28 December 2010


Improvisation, at least in a theatrical sense refers to a collaborative form of on stage play that others somehow find amusing. Like you suppose, I't kind of hard and involves making stuff up as you go along. Also, it's totally a learnable skill, and requires a large amount of discipline and structure to create "off the cuff".

Obligatory "Whose Line is it Anyway?" Photo

I'm an avid Improv hobbyist. Once a week, I go make an ass of myself with a bunch of folks at a local community center, playing theater games. There I develop my skills of reincorporation, acceptance, scene building and playing nice with others.

There's awesome books about it, like "Truth in Comedy" by Charna Halper, "Impro"by Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin's "Improvisation for the Theater" or you can learn for free.

Granted, Improv may not look like it has a lot to do with cartooning but it so totally does.

Did you know Frank Thomas played the Piano? If you know who Frank Thomas is, you probably know that he played the piano, but the late Mr. Thomas, as well as most of Disney's classic animators, played a musical instrument, and even insisted that it was beneficial to their craft.

One of these men is not Frank Thomas.

Jeez, that's like, the zillionth Disney reference I've made! Maybe I'm dangerously obsessed or something. Ollie Johnston looks scary there, doesn't he?

Where was I? Oh, Improv and cartooning, which is sort of like pianos, except they aren't.

So take for example Jean "Moebius" Giraud

Moebius has very little to do with Disney, I think.

Basically one of the most influential Sci-Fi artist/writers in the freaking world. When he started his Sci-Fi themed work which included "The Airtight Garage" and "Arzak", he did the whole damn thing one panel at a time. Seriously. Moebius was all about exploring the unconscious, and as most Sci-Fi is an allegory for stuff, Moebius' realms were an allegory for modes of perception (or so he claims, I dunno, he's French).

Here's another one of my favorite cartoonists, Jill Thompson.

She kinda looks like this. She also drew Sandman
which means Goths everywhere should start doing Improv.

At a comics forum in 2008. Ms. Thompson spoke of the value of Improv training as a writing aid, particularly in developing scenarios and concepts for stories, like for her creations "Scary Godmother" and "Magic Trixie".

Oh yeah, and there's also Scott McCloud.

He actually looks like this: he has no eyes, and it's scary.

Among other things, McCloud's a big proponent of improvised comics. He also has invented the 24 hour comic, which is an excersise that it a lot of fun, whether or not you finish it.

The value of improvisation is that even the creator/performer doesn't know where it's gonna go or how it's gonna end. As a form unto itself or as a tool in early drafts or rehearsal, improvisation provides an invaluable resource to the cartoonist/performer. It's also fun.

26 December 2010

Some More Sketcharoos

So these are from a pocket sketchbook approximately 3"x5" and about 1/2" thick (complete with little bookmark tassel, moleskine style).

This isn't my 'primary' sketchbook, which is usually an 8 1/2"x11" hardcover or larger (now around 11"x14"), but I try to carry it everywhere, like a second wallet. Since you never know when you're gonna catch a moment.

This book actually took about two months to get through, mostly due to it's unusual thickness.

Granted, these posts are incredibly self indulgent. I've committed to posting highlights from each sketchbook I complete, basically to give myself a bit of extra pressure to turn out good product. (whether I do or not is up to you to decide, please comment: critique is encouraged!)

Most (perhaps all) of my sketchbook stuff is rough and gestural. Since my focus is animation, this makes sense, since the loose approach is pretty strongly recommended by what feels like every animation guru and textbook ever (particularly Walt Stanchfield).

13 December 2010

Some George Price

So here's some scans from a wartime George Price book. In my opinion, George "Geo" Price was one of the best draftsmen ever printed in the New Yorker (the gags appearing in this book had shown up in the New Yorker, Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and Life). Although his technique got very geometric in his later years, these 1940's cartoons showcase a great combination of liner fluidity and dynamic angles , reveling in environmental details other cartoonists would simply ignore.

Everything's funny with lab animals, apparently. The chimp in the chair is the main focal point in the piece, but I adore the loving attention given to the beakers, radio, lab equipment and hoses, yet none of them detract from the main focal point (chair).
Also, I love the secondary gag with the ape about to smash a heavy glass beaker over the guy's head, and how the composition leads the eye to ape one (chair), then directs to ape two (homicidal violence), which suggests a whole story taking place inside a single panel.

Death plants! Geo Price's love of detail wouldn't be so effective without an equal degree of restraint and control. See that roof? Compare the sparseness of the roof to the house's foundation, or the garbage on the ground, and how Price uses linear detail to lead the eye.

God damn, could he draw! The gag isn't that funny, it's just an excuse to see George Price do a boatload of animals and make it look easy.

If you look closer at the postman, he just tells a whole story on his own. The face alone kicks ass, but cover that up. You can still tell how seriously he takes his job, and how he feels about it. The proper posture betrays a certain pride in his work. But, his clothes are a little baggy, the bag hangs pretty heavy, all little clues that he's not very happy about it, and been delivering notices all day.

Another "George Price draws a whole freaking zoo" gag. This time, just birds.

Another "Storytelling Drawing". Price famously had an affinity for attractive clutter, particularly in his early work. But every bit of junk, piping , tire patches on the rubber swan, furthers and "plusses" the gag. Though this is a bit more complex and visually busy than many of Price's remembered contemporaries (and many gag cartoonists working today), no line, no mark on the page is wasted.

I really don't have much to add about this one except I just love the way he draws the folds in the carpet.

10 December 2010

Help a Brother Out.

One of my associates from SCAD, Coleman Engle, is going to France.

This is quite thrilling, as Coleman has been accepted into a comics residency in Angoulême, which is rare for Americans (Coleman is the second EVER). He's going to be drawing a comics album titled V'Ger: "Intergalactic Delivery Boy".

I had the good fortune to travel with Coleman and several other artists, all immensely talented and skilled, as part of a SCAD off-campus program last year, in France, we got to witness the Franco-Belgian Comics scene firsthand . How cool are European comics?Take for instance the Angoulême BD Festival : Imagine the insanity of the San Diego Comic Convention if it actually were about comic books. And now one of us has an opportunity to be a part of that!

So give him money, like, right now. Help get a talented artist the major break he deserves, and represent U.S. in the big comics leagues.

P.S. : As of January, 2011, Coleman has canceled his Kickstarter fund. Best wishes to all your future endeavors, Coleman.

05 December 2010

Imaginary Stuff

So where do you get your ideas?

In interviews various famous and financially successful people from Alan Moore to Frank Zappa have replied "How the hell should I know?" Usually with the gist that their focus is on technique, rather than inspiration.

For instance, in "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain", Betty Edwards insists that the right side, the non-linguistic section of the brain, is the source for human creativity, and being non-verbal, the process implicitly defies explanation.

Then there's the notion that ideas come from someplace else entirely.

Stephen King in his book "Stephen King on Writing" makes mention of a muse ( perhaps tongue in cheek) as a cigar chomping man who lives in a basement with a bag of magic which he shares only if he feels like it.

This is what the book looks like, since nobody wants a picture of the Mucinex Man.

Keith Johnstone, the Improvisational Theater scholar suggests, in his book, "Impro". that ideas come from "someplace else" (or at the very least, not the ego), and later in his book "Impro for Storytellers" mentions "the Great Moose" as the source-god of Improv.

In her book "What it is" Lynda Barry mentions and frequently draws "the Magic Cephalopod", which guides hands in writing and drawing in her rendition of "true creativity".

It could be that Moose, Muses and Magical Sea Beasts are merely metaphors for parts of the human mind that defy verbalization, or even that my examples are just bugfaced crazy.

However, the human body is a conductor for transformational energy (ethereal as that sounds): much like our gastrointestinal systems turn Captain Crunch into excrement, our minds might digest raw material( sensory input, other concepts and influences) into a pile of steamy, warm, new ideas.

(image not available)

But between theories of Moose Gods and Brain Poop I'll have to go with the former, jus' cause it's less gross.

28 November 2010

My Thoughts on Tangeld

In the noblest tradtions of the internet, here's my unsolicited opinion of a recent major motion picture: I liked it. (I think the U.S. title and marketing effort is completely stupid, though.)

The movie is a completely unabashed princess musical, but it's well done, emotionally compelling, and the plot makes more sense than the Disney Studio's "Frog" effort.

Some of it's recycled: the stepmother-witch looks like Bernadette Peters' creation of the witch from the stage musical "Into the woods", the characters are very familiar looking Disney fairy-tale "types" (right down to "funny horse #2) and the lead girl is a trapped princess who dreams of the outside world.

But it works. (possible spoilers ahead)
Rapunzel's hair as a magic McGuffin adds a great co-dependency subtext to her relationship with her possessive mother who comes off more as a deeply creepy child-star mom, than simply "Witch type #2".

The sorrowful King and Queen are silent, which is possibly the best decision made on the movie.
They are sincere characters, but really not important to the main story except as plot devices. By having all their scenes in pantomime they're treated as "too important to talk", giving them gravitas and status at the same time saving the audience the trouble of sitting through unnecessary speaking roles.

To me this proves that genre doesn't denote quality. As I see it: genre(as far as marketing goes) is little more than a list of settings and situations. Castles mean "fairy tale". Six shooters mean "western". But the requirements of genre say nothing about the stuff that really matters in a story like compelling characters, a well-written scenario or if the audience cares.

15 November 2010

Some more twaddle

Okay, so I've finished another 8 1/2" by 11" sketchbook, so you get to view the dregs. Also for extraneous reasons, the scans are pretty rough this week.

Some more aerobics video impressions.

Shamless copies (or "studies") of illustrations from "The Complete Bridgman" an artist referred to by Andrew Loomis in his book "Figure Drawing for All It's Worth". Loomis is known as an Artist's Artist, which might make George Bridgman the Artist's Artist's Artist. My copies don't do him justice in the least, though.

Dividends from my Zoo membership: Golden Lion Tamarins. These little monkeys never stop moving, so they're quite a challenge, even just for scribbly gestures.

This goat's older than hell and is fun to look at in the petting zoo pen when he propositions the sheep (that's "Sheep" and not "other goats right there in the pen").

The Leopards are rare to see, and when you do, they're sitting around or sleeping, typical cats.

Drawing naked people is a great way to prove what a serious artist you are, this was from the first day of an Adult Ed. figure drawing class I took.

Oh yeah, and last Wednesday, the Zoo unveiled some new Asian Otter Pups.

08 November 2010

Holy Crap!

One of my extremely talented former classmates, Elena Barbarich draws a highly amusing webcomic: Sister Claire.

I had the privilege of seeing some of her earlier strips back in class, which showcase a sense of humor somewhat beyond the pale. (note the subtitle: "Pregnant Nun: Holy Crap!") Naturally, nuns with Diarrhea are hysterical in college.

Elena manages to mix 4Chan style insanity with a superb eye for color and damnright cuddly nuns.

So if you like the strange, potentially controversial and cute, check it out.

31 October 2010

On the Values of Quadrant 2 Planning

Today, I'd like to share my thoughts on one of Stephen Covey's principles on what makes an effective person.

Specifically, from "Habit 3: Put First Things First" which is a chart based on the cross sections of importance and urgency.

From the graphic, you'll see that Quadrant 2, that which is important but not necessarily urgent, tends to be activities that build better self esteem, sharpen the saw and pay off in the long term.

When Ash Williams was transferred to the middle ages to prevent an undead horde from rising up and killing everything in sight, he was instructed by his immediate supervisor to find a reference volume in the satellite records office and remember the words "Klaatu barada nikto."

The words were a Quadrant 2 item, important, but not urgent. Ash, distracted by quadrant 4 activities like sleeping with the princess and yelling about boomsticks, neglected the words that allowed for the safe removal of the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis and allowed his supernaturally created doppelganger to lead an undead assault on mankind, creating more unnecessary work for everyone.

Marion Crane had the perfectly reasonable motif of reinvesting her embezzled cash so she and her boyfriend could start a new life together.

Marion was a Quadrant 3 planner, addicted to urgency. Whereas she was quick enough to take an opportunity that presented itself, her relationship based on financial conditions would be doomed to codependency and unhappiness, not very empowering at all.

Besides, since Marion did not think Long Term(Quadrant 2), she failed to check with AAA or travel agencies about reputable hotels or motor lodges.

Marion's lack of planning and foresight got her
a.) lost on the highway, depriving her of valuable time to focus on wise venues to invest her funds
b.) a stay an an overcharged hotel that didn't even have hot water in the showers.

c.) a premature end to her career as a freelance investor.

Science Officer Ash seems a bit more mature by comparison, undoubtedly using the long commute times of his profession to read medical journals and listen to books on tape. He knows what's important, but he was a Quadrant 1 planner, still addicted to urgency.

When Executive officer Kane showed up in the airlock with a parasite on his face. Ash valued the importance and the urgency of Kane's predicament over the long-term importance of quarantine protocol.

Kane failed to sit out full quarantine and as a result, succumbed to a case of food poisoning that put everybody off their meals.

Michael Myers was a Quadrant 2 planner with a very direct mission: reassess and dispose of young career women in the temporary child care industry.

Others in his position might try to start killing people right away, but Myers knew the value of foresight and did not suffer from an urgency addiction. Michael Myers started with sharpen-the-knife activities by acquiring an inconspicuous wardrobe consisting of a jumpsuit and a William Shatner mask, before continuing with his Quadrant activities.

One might imagine his chart would go something like this.

Quadrant 1
-Dispose of Babysitters who look like my sister Judith
- Escape from Sanitarium

Quadrant 2
-Get Clothes
-Get Knife
-Get Mask

Quadrant 3
-Sort Mail
-Lunch with Mrs. Vorhees

Quadrant 4
-Kill Dr. Loomis (?)
-Addams Family Marathon on Channel 4

24 October 2010

What it Says on the Box

Branding is pretty simple, right? You can tell who or what companies made something just by looking at it. The Disney Company has excellent branding, you know a Disney movie when you look at it...

Except these are not Disney movies.

Anastasia and Ferngully were distributed by Fox and Swan Princess by New Line Cinema. You don't need to be an animation geek to tell, you can find out by checking the name on the box or poster.

Somehow, the name "Disney" means "Animated Princess Musical", which is weird, since Walter Elias Disney...

this guy

...produced over 20 animated features in his lifetime, only three of which starred Princesses.

...as well as significant amount of live action features and TV ventures that spanned genres from Sci-Fi Adventure to situation comedy. But he's dead now, so whatever. I really want to talk about "Flashpoint".

seamless transistion: no?

Or more specifically, One of the names on the box: "Silver Screen Partners" which, initially, was a limited partnership set up to fund a number of HBO Pictures films(like Flashpoint). Through such a partnership, average stockholders could invest in movies.

Like The Producers, but with less fraud(I think).

Which brings me back to Branding (specifically the Disney brand). As Silver Screen Partners was a series of limited partnerships, and Silver Screen Partners II, III and IV,produced Disney movies (and by extension, Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures movies) which were released from 1985 through 1992, before Disney became "Princess Musical Central".

"Now hold on there, smart-ass!" I hear you say. "Two of those are Animated Princess Musicals, that seems like mighty persistent brand association to me!".

Yes, anticipated-angry-poster, they are. But not every Silver Screen Partners picture got a slew of home video sequels and a theme park ride.

With the exception of Dick Tracy, all of the above movies were released by Disney as a "Disney" (as opposed to "Touchstone") film, with the name right on the box. There is also genre diversity, from High Fantasy to Mystery to Action/Adventure to period, to contemporary to Scary-as-Hell Thingies with Wheelers.

The actual quality of these films can be debated but not the content which doesn't conform so much to the "Cute and Cuter" fare that the Disney studio was producing since Walt's Death(like "Pete's Dragon") or even to the "Enchanted and Magical" stereotypes Disney has currently perpetuates as a brand. Dare I say, this was when the Disney Studio was trying out something new and different(or more accurately, as new and different as you can get in 1980's blockbuster cinema), most likely due to the influence of Michael Eisner and his "regime".

If you check the imdb pages for the Silver Screen Partners, you'll find The majority of Disney's Silver Screen Partners projects were more mainstream (at the time) films with a diversity of subject matter and genre, or "grown-up movies".

Because maturity means "Adventures in Babysitting"...

None of the Silver Screen Partners limited partnerships got a logo: no kid on a bike flying across a moon, no shield, no arclights, no little red robots no theme music and no castle whatsoever. After all, these partnerships were financial, not creative institutions, and were set up for and by one customer.

But since these investment funds were just as vital to producing motion pictures as big names like Spielberg or Eisner, these partnerships got credit on promotional materials (like the fine print on movie posters) and title cards on every movie made with their money.

Basically, one of the names on the box, and it's a brand I personally associate with a unique era of experimentation and ultimately, quality, in a movie studio's--

... oh never mind