Tuesday, May 22, 2007
This is another illustration for Daytrotter; this time of Robert Gomez. You can listen to some of his first album at his myspace page. I actually heard a song of his on KCRW last week and it was kind of a weird experience. I knew that the song was very familiar, but I also knew that I hadn't heard it on the radio before. Then it all came back to me.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
After another meeting to go over my story choices, I roughed out 30 pages of comics. One of the stories would be a new version of Monkey, but compressed to fit the French mainstream taste in storytelling. I’m not the fastest artist in the world and, then, I was even slower since drawing comics was still rather new to me. I spent a few months on the roughs and took them to the editor. He liked them. A lot. While I was sitting in his office, he made copies to give to the marketing department. He also asked me to think about what country I would like to do for my next book.
Life looked really good. Now I needed to color the pages so I could start getting paid. Our finances were getting low, so the timing was perfect. I decided to paint the pages because, in general, I’m not the biggest fan of computer coloring and whenever I tried it myself, it turned out terrible. The down side was that it took me about a week to paint one page.
I dropped off 3 pages to the editor and waited for his response (The images seen here aren't very good scans). If all went well and they didn’t want many revisions, I would get paid for those pages and could focus on doing as good and as fast a job as I could. I don’t mean to focus too much on money here, but things were pretty tight and we were getting desperate.
By now, summer had arrived. Our landlords had sublet the apartment back from us for two weeks and we were going to go to Nice for that time. If you’re going to be poor, it might as well be in the south of France. I still hadn’t heard about my pages, but decided to bring my work. I would paint in the morning and spend the rest of the day at the beach.
Every day we walked a couple of miles to check e-mail to see if my work had been approved. We fantasized about doing things we could not normally afford to do, like going out for a good dinner instead of cooking every meal ourselves, and maybe some shopping. Day after day, for two weeks, no e-mail came. I was getting a little nervous and scared. By this time, I had painted almost 6 pages.
I called my editor as soon as I returned to Montreuil. He had me come in, Georgene acting as my translator, and said the paintings looked too much like illustration. He wanted to know if I could computer color the pages. This was upsetting. I didn’t want my book to look like the other mainstream French books and felt computer coloring would take away a lot of its charm. However, we needed to eat and pay rent. In the face of this kind of desperation, I probably would have had the X-men guest star if it meant I could get some cash. I was also incredibly frustrated that all that time I spent painting in Nice was a complete waste. I’d have much rather wasted my time at the beach.
I quickly inked up 3 pages and tried my hand at coloring them. After e-mailing them in, I waited and waited. I continued inking more pages, again thinking that once they were approved, I would have that much more work done and would be that much closer to getting Georgene and I out of our financial hole. When I finally got a reply, I was told my coloring wasn’t up to snuff. No real big surprise there, I suppose.
My next step was to ask my friend, Nora Murphy Berden to color it for me. Nora has done coloring in animation for years. She tried 3 pages. We waited 5 weeks for the editor to return from the vacation the French take in August. He passed on Nora’s pages. I suggested using one of their house colorists to do the book. They must like him! My editor said that although my idea was a good one, the colorist I mentioned was busy. What about any colorist? I never got a response.
This experience left me feeling like I was crazy. Had I screwed this up somehow? I was never given any explanation for why my book was killed. One theory we had was that the two books they already printed had tanked. In fact, in searching their website, we never found any books in the series except the two that were already printed when we first met the editor. But if that was the case, why not simply tell me? The coloring issue didn’t make any sense, because I’m sure they could have found someone they liked to color it. It was a nightmare. Georgene and I ultimately went into debt and I returned to the animation industry for a little while when we moved back to the U.S. to get our finances in order. I did try a few other publishers, but a comic of fables wasn’t a very commercial thing to print. I was able to salvage one story, “Moon Lake” and had a color version (by Nora) of the story on Serializer.net. I reworked it a bit for black and white and printed it in Apres-Shampooing.
In looking back on the experience, I’m somewhat haunted that I didn’t demand an explanation. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Maybe it was because I was in a foreign country and didn’t want to cause problems. I also think my confidence had completely crumbled. All of those stages of trying to make things work really messed with my head. Every day I thought today would be the day I’d be told everything was great and could continue. It was miserable. By the time it came to an end, I was spent, and just didn’t have the energy or the confidence to demand answers.
I never got a penny for any of it. I did learn a costly lesson about signing a contract up front. The whole experience was an absolute heartbreaker, but I’m sure many artists have something like this happen at one time or another. Fortunately, having a blog makes it possible to show some of the work to people. Hope you like it.
Notes: The computer colored pages on this post were done by Nora, not me. I'm not sure what happened to mine, but they weren't too hot.
Monday, May 14, 2007
I was looking over some old work and it reminded me of a rather long story that happened to me a few years ago. It's a long enough story that I'll have to tell it in parts.
A few years ago, my girlfriend Georgene and I decided to spend a year in France. As plans developed, we got engaged and the idea morphed into a year long, working honeymoon in Paris. I was a full time, burned out storyboard artist working in animation. Georgene was a full time, burned out producer of TV movies. The plan was to save our money so we could focus on our dreams: drawing comics for me, writing a novel for her.
Eighteen months before our trip, I had to leave my job for a variety of reasons. I thought I would quickly find more work, but that was not the case. Hollywood writers had threatened to strike and studios produced a surplus of shows in anticipation of the downtime. The strike never happened, but there was still not much work to be found because shows had been stockpiled for up to two years in advance.
Eventually, we did make it to Paris, or one metro stop outside of Paris in the town of Montreuil, but we only had money to get through six months. Georgene had done her part, but I had failed in doing mine. I needed to find a way to make some money.
Miraculously, France’s annual children’s book expo would take place right across the street from our apartment, two weeks after we arrived. I printed out some of my work and hand stitched mini portfolios in preparation for the show. Fortunately, one of my comics, an adaptation of an Indian fable called The Monkey and the Crocodile, had been printed in Switzerland, so I had a French language comic to show.
Georgene and I went to the show hoping to find me some work. This was exhausting for Georgene. I didn’t speak any French, so she acted as my agent/translator for two long days. Georgene’s French is pretty good, but there is a big difference between getting around town, and instantly translating multiple conversations.
We talked with 20 publishers or so over 2 days. No luck. On the last day, at the last publisher, lightning struck. This publisher printed both children’s books and comics. While looking at The Monkey and the Crocodile, the editor mentioned they were doing comic books of fables from around the world. They had already done Thailand and Vietnam and were looking for someone to do India.
A few weeks later, we met with the editor at his office in Paris. The book he wanted me to do would be a typical, European comic album; a hardcover, 32 page full color book. The deal he offered was a very reasonable per page advance against royalties. Best of all, the advance would be paid as I delivered the color pages – I would not have to deliver the complete book to see the money. After giving me a copy of one of the collection of Vietnam fables that they had just published, the editor told me to contact him when I knew what stories I wanted to use in my book.
I couldn’t believe my luck. Christmas was in a few days and I’d been given an early present. I’ve liked French comics since first discovering them in the mid-90’s. Now, one of these books would have my work in it and I would be getting paid decent money, especially when compared to independent American comics. It was as if some hand had perfectly guided me down this path. By dumb luck, I found a way to make a living drawing the kinds of comics I wanted to draw. I could do a slightly commercial book to bring in enough money to live on, and do quirky, less commercial (meaning non-paying) work on the side. It was a way to make a small living, retain some integrity, and do what I loved doing. I had found Jesus’ challis.
Part 2 of 2 will be posted on Wednesday.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Saturday, May 5, 2007
Since I'm on the subject of new work by artists that I worked with during my Robot Publishing Co. days, I thought I'd mention Joy Kolitsky's somewhat new enterprise, Sugar Beet Press. Joy did the cover of Oden (as well as two stories in it) and also did the exceptionally beautiful In the Sea. Sugar Beat Press is her greeting card company and the website has a lot of her designs. They are available for wholesale (with a minimum order of 48), but if you send out a lot of Christmas cards, that may be perfect.
Also check out her website to see some of her illustration work for the New York Times Book Review and the Progressive.