Influence & inspiration: Jim Aparo

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Last weekend was the Memphis Libraries Comic Con, which was a really positive experience, pretty much all I was hoping for from a more reading-centered con. There were lots of engaged readers & plenty of good interactions. Hopefully they’ll throw that party again next year, because this was the kind of con I’d happily table at again!

One of the things I like to do (if the venue allows it) is bring along a smattering of reading-grade back issues to my table, highlighting the work of my influences and inspirations. Giving customers something familiar is a good little icebreaker which makes it easier to steer the conversation towards my own comics.  Unfortunately, that ‘s not usually an option at most comic cons or art shows, where the focus is– as it should rightly be– on original creations. I sort this little collection not by title or character, but by creator, which helps bring home the fact that comics aren’t just a commodity, but also a means of artistic expression.  My dividers include a brief bio, what I like about that creator, and a selected bibliography: essentially a mini primer on some of my favorite creators! Like my all-time favorite comic book artist, Jim Aparo…

Jim Aparo (1932-2005, USA)

After attempting to break into comics as a young man, Jim Aparo worked in the advertising industry, where he drew fashion illustrations for newspaper ads. He continued to pursue a career in comics, and this experience paid off when he started working for Charlton comics in the late 1960s. There– and at his later long tenure at DC Comics– he drew stories (and was a prolific cover artist) across many genres: Westerns, science fiction, romance, horror, mystery, and suspense in addition to superhero comics. At DC, he gained his widest fame as a key Batman artist across a number of titles for over 20 years.

Jim Aparo is my favorite comic artist of all! Initially attracted by his fluid art style and dynamic pacing in some of the earliest comics I bought and saved (Aquaman in Adventure Comics), I began to notice his artwork in more and more comics. Only later did I learn that he was one of the few artists in mainstream comics that did all the artwork himself, serving as penciler, inker, and letterer for nearly all of his work. Seeing a page where all of the visual information (aside from colors) is done by the same hand really appealed to me, and is something I bring to my own artwork.

A selected bibliography:

  • Aquaman (artist, 1968-1971, 1977-1978)
  • The Phantom (artist, 1969-1970)
  • The Phantom Stranger (artist, 1970-1973)
  • The Brave and the Bold (artist on Batman team-ups, 1971-1983)
  • Detective Comics (artist on Batman, 1973-1975, 1990-1992)
  • Adventure Comics (artist on the Spectre and Aquaman, 1974-1977)
  • The Untold Legend of the Batman (1980)
  • Batman and the Outsiders (artist, 1983-1985)
  • The Outsiders (artist, 1985-1988)
  • Batman (artist, 1987-1990, 1992-1993)
  • Wrath of the Spectre (artist, 1988)
  • Green Arrow (artist, 1993-1995)

Speaking of “influences”, I first wrote about Aparo in this regard way back in APA-5 #307 (July 2000), for our “Influences” issue…

Jim Aparo, influencer

Let’s go: Memphis Libraries Comic Con!

Let's go to a comic con!

It’s almost here– the inaugural Memphis Libraries Comic Con! I’ve heard good things about other comic events hosted by libraries, and I’m looking forward to being at a comic show that caters to readers! I’m bringing a selection of my Watusi (and other) digests, minicomics, and my full-size comics. It will be a pretty comic-centric selection of merchandise (no prints or original art), but it gives a pretty good sense of the art I make. The convention should be a good time, with two dozen artists, over a dozen dealers, and panels with featured guests Mike Norton and John Ostrander! Admission is FREE, so there’s no reason not to get a taste of the locally-created comic scene …  and the library is even giving free graphic novels to the first 200 attendees, so be sure to make it one of your Free Comic Book Day stops! Hope to see you there!

“Pop! The Art of Comics”

Pop The Art of Comics Facebook event cover  - 1

I don’t always do a good job of documenting my gallery shows, but I was able to turn that around this week when I visited “Pop! The Art of Comics” at the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art. I made the trek to Tuscumbia, AL in the company of Mid-South Cartoonists Association president Kevin L. Williams, who made the connection that got member art included in the show in the first place.

The TVMA may be a small museum, but they pack a lot of art into the space! The exhibit opened with samples from their collection of ukiyo-e prints, where they did a good job of linking the techniques employed by studios making those woodblock prints with the typical process of comic book creation. The details in these prints by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) are very crisp, and the colors are exceptionally vibrant, even 150+ years after they were printed!

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Next we moved into the Bobby Denton Wing, which was devoted to the art of MSCA members! Lots of good work, including my own original art to “Visiting the Moon Kitties” (1997), and a printed episode from my “Watusi in Oz” storyline (2019).

TVMA10

The member artwork looked good in the space, and I was particularly drawn towards those pieces which highlighted the process of creation, something that’s not always apparent in the craft of the final printed piece.

An equally large space was devoted to the work of the late Christopher Hanther (1946-2021), and his epic sci-fi/fantasy strip, “Tandra”. While I’m accustomed to seeing artwork larger than its printed size, I’d never seen work as large as those “Tandra” pages. Clearly influenced by the epic adventure strips of his childhood, working at that scale gave him plenty of room to indulge his love of detail and texture!

I was intrigued by these self-published issues of Critter, where Hanther first began publishing his epic “Tandra” adventure. He was encouraged to make the move to self-publish at the advice of editor Roy Thomas, a colleague during his brief stint as an artist at Marvel Comics. Printing his original work in the company of reprinted adventure strips from the 1940s that had entered the public domain was a clever way to present his work as part of that storytelling tradition.

The “Pop!” show included a third gallery of vintage comics, grouped and labeled in way that nicely paired trends in comics with trends in society at large. While there were attractive groupings of comics (some by character, some by artist, most by theme), I didn’t bother photographing anything in that room. Besides, when you get the itch to look at vintage comics, there are already comprehensive sites like the Grand Comics Database and “The Newstand” at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics where you can easily do just that…

I completed my tour of the TVMA by taking in a pair of solo shows: the plein air paintings of Stacie Thomas, and the landscape drawings & paintings of Yuri Ozaki. Both nicely presented, and I was particularly captivated by the attention to detail in Ozaki’s pieces, a far cry from the simplification I apply in my own work.

Before heading out of town, Kevin and I toured Helen Keller’s birthplace, right across the street from the TVMA. It’s just one of many area attractions, as it turns out; the Shoals Area has a lot to offer!

(In addition to not always documenting my gallery shows, I’m not one to go about photographing my meals. We did, however, lunch at Superhero Chefs in Tuscumbia, where I enjoyed a satisfying War Eagle burger, the best fries I’ve had in some time, and a peach lemonade. Well worth a stop if you’re passing thru the area!)

Anemoia and the Mid-South Coliseum

As I’ve delved more and more into the history of Memphis and its hallowed places that have fallen into neglect or are no longer with us, I’ve found myself experiencing nostalgia for a past that isn’t my own. I figured I couldn’t be the only person to feel that way and that there must be a term for it. Turns out there is and, weirdly, it’s not even German: Anemoia was coined by John Koenig a decade ago in his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows project. 

Maybe the place that I feel this way about the most often is the Mid-South Coliseum. Even though it still has a stately presence in Midtown, located next to the Liberty Bowl, this 10,000 seat arena had been shuttered for nearly a decade before I even moved to Memphis. Constructed in 1963-64, it opened in October 1964 as the first racially desegregated facility in Memphis; Mid-South Coliseum management did not even include any signs advising segregation, which was a bold decision in those days.

Roundhouse

While the Coliseum was the home of Memphis Tigers basketball, hosted indoor soccer & hockey games, and packed the arena with weekly wrestling events, it was its concert history that makes me the most nostalgic about its past, a past which, even if I could have, wasn’t able to experience. You see, from 1964-2006 the Mid-South Coliseum hosted a huge roster of legendary performers across all genres of music, from Rufus Thomas to Andy Williams, Loretta Lynn to Jay-Z, the Beatles (famously*) to Anita Baker, Frank Sinatra to R.E.M., Led Zeppelin to Barry Manilow … the list goes on and on and I get, well, a little anemoiac. Thanks to the Memphis Public Library’s Mid-South Coliseum Collection, I’ve been able to get a (perhaps too-) tantalizing taste of what those shows must have been like. 

Naturally, as I worked on my series of Memphis landmark prints, including the Coliseum was a no-brainer. Initially, I planned to use my drawing as the basis for a series of mock concert posters showcasing that concert legacy, but making prints of real people (many of whom are still alive) was uncertain terrain for me, and something I couldn’t ethically wrap my head around doing.  Happily, armed with the Library’s database and some internet sleuthing (as well as talking with friends who actually got to experience the Coliseum in its prime), I settled on a middle ground that lets me focus on the building and its history, not trading on the images of actual (often still-living) personalities to do so: ticket stubs! Plus, tracking down ticket specifics scratches the research itch that I often get when I’m working on historical projects!

Here are a few of the dozens of ticket stub designs I’ve worked up as 8×10″ prints. By the way, a selection of these prints are on sale at Arrow Creative, whenever I do pop-up shows, and in my Square store. Enjoy!

BlogStubs-1

BlogStubs-2

BlogStubs-3

*(The Coliseum was one of the stops on The Beatles’ final American tour in 1966. They played a pair of concerts on August 19, 1966, in the midst of of protests and radio airplay boycotts after John Lennon’s controversial “more popular than Jesus” remark. Memphis city council called for the cancellation of the concerts (supposedly for safety reasons), but the show went on, despite protests from the KKK and an anonymous assassination threat. At least according to Wikipedia.)

Everything old is new again

2023-NYblogHappy new year!

It’s been a few years since I made one of my “New Year’s resolutions” posts, because these pandemic years have shown me in the plainest manner possible how easily plans can be washed away. As a result, I’ve pretty much stopped trying to make a year’s worth of creative plans at one time … and to go with the flow when what plans I have made get torn asunder.

Like (I imagine) many creative types, it’s felt like I’ve been spinning my wheels over the past few years, making work but not feeling like it’s getting in front of the audience that needs or wants it. With fewer IRL events, I tried more social media promotion, but I rarely come out on the winning side of the algorithm game. And with the TikTok-ification of Instagram, and the impending? inevitable? collapse of Twitter, that whole scene has become less of an environment I want to spend time my time in. So I’ve decided to scale my Twitter and Facebook pages back (for the most part) to just mirror posting from this blog and my webcomic. I’ve deleted those apps from my phone, too, and have felt pretty good about rarely using them. I still check in on a number of artists on Instagram (when not scrolling past the too-frequent Reels unrelated to the accounts I follow) and even post drawings there from time to time … tho not as often as I used to. Which gives me more time draw. Which I call a win-win!

As part of this scaling back, I’ve also decided to close my Patreon account. Once I stopped posting my weekly Watusi comic, and shifted my focus more towards prints and painting over the past year+, it became harder to find a cohesive body of work to share with readers there. I’ve never been comfortable showing work in progress (who really wants to see sausage being made?), and that type of work didn’t (in my mind) lend itself well to a paid virtual experience. Once I began relying on the “pause payment” feature as often as I did over the past year, I knew the writing was on the wall for my use of Patreon. But it wasn’t exactly a worthless experience, as I learned quite a few things from my Patreon page:

  • I learned that it’s hard for me to maintain enthusiasm about digging into old work (like my Flamin’ Frank comics from the pages of APA-5)…
  • I learned that I had too small a footprint on social media for even a 3% conversion rate to amount to much…
  • I learned that my readers are happy to just follow along with whatever story I share with them, which is truly gratifying. I always try to connect with readers beyond the comic-creating community … and I guess that’s what it feels like: readers happy to be along for the ride!
  • I learned how much I miss sharing my comics with the wider world. I just need to find a way to do so without feeling like I’m trapped on a deadline merry-go-round!
  • I learned that properly servicing a paying audience on a schedule is no easy feat, especially when a good chunk of my comic-making time and energy lately has been spent on the building blocks of things to come. For instance, I’ve been retooling my Watusi comics (the goal? tighter stories, more focused cast, livelier artwork), and that doesn’t always yield work worth charging for month in & month out…
  • But mostly I learned how patient my readers can be! Thank you for following along with my work, even when I’m not producing content as frequently as I used to!

I’m not necessarily done with trying to get subscriptions to work for my readers and me, either. But when I get comics coming out on a regular basis again, I can offer less frequent subscriptions (quarterly/semi-annual, more in line with my actual publishing rhythms) through one of my current online stores (Square and Gumroad), rather than feeding content to another service just to use that option! And, with the closure of my Patreon page, I’ve migrated some two dozen posts from there onto this site; you can find then using the Patreon tag, if you’re so inclined…

So I guess things for me are coming back around to where they were a number of years ago, before I allowed myself to give so much energy to the social media machine. I’ll be showcasing new work on this website &/or in my newsletter, gearing up for a new online Watusi adventure this spring, and adding more physical comics to my print orders … and I feel really good about how that change should leave me less frazzled and more focused. As cartoonist Mike Dawson summed up in (ironically) a tweet: “print zines, blog posts, websites, not only do they all sound a little more stable, they also sound a little more fun.”

Holiday piece No. 34

Holiday34

2022 was kind of an oddball year for me, in that I focused much more on fine art and prints than on comics. It’s been satisfying in many ways to change gears for a while– especially since it resulted in a 10-week show at a local theatre’s gallery! “Beyond the Emerald City” was a feel-good collection of comics and other artwork from my multi-year visit to Oz in the pages of my online Watusi comic. If I do say so myself, it looked good up in the space, and I got positive responses at the opening. That said, I do miss creating comics to share on a regular basis … I guess I need to turn that around for the new year, don’t I?

Cheers to a happy 2023!

Hot off the press: “Visions of Oz”

As I was putting together “Beyond the Emerald City”, I toyed with the idea of making a proper catalog to document the show. Not sure how well merchandise would go over in that environment, I opted for something a little simpler as a souvenir…

I came up with a quartet of themed minicomics, and they do a pretty good job of capturing some of the flavor of the work in that show, featuring collaged artwork, comic panels, and pencil drawings celebrating the breadth of L. Frank Baum’s characters, as drawn by Oz illustrators W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill (filtered thru my own style, of course).

Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #23 features some favorite characters associated with the Emerald City.

Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #24 focuses on Jack Pumpkinhead and The Sawhorse.

Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #25 spotlights The Scarecrow, his corncob castle, and the patchwork girl Scraps.

Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #26 completes the tour of Oz with a visit to Nick Chopper’s tin palace.

You can purchase copies of these 8-page minis at my popup shop at Playhouse on the Square, where I’ll be with artist Martha Kelly on Saturday, December 10, 2022, from 10-1:30. Can’t make it? You can also order copies by mail via my Square store (or old school mail order; direct order info on my Contact page) for just $6.00 postpaid in the US.

Beyond the Emerald City!

2022POTS-aLong-time Watusi readers will recall that my characters and I spent a great deal of time in the Land of Oz for an extended comic adventure. While I haven’t completed making the revisions to that online comic for its print edition, I do have an opportunity to showcase some of the work from that epic alongside other Oz-inspired artwork this fall at Playhouse on the Square!

Made up of a selection of comic pages from my story, along with other Oz-inspired artwork, my “Beyond the Emerald City” show will be on display from October 14-December 28, 2022, in conjunction with Playhouse’s staging of “The Wizard of Oz”. That fortuitous timing (pointed out to me by someone else, since I had totally missed the opportunity it presented) was just too good to pass up, even if it meant completing work for the show on a tighter schedule than I’d have liked. Pushing deadlines can work when it comes to publishing comics online, but my paintings need time to cure before varnishing! Still, it all came together, and has made for what I think is a really satisfying show.

When I decided to make a comic set in the Land of Oz all those years ago by bringing my talking dog Watusi & his friends into interaction with Oz characters & settings in the public domain, I didn’t realize just how much fun I’d have playing in that sandbox! While I was familiar with the movie, once I read the later books in the series I came to have a real fondness for its wide cast of characters and an appreciation of L. Frank Baum’s world-building skill. Plus, those books are darn fun to read, chock full of wordplay & puns, much of which is still clever and humorous over a century after they were first written! Rereading illustrated editions whenever possible, I especially appreciated the design sensibilities of original Oz artist W.W. Denslow, and found his work to be an inspiration for my own treatment of the characters. Much like Baum’s written descriptions of the cast, they were so well designed visually that there was no need to “update” them! If you ever get a chance to read a color reprint of the original Denslow-illustrated edition, with its whimsical character designs and luscious two-color spot illustrations and full-page plates, you’re in for a treat! The second Oz artist, John R. Neill, had a more refined illustration style that I didn’t connect with as easily as with Denslow’s cartoonier art, but his lanky characters certainly influenced my take on Jack Pumpkinhead…

Admittedly, this show– a fan art love letter to the novels– is more comfort food than a palate-expanding meal … but sometimes mac & cheese is just what one needs, isn’t it? My hope is that viewers will find the work in this show an intriguing first step into (or a happy reminder of) the wide, wondrous world of Oz beyond the Emerald City! Like in my treatment of familiar Oz characters and settings in my own story, I hope this show has enough “Ozzy” touches to bring joy to those already familiar with Baum’s novels and piques the curiosity of those who aren’t … yet!

If you’re in the area, you are invited to join me for an artist reception from 5-7 p.m. on the play’s opening night, November 11th, 2022.

[January 2023 UPDATE: included below is the landing page that ran on this website for the duration of the show.]

landing“Beyond the Emerald City” is an exhibition of my OZ-themed comics & artwork, on display Oct. 14-Dec. 28, 2022 at Playhouse on the Square, 66 South Cooper St., Memphis.

  • Please join me for an artist reception on Nov. 11, 5-7pm!
  • I’ll be sharing a popup shop with artist Martha Kelly on Dec. 10, 10am-1:30pm!
  • To read “Watusi in Oz”, start here. You can read the newest Watusi comic here.

On stage: “The Wizard of Oz” (Nov. 11 – Dec. 22) – get tickets here.

Other art on exhibit at Playhouse on the Square is by Priscilla Cunningham, Gerecho Delaney, Suzanne Evans, and Martha Kelly.

Hot off the press: an Astrokitty adventure!

The newest of my 8-page minicomics has been a long time coming, but I think it turned out better because of its long gestation period! Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #22 is an actual comic story (as opposed to my recent “art” minis), and an all-new one, to boot! Written and drawn by me, it features Joel Pfannenstiel’s Astrokitty character (who was also the mascot of his late, lamented comic shop of the same name), and was intended to be the jumping-off point for other Lawrence-area cartoonists to continue the story. Alas, as so many of us (including myself) moved out of the area, that’s unlikely to happen. Who knows, maybe Joel will pick up the baton and make some of his own comics again…

Interested in having a copy of your very own? You can get Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #22 (an 8-page minicomic) from me by mail, postpaid in the US for just $1.00 … or by becoming one of my Patreon patrons during June 2022 at the Correspondent or Art Lover level … plus, joining (at any level) gives you immediate access to other online bonus comics, including a full-color Human Spring adventure!

[January 2023 UPDATE: I’ve closed my Patreon page.]

Hot off the press: Watusi #41!

Watusi the Talking Dog #41It’s canine vs. contraption when Watusi accepts the challenge of Professor Harvey’s latest invention: the Motilizing Reclivator! Also featuring the talents of jam comic stalwart Keith O’Brien in the full-color one-pager “April Showers Bring…”

This issue’s main story is a substantially expanded version of a decade-old webcomic storyline, and I enjoyed the chance to punch up the rhyming (not a strong suit for me) part of the story a little. Expanding the artwork, on the other hand, was harder than I expected; it might have been faster to have just redrawn it! Even though it took a long time to put all the finishing bells and whistles on this new issue, I’m pleased with how it turned out and think you might enjoy it, too!

Watusi the Talking Dog #41 is a 16-page black & white digest w/ full-color covers; ask for it at your comic shop of choice, or get a copy by mail via my Square store (or old school mail order; direct order info on my Contact page) for just $3.00 postpaid in the US. Prefer digital? You can find it on my Gumroad store (for $2.00 US), too!

You can also get a copy by becoming one of my Patreon patrons during the month of June 2022 at the Correspondent or Art Lover tier– plus, joining gives you immediate access to online bonus comics, including a full-color Human Spring adventure!

[January 2023 UPDATE: I’ve closed my Patreon page.]