Aug 24, 2008

Alice In Wonderland Remixed

or the first video to be shared on the Magnum Arts blog, enjoy this addictive, ultra-cool remix of Disney's Alice In Wonderland. This video is so mesmerizing, I could watch it all day! If you like the music enough (and I did), you can download it from the YouTube source through the following link. Copy and paste the link into your browser, then click on the "more info" link on the right side of the YouTube window, and it will give you the mp3 link.

Directly beneath is another video, scenes from a video game called American McGee's Alice, which took Wonderland in a whole new, darker direction. The premise has Alice lying catatonic in an insane asylum, unresponsive to any outside stimuli. In order to regain her sanity, she must venture back, in her mind, to Wonderland, but she finds it a very different place. Dark, threatening, dangerous, she has to battle the Queen's card guards and a variety of monsters to free Wonderland from the evil that consumes it. This Alice is a far cry from the Disney version; she carries a knife and her apron is bloodstained. Her eyes have a vacant, haunted look. The game is a brilliant example of storytelling, mythology and graphics which still hold up. If you want to see the darker side of Wonderland, check it out. Sometimes traditional stories can be "refreshed" by telling them in a new way.

Note to Internet Explorer Users: I've noticed a big empty box that appears above the two videos; I'm not sure why. On Mozilla Firefox it appears perfectly. If you're using Microsoft's Internet Explorer, take my advice and use Firefox instead. It is a much, much, better Internet browser. It's free, open source and has much more useful features. Visit this link to learn more about Firefox.

Aug 17, 2008

Clone Wars Movie Premiere

The 501st Legion invaded the Pinellas Park Regal 16 for the opening of the Star Wars Clone Wars movie, and the event was a huge success. The best part was the expressions of the kids' faces who came face-to-face with their favorite Star Wars characters; there were a couple of kids in wheelchairs who got a chance to hear Darth Vader breathing. You can't put a price on something like that. That's what makes this organization so special: the joy that it can bring to others. Special thanks to some of the 501st members for letting me post some of their pictures.

One member has a fully functional, life-size R2-D2 'droid he built by himself in his living room. It makes all the noises and movements! I want one of my own in the worst way!!

There's something you don't see every day...jawas playing video games!

Aug 12, 2008

Your Sketchbook - Your Inspiration

As an artist, your sketchbook is central to your creative process. It is not a place for polished, perfect, art-gallery-quality work. Your sketchbook is your creative workspace, where you try out ideas, perfect and refine some of those ideas, and discard others. When working in your sketchbook, remember these three cardinal rules:

  1. Give up your impulse to control what comes out. This is not a time to be judgmental, analyzing every line and shape. This is a place to let your creative impulse run free, without restraint or control, without exception. Keep your logic center out of the process!
  2. Take parts of what work, and develop only those. Discard what isn't working, and focus on what is working, and develop that. Draw multiple versions of it. Play with your visual ideas, like a child with Silly Putty. Use different angles, shapes, and points of view. You'll never know how it looks until you throw it onto paper and see for yourself. This is where you do that.
  3. Sketchbooks are for words as well as drawings. Take notes while you're sketching, playing free association, where one note leads to another, to another. Jot down ideas that come to you while you're sketching before you forget them! This is very important. Good ideas are few and far between. If you have one, jot it down quickly in your sketchbook, so you can fully explore it later, when you have time.

Below are some scans from some of my earlier sketchbooks, when I was developing a comic strip called Conundrum. The strip starred Cuthbert, the lonely sad sack, Dirk Deadmeat, an arrogant chauvinist, Lily, the female character who always brings Dirk down a peg or two, Dirk's sidekick Frag, and Streeter, the intellectual influence. Conundrum was more of an exercise than anything else, and has not been published, but I learned a lot doing it. Click on each one for a larger view.

I usually work out my ideas with a pen instead of a pencil, since I don't really care how good the results are; I'm just trying them out. Here I had some visual snapshots I wanted to throw down, to see how they might look, or if I might be able to use them.

Cuthbert in a bumper car heading into an old fashioned Tunnel of Love? Pretty weird, and kind of amusing too.

Cuthbert separated from the pretty ladies by a brick wall...on the fence with that one. Not sure I like it.

Hmm...this idea might have some promise; Dirk trying to teach Cuthbert how to be cool by putting a Dirk Deadmeat wig on him, while Lily rolls her eyes.

I wanted to do a panel where Cuthbert and Streeter are walking on a huge board game, which represents life, talking about how random and unpredictable life can be. I had a hard time trying to figure out what angle would be the best point of view to draw the action from, as you can see. This would be a complex series of drawings, since I would have to set up multiple perspective guidelines, so everything would look correct.

Some random visual ideas I wanted to try out, to see how they might look. On the left are some ideas for a conversation between Lily and Streeter, working out the dialogue. I liked the barstool image, so I did it with watercolor, to see how it might look if it was in the Sunday paper. It depicts an abstract scene where Lily and Streeter are having a deep conversation about why Dirk is the way he is. The point of this strip would be that everyone has a motivation for something, and the most common motivation people have is fear.

Drawing The Kingdom

I had the kernel of an idea for an on-going story involving Cuthbert: he finds himself in the Kindgom Of The Depressed Souls while asleep, a development he is less than thrilled with. I jotted down my ideas quickly before I forgot them; see the page on the right. Ideas are kind of like plants; they need to be nurtured and cultivated.

I then started quickly sketching out the panels and dialogue in my sketchbook, having no idea where the story would go. Sometimes that's the best way. Don't freeze up because you haven't planned the ending. Plunge in anyway.

To my surprise, the ideas were coming almost as fast as I could put them on paper. Compare the rough sketchbook strip to the completed strip beneath it to see the difference. Again, when sketching out your ideas, your goal isn't artistic quality, it's to preserve your ideas as quickly as possible.

Near the end of the storyline, I kind of wrote myself into a corner, where I wasn't sure how I was going to end it. So, I jotted down some random thoughts about what might be the best way to neatly end this storyline (see the notes scribbled at the bottom). Again, compare the sketchbook version with the final version beside it.

At a Borders bookstore years ago I was sketching the people in the coffee shop. No, that's not the way it actually looked. I grew bored of the drawing and decided to just let my imagination run wild and see what would come out. I'm glad, because I ended up with a much more interesting sketch. The moral of the story? Don't be too realistic with your sketches! This is supposed to be fun.

And finally, I leave you with a quick, five minute sketch of a guy fishing on the Hudson River at sunset. Sometimes less is more.

So, to recap, your sketchbook is not your portfolio. It's a place where you are free to try out any idea, no matter what it is. Keep it fun, keep it simple, let your imagination run free, and when you get good ideas, nurture and explore them, and see where those ideas take you.

Aug 10, 2008

The Tampa Toy and Comic Book Convention

Just a few pictures from the Tampa Toy and Comic Book Convention; next week will be the Star Wars Clone Wars movie opening in Pinellas Park, and that will be a huge event, with over thirty 501st members there, a costume and trivia contest, and a multitude of costumes. Don't miss it!

RIGHT: The 501st table, filled with props and helmets, manned by Brian, our resident Darth Vader

LEFT: Hanging with the Ghostbusters. The Ghostbuster standing on the left is also a 501st member who has several costumes

RIGHT: Even Wonder Woman put in an appearance. Would you believe she bought those boots on Amazon?

A junior Supergirl and the Ghostbusters, with Superman looking on in the background.

Aug 3, 2008

Comics Review

It's that time again for a review of cartoon and animation-themed websites that are worth checking out. It is important for artists to surround themselves with other artists and artistic influences to foster their own creative impulses. This time we're going to look at both good and bad comics, and hopefully learn a thing or two.

Animation Backgrounds

Animation Backgrounds is a superb blog run by Bob Richards which examines the backgrounds on which classic cartoons take place. Because we're focused on the action in the foreground, we don't get to appreciate the exceptional artwork which sits in the background. Unlike today's cartoons, in which the quality of art and animation is truly horrendous, the golden age of cartoons (the 1930s through the 1950s) were artistic and visual masterpieces. Below are a couple of examples of this fine blog, which has a huge collection of backgrounds, everything from Disney to Popeye. Be sure to check it out!


While it's good to look at the best of comics and animation, it's also good to look at the worst. Unfortunately, there's a lot to look at, as a lot of artists don't take a lot of time with their craft, preferring to illustrate a tired pun or cliche. I understand the pressures of deadlines, but it's hard to forgive the worst examples, into which it's obvious no creativity or inspiration has been exercised.

Uncle Funny Bunny and Chumpy

The website Cartoon Brew has come to the conclusion that Uncle Funny Bunny and Chumpy (click for larger image) deserves the award for worst comic, and it's hard to argue with them. Admittedly, it was run during the fifties, a more innocent age when the humor was a lot more subtle than it is now, but this strip is just plain awful. While it strives to be humorous, the gags are painfully unfunny, the artwork is stiff and there is zero character development. You can't help but wince after reaching the punch lines with this strip. Check out Cartoon Brew for more examples; it's an excellent cartoon and comics-related website.

The Flintsones

My favorite blog Stupid Comics profiles this comic book produced by an educational publisher of incredibly lame Flintstones comics. Each page has a three panel strip on it, and you'd be hard pressed to even find the punch line. The setups are based on the lamest of gags, and what's worse, this goes on for fifty pages. Ouch.

Check out Stupid Comics for a lot more examples of poor artwork and writing. The commentary that goes along with the comics is priceless.

Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker

Beetle Bailey, like Hi and Lois, Hagar The Horrible, and The Wizard Of Id are so stale, past their prime and lamely unfunny, it's amazing they are still around. The gags awful, painfully stretched out over several panels and obviously cranked out as quickly as possible so the artists can be at the golf course by tee-time.

Nothing ever changes in these strips. The gags remain the same, and the characters never change or develop. Perfect example: soldiers feeling awkward around a pretty girl has been covered, oh, about a half million times already. Miss Buxley exists in Beetle Bailey as a two dimensional stereotype whose only purpose is to rerun the same tired theme over...and over...and over again.

The Wizard Of Id
- I don't even get the humor of this one, it's so bad. So someone added another pie to the windowsill? That's funny...why??

Hagar The Horrible
- See it's funny because the king said peace and Hagar meant piece. See? See?? Oh, never mind...

Hi and Lois - This strip has been consistently lame and unfunny ever since I could remember. Mort Walker takes a play on words, or the barest thread of a punchline, and stretches it out into two or three panels. When you've been doing comic strips as long as Mort Walker has, you eventually run out of good ideas, which is why there should be term limits for comic strips, so fresh artists have a chance. Instead, stale husks like these monopolize the dwindling real estate of the paper's funny pages.

In Contrast - Calvin and Hobbes

In contrast to the examples above, consider Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, one of the best illustrated, best written comic strips of modern times. The strips are insightful, genuinely funny, and amazingly rendered. Watterson is a true artist who put an enormous amount of effort into his strip, starting the process with a yellow legal pad to work out the ideas and dialogue before he even went near his drawing table. The strips were a way to examine the joys and miseries of life, to explore the outrageous fantasy world of a hyperactive six year old. Sadly, Watterson's constant battles with the press syndicate to maintain the integrity of his beloved creation contributed to burn out, and he retired.

The world is a sadder place because of it.

Here, Calvin makes an excellent point about society, and people's
tendency to use big words to make themselves sound more important than they really are. The artwork is not overpowering; it's simple, which is appropriate, because it's the ideas that are the most powerful element here. Watterson is making a good point, humorously.

Watterson is such a good artist he doesn't even need words to stir our emotions. We can all relate to the idea of having to be somewhere we don't want to be on a rainy, unpleasant morning (school, or work). Look at each panel individually, really look at them one by one. Each panel stands alone as an evocative image that has its own emotional impact. Watterson is telling a wordless story that touches something within us.

Bloom County

Bloom County, by Berkley Breathed, was at its most popular in the 1980s, although it it is still published today. It was filled with quirky characters, such as Opus, the insecure penguin, and Milo,
the cynical observer of humanity. Like Watterson, Breathed explored the odd facets of our society and humanity's fears and motivations. Unlike Watterson, much of the strip in the 1980s revolved around politics, making it seem irrelevant today. Be aware that what you're writing about may be one day outdated. Much of its humor still has punch though, and the artwork is well above average.

Here is what happens when someone tells us not to do something. What do we do? We do it anyway, just because someone said not to.

One of the running gags in the strip was the anxiety closet, a place where our darkest, scariest fears h
ide, only to come out in the middle of the night. Ever spent a sleepless night worrying about something that seemed so big, scary and awful overnight, that seemed completely non threatening during the day?

Another brilliant point, made with humor: our fears are a lot closer than we think they are. Comics can make some pretty profound points.


One of the most popular comics in the twentieth century, around the world (particularly in Europe), is Tintin, created by the Belgian artist Herge about an intrepid reporter named Tintin who travels the world, getting into all sorts of amazing adventures, running into strange characters. The artwork is nothing short of superb, and the stories are easy to follow, approachable, and keep you engaged throughout. The Tintin books have been translated into over fifty languages, and over two hundred million copes of the Tintin books have been sold to date. For an in-depth look at Tintin, visit this page.

The most striking feature of Herge's creation is its use of color, going far beyond the American comics of the time, using color for emphasis and to simulate the visual look of films. Some panels would take up an entire page just to showcase the vivid, intricately rendered detail. Herge considered his pages the printed equivalent of movies and the colors fairly burst from some of the pages.

Tintin's adventures ranged from open seas pirate adventures, to mysteries, to secret societies, and even a two-volume story about his trip to the moon (one of my personal favorites).

Herge had an excellent understanding of comic book pacing, using panels to slowly build up tension and intrigue, carrying readers along for the ride, letting them discover the clues along with Tintin. There are no annoying word boxes that narrate the action, and there is a good dose of humor (some it works, some of it doesn't) infused throughout, stemming from the odd collection of characters.

Herge, whose real name was Georges Remi, did a lot of research in preparation to planning another Tintin adventure. He would create fictionalized
countries, complete with its own particular culture and style of dress, amassing a library of photographs to draw from, in order to render his fictionalized countries as realistically as possible. Months of research and preparation went into the two-volume Moon books, even going so far as to create a miniature mock-up of the interior of the rocket so he could draw it as flawlessly as possible.

Artists are seldom spared criticism, and Herge was no exception. Some of his depictions were labeled racist, particularly blacks. At the insistence of American publishers,
several black characters were made to look more neutral in color. There were also a couple of characters that were criticized as fostering unflattering Jewish stereotypes. The lesson we can draw from this, is that your artistic creations will be scrutinized by people. Their criticisms may or may not be valid; it depends on the point you are trying to make. Cartoon art can be used to entertain, or it can be used as a tool to advance a specific agenda, one of its most powerful uses. In this case, Herge's experiences and background guided him to depict the world in a certain way, a way that some people disagreed with. Such is the life of an artist.

Herge, who was inducted into the Comic Book Hall Of Fame in 2003, died in 1983 at the age of 75 due to complications arising from anemia caused by bone cancer.

Non-Mainstream Comics

Garfield Minus Garfield

Garfield, as everyone probably knows by now, is about a lonely loser named Jon who has no life and talks to his arrogant, lasagna-loving cat. It's a mystery to me why people find this strip funny and endearing; the Jon-can't-get-a-date theme has been explored so often it's not even remotely funny anymore.

A site called Garfield Minus Garfield
removes Garfield from the comic strips, leaving just Jon, and the result is striking: an existential, thought- provoking strip that, while not funny, is nevertheless intriguing. Here you have Jon talking to himself in his sad, lonely little world, without even the company of a cat. There's something sad, and a little creepy about this new world without Garfield in it.

The Outbursts of Everett True
was a bizarre comic strip that ran from 1905 to around 1927, when one of its creators, A.D. Condo (the other was J.W. Raper) had to give it up because of health reasons. It was a fairly popular comic strip which followed a predicable pattern in every strip.

In the first panel, Everett True would be confronted with the rudeness, lack of compassion or annoying behavior of someone. In the second panel he would launch into a violent rage. The strip was meant to point out the frustration people would experience everyday nuisances and annoyances. Later, the strip added a Mrs. True, at which point Everett became the victim. There was even a movie inspired by the strip, called Everett True Breaks Into The Movies, released in 1916.

Enjoy the following examples of this truly unique comic strip! To see a lot more of this strip, click on the following link, then click on each numbered square (the website doesn't have thumbnail images, just numbered boxes for each page). LINK

Everett True is a man who truly needs a lot of anger management classes.

These days I think they would call that "simple assault", or "assault and battery".


Not all comics and graphic novels have to be funny, amusing and lighthearted. Maus is a perfect example. The only graphic novel (yet) to win a coveted Pulitzer Prize, it is a masterpiece of storytelling that tells the story of the Nazi Holocaust with mice as Jews, and cats as Nazis. This is one of the most powerful comics you will ever read.

Maus is based on the experiences and recollections of Art Spiegelman's father, who struggled to survive the mass murder and oppression of Jews as a Polish Jew, and the way those experiences affected Spiegelman's family in later years. For more information about Maus, you can visit this link.

Sometimes the most powerful artwork can emerge from the deepest of tragedies and the darkest of times. Very often writing about (or illustrating) traumatic experiences can help the healing process.

So, what have we learned today about comics?
  1. Garbage in, garbage out - In other words, if you spend a minimal amount of time cranking out a piece of art, you're going to get unimpressive, sub-standard results. If you put a great deal of thought, effort, energy and passion into your art, you're going to get superior results. This is true of just about everything in life, actually.
  2. Writing is just as important (if not more) than the artwork - Tired one-liners and cliche situations do not make great visual artwork. Use your imagination and creativity before you pick up your pencil.
  3. Be art smart - Learn about art. Look at what other artists are doing (whether good or bad), and learn from them. Art is not created in a vacuum; it requires nurturing from the inspiration provided by other artists.