Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bobby Spillman: Super Star

Here is a sneak peek behind the scenes at some pencil pages by Bobby Spillman. Looking pretty swell, Mr. Spillman. Sub days are good to this here graphic novel.

Anthony Max

I can't tell you how many times I've seen a cool tattoo and asked who did the work and the response was "Tony Max". I'm not even surprised anymore, I almost expect it. There are some very talented tattoo artists in the Memphis area, but tattoo artist is too limiting for defining Tony. Tony is just a fucking artist. What medium do you say? "What have you got?" would probably be his response. The guy clearly loves the creative process and is one of those types that has to noodle with something until he figures it out. He paints on everything. Paper, canvas, shirts, even shoes. He really and truly is a virtuoso that can't be contained by one creative medium. If you are in the market for some swell skin ink you can find Tony at No Regrets Tattoo Emporium.


 Fairly recently, Tony began work on a tarot deck and I was thinking it would take him forever to crank out almost eighty pieces of art. EIGHTY PIECES OF ART! No, not really, because the guy lives and breathes art. In no time at all, it was finished and now he's back on point for our project (cough cough). Take a look at his blog and see a very different side of Tony's art. This series evokes comparisons to the super talented Dave McKean. Not many artists can jump around so freely from style to style like Tony can. He definitely deserves your attention and most probably your money. Just put it into a wheelbarrow and take it to him. He'll probably fix you up with a piece of art on your skin or maybe even something to put in a frame. 

So a few years ago, I approached Tony and asked if he would like to try his hand at some comics. I was chomping at the bit to get something going and I knew Tony was a very good artist, but at this point I didn't know the depths of his talent. He got started and it was looking good. But then he got busy and just sort of hung up on the process. I think maybe he not only wasn't comfortable with the style he chose, but he was also finding his way around the medium. A lot of time passed without seeing any progress and occasionally I would plead with him and ask if there was anything I could do to speed the process up. "No, I'll get to it", would be his usual response. I was starting to think I was going to have to move on from our collaboration when something wonderful happened. I'm not sure what caused it, but something clicked inside of Tony and he pumped out a bunch of pages, each one more beautifully rendered than the previous. I think he made like 22 pages in one month and he was still clocking his normal hours at work. Woof! Where had this productivity been? Gotta figure out how to tap into this aspect of my fellow collaborator.

At any rate, we are in the home stretch of the project. I think we lack 9 pages of art by Mr. Max and we can finish up the lettering and formatting before we find this thing a publisher. Tony's superb art will go a long way to making that happen. I am very proud to be associated with him and his art and we have some ideas for future projects that I'm pining to get to work on. If you are a fan of Tony and the idea of him working on a "surrealist" project sounds enticing, bug him about it. That is all I will say for now. Suffice to say, I am dying to get the project rolling because it's super cool.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy This!

Recently, I had the good fortune (or so I thought) to go to New York City. After a little sight seeing, I decided to do something socially conscious for the first time in my life. This southern hayseed was going to the Occupy Wall Street rally and pitch in. I didn't think much of my attire, but I it played a major part of why things went so wrong for me that tragic day. I was wearing a Penny Arcade t-shirt and I put exactly zero thought into the idea that this would come back to haunt me. I'd worn it dozens of times before and was no worse for the wear.

Everything was going so well at first. I was fighting for social change with other poor people and just generally busting The Man's chops. I'd waited my whole life for this moment, but the exuberance of the day was to be taken from me. I went on a Quicky Mart run to secure some tasty beverages and I cut through an alley to save some time. That's when my lights were turned out and this time it wasn't MLG&W. Someone hit me in the head with what I presume was a club and I don't know how long I was out, but it seemed like days had passed. Everything was dark and I couldn't move.

Eventually, there was a bit of light and it was apparent that I was tied to a chair. Panic set in and my mind wandered to the feel good comedy series Saw. I struggled, but to little avail. Bonds don't break like they do in the movies. Soon after, the lights started strobing and an electronically distorted voice began to speak to me. "Why were you wearing a Penny Arcade t-shirt?', the voice demanded. "What lead you to purchase it?" "Would you purchase again from the site?" It went on like this for a long time, just a litany of bizarre web comic related marketing questions.

It got even weirder from there. Next I was subjected to listening to the Swamp Thing Theme on constant repeat. If that wasn't weird enough, I had to view random punchline panels from the  web strip Let's Be Friends Again. I can only assume they are funny if the previous panels are included. After several minutes of this torture I was a broken man left in a delirious fugue state.

I don't know how, but at some point I got loose. I felt my way around until I found  a door knob and made my way up some very steep stairs. At the top was a door that turned out to be a fake bookcase on the other side. In the next room I heard voices that I presumed belonged to my captors. I cautiously made my way to get a look at them and to try to hear what they were talking about.

"Look Chris, you know how Michael Johnson had those bad ass gold colored sneakers? I got a closet full of actual fucking gold sneakers, yo. Thank you, Haliburton Stock!"

"That's cool, Curt. I really dig hanging out here in the Bro-Mansion drawing the strip, but could we make a Jack Pirtle's's run?"

"Has it already been ten hours since your last break? I suppose so, bring the Bentley around."

I was held hostage by a billionaire playboy/web strip entrepreneur and his much poorer protege. Tortured for knowledge I might have freely given them, but I suppose this is what the super wealthy do when they want something. They just take it. That's why I say when we are done "Occupying Wall Street" we take down Mr. Fahrenheit and The Enthusiast with extreme prejudice. And before you support this uber-wealthy zealot's web strip, look into your heart.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Studio: Wrightson, Kaluta, Windsor-Smith & Jones

In 1975 four figures came together in an art commune setting and formed what would be called "The Studio". Those four people were Wm Michael Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bernie Wrightson and Jeffrey Catherine Jones. They lived and worked together in the Chelsea District of Manhattan. These guys were unique because their incredible comic book work more than hinted at fine art. Anyone familiar with the work of Arthur Rackham will see his enormous influence on William Michael Kaluta. The line work and themes are unmistakable. It might be a reach, but one might see a bit of Albrecht Durer in the awesome Frankenstein pages by Bernie Wrightson. Check out the recently republished book by Dark Horse Comics. It is an awe inspiring work and as I understand it, Bernie met up with a kindly benefactor who made the pet project possible. Bernie spent seven years fine tuning these works of art which total fifty full page illustrations. In Barry Windsor-Smith's work the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites is worn on his considerable art sleeve. Last, but not least, the legendary Frank Frazetta once referred to Jones as "the world's greatest living painter". No small compliment indeed. 

To think that all of these incredible talents lived and worked together is mind boggling. They assuredly encouraged and pushed each other to do the best work of their careers. They are all still very talented, but the seventies were the pinnacle creatively for all of them. Don't get me wrong though, Kaluta and Wrightson still crank out some very nice work. I can't remember the last time I saw any new work from BWS and sadly, Jones is no longer with us after succumbing to illness in 2011. But what a glorious heyday that must of been. Oh to have been a proverbial fly on the wall. These are the things that keep me up at night.
Barry Smith, as he was known back in the early 70's, hit it big initially with Conan and his work is considered the standard in that niche. Later adding his mother's surname, Windsor, I suppose to sound more distinguished, but I'm pessimistic that way. Maybe he just wanted to give mad props to the ol' boid. Smith, while a creative super nova was his own worst enemy on the business side of things. He supposedly has major works for both Marvel and DC that have been promised to eventually see the light of day after many years. Only time will tell, but it is looking doubtful and this either points to an individual that can't complete a task or has trouble working with others. If I could pick a dream scenario to work with an artist on a project, BWS would be way up there.

Kaluta made his bones on the seventies DC book The Shadow. It still remains a character he remains closely associated with. For the most part, Kaluta has made a career out of cover work and more specifically his work has found a home in the DC Vertigo line. He did countless covers for the series Books of Magic and some of the spin off titles. I met him once at a little convention and wile maybe a bit gruff, he was very charming. I suppose we have to forgive New Yorkers for that though, eh? He seemed to be the Michael Cain of comics. He was serious about his craft, but he was also focused on making as much money as possible. If you don't know what I mean by the Michael Cain bit, IMDB him and take a look at his list of credits. That dude wants a paycheck whenever possible.

Jeff Jones later became known as Catherine. Yup, Jeff had always wanted to be a woman and eventually went through the process. While all of these characters are interesting, Jones' life has to take the cake. Sadly, it was not always an easy life for Jones who battled depression and even put down art for a time. To be so supremely talented but to be weighed down with demons that wouldn't allow for the creation of art just seems an incredible tragedy. Jeff, or rather Catherine later rebounded and started making art again before succumbing to emphysema, bronchitis and hardening of the arteries around the heart. You will be missed Catherine.

I have heard tale that Wrightson, for all of his virtuoso talent, broke his drawing hand in a bicycle accident and that his line was just never the same afterward. I would agree his work has slipped, but he is still very talented. 70% of Bernie Wrightson is better than most artists ever come close to.

The Studio was fascinating zeitgeist moment in the little insulated vacuum of comics, but they forever left their influence on generations to come. There are probably tons of interesting stories about these characters, so if you have one feel free to share in the comments or email it to me and I will post it.

Monday, October 10, 2011


So my second project that has a bit of steam behind it is called "The Fisherman" and it is with artist and bon vivant Bobby Spillman. Bobby is an interesting character and we have become good friends as a result of this collaboration. The project is slated for 88 pages of comic goodness. Bobby has finished the first chapter and the second is underway. It will be awhile before he finishes, but it will be worth the wait. We usually catch up on Sundays or Mondays and share a few beers while talk of conquering the art/comic worlds and I endure a fair amount of slander from Mr. Spillman. That dude is mean. Woof. He has a fine blog of his own over at Spillmanville, go check it out and become familiar with the insanity that is Bobby Spillman. I also get a weekly education of the MCSS. Anyone who endures all that  entails is a hero.

So this project of ours was originally supposed to be black and white with some artfully stained comic pages. It looked really good and I was pleased with the direction it was taking, but at some point Bobby bombed one of the pages with color like he was SAMO busting out a message on inner city walls of NYC with a can of spray paint. I think we shared a few looks and all of a sudden it was a color project. Suffice to say, Bobby had to retrace his footsteps and rework every single page he had completed. It also meant he would be spending more time on future pages. It doesn't matter though, because it will be worth it. I know that we are both very proud of this book and can't wait for it to become something we can hold in our grubby hands.

There isn't anything typical about this project. The layout is a tribute to the classic Japanese prints of Hokusai. We both are big fans and it was a touchstone in figuring out what was a suitable project for us. Every right hand page is a splash page, but not in the usual trivial sense. In most super hero comics it usually means it's go time or something explodes. It's often just a cheap device to fill a page. That wasn't how we viewed it at all though. Bobby's splash pages are fine art prints and they even tell a story, but when they are added to a page of more traditional comic panels they become something more. It certainly is not a style I would want to try every time, but for this book I think the format helps it to really sing.

You can expect lots more posts on this project before it hits the market. And get to know the work of Bobby Spillman. You can view his paintings at Bari and also at 3 Angels Diner. The food is damn good at both places too!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Set It Off!

It has been years in the making at this point, but my first foray into the comic medium is almost complete. It's a graphic novel that will be 112 pages of story plus a few extras, so probably in the 120 page range all told. This project has lead me through a gamut of emotions in trying to push this thing to the finish line. New pages equal joy. Watching someone put their care and craft into something you created is just awesome and I'm eternally grateful for my collaborators helping this become reality. Waiting huge amounts of time for new pages is very discouraging. It would have been very easy to have thrown in the towel and quit.

I've been working at a comic shop for an insanely long amount of time and I suddenly became aware how many times I had said "I could do better". So I decided to call my bluff and sat down and knocked out a comic. But what was I going to do with it? One issue of an artsy project wasn't worth spit, but what if I could add to it and make it book length? Now we've got something. Even if it doesn't hit initially, it is a bona fide property and potentially has a shelf life. Maybe its down the road when I generate some interest with a project and this one retroactively becomes commercially relevant. Everyone prefers success, but I can live with it being a failure. Birthing a piece of art, regardless of what people think of it, is a very satisfying process. Don't get me wrong though, plenty of ego is invested in these projects I have going. Yep, there are a few other comic project going and I will get into that very soon if anyone is interested.

Lettering is under way and when that is complete I can finally submit it to publishers. I feel good that someone will want to publish it because I will have a fully realized graphic novel with some top notch art. Pretty good stuff for beginners (which we all are) really. We shall see though.

The above featured art is by: Anthony Max, Jean Holmgren, Randy Valiente and Adam Shaw. I'm extremely proud to be associated with these very talented and kind people. I hope that this thing pays off for them especially as they have done the hardest part of the project or at the very least the most labor intensive. There are tons of people who define themselves as artists that say they would like to make a comic, but I think very few people realize how much work it is and and how difficult a task. You aren't just drawing pictures. You are telling a story and leading the reader's eye. Those are skills that are developed and you probably have to crank out some weak pages before you really get to cooking as a comic artist.