Unrequited

I’ve lost count/track of all the reboots in DC Comics during  the last couple of years, reboots that have been mildly disappointing  in that a character I am following will either disappear or change beyond recognition. Such was the case with the disappearance of the Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl dating from earlier in this decade. Not wanting to see the character completely disappear I decided to create an image of her for my  studio  – and since I like more light-hearted books like Amanda Conner’s work on Power Girl  I came up with the composition pictured below.

2013-01-01 Unrequited.jpg          Sketchbook Batgirl S. Brown.jpg

The failed romance between Batgirl and Bat-mite depicted in Unrequited is something that would fit in the aforementioned books but as I was comparing the finished art is on the left with the preliminary sketch to the right I realized that this was another case where I liked the sketch much, much more that the finished art.

There is something magic in a sketch – a promise of good things to come, a promise that is not always kept. Fortunately with my cut-paper work a do-over is relatively painless …and Unrequited is definitely headed for a do-over.

I think this time I am just going to scan up and work directly from  the Batgirl sketch…

 

Nightshade

Nightshade

Another page from my sketchbook: Nightshade, a back-up character from  Charlton Comic’s Captain Atom book. Sketchbooks are good place to experiment and my books  end up with a lot of drawings from unexpected POV’s,

It’s  always a challenge to update old characters – I mean how much do you change before they start to lose identity? Added to the challenge is the shallow depth of detail in most Silver Age heroes: comic work doesn’t pay very well now and paid even less fifty years ago. The emphasis was on speed so the fewer wrinkles, seams, belts, tools and such the better and it wasn’t unusual for pencillers to see their work gutted by inkers who omitted detail and resorted to heavy shadow area just to increase daily page rates.

In some ways superhero costuming has hit a baroque – almost Rococo level of excess detail. I think  Michael Keaton’s original bat-suit/armor as designed by Jim Ringo for 1989 version of  Batman had the ideal degree of detail.

The Analoggers Strike Again!

Image

This week’s Saturday Morning Re-run: I found this post the other day while doing prep work for my “Cheap Tricks” book project and thought it was notable/repostable in that I made it exactly forty years ago during the Christmas break of my last year of undergraduate work. Staying immersed in work was a good way of dealing with the tension of the very imminent arrival of our first child Conrad – who started his run-in to the natal drop zone during the 31 December 1978 episode of Battlestar Galactica.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

The Analoggers Strike Again!

Well, not recently. This was done for my senior portfolio when I graduated from BYU in 1979.My three years there were not the happiest time in my academic career and it seemed like I was always “leading with my chin”. Since I was also enrolled in ROTC and due to go on active duty it shouldn’t have made that much of a difference…but it did.

During my last semester I really went all out to put together a great portfolio and this TV Guide mock-up was the centerpiece. I ended up redoing every illustration in my book that last semester. My only regret is this is the best copy I have, which is sad because this and “Solo Kill” won me awards in the student art show that year.

This was all done with cameras, copiers and hand-skills. For some reason I kept the clear acetate overlay and 13 years…

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Phagor

PhagorThis is one of my earlier sculpts – a phagor from the Brian Aldiss Helliconia trilogy.  In the fall of 1991 Easton Press gave me an assignment to create a frontspiece illustration for their signed limited hardbound decision of Helliconia Spring. Most of the other figures and elements involved were fairly straightforward but I had never been happy with any previous version of the goat-like phagors  I had seen so I made the bust and shot reference photos.

Production notes: Super Sculpey with a metal armature on a wooden base and painted with acrylics

Music: White Car

 

Despite my fondness for the genre I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about the British progressive rock group Yes. I immediately took to their first single ”Your Move” but the AM radio version I first heard at the University in the fall of 1971 did not accurately reflect the band’s basic sound. The raucous addendum “I’ve Seen All Good People” tacked on to the tail end of the album track was missing from the radio version, so I was immediately taken with vocal harmonies and a pleasant, maybe even pretty, acoustic accompaniment topped off with a majestic but not overpowering organ in the last couple of measures.

Hmmm. Kind of like Crosby, Still, Nash and Young, I thought.

Then Marty and Jeff  down the hall played The Yes Album in its entirety and I became a fan of the band on their own merits and not because I though they sounded like someone else…but since I really, really liked the harmony and uncomplicated nature of “Your Song”  I mentally filed it in a place separate from Fragile, Closer to the Edge and other subsequent Yes Albums.

Time passed, and music evolved:

  • The Moody Blues broke up then reunited into a shadow of themselves.
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer alternately mugged our ears/broke our hearts  with Love Beach.
  • Along with more than 200 million other Americans I survived the Great Disco Epidemic by the narrowest of margins.

With all these changes I found my tastes in music evolving to modern jazz artists like Tom Scott and Tim Weisberg while my progressive rock albums gathered dust on the shelf. I also found that my life was changing as I went from student to missionary to student to soldier  – until one night when I was sitting in our quarters at FT Richardson with KRKN1 playing on the radio  while I was spit-shining boots.

…so while I’m fumbling with matches, a can of Kiwi shoe polish, and an old diaper, an album began to play on the radio. I missed the introduction  – and as KRKN was an album-oriented rock station there was no deejay patter in between tracks  –  it  took almost all of that first track to figure out that maybe, just maybe I was listening to a new Yes album.

Then the track ended, there were several seconds of between-track silence and then the second track started to play, and I was transfixed.

  • Kettle drums lead with synthesizers-posing as strings, creating a melody that toggles between classical music and a motion picture soundtrack.
  • A mandolin plays a syncopated accompaniment in the background.
  • A very martial-sounding roll on the snare drum and a kettle-drum repeat winds up the segment.
  • The whole thing starts over again and repeats three more times.

…and then the vocals start but I will warn you: if you listen too closely they screw everything up. The first few times I listened to “White Car” I really keyed into its quasi-soundtrack feeling and let the vocals work as pure instinctive sound – another instrument in the band. The combined effect of  indistinct voice and music painted a magic mental picture of walking along the docks of a port in some alternate reality steampunk city and taking in the sights:

  • Ships featuring both sails and steam-powered paddle-wheels
  • Nautilus-like submarines with bulbous glowing eye-ports
  • Rigid-frame airships; zeppelins winching cargo up and down from the surface
  • Singer Gary Neuman2 driving around in a Stingray convertible

SKKRRIITCCHHHH!

Nothing can drag the tone-arm across the Great Record Album of Life like this non-sequitur.

I see a man in a white car
Move like a ghost on the skyline
Take all your dreams
And you throw them away
Man in a white car.

 ….namely Mr. Neuman’s white Stingray, which is the official subject of this composition.

 However this short (1:21) song worked such powerful magic for me that I trained myself back into listening with “vocals as instruments” ears  and I’ve kept “White Car” in every format and playlist I’ve had since that night in 1980. It provides a wonderful eighty-one second side-trip to a nicer world and has done wonders for the anxiety that so readily besets me.

My only complaint since then is minor and has to do with the song’s placement in the playing order of the album Drama. It brings to mind a spin-the-bottle game I was drafted into when I was much younger. I say drafted, but I went quite willingly when I found that the game already included a beautiful brunette I was very interested in.

…but when I sat down in the circle I discovered that the young lady in question was flanked by…by…I’m sorry – there’s just no tactful way to describe the two young ladies sitting to each side of my  raven-tressed Faye Dunaway wannabe. Their appearance in contrast to her beauty  was as jarring as having “Man in a White Car” situated between the equally jarring and discordant  “Machine Messiah” and “Does It Really Happen?

.. but that contrast might just be what makes “White Car” so beautiful. Sometimes a sharp contrast goes a long way in bringing out both physical and musical beauty.


Notes:

  1. KRKN (104.3 FM,) was an AOR (album-oriented rock) FM station in Anchorage Alaska from 1980 to 1986 when it changed to an oldies format. Through a process that totally mystifies me the KRKN call letters are now assigned to a country music station in Iowa.
  2. Yes, that Gary Neuman of “Cars” – the 1980 New Wave techno hit that will now be running through your mind and driving you crazy for the rest of the week.

Charlton’s Peacemaker

Peacemaker cover

Comics fans tend to divide the market into two monolithic superpowers – DC and Marvel – especially when talking about the Silver Age of the 1960s. However there was a  smaller third contender known as Charlton Comics that would weekly duke it out with the Big Two for space on those spinning comic racks. Charlton started out doing television and movie tie-in books but for a short time they had an Action Hero line that gave the big boys a run for their money.

…and the title Action Heroes was a deliberate move to distance the Charlton books from the rest of the market. Editor Dick Giordano had always favored the Batman-model for heroes – regular human beings righting wrongs and facing danger armed with just  hard work and imagination rather through the benefit of superhuman origins or equipment. During Giordano’s tenure  all the Charlton super-powered heroes were either changed into non-super versions (like Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle) or substantially reduced in power as was the case with Captain Atom.

DC bought out Charlton in the Eighties, so you can still find versions of Blue Beetle and The Question in print, but some of their comrades weren’t  so lucky as was the case with The Peacemaker. Billed as “The man who loved peace so much he was willing to fight for it” Peacemaker always struggled to find a home in DC and was finally  written out in a recent reboot event. His methods of operation didn’t translate well into contemporary books, but I also think he suffered aesthetically ; there was a logical explanation for his outsized helmet (it housed long range communications and sensor equipment) but I imagine his foes weren’t able to look for long at that particular piece of headgear without starting to snicker…and I personally  wonder about the effect a good stiff crosswind would have on that thing.

It’s  also hard to draw. I’ve tried my usual update-magic on Peacemaker’s entire outfit, but that helmet is proving to be troublesome….

Peacemaker sketch

Tremors and Dial-tones

Nostalgia rather than fear was the overriding emotion in our home during the March 1964 Earthquake. As we had been living in that howling wilderness otherwise known as Spenard for less than two years we styled ourselves as  temporarily  transplanted Californians rather than locals so the first few tremors brought on smiles and “Hey – just like back home” rather than any expressions of fear. It wasn’t until we lost our television signal (and the closing scenes of the “Invasion” episode of  ‘Fireball XL5)  that I began to feel  any emotional distress.

However things were a little different during today’s quake– I was chatting on the phone with my sister Heather when she stopped for a moment then said: “Oh boy…earthquake!See the hanging lamps? – they’re bouncing all over the place.”

Intestinal Stukas  started churning my insides as I nervously glanced around my own living room,  but I was puzzled to find all our lamps perfectly motionless.

Suddenly the proverbial  lightbulb flashed on  and I made a conclusion of my own:

  • Heather wasn’t asking me to look at the lamps, she was talking to my nephew Zack.
  • My hanging lamps weren’t bouncing around because Heather, Zack and the quake – were 4135 miles away in Sterling Alaska.

For my dad aviation was the best yardstick for measuring the march of progress – he was born into a world with biplanes and lived to see television broadcasts of regular shuttle service to  the International Space Station. For me it’s been phones: 55 years ago a call from Tennessee to Alaska would have been made only under the most dire circumstances, taken the help of at least three operators and would be made using a device that could not be owned by an individual – it  had to be  leased from the phone company.

I’m still getting used to it.

2018-11-03 Tesla Strong

2018-11-03 Tesla

Tesla Strong, daughter of science-hero Tom Strong and a rugged science-hero in her own right. Tom Strong is a creation of Alan Moore/ Chris Sprouse and appeared in America’s Best Comics, part of DC’s Wildstorm imprint. The books ran through most of the 2000s and are among the best comics of the new millennium.

Additional references can be found at:

  •  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Strong
  •  https://www.amazon.com/Tom-Strong-Deluxe-Vol-1/dp/1401225365/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1543168999&sr=8-5&keywords=tom+strong+book+1

 

 

 

 

1979: The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter

It was topic common enough for the end of any spring semester. While  recording grades for the first critique of the semester our instructor  asked everyone in turn what their plans were for the coming summer:

  • Karen was going to intern at a magazine in Salt Lake City.
  • Dan would be taking a remedial math class during the summer term.
  • Bob had scored a sweet  gig doing backgrounds at an LA animation house.
  • I would be flying helicopters for the Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Total silence

There’s nothing quite like being surprised by someone else being totally surprised. Even though I’d  been an ROTC cadet the entire time at BYU,  Sarcastic Instructor1 was quite startled at the prospect of me actually raising my right arm, swearing in and becoming a second lieutenant. To be totally frank I wasn’t too sure about the decision either –  bridging the gulf between creativity and controlled mayhem had been fuel for many sessions of anxious introspection during my years as a college student but I’d always figured that one of the two options would nose ahead of the other  by the time I finished with school.

…at least that’s what I thought the previous summer when I’d hit creative roadblock of such magnitude that the military seemed my only viable option but in a perverse twist of fate I’d made an artistic comeback and was well on the way to building a truly magnificent portfolio. Unfortunately I still had to complete Sarcastic Instructor’s 400 level Illustration II class, and his response to my announcement about “summer employment”  was a rolled-eye glance in my direction as he announced the subject for our mid-term project.

The assignment was to rework an existing lack-luster record album cover for which I was given “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” by the Incredible String Band.  As I went through all the tracks on the album the group’s reedy vocals and use of medieval wood-winds backed by contemporary instruments suggested a marriage of artistic vision. I felt  a combination of Patrick Woodruffe’s rich textures and trompe l’oeil effects with Jim Sharpe’s punchy linework and airbrush backgrounds would work, , but what I ended up with was a mish-mash of stylistic inconsistency. The background worked out nicely but my effort to hork Mr. Sharpe’s styles devolved into an indifferent main-figure, which Sarcastic Instructor referred to during the preliminary critique as my “quasi-comic-book style”.

I returned home in a foul mood – I had a 48-hour respite before the final critique but attending to all the details of graduation and commissioning had already put me under the gun time-wise. Starting over from scratch was not an option so I masked off the background and started to airbrush white ink over the main figure with a vague plan for re-penciling the image – and that’s when the magic happened. The notoriously fugitive Dr. Martin’s dyes I had used to color the original figure began to  bleed into the white ink and in the process a  wonderfully ethereal figure began to emerge from the panel.

It was so. Totally. Cool.

In a perfect world I would have gone back to the final critique to be met  with effusive praise from Sarcastic Instructor but the best I got was “Well Deitrick, you pulled it off”. Six weeks later I graduated with a bachelor’s degree and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army. Another six months later I was flying TH-55 helicopters in basic flight training.

…and forty years later “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” occupies a place of honor on my living room wall, carefully angled away from the front window and the UV light which would permanently fade-out the Dr. Martin’s Dyes that accidently changed the painting from a disaster to a masterpiece all those years ago.

HangmansBeautifulDaughter


 

1: See 1978: Superman With A Paunch