I have completed the second of four installments of "We," my documentary comic based on interviews I held with recent U.S. immigrants of the African diaspora. Each installment comes with its own challenges and surprises; I am grateful to the interviewees for allowing me to document their stories. This particular story comes from a man named Maurice, from Guinea. Some of our discussion was uncomfortable to hear as a Black person born and raised in the States, but I needed to hear it. Click that "We" link in the menu and enjoy.
Today, I'm choosing to focus on the better moments in recent history, e.g. the announcement of a new Tribe Called Quest album, and the discovery that I can take a few minutes extra on my lunch break at work without anyone pitching a fit. I realize that next week is Election Day here in the U.S.A., the Dakota Pipeline is still a thing, and Black lives don't matter very much to an alarming amount of people, but Lin-Manuel Miranda's upcoming mixtape will be butter to my ears, and so I'm going to focus on that.
Towards the caps of every year, social media floods with "(fill in the date) will be my year!" Certainly, at least a handful of people really believe that- or at least, believe that if it's written down, it'll become true. I make lists to goad myself into finishing projects. It's about the same.
Truthfully, I hope it's never my year. The minute I start to believe that any moment is solely mine, one of the little voices in my head tells me to shrink my giant head before life shrinks it for me. I'm not advocating self-hate. Confidence is one of the big differences between making strides and staying still; luck is the other big one. I am advocating, however, for a realistic view of my (our) place in this world.
Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot and the jellyfish creation myth from Ishmael come to mind. While the thought that we mean nothing to the grand scheme of things should be the spark to my bi-weekly existential meltdowns, it usually arrives at the end. We are alive for a finite amount of time, teeming on a floating rock, circling a giant ball of fire. It barely makes sense. So if I get an opportunity to not be an ass (every moment of every day), I should take that opportunity. Everyone else is also an organism teeming on a floating rock, circling a giant ball of fire. We're all stuck here, so why be a dick about it? I don't want a year just for me. I'd love a year for a big handful of us. 365 consecutive days where everyone I care about is either on the come-up or in the up is a lot to ask. It's most likely impossible. But I'm not going to focus on the impossible. Dave Chappelle will host SNL with Tribe Called Quest soon.
Just so it feels like an art post, here are some figure drawings from a session at The Sketch Club the other night.
I've completely accepted that several of my fascinations give other people the willies. I like to read and talk about macabre events in human history, I frequently do things that, if life were a film, would invite ghosts into my home, and on most days, I sport a bird skull necklace. So far, I haven't been murdered in my sleep by an angry spirit. I'm hoping for the best.
Most likely, my creepiest hobby involves purchasing old photos I find at thrift stores. Collecting other people's memories is probably the mark of the villain in someone's novel - or a bad SyFy special - but after so many trips to the various resale shops around town, the salespeople have started giving me piles of them for free. It worries me a little that they support my hobby so much, but I won't question it. Every odd duck needs an enabler.
At some point, I'm going to have to put all my weird little hobbies to good use. I've started with one photo I pulled from my latest score (a pile of 30 or so that the salesman plopped into my hands with an indifferent, "Why doesn't the lovely lady take all these on the house?"). It's a sailboat:
I assume whoever took it was on a family trip, based on other photos found in the stash. I don't know what they were thinking, or why they were alone that day looking out at the only other boat on the water, but for whatever reason, they wanted to remember that moment. Since it's not my memory, I can remember it however I want. And so, I did. I highly recommend a full screen, as there's a lot more detail that way.
I have an endless supply of "memories" to enhance or destroy as I please. I'm not sure I should be allowed that much power, but the salespeople of this city haven't said otherwise. I trust their judgement. I doubt they care that much about it to lie.
By the by, if anyone reading this has any photos they no longer care for, please do not send them my way. I might be a hoarder. Time will tell.
I waited a long time to watch Bojack Horseman. I thought it would be a Seth McFarlane-esque disaster, with few chuckles and even fewer urges to power through it. Instead, it was a relatable ode to depression, addiction, narcissism, and self-inflicted pain. I'm not a former sitcom star living in luxury, but feeling hopeless and lost in life is something we all understand. Bojack keeps making his own life worse and worse, and he brings down everyone around him, including the actors who worked with him on his old sitcom.
Sarah Lynn was a child actor who went the way of many. In the show, she is heavily addicted to drugs, alcohol, and anything else that will keep her from stopping to think about her life. I won't give spoilers, but her character's plot was one of my favorites. She often laments that she didn't become an architect, so when I decided to do a Bojack Horseman fanart for an upcoming show, I focused on that piece of her background.
The show's theme is pop culture tarot cards; I picked Wheel of Fortune. Sarah Lynn's fortune is tragic, no matter what path she picks, because she remains friends with Bojack Horseman.
I don't know how worried I should be that I didn't need to find references for any of the drugs I included on the wheel. Eh. Every artist has stories. Will Arnett sure does. He does a scarily-good job as a voice of Bojack.
Bojack Horseman is copyright Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Lisa Hanawalt. Shoutout to Patrick and Ralph Carney for the incredible opening theme song, Grouplove for the ending theme, and Jesse Novak for the beautiful music in-between.
This warmup turned into a longer exercise than I expected, but I really enjoy the color scheme I ended up with. Kate Faust is a Philadelphia-area singer/musician with an enchanting voice and a serious stage presence. She just released a new song and video, called your body (breaking) - go give it a listen and a watch.
This past Sunday, I had the great pleasure of taking part in Philly Zine Fest for the first time. The convention was organized by Dre Grigoropol and Ken Amato, both Philadelphia-based artists, and attended by about 600 people. It was a fantastic opportunity to mingle with the public and other artists. I met a good number of talented people.
Even better, I got out of the house. When your business centers on staring at a piece of paper or a computer screen for hours at a time, you can forget to interact with other human beings once in a while. Although I have a day job (who doesn't?), I still make less time for talking to other people about my and their work as I should. Like many artists, I'd rather wallow in a sea of self-loathing, coffee, beer, and art supplies. Occasionally, my cat puts one paw on a page to denote her extreme dislike of anything taking my attention away, but that doesn't count as conversation.
The Zine Fest gave me a chance to be proud of my work. Say what you will about artist's egos, but it's really nice to hear that a person you've never met actually enjoys what you do. It's an even better feeling when more than several strangers express that feeling.
I got to sit next to Corey Bechelli, who is one (artistic) half of Blown Away, and Andrew Rothman of Ink Brick. Tia, a local artist who draws in a distinct creepy-cute style headed up the table across the way. A full list of the artists showing work is online, but there was a lot of talent there. I wish I'd taken pictures, but I do have a quick sketch journal entry of the opposite table:
I sold out of the majority of my stock. That's a good feeling. :)
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.
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.
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:
I hope the interviews will be as interesting to read as they were for me to hear.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So far, so good. The layer of india ink is complete, so I'm on to watercolor.
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.
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.
I don't usually do sexy pinups, but they fit the holiday. It's nice to switch things up once in a while.
(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.
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 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.
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.