Saturday, November 14, 2009

Something old.

A lot of professional artists seem to be embarassed by their early published work. Although I can understand the desire to be judged by your most current work, why be embarassed at what came before?

If you're giving your artwork your best effort you have no reason to be embarassed. With that in mind I present the following two pages. I found these on an unmarked disk but I thought I'd share them with you:







I wrote/drew these pages a little over three years ago. I'd approach them differently now but the basic ideas are still sound. In the first page I'd definitely make Wrestler Zero's figure more supple and in the second I'd make it clearer that the wrestling ring is in a cemetery and needless to say the artwork would be better.


But there's no shame in the game here. At the time this was the best I could do. Study the work of your favorite artists and you'll see an evolution from their beginnings to the point where you first encountered their work.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dark times need bright heroes.




In my last post I talked about my preference for heroes that are "men of good will who serve justice". That last quote is from the movie whose poster you see above: "Santo vs las mujeres vampiro" (Santo vs the vampire women). You may be familiar with this movie in it's English dubbed version:" Samson vs the vampire women". Aside from the dubbing the two films are identical. But even if you don't speak Spanish you can quite easily follow the plot of the movie because good storytelling communicates it's message across linguistic barriers.


I've chosen this movie for two reasons: it's a sentimental favorite of mine and more importantly it illustrates the concept of the hero as "the man of good will who serves justice".







The movie opens with a hideous vampire woman, Tundra, emerging from her coffin (above) followed by several more withered vampiric females emerging from their caskets. The coffin containing Zorina, the queen of the vampire women remains closed. Tundra summons their demonic master, seen only by his shadow but clearly Satan, and in short order Tundra and a trio of male vampire slaves are restored to their youthful appearance. Their beauty is viewed only as a weapon by which they can seduce unwary mortals.







Tundra (seen above) is aware that a successor for the still dormant queen of the vampire women, Zorina, must be found soon. According to an unnamed prophecy a beautiful young woman with a peculiar birthmark is fated to be the new queen of the vampire women. We cut to a young woman named Diana who is haunted by a sense of impending doom. And with good reason as she's being observed by Tundra. Diana's father is Professor Orlof. The professor knows the truth and decides to call Santo for help.





At the moment El Santo is not in his well equipped lab but in the arena wrestling in a tag team match. This is a subtle but effective bit of storytelling. In less than two minutes we learn that the film's hero is smart, tough and honorable. In the meantime Tundra kills a couple leaving a club and uses their blood to restore the rest of the vampire women and their queen Zorina to "life".






Aware that her reign as vampire queen is only a few nights away Zorina orders that her successor Diana be brought before her. Tundra goes to Professor Orlof's home and unsuccessfully tries to hypnotize him into turning Diana over to her. Tundra flees into the night. Moments later El Santo shows up in response to Orlof's earlier call. Here we learn that according to ancient scrolls being decoded by Orlof, modern man's moral turpitude and abuse of nature's powers has paved the way for the return of monsters. Professor Orlor and Santo discuss the prophecy about Diana's destiny as the new queen of the vampire women. However Orlof has also uncovered in the scrolls tales of a previous champion of justice who would have a descendant: El Santo. Warned that the forces of evil are arrayed against him El Santo nonetheless is committed to carrying on the work of his ancestors.




Tundra and the trio of male vampires try to kidnap Diana but are stopped by El Santo. The vampires escape and Zorina declares: "the silver masked man must die". One of the male vampires kills and then impersonates Santo's next opponent; The Black Mask. He almost kills Santo during their match but is instead unmasked. Despite being shot by the police he changes into a bat and escapes into the night. The vampires manage to kidnap Diana and Santo sets off in pursuit in his convertible sportscar. He catches up to one of the male vampires near a church but the vampire bursts into flame under the shadow of the cross. Orlof has dechiphered the scrolls and relays to Santo the location of the vampire women's hideout. Santo enters their lair and is captured.

The vampire women have everything they want: Diana and El Santo. Tundra orders Santo's unmasking but the sun begins to rise. Tundra bursts into flames. Santo breaks free and fights the remaining two male vampires long enough for them to succumb to sunlight. Torch in hand Santo enters the vampire women's crypt and sets each one on fire. He grabs Diana and they leave the castle while the screams of the burning vampire women reverberate. Santo returns Diana to her father Professor Orlof and her fiance and drives off in his sportscar. Orlof, Diana and her fiance are left to wonder who this man is. Professor Orlof declares that: " ...in this time where the evil of men seeks it's own destruction, her will always be in the service of good and justice". In the English translation it's given as " ...a man of good will who serves justice".

I realize that today's audience for heroic fiction may find this type of movie to be simplistic, corny or old fashioned. Some people won't be able to get past the low budget or the fact that the hero of the movie is a wrestler who never removes his mask. The vampire women are all beautiful, especially Tundra and the queen Zorina, yet there is no cheap titillation on display. Their allure speaks for itself which is how it should be.

The character of El Santo is presented in very broad strokes: a wrestler by occupation, a hero by nature. When he's not in action he's not onscreen. The hero doesn't exist until there's a conflict between good and evil. In the Mexican Masked Wrestler film genre there is no hand wringing, uncertainty or doubt on the hero's part. These characters operate with complete moral certainty. The notion of moral certitude is crucial to the hero and his motives. A society that either by choice or through conditioning abdicates it's ability to make moral distinctions is on a path to destruction. When you equate goodness with evil you leave nothing to believe in. Why is it that vampires, creatures who live on human blood and suffering, are now presented as heroes? Why did the producers of "Superman Returns" choose to portray the quintessential comic book hero as an uncertain, morally compromised man? Why did the producers of the GI Joe movie not present a "real American hero"? And finally why is Captain America "dead"? Where are the heroes who operate from a plane of moral certainty?

There are those who will argue that the "simplistic" heroes of yesteryear are outdated. The argument is that today's audience wants "characterization" "depth" and "edginess". You can have all of that without diluting the moral certainty and purity that is an essential part of a hero. We're living in dark times. Cultural relativism, moral relativism, Liberalism and Islamic terrorism are the latter day horsemen of the apocolypse. If we slowly surrender our ability to make moral distinctions between good and evil, if we say that all ideas, beliefs and cultures are completely equal, if we say that the state, not the individual, is the producer of the good then how can we possibly hope to recognize and prevail against those villains who operate on a twisted plane of certitude? We need those simple heroes with their certitude and selfless commitment to the good fight more than ever. It may be fiction but it speaks truths about us.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My kind of hero.



It's not enough to create a visual and a name and call it a "character". Character is the sum of personality and motivation. When I created Wrestler Zero I had to ask myself what kind of character was he going to be. Was he going to an angry and cynical person? Would he be motivated by revenge? Or would he be an optimistic character motivated by a desire to serve a greater good? Would Wrestler Zero be a hero because of some intrinsic quality or would his heroism grow of out his circumstances? What is my kind of hero? I had to look back before I could go forward with this question. I started reading comics when I was five years old. Iron Man, Batman, Superman and Spider Man were my favorites during those days. At the age of nine my mom and I moved to Puerto Rico. Comic books were widely read and available there. It was during my time in Puerto Rico that I discovered the three heroes who would become my all time favorites and in large part the inspiration for Wrestler Zero.




From left to right: Blue Demon and El Santo. And below is Mil Mascaras:


All three of these men are Mexican masked wrestlers who enjoyed immense popularity in Puerto Rico. Santo and Blue Demon starred in their own comic books, a sepia toned mix of photos and hand drawn backgrounds. All three wrestlers starred in their own films as well. In their movies they were pro wrestlers who also fought monsters, aliens, mad scientists and organized crime. To the the ten year old boy I was then, and to the one who still is very much alive in me now, these men were superheroes who were real in a way Superman and Batman could never be. In their comics and in the movies their characterization was very surface level, they were simply "men of good will who serve justice". They eschewed recognition and rewards, the good fight was it's own reward. Perhaps in the eyes of today's supposedly more sophisticated comic book reader these heroes are simplistic and dull, their motives pollyannish. But I disagree. The more complexity you try to superimpose on simple heroic characters the more you dilute their purity. Simple doesn't mean devoid of meaning. Simple means that it speaks to the reader because it's understood intrinsically. The world of comic books, novels and film is wide enough to accomodate all of the heroic archetypes. There's something out there for every taste which is as it should be. But my kind of hero is the man of good will who serves justice.

Confidence game.



Here's a small image from the current Wrester Zero story. I don't want to mislead anyone into thinking that I'm producing an epic of some sort. I'm more than halfway done but I don't think it'll be more than 20 pages in length. I'm a single father and I work a full time blue collar job. I don't want to just throw something out there for the sake of saying I've published. I want the finished product to be the best I'm currently capable of producing. I've had to learn two important lessons recently: confidence and letting go of the perfectionistic mindset that leads to procrastination and ultimately anger and frustration. My art school is 365 days, 24/7. If you ask me what aspect of my work needs improvement I'd say "all of it". But for too many years I made the mistake of comparing my work to that of my idols and of course my work always comes up short to say the least. Couple that with a perfectionistic mindset and it's a recipe for paralyzing bouts of procrastination born out of a fear of failure and of not living up to the standards set by my idols. Somewhere along the line I seriously ran off the rails. As Matt Wagner so wisely wrote in Mage: "the past is there to inspire you, not contain you". I will always consider myself a student no matter how much progress I make. But I had to learn that enjoyment is also a part of artistic growth and that perfection has no place in my life. I will never be the biggest fan of my own artwork but I won't be the severe, harsh and unforgiving self critic that I've been all these years either.

Practice makes...






Improvement not perfect. Perfection's an illusion that can paralyze you from trying to start or finish a project. I don't practice by drawing pin ups. Instead, I draw pages. I'll sometimes improvise a short sequence, as I did in the pages accompanying this post. Of course I continue to fill up countless sheets of scrap paper with drawings and sketches but I can only learn how to draw comics by drawing pages.



German Suplex


How do you fight a monster? With a German suplex. My character's name is Wrestler Zero so it follows that he'd use wrestling holds and throws in his battle against the dark things that neither science nor religion has names for.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The not good, the pretty bad and the downright ugly.









I'm a charter member of the "harshest self critic school". I don't know anyone else who draws, writes or is interested in creating comics. My teachers are books and the great artists of the past. In the absence of external criticism I have to not let myself get away with thinking that whatever I do is just fine. I'm a rank amateur but even a seasoned professional should have the mindset of an eternal student. If I can be even a fraction of a fraction of the artists I admire then my life will have been worth living. And without further ado here are some from the scrap heap:











Pages.

Here are some WRESTLER ZERO pages:















I've always thought that the best heroic stories always have an element of death and rebirth in them.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Live and Die with your Mask on.


This is part of page one of WRESTLER ZERO. I'd love to have one of those oversize scanners that can accomodate 11 by 17 originals. This was pencilled with blue pencil and a B pencil and inked with a Pitt brush pen, a hunt 108 and with Dr. Martin's Bombay black ink. The rain was accomplished with a white gel pen. I'm currently pencilling an eight page WRESTLER ZERO story. I'm having a lot of fun with it and I hope it shows.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The magic key.

First and foremost I want to wish everyone reading this a HAPPY 4TH OF JULY.

I had the privelege of seeing some of the world during my Navy days and it made me appreciate our country all the more.









One of the many pitfalls of being a self taught artist is the amount of time I've spent going down blind alleys. It's like exploring a new world without a map or a guide who's familiar with the lay of the land. I've read just about every "how to draw" book I could find, read interviews with artists, scanned blogs, watched videos and I've spent countless hours studying the work of artists whose work both inspires and humbles me. I was searching for some sort of a magic key that would unlock the mysteries of drawing. As time went on I found that I began to lose my fascination with certain artists and began to study the work of men that I'd ignored when I was younger. As I've gotten older I don't have all the answers but I think my questions are much better than they were. All of the time I invested in searching for that magic key wasn't in vain. I learned some valuable things along the way. But the biggest lesson of all is this: There is no magic key to be found anywhere. If you want to unlock the mysteries of drawing you have to draw, draw and draw some more. Frustration is your enemy, procrastination is your killer.







Like many an amateur I've fallen under the sway of certain artistic trends. For a time I worshipped at the altar of heavy rendering. I spent a lot of time trying to be cartoony and for a very long period everything I drew was a stylistic emulation of a certain artist's "how to" books. I'm still trying to unlearn a lot of bad habits. The drawings accompanying this entry were all done while watching movies at home.


If you're an amateur (or aspiring if you prefer) comic book artist I'd like to recommend the following books:




The Figure by Walt Reed, Anatomy for the artist by Sarah Simblet, How to draw the Human Figure by the Famous Artists School, Posefile Reference by Antartic Press, Perspective for comic book artists by David Chelsea, People and Poses, Women and Girls and Men and Boys by Impact Books, Facial Expressions by Mark Simon, The Human Figure in Motion by Eadward Muybridge, International Gymnast Magazine and Drawing magazine.


I almost forgot to include Comic Book Artist number 11, the Alex Toth issue. It's available from twomorrows.com and Mr. Toth's insights on the craft of comics make it a must read. Until next time stay encouraged and keep drawing.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Scrap paper influences


I do most of my sketching on scrap paper. I also have standard sketchbooks but sometimes that really nice paper can be a bit intimidating. The above drawing is a "scrap paper special". I think it shows a Wally Wood influence in the shading and in the shape/masses of the figure. It goes without saying that Wally Wood undoubtedly erased better drawings than I could ever produce, but I love his work nonetheless. If you're an aspiring artist or just someone who loves the best of comic book art, you owe yourself a close look at Wally Wood's artwork.

Pencil before Ink.


The above is a detail from a page of my comic book WRESTLER ZERO. In the never ending (and sanity challenging) attempt to improve my drawing I've decided that I have to focus on my pencilling and put off inking my work for the forseeable future. Inking is an artform but the best inks in the world are useless if the pencils are no good. Because this is my passion I want to be productive and publish new material as often as I can. . However, because I'm painfully aware of how flawed my work is I put a lot of pressure on myself and all too often I've jumped to the inking before making sure that the layout, composition and drawing was as good as it should've been. The result is a stack of unusable pages with an occasional panel that offers the hope that I may, if I work hard enough, someday grow into a passable artist. I've made some very small progress and each new step forward makes me hungrier for the next. So it's back to the books, the drawing board and the pencil shapener for me. As Steve Rude once said : " Hey, what else do you have to do with your life?".

Saturday, June 27, 2009

OMAC: One Man Art Course










Many artists are either embarassed or ashamed of work done early in their careers. I understand but don't agree with that sentiment. If you did the best you could then why be ashamed ? You can look back at old work and see how far you've progressed but there's no need for shame. I'm not a professional artist. I'm just another amateur. But my passion for learning how to think and draw better animates me. I have the mindset of an eternal student. Even if tomorrow I became a pro( I define "pro" as this is what you do as a career) I'd still be a student. I'm constantly studying and I always will be. It's been said that every artist has at least ten thousand bad drawings he has to do before getting to the good stuff. I've exceeded that quota by a mile but I've seen some small progress along the way.








You can read every "how to" book, watch every video, tape and dvd, talk to professional artists, read every artist's blog and interview but the absolute best way to learn how to draw comic books is BY DRAWING COMIC BOOK PAGES. Filling your sketchbooks with designs and concepts is fine but until you draw pages, you're not creating a comic book. With that in mind here are some pages that ended up on the "cutting room floor". And while these pages are deeply flawed I'm not ashamed of them because when I did them that was the best I was capable of.








Thursday, March 5, 2009

Why I respect Rob Liefeld.

Disclaimer: I do not know Rob Liefeld. We have never met. I don't know anyone who has worked either for or with Rob Liefeld. I have no connections whatsoever with anyone in the comic book business. The following post is strictly my opinion.



If you were reading comic books in the early to mid nineties then you're probably familiar with the name of Rob Liefeld. For those of you who are not familiar with him, here's a very brief history lesson: Rob Liefeld did some work for a few small press publishers before working at DC comics. Later he began to work at Marvel comics on "The New Mutants" and later "X- Force". He was in a Levi's jeans commerical directed by Spike Lee. His Marvel comics sold very well due to his artwork and character designs. Later on Rob Liefeld and a few other of Marvel's most popular artists banded together to form their own publishing company called Image Comics. Rob Liefeld and his partners made a great deal of money and engendered even more controversy.



And there was no comic book creator more controversial than Rob Liefeld. His artwork was the subject of constant attack and ridicule. And when that wasn't enough his business decisions, management of his own line of comic books, his relationships with fellow comic creators and even his family became targets of online gossip mongers. Googling his name yielded 194,000 hits. There are entire websites devoted to savaging his artwork and in some cases the man himself.



Despite all of that Rob Liefeld remains an active comic book creator with a sincere enthusiasm for his chosen profession. He's a dedicated family man and as a professional comic book artist he fulfilled his mandate: his work sold comics and made quite a few people a lot of money. His work gave the reader their money's worth and they in turn bought his comics. There are some comic artists working in the business today that got their start working on his comic books.



I respect the hell out of Rob Liefeld and in my opinion he's got nothing to apologize for. I respect him because he didn't let the nay sayers, haters, do nothing/know everything amen corner deter him from his path. As Henry Rollins once said: "the ones who don't do anything are always the ones who try to bring you down". There will always be critics of any creative endeavor. But the only criticism that matters in the end is the one issued by the people who spend their money on what you're selling.



Thursday, February 5, 2009

BIG MAN JAPAN.






Wow. The above still is of the title character from a Japanese film called "Big Man Japan" and I can't wait to see it either in a theater or on DVD. There are just certain movies you know you're going to love when you hear the premise alone. There are trailers for this great looking film available all over the internet.


I grew up in New York City in the 70's and early 80's. In the days when there were real independent stations we had WOR-TV channel 9. This station played martial arts movies, horror movies, Dr. Who, Benny Hill and Japanese Giant Monster Movies( called Dai Kaiju in Japan). To a comic book/sci-fi/horror geek like me Channel 9 was THE greatest station ever. And since I'm still a huge geek "Big Man Japan" pushes all of my buttons.


The plot of "Big Man Japan" is pure genius: Since the end of WW2, Japan has counted on a breed of men who can , with the help of a massive jolt of electricity, transform into giants to protect Japan from giant monster attacks. In the present the film, in a mock documentary style, follows the mundane life of one Masaru Dai Saito the remaining monster fighting giant. His giant alter ego is unpopular because of the enormous damage caused by fighting monsters and he's reduced to selling ad space on his huge body so as to eke out a meager living. When he's not fighting monsters, Masaru tries to maintain his waning relationship with his daughter, visit his senile grandfather( a giant monster fighter of the previous generation) and waits around to be called into action by the Japanese government.


Pure genius. I wish I'd thought of this one. The movie is, in part, a satire of the old Godzilla movies as well as the giant monster genre which includes Ultraman and The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers(which was a Japanese show dubbed into English with American actors in the "civilian" scenes).


Now, I realize that this movie isn't to everyone's taste and that's cool. Japan has produced a lot of terrific but very offbeat movies such as Tetsuo The Iron Man in which an average Japanese "salaryman" (office worker) becomes to transform in a walking pile of iron parts.






There was a Tetsuo2 and I've heard rumors that a 3rd Tetsuo movie may happen. Tetsuo: The Iron Man deserves a post of it's own but suffice it to say that I love this film. And one more before I go: The Calamari Wrestler.

The plot of the Calamari Wrestler is that Japanese pro wrestler Taguchi has just won the world title with his finishing move the inverted full nelson. While enjoying the moment of his victory he's surprised in the ring by a giant squid who has snatched his championship belt. Taguchi tries to fight the squid but is trounced by the squid's Northern Lights Suplex. Watching from ringside Taguchi's girlfriend Miyako recognizes the Northern Lights Suplex as being the same finisher used by her deceased ex boyfriend and former wrestling champion Iwata. Now he's back in a giant squid body and he's out for payback, respect and his championship. Miyako is torn between loyalty to her new boyfriend Taguchi and her unresolved feelings for Iwata. In his giant squid body Iwata begins to train hard for his next deadly opponent: The Squilla Boxer.

Yes, this is a comedy and no it's not for everyone's sense of humor either. But it works for me wonderfully. Come on, it's pro wrestling, a love story, a man returned to reclaim his life in a giant squid's body and to find his place in the world. If there has to be a point to this post perhaps it's that while Hollywood continues to make excellent movies, there are lots of great movies from other sources as well. Don't be put off by foreign actor names or subtitles. Or to put it another way: watch outside the box.