Archive for the 'General' Category
Sunday, July 20th, 2014
Q: When you are tasked to draw a front cover with dozens of faces on it (like the Obama inauguration number) WHERE do you start? I avoid such jobs like the plague because I find it too intimidating – trying to get everyone in is a nightmare!
A: As it happens, I did a short tutorial on constructing crowd scenes a few years ago using that same “Obama Inauguration” image as the basis. Here it is:
I’m still not exactly sure how it happened, but somewhere along the line I ended up establishing the reputation of being able to “do a crowd scene”. I am sure my art director at MAD Magazine, Sam Viviano, can sympathize. He is well known for his work with crowd scenes, and all that implies. Simply put, it means you end up getting a lot of jobs doing complicated crowd scenes because… well…. you CAN. In the world of freelancing there is never anything wrong with getting jobs. However when a lot of jobs end up being time consuming crowd scenes, you sometimes just wish for a nice, simple single figure illustration job to cross your path. MAD has utilized me on many crowd scene projects, in particular their “A MAD Look Behind the Scenes of…” features that they have occasionally done. I’ve done a lot of them for other clients as well.
It’s not that I hate crowd scenes. In fact, I like them. They are a LOT of work but when you are done with them they are always something you can sit back, look at and say “whew! That one was tough” but be pleased with the effort. In fact I’ve been known to do much more complicated scenes than the job might necessarily call for just because a really detailed crowd scene is always visually intense and affords the opportunity to make it dense with visual gags, cameos and other fun stuff that makes the viewer really look it over thoroughly. The dense, “chicken fat” technique of filling space with a lot of gags has always been one of my favorite parts of MAD, and is something I’ve always enjoyed incorporating into my work when I get the chance… MAD or otherwise. I’ve also always subscribed to the philosophy inherent in the famous quote by Wally Wood about doing very detailed and busy art: “If you can’t draw well, draw A LOT”.
I’ve been meaning to do a tutorial on how to do a crowd scene illustration, and in late November (2008) I was assigned a tough one for MAD that I thought afforded the opportunity to demonstrate how to approach and execute a crowd scene. In consideration of that thought, I saved conceptual sketches and stages of this particular job for MAD so I could use them to illustrate how I go about constructing a crowd scene.
Design and Layout
Crowd scene or no, the first step is the same as it is for any job… identify the object or end result desired and consider the most effective way to visually accomplish that result. If that means a crowd scene, then in most cases the scene itself is a means to that end. What I mean is that the crowd scene is merely the vehicle to deliver the message and/or the main focus of the illustration. There are key areas of the scene, those that deliver the main purpose of the illustration, which need to be incorporated into the greater whole in such a way that they act like individual spot illustrations throughout the busy main scene. Effectively they act like panels of a comic book page, drawing the reader’s eye across the image. The trick is to blend these areas into the larger illustration but still make them “stick out” is some fashion so they are understood to be more important that the surrounding imagery. I call these elements “principals”. You design your entire image around these principals, setting them up in the layout first and then adding the “secondaries” or “filler” in around them. This simplifies your layout because at first you just ignore the rest of the scene and concentrate on placing the principals.
The most important part of setting up a crowd scene is establishing the point of view (POV). You need to define this and keep it in mind as you set up the scene, and the POV must serve the goals of the project. In this job for MAD, the two page spread called for a massive crowd scene at Barack Obama‘s inauguration, made up of multiple principals in the form of written gags/word balloons that would span the crowd. MAD‘s original concept was for a POV from the back facing the stage, looking down slightly on the crowd.
The problem with that POV illustrates an important point about doing crowd scenes… “Crowd Mentality”. Crowds have two important elements to their makeup. The second one I will get into later. “Crowd Mentality” means that in a general sense most crowds follow a pattern where are all doing the same thing. Even truly random scenes like the floor of a large cocktail party will result in distinct clusters of people doing the same thing… in that case conversing. In the case of this scene, where Obama is giving his inauguration address, the crowd will all be facing the podium and listening to the speech. Considering that, a scene set up from behind the crowd would mean the viewer would be looking at the backs of everyone’s heads. That wasn’t going to work, so I switched to a POV from the stage, looking out over the crowd.
In general a crowd scene is going to call for a POV that is elevated above eye level. Anything too close to eye level will result it the obscuring of the people in the crowd more than about two people deep. This particular job needs a big crowd with lots of faces, so I will have to use a fairly high POV, looking down on the crowd and not necessitating too much in the way of receding or far distance figures. In fact I ended up going with an even higher POV in the final illustration than the one in the rough above.
One side note: there are many different types of crowd scenes. The crowd in the stands of a sporting event will not be the same as one in the a fore mentioned cocktail party. When laying out a crowd scene you must take into account the environment and purpose of the gathering. To that end the most effective means to do this is to actually imagine yourself in that environment, and take a “mental” look around to see what it’s all about. In the stands of a baseball game or other sport, for example, you are crowded shoulder to shoulder with the surrounding crowd. The stands/seats of the stadium restrict the crowds to rigid spacing and straight rows. Only elements like the height of the person, their posture and how they lean will dictate their relationship to their neighbors. In a more varied environment like a dance floor, the spacing and organization of the crowd is much less rigid, and there can be gaps at random all around. Likewise at that cocktail party, there will be clusters of people of various numbers interacting. What the crowd is there for also makes a difference. Who are they paying attention to? What is the reason for the gathering? Put yourself “in the scene” and try and understand what you are trying to visually describe. (more…)
Thursday, July 10th, 2014
The Lovely Anna and I are currently in New York City with Number One Son Thomas as part of his high school graduation present. When one of our kids graduate, they get a trip with just mom and dad to the destination of their choice (within reason). Tom chose NYC and we are seeing multiple shows, touring the sites and putting some miles on the shoes.
We’ll be dropping by the MAD offices tomorrow. I was going to bring the last two pages of my latest job for them with me and hand them in like the old school guys did back when Bill Gaines was there (Al Jaffee still does this) but did not for three reasons:
1. Since my art is digital, it would be anticlimactic to just hand over a thumb drive
2. They stopped giving you a paycheck on the spot before Bill passed away
3. The issue goes to press tomorrow, and I’d have been strung up by my thumbs turning it in that late.
So, I’ll just go in and harass editorial. That never gets old.
Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Some time ago I posted some of my thoughts on the long-time controversy surrounding the creation of Batman, specifically how much credit Bob Kane really deserves and how much credit writers and artists like Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson should be given. This is hardly a new topic. Kane was a bit of a polarizing figure, and his iron-clad grip on the credit as the creator of Batman has rankled many over the years who know that Bill Finger came up with much of the backstory, mythos and elements that make Batman the enduring character he is.
Writer extraordinaire Mark Evanier has recently written a couple of insightful posts on the topic that are well worth reading. Actually everything on Mark’s blog is well worth reading, but if this issue interests you then these articles are especially worthwhile. Few in the world of comics can speak with the kind of knowledge and authority Mark can, and he has some interesting points concerning standard industry practices at the times that can make you understand why this situation happened… if not condone the rectifying of it today. Read that post here.
I never met Bob Kane or Bill Finger, but I have talked with many people who have met both. I’ve been painted many different pictures of Kane as a person, and not too many of them are very flattering. The common thread among them is that he had a lot more interest in being rich and famous than he did doing any actual creating. Hard to fault anyone for that I guess, but to then demand respect as a creator is a lot to ask. That’s all second hand information, of course. I really don’t know what kind of guy Kane was, but I have never heard anyone dispute that Bill Finger deserves a lot more credit for the creation of Batman than he got, including (according to Mark on his blog), Bob Kane.
Sunday, July 6th, 2014
Q: I’ve just come from noseying around your blog where I’ve been greatly enjoying your “The Game is Afoot!” Sherlock Holmes series. This sparked me off thinking: when creating something like this, is the subject matter primarily chosen by your own enthusiasm and tastes (I know you’re a big Holmes fan), or are you keeping one eye on what might be a popular seller when it comes to limited edition prints?
Also, I was wondering whether you have all of your prints made in one go – or if you have a few smaller runs done periodically, to minimize the risk of being left out of pocket with boxes of unsold stock? I’m just curious to know your approach.
A: As to the first question—a little of both. So far I have not had too much trouble finding subject matter for a limited edition print that satisfies both my creative interest and that will appeal to an audience as well. I don’t think I would ever do a print where only one of those factors is paramount. The Holmes print is probably as close to being one-sided in favor of my interest in the subject over its commercial potential as any I might do, but one can argue that between the Robert Downey Jr. movies, the Benedict Cumberbatch BBC series and the “Elementary” TV show here in the U.S., Holmes’s popularity is at a high point right now. I figured this one would sell much slower than my others did, and I was right on that. It’s selling well but not crazy well like the Bond and Doctor Who prints sold. In fact, I am thinking about doing another print for Comic Con in a few weeks that I’d sell alongside the Holmes print… one that will appeal to the comic book crowd a little more.
As for the printing, I get them all done in one single run and then delete the high res full sized file so a reprint, even if I would be so lame as do do one, is not possible. I keep a high res, reduced size (about 50%) file in case I want to include the art in a book or something someday, but the actual file used for the print is gone and the original art is sold. Limited edition means limited edition. The printing I do is not cheap but it’s not ridiculously expensive like a giclee either, so I am not worried about being stuck with stock. 450 prints sounds like a lot but that stack is only about 8 inches high and the investment is not that gigantic. I actually order 500 prints, so I have some extra in case of any being damaged or my screwing up numbering or personalizing them. It might take a long time to sell them all, but eventually they will sell out.
Thanks to Mike Giblin for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!
Friday, June 27th, 2014
Ended up planning a last second visit to my theme park operation in Massachusetts this weekend, and took the opportunity to swing through New York to attend the annual “Bunny Bash”. This is an unofficial NCS party hosted by the delightful Bunny Hoest Carpenter at her beautiful Long Island home. It’s a wonderful time and you see some pretty famous cartoonists there:
Gerry Mooney and Bill Janocha chat with animator Bill Plympton
A shot of the patio
The Lovely Anna won an award for being an awesome NCS First Lady! Unfortunately she wasn’t there, she was back home doing all my NCS work for me!
Some MAD folks… l to r: Me, Ellen, editor Charlie Kadau, art director Sam Viviano and Abrams Publishing editor Charlie Kochman.
Speaking of awards, Long Island Chapter (aka the Berndt Toast Gang) chairman Adrian Sinnott received the Tim Rosenthal Award for volunteerism from the NCS, and a wonderful caricature by Stan Goldberg signed but the cartoonists present. Wonderful guy… both of them!
Adrian chats with gag cartooning greats Mort Gerberg (green shirt), Sam Gross (dark hat) and George Booth (light hat)
Barbara and Mort Drucker!
Friday, June 20th, 2014
This was a recent column of mine in a recent edition of the National Cartoonists Society publication “The Cartoon!st”:
One of the things I love the most about the NCS is that our members cover the gamut of all facets of professional cartooning. Syndicated comics, comic books, animation, web comics, book illustration, gag cartoons, greeting cards… you name it and some of our members do it. I find it fascinating to hear and learn about the trials and tribulations of the different ways people make a living in this industry. I do mostly freelance illustration, which is an exercise in feast, famine, panic, and anxiety.
Like all aspects of popular media, the world of freelance illustration is changing. I used to do the vast majority of my work in magazines, but these days I am finding myself doing jobs for all sorts of different clients. Not that I wasn’t always open to doing different kinds of work, but the need for traditional illustration to accompany articles in print is shrinking and it’s become more important than ever to branch out into other outlets to stay busy. There are just fewer major magazines out there these days, and the budgets of the ones still around are less than they once were. There are still a lot of publications needing illustration, but most are niche magazines with mid to low circulations that cater to a very specific audience—publications for industries or specific hobbies like actuaries or snowmobiling, for example. These magazines still buy illustrations but they have smaller budgets and are harder to find and market to. Now more than ever it’s important to not be afraid to get “outside the box” and find work in different parts of the industry. Fortunately humor is something that is universal, and any form of media can and does need cartoonists/humorous illustrators to create visuals that invoke a chuckle while conveying whatever message they client is looking to get across.
Just to give you an example of the kind of wild swing the sort of work a freelancer might do, here’s a list of the types of projects I’ve done or am doing in the last 12 months: magazine illustrations, book illustrations, comic books, TV animation character design, product art for posters, T shirts and other merchandise, illustration for smartphone/tablet apps and assorted other jobs. In the past I’ve done character designs for CGI animation for films, concept drawings for toys and other products, storyboards for commercials and films, art for advertisements from prints to billboards, products labels, CD covers, art for computer games, movies posters, and many other diverse projects. As I write this I am working on, among other things, a 44 page comic book for an independent publisher and doing the art for a birthday party invitation. That last one may seem odd but “odd” is the name of the game these days. Actually it’s no ordinary birthday party, it’s for a big media mogul who has bands like AC/DC play his birthday party and hires MAD Magazine illustrators to do his invitations. That’s a great example of the weirdness of making a living as a freelancer… if they pays you da money you does da drawrings.
Another avenue that is becoming an important part of being a freelancer is concept art. More and more jobs I do these days do not involve my finished art being the end result, but rather being part of a larger process. Doing concept drawings for products, commercials, and TV and movies has become a big part of many freelancer’s source of income. I recently explored the possibility of getting an illustration “rep” and had a conversation with an agent from one of the biggest rep firms in the business, Gerald and Cullen Rapp. He told me that much of the work they get for their artists these days involves concepts and visual design rather than finished art. This issue’s cover story (meaning The Cartoon!st) features a cartoonist whose bread and butter is that sort of work, Cedric Hohnstadt. His career trajectory is another excellent example of how traditional illustration is evolving into work that is part of a multimedia creative universe. Like most forms of creative work, freelance illustration is experiencing a tectonic shift right now, but also a renaissance. The demand for art and the people who create it isn’t going away. If anything, it’s increasing. What’s changing in the way it’s used, who wants it and how those people find the creators they are looking for.
The eternal bane of all freelancers is fear, mainly the fear that the job you are working on is the last one you’ll get for a month or longer… or forever. This usually leads to an inability to say “no” to jobs that maybe don’t pay as well as they should or that you shouldn’t take on as the deadline is too tight or you have too much on the board as it is. No matter how busy I am, I experience a physical pang every time I turn down a job that is offered to me. A freelancer is always afraid that the phone is not going to ring again for a long time, and he or she can’t say no to a job no matter how overworked they are.
That’s one part of the business of freelancing that hasn’t changed, and never will.
Monday, June 16th, 2014
I’ve written here about the ongoing auction by the Cartoon Art Professionals Society to benefit the Sakai family. My contribution is now on the auction block (see above). It’s an ink and watercolor piece the will be part of the Darkhorse Comics special book, “THE SAKAI PROJECT; Celebrating 30 Years of Usagi Yojimbo”, Being release in July, 2014 (at San Diego Comic-Con) with all proceeds going to Stan & Sharon Sakai.
If you have any interest, please go and bid as the money is going to a good cause. Stan’s wife Sharon is have serious health problems and any financial help they can be given is a major help. I don’t think this little piece will go for very much, so you might be able to get a good deal. Plus, how often do you see Usagi and M.C. Hammer together? If you rightly are thinking “meh”, go check out the other items up for auction by real artists!
Friday, June 13th, 2014
Yesterday the internet connection in the studio, and the Richmond household for that matter, abruptly went belly up. A technician visits later today to figure out the problem. In the meantime the blog may suffer. My apologies.