Friday, January 28, 2011


(Today marks 30 years on, that the tragic explosion of the Challenger scratched its arcing demon horns into the Florida sky and our memories. I figure this is worth another mention:)

Twenty-five years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger blew up after liftoff, killing her crew, including the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe. This cartoon was my visceral response; a reporter for The Hanford Sentinel, I had talked my editors into letting me draw editorial cartoons too (more on that down the road). The disaster took place on a Tuesday, so I would still have had a full day of reporting duties, and was likely designing and editing the agriculture page as well. I must have drawn this after the workday was over, and the editors put it in the next day's paper. (I believe it won a California Newspaper Publishers Association award.)

Among the touchstones of my life is Apollo 11, the crew of which returned to earth on my seventh birthday; it still gives me chills to imagine humans having walked the moon. So I thought of Challenger as a child might, and responded as a child (me?) would. It was one of the worst experiences to have had to share with others by that point in my life; bitterly funny, since so many even more horrible events have taken place since.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sketchbook No. 1

The beginning. Sort of.
Penelope Dullaghan, an illustrator I admire (for her work, her online and ongoing festival celebrating illustration, her frighteningly intense self confidence and foresight, and her ability to get publicity) said in a design magazine interview last year that she threw away all her old sketches and sketchbooks.

The interviewer was aghast. So was I. Her point is that she wants to be new and not informed by what she did before; this is part, perhaps, of that frightening self confidence. To me, the idea itself is plain frightening.

I can't part with my sketchbooks because:

Legless Bill Russell. Handless whomever.
1. They're among the few things in my life that represent order. They keep my ideas bound, literally, and at least once per century they are in chronological order.

2. They are my ideas made manifest.

3. They're documentation of visual experiments that served no purpose at the time, but held the DNA for something later; in case that something comes along, I'll be ready.

4. I can remember where I was and what I was heard and smelled with every single illustration.

In so many ways, I ain't Penelope Dullaghan. Which is probably plain. Least of which is tossing my sketches.

Forced to rearrange a bunch of stuff in my office recently, I came across what is probably my very first sketchbook. Though  I'd sketched and doodled long before, even drawing portraits for "pay" (some kind of reward, usually edible), this is the first time I collected drawings in once place: Grumbacher's big drawing paper pad. Aimed at for the kid market, no doubt. I mean, I bought it (or it was purchased for me).

The dates indicate it took more than three years to complete this pad (from eighth grade up through my sophomore year in high school), which is a charitable description because I let several pages go wasted with nary a scribble. Back then, I had no inclination as an illustrator; I was going to be a newspaper reporter. Now I finish a sketchbook in three months and try to fill up every page. I like Strathmore coil-bound drawing pads, if anyone cares (and even if nobody cares; hey, maybe I should post this factoid on facebook!)

Notice how I title it, charitably, "Tiger."
First impressions? An adult would not have been out of line in telling me that whatever my day job was going to be, make sure it's not illustration. But no one did. In fact, I'll always remember that when I showed my Aunt Patti this drawing of a snarling tiger 35 years ago (hadda have been taken from a photo), she was thrilled.

Of course, that's the kind of thing aunts are supposed to say, and Aunt Patti has always been really great at in that part of her job

But she could easily have dismissed it too, or made mild passing affirmation. But she loved it, and I often think of that moment and how it made me keep at it.

Words and how we convey them have awesome power. It's easy to forget.

Words inspired me to this caricature of my freshman football coach, Mr. Hutchison. I distinctly remember that this was the start of a comic strip that never got past this, an absurdist comment on high school football, which was the most disorienting time of my high school life. (Football also disoriented my bone from ligament and muscle, bad knees ending my career before the first season began.) The "Bingle" in this scene was my best friend John from high school, who finished the season.

Other characters were going to include Assistant Coach Villanueva, who liked to greet us each practice with, "Girls, who got to squat to pee!" and would encourage us by yelling, "I'm going to make you run 'til the sun go down! I'm going to make you run so your tongue falls outta your mouth! You're going to run 'til you puke all over the grass!" Good times. By the way, you can tell I picked up some books on how to draw cartoon hands, but now how to draw anything else.

Unfinished, for a girl I wanted to date.
Some treasures (for me, anyway) still exist, but I'll save them for another time. Right now, the sketchbook feels more like Pandora's Box than a trove, full of unfinished drawings and agonizingly empty pages. I've got a big case of the shoulda-woulda-couldas, and it's time for me to attend to something else at the moment.

Still, some of it gives me pleasure (besides those which just make me laugh with embarrassment). The sketch to the right makes me remember how heavily the kings of illustration at the time (Bernard Fuchs, Robert Giusti and Mark English foremost) influenced me. The shadow across the plane of cheekbones and lips almost makes it look like I know what I'm doing; I think it's more a mishap of the scanner.

Friday, January 21, 2011

More from the Haul of Wonders …

 … in which I haul out illustrations and wonder publicly why I drew them. This is from the Vaguely Familiar Wing, and required crack detective work to solve.

The clue is the clock (really more of a watch with a hormonal imbalance) and its only numbers, 10 and 31.

Hidden in my sketchbooks, similar watches dance and gesture like something from an animated fever dream sequence. Each watch displays the same time, 10:31:

I even inked some of the watches, so they definitely were being prepped for some final use.

(I gotta say, though, I like the feel of black Prismacolor pencils as final art; I've gotten away from that over time.)

Other sketches in my books show the same desk scene and the word Timcor, and then most of the mystery was solved: I did this for a consultant in a branch of the tax industry called a 1031 exchange (don't ask; the explanation made my eyeballs shrink two sizes). I applaud the guy for trying to humanize his line of work. I believe the desktop was for a Web homepage he was building, and each element on the desktop would take you to a new page (very Web 1.0).

For all the fun I must have had, you'd think I'd have a better memory of this project.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shameful self promotion …

Not actual size, except for the pencil.
… as opposed to shameless. I have no problem creating self promos. The shame is not quite knowing what to do with them, and who I can make sick and tired just hearing about me. I'm not sure why I created this (a while back, pre-contacts) or who I was trying to nauseate.

Speaking of which, my site,, has new blog and facebook buttons. Should you ever stray from the blog (and why would you, really?) redemption is just a click away. Even if you wanted a change of pace and looked at my facebook Fan Page, you can always find your way back to these self-referential ruminations.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sweetly twisted

Best tattoo parlor
Drawing for The News & Review (Sacramento, Chico and Reno) has always been a celebration of integrating editorial art and design. I've worked mostly with art director David Jayne, and it has never been about me just dropping off art and waiting to see how it turned out in print. David has always been interested in making sure everything fits aesthetically, so frequent conversations during from thumbnail to final are the norm. The freedom of the N&R assignments have also taken me out on the shaky branches of my "usual" work.

Case in point: A series of illustrations for one of The Reno News & Review's Best of Northern Nevada issues. David's idea was to make the awards resemble collectible figurines, which evolved from a kind of Precious Moments™ look to something that still retained the cloying kitsch without getting too close to the parody bone. Some of these figures, after all, were going to get dragged through the Reno grit. Ten or so figurines were needed. First came an "eye test:"

Can you say "trademark infringement?"
Bob's Big Boy's stepchild?

Then came some sketches, for many more awards than the newspaper had room for, like these for the best bowling alley and "Ugly Coyote"-type bar :

Most of the final art followed the sketches closely, which was nice, given tight deadlines:
Sen. Harry Reid

"Folsom Prison Blues" was just too perfect for this illustration

Best outdoor venue, I think …
The cover was the challenge. We went back and forth over several ideas:

Though I liked the simplicity of the cowgirl, the showgirl version won out. The sun gave way to the giant Burning Man effigy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to final. The showgirl got less showy. Watch as she disappears behind the blue ribbon:

Capped off with a sugary type treatment, though, this was a lot of fun packed into a very short turnaround:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Introducing the Haul of Wonders …

… wherein from time to time I haul out items from my sketchbooks and wonder publicly why I drew them.

Though the criteria for inclusion into the Haul are simple, not every squiggle and jot from my sketchbooks can make the cut (your sighs of relief are palpable). The criteria:

1. I can't remember who the client was, or a gang of ganglia in my cerebral cortex has ganged up to force me to forget.

Exception 1 (A): I may have a notion about the client, but no idea why I created this drawing.

2. It must come from my sketchbooks. Duh!

3. Evidence must be abundant that I intended for the client to see the sketch. Clues might include tight renderings and complete drawings, sometimes in multiple variations. The sketch can't have been done for my own amusement or ideation (Is this really a word? It fits for "development of idea or ideas" but it seems too easy. Maybe I should refudiate its use.)

4. It's highly unlikely the sketches went to final art (if I can't remember that, then I'm in trouble).

The first inductees: These two bears and a tiger dressed as police officers

Huh? My only guess is that these were game pieces for a board game project, which up until that time had nothing to do with animals. Did I fever-dream this and try to talk the client into it? There's no date on the sketchbook page (I'm usually diligent), and nothing indicates I inked any final versions.

The only reason I guessed "board game" is that these are a few pages away from the board game sketches.

Why did I render these in different styles? Why police officers, and no other profession? Why a tiger and bears, no lion? Oh my. Why is one so different from the others, and in a state of menace? Why are the others so eerily cheerful?

They mystery deepens … or maybe not.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Getting to the roots

This cover that I got to do for an album by The Slackers reminded of the quadruple-whammy of events that threw me headlong into a life of drawing:

1. Dinosaurs roamed the earth! Brian LaMay and I always argued at first grade recess over who would be Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brontosaurus (neither of us wanted to be the plant eater, and it turns out now it didn't even exist, so why should we have bothered?) Ironically, I hardly ever drew dinosaurs, but the artwork in my books fascinated me nightly. Way back then, illustrators were the only ones who could make these beasts come alive. So what if the artists drew them chest deep in swamps or with their tails dragging, which scientists now say didn't happen.

2. Crayola. I can't find it now, but Crayola once ran a TV commercial in which illustrators (their disembodied hands, anyway) made realistic tigers and zebras and fish with the same crayons that mocked me from their green and yellow box. I was spellbound.

3. Emile Duronslet Jr., a teenager who lived in my neighborhood and drew magically. Until I met him, I didn't realize that humans made the pictures in all those books I loved. Even as a kid he was passionate about drawing and teaching others. He would tell stories about his goggle-eyed Martians, complete with Martian dialogue, as he populated notebook paper with them. I think he became an animator in the gaming industry.

4. Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and/or Stanley "Mouse" Miller (you pick who came first or takes credit), purveyor of hot rod monster art. I still love their oversized demons — bulbous eyes, fencerows of crooked teeth, slobber roping out of their giant leering smiles — jammed into impossibly souped-up hot rods. One gigantic monster arm was almost always raised high above a gigantic gear shifter, the bony hair-flecked fingers ready to put the monster car in motion. Making Revell models of hot rods frustrated me, and my mom had sufficiently freaked me out about paving my own ruin if I whiffed so much as a molecule of model glue, but I dearly loved the artwork.

So when the art director for The Slackers' project told me the cover would have to feature a slot machine — a one-armed bandit! — I wasted no time in talking the art director into letting me rip off (I mean, pay homage to) "Big Daddy" and "Mouse."

I thought I'd lost that chance for good. Years before, drawing for Brew Your Own Magazine, I did key art for a story about how home brewers can use their senses to avoid mistakes in their ale batches. Perfect for bulging eyes, a big nose and a slurping, snaky tongue. Along with a half-dozen sketch ideas, I included this one and really pushed it:

The note below the sketch wasn't enough, though. I had to call and make my plea. No luck.

"Yeah," said the art director.
"None of us knows who this 'Big Daddy' guy is."

Kids today.

Monday, January 3, 2011

… to save the day!

Advantar Man (no sexy superhero name or backstory, yet; maybe his inability to balance molar equations turned him to a life of chemistry), is a media creation of Bouchard Communications Group for Advantar Laboratories, and Bouchard let me come up with him. Here he is at work (above). And here he is in evolution:

The client wanted something between Superman and the Flintstones, which is a wild and weird divide to navigate.

Whatever direction this guy was going to take, apparently he was going to have a chin with its own area code.

With a body to mix and match:
My preference: Clean lines.
Cartoon steroid version.
Jack Kirby on steroids.
Jack Kirby on helium.
Pretty much it.
Superman and Fred Flintstone were murder on this dude's body.

Whichever body he would inhabit, it would be clad in the regulation boots, glove, briefs and cape.

For a brief instant, I turned Advantar Man's head blue: a Bunsen burner flame and a nod to Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen:
Now Advantar man plays the convention circuit:
And the print world: I like this crop; superheroic: