July 20, 2016

Taking a break

I’ve been sticking to a twice-monthly schedule of posts here for a full year now, and it’s been a good exercise for me. I’ve been happy with the range of content I’ve included, finally devoting time to topics I’ve meant to write about for quite some time (such as APA-5, my stencil coloring method, my interview with Tom Cherry, and even SpongeBob Comics). As with my webcomic, I appreciate those of you who take the time to read (and even comment on) my ramblings here. Some posts turned out to be meatier than others, of course, which was part of the variety I was aiming for. But I’ve decided to step back from that frequency for the foreseeable future…

It’s time for me to rein extraneous activities in for a bit, and buckle down to my drawing table. I’ve got big plans for my fall convention schedule (confirmed: Memphis Comic Expo, Oct. 22-23 and Air Capital Comiccon, Nov. 12-13) and holiday market events that will I feel will be a better use of my time than posting just to keep on a set schedule. I’ll continue to pop in from time to time with some art or an update on my project, but it will be on a less rigid– and more infrequent– schedule.

What project is so important, you may ask? Well, I’ve never really gone back and revisited or edited past work before, but it’s high time (past time, actually) I collected my Watusi webcomics in a print edition. It’s been an interesting challenge so far: looking at the work as a completed project, but giving it a final edit separate from its original creation, and adding new scenes or tidier drawings where needed. I’m excited about the form it’s taking and feel it will be worth the effort. Here’s a teaser image to tide you over until release (which I plan to have ready for this fall’s events):

WebTeaser0716

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your summer!

July 6, 2016

I couldn’t say it better myself, Al Capp!

No artist who can write should avoid words; no author who can draw should avoid drawing.

Al Capp, creator of “Li’l Abner” (from The enigma of Al Capp / Alexander Theroux. Fantagraphics Books, 1999). I’ve highlighted this quote before, but I still think they’re words any cartoonist should take pride in. And live by.

Capp is a complicated figure to say the least, but his story is an interesting one. If you want to find out more about the man, I recommend the fine biography by Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen, Al Capp, A Life to the Contrary (Bloomsbury USA, 2013).

June 15, 2016

50 cent finds – 901 Comics

50centaIt’s been a while since I’ve written about my bargain bin finds– a while since I’ve rummaged through bargain boxes at all, in fact– so I was thrilled to stumble upon the “50¢ Island” during last weekend’s grand opening of 901 Comics on Young Avenue in Memphis. In addition to a healthy supply of bargain reads, they stock a pretty respectable number of back issues, including signed comics and new and used trades. New single issue selection was still a little sparse, but for a store that hasn’t even been open a full month yet, that’s not surprising.

But I was more than thrilled with the gems I found, including…

SGoof43Super Goof #43 (Whitman, 1977): Not only did it have a fantastic cover cameo by Donald Duck, but it was also an issue I didn’t have!

Love and Capes #7 (Maerkle Press, 2008): I enjoy Thom Zahler’s “heroically super situation comedy”, and this issue (a FCBD offering) also gave me a peek at how he markets and monetizes his webcomic with ancillary merchandise.

Marvel Saga #1 (Marvel, 1985): I had never read an issue of this cut-and-paste retelling of Marvel’s continuity, but for half a buck I figured it was worth a try. An interesting primer, but I thought it came off really dry, with none of the excitement of the original stories. Had they done this 15-20 years later, when they could have used digital lettering instead of typesetting, and actually taken the time to lay the cut-and-paste images into full pages of comic art, I think it would have worked much better.

Super Powers #3 (DC, 1986): When I opened the cover to this issue to see if it was drawn by Kirby (it’s actually by Paul Kupperberg, Carmine Infantino, and Pablos Marcos), not only did I know I had to buy it, but I had to write about it …

PoorDarkseid… the sight of Darkseid using a crowbar to break into a thrift shop was just too good to pass up! And that’s not even the most ignominius thing to happen to him in the first three pages, either! Almost puts Thanos’ helicopter to shame…

Cosmic Capers (Big Muddy Comics, 1972): One of the things I was hoping to stumble upon when I shifted my location so far from Kansas were different locally-published comics. This underground gem from New Orleans has a flavor all its own that certainly fits the bill!

TubeTalesTales from the Tube #1 (Print Mint, 1973): The find of the day! Surfing-themed comics from Rick Griffin, S. Clay Wilson, Robt. Williams, Crumb, and other underground legends!

Wildstar #1 (Image, 1993): While I’m not a big fan of the blood-drenched superhero vibe of the early Image comics, it’s got Jerry Ordway art! That alone makes it worth a read!

Adventures in the DC Universe #7 & 15 (DC, 1997-98): Captain Marvel & family (the version then being done by Jerry Ordway), in entertaining animated-style adventures (by Steve Vance & John Delaney). Ever since I read the Ordway/Parobeck story that usedg that formula in Superman & Batman Magazine, I thought it was a winning combination. It even happened for an all-too-brief period in the underrated Franco/Baltazar/Norton stories from Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! (#13-21)…

Rip in Time #1 (Fantagor Press, 1986): Bruce Jones and  Richard Corben– definitely worth a look at that price!

The Age of the Sentry #1 (Marvel, 2008): Luckily, it was written by Jeff Parker & Paul Tobin (not Bendis!), and the art by Nick Dragotta and Ramon Rosanas is fresh and fun to view.

Secret Origins #5 (DC, 1973): Unlike the Secret Origins series of the 80’s, this was a reprint book, and this issue was all about the Spectre: 20 pages of Bernard Bailey’s origin of the character from 1940’s More Fun Comics #52-53. I also enjoyed the subscription ad in that issue, which served as a stark reminder of how diverse that publisher’s output used to be:

DC1973SubThank goodness for Image and the independent publishers who have made good use of genres ignored as DC and Marvel became so superhero-centric over the years since then.

There were even a couple of beat up much-loved copies of Micronauts #1 (Marvel, 1979) and Marvel Team-Up #74 (Spider-Man and the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players! from 1978) that I left for someone who hasn’t read them yet to discover on a future visit to 901 Comics…

Maybe it’ll even be you…

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June 1, 2016

It really was “The World’s Finest APA”!

APA-5logoThis month marks the tenth anniversary of my last “Larry’s Kitchen” zine as a part of APA-5, the world’s finest APA!

An APA (or Amateur Press Association, for those of you who don’t know) is a group where individual members create their own zine, send it to a central mailer who assembles them all into a single publication and redistributes it to the members for comment and enjoyment. APA-5 was a great environment for me at a time when I felt disconnected from other cartoonists, and wanted feedback on my work. For over seven years I was an active part of this group of amazing creators, including Drew Boynton, JB Winter, Larned Justin, Mike Leuszler, Michael Munshaw, Brien Wayne Powell, Dan Lauer, Tom Davidson, Steve Willhite, and others.

I was happy with much of the work I created while in APA-5, and enjoyed it as a venue to share work in progress with other creators for feedback. In the years before social media posts and “likes” became the accepted way to interact online, we were able to get into meaty discussions and give thoughtful critiques of work in the pages of APA-5. As it became easier to communicate virtually it took its toll on that level of discussion, and it soon felt like the writing was on the wall for not only APA-5, but a few years later to the Small Press Syndicate’s Rap Sheet as well. While I was only able to get in on the tail end of the storied histories of both APA-5 and the SPS, I treasure the time I was able to spend as part of those groups. Not only for the improvement it brought to my work and my work ethic, but for its sense of camaraderie with fellow creators, many of whom I still collaborate with from time to time today.

The work in my 77 “Larry’s Kitchen” zines (+ assorted jams and other projects) remains largely unscanned, and unshared beyond the active membership at the time. In fact, that was one of the reasons that I moved Larry’s Kitchen into its own freestanding digest format comic in 2006– so I could share it more widely, to creators and readers not part of the group. Unfortunately, my situation at work changed, and after two more issues I didn’t have the time to commit to both Larry’s Kitchen and my Watusi projects. One had to go, but I think I chose wisely.

Of course, APA-5 had been going strong for over a quarter of a century before I joined and it went on for a number of issues without me. Among its storied roster of past members are names familiar to fans of comics and television: Mark Verheiden (who founded the group in 1972), Paul Chadwick, Frank Miller, Chris Warner, Randy Emberlin, Cliff Biggers (Comic Shop News), Mike Richardson, Tak Toyoshima (“Secret Asian Man”), Bill Nichols, Sheila Wilding, Robin Ator, Brad Kurtz, Mark Badger, Michael Monasmith, and many, many more.

While APA-5 as I knew it may be gone, it exists online here and here, and carries on in spirit in the pages of T. Davidson’s Fiver Fun Comics. Below are glimpses from a few of my favorite APA-5 moments from 1998-2006…

May 18, 2016

Dear IDW, Dear Marvel

MantloCoversDear IDW, Dear Marvel,

I quite enjoyed the new ROM comic that was part of this year’s Free Comic Book Day. I never actually thought I would see a new ROM comic in my lifetime, and it was great to see young readers excited by the character. I hope they will come to enjoy this ROM as much as I did the character during Bill Mantlo’s fine comic run with the character.

I was also pleased to see an advertisement for The Bill Mantlo Support Fund in that issue; it is good to see his contributions to both ROM and Micronauts recognized in the new book. I know you don’t need to be reminded of Bill Mantlo’s tragic circumstances (though you can find out more about them here), and devoting a page to spread the word about his needs was a generous act.

It would be wonderful to see you build upon this with a joint publication, however, with a share of the proceeds to benefit his continued support. IDW and Marvel have worked together well over the years producing a number of impressive Artist’s Editions of Marvel properties. With IDW now having the rights to both ROM and Micronauts, it seems like the perfect alignment to produce collections of well-regarded stories from both these properties, stories very integrated with the Marvel universe. Stories written by Bill Mantlo, who shepherded the properties from simple toys into fantastic science fiction comics.

Marvel certainly benefited from Bill Mantlo’s work on the comics when they were originally published, and the nostalgia for those original stories will no doubt give IDW an added boost with the new series. Even for the toys’ rights holders, Bill Mantlo added to the value of those brands: his work on both ROM and Micronauts outlasted the shelf life of the toys in this country. Without the comics, I think it’s fair to say there would be little to no interest in reviving the ROM brand, for instance.

I encourage you both to come together and publish benefit books collecting the original comics. For ROM, an Essentials-style treatment would be ideal, collecting all the appearances in what was essentially one epic adventure told by (essentially) one writer. For Micronauts, a trade of the first 12 issues, recolored and published on quality paper to best show off Michael Golden‘s artwork would attract a lot of interest. I don’t know what the royalty situation for these stories would be like, but considering when these comics were initially published, it shouldn’t be an insurmountable issue. Hopefully you could even get Michael and Sal and– dare I hope?– Steve on board for such a project.

Either (or both) projects would not only be a gesture of good will to comic readers and creators, but would help a creator who gave so much to the industry, who was able to craft great stories from humble beginnings. It would be likely to drive up interest in the new properties, and particularly warm the hearts of the many Bill Mantlo fans. Fans, in many cases, with money to spend.

For your consideration,

– Dale Martin.

 

May 4, 2016

Free Comic Book Day 2016 preview

FCBD2016Free Comic Book Day is coming up this Saturday, and I’m happy to be able to say that I’ll be participating again this year!

Thanks to the networking magic of the Mid-South Cartoonists Association, I’ll be joining MSCA members at Comic Cellar (thanks, Jason!) starting at 10 in the morning to spread the news about our individual comic projects. It will be my first comic-related appearance since I’ve moved to Memphis, and I’m excited to meet some of the comic readers around the area. If you’re out and about, stop in for some free comics (I’m especially interested in those featuring Mooncop, the Phantom (Jim Aparo! Don Newton!), ROM (yes, ROM!) and Spongebob), say hi, and maybe even get a sketch…

Any day is a great day to read comics, but Free Comic Book Day is an especially good one; I hope you’re able to take advantage of it!

April 20, 2016

Peter Kuper’s “Ruins” and the subtle art of lettering

I can’t recall when I first discovered the art of Peter Kuper (probably an early ’90s issue of World War 3 Illustrated or his adaptation of The Jungle), but I was immediately drawn to both his graphic style– a combination of scratchboard and stencils– and his sharp political commentary. I’ve enjoyed his work ever since, and his ability to convey a story with few (or often no) words made him a natural fit for Mad magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy”, a strip he’s drawn for nearly 20 years.

So, naturally, I was predisposed to enjoy his latest book, Ruins (Self-Made Hero, 2015). What surprised me, though, were the nuanced characterizations of his protagonists, New Yorkers Samantha and George. They are not merely ciphers, but fully realized characters. The story details their time spent during Samantha’s sabbatical year in Oaxaca, Mexico, their strained relationship, and the violent suppression of the local teachers’ trade union strike there in 2006. Their story is paired with the migration of a monarch butterfly from New York to Oaxaca, which gives Kuper a chance to touch upon additional issues of social and ecological damage. He has a lot to say in this book and he says is well. It’s an engrossing read, and he brings an admirable mix of illustration styles to its pages. It may well be my favorite work by him yet, and he takes full advantage of the scope of his vision.

KuperLetteringIn addition to the mix of illustration styles, Kuper also gives each of his main characters a distinctive speech bubble and lettering style that mirrors their personality. This technique, which too often comes off as a distracting trick, works well here, likely due to the mix of drawing styles already at play in the book. David Mazzucchelli did something similar in his Eisner and Harvey Award-winning book Asterios Polyp (Pantheon, 2009), another highly recommended read that is both a visual treat and an intriguing character study. In fact, one of the Eisners it won in 2010 was for his lettering.

So why, then, does this technique bother me so much when I encounter it in mainstream comics? I’m thinking particularly of the lettering in Marvel’s Avengers and Fantastic Four circa 1998 (the “Heroes Return” era): Thor had a Norse-evoking typeface, the Human Torch had a flaming speech bubble with red type, and the Thing spoke in chunky letterforms. Looking back on it in comparison to Ruins and Asterios Polyp, perhaps I found it such a distraction because they were applying such different speech lettering when there was not an accompanying variety of artwork within the story. Or perhaps it just turned me off because it became obvious that hand lettering had been cast out, and such tricks as transparent bubbles with gray type came to be used for “whisper”, instead of the dashed bubbles that had been its clearly-recognized sign for decades. Even though tricks like that, and the often-used choice to letter with a smaller type size rather than letter around the artwork, often caused readability to suffer as a result. But perhaps I’m being too hard on the Comicraft letterers making those early forays into digital lettering: after all, it wasn’t too many years later that Todd Klein proved one could produce subtle digital lettering in books like Tom Strong and Promethea. It just serves as a reminder to cartoonists at all levels that proper lettering is a skill that takes more attention to detail than simple typesetting.

I’ve employed digital lettering in my own comics over the years, but found myself tweaking it a fair amount in the production stage to get the look I want. Currently I’m hand lettering most of my comics again, and I’m enjoying taking the time to reacquaint myself with that process … which actually means less time spent cleaning scans and doing production, and more time drawing, which is a great tradeoff any day of the week!

April 6, 2016

Thanks for the reminder, Shane McDermott!

Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t enough room for all of the really small actions or subtle moments I originally imagined. There isn’t always enough room on a page to show every nervous glance or stepping foot as a character runs along the roof of a train. Sometimes I have to cut those less important moments to keep the story moving along at the right pace.

Shane McDermott, 2016 (from his excellent recent exhibit at the Memphis College of Art, Seahorse in Sequence: Creating a Comic). Not only did that show feature Shane’s work from various stages of the process, he shared well-written descriptions such as this, too. It’s a great reminder that creators– myself included– need to be willing to make those kinds of cuts to make a better story. Probably more often than I’m willing to admit, too…

March 30, 2016

Hot off the press: Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #10!

SSPress10frontcover

This all-new issue of Smeary Soapbox Press-ents came about following a conversation with D. Blake Werts (of Copy This! renown). I remarked how I was pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of affection in his zine over the passing of Tim Corrigan, given how Blake seemed to be coming from the obscuro/dada/newave scene rather than the story-oriented approach that Tim practiced (and I favor). It was an eye-opening conversation for me, and got me to look at art-oriented minis in a whole new way.

It also got me thinking … thinking that I’d never really done an art” mini! And that it was time to change that. Back in 2002-3 (before my Watusi comics got traction and pulled my attention in that direction), I did a series of abstractions that I planned to publish as a digest for a gallery show of the drawings. While the book never came about, I did exhibit (and sell) a number of those drawings. I’ve recently been revisiting them as I prepare material for an upcoming show, and they’re drawings I’m still really proud of, even cropped for minicomic proportions as they are here.

I’ve got a couple of distribution schemes in the works for this one. For now, you can pick up a FREE copy at tomorrow’s “Planet Nine: Displacement” closing karaoke party (while they last) at Marshall Arts. You can also get a copy from me by mail, postpaid for just $1.00 from the address in the footer of this page.

March 24, 2016

Anniversary year: 30 years of out-of-this-world shenanigans

FOOF30I have made no secret of the fact that I have a number of characters that– in a perfect world– I would be making better us of. Toward the top of that list is FooF, a shape-changing alien from the planet Ofhtesamename I introduced 30 years ago this month. Inspired by (of all things) the entry for Fantastic Four #7 in the Official Marvel Index to the Fantastic Four, I created FooF as a foil for my Armen Hammer character in the fifth issue of that comic. My simple conceit was a misunderstanding where both of these unique characters assumed their powers were representative of everyone on their respective planets, a twist on the typical presentation of comic book aliens with fantastic powers. Continue reading

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