Monday, July 28, 2008

PlanktonPod Playlist Update
My birthday is this week. I don't usually like to make a big deal out of it--heck, these days I want to just crawl away and hide on my birthday most of the time--but I'm using it as an excuse to put a bunch of new songs on the virtual iPod over on the right side of this blog. The theme this time is my favorite cover songs. I love a good cover song, and have been collecting cool ones for a few years now. My actual iPod has a covers playlist of 335 songs! I picked just seven(like I said--my favorites) for the PlanktonPod today: 1) "Love Will Tear Us Apart," originally done by Joy Division, performed beautifully here by Calexico; 2) "Two Of Us," a Beatles song covered by Aimee Mann & Michael Penn; 3) "Wichita Lineman," a Jimmy Webb/Glenn Campbell tune I barely remember from my childhood, performed un-ironically with real affection by R.E.M.; 4) "Sweet Child O' Mine," a Guns 'n' Roses song recreated by Luna--a cover which led me to investigate the rest of Luna's output; 5) "Vapour Trail," perhaps Ride's most well-known song, covered here by The Divine Comedy, possibly my favorite on this list of favorites; 6) Aztec Camera's "We Could Send Letters," made even more heart-wrenching by The Mystic Chords Of Memory; and finally 7) Aztec Camera's version of Van Halen's "Jump," a cover song I've enjoyed since I was a young whippersnapper in college.

I decided to embarrass myself on my own birthday this time with
another vintage slide from our time in India...

--Old Man Sprouse

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Number Of The Beast #8

Things are lookin' shady for the Paladins...(layouts from NOTB #8)

The final issue of Number Of the Beast will be in comic shops tomorrow! I'm very excited, as this means all eight bi-weekly issues will have shipped on time! It wasn't easy, but we did it! I'd like to give Karl Story a huge "thank you" for some amazing inking and finishing done under much duress. I'd also like to publicly thank Scott Beatty for the fine writing and fun characters, as well as plenty of enthusiasm and encouragement. And finally I hope editor Ben Abernathy knows how much I appreciate being given the chance to do this job and how much his
encouragement during some of the most stressful times helped.

One of the reasons I wanted to work on this series was to try to begin rehabilitating my reputation as a guy who isn't good with deadlines. It seems to have worked at least a little bit, because since finishing NOTB I've been offered almost more work than I can accept! As usual, I can't or don't want to talk about any of the offers until everything's finalized and official announcements are made.

Anyway, as a final send-off for NOTB, I thought I'd post the long ago promised unpublished character design material. Amazingly, every character design made it into the back pages of the
individual issues. Lots of feet were covered up(I swear I drew all the feet! I may take some short cuts now and then, but that particular lazy cartoonist cliche is not one of them!), and lots of the elements of each design were re-sized or moved around, but they're essentially all there. Below you'll find the only omissions. Since I haven't mentioned it in a while, I should tell everyone that if you use your mouse or laptop touch controls to click on any image in this blog you'll be taken to a much larger version of the image(usually).

The only completely unpublished material--some designs for a photo and a cheesecake poster from NOTB #2

The head and shoulders shot on the right never made it into the printed comic

Neither of the drawings of Dr. Sin without his robot were published


Thursday, July 17, 2008

PlanktonPod Playlist Update
I've cleaned off the summer songs and turned the PlanktonPod into the BatPod this week, as the thoughts of many of us nerdy types center around the impending release of the newest Batman film tonight and all the comic book themed movies in production(a trend that I hope to be a part of very soon).

There are three different versions of the classic 60's Batman Theme by artists as diverse as The Who, The Jam, and The Flaming Lips on the pod today. Other superhero and comic book/strip characters are well-represented, with several songs dealing with Superman and his supporting cast. The band XTC is featured on two Super-tracks, "That's Really Super, Supergirl" from their classic Skylarking album, and "Brainiac's Daughter," recorded under the pseudonym The Dukes of Stratosphear. The Kinks' "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" proves that everyone briefly lost their minds and taste during the disco years. The Flaming Lips make another appearance with "Waitin' For a Superman," which I dearly love, and I'd never leave R.E.M.'s "Superman" (actually a cover of a song by 60's band The Clique) off of a comic book-themed playlist. Another DC Comics character is name-checked in yet another XTC track, "Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)." To prove I'm not merely a "company man," I've also added songs to the playlist which feature non-DC heroes, The Ramones' version of the 60's Spiderman theme, and another cover song by R.E.M., "Ghost Riders," which sure sounds like it's about the Marvel comics character, even though the title is pluralized. Finally, I couldn't resist adding "Flash's Theme" by Queen. Flash Gordon is my favorite classic comic strip and the 80's movie from which this piece of nostalgia comes is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.

A commissioned Batman drawing from the early 90's
--quite possibly the last time I drew the character

Life Outside Comics
Some readers of this blog may have enjoyed the dozens(seems like hundreds) of comic book-related posts I've written over the last year, but I'm sure there are others (a large portion of my family, for instance)who are tiring of the endless examination and discussion of pencilling, inking, feathering, double-page spreads and the like. These folks may be wondering--and rightly so, I might add--if Xan and I ever actually left the house over the last ten or so months while I drew the Number Of The Beast series...

While we didn't have an especially active year, we did manage a little extracurricular fun. I've already written about a few of our rare excursions like seeing The Kids In The Hall and last year's three or four conventions (oops--those still involve comics...oh, well...), and Xan posted a piece on her continuing guitar lessons and another about a visit with friends in Toronto. We also attended a few weddings--our friends and neighbors Nate and Michelle were married last September, and we just returned from Xan's cousin Molly's wedding this past weekend in Milwaukee.

The year has been chock full of family visits as well, with my sister and my parents moving to Ohio and preparing to move to Ohio, respectively. We saw most of one side of Xan's family at the aforementioned wedding, and while in Milwaukee we also caught up with my Uncle Jim and his family for one thoroughly enjoyable night.

Somehow we managed to spend some time with friends too, with Xan's childhood pal Sara and her children dropping by for a weekend. Xan's old college roomates Bret and Steve each made an appearance at some point, as did friend Kevin O'Brien on his way back home to Australia.

Xan and I also made it to a couple of out-of-town concerts: for Xan's birthday we escaped to Pittsburgh for a Joe Jackson show at the Carnegie Music Hall. Neither of us had seen Joe Jackson before, and with a setlist heavy on the classics performed in
a beautiful venue, we left happy and spent the next day shopping in funky record, book and comic shops in the city. Then in June we zipped down to Maryland in a lightning-quick visit to catch R.E.M. at Merriweather Post Pavilion. As regular readers of the blog know, I've spent a large chunk of my life attending R.E.M. concerts, and I've seen them twice before at Merriweather(site of many shows for me, including my first ever concert back in the day). Between the band, the location, the nearly-forgotten but not at all missed DC/Baltimore humidity, and a generous serving of tunes from my college days, it could have been 1986 again! Somewhere during the opening of "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" I felt like I was having an out of body experience...maybe that was just exhaustion and the mugginess finally getting the best of me...Anyway, the concert was astounding--Xan says it was the best R.E.M. show she's seen, and it's definitely up there in my top five(yikes!). Both concerts were top-notch and lots of fun, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly on what turned out to be my only real time off while working on NOTB.

Speaking of concerts and road trips, Xan is currently in New Jersey with friends Shelley and Mark (who also spent a weekend w
ith us earlier this Summer) as I type this, and they'll all be seeing 80's band Yaz in Manhattan sometime tomorrow night. I'll let her write about that when she gets back.

I'm sure I'll be back to writing about comic books soon(especially since the final issue o
f NOTB hits stores next week and I'm in the process of starting a few new assignments), but I hope this post was a nice change!

Hats are the order of the day for Sara's children Vala and Gavin

Joe Jackson in Pittsburgh(left) and R.E.M. in Maryland(with Johnny Marr of
The Smiths joining them for "Fall On Me")

Dan and Molly, just married(left), and my Uncle Jim in his home studio in Milwaukee, WI


Friday, July 11, 2008

Finished Pencils Vs. Layouts
As requested by guido, this post will feature a comparison of my finished pencil art and the layouts I did on the last three issues of Number Of The Beast, and I'll show what each looks like when inked by Karl Story.

First up is my second favorite page from
NOTB #1, page 18(my fave is the double-page spread featured in earlier posts):

This was lots of fun to draw, and I labored over little details like the salt shakers, condiment bottles, the signage, napkin dispensers, and on and on. I used a straightedge wherever I could and worked out cast shadows and placement of areas of solid black. Any black areas are filled in with pencil or there's
an "X" somewhere within an enclosed shape indicating that Karl needs to fill it in during the inking stage. In short, there's a lot of tight work showing--everything has been finalized in pencil before the page goes off to Karl.

Here is the same page after Karl has inked it:

Karl was super-faithful to the pencil lines I put down on paper, but he certainly didn't just trace what was already there. He added depth and emphasized certain figures or objects using different line weights that just weren't there when I drew the page. Mechanical details such as Engine Joe's auto-body are even slicker and cleaner in the inks. Look closely at the feathered shading on Mago's vest, for example, and you can see how Karl used thick to thin strokes to transition from solid black to gray to white very smoothly whereas I just scratched some lines out of a shadow really quickly and a little gracelessly(Mago is the long-haired guy seated to Engine Joe's right in the big panel). Does it sound like I'm just gushing too much about Karl Story's inking here? Impossible! The work he does over anything I give him is astounding--and the original art looks even better in person than it does in the printed version or even in my scans, if you can believe that!

Next up is page 12 from
NOTB #7, a fairly typical example of my layouts on this series:

You can see that I didn't do any shading(apart from the eyebrows, which I just noticed...weird...), and didn't indicate every solid black area. My pencil lines are still relatively clean and precise, but you'll notice I didn't even use a straightedge on the page more than a few times--all the background details in the large third panel are pretty roughly free-handed. There's very little feathering at all and only one line weight used throughout(feathering, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is the use of multiple thick-to-thin "feathery" lines as shading or to simulate gray tones in black and white line

Here's what the same page looked like when Karl was finished with it:

Thankfully, Karl
did use a straightedge in panel three--he really made sense of that background. All the shadows in that panel--except for those on Black Anvil--are Karl's creation, as is nearly all the feathering. As for line weight, compare what Karl did with Engine Joe's hand in the last panel to what I drew--the hand looks much more solid and far heavier, as it should. So, basically, Karl took a bare-bones coloring book-like page and gave it some life and some pep.

My layouts are pretty tight, and when inked by Karl, colored and printed, they don't look terribly different than my finished pencils. I also enjoyed doing my work as layouts--concentrating on the basics and building up a huge pile of pages really quickly, not to mention finding a way to beat the dreaded deadline doom--but it's back to my regular finished pencils on my next assignment, which I'll write about as soon as I can.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Number Of The Beast #7

Surprise attack! From my "layouts" for NOTB #7

The seventh issue of Number Of The Beast is at your local comic shop tomorrow, delayed one day because of the holiday. Only one more issue to go!

I also updated the PlanktonPod playlist today with a few more summer-themed songs in commemoration of the sweltering weather we've been having here (interrupted by temporary bouts of thunder storms). The first song on the list is "The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count" by The Divine Comedy, a favorite from the days when Xan and I met, followed by an oldie from Yo La Tengo. The last new addition is a rarity by R.E.M., from one of their earliest fanclub flexi-discs. Check it out!


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Introducing The PlanktonPod...

Some readers may have noticed I've tweaked the look of this blog a bit. This is the nerdy kind of thing I do in my very rare spare time--kind of sad, isn't it? The biggest change in the blog is the addition of the little music player at right. Music is a huge part of our lives, and I thought it would be fun to include some on our blog. Since Xan and I are also both iPod enthusiasts(!) I wanted to present it in the form that you see, with the ability to update it occasionally with songs or other audio tracks that have some connection to what we're writing about or what's going on in the world.

I get just as annoyed as anyone when I visit a mySpace site and some obnoxious music blasts out of my speakers uninvited, and I know the pain of internet slowdown while waiting for embedded automatic audio players to load and start. For those reasons, I've set up the PlanktonPod so that you don't have to listen to it if you don't want to--interested parties have to actually hit the play button to hear any music. I should mention that the controls are pretty easy to figure out--just click on the name of the first song in the list on the iPod's little screen(or whichever song you want to hear) and the music begins. You can also press the center button in the middle of the white click wheel and whatever track is highlighted will play(pressing the forward and rewind buttons will highlight and scroll through the songs). Once music is playing, the virtual click-wheel works like a real iPod's click wheel with the exception of volume levels(you'll have to control the volume using your computer's own controls). Underneath the PlanktonPod are some little buttons that will take you to iTunes or other sites where some songs I post can be purchased(if available), or will help you create a music player for your website. I plan to change playlists every week or so. Feel free to comment on the songs and playlists and we'll be happy to answer any questions(we love talking music).

So...the inaugural PlanktonPod playlist is a mix of summer-themed songs, with an emphasis on this week's holiday. Next week I'll post more summer songs(or if the current weather conditions here in Columbus persist, I'll post any songs I can find about rain, floods and tornadoes). Enjoy!


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Original Art

One of the pieces of original art I kept for myself from ABC A-Z #1. Check out that gorgeous Karl Story inking! I wish all of that Tom Strong merchandise in the top left panel really existed...

Just took a look at what pages of mine art dealer Jim Warden has for sale on his site (click HERE) and it's kind of making me regret not keeping more Tom Strong pages for myself. I only kept a few from the early issues because I was so unsatisfied with my work then and later went through some lean times when it would have been self-destructive to hoard pages I could sell. I was quite happy with the final few issues of the series that I drew and kept quite a bit from them(including all of the pencil art from the "painted" sequence from the final story), and I kept most of the pages from the ABC A-Z book, which were all double-page spreads or full-page splashes and my favorite Tom Strong artwork ever published(technically-speaking). Oh, least I have my photocopies to help me get through fits of nostalgia like this!

A pencilled page from my personal collection, from the "painted" portion of the final Tom Strong issue, #36. Done pretty much the same way as my layouts for final issues of Number Of The Beast (see my last post below).

Xan just promised me she'd write something about the trip to Canada she took while I locked myself up in the studio for one final Number Of The Beast drawing marathon recently. That's something to look forward to for all of the less comic book-centric readers of this blog! It'll be a nice change!