teaching a college course on Motion Graphics. I realize many artists do this. Still, it's terrifying. There are actual human beings under my care; while I've managed high school classrooms, and freshman college students are basically still high schoolers, this feels different. These students are headed towards a career. It's strange to think that I was one of them not very long ago.

I didn't even drink tonight. Why am I so verbose?

I tried to sleep. The cat judged my efforts wanting, and proceeded to mew at me as loudly as she could from below the couch-bed, atop the couch-bed, on the couch-bed, and on whatever surface she could leap onto before I shooed her away. I shall try again.

Shall? Yeesh. I really do need to sleep.

I'll have a coffee in a few hours to try to fix whatever mood this is. Nervousness? Coffee might not help with that. I'll have a chai.

Away I slip into the cold embrace of adulthood...again.

Jaz, Where Have You Been? by Jaz

I think I write a "Whoops, I haven't blogged in a while" post about twice a year. Where have I been? Well, Me (as I'm the only one who really reads this thing), I've been delving into the strangely addictive world of Instagram. After spending hours scrolling through artists' pages, and staring at that one hedgehog who somehow has his own handle, I curl up in a corner lamenting how little my work has grown over the past day. Rinse and repeat. 

I realize this is an entirely fixable problem. I can set a 10-minute limit for oo-ing and ah-ing over Mr. Hedgehog (sometimes, he wears a hat!). I can decide to avoid social media altogether. But as the weather cools down and the sun sets early, I find resisting the urge to curl up in a corner with a snack and a "like" button more and more difficult.

This leads me to my current condition: curled up in a corner in a café, updating my website. I still have tea here, and if I wish, I can hop over to Instagram and make googly eyes at my favorite artists' new character designs. But something about being out of my own house helps me focus. Maybe it's the lack of bed. More likely, it's the stigma attached to sleeping in public places. I've never been one to fall in line with public shaming, but the corners here don't have my favorite pillows in them. They simply will not do for a nap.

Anyway, I'm not dead, Me. I'm fighting a winter cold and prepping for the deathblow to my wallet that is Christmas, but alive I shall stay until Valhalla calls me home. Wish me luck.

Inktober Inspiration by Jaz

All images (c) Matteo Scalera, y'all.

Inktober is upon us! I admit I've been slacking off, even this early in the month. Thankfully, my local comic shop came to inspirational rescue with a large-format copy of Black Science issue 1. Rob Remender can write his butt off, but i bought it for Matteo Scalera's gorgeous ink work.


To be fair, some of those blocks of grayscale are from the color version of the book. Still, the dude knows what he's doing. Those aren't pen liner outlines wih brush and ink to fill in. That's straight brush work. The way he works with darks and lights is fascinating. Its so moody.


I mean, my goodness. I normally spend my obsession energy on the Wonder Twins, but they'll have to forgive me. I still love them, but Scalera's got this game on lock right now.

Look at that contrasting layout. Look at it.

If you haven't read Black Science, you should start. It's beginning to get a little weird, but I have high hopes-- mainly based on my love of SciFi and how the story has been going so far.

Good stuff.

This Week's Read: Divinity by Jaz


I realize I'm late starting this one, but that's OK. There are so many books in the world that reading them all as soon as they're released would be nigh impossible.

Divinity is written by Matt Kindt, and therefore, I'd like to read more issues to see where it goes. Mind MGMT held my attention, and I can be picky about art styles. Kindt puts out imaginative stories in interesting worlds. Divinity begins in the Soviet Union, with a young man named Abram Adams scheduled for a secret mission. He'll be sent into space for 30 years in order to reach the edge of the galaxy. The scientists working on the mission have instructed him to rethink time and space as he knows it, because time's flexibility is the key to the mission.

It could be just like Interstellar, but thankfully, it's quite different. Kindt writes a strange and intriguing tale of a man who just wants to experience something new, and encounters consequences stranger and stronger than anything which he could dream.

I'm going to pick up the subsequent issues of Divinity, just to see where Kindt takes this.

Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Trevor Hairsine
Inker: Ryan Winn
Colorist: David Baron
Publisher: Valiant

Go read.

This Week's Read: Chicken With Plums by Jaz


Marjane Satrapi's Chicken With Plums is much shorter than her more well-known Persepolis. Even so, her narrative style is obvious.

CWP follows Nasser Ali Khan, a man who wishes to lay in bed until he dies. The process takes 8 days. During those 8 days, Nasser recalls the life experiences that led him to his decision.

It sounds horribly morbid -- and I suppose it is -- but it's an interesting look into what different people feel are insurmountable issues. If nothing else, it's always good to read more Marjane Satrapi.

Go read.

Pay The Artist. by Jaz

In case you didn't know, most artists have bills to pay. Besides rent, internet, groceries, gas, water, and electric, there are also supply purchases and student loan payments. In short, artists have to pay as much as anyone else in order to keep living.

I make sure to discuss payment before starting any work. It's not the first thing I mention, but it's a necessary part of the conversation. Sometimes, that discussion is met with confusion, irritation, or anger. Here are some excuses for this strange behavior:


1. The Myth of The "Starving Artist" As A Glamorous Condition  

Not being able to afford food isn't fun, and it certainly isn't glamorous, but many people have a romanticized view of The Artist. In their minds, The Artist lives in an expensive, high ceiling loft in SoHo with french doors that open onto a large balcony. The Artist breathes in the fresh air every morning whilst holding a cup of organic Peruvian coffee through the sleeves of an imported fair trade Ukrainian tunic, and the inspiration of the city charges them with all the energy needed to paint piles and piles of gorgeous canvas work without even trying. They don't get paid to create. They do it only because they love it.

Yea, OK. No.

Well, the coffee part is right. We tend to need lots of caffeine. But the rest of it? Nah. Most artists create their own work half of the time, and the other half is spent at a day job. The day job might be art-related, but it'll be for someone else, and since it's a job, they're getting paid for it. 

That loft, probably not in SoHo, is shared with several roommates. Even in Philly, where rent is much lower than in New York (low enough to live alone if need be), the struggle to keep afloat is serious business. Art is hard work - and clearly, because you're asking someone to do it, you don't have the skills to do it yourself. I don't need your romantic idealizing. I need something I can use. Please and thank you.


2. Bartering Is For The Birds

This is a weird one. Personally, I love to barter. You need animation? I need soundtrack design? Let's trade! It usually works out just fine, but some people seem a little put off by it. Perhaps it's because they don't want to have to "owe" anyone anything...but that's what they signed up for, so...

Luckily, I haven't run into many people who both don't want to pay a full fee and also don't see bartering as a viable option. When I have, I side-shuffled away.


3. Familial/Amiable Bonds

I get it. As an 8 year old, I drew a cute picture for you and didn't ask for anything in return. It's super cute that there are adults in the world who still draw instead of getting a "real job," so if one of them is related to you, you shouldn't have to pay for it, right?

Wrong.

Let's iterate: artists have bills to pay. Just because I decided to pursue a different career path than you did, doesn't mean I shouldn't get paid for being able to paint an 8.5" x 11" portrait of your buddy's veterinarian's sister's dog for his 5th birthday. The work, not to mention expenses, I put into my craft are high, which is why you're asking me to paint that picture in the first place. If you can make salary for sitting around in an office for the first 5 hours of the day, making spreadsheets for the next hour, and then scrolling through Facebook until you get to go home, then you can pay me a fee for my work.

Now if I offer to do a job for free, then that's different. But don't assume that because I know you personally, I'm not going to want some form of payment. Again, bartering is great! Just don't offer me a big fat nothing.


4. Personal Woes

I'm more lenient on this one. If you're about to have a kid, or you're having serious money troubles, we can probably work something out. It will most likely mean that you will receive less work from me than in different circumstances, or we set up a contract wherein you pay me in installments, but I understand that sometimes, people legitimately need work done, but legitimately don't have all the funds for it.

This is where bartering comes in handy! People have all kinds of skills, and networking through the bartering of said skills can build a great reputation.

However, please don't call me at the very end of the project, after having agreed to all the details, and give me a sob story about how your grandmother's pet snake just gave birth to 10 little baby snakes that all need food and water and you simply can't spare the cash. First of all, snakes lay eggs, so I'll know you're lying. Secondly, and here's the most important part: you already agreed to the fee. There's even a contract saying as much. I've gotten my first deposit, and a possible second if we're working off of a 3-segment payment plan, but don't lie and try to skip out on the full fee because you don't feel the artists you employ don't really deserve it. It's not only rude, it's unprofessional. A client once told me he could just Google how to animate in After Effects, and do a 4-day job himself in a day, instead of paying me what he thought was an exorbitant (but actually super low) fee for my help. Good luck to him.


Basically, unless I tell you we're good, assume you need to give something in return for my hard work. I didn't hurl myself into the cold embrace of lifelong student loan debt just so I could doodle on notebooks for funsies. I'd doodle for funsies regardless. If you're doing business with me, then you'd better mean business.

My life guru, Malcolm Reynolds, put it best:


This Week's Read: Essex County by Jaz


For a multitude of unimportant reasons (laziness), I'd put off reading Jeff Lemire's collection of tales dedicated to his hometown. I'm all about his other works, like Underwater Welder and Descender, but when I saw EC at my local library, I figured it was time to round out my Jeff Lemire knowledge.

Essex County is quite lovely. The art style is simple - black ink on white pages - but perfectly fits the stories told. The tales are snippets of life among the young and the old living in a small town. One man, a former hockey star, now works at a gas station due to a head injury that ruined his career. One boy dreams of being a superhero, while his father dreams that one day his son will want to spend time with him. A nurse does her best to care for the elderly in a home, as they are the closest relationships she has.

I'm a big fan of nostalgia. I repeat that a lot, but I do love it. Even though I didn't grow up on a farm, the book's setting feels familiar.

It's a big collection, but a quick read. I knocked it out in several hours, in between snacks. You'll want to stop and look at the artwork, and details put in and left out. I definitely recommend taking a day to fully enjoy Lemire's signature work.

Go read.

Work Like Diego, Sleep When It's Done by Jaz

Video (c) Ford Motor Company, National Archives

Diego Rivera's murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts were one of the main staples of my frequent museum visits as a kid. They were massive. I could stand in front of them 3 times a week, and still not notice all the details.

Rivera is an incredible example of what it means to truly put in work. If you've ever worked on a mural, you know it takes hours on hours of sweat, sometimes teetering on high ledges, sometimes bent low to the ground, trying to keep balance while keeping your lines clean. It's tons of fun, mind you, but it's definitely work.

Rivera wouldn't be Rivera if he didn't put in the work.

I try to remember that when I'm getting out of my side job late at night and I still have illustrations to finish and emails to write.

Vive l'artiste.