An Indirect Route to Cartoons-ville

Conventions were never a big money-maker for us. When we’d go to cons as a family ini the 1990s we’d run a table in the dealers room in addition to hanging work in the art show – and between the two we would normally cover at least our expenses – and sometimes more. One notable exception was DRAGONCON 1993 when we went $500 in the hole even though I swept the art show in three-dimensional work.  However in spite that loss I was glad we went to the con because it was there I got to meet Duck Edwing.

Edwing worked for MAD magazine for 49 years, contributing his own cartoons as well as writing for Don Martin and Paul J. Coker. I loved his work and was fortunate enough to spend thirty minutes talking to him in the dealer’s room, but when we traded portfolios he got a little edgy when I started gushing over his work – I suspect that after seeing my polished cover illustrations Duck may have thought I was being condescending and it took most of that half-hour to convince him that I was sincere – I loved his cartoons because it was something I could not do.

Yes, you read correctly – I am not very good at cartoons. While it is true that the graphic nature of my work can often resemble a cartoonists’ style there is something about the economy of line and conceptual precision that I’ve never been able to master and I usually end up overworking any such attempt, but last week I decided to try again – not with cartoons per se, but with a cartoon style I’ve found in a line of toys.

In the mid 00’s superhero merchandizing was overcome with an epidemic of cuteness. Marvel came out with a line of whimsical versions of their heroes called Superhero Squad while DC came out with a similar line of figures in a tie-in with the animated series Batman: The Brave and The Bold. That connection along with a more stylized look had me favoring the DC figures over Marvel line and I was quite pleased when Mattel continued the line under the Action League banner.

A non-functioning knee has in effect exiled from my second-story studio for almost a month now so my creative work has been limited to drawing tools and designer’s markers. I was putting the finishing touches on a postcard for my granddaughter Heron when I happened to glance at one of the aforementioned DC figures sitting on a shelf next to my Big Papa Chair.

BINGO!

I ended up drawing three figures – and while I used existing figures for reference I drew characters that have NOT been manufactured as part of the toy line:

  • Adam Strange
  • Blackhawk
  • Blue Beetle

In each case I went “retro”: Adam Strange is wearing his original Murphy Anderson designed rocket suit, Blackhawk is wear the short-lived mid-60s red-jacketed uniform and Blue Beetle is my favorite Ted Kord incarnation…which I’ve subsequently discovered had actually been created but never actually released as a part of the Action League series. I don’t know if anything will ever come of these drawings, but it was a good exercise in developing a more stylized “cartoony” look without getting too cutesy.

2019-09-02 DC Action League 1

One Week Down!

(…the latest update for my Kickstarter campaign)

It’s been a great first week in the campaign. We’re funded 201% which means the project is a go which means:

  1. a) I have to start planning for fulfillment
  2. b) I can start thinking about a second volume.

Once again I want to thank you for support – and also ask you continue to spread the word about Midnight Son both in person and on line. Advertising is effective to an extent but no communication is more effective or convincing than personal communication.

I hope you all have a great weekend!

Thanks again.

 

david

Why I Write (Part Three)

“We’re not your classic heroes. We’re not the favorites.  We’re the other guys – the ones nobody bets on!”

The quote above is a line from the 1999 superhero comedy Mystery Men, a film which tells the story of the Shoveller, Mr. Furious and other lesser superheroes with unimpressive powers who are called on to save the day. It also happens to be one of my favorite films that I rank above other metahuman fare such as Tim Burton’s 1989 version of Batman and Paramount’s 2011 action flick Captain America: The First Avenger. I prefer Mystery Men because I can more readily relate to the everyday nature of the group, because it’s everyday people that I am interested in.

In my life I’ve seen a noticeable change in the quality of life and social mobility which has morphed our society into a very uncomfortable pyramid where the people at the top made a LOT more than the people at the bottom – or even the middle. I’ve heard countless debates over how that situation came about, but at the end of the day I’m pulling for the little guys; the people that do the actual work. It’s because of that preference that (in the words of my fellow paratrooper John Taylor) “I speak to the common man”. I’d much rather read about a lineman than a quarterback, a sergeant instead of a general and a paramedic over a surgeon.

I think there’s something special about stories from everyone’s life and that the “special” has as much to do with the way the story as the story itself. Midnight Son is basically a collection of vignettes from the life of a lonely boy coping with the vagaries of childhood set against changing locales and living conditions – it’s only through the addition of pacing, description, and a sense of both humor and drama that changes “What I Did at Summer Camp” to “Billy and the Bear”. It is my hope that as you read my stories you’ll think about your own experiences in the same way.

Why I Write (Part Two)

I always thought actress Marilu Henner to be something special, but prior to December 19th 2010 my opinion had more to do with her role as Elaine in late Seventies sitcom TAXI, but on the episode of 60 Minutes that night Ms. Henner revealed that she had hyperthymesia or total recall memory and can remember details from every day of her life. That announcement had me sit up and notice because my memory is fairly close to that level of recall – it may not be total comprehensive details of every single day that come to mind but I can come pretty close when I stop and concentrate.

I call it my razor/laser memory and it’s a trait that runs in my mother’s family, through my sisters and me, and on to my children. Like most talents can have either a positive or negative factor in life: It’s endearing that my younger sister can still remember the army card that I swiped from her hand that made it possible for me to win our marathon RISK game on the evening of March 22d 1970, but when that razor/laser prevents a person from “forgiving and forgetting” it can be quite devastating.

Unfortunately the “rememberee” that gets a false impression or skewed perception is in for real trouble because those mistaken memories can just as persistent as was the case when I spent fifty years trying to correct my mother’s take on a cheating incident I was accused of in sixth grade. Faulty perceptions are a major hazard because a person’s frame of reference can change so many times, especially in youth and adolescence and with family members as individualistic as mine total agreement on past events is a rare thing.

…so what does this have to do with my writing? I was in my mid-forties before I learned that not everyone had the same pretty-close-to-total recall when I happened to speak about a sketchy incident from school that an old friend had thought (hoped?) to be forgotten. Fortunately the vast majority of people that I share these memories respond in positive manner in much the same manner they’d react if I’d pulled out a photo album, especially when I stress that what I remember was influenced by my perceptions at the time.

Writing was the next logical step – I’ve always been a fan of what they now call “non-fiction creative writing” as penned by the likes of Tom Bodett, Bob Green, Garrison Keillor and Jean Shephard and I was an early fan of observational comics like Robert Klein and Dave Steinberg so it is no surprise that I took this path when I started seriously word-crunching again.

(more to follow)

Why I Write (Part One)

(Today’s update for the Midnight Son Kickstarter campaign)

As befitting a weekend progress over the last two days was modest but consistent, but along with pledges came an interesting question:

“Why did you start writing?”

(Or why did I jump into the literary world after a 30+ career as an illustrator/designer?)

The truth is I never stopped writing – a statement which may need a bit of explaining.  I started out creating with both words and pictures but when it came time to select a major in college I decided on art for one very important reason: When I am creating art I can listen to music, watch a video or carry on a conversation but when I am crunching words the area around me has to be a monastery with absolute quiet, a situation that would never have been possible with the three precocious children that grew up in our studio.

However, during all that time working in visual art I look every opportunity to write that came my way which maintained my proficiency. While my service as an officer in the military required me to write evaluations I also wrote recommendations for awards & decorations, I put together newsletters for every church congregation or civic organization I belonged to, and I didn’t flinch from writing letters to newspaper editors when needed.

In short I kept in shape, though the process involved writing instead of running, which made easing into the blogosphere a very comfortable transition – and moving from my blog to a book seemed a natural development.

Thanks again!

d-

BINGO!

Mornings are rarely my friend but this morning I woke up to a pleasant surprise as sometime during the night the project pledge count had been reached! Reaching this milestone means we will definitely be going forward and getting the books published which will be happy thing for you readers as well as myself.

Thank you all so much.

I also want to extend special thanks to two people who’ve lent special support to me – often literally propping me up – as I’ve gone through the process of writing and sharing my work:

  • My Beautiful Saxon Princess AKA my wife Lori Deitrick. For more than 42 years she has been my inspiration, motivation and better half.
  • Marc Miller (of Traveller Fame). Marc and I have conferred, conspired and co-created over the last 37 years but for this project he has been the Obi-wan to my Luke. If it wasn’t for Marc my efforts at getting this book published would have ended up with peddling stapled-together ink-jet copies down at the mall.

2019: Fractal-blessings

Even though it has been in use for over thirty years fractal is a word that remains a little ambiguous to me. Oh, I’ve read many definitions to include that by the Fractal Foundation1: A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop… Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals: trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes, etc.”

 …all of which is incredibly informative but a bit unwieldy to use in composition or conversation so I tend to think of fractals as: lots of little bits that all look alike and are used to make larger things that look like the little bits. I also use fractal as a found word2 for descriptions that lack a more exact term, a situation that has come about since my mobility became limited and my pain level increased. I am very goal-oriented and tend to think of life in big-picture terms, but I have had to learn to set fractal-goals and recognize fractal blessings.

Where I used to meticulously map out each week in terms days filled with interlocking blocks of time filled with work or appointments I’m now happy to make it to the bathroom and back unaided. Where I used to take my comfortable home life for granted I am grateful for the individual efforts of each member of my family. Instead of just plopping into a chair I am grateful for that one perfect pillow that isn’t too soft or too firm. I read and reflect on each name/like under the FaceBook posts.

Instead of a general “it’s all good” I’ve become more aware of – and more thankful for – each good thing in my life no matter how small.

The fractal-goals and fractal blessings.

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Notes:

  1. A for-real  New Mexico-based non-profit organization advocating math and science education through the use of fractals.
  2. See 2019: Found Words

Keeping an Eye on Things

One of the scariest aspects of ankylosing spondylitis is the effect it can have on vision. It’s all tied in with way A/S can mess with your immune system but to be frank the technical details don’t interest me as much as the physical symptoms. No one likes to have their vision impaired but for a visual artist blindness = death. As best as I can tell Iritis is the worst case scenario and so far I’ve dodged that bullet, but general photophobia is also common, and anyone who has known me for long is familiar with my ever-present squint, as documented by every photo taken of me from infancy on.

Sunglasses have been a godsend to me and at 66 I am close to blind in the noon-day sun without them. Sadly enough vision problems impact on my production as well – while LCD screens don’t take the same toll on my eyes that cathode ray tube displays did,  I still have difficulty staring into a screen or working under a desk lamp for any length of time and sometimes that difficulty translates into a gap in posts for this blog.

…and yes, the title is a terrible, terrible pun.

2019: Found Words

Art Appreciation was the class I was least interested in teaching when I first took on college art instruction in the fall of 1988, but as luck would have it was the class I taught most often and eventually my favorite subject to teach. Looking back it should have been no surprise as the course combined two of my academic loves (history and art) but I also enjoyed it for all the new information I picked up on technique and philosophy.

One concept especially interesting to me was the use of found objects – everyday consumer goods, packaging and cast-off items – in work by creators such as proto-Pop artist Joseph C. Cornel. I adapted a modified version of this idea in my own work by recreating combinations of everyday objects from wood, paper and resin and the general idea continues in my work to this day, but since I am more prone now to word-crunching than paint-sloshing I look for found words instead of found objects to use in artistic expression.

Many of these found words I’ve borrowed from foreign languages. While my two sons have been blessed with the gift of tongues, my own foray into linguistics has been tentative at best. I started with German in fifth grade after listening to Wehrmacht troops growl their Teutonic lines on Combat!  and college entrance requirements herded me into Spanish and Spanish II classes in high school. In 1974 my pride earned me a borderline B- in a university Japanese class but for the most part my use of other languages was an occasional word or phrase that added emphasis or humor when needed.

As a teenager and young adult most of those individual words were swear words, and not surprisingly many of them were bogus words that someone had invented1 then passed off as part of another culture’s lexicon. However in the last few years through the debatable miracle of FaceBook I have learned a couple of colorful terms so useful that if not actually part of another language should be declared to be so.

One is kintsukuroi,  a Japanese term that translates as “to repair with gold” and refers to the art or repairing pottery with precious metals with the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for being broken and repaired.  Growing up on a frontier meant using things until they wore out and fixing them when they broke and that mindset has stayed with me throughout my life. When we were first married My Beautiful Saxon Princess could never understand why I prized my patched Levi 501’s over my $502 designer Hash jeans with the star embroidered on the butt pocket. It wasn’t until we went through lean times of our own that she began to understand the concept when she saw how I treasured the cut-off jeans I wore every summer in the late 1990s, shorts that I wore not for comfort but for economy  when I took the money I would have otherwise spent on new trousers and used it in getting our sons launched in life.

Hiraeth is a term I’ve just recently discovered and as I understand it comes from the Welsh or one of the other Celtic tongues. It refers to homesickness for a place that you cannot return to, a place that no longer exists or perhaps never was. As we cope with a heat wave that is excessive even for Tennessee while our current society  warps more and more into a condition that I struggle to understand, this word comes to mind quite often, and I long for a place and time that is much cooler in both temperature and temperament.

As for crapulent; yes it is an English word, but is has a Latin root so I include it with my list of found words. I first heard it years ago on a Simpsons episode and while technically it refers to physical suffering from excessive eating or drinking it’s much too useful in describing a general dissatisfaction with daily life – when I wake up to find the last bit of milk left for my Trix has gone sour, my shoelace breaks when tying my shoes and there is a tax audit notice in the mail nothing describes my situation better than to say I’m having a perfectly crapulent day.

Unfortunately one found word that I wish I could un-find is cultural appropriation, a term used in a pejorative manner when referring to the use of words of items normally associated with another group, as in “only a Japanese person should wear a kimono”  or “only a Native American should do voice-over work for an animated Comanche warrior.” While I understand the importance for respect for all cultures I came of an age when more effort was put into being inclusive  rather than divisive – if certain current social trends continue I wonder if there will come a day when I’m judged too melatonin-deficient to love old school R& B or in possession of one too many Y chromosomes to be a true Joni Mitchell fan.

Whatever.

Until that day comes I will continue to borrow and tailor words from all sources to better communicate with and sometimes bring a smile to those around me.

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Notes:

  1. When I was in fifth grade I was convinced that my sister Robin had invented the word “barf” while my best friend Mark was convinced his older brother had coined the word.

 

  1. …which was serious money in 1977