Sep 30, 2011

How To Read Manga

How to Read Manga
(An analysis of manga as the highest expression of sequential art and its position in modern pop culture)

This blog post is based on a discussion panel hosted by Jake Tarbucks, supplemented with my own research

Manga, translated literally, means “crazy pictures”, and is a format, not a genre. Manga crosses all genres, including westerns, sci-fi and romance, and can look like anything; there have been manga versions of popular western comic books, such as Star Trek and Superman.

According to the book The World of Japanese Comics by Frederik L. Schodt, the word manga can mean anime, caricature, cartoon, comic strip, comic book, or animation. It was created by the Japanese woodblock print artist Hokusai in 1814, who was trying to describe something like whimsical sketches. However the word manga did not become the popular word into the beginning of the 20th century.

A publishing company used to be required in order to produce and print a manga book, with trucks having to deliver them to stores. It is now possible, because of the Internet, to produce manga directly online, bypassing all of the brick-and-mortar steps that used to be required. The Japanese publishers have figured this out; they realized all they need is an editor, copywriter, and translator.

The result is that sooner or later, people will begin getting their manga directly from Japanese publishing websites, as opposed to bookstores. This makes it easier to produce manga in different languages, directed to different countries and cultures.
(image credit:

“Why do you waste your time reading those comic books?” 

How many of you have had to justify your passion for manga or comic books to family, teachers, or friends? There should be no shame in choosing this format for entertainment, and consuming our media.

Consumers of manga have traditionally been looked down upon, and the format treated like a sub-genre of comic books. There has not been a lot of respect given to manga, despite the fact that it has a very strong following, and readers are very devoted to the format, much like football fans are very devoted to their favorite teams. 

Manga, anime, cartoons, and comics have all been traditionally looked down upon as low culture; indeed the word "comics" implies a format incapable of any kind of high expression.

The most common graphic novel that is used to rebut these claims is the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman, a graphic novel published in 1986, with the sequel published in 1991, that tells the story of Spiegelman's father and his experiences surviving the Holocaust. This graphic novel was the only one to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, which helped to gain some legitimacy for the format of the graphic novel.

 (click on the image to purchase)

One of the biggest problems in gaining legitimacy for the format is the very word comics. Most of what we read in comics and manga are not comical or humorous. The word "comic" is associated with standup comedians, slapstick comedy, and lowbrow humor.

But "comics", as a form of storytelling, goes back a very long way, all the way back to cave man days.
The earliest art ever created were sequential images created before written words were used. These images were arranged in sequence in order to tell sometimes very deep and meaningful stories, about religion and culture.

As language was developed, and manuscripts in ancient books were written, illustration continued to be a very important part of communication.

(image credit:

Sequential art is at the very root of art and history and literature.

Examples of this include key drawings by Neanderthal cave men and illustrations found in Incan and Mayan cultures. These illustrations told the story of heroes, battles, and gods, and they were told in sequence in order to tell very deep meaningful stories. These were in effect comic books, but for them, they were the highest form of literature and storytelling.


Above left: One of the most common Mayan art themes painted on Maya vases is the royal audience. The ahau, seated characteristically with legs folded, receives visitors. (image credit

Above Right:The Nativity; Harley 2876 courtesy of the British Library (image credit:



High Art Versus Low Art

Sometime around the 1600-1700s, a division was created between high art and low art. Prior to this, art was for everyone. But during this time, two classes of art became prevalent: the cheap art for the masses that cost little to produce, and the expensive art that was mainly designed to be consumed by the upper crust of society.

High art was supposed to be the epitome of artistic achievement, created with a fine materials, using meticulous techniques, expressing very refined and noble sentiments.

The appreciation of high art depended on educated taste, intelligence, and social standing. High art was supposed to be respected by everyone, but only the rich and educated were supposed to be able to understand and fully appreciate it. If it was too popular, it must be bad.

Low art was aimed at the common masses, not the elite of society, and was produced with cheap materials such as newsprint, using cheap methods.

If it was popular, it must not be very good, because the masses were not educated like the upper crust of society were, or so the logic went.

The Rise of Pop Culture

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were artists who rebelled against this separation of art, declaring that all art is equally good.

The best example of this was the artist Andy Warhol, who deliberately chose to mass-produce silk screened prints of such generic items as Campbell's soup cans, to make the statement that low art, or pop culture, was just as valid as high art such as paintings of the Mona Lisa. 

Another example is the artist Roy Lichtenstein (right), who deliberately copied the look of comic book panels using oil on canvas to simulate the crude quality and offset printing process used to make comic books, to make the point that pop art was just as valid as so-called high art.

The comic strips created by underground cartoonist Robert Crumb (below) have also been hung in museums and galleries. Ironically, some of these pop-culture pieces are now hanging on the walls of museums, and are valued at millions of dollars.

In short, the people who know the least about art are the ones who make this high art-low art distinction. Like any format, there is bad literature and good literature, but the format of comics and manga is not what defines that.

Our brain is wired to interpret and see the human face. It is a form of survival, it helps us to recognize whether a predator or another person is a friend or foe, based on their facial expressions. Is this person going to attack me, or embrace me?


Facial expressions and body language are what our brains interpret to help insure our survival. This is why people see faces in clouds, and why inanimate objects seem to have "faces". 

How many times have you read about someone seeing the face of Jesus or the Madonna on a slice of toast?

We see ourselves in comic books, which is why we do not need extremely lifelike illustrations in order for us to identify with the characters.

A perfect example is Charlie Brown, which has a bare minimum of facial features, but is a character that almost everyone identifies with. The simpler the illustration, the more symbolic it is, and the more meaning that we give it.

The three things which determine facial expression are the eyebrows the eyes and the mouth, because they move. The nose, chin, shape of the head...they do not move, and you cannot tell a person's expression by them.

People often assign emotions to a face where no such emotion exists, because our brain is wired to do just that.

Manga has an extreme level of detail in the backgrounds, but manga faces tend to be extremely simple. The faces have been stripped down to the bare features on purpose. This allows the reader to fill in the blanks on their own. Our brains take in a little bit of information, and fill in the rest.

(image credit: Love-An-Cafe)

Which is why when you see only the upper half of a character in a comic strip panel, you know he has legs even though you can't see them. If you cannot see the characters' other arm, you know it's there, because your brain is telling you it's there. People who have brain damage are unable to make this distinction. When we read comics and manga, we are creating a three-dimensional image in our minds that moves with the story, because our brains are filling in the rest.

Where are Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus standing? On a city street? In a house? In a desert?

They are standing outside. How can you tell? Those scratch marks in the background. What are those? They could be anything.

Our brains tell us the scratch marks represent grass, and our brain fills in the rest. We see an empty lot, or a field.

Manga: Built For Speed

Manga is meant to be read very quickly; readers do not spend a lot of time on each page, Manga artist design their pages to be scanned rather than read, and they use a lot of imagery and symbols that our brains can interpret very quickly in order to create a three-dimensional story. 

The average manga reader takes roughly 20 minutes to finish a 320 page comic magazine. This breaks down to 16 pages a minute, or just under 4 seconds spent on each page. This is possible because of the structure of the Japanese narrative.

Unlike American comic books, Japanese comics make extensive use of purely visual effects and symbolism. American comic strips have been shrinking in the newspapers for years and consist of only three or four panels; American comic books are 20 pages per issue. The typical Japanese comic book artist has over 30 pages to use as they please per week. One manga story will often consist of 10 volumes, or over 2000 pages.

Manga character design

Manga artists deliberately make their characters symbolic, so that you instantly know who a character is, or what kind of character you're looking at. In manga, the character must be instantly recognizable. For example a shojo heroine has instantly recognizable features, such as big bright eyes, a demure face, a particular type of body and posture, and hardly any nose. The word shojo refers to a young woman approximately 7 to 18 years old.

If you saw an actual human being with a tiny to almost nonexistent nose, they would look like a freak. But in the world of manga it looks perfectly acceptable.

One of the most recognizable characteristics of manga is the large, childlike eyes of many of the characters.

The large eyes in manga and animation have become a fixture since the 1960s, when Osamu Tezuka began drawing them in this way. Tezuka, considered by many to be the godfather of anime, is responsible for such famous anime works as Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Black Jack. Osamu Tezuka's prolific output, pioneering techniques, and innovative redefinitions of genres earned him such titles as "the father of manga", "the god of comics"and kamisama of manga . Learn more about him HERE.

However, Tezuka did not invent the big eyed style, he was merely mimicking the Betty Boop and Disney cartoons that were popular at the time.

In his autobiography he writes, “I felt that existing comics were limiting...most were drawn... as if seated in an audience viewing a stage, where the actors emerge from the wings and interact. This made it impossible to create dramatic or psychological effects, so I began to use cinematic techniques... French and German movies that I had seen as a schoolboy became a model. I experimented with close-ups and different angles, and instead of using only one frame for an action scene or the climax (as was customary), I made a point of depicting a movement or facial expression with many frames, even many pages... The result was a super long comic that ran two 500, 600, even 1000 pages.”

Why Such Big Eyes?

Research has shown that large, childlike eyes increase the attractiveness of a character, and manga artists use childlike eyes to increase the appeal of their protagonists. In manga eyes you see the eye reflection that exaggerated, regardless of the surrounding lighting.

The lighting of characters who are dead or who have died is darker, and does not have a reflection. People with large eyes in manga are considered more trustworthy, where as the narrower, stereotypical “beady eyes” are associated with distrustful and dishonest characters, such as burglars.

At some point the spiky hairdo became the symbol of the good guy, whereas the evil characters tend to have more elaborate clothing, and narrower eyes. These are clues which help instantly identify the type of character in a manga novel. Manga also has a a large assortment of symbols and iconic imagery to depict various emotions that do not happen in real life, but serve to illustrate various emotional reactions in characters. To read a lot more about manga iconography, click HERE.

Below is a list of all of various anime and manga genres. as you can see, manga has genres targeting both genders, in all age groups.

Manga Genres

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 

Hearing For The First Time

This is too good not to share. A woman who was born deaf hears sounds for the very first time after receiving a hearing implant. The tears are tears of joy. Man, I love stuff like this!

Sep 27, 2011

Dragoncon - The Video

This isn't the official Dragoncon video, but it should be. This music video captures the essence of why Dragoncon is so much fun. At the end of the video, if you want to see more, is a link to an expanded Dragoncon video that is twenty-two minutes long, to get even more of the Dragoncon experience. Enjoy!

Sep 16, 2011

Links To Important Blog Posts

The Magnum Arts blog is designed to be fun and educational. Thanks for stopping by!

To make things easier to find I have assembled some of the most noteworthy blog post links below. This blog is used as a teaching supplement to the Cartooning and Drawing classes, and hopefully these posts will be interesting, inspiring and helpful.

Below is a very touching e-mail I received from a former Cartooning and Drawing student of mine. It made my week! I've been given permission to share it with you.

You might not remember me.  I only took one from you a couple of years ago in Dunedin.   Shortly thereafter, my marriage collapsed. I don't think the two were related.  :-)  One of the things I learned from the divorce is that when someone touches our life in a positive way, you need to tell them.

So  I ended up in Columbia, South Carolina after a period of turmoil.   And now that I'm settled here, I have signed up for a class in drawing at the local community college. I'm telling you all this because as a result of taking your class, I re-discovered that drawing is fun (I'm 39).  I haven't stopped since.   Part of what I learned from you is that it's ok for me tell a story with my drawing even if my drawing isn't technically perfect.  And I can look back and see that I've progressed -- a lot. 

And maybe more importantly, I'm teaching those skills to my 8 year old daughter.  Last weekend I drew out 16 basic shapes for each of us, and we sat on the couch and made each one into a face.   Then we traded and critiqued each other's work. :-)   (All positive critique, of course -- "I really like the nose on this one").  That's teaching her a number of good life skills.

So -- thank you.  The work you do makes a difference.

Wow, how cool is that..?!

Onto the links!

Dragoncon 2011 Pictures - Check out all the photos from this huge annual event!

 Dragoncon 2011 - The Artists - Links to some of the insanely talented artists I met

Dragoncon 2011 - Discussion Panels - Notes from very interesting art and writing panels

Dragoncon 2011 - The Podcast - The first Magnum Arts podcast ever, a 16 minute tour of Dragoncon, with interviews and audio taken during the event

Cartooning The Head and Figure - Printable sheets to download to help improve your skills in drawing the head and body of your characters 

Found Slides, A Life Remembered - The original slides I found in the vintage projector, along with details about the families in them, something which became a big news story and was covered by numerous TV stations

Found Slides - The Whole Story - The whole story about the found slides and the families in them, which was posted on Kodak's official corporate blog. Check it out!

The Last Text - This subject is so important I'm putting a link here. A short, jarring documentary about how texting while driving can kill you...or someone else. Definitely worth a look.

Welcome Artists - Another list of helpful blog post links to help you as an artists

Sep 14, 2011

DragonCon Days 2011 Podcast

This is the first Magnum Arts podcast, and fittingly, it is about Dragoncon.Feel free to download it to your favorite mobile device, share it, or listen to it right from this blog. This will give you an insight into what the fun is about, and includes interviews and recordings made during Dragoncon. Enjoy!

Sep 13, 2011

Dragoncon 2011 - Discussion Panels

Below are the notes I took from several very informative discussion panels at Dragoncon this year. I was going to three or four panels a day until Sunday, when I became "paneled out". These panels were very interesting, and I'm sure you will find the information helpful.

Graphic novels for teens and young adults 

Graphic novels are a format, rather than a genre (like audio books are a different format than paper books)

The terms comics and graphic novels are often used interchangeably. Comics were mostly low-quality and poorly written for a long time, and had low-quality writing and artwork. One of the best known and most celebrated cartoonists Will Eisner created created the term graphic novel to differentiate higher quality comics from lowbrow, cheaply produced comics

Designing your character while working on writing the plot allows for more versatility, and changes to character and dialogue

The dialogue should match the imagery in your panels, and should not be too wordy, or overwhelm the artwork. Caption boxes in panels can be a crutch, and can convey unnecessary or repetitive information (i.e, MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH, ED WAS GETTING READY FOR THE GUN FIGHT)

Many good graphic novels were mentioned during this discussion panel as being appropriate for teens and young adults. I've compiled an Amazon wish list of them, so that you can check them out yourself. To get to this list, click on the image below:

Characters come to life

The character is the emotional heart of the story, and the best qualities of a character involve the following:
  • the "voice" of the character - what the character says and stands for, what principles he has
  • the flaws, dimensions, quirks and different levels of imperfections a character has
  • small personality quirks that are different for each character, which differentiate themselves and gives each character a distinct identity. For example, each character will have a slightly different personality quirk which serves to separate them from the other characters
  • sympathetic motivations. Why are characters doing what they are doing? What motivates characters to do what they do?
Villans must be understandable, maybe even sympathetic, but their logic must be flawed. Many villains enjoy their villainy and know they are villains. You cannot have a villan without a hero, and vice versa

The story is the answer to why, what the meaning is about. The way humanity views the world is through the lens of a story. We are all motivated by stories, whether it be a story about how you got to work or how a trip went. We often make up a story about our day to day lives, about the things that happen to us.

Watch people, and understand their stories, and borrow from other writers

Do a character sketch in words to get a handle on how your character behaves in various situations.

Hurt your characters to see what happens, to see how they respond, and how they will react.

Think about what possessed you as a child, and what drove you to do what you did

Learn to control the depth of your characters. Some characters should stay in the background, or else they will take over the story. The lead character should drive the action, but sometimes it is okay to let the main character take a backseat.

A background character can sometimes take over for some scenes and assert themselves. The author needs to maintain control over these characters, and prevent them from taking over the story.

There are characters that you have fun with, that are not always the main character, and cannot carry the whole story, but are fun to write for. The main character has to have the broad shoulders required to carry the story, but  is not always the most interesting character in the story.

There is a structural relationship between characters and plots:
Objective Plot Line: the “above view” story that unfolds in front of the reader
Main Character Plot Line: the character's journey through the plot
Impact Character: the character who has the biggest impact or influence on the main character in the story
Subjective Plot Line: the emotional line that runs through the story
These four plot lines compose the structure of the story.

Know “the rules” of the world you are creating before you break them. Every world, whether real or unreal, has certain rules, whether it be physical rules (gravity, how the atmosphere works, whether the volcano will erupt and why, etc), or social rules (the social customs of the people in that world). You have to know what the rules are before they get broken for the story

Having only preliminary concepts of a plot is another way to begin a story, as characters sometimes write themselves.

Two characters talking to each other can also help jump start the plot, in how they relate to each other, and can serve to move the story forward.

There is what happens in the story, and then there is what the story is about. Find a reason for the character to be the main character, someone who can fill that role naturally, so it does not look staged or unbelievable

There may be some story elements or characters that you really like, but just do not belong in your story, and have to go. Getting a writer's block may be a sign that you are on the wrong path. Saying “how do I move forward” may mean you are off course in the story. try stepping back and try the story from another direction

Experience life and people in the real world. It will make your writing a lot fuller and more realistic. Get out there and live life. Writing and art is not created in a vacuum. Put the video game controller down and live a little

How do you keep your characters from sounding just like you? Here's an interesting tip: “Cast” famous actors as characters in your story to help you flesh out their personalities. Write your characters as if you were directing famous actors.

Reading aloud can help you with your dialogue.

Finish what you start, then move onto the next thing. Always finish what you were working on. You have not yet written your best work and you will write something better. You will improve and you will learn. Even if you think it's bad it is not a waste of time to finish.

Almost all narratives have to have a human viewpoint that guides the actionand drives the character.

What you read colors and affects what you write. Choose your reading material carefully while you are writing, as it will influence the narrative of your story.

Writing short fiction
Writing short fiction requires a different approach than writing a novel. With short fiction you have to be precise, and do not have the space that you have in novels to tell the story. Each sentence in a short fiction story has to matter.

The kinds of stories you like to read will dictate what you will write.

The more characters you have in your short story, the more space you will need. How many characters and scenes do you have?

One benefit of writing short stories is that they do not take a lot of time to write. If your idea doesn't work out, you haven't wasted a lot of time.

Writing short stories teaches you to expect rejection. Getting rejection letters is less painful for a short story than getting rejected for a novel you spent a large amount of time working on.

There are four primary elements of the story:
  1. The setting: a character enters and then leaves a place. The story involves the characters adventures in a place.
  2. What happened: the story begins with a question or mystery, and ends when the question or mystery is answered or solved.
  3. Character: the main character is lacking in some way, and the story ends when he finds what he's looking for or dies.
  4. Event: something happens that upsets the natural order of a place, and the characters respond to that series of events
Some stories mix and match the above elements

Stream of consciousness writing is a valuable writing exercise that helps free up creativity. Spend time writing without having any idea of what you will write. Write for 10 minutes with no plot or characters.

Do not be so tied to the structure of a story that you are unwilling to deviate from that structure when the story requires it. Learn to be flexible in your storytelling.

Rewriting allows you to focus just on imagery, emotions, descriptions, so that when you set out to write, you don't flail so much.

On the first page the reader needs to know where your character is and what's going on, to make them want to know what's going to happen next. The story really starts when the action starts. Short stories have no room for extra unneeded details

How long should a story be? A story needs to be as long as it needs to be.

Read various genres of writing, not just the genres you like to read most. Reading across different genres will broaden your horizons and improve your writing.

Ending a story-some suggestions:
  • An ending that refers back to the beginning
  • the specific goal of a character is achieved and reconciles the issues within the story
  • know what the ending will be first, and then write the story towards that ending
  • write the story that is burning in you, the story you want to tell
Hard twists: if a hard plot twist is unexpected and satisfying, it works. If a reader feels cheated by the ending, it does not work. If a reader feels cheated by the ending, and felt like their time was wasted, then the story has failed. Have some clues, even obscure clues, all on the way, that guides the reader to the ending, to keep them interested and thinking about the story after they have finished reading it

Every time you go to a place or different scene or location in your story, it costs you words. Make sure what you write does double duty and gives descriptive context to the story.

Sep 12, 2011

Dragoncon 2011 - 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. He is also local, in the Tampa area.

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. Very creative, well rendered and engaging work that makes you think there's a story behind each painting.

Laurie's work is both fun and whimsical, with characters who have a wholesome, playful sensuality without being smutty. She, like Derek, is one of my favorite artists I've encountered at Dragoncon so far.

Laurie celebrates the female form in unique and very well rendered illustrations using colored pencil to great effect. Deb and I bought several of her pieces, and will probably buy several more in the future. 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 last year. 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 museum. It 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 dark, 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, so check out her site.


Todo creates fantastic paintings of portraits, hyper realism, surrealism and fantasy, as well as tattoo designs. His work has a unique style and crosses several genres. Nice stuff, take a look at his site.