Thursday, April 9, 2020

Greetings from the Bunker

I don't know what to write about this nightmare. 

I thought about doing some regular True Stories about living (hopefully) through this, but what is there to write about? Sitting in my studio under lockdown and scrolling through ever-more-gloomy news reports? I leave the house once a week to get food for my family, that's it. Is my search for toilet paper a compelling diary comic? 

I talked about this with a colleague. "There's going to be a LOT of comics about coronavirus," he said. He's right. I see some of them on Twitter already. 

If I have nothing worthwhile to contribute, and nothing has come mind yet, maybe I'll just go in a completely different direction. People need distractions. OK, maybe not right NOW, when it's pandemic 24/7, but eventually, when this thing starts to ease up. If the warnings are true and it's two years before this passes, with recurrent flare ups that send us diving back into our homes, and sends the economy plunging over and over again, then people will REALLY need distractions.

I think back to popular art during the Great Depression. Comics didn't wallow in the suffering and economic misery and the rising tide of fascism around the world, terrifying things we're repeating here in 2020. Readers instead devoured the humor of Popeye and the gentle laughs of Gasoline Alley. They thrilled to daily installments of exotic adventure strips set in far-flung climes, like Terry & the Pirates and Cap'n Easy, or in the mind-bending fantasy of Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. In 1938, Superman ushered in the superhero and the introduction of comic books. Real-life struggles were seldom depicted.

Of course, comics were different then. They've grown up since.

I dunno. We'll see. Right now, what I'm dealing with is the total loss of my planned book tour, some 40 cons, signings and speaking gigs that took me right up to San Diego Comic Con in July. There's a second leg in the Fall, which is still on, but for which, frankly, I don't have much hope. I spent months planning this tour, and rested up in anticipation of the grueling schedule, which had me criss-crossing the country, as well as a couple jaunts to Europe. It  all vanished in the space of a couple days. The official release date of Kent State was yesterday btw. I glumly noted the date from here, then watched an episode of Shitt's Creek to take my mind off it. Now the release has been pushed back to Sept. 8, as detailed in my earlier post.

So... I'll be getting back to work soon. Might as well get something out of all this unexpected downtime!

I've been experimenting with color these past few weeks, retrofitting pages from Punk Rock & Trailer Parks, as in the page depicting The Baron's debut, above.

None of my long-form comics have been color, of course. Trashed had a spot color. The rest are b&w. The City was b&w for 15 years, too, before I reluctantly added color. Shitty color, since alt-weeklies had infamously bad reproduction. I regret adding color to that strip. It was a lot more work and didn't add anything to the read. Other, smarter creators, never made that switch, like Matt Groening and Lynda Barry. Their strips were b&w to the end, as they originally envisioned, one consistent body of work. Mine is split in two, The City of the 1990s, and then the color one of the 2000s, which was an entirely different strip, really. I should have re-named it. Thought about doing that. I regret not doing so.

But I've worked in full color for years and years, all the way back to my first newspaper gig in South Florida. Posters, record covers, book covers, gig flyers, freelance illustrations, hundreds of images, all were done in color. I prefer very dramatic eye-catching colors, in fact, which always surprises those who only know my work in b&w. Here's some samples.

A very early, unpublished story from 1989. I drew this on scratchboard (!!) and colored it with Dr. Martin's Dyes. Crazy media in which to work. Didn't stick long with that!  The colors aren't really working here. I was shooting for a noir-ish look, but it needed a much stronger black.

This was an illustration for the Detroit Free Press, also from 1989. This is pen&ink over color pencil. Another goofy mixed media. Color pencils are very waxy, so most ink won't stick. The scanners of the day also had big problems picking up the color. I was very happy with the piece, though. In fact, this is the exact moment it all came together for me, stylistically, After several years of frustrating experimentation. I finished this piece and literally yelled, THAT'S IT! The saturated, dramatic color palette became a staple, too. This one pivotal piece carried me through the next decade, and still resonates in my work.

Comp CD cover, 1995. I moved to gouache paint after my earlier failures, and that proved to be a reliable media. Pen & ink took to it beautifully, too. I've never been a great painter, but strong ink line covers many a weakness. There are a lot of European comics creators who still work this way! Their work is gorgeous, but MAN, it's time consuming.

Above: the poster for Int'l Performance Art Festival, from 1999, billed as the final one (although that turned out to not be the case). I drew this huge, poster size, with gouache paints and pen & ink.

Above: album cover for local band Hazard Adams, 2010. Everything from here on is digital color, applied to scanned pen & ink drawings. I miss paint, but not enough to go back.

Above: Klaus Nomi, for the Belgian magazine Focus, 2014.

Above: poster for The Genghis Con, 2016

Above: wraparound album cover for the Essential Styrenes, 2016. There's Magee from Trashed and Otto from Punk Rock & Trailer Parks in the crowd!

Above: the most dramatically colored piece of all is this poster for the Rock en Seine Festival in Paris. This one was printed as a HUGE poster for the Paris Metro! It was an eye-grabber, for sure. No one can accuse me of being shy with color!

More dramatic colors, in a poster showing young Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, in front of his house in Cleveland, for the Siegel & Shuster Society, 2016.

Above: and finally, another album cover, for pals Chris Butler and the late Ralph Carney. Really crazy colors on this one. 

So moving forward, yeah, I think my books are going to be full color. That's a pretty daunting amount of work, of course, adding color to 200-300 pages of art, and not a job I'll be tackling myself. I'll have to hire a colorist. But the world is in color. I love b&w and the DIY vibe it has, and the moody purity of it, but it's time, past time, to move on.

Here's another test page from PR&TP to whet your appetite: