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.