WonderCon post mortem

Literally the worst best convention ever. Hyperbole aplenty at this year’s con, the one show where I feel like there’s enough action and an audience for what I do. And that, honestly can confuse people because I do a lot.

When you walk by my table, you usually get a glimpse of my sculpture. For three or so years, I have been using 3d printed sculptures to draw people to my table. This year printed out a digital model of a concept I painted digitally a year or so prior. It was a nice progresson, 2d, to 3d, to 3d print. Cool right?

The morning of the second day, as the rush of people grew, one of my fellow exhibitors knocked over the statue. Most of the tentacles snapped right off. I was mentally prepared for this to happen before the show, but I really thought I was going to knock it over and not someone else.

It was a proud moment for me – I was actually trying to finish a commission when it happened and that turned out pretty darn cool.

I actually felt the palpable panic of the people next to me, who were very apologetic and far more embarassed than I was. It felt strange, usually I’m the one who freaks out, throws a fit, leaves, or just throws in the towel. I guess the added pressure of having to finish a commission for an old friend took the pressure off more than added to it. The pressure to create after destruction, it’s rocket fuel.

But I knew I printed that object so fast and light that it was particularly fragile. I took the risk. But even with the shattered tentacles, the piece still drew quite a few people curious about the look – to some people it looked like a demonic Venus De Milo, broken but still beautiful and almost unimaginable any other way.

It sits shattered at the very highest point on my desk hutch. Like a trophy.

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Deadlines and pricing

I have a few options with my latest book, all of which are driven by the WonderCon Deadline this year.

I made it into the show, that’s not the problem. I wrapped up my last days on the show I was working on – they day job – and took on a freelance job which put me a full two weeks behind the much more comfortable schedule for delivering Pages of Eight 3 at WonderCon this year.

Since getting my Ultimaker 2, I’ve been trying to have a cool new printed project every year – something to have at the table that starts conversations. This year is no different, but with barely enough time to finish Pages of Eight, I might just print out some older projects instead.

I did think I would print out something else from another show I worked on. I got to build and animate a fun horror comedy creature sequence in the Sundance premiere of Snathcers from some fun UCLA alumni.

Hopefully, they can sell the series and I might get to work on it again, but I like having something at the table which represents a broader swath of what I do. Printing out the Snatcher creature itself would be a fun way to show that.

I might even be able to print it out life size – the actual creature was barely a foot long. Crouching over a skull – that might be pretty cool looking. Though I’d need almost as many weeks to print and paint it as I have for Pages of Eight. And I can’t sell the Snatcher, really. I have no rights to its design. A lot of work for a showpiece.

SO when I make up my mind, the show will have ended already, HAHA.

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Chunky Man Bun and other fads

I get that people have dramatically cooled on open source software – just like they have cooled to 3d printing, Furby’s and Cabbage Patch Kids. BTW, the title of this post was just me picking on someone who walked into the coffee shop. I can be so superficial. But deep down I’m REALLY shallow. Smirk.

But people still have enormous appetites for certain things – stuff that’s past it’s heyday and prime. Some of us don’t let go. There are things I know I’ve grown out of so to speak – I don’t avidly do anything popular culture oriented (ok, I was a Twitter fiend for a year, tops). I haven’t had cable television for at least seven years. Stopped collecting comics twenty years ago, and don’t have Netflix.

But I am usually always aware somehow of trends – you can’t avoid them with Twitter, Instagram and other apps these days. I still get email detailing trends, whether that’s spam or not is up to the filters.

I had a discussion with a friend the other day where we were talking about the shrinking market of independent comics. A market that was already small, driven by its own creators and given very little credence in the other popular arts. It’s such an easy predictor of some people’s behavior – if it gets popular they jump on board.

So maybe the glow of The Walking Dead has worn off to the point where no one is mining independent titles for another prognostication of creative and financial success. Saga, anyone? No?

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Getting ahead of the page count

How do you think indie comic artists with full time jobs get work done? Often slowly, often in pieces, very often in bursts.

I had a good burst while working full time on the Netflix comedy – coming to a netflix login near you. I would get home from work, fire up the Surface Pro and munch on dinner intermittently while trying to pick up where I left off the night before.

I spent every night – with one exception – working on as many panels as possible, writing an re-writing in the two or 2.5 hours before going to sleep. I never wanted to let the sleep thing get out of hand.

I am actually more than week behind my realy ambitious schedule but considering it took me the better part of a year for the last issue of Pages of Eight, I think I am so far ahead of the page count that I can’t help but celebrate a little.

For me, that means I can grab a burger or some pancakes … then get back to it.

And that’s a half truth – let me explain … to the three of you that give a shit.

I don’t tend to draw for long periods of time. I can burst through certain tasks, for about two hours and then need a break. Often I spend that break doing anything but drawing – looking over copy, checking the next tasks on the upcoming pages, thinking about light and lines (spoken lines, not just drawn ones).

It’s a nice way to manage the demands of being your own editor – whiile I am primarily an artist, I write this book as well so I have to give a lot more time to that side of the process which I feel is the far less labor intensive part of it all.

Even so, I manage to write myself into corners – the crowd shots, the weird angles, lots of times. But I know what it’s worth to me, I know what the way it works.

Off to the drawing board (or Surface in this case).

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Own it like a Girlboss

SO I am on hiatus from the day job at the moment. The last shots wait for notes, and there are always notes. Shots rarely come back from QC (quality control) but when it does happen, it’s usually something very essoteric and usually easy enough to fix in a few hours.

SO the show is called Girlboss, the fictionalized version of the rise of Nasty Gal – the vintage clothing web sensation. Doesn’t sound like my usual does it? No – and that’s why I kind of loved the experience.

While shows like Battlestar Galactica and Defiance had tons of visual effects, shows like those get a lot of leeway in a strange way in that they often show you things you for whiich you don’t have a complete reference. You can get away with a lot because of the amount of “real” gets taken away. In a show like Girlboss, there is nowhere to hide, everything has to be as close to real as possible because MOST of the show doesn’t depend on spectacle. It depends on drama, performance, and humor.

I haven’t really had a job in my career like it – no monsters, spaceships, or other spectacle.

Last year, I had a brief shot at working on Star Trek Discovery, I got a call from a friend and producer I’d worked with before asking if I was interested. TO be brutally honest, my heart really wasn’t in it. My old mentor, supervisor and friend Gary Hutzel had passed away and I know people always say move on and get new experiences but this was after all, my choice.

I decided not to pursue the lead, I had my own goals that were starting to have a lot less to do with prestige jobs and more with my own storytelling. Not getting any younger, etc.

I recently learned the entire in house visual effects team for Discovery had been let go without ever finishing a shot. Kind of feel like I dodged a bullet there.

One of my least favorite things in life is pouring my effort into something that never gets seen. I had already been through that on Blood and Chrome which I worked on with Gary. Through no fault of his own, almost all of my work was edited out of that show. Nine months of work never got seen. It was down to a producer making a broad change to sequences to fit his vision and my work ended up being redone after I had already left the production.

It happens to everyone who works in television or film – massive amounts of work ending up being cut or worse. Actually I don’t know what’s worse and I have never been satisfied with the attitude “at least the checks cleared.” That’s never been why anyone who loves this work does it, so why should it be the rationale for the times it goes horribly wrong. Silver lining? Few people can tell the difference between cheap tin and overpriced silver, and they don’t call it “visual effects” for nothing.

My heart goes out to that team. I know, have worked with, and truly love some of the guys on that team. I know these guys can fly, I also hope they land just as well at other facilities.

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One third done, two months to go

At least, I hope. WonderCon Anaheim is at the end of March and I am only now finishing pencils and layouts.

If I go on hiatus at work in the next two weeks which is entirely possible, I may just make it. It’s a rare opportunity to have full time to dedicate to my projects. The personal cost is astronomical.

I’ve actually looked into hiring a colorist towards the end to make sure I don’t miss the print deadline I set. It’s not that I don’t like or can’t color my own books, but it is aside from from lettering the only major part of the process I feel comfortable delegating.

And that’s always a big question for indie creators – how much do you delegate? For me it’s simple, I can’t delegate things I can’t afford in terms of time. Money isn’t always the issue, I am pretty proud of the fact that I never spent a dime on production software for my books. Printing costs, conventions, travel and meals are the largest periodic costs that are unavoidable, and yes, I don’t  always cook my own food before a convention. I used to.

But knowing some very good and professional colorists lately has been a blessing. My friend Jamie Gambell, another indie publisher has this delegating thing down to a tee – be honest, pay what what you promised, be specific.

We here too many stories about comics Pros getting into fights over unpaid projects, creative disagreements and other ephemera. But I’ve been a work for hire guy most of my life and know that when I put my goals ahead of the project’s goals, pain is all it causes. And yeah, there were times I thought the pain would be worth it.

So maybe it’s time to delegate a few things. Can’t hurt, right?

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Running for office … space

People talk about the movie Office Space a lot in the context of their jobs. It makes sense that the themes cross over no mater where you happen  to work.

Wrestling some future projects, why is this so hard?

I work in a visual effects studio with custom made furniture, polished concrete floors and, too often, too little light. But the atmosphere couldn’t be less like the movie if it tried. That doesn’t mean it’s any more glamorous. I joke all the time that it’s demo reels that glamorise the work because we look like a bunch of telemarketers or accountants at our desks.

I’ve been thinking that I am kind of running out of space for the projects I want to tackle in the future. Which is odd because I have been using my Surface Pro more often and can be anywhere with it. But the scale of some upcoming architecture and design ideas means I might need actual fabrication space.

Router tables, bandsaw, maybe a CNC machine – I can’t afford any of that, but it’s goal right? One of the most exciting products I’ve seen lately is a handheld computer assisted router that could really help with some larger constructions I want to tackle. Think the ultimate transforming desk. Or outdoor portable studio.

I’d want there to be an engineering element to more of my work this year – real structures, great spaces, something grand. Does this sound like a new year’s resolution? Not really, that would be too formal.

What is formal is trying to get my latest book done. Almost all of my engineering ideas take less actual time and energy to finish than a single issue of my comics.

Well, we’ll see.

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Is there life on Mars

The song, not the question, was on my mind yesterday so I looked up some lessons for it. There are plenty but one stood out.


People have now pretty much annotated my entire musical vocabulary in some way. In fact, almost anything you could want to look up online … you get the picture.

People say it makes finding anything new really difficult. That’s not true. Finding something new that you LIKE is hard, unless you have no  taste and like anything anyone sticks in front of you. Obvious, right?

What they usually mean is its hard to make something new POPULAR or successful. Even the hottest stars in any field flop eventually. That part is easy. It’s downhill racing.

Back to the song, it’s mostly regarded as existential crisis, what does it all mean kind of stuff. Like a lot of creators, David Bowie found some kind of creative energy and angst in the constant grind to find outlets for his music. I heard him comment in an interview about how hard it was to play to audiences who just didn’t understand what he was doing.

Here’s  the picture he painted  – working  class London in the seventies, broke down and tired office workers heading to a pub for a drink with coworkers, neighbors and friends are met with Ziggy Stardust. You really couldn’t have asked for a bigger mismatch of audience and perfomer. But I am betting  some people  who saw Bowie in those early days secretly thought he was the most interesting, new, and awesome new act in their short and boring lives.

And now he’s  been gone just over a year – so if you STILL don’t get it, as the song says, you’re “beating up the wrong guy.”

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Wondercon Bound

First update of the new year, and the good news is I got my placement for my table at WonderCon this year. The bad news is, I got my placement for my table at WonderCon this year.

Layouts for Pages of Eight, I might be finished coloring the book in time for Anaheim but it will definitely be close.

I shouldn’t be surprised, placement in artist alley is kind of a crapshoot unless you are among the elite creative class. But it’s not as depressing as many would think. The first time I tabled at WonderCon I was in the second worst possible placement on the floor, all the way at the back of the hall, next to to loading exits. I have never had a better show than that one.

To explain, WonderCon has historically flowed attendees not through the lobby doors but through the side of the hall along the length of its shorter side. What I saw happen was that it forced attendees down the entire length of the hall. They would mostly follow the path they were on all the way to the end of the hall. Since artist alley is the the end of that path, they tend to mill around for a good long time before cycling back through the show.

So what I thought was one of the worst possible placements on the floor was filled with foot traffic for the entire length of the entire show. It was pretty impressive. I had a commission buyer at my table minutes before the show ended.

The Long Beach Comic Con layout puts artist alley in the middle of the action, but sends attendees through one narrow entryway and exits. The flow of people tends to dwindle dramatically on the last day’s waning hours. Not ideal. But I tend to do decently at Long Beach in no small part to the regular folks who always attend the show and make it a point to drop by and at least say hello.

The last time I tabled at WonderCon, I was sitting right across from Rob Linfield no less. It was a very high traffic day and Deadpool the movie had scarcely been announced yet. I might not be getting that kind of traffic this year, but it should be nice to get back to Anaheim instead of downtown Los Angeles.

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Back to some unbasics

What does that mean? I think 2016 got a bad wrap for obvious reasons. For me, personally, I will admit it was challenging, but so is every year. It was a perfect storm of morbidity – the popular stars of a very nostalgic period were succumbing to life’s demands, a fussy way to say life sucks, then you die.

I’ll even add that David Bowie passed away on my last day of vacation in January – I read that news right before I went to sleep.

Unbasics – for me this means trying something new as much as possible. Throwing out some old solutions or just using different means to different ends. 2016 was a very rushed year in terms of work,  both personal and professional and returning to things as simple as graphite on paper pleinair work.

For me that was a stretch – digital work is my bread and butter. But the pleinair work forced me to get some much needed fresh air and relaxation. I had a massively busy, though not very profitable, 2015, and 2016 needed to be different.

Gary Hutzel, my friend and employer for many years passed away in 2016. As did Ron Thornton, one of my first employers in the animation business. It was enough to me me look at my career in the light of “have I been doing this so long now that people around me are dying?” Sure felt like it.

For most of 2016 I just didn’t want to do things the same way – and not even do the same things. LinkedIn would give you the impression I am a character  animated but truth is I spent most of 2016 doing composting and matte painting. That was such an unexpected bonus and benefit 2016 brought that frankly I can’t hate the year any more than I could hate any number.

So 2017? All I want do do is make sure I get to Anaheim WonderCon with some new projects. Cheers.

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