Sep 29, 2010

Retro-Future Space Travel

The incredible blog Golden Age Comic Book Stories has a fantastic scan of the 1956 book The Complete Book Of Space Travel, chock full of retro-future space goodness. Tom Swift rocketships, round space stations and alien imagery. I'm diggin' it!

Sep 28, 2010


Saturday marked the start of Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the First Amendment and the freedom to read. For the uninitiated, Banned Books Week is a time when we reflect upon challenges to the First Amendment and triumphs of freedom of expression.

If banned books sound like something from the days of witch hunts, you'd be wrong. The American Library Association's (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks books that have been "challenged," often by a well-meaning parent, to be removed from a public or school library. Books as recent the Gossip Girls  series and Twilight have been on "challenged" lists in recent years. Thankfully, most challenges are unsuccessful.

What's the difference between a challenge and a banning?

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.  Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.

Challenging and Banning books is not only un-American, it threatens your rights as well, because someone else is dictating what books you have access to based on their value judgments. To learn more about book challenges and band, click HERE.

Image credit:

Sep 20, 2010

Recording Police and Security Guards

As stated earlier in this blog, I do not discuss my political views in my Cartooning and Drawing classes; that would be very inappropriate. However, I feel it is crucial for artists to know their rights, to know how to protect them and stand up for them, or else others will dictate what those rights are. Click HERE for an explanation of the Protecting Freedom category in this blog.

The website Reason Magazine has an article about recording encounters with police and security guards, an issue that is heating up with several states pressing charges against civilians who record their encounters with the police. If you are taking pictures, or even sketching a building, there is a growing chance that you will be questioned or even hassled by either police or security guards. With recording devices becoming more common, some (I say some, not all) authorities are chafing at the accountability they face when confronted with video evidence of excessive behavior. Courts are less willing to give the police the benefit of the doubt, especially when confronted by video. As a photographer myself, this is an issue that I am following very closely.

But what is the best way to videotape your encounters, and is it ethical? The same devices that can be used to provide accountability over our government can also be used for less noble purposes. Reason Magazine's article How to Record the Police examines the technology to record encounters with authority. It's worth a read.

Also worth reading is the website from the non-profit group Flex Your Rights, which educates the public about their rights when dealing with law enforcement.

It bears repeating: the rights you have, you have because people fought for them. Do not take them for granted.

Sep 18, 2010

A Review Of Earlier Posts

With the number of posts I put on this blog it can be hard to find some of the more interesting things I put into the blog. The blog is divided iinto several categories:

  • Art Education - posts about artists, events and art news to help your education as an artist. These are informative posts
  • Art Tips - Downloads to print out, educational tutorials to improve your skills and drawing lessons
  • Comics Review - Posts about cartoonists, reviews of graphic novels, books and artists
  • Events - Pictures and posts about events I've participated in, and art-related events
  • Everything Else - Posts that don't directly relate to cartooning and drawing but are fun anyway
  • Original Artwork - My art and photography
  • Protecting Freedom - Posts about the threats to artists' ability to express themselves
  • Star Wars - Posts about 501st Legion events I've participated in
  • Videos - Fun videos to check out

Here is a short list of some of the most interesting links for you to check out:

  • Dragoncon - The huge comic book and costuming convention
  • Bad Comics - Because there are a lot of them out there
  • The Sea Hagg - One of the most interesting places in Florida
  • Celebration V - The huge Star Wars convention comes to Florida
  • Your Sketchbook - You have one, but do you know how to use it?

Film Camera Commercial

This is off subject, but I can't help sharing this. Below is a laughably bad commercial for a pretty cheap Vivitar point and shoot film camera - yes, a film camera. And a crappy one at that; it isn't even auto focus. It's what's known as a fixed-focus camera, meaning it's a low quality lens that doesn't focus on a specific area in the picture. Also, it doesn't change the shutter speed. It's the kind of camera you used to see in blister packs hanging by the check-out lines at drug stores and department stores (you might still see these, but not for much longer). In an age when cameras are built into cell phones, and digital cameras are so advanced (and cheap), this commercial smacks of desperation.

My favorite part of this commercial is the added sound effect that makes the camera sound like it's got a high speed motor drive when the guy pushes the button. Puh-leeze.

This is a pretty sad last-ditch attempt to sell a poor quality camera that no one wants anymore. Enjoy!

Dragoncon - What Is It?

What is it??

The posts which follow are about Dragoncon. For those of you unfamiliar with what Dragoncon is (is is a convention about dragons? Is it a dragon scam artist?  A dragon that's in prison? What...?? What is it??), Dragoncon is one of the country's largest costuming, sci-fi, comic book and art conventions in the country. The only one bigger is the enormous Comic-Con in San Diego, which is so big it's televised every year. The San Diego con is where studios announce new releases of video games, TV shows and movies, along with giving sneak peeks.

At Dragoncon, it's a four day long Halloween party, with artist areas, discussion panels and celebrities all rolled into one. It's a chance for attendees to meet their favorite artists, actors and writers, get autographed pictures, attend discussion panels about subjects that interest them, and hear actors and producers talk about their favorite television shows. And at night, of course, it's a big party with lots of incredible costumes and good friends.

There is also Dragoncon TV.

Dragoncon TV is a 24/7 network that plays on hotel room TVs and has video footage of popular panels (such as celebrity panels you'd never be able to get into unless you wanted to wait for hours, and I never do). There are also lots of hilarious, fan-made shorts that cater to the geeky, nerdy Dragoncon audience. When you're hanging out in your hotel room taking a break during the day, or at night, you watch DTV. It's just part of the experience. Fortunately, DTV is available on-line, and it brought back some fun memories. To check out the huge collection of DTV clips, click HERE. Here are a few of my favorite clips (tip: right-click each link below  to open in a new window):

Sci-Fi Janitors: Steampunk [DCTV 2010]

I'm already looking forward to Dragoncon 2011. I have several posts about Dragoncon. Here are some links to make it easier for you.

  • To read about the discussion panels I attended, click HERE.
  • To read about some of the artists I encountered, with links to their websites, click HERE.
  • To see the best of the almost eight hundred pictures I shot, click HERE.
  • To see my post from last year's Dragoncon, click HERE.
Finally, if you want to see a documentary about Dagoncon, enjoy this YouTube documentary clip.You'll want to go yourself!


Sep 14, 2010

Dragoncon - The Panels

One of the best things about Dragoncon are the discussion panels.

There are panels about almost everything, covering almost any subject someone might be interested in. There are panels with celebrities talking about TV shows and movies (Stargate, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Mythbusters, etc), panels about specific genres such as manga, The Lord Of The Rings, superheroes, mythology...the list goes on. Then there are educational panels, run by panelists who talk about a certain area of expertise: photographing models in costume, making money as an artist, building better dioramas, storytelling, costume design and creation, prop making, writing for graphic novels, self get the idea.

Because I am expanding my business to include art and photography, I avoided the celebrity panels (which typically had huge lines, see the picture on the left). I wanted to learn, so I went to the art business panels, and I took notes. Lots of notes. It was a very educational weekend. 

Left: people waiting for a celebrity panel. The line starts down the sidewalk, up the stairs, through the courtyard and into the hotel

I thought I'd share some of what I learned from these panels with you. If you are not interested in reading my notes from the panels, jump down the page to check out the artists and pictures. If you are, read on!

The panels covered in this blog post include:
  1. Develop A Story In An Hour
  2. Anime For Parents

Develop A Story In An Hour

This one was kind of interesting, a discussion about ways to kick-start your creative processes to come up with an original idea for a story. To write a good story you need to have one of two things (or both):
  1. A really cool idea
  2. An interesting character
The discussion panelists asked the audience for a suggestion on how to start, with one saying that Ray Bradbury would often think of a place or environment, then think of something that didn't belong, to make it interesting. That would be the beginning of a thought process that would lead to a great story. So the audience tossed out a bunch of words, and the panelists settled on one:


Yes, bagel. 

How do you plan a story around a bagel, you ask? Well, think about this bagel. Do some brainstorming. Some of the ideas tossed out by the audience as to what was happening to/with this bagel. The bagel:
  1. is burning over a fire
  2. has a dead body beside it
  3. is lost in Rome
  4. is covered in sentient (self-aware) mold
  5. is rolling down a steep city street
The panelists selected #2; the bagel has a dead body beside it. Okay, is the body a man, woman? Who was this person? A burglar? A scientist? An average joe? 

The dead man lying beside the bagel was a scientist, the panelists decided. How was he killed? The bagel was part of his science experiment. It was treated with a highly toxic, experimental mold, and an assassin who infiltrated his lab to steal details of his secret experiments saw the bagel, and took a bite, not knowing what it was. Before staggering off, he killed the scientist who discovered the intrusion. Now the assassin has been infected with a deadly mold, and the only person who knows what this mold is is dead. 

Do you see how this process works now? Start with a simple idea and let your mind wander. Start brainstorming and throwing out ideas, to see which ones work and which ones don't.

Anime For Parents

I'm not a big fan of anime. I have nothing against it; it's just not an art form that I care for. That doesn't make it any less a legitimate art form, however, and my drawing students love anime. Anime has had a profound influence on American comic books and graphic novels, which is why it's pretty sad that I know next to nothing about it. This was my chance to change that.

This panel was designed for parents, to have a crash-course in anime, so they can keep tabs on what their kids are reading and watching (always a good thing). Some anime is created for kids, some for adolescents, and some for adults only. This was a very informative panel conducted by a graphic novelist and life-long anime lover. This blog post was supplemented by research on Wikipedia.

The Terms

Anime is a word that refers to any animation originating from Japan (although ironically, a lot of anime is outsourced to South Korea because it's cheaper, even though Japanese and South Korean are two different languages). The characteristic style of anime that is most recognized today began in the 1960s. There are a lot of different genres of anime, all dealing with different subject matter, and targeting different ages, genders and interests. (Wikipedia link)

Okatu - Fans of anime in the United States. In Japan it is a derogatory term for anime-obsessed fans with no life and usually no job.

Manga - Japanese comic books, or comic books drawn in that style (wikipedia link)

Doujinshi - Anime and manga made by fans (wikipedia link)

Mecha - Anime focused on giant fighting robots

Bishounen - literally "beautiful youth", stories involving androgynous men geared to female readers. "Bishi" is a slang term for this genre. One of the appeals of this genre is the breakdown of traditionally strong male roles (athlete, warrior, martial arts expert, etc).

Shonen - Literally "a few years"; manga that targets the 10-18 year old reader. A popular genre, it is generally about action/fighting, but often contains a sense of humor and strong growing friendship-bonds between the characters.

Shonen-ai - Stories about beautiful, effeminate boys in love with other beautiful, effeminate boys, usually targeted to female readers. Shonen-ai does not contain sexually explicit love scenes, but has implied love scenes as part of the storylines.

Shojo - Literally "young girl", manga targeted to the 10-18 year old female reader

Shojo-ai - Shojo-ai is the American term, Yuri is the Japanese term, and refers to romance love stories between girls, targeted to female readers, with one girl having more masculine qualities than the other. Yuri can focus either on the sexual, the spiritual, or the emotional aspects of the relationship, the latter two sometimes being called shōjo-ai by western fans of manga.

Fanservice - Unnecessary elements to a storyline, usually sexual in nature, to please a core group of fans of a series

Ecchi - Anime or manga that has borderline pornographic or sexual content (skimpy clothing, partial or full nudity). Derived from a Japanese word meaning "erotic", "lewd", "sexy", or "lascivious"

Seinen - A word meaning "young man", manga targeted at older males, usually between 18-30 years old.  It has a wide variety of art styles and more variation in subject matter, ranging from the avant-garde to the pornographic. Seinen manga is distinguished from shounen, or boy's manga by having a stronger emphasis on realism and also by having a more well developed storyline.

Josei - The female equivalent of Seinen 

Yaoi - Also known as boys' love, this is manga of a homosexual nature, created by women for female readers, with more sexual overtones to the storylines. (wikipedia link)

Hentai - Sexually explicit anime pornography. The word hentai has a negative connotation to the Japanese and is commonly used to mean sexually perverted.

Shotacon - A slang word that refers to romantic or sexual attraction to young boys, or a person who has such an attraction. It refers to a genre of manga and anime wherein pre-pubescent or pubescent male characters are depicted in a suggestive or erotic manner, leading critics to charge that this genre encourages the sexual abuse of children.  Understandably, shotacon is very controversial. Given the extreme sensitivity of this type of material, possession of it can lead to arrest and conviction.

Unique Sub-Genres of Anime

Magical Girl - girls with superhuman powers who fight evil and protect the world

Meccha Anime - vehicles, pilots and/or machine operators as the principle themes

Gag Anime - Anima that has no plot, but a series of jokes, strange situations and over-the-top reactions by characters. Some of the gags can seem downright surreal and alien to western readers

Harem Anime - stories involving a protagonist of either gender surrounded by multiple characters of the opposite gender, and the situations that arise from it (a male surrounded by women, a woman surrounded by men). This genre is usually risque and has sexual themes

Is Anime Appropriate For Children?

The short answer is yes, but be careful of the following:
  • Nudity (either sexual or just characters unclothed)
  • Sexual humor or situations
  • Permanent character deaths - in some storylines, a main character may be killed off, sometimes brutally, without warning and early in the storyline. These characters are not revived to make a happy ending. Such plot points could be upsetting
  • Dark or gray areas of morality - Unlike western stories, where main characters are generally either good or evil, some anime have characters that do good deeds but also have less-than-honorable motives as well. A character may help people for a fee, for example, but allow a town of innocent people to get slaughtered because his fee was not paid

How To Tell If Anime Is Appropriate
  • Watch it. Most anime can be found on-line
  • Check the back of the DVD case for the age-based rating
  • Read reviews of the anime in question
  • Ask around, ant anime-based conventions, clubs, on-line forums, comic book stores 



Sep 9, 2010

DragonCon - The Artists

This year's Dragoncon was much more productive than last year's; there were a lot of very informative discussion panels I attended about launching and running an arts-related business, and I spent time talking with artists who were gracious enough to share their experiences with me. Hopefully I will be out there with them, selling my art as well.

The best way to keep your creative juices flowing is to interact with other artists. See what they do, trade ideas, and encourage each other's development. Art is a solitary pursuit, so it's important to get out and socialize with others in the art scene.

Here are some of the artists I interacted with, along with links to their sites. Take a look at what they do and hopefully you'll be inspired to continue with your art. Click on the name or picture beside each artist to take you to their site.

                                                                                                       Jason Flowers does a lot of horror and science-fiction themed work., obviously a passion for him. If you're going to make money with your art do something you love to do. His blog has lots of examples of his work and also tutorials and sketches that show how he creates his pieces. To me, it's fascinating to see how artists create their work, because maybe I can pick up ideas that never occurred to me.

                                                                                                 Matt Busch has been doing this a long time, and has become famous for his art. He has illustrated Star Wars books (even working with LucasFilm, how cool is that??), worked on movies, and created work for posters, trading cards, and toys...the list goes on. He has been called "The Rock Star of Illustration".
So you think he would have a certain level of arrogance when you meet him in person. You'd be wrong. I found him to be very friendly, low key and very approachable. His work is very good, and I bought a book of his sketches that has his notes about how he creates his work.

His website has something for everyone. There are galleries, video tutorials, audio clips of interviews, and a lot more. Do yourself a favor and check out his site. You'll find a lot to see. Below are a couple of video tutorials Matt has created about how to draw Star Wars. The first one has a tour of his studio, which is fascinating. The second video deals with drawing light and shadow. Good stuff!


I love Derek's work and his laid back, retro, hipster, tiki vibe. 

Derek's work is fun, whimsical, and out of a different age that is still fun today. It's an age of bachelor pads, tiki bars, throwing platters (records) on the hi-fi (record player) and settling in for a groovy evening with some hip tunes. 

Derek's work is heavily influenced by the sixties and early seventies, an era of design that is making a big comeback, mostly because this type of design is fun! His website is a hoot as well. I got an autographed book of his at Dragoncon and in it he has a picture of his living room decked out like a south sea island tiki shack. He also designed the official Dragoncon t-shirt as well (the image on the left). Check out his site, daddy-o!

Scott Blair's specialty is pinup art; the art of the pretty girl. Pinup art has a long history, being especially popular during Word War 2. Pinup girls were painted on the noses of fighter planes and bombers, and soldiers overseas were sent pinups to remind them of what they were fighting for. Scott's work is clean and very well done. I bought a print for my studio, when I finally get it set up.

Andy Runton

Andy is the creator of Owly, a very popular wordless comic book series about a big eyed owl and his friends. He was in several discussion panels I attended. His work appeals to both children and adults, and his website has a lot of resources on it for educators who want to use comics to teach reading and writing. Be sure to check it out!

Brian creates dark and surreal paintings and wonderful three dimensional sculptures of dragons and even fanciful creatures. His sculptures are especially compelling; they're mounted on plaques like the stuffed trophies of big game hunters. Very neat!

Brian Despain
Brian's work is surreal and fanciful, usually rendered in oil on wood board. His work reminds me of the Tim Burton movie 9 and The Iron Giant.

Laurie's work is both fun and whimsical, whose characters have a wholesome sensuality without being smutty.

Laurie celebrates the female form in unique and very well rendered illustrations using colored pencil to great effect. Deb and I but several are her works, and will probably buy several more. Her illustrations are fun to look at. Be sure to visit her website.

Jason Limon

I love this guy's work. It's technically very well done, the subject matter is compelling and the images are colorful and thought provoking. His paintings are dreamy and surreal, colorful off-kilter images you might experience during a very vivid night of dreaming. Jason is very soft spoken; he spent some time talking about painting techniques with me. Check out his stuff!

Stanley Morrison

Art Prints 

Stanley Morrison is a local artist (local to where I'm from, anyway) who does primarily fantasy and science fiction art. He works in a variety of formats, including scratch board, oils and acrylics. Lots of dragons, fantasy creatures and mythical worlds.  I like his stuff; I picked up one of my pieces for my fiancee while I was at Dragoncon. Be sure to give his website a peek.

Bill Holbrook

Bill Holbrook was one of the first artists to put his comic strip on the Internet, back in 1985, making him a pioneer of sorts. Kevin and Kell has run continuously since then and he was a guest on several discussion panels I attended during Dragoncon And had a lot of insight into the world of online comic strips as well as writing comic books in general.

Holbrook also produces two other syndicated comic strips, and has been a syndicated comic strip artist for over 25 years.

Robin Holstein

Robert Holstein is an artist who creates very well-done comic comic book pages as well as expertly rendered concept art of characters buildings and science-fiction scenes. His blog is filled with lots of fine examples of his work. His business card is also quite clever. Looking at his art will probably inspire you to try something new yourself.

Tony Fleecs

Tony Fleecs is a comic book writer and artists who does really nice comic book /superhero-type art and has published a few titles. He has several art blogs, one of which has some interesting sketches of his work in progress. I like the tidy, whimsical nature of his work.

Christian Waggoner

Christian Waggoner is a truly remarkable oil painter who has created some fantastic Star Wars-themed paintings, but has also created lots of other paintings as well on various subjects, all of which look like they belong in a is beyond me how someone could be such a talented painter. His website has lots of fine examples of his work.

 Jasmine Becket-Griffith

Jasmine's work is both haunting and surreal,and crosses several genres, including steam punk, fairy tales, goth and Spiritual subjects. If you like your art noir-ish, dreamy and Tim Burton-ish, then you will probably like her work. Her paintings are very well rendered.

Dan May

Dan May's work has a soft very dreamy, surreal quality to it that makes you think of a night of fitful sleep, and fill your head with images that are mesmerizing, and vivid at the same time. His website has a large gallery of images he's painted. It's pretty intriguing stuff.

Lindsay Archer
Lindsay Archer creates gorgeously detailed fantasy prints that are, of course, for sale in a variety of formats. She works in oils, watercolors, colored pencils and other formats as well, and besides paintings she does illustration on commission. This is one talented chick, readers. Check out her site and see for yourself! No image is available to post here' check out her site.

Dragoncon - The Photos

Here are some of the best of the almost eight hundred photographs I took during Dragoncon 2010. Click on each picture to get a super-sized view

If you want to see the full album, click HERE.
To see photos from Dragoncon 2009, click HERE.

Below: the main atrium level of the Marriott Marquis, where everyone gathers to see each other's costumes, mingle and party. On Saturday and Sunday night it became so crowded that hotel staff began refusing entry to the hotel to anyone who didn't have either a room key or a Dragoncon badge. It was wall-to-wall bodies!

Below Left: one of the vendor isles is jammed with people, like an artery clogged with cholesterol
Below Middle: The costume of the main character in the video game Portal, complete with lighted portal gun. Portal is a puzzle game in which you use the portal gun to create two inter-dimensional portals to jump through a series of challenging obstacles in a secret underground testing facility...until something goes wrong. Very cool!
Below Right: Characters from the video game Bioshock, a game about genetic enhancement gone terribly wrong in an undersea city. The details are impressive!

Below Left: My costume, Snake Plissken, with a zombie Slave Leia. She did a fantastic job with her makeup and costume! She stayed in character, acting like the un-dead. This is perhaps my favorite picture.
Below Right: The Mars Attacks alien spy in female form

Left: Snake Plissken in his natural habitat: a dark city street. I had to shave the beard for the Dragoncon parade that morning; I was in my Imperial officer uniform

Right: A clever manga mini-karate figure, animated by rods connected to the legs and arms

Below Left: Two classic steampunk costumes. Steampunk is a genre of fantasy involving an alternate reality powered by boilers and steam, and costumes have lots of brass and Victorian-era flourishes and details. Steampunk has been very big recently at costuming conventions. Lots of fan fiction has been written of steampunk worlds.

Below Right: Alice In Wonderland costumes, obviously hand made and undeniably works of art. The talent, work and devotion (not to mention money) that goes into some of the costumes is incredible. This really is an art form in itself

Left: A bloody bride. I feel sorry for the groom!
Above right: There are lots of film screenings at Dragoncon; some are fan films, others animated shorts, others premiers of new movies or TV episodes. This is a zombie film screening room. Zombies are a mainstay of the costuming world 

Below: I'm not sure what this incredible costume is, but it sure attracts attention!

Left: trying to get from one host hotel to another means squeezing into a river of bodies. If you are claustrophobic, this is not an event for you!

Left: Okay, I don't know what to make of this one...

Right: These guys were getting into the whole cigar smoking, GI Joe, mercenary thing


Above Left: Okay, I don't know what to make of this one either...

Above Right: Atlanta has elevated walkways connecting three of the host hotels so that people don't have to  go on the streets to get back and forth, very handy if you are in a cumbersome costume with reduced visibility.

Below photos: various costume pictures taken at the Marriott Marquis, where most Dragoncon attendees gather





Below: Pictures of the Dragoncon parade and staging area, before the parade begins. The cardboard costumes are impressively painted and are classic super heroes.


Below: While I marched in the parade I was able to get some nice crowd shots. The number of people who turned out to see the parade was incredible. In some places the crowd was more than ten deep!

Right: this picture captures Dragoncon to me perfectly. It is a busy weekend in which lack of sleep, fatigue and exertion is part of the experience. Afterwords many people endure "con-crud", the tired, not-quite-right feeling that lasts a couple of days.

Below: The main atrium of the Hilton, the hotel I stayed in. Last year I was at the Marriott Marquis

The morning I checked out there was a fire in the hotel. Fortunately it wasn't serious; it was an electrical overload fire, limited to one elevator power conduit, but the hotel smelled of smoke. Six fire trucks arrived and fire fighters were ripping out ceiling panels on the eleventh floor to find the source of the fire