Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Fear of Making it Real

After something like five years of thinking about it, I finally started writing my next OGN (original graphic novel) this week. It's exciting and... a little terrifying.

I don't know how many creators feel this anxiousness when starting a project, but I doubt I'm alone. It's not that I don't think the project can be good. It's just the opposite. I know it can be good. I know it CAN BE very good. What scares the hell out of me is the possibility that I will somehow fail to make it as good as it can be.

I'm a good writer. I'm nowhere near a great one, but I have some talent and I work hard. I care about getting better. I take my craft seriously, particularly when the project is, like this one, something that is entirely my creation (At this point it is more or less my sole creation. That will soon change, as the artist is about to begin his part of the collaboration). Still, there is a difference between the potential of the project in my mind and the reality of the project on the page.

For example: A large part of Richard Matheson's brilliant book "What Dreams May Come" occurs in something like heaven. In this afterlife, history's great artists are busily and happily continuing to ply their craft. Now, though, without the tethers of real world concerns like paint, canvas and stone, the art flows directly from the artist's brain to creation. There is no middle man to screw the deal.

I feel something like that when I start a book. in my mind, this new project has vast potential. That potential is about to meet the reality of the page. I may be able to fulfill most of the potential I see in my mind, but I'll never be able to nail 100% of it. Even though I have written a very tight outline of this book... even though I have played out the scenes in my mind a dozen times, I'm not smart enough to have anticipated every obstacle I will encounter when actually writing the script.

The first twenty-two pages of the script is done. It's good. I know it's good. It was still hard to hit that send button... hard to officially begin the process of transforming my grand vision to a inevitably slightly-less-grand book.

The good news? My grand vision exists only in my head, and it's probably only grand to me. You can all read the book when it comes out. It'll be real, and pretty fucking good.


Friday, September 24, 2010

My Coen List

Sick. Bored. Trapped in my studio. So, I decided to rank the films of my favorite filmmakers.

Keep in mind that this is all very relative. I like all of Joel and Ethan's work. Maybe later, when I have the energy of something more than a gnat, I'll come back and elaborate. Oh, and for sticklers who may want to bust my balls about Paris je t'aime, I'm only talking features.

In my own humble opinion, from my favorite down.

No Country For Old Men
Miller's Crossing
The Big Lebowski
Barton Fink
O Brother, Where Art Thou
The Hudsucker Proxy
Blood Simple
Raising Arizona
The Man Who Wasn't There
Intolerable Cruelty
Burn After Reading
A Serious Man
The Ladykillers


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

So, there is this guy named Tony Salmons. He's a genius in the truest sense of the word. His artwork is bold, visionary, consistently surprising, and unique. Unfortunately, his career doesn't measure up to his talent. There isn't enough work out there. There is no defining run on a solid comic book you can point to and say, "This is Tony Salmons." It's an issue here, an aborted mini-series there, a collection of brilliant pinups scattered across the web... and so on.

Now, I should pause to stress that, for all I know, Tony has a rich and satisfying career as a storyboard artist, character designer, etc. I hope so. Selfishly, thought, I wish there were more Tony Salmons comic books. Tony is one of those rare artists who just see and do things differently. Everything he draws, he draws in a way that I have never seen before. There is exceptional value in that. It may well make Tony's life harder. For most editors, it's just easier to hire the known commodity. But, again, I'm veering into conjecture about another man's life. There's more than enough of that online already.

The batman piece you see above hangs in my studio. It hangs where I can see it while I'm sitting at the computer where I make my living as a writer. That is no accident. This exceptional piece has been hanging in my studio for several years. I have spent hours staring at it. I have shown it to scores of visitors, and I am still nowhere near tired of it. The whole piece is so vibrant, so dynamic, so surprising... it's so goddamn interesting.

I could go on and on about this drawing. I think it's better, though, to just let you soak it up. Just look at it. Really look at it. Think about what all the players are going through in this piece. It's really a whole story in one image.

This drawing in particular, and Tony Salmons' work in general, genuinely inspire me. I'm not a genius. I have a little talent, some smarts, and I work at getting better. It's easy to envy the talent of guys like Tony Salmons, but I don't think I'd trade places with him. I think life is more challenging for true visionaries, and mine is plenty challenging enough already, thank you.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Oh, Hollywood

So, one day you're sitting in Kansas and you have an idea to write a graphic novel (a long comic book) about the Union Station massacre, and the next day you're sitting in a hotel bar in Hollywood, getting drunk and wondering what the meeting with the directors will be like the next day.

It's not that simple, of course, and it doesn't really happen overnight. Looking back, though, it can almost seem that sudden.

I want to write graphic novels. It's what I'm passionate about. I want to write big fat comic books about things that speak to me... about people that I know and who I feel are interesting enough that other people should know them too. The thing is, it's hard to make a living doing this. There are folks who manage it. Some of them manage it spectacularly. In general, though, the books don't sell well enough to support their creators. We need some help. The most conspicuous form this help takes is that of a check from a movie studio. And so, while I just want to write my little comic book thingies, I end up riding the highs and lows of the movie business.

Some days I feel lucky about the way my Hollywood dealings have gone. Some days, not so much. On my more cynical days I can't get over the fact that I had a brilliant idea for a film and then executed that idea very well (I'm very much my own worst critic, but I do believe that Capote In Kansas is a very good book) only to miss out on reaping any financial benefit from the movie business by a few months. On my sunnier days, I rejoice in the fact that my first graphic novel (Union Station) still has hopes in Hollywood and the fact that my third graphic novel (Ciudad) has been optioned and led me to that hotel bar in West Hollywood.

It is both grand and depressing that the comic book business is so tied to Hollywood. It is the source of much bitching and hand-wringing, but the fact is that comic books are wildly unpopular in this country, and we need the help. I'm like any other poor bastard. I want things to be easier for my family. I want to be free of stress about how next month's bills are going to be paid. So, I eagerly jump onto the little comic book moon that orbits the movie business. I cross every digit I can manage to cross when the wonderful people I work with release a great movie like Scott Pilgrim. I suffer when the world isn't cool enough to go see Scott Pilgrim in droves. I wait by the phone. I wonder if the stories I'm passionate about telling will appeal to some faceless studio executive. I wait for the mailman, who is surely bringing my big fat Hollywood check today!

In short, I do the work I want to do. I make graphic novels. I make them on my own terms, for the most part. And then, I set my gaze on the western horizon and... wait. Such is the comic biz!


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Arthur Bryant's - The Original

Just got home after a quick trip to Kansas City, where i had lunch with pals Kyle and Link at Arthur Bryant's.

For those of you not up on KC barbecue lore, this Arthur Bryant's is about as hallowed as it gets around here. I've been going to Bryant's since i was about six or seven. In those days, the ballpark that was home to the Kansas City Athletics (and later, The Royals) was located about a half mile up Brooklyn Ave. You could get your sandwich to go, all wrapped up in brown paper, and walk up to the game. In those days, Bryant's didn't serve drinks. You had to get your soda from a vending machine in the dining room.

Aside from fountain drinks, not a lot has changed inside Arthur Bryant's. The smoker is the same, and i like to think that sixty years of meat smoke gunk sticking to the walls add to the flavor of the current products. Bryant's has had to add a few salads to keep up with all the suburban barbecue in town. I don't really approve of salads that include dairy products being served in my old-school barbecue joints, but what can you do? Progress happens, whether you welcome it or not.

The original Bryant's sauce is totally unique. It's rich, but full of vinegar tang. It has tons of paprika (i think), and very little sweetener. It also contains lard. Yes, at Arthur Bryant's, even the sauce has lard in it. I strongly disapprove of the sweeter sauces Bryant's has added to their lineup in the last decade or so. I guess they had to respond to the KC Masterpiece crap that seems so popular with white people. Blech... White people.

My usual order at Bryant's is a sliced turkey and pork sandwich with fries. It's a lot of food, as you can see.

I don't know that Arthur Bryant's is still the best barbecue in Kansas City. There's a lot more competition these days. I do know that it's the most legendary, and that going to the original location, on Brooklyn Ave., is the experience that resonates the most with me. There is history in that dump. It's in the grease on the walls and floor, it's in the giant bottles of sauce that sit in the front windows, and it's in that ancient smoker. God love it.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010



Checking In... Again

August 18th, 2010

Well, this is something of a re-run. It's complicated. I was going to move to Wordpress, but I hated the customizing possibilities. My first post there was going to be kind of a simple test... just re-using stuff I had posted here back in 2008. Now that I'm staying put at Blogger, I figured I may as well go ahead and put this content up. I'll be back with new stuff soon. I believe this was the first Mortimer piece I ever bought. I was collecting a lot of strip art at the time, and I just thought I should have an example from Mr. Winslow Mortimer. The ebay scan looked pretty good, but the original blew me away when it arrived.

I knew Mortimer as a solid craftsman who wasn’t especially well-suited to superheroes (ala Don Heck, to some extent). What I saw in this daily comic strip was pure mastery. The compositions are solid and clear. The inking is vibrant and lively and, more than anything, the characters jump off the page. The “acting” is just superb. You don’t often see characters this this unique and energetic. There are no stock poses here. Every gesture contributes to the feel of the characters and to the overall storytelling. Winslow Mortimer’s comic strip work was a true revelation for me. I went on to buy several more examples, and I cherish them all. Even now that I’m writing much more and inking much less, there are lessons to be learned from Mortimer’s work.

Years after I bought this daily, I found an amazing photograph of Winslow Mortimer and his wife online. It’s the kind of studio photo of a cartoonist that I absolutely love. The well-dressed artist poses with a clearly-already-finished strip or page. This example also has the artist’s lovely wife, which makes it pretty unique, in my experience.

About a year ago, I answered my phone and found myself speaking to Mrs. Mortimer. Yeah, she called me. Win has been dead for about a decade, but his widow had somehow been steered to a blog entry of mine in which I talked about this photo. She was touched that someone remembered her husband. I was touched that she reached out to me. I’ll never forget the feeling I got when this lovely woman said, “You would have liked Win… he was a good man.” I bet he was.

Come back soon, and tell your friends. I'm gonna try to get back to making it worthwhile.



Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Because Max was talking about it on the Twit today, here's the Sky Masters daily I own. Pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Wally Wood. Doesn't get much better than that!

This strip ran on January 28, 1959.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kurtzman Flash Gordon Layout

Harvey Kurtzman is responsible for many of my favorite comics. He's also been a huge influence on me, as an artist and a writer. I don't think comics have ever been done much better than Harvey's EC war comics. The over-sized bound editions of Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat are constant sources of inspiration. Harvey writing concise, poignant historical fiction and providing crystal clear layouts, and then handing those layouts to some of the finest draftsmen in the history of American commercial art.

Anyway, while I love all aspects of Harvey's talents, it is his graphic storytelling that really blows me away. I don't think you could do better as an artist than to have Harvey Kurtzman provide you with thumbnails.

The great (and fucking insane, by the way... I could tell some stories!) Dan Barry was one of those blessed souls who got to work over the layouts of Harvey Kurtzman. The two did a celebrated run on the Flash Gordon comics strip. They were a great team, complimenting each other perfectly.

So, here's an example of what Harvey would provide to Dan. This would be accompanied by a written script, I assume. My pal Phil Hester uses this method quite effectively today, providing both written dialogue and drawn thumbnails.



Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Truman's Old Fashioned?

Someone reminded me that Harry Truman was a famous Old Fashioned lover. A little Googling unearthed this alleged Truman recipe.

I think I'll miss the muddling, but I'll give it a shot.

* Tiny amount of sugar
* Generous bitters
* A little water
* A little cherry juicy (1/4 teaspoon or so)
* Mix it up
* Add ice
* Jack Daniels (he used green label)
* Top with cherry and unmuddled slice of orange

Monday, January 4, 2010


Okay, since the very first episode of Mad Men aired, I've been kind of obsessed with the cocktail Don Draper seems to order most often, the Old Fashioned. There is much written about this drink online. Some call it the first cocktail. There are scores of recipes to be found.

Well, I made a lot of the damn things before I settled on what I consider the perfect Old Fashioned. It's perfect for me, anyway. I'll let you decide (and modify) for yourself.

Before we get to the recipe, a little history on my pursuit of an Old Fashioned that really works for me. Most online recipes either have no muddled fruit or too much. I like the flavor you get from a little smashed fruit, but I don't like big chunks of orange gunk in my teeth. So, I have come up with a recipe that gives me some muddled fruit, all the muddled fruit flavor, but minimizes chunks. Hence the addition of Triple Sec.

You will need:
A good-sized cocktail glass (sometimes called an old-fashioned glass)
A muddler (I got a stainless steel model on eBay, which I love and recommend)
Some good ice (I'm a fan of "factory" ice for cocktails... you just can't make it as clear and as good at home)
Bitters (yes, you really need to go get some... don't skip this)
Sugar (regular granulated)
Bourbon (I just use Jim Beam... I don't think you need expensive booze here)
Seltzer (plain water will do in a pinch, but you should have seltzer)
Maraschino Cherries (sans stems and pits)
Triple Sec (cheap is fine)
An Orange (for garnish)

And, the recipe!

Place two cherries, a scant teaspoon of sugar, and a healthy dash of bitters in the glass. Muddle until the sugar is dissolved and the cherries are pulp. Add a splash (maybe a half ounce) of Triple Sec and a full shot (or... you know, a little more) of Bourbon.

Top the glass off with lots of good ice, add a splash of seltzer and stir with the sugar spoon. Garnish with a whole cherry and a slice of orange. Impaling the garnishes on one of those little plastic swords is a nice touch.

Enjoy, and don't say I never gave you nothin'!