The Truth About Mr. Mug

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There were so many “likes” and encouraging comments about my Mr. Mug book, I’m a little ashamed to admit it was a joke. Mr. Mug was a product of my wry sense of humor, and came forth from whimsical doodles drawn between more “serious” projects. I didn’t think anyone would actually believe I was doing a children’s book in which the main character apparently kills himself.

My favorite children’s book creator, Shel Silverstein, had a dry & dark sense of humor too. He created a picture book called “Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book” in which he playfully encourages kids to drink ink and put sugar in daddy’s gas tank because there’s a little horse in there and horses like sugar. They put a big “For Adults Only” sticker on the cover lest it turned kids into homicidal demons.

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I’m grateful for the support anyway. I’m lucky to have supportive friends and family who want to see my work published. Perhaps one day I’ll actually do a book staring Mr. Mug — he seems to be a likable guy.

Meanwhile, a REAL project is nearing completion. Stay tuned!

Girl Power! Part Two

A few months ago I blogged about my new favorite artists, all girls (possibly women). Well the trend has continued. I SWEAR TO GOD it has nothing to do with the fact they (presumably) have boobs. I don’t know why, but to me, the most exciting comic art out there is done by ladies. Maybe by the end of this post, you’ll agree.

Okay, geez, if you thought my art crush on Kate Beaton was bad, you should’ve seen my slack-jawed, eye-popped expression when I first stumbled upon Kelly Bastow’s website. In addition to fantastic illustrations, she has a wonderful selection of tiny-yet-powerful comics. kelly_bastow_1But her website only contains a fraction of her work — most of it is on her Tumblr. And now I will spam a bunch of her art because I love it. kelly_bastow_5 kelly_bastow_6 kelly_bastow_2 kelly_bastow_4 kelly_bastow_3 And that’s why I love her. Not only is her art a visual feast, but it comes from a deeply personal place, feels as honest as a confession, and has incredible emotional impact. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the work of women. Not to discriminate against men or anything, but generally I think women are more emotionally sensitive. Emotion is what gets me off in comics. (she does the funny too)

Amazingly, Kelly is just a kid. All this talent has been self-developed, and only recently did she begin formal education (bet she’s the only kid in her art school with an agent). Tonight as I was drawing, I listened to Kelly doing her first podcast interview. She’s your stereotypical polite and demure Canadian, but during one part of the interview, she slipped and said something like, “… oh, one day when I’m rich and famous…”. To me, that’s all the more endearing. Magic people know they’re magic.

Next up we have the audacious Jess Fink. Jess is great because she’s proven you don’t have to be a boy to draw dirty pictures. And why hide those dirty drawings under your mattress when you can put them online and have a popular tale of “erotic robot romance”? Pro tip: don’t look at these unless you have some time on your hands.

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Jess also has a graphic novel coming out next month about time traveling to aid her younger self. Great concept, right?

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I follow her tumblr, and seeing her so excited to be holding a hard copy of her graphic novel, makes me tremendously happy and hopeful. Especially since she’s published by my publisher of choice. You can preview the first seven pages, and preorder here.

 Noelle Stevenson has a huge following, and recently won Slate magazine’s $1000 “best online comic” prize for her comic, Nimona. Another art school kid with an agent and a book deal. sigh.

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And finally (because it’s getting late, and even being a fanboy gets old), there’s Stephanie Pepper. Take a look at her comic strip about a fruit cup, and you’ll be a fan too. Plus this: 

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Girls be putting us out of business. Time to step up the game.

Girl Power!

Yeah, we all know chicks rule, especially the ones that don’t like being called chicks. And yes, women are gaining ground, earning more than half of all college degrees. But did you know they’re kicking ass in comics too? I’ve been discovering some awesome female talent lately, artists that are quickly becoming my favorites.

Chief among them is the amazing Kate Beaton. She is the indie-comics-world darling, and for good reason. Not only are her comics incredibly smart (often riffing on historical themes), but her drawings are totally superb. Her line is tops, harkening back to classic cartoon masters like Silverstein, Steinberg, Steig, and Quentin Blake. She is at the top of the game. Just look at how much expression she gets out of those simple faces!

Although she publishes her comics on her website, Hark! A Vagrant, she released them in book form and it looks like it’s doing great. Right now it has 51 Amazon reviews with a 4.5 star average. I bought it, and have been enjoying it each morning with tea.

Next up we have Jillian Tamaki with her online comic, SuperMutant Magic Academy. This gem is a dark parody of Harry Potter, but with its own unique cast characters. Jill really has a talent for social critique. I’ve started at the beginning and haven’t gotten through them all yet, but so far I especially like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one and this one.

Jillian Tamaki has also illustrated some graphic novels, which I hope to check out soon.

Next up, we have Kate Leth of Kate or Die! — a bisexual, feminist, generally badass comic creator. I like this one a lot.

Even though Hyperbole and a Half hasn’t been updated in over a year, it totally gets honorable mention. Using my investigative skillz, I uncovered the creator, Allie, did not in fact die. Turns out the pressures of success made her want to hide (see this facebook note). Guess that’s what happens when your Blogspot post gets over 4000 comments. She’s also writing a book. We’re rooting for you Allie!

Finally we have Vera Brosgol, creator of the fantastic graphic novel, Anya’s Ghost.

This year Vera won an Eisner Award for “Best Publication for Young Adults”. This is the award I’ll be gunning for with the book I’ll begin after I finish my current one. 2015 Eisner’s, here I come!!!

Anywho, cheers ladies! Thanks for brightening the world with your creativity. Comics make me so hot OMG.

My Dad

Spoke with my Dad tonight. There’s not many people who understand me like my Dad. My Dad and I are similar in many ways. We’re both artists, dreamers, modern day philosophers. But we’re in very different places. My Dad, nearing 60, lives in Los Angeles. Feels trapped by it. Trapped by the concerns of eking out a living on the edge of retirement. My Dad fixes and installs pool equipment. It’s not a glamourous job, but it pays well. There’s lots of work for a pool guy living in Los Angeles. Of course, nobody dreams of being a pool guy.

He used to dream of being a rock star. He grew up inspired by Bob Dylan, was among the first to attend U2 shows. He plays guitar like a craftsman and used to have a band. In the first house I lived, he built a soundproof room and had strange men come over, with names like Rocco and Jim. The walls would vibrate me to sleep, and the next day I’d wake Dad at noon. They had records. They had fans. They had a dream.

Somewhere along the line, my Dad moved to Colorado and became a mortgage-broker. Torn in eighteen different directions, music emerged a dusty, washed-out road. Now he deals in pool machinery and has carpal-tunnel from adjusting nuts and bolts. Playing guitar pains him now, and not just in his hands.

My dad is so proud of me. When I tell him I’m exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to be doing… I feel like I’m bragging. But he’s happy for me, though he says he’s jealous of people who align with their destiny, “vibrate with their own frequency”. I tell him that science tells us that time is not linear. He confesses that sometimes I’m the only thing that keeps him going.

We talk about women. He asks if my ex-lover inspired me to creativity. I say no. That love, for me, is a constricting experience. He says that love is an inspiration to him, so I stop and reconsider. My dad listens as I tell him I think I could be happy alone, forever. He says it takes a very rare and special woman to allow her man the space to be alone.

I wish my Dad wasn’t so hard on himself. I wish he wouldn’t measure his life in terms of artistic success. My Dad’s been a blessing to me, and I hope he can find peace in the absence of achievement. I wish these things for myself too, but only half-heartedly. My Dad and I are similar in many ways.

I *Love* Autobiographical Comics

The crazed hustle and bustle of the city drives me mad nowadays, but it’s almost worth enduring if I can get to a comic book shop. While in Los Angeles I visited Meltdown Comics, a huge store on Sunset Boulevard. Grazing the endless rows of comic books and graphic novels, I came to understand the sheer variety of illustrated options out there. You have your testosterone laced superhero stuff, action-packed japanese manga, stark and cynical social commentary, historical fiction, comedies, sci-fi, cutesy-talking-animal things. Whatever your personality, you will find a corresponding comic book style to intrigue you.

During this visit I found myself gravitating towards lighthearted autobiographical comics. Usually small-press zines. I’m not sure why I find this genre so charming, though it might have something to do with the voyeurism of peeking into somebody else’s life. It takes a sensitive and creative person to spin interesting stories out of mundane, common tasks, and it’s interesting to see the artists grow with each everyday observation. It’s not saving the galaxy from the forces of evil or ‘nothin, but it’s life. I like life.

While at Meltdown Comics, I discovered some great artists. I enjoy this guy’s work a lot. His name is Sam Spina and he produces an annual book called Spinadoodles. He creates a comic EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE YEAR. That’s a heroic feat, trust me.

Here’s a fellow, JP Coovert, who does a similar thing in a sparse way.

And this is the work of Toby James. I like how Toby will occasionally infuse his narrative with pure fantasy, like with this comic about motorcycles.

It takes a certain kind of narcissist to make autobiographical comics, God bless us all.

Interview with an Illustrator: Ellen Murray

In Austin, I’ve been attending an Illustration critique group with some amazingly talented artists. A while ago we thought it would be fun to conduct interviews with each other. It was my privilege to interview member Ellen Murray.

Dallion: Hi Ellen, thanks for participating in this interview. For my first question I’d like you to describe your earliest memory of being artistic. What made you want to illustrate children’s books?

Ellen: Illustrating children’s book is a combination of my love of good stories and my love of art. My mom has always encouraged me to be creative and to make art from my early childhood to the present day. Art making has been a life-long passion. My love of stories may have come from my dad, who usually would read aloud to me and my siblings before bed. I remember him reading aloud works by C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Who are your favorite children’s authors/illustrators?

Authors: J.M. Barrie, Dr. Seuss, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, J.R.R. Tolkien
Illustrators: Edmund Dulac, E.H. Shephard, N.C. Wyeth, Peter de Seve
These are certainly not all, but they are definitely noteworthy.

You’ve created many pattens involving plants and posted them to your blog. What’s up with that?

Plants are very inspiring to me. One day I realized that they keep creeping into my artwork, so I decided to be very intentional about it. At the same time, I decided that I would also like to experiment with pattern-making and questioning the perception of different plants. What makes a plant desirable? Why are some plants overlooked and labeled as weeds? My project aimed to bring attention to the interesting and beautiful patterns of common, native Texas plants.

Can you describe your workspace at home? Do you set aside time to create art, or do you wait until you’re in the mood?

Typically, I work digitally in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet at my PC desktop or with a pencil in my sketchbook. I don’t have a set time to make art at the moment, although I have made set times in the past. I like to bring my sketchbook around with me to fill extra time, especially in airports and coffeehouses.

On your website you display a combination of “traditional” and digital work. Which medium do you prefer and why?

I like to experiment with all mediums, so that I can choose the appropriate medium for a specific project. I do lean towards oil, pastel, and charcoal. When I paint digitally in Photoshop, I use a very similar approach and process as I would with oil paint and pastel. My traditional experience informs my digital work.

In ten years, when you’re a famous and wildly successful illustrator, what will you be known for?

I have no idea, but I hope it’s for beautiful, inspiring, and honest work.

If you had to live someone else’s life, who would you choose?

That’s really hard to say; I’m really thankful for the life I’ve been given. If I could just travel the world and paint, that would be pretty fabulous.

What’s next on your artistic horizon?

My next project will be to finish writing and illustrating my children’s book entitled Leopoldo The Frog. Leopoldo is an operatic green tree frog living in a Florida swamp. He is praised as the best singer in the swamp until another talented frog moves in and turns his world upside down. You can find more illustrations of Leopoldo at my website: www.ellenmurray.net.

Thanks Ellen!

The rest of our group’s interviews can be seen here:
Dallion
Audrey Lopata
Marsha Riti
Amy Farrier
Tiffanny Varga

New Shel Silverstein Book of Poetry

In September 2011, HarperCollins will be releasing a new book of poetry and drawings by Shel Silverstein titled Everything On It. Thing is, Shel died in 1999. Without his guidance, will this volume even come close to perennial classics like Where the Sidewalks Ends and A Light in the Attic? Are Shel’s heirs scraping the bottom of the barrel in hopes of a big payday? I dunno, but I can’t wait to find out!