Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Homage to vintage Sci-fi

A recent assignment for my University of Hartford MFA in Illustration program was to create an illustration in the style of a genre from a different era. I chose to create a science fiction cover from the 1950's. Director C. F. Payne stipulated that even though we were creating art from another era, he wanted us to communicate a contemporary idea for a contemporary usage. I chose to play with the idea of genetic engineering.
The illustration is for a (non-existing) story in which a mad scientist makes a fortune selling boutique genetically engineered pets, like miniature dinosaurs, created by altering parakeet DNA, and fluffy monkey-head boas that function as fashion accessories. He uses his fortune to pursue his somewhat more nefarious genetic experiments.
Initially I wanted to make the illustration an "Amazing Stories" cover, but I did not like the way the type covered so much of the illustration, so I chose the lesser known "If" magazine, so I had more room for the illustration. The illustration style pays homage to the master campy science fiction illustrator Frank Kelly Freas.

An original IF cover.
My young friend posing.

Great acting job!
My friend Tim posing as the scientist.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Elftown Detective

Here is an illustration, and some sketches, from a graphic novel I am working on.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Pre-Game Hoopla!

In a few weeks my new graphic novel Fuzzy Baseball will official go on sale. Click here for the article that appeared in my home town paper, The Brattleboro Reformer:

By my best estimate, it was 2001 when I first brought a 32 page baseball picture book concept to my writers' group (lead by local authors Jessie Haas and Michael J Daley) for a critique. Based on feedback from the group, I expanded it into a 48 page "reader" (an early chapter book), and titled it The Fuzzies' Big Inning. I started submitting for publication. As a published author and illustrator (the picture book Dinosaur Train) I am generally able to get my proposals past the screeners and into the hands of the editors.

After a few rejections I converted it into a 48 page graphic novel entitled Fuzzy Baseball. I put in the time to sketch out all 48 pages, and I submitted it to agents and editors who specialized in the emerging market of graphic novel/ picture book hybrids. The rejection letters became more encouraging, but they were rejection letters nonetheless. Then, I expanded it into a 56 page graphic novel and got more rejections.  It sat on the shelf for a few years until I revisited it, and boiled it down to a 32 page picture book entitled Full Count. Still, there were no takers.

During this time I was making a living by illustrating chapter books (The A to Z Mysteries series, among others). An offshoot of this career is traveling the country, giving school presentations about my work as an illustrator, and an author (barely). In school libraries I kept seeing the graphic novel section expanding. It seemed to me that the majority of them seemed very similar, either in the anime style of Japanese Manga, or dark and post apocalyptical, or humorous in a very specific, retro-hip stylized manner. I thought there must be room for something that was funny, (but not retro hip) and action packed (but not violent), about BASEBALL, The American Pastime. What reluctant reader would not want to pick it up? Why couldn't I find someone to publish it?

I try to stay informed about what different publishers are looking for. I learned about a small company, called Papercutz, that was specializing in graphic novels for young readers. I sent them the 48 page* graphic novel version of Fuzzy Baseball, and almost immediately they said "yes".

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A School Visit to Vietnam

On a small riverboat in the Mekong Delta.
Last January I had the honor of being invited to speak at the Saigon Pearl International School in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was my first time to Vietnam, and only my second time to Asia. In most of the other international schools I have visited abroad, most of the student body is made up of non-native population. At Saigon Pearl, most of the talented, enthusiastic students were Vietnamese. The staff was welcoming and energetic, and obviously very inspiring to their students.

A young artist at Saigon Peral.
Ho Chi Minh City was bustling and bursting with vitality. Tet (Lunar New Year) decorations were everywhere, with cartoon monkeys ready to usher in the new year. There was way more scooter traffic than car traffic. I paid a local to spend an hour zooming me around city on the back of his, weaving in around the hundreds of other scooters. It was the most exciting ride of my life!
Scooting around Ho Chi Minh City.
I was able to spend a day touring the Mekong Delta. This is a fascinating region were people live on houseboats, and there are floating markets were locals sell their produce. Evidently there are more roads in the area now, so trucks deliver most of the goods, greatly reducing the number of boats used for commerce. I also learned how the local agriculture sustains the residents, with a variety of fruit that is harvested from the forest, and the wide expanses of rice patties.
Happy New Year!
Growing up in the late 60's, Vietnam loomed large in my consciousness. As a young child, walking in the woods near my childhood home in Pennsylvania, I would hear occasional gunshots echoing through the trees. I was unaware that there was a firing range not too far away. I thought it was the Vietnam war raging in the distance. I am grateful for the opportunity to get to encounter this rich culture and spend time with these wonderful people.

The courtyard at Saigon Pearl School
A boat on the Mekong Delta.

A temple in Ho Chi Minh City

Monday, January 18, 2016

Lyle Lovett MFA assignment

I am currently enrolled in The University of Hartford's MFA program in Illustration. One of our first assignments was to create a magazine cover from the 70's, 80's or 90's, of a celebrity of the time, in the style of an illustrator from the time. I tried to emulate the style of the masterful illustrator C.F. Payne. Payne has a very specific way of working, but there are ways in which his final effect is similar to my own oil technique. Although I work as a caricature artist, I seldom get a caricature as an illustration assignment.
This is my "pretend" Rolling Stone cover from the 1990's.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Dispatch from Saudi Arabia

Me in the Al-Balad neighborhood in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia built a University of Science and Technology with the goal of keeping his population in the forefront of scientific innovations.  He built a state of the art campus on the Red Sea, surrounded by desert. He built residences, parks, a golf course, a yacht club, and shops in order to attract top-notch professors and graduate students from all over the world.  And, since they would be living there with their families he built schools for the children to attend. And where there are schools, author visits can’t be too far behind.  That is how I got the honor of visiting the elementary school at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology  (KAUST).

I flew into Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where I was whisked through customs by an official from KAUST and driven 45 minutes north through a long expanse of desert to the university. We passed through two military style checkpoints with barricades and I arrived at a campus that was like a miniature city from a science fiction film, except without the monorails.
Some of the KAUST campus buildings at night.

The elementary school, which is English-language based, had an American style curriculum. The student body was fairly international, with about 30 - 40% being local. The school’s faculty, as in any other international school I’ve visited, was energetic, creative, and enthusiastic.  They are primarily from English speaking countries, with a disproportionately large percentage of Canucks and Kiwis. I was treated like a visiting rock star, and I spent a week giving presentations to students, pre-k through 12th graders. I think I can safely say, without fear of contradiction, that kids all over the world enjoy drawing monkeys.
Driving around KAUST during the day. Palm trees fed by water desalinated from the Red Sea. 

Most of the Saudi code of conduct was relaxed on campus. Women can drive, and western dress is common. There were a number of mosques on campus, and because of my jet lag I was often outside walking at 5:30 am when the “call to prayer” tone reverberated through the pre-dawn air. There was something very spiritual in the sight of the sleepy figures materializing out of the darkness and making their way to worship. It reminded me of a retreat I once spent in a Benedictine monastery.

A number of teachers compared life at KAUST to the film “The Truman Show”. The experience was idyllic, but kind of artificial. I am grateful that a few teachers wanted to take me on an excursion into Jeddah to have an authentic Saudi experience. The women had to put on long black robe-like dresses called abayas. They did not wear headscarves, but had them with them, just in case someone demanded that they be worn. There are fairly rigid codes about which gender can go into which stores. Men alone cannot go into malls, unless they are with their families. Women cannot go into certain stores unless they are with a man, or not at all.

The Al-Balad neighborhood in Jeddah.
We took a taxi in to the Al-Balad neighborhood. This is the neighborhood where DH Lawrence spent time, and it is rapidly crumbling. Fortunately it has been named a Unesco World Heritage site, so hopefully work will be starting soon to preserve this area. I have posted photos of this fascinating area, but it would be misleading to come away with the impression that all of Jeddah looked like this. There were plenty of contemporary apartment buildings, along with Applebees, TGI Fridays, and Starbucks. They also have public squares where Sharia law is enforced, including beheadings, “be-handings”, floggings, and stonings. An awareness of this side of the culture was certainly off-putting, but it was interesting to note that the priorities and the codes of behavior at KAUST stood in contrast to the rest of Saudi Arabia. Anytime there were delays in getting a visa processed, or in passing through customs, a call from someone at KAUST seemed to “part the waters”, as it were. So it would seem that the powers that be hold in fairly high regard what is happening at KAUST.

The main mosque at KAUST.
Waiting at the airport for my flight home was probably the only time I was unescorted in a public place during my stay. It was fascinating to see all the travelers from various Islamic cultures returning home after their pilgrimages. There was a rich tapestry of cultural dress as the weary travelers from (I’m guessing) Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan all waited for their flights home. I would have liked to have taken out my sketchbook and drawn some of them, but I’m not 100% clear on which infractions get your hand chopped off, so I decided it was best not to take any chances. For a while I was the only westerner, and I felt a little self-conscious, but no one was paying any attention to me, positively or negatively. As Americans we are so used to thinking that the world revolves around us, I think it was invaluable for me to experience what it feels like to be a foreigner, to be on the outside looking in. I am grateful to the teachers and administration at KAUST for bringing me to a part of this world that I otherwise never would have experienced.