Watusi: 15 years and hasn’t stopped talking yet!

It was 15 years ago this August that Watusi made his first print appearance, inside my Larry’s Kitchen zine in APA-5 #308! Little did I know what impact that tossed-off concept would have on my career, becoming not only the character I’m most associated with, but one that has helped me make collaborative connections with artists all over the country, some that go well beyond one panel in one of my jam comics. Best of all, Watusi is a character that I’ve not grown bored with, and I feel like there are a lot more stories I can tell using Watusi and the cast of characters that have developed around him! Here is the very first Watusi one-pager I ever did:

Watusi1stStrip Continue reading “Watusi: 15 years and hasn’t stopped talking yet!”

Happy Elvis Week 1991!

It’s Elvis Week here in Memphis, when the city welcomes Elvis fans from far and wide to celebrate the week in which he died (don’t worry, the week of his birth gets plenty of attention, too, from what I understand). While I’m not diving whole-heartedly into it this year, I am fascinated by the array of events scheduled. Just like I have a kitschy fascination for Vegas jumpsuit Elvis, a fascination that may not be fully appreciated in this city.

Like with many artists who lived in the twentieth century, Elvis has appeared in my work from time to time. One of my favorite works featuring the King was my graduate promo piece from when I completed my illustration degree from KU waaaay back in 1991…

elvis1991

 

At the time, I was inking a lot of my work with a stick (yes, a stick), which gives the piece its intentionally rough finish. I really liked how it dressed up with Pantone process color film, and I’ve tried to recreate its CMYK glory as best I can with RGB. Of course, being me, I also included a story component with this image (based, of course, on the famous photo by Ollie Atkins), a story that went something like this:

See, it all started when Lex Luthor fired an atomic missile at the heart of Las Vegas (where Elvis happened to be performing in a sold-out show in the Gila Room of the Sands). Naturally, Superman arrived to stop the fiendish plot of his arch foe just in the nick of time. Of course, when Elvis heard what happened, he invited the Man of Tomorrow backstage to thank him in his own inimitable way: “Donut, Superman?” “No thanks,” he responded, arms and legs akimbo, “I need only the air I breathe to sustain me.” “Well, um, then hows about a Cadillac?”

Well, that was that until a few months later when Superman (in the guise of his everyday identity as mild-mannered reporter (then GBS-TV news anchor) Clark Kent) received a special invitation from the President of the United States himself to attend some sort of luncheon and awards reception kind of thing to thank him for all his hard work in the service of truth, justice, blah blah blah… Now, while he may have been the Man of Steel, he sure didn’t have a stomach of steel, and dealing with the President always bothered Superman’s ulcer (and Kryptonians have really strong stomach acids, don’t forget), so he needed an excuse to get out of it. Fortunately for him, Superman has these incredible powers of total recall, and this enabled him to remember that, while he had passed up Elvis’ offer of the Cadillac, he did accept Elvis’ promise to help him out if he ever needed a favor.

So one short call to Graceland (and a story about getting called suddenly out of the galaxy on a Justice League mission) later, Superman breathed a super sigh of relief, and Elvis was on his way to the White House…

 

 

 

“Railroad”

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing my friend Jovarie Downing perform this wonderful song of his, and it inspired me to republish this piece I did based on it … which has to sustain me until he records a version of it:

RAILROAD

This piece dates from a collage course I took back in 1997 taught by Lora Jost. While I really enjoyed the class, and would like to incorporate collage elements into my work, I don’t think I’m wired right to be successful with collage– I always find it easier to draw what I need than search it out. Maybe it would be easier to find images to use via the internet … except that seems kinda like cheating to me. Still, I was really happy with how this piece turned out. Lyrics to the great Jovarie Downing’s song “Railroad” are © 1997 by Jovarie Downing. Used with permission.

Anniversary year: 25th anniversary of Giant Jack

This Halloween marks the 25th anniversary of my long-running holiday character of choice, the grumpy, candy-loving pumpkin Giant Jack … and the 25th anniversary of my first 8-page minicomic, too!

I created Giant Jack for a Halloween minicomic in 1987 as a kind of reverse trick-or-treat item: I would deliver it to all my friends instead of begging for candy from them. After the success of that first appearance, in which Jack found something besides terrorizing children to enjoy on Halloween (while he still enjoys a good (though good-natured) scare, he developed a real sweet tooth as a result of that comic) he found his way into other holidays as well, in comics like:

  • “A Halloween Treat With Giant Jack” (10/87, 8 page minicomic), which introduced the giant pumpkin with an equally large sweet tooth. For my first minicomic I did a really lousy job of leaving decent printer margins; I later reformatted it and tidied up the lettering for 2004’s Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #5, which I was much happier with…
  • “Giant Jack’s First Love” (2/88; 8 page minicomic) was Jack’s first foray into another holiday. Valentine hijinks ensue as a cupid tries to change Jack’s grumpy attitude.
  • “The Wearin’ of the Green” (3/88; 8 page minicomic) was a downer of a sequel to the previous Valentine’s Day story, as Jack gets his grumpy mojo back.
  • “The Spooks Convene” (10/88; 8 page minicomic) provided a peek into the annual gathering of Jack and his Halloween pals. I relettered this one in 2004 for Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #6.
  • “Giant Jack Knocks ‘Em Dead / Still More Bad Joke Funnies” (10/89; 12 page minicomic flipbook) was a more surrealistic Halloween tale, chock full of bad jokes and bacon. [November 2019 UPDATE: the Giant Jack part of this issue was relettered and released as Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #17 in time for Halloween!]
  • This Comic is Free number Wednesday, October 31, 1990 (10/90; 8 page minicomic) was, like most of this series, an odd little duck– drawn in the scratchy style I was using in illustration class, it was more of a Giant Jack scene than a story, along with a couple of Halloween puzzles.
  • “Giant Jack Meets Scatman” (10/92; 8 page minicomic) featured a rather unpleasant interaction between Jack and his friends with the vile avenger and his sidekick, Vomit. [October 2020 UPDATE: relettered and released as Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #19 in time for Halloween!]
  • “Another Foggy Christmas Eve” (12/92; 8 page minicomic) finally gave Jack a Christmas story as he tried to help Santa on his rounds, with decidedly different results than when Rudolph came to Santa’s aid.
  • “Giant Jack’s Lost Love” (2/95; 16 page minicomic with stickers and postcard in envelope) was an epic tale of nearly-lost love. It came with stickers to let the reader create their own favorite ending.
  • My ArtWalk 2000 Comic Sampler (10/2000; 16 page digest) was Jack’s longest– and so far last– appearance in “The Night of 1001 Pranks!” Showing up a day early due to leap year, he joins some of his spooky friends in Mischief Night pranks. That comic is also notable as the first appearance (outside of the pages of APA-5) of Watusi, the talking dog.

Since then, Giant Jack’s role as my holiday go-to guy has been eclipsed as I’ve done holiday pieces tied more to my current projects: first “Continuity and Vine”, then Watusi-related pieces. Sounds like it’s time to dust the old fellow off, though. Who knows, maybe he’ll even pop up in Wonder Valley some Halloween…

Anniversary year: 10 years of Watusi the Talking Dog

I guess 2002 was a pretty productive year for me. In addition to creating my favorite neglected character, I also started publishing the comic that has dominated my output ever since … Watusi the Talking Dog!

Watusi the Talking Dog (the concept) first appeared in 2000, beginning as the featured character in an experiment in quick storytelling. After I had the chance to teach cartooning workshops to jr hi school students, I wanted to come up with a more “hands on” activity for them, a way for them to complete a comic during a single class session. Students would draw one panel at a time (following from one of my starter panels), then switch with a classmate until the story was done. My hope was to draw their creativity out without forcing them to worry about the whole story or become frustrated by a blank page. While I didn’t have many opportunities to practice this in a classroom setting, I was lucky enough to have it catch the fancy of some of the cartoonists I know. I got help from my fellow APA-5ers along with some non-artists I knew, and soon filled enough completed strips– along with some of my blank starter panels– to flesh out an issue. I kind of did it as a lark, just to get it out there to share the format with other artists who might want to jam with me on an all-ages comic, and to promote the work of the participants at the same time.

Surprisingly, it caught on in a big way, and by the time SPACE 2003 rolled around, I had three issues full of comics from fellow artists, including collaborators I’d never have met without this project! At that show I was much more enthused about this new series than the collections of my other current project, the increasingly-political “Continuity and Vine” strip. I made a concerted pitch among artists to get new participants, and shortly after that show I had enough strips for the fourth issue, and things continued after that at a consistent pace for a number of years.

Eventually, though, new participants stopped joining in the game, especially as fewer of my peers made and exchanged physical comics through the mail. By this time, though, I had started exploring Watusi as a character, developing his setting and bringing in characters from an earlier project (ironically, a project derailed by “C&V”, which had in short order been replaced by Watusi) to act as his supporting cast.

While my print output has slowed considerably over the past couple of years (that’s what I get for ending Watusi #27 on a cliffhanger, I suppose!), the character has been thriving in my weekly webcomic. Next year is looking rosier on the print front, too, as I plan to finally get the epic “Isla Esmerelda” storyline into print. For more on the Watusi print series to date, read more about it here.

Anniversary year: 10th anniversary of the Human Spring … and Smeary Soapbox Press-ents, too!

Before Smeary Soapbox Press-ents existed as this blog, it was a series of minicomics which debuted 10 years ago with the introduction of the Human Spring! Of all my many neglected characters, the Human Spring is one of my favorites, and the one I am the most frustrated to not give regular exposure to. In fact, I started the year planning to introduce a Human Spring webcomic to mark his 10th anniversary, but have been unable to fit the necessary time into my schedule.

Back in 2002, after working on my weekly topical strip “Continuity and Vine” for over a year, I wanted to turn to a simpler project, using only paper and a pen, and get away from relying on computer tones so much. So I began Smeary Soapbox Press-ents, a series in what I’ve always thought of as the common currency of small press — the 8-page minicomic! It was a chance to showcase some of my older characters as well as new concepts, celebrating light-hearted fun in the creation of comics instead of the more cynical work I’d been producing in “Continuity and Vine”. While SSPress-ents was never published as frequently as I’d have liked, partly due to the success of a certain talking dog, I produced some of my favorite comics in the pages of this series, especially those starring the Human Spring– he was a perfect character for this project, and one I really enjoyed playing with. Here’s his story…

When factory worker Steve Springer found himself caught in the heavy machinery which twists steel rods into coiled springs, he was wrenched through a full cycle of the menacing mechanism … and miraculously survived! Somehow, he not only came through that harrowing accident alive, but found he’d gained the strength and flexibility of a spring in the process! Now he can be spotted– as only a human spring can— bounding from rooftop to rooftop … and in the following comics, as well:

  • Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #1 (8/02) Featured the amazing origin and first appearance of the Human Spring; 8 page minicomic.
  • Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #2 (7/03) “The Peerless Plan of Professor Preparedness!” in which the Human Spring inadvertently crossed paths with a devious criminal mastermind; 8 page minicomic.
  • Smeary Soapbox Press-ents#3 (7/04) “The Perfect Plan to Defeat the Human Spring!” in which Professor Preparedness put into motion the dastardly plan described in the title; 8 page minicomic.
  • Watusi the Talking Dog #14 (9/04) The Human Spring had a brief cameo in “Watusi Visits the Big City”, an issue-length crossover between Watusi and JB Winter’s Izzy the Mouse character; 16 page digest comic.
  • Magnet Man Minicomics #40 (Published by Ed4Time Press, 12/04) The Human Spring made guest-starring appearance in this issue of Brien Wayne Powell’s hilarously-written minicomic series. And I even pulled a “special guest artist” credit for the issue (I did draw it, after all)! 16 page minicomic.
  • “Bad Hair Day” (3/05-3/06) Serialized in the pages of Tim Corrigan’s All-Comics APA, this 12-page story featured more character scenes with Steve and longer, more involved fight scene choreography! It was the model of stories to come … and still will be, once my Human Spring webcomic gets off the ground! All-Comics APA was a full-size bimonthly publication (14 issues, 3/05-5/07) which featured fine comics by Dan Lauer, Tim Corrigan, Michael Neno, Larned Justin, Brian Kirk and others. The Human Spring’s cover appearance in issue #3 is the spotlight illustration for this entry.
  • Smeary Soapbox Press-ents #8 (9/05) “Melee in Melvinville!” featured the Human Spring’s reaction to his first meeting with Brien Wayne Powell’s Magnet Man! 8 page minicomic.

And that’s all of the Human Spring’s story I’ve been able to tell…so far. When that changes I’ll be sure to share the news in this version of Smeary Soapbox Press-ents!

Anniversary year: 20 years since my first revival series (Guy with a Hammer Mk. 2)

Last time I wrote about the seven-year run of my ongoing Armen Hammer comic series, and how it came to an unexpected end in 1989. About three years later (on the 10th Anniversary of the first issue, in fact) I attempted a revival of the character.

In late 1992 I found myself with some extra time on my hands, so I decided to reformat the series and attempt to distance the main character from its obvious inspiration (How successful was I? See for yourself here). In a surprisingly short time I re-edited and reprinted the entire 11 issues of the series (along with the Pantheon Comics crossover and the Giant-Size issue), adding 3 new issues and 3-D special in the process. Unfortunately, I was without a decent comic shop or connection to other cartoonists to get the word out about it (when SPCE folded a lot of my small press peers seemed to drop out of the scene, as I did for a time when I spent too much time drawing for classes and clients and not for myself). So once my schedule filled up I left the series hanging once again … though this time I think even fewer people noticed.

Since that time I haven’t really utilized the character except for a 20th Anniversary essay in Larry’s Kitchen #42 (in APA-5 #332) and a story for 2008’s LarryVillains United. But I didn’t entirely abandon the foundation I laid in those early comics, either. Instead of focusing on the title character, I’ve found myself repurposing many of the incidental characters and ideas that I associate with those stories in my later comics— from Minerva Stone to Flamin’ Frank to the “Continuity and Vine” strips … and even in Watusi’s milieu.

While I was working on the 90’s revival I came to realize that the Guy with a Hammer’s story is not an ongoing arc, but rather a novel-like structure with a beginning and an end. Maybe knowing how it all ends has cooled some of my enthusiasm for the character (along with the fact that I have little interest in writing– let along drawing– 80-odd issues of superhero comics). But, for better or worse, the character keeps rearing his block head in my sketch book, and the concept of that story structure develops a little more each time. And since I’ve learned to never say never with this character, chances are good that at some point I’ll revisit him … if only to get his story out of my system.

Maybe I’ll even finish it in time for the 40th anniversary…

Anniversary year: 30 years since my first ongoing series

Earlier this year I wrote about my first self-published comics, a fan-fiction series of Firestorm comics I created with my friend Robert Macke 30 years ago. Inspired by how good inked comics copied in multiples looked, over the following summer I inked the first issue of my solo title Armen Hammer, a thinly veiled Thor knockoff merged with an animated Arm & Hammer baking soda commercial ca. 1980. Over the previous couple of years I had created a fair number of comics with this character (probably 10 or 12) in pencil on notebook paper, jumping around to different points (and “issue numbers”) in the character’s history. But in the summer of 1982 I finally inked the first one into a finished form with a #1 that I copied and distributed once school started up again that August; my first solo comic was pretty popular among my cartoonist friends who read it at the time … and now you can read it in all its spelling-error riddled glory as a downloadable .pdf e-book.

[August 2015 UPDATE: the .pdf version of this early effort (still FREE) is now available in my online store!]

Even though Armen Hammer was probably the least original concept of those I had created up to that point (including a more standard superhero comic, and a quirky teamup between an opera singer and an inventor), this was the comic that I stuck with and developed more than any others. In hindsight, that turns out to have been a lucky break for me, as I discovered superhero parody was more fun to write than straight superhero action. I quickly moved on from parodying Thor and into more original stories and a general satire of superhero conventions (though early on using the kind of gratuitous foul language typically associated with teenage “creativity”). I published two more full-size issues by the time I graduated high school (while also puttering around but never finishing various comics with my friends and drawing two years of editorial cartoons for my high school paper, the Heights Highlighter). Then, while making copies of a strip I attempted to self-syndicate to high school papers, I met Jon E., a cartoonist working at Kinko’s, who keyed me into small press for the first time (and explaining the concept of the digest comic, to boot)!

That summer I remember staying up all night and finishing Armen Hammer #4, which I published in October of 1985 (as both my first digest comic and the first use of the Smeary Soapbox Press imprint). By the summer of 1986 I had discovered Tim Corrigan’s SPCE, which introduced me to a wider network of other self-publishing cartoonists, and over the next 3 years I kept pretty active publishing Armen Hammer comics (you can see the full list here) along with other titles. Over time I found myself enjoying the incidental characters more than my protagonist, who was tied too directly to his source inspiration for my tastes, and when in 1989 I published Armen Hammer #11, I didn’t realize it would be the end of the road for the character as I’d known him.

But it turns out he wouldn’t stay out of the picture for long. More on that next time …

Anniversary year: 15th anniversary of “Invasion of the Space Amazons from the Purple Planet”

May marks the 15th anniversary of the publication of one of the projects I’m the proudest of: Invasion of the Space Amazons from the Purple Planet #1. At the risk of sounding immodest, it may just be a comic that was ahead of its time:

  • Five years before all the males on earth died in Brian K. Vaughan’s acclaimed Y, the Last Man series, Invasion of the Space Amazons from the Purple Planet explored the concept of a female-populated world…
  • Five years before pirate fever swept the nation with the hit movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”, issue #4 of Invasion of the Space Amazons from the Purple Planet featured an exotic seafaring adventure…
  • In the years when comic shelves were dominated by “bad girl” art and gun-toting vigilantes, Invasion of the Space Amazons from the Purple Planet presented a comic starring strong female characters, years before manga and graphic novel publishers finally began to reach out to female readers …

Continue reading “Anniversary year: 15th anniversary of “Invasion of the Space Amazons from the Purple Planet””

Anniversary year: 30 years of publishing comics

This year marks a surprising number of comic-related anniversaries for me as a creator. For instance, 30 years ago this month was the first time I went beyond making one-off pencil on-notebook-paper comics for my own enjoyment, and publishing them in a format I could share and distribute to my friends and other readers. Granted, the first few such issues were done with such miniscule print runs that it wasn’t all that different, but it still planted a seed that continues to grow even today…

During early 1982, while not doing the projects in our 9th grade honors science class, I started making comics with my friend Robert Macke (somehow I passed that class with an A, though all I remember from it is drawing comics and playing Ace of Aces). Robert liked my pencil on notebook paper minicomics of Hulk vs. the X-Men (in the Obnoxio the Clown vs. the X-men mode, for those of you who remember that one-shot comic), and we worked together to produce four issues of Black Market Comics— so named because we were illegally using DC’s Firestorm character (who, coincidentally, had recently debuted in his second series) as our protagonist. Even though we came up with all-original villains for him to fight in the stories, we didn’t think to come up with a hero of our own, for some reason. I wrote and penciled the stories (15-page 8.5 x 11″ issues), with Robert providing a slick finish I couldn’t pull off (& still can’t be bothered to do most of the time even today) for the first three issues; the fourth issue I largely finished on my own over summer vacation. Continue reading “Anniversary year: 30 years of publishing comics”