Thursday, May 31

The Story of Arsenal

Awhile back, let's say January, I caught wind of a friend's young son and his decision to get a prosthetic. It was a choice that took some deliberation, and there was nervousness all around. It's a big adjustment, after all.

I felt for the kid. I had lots of adjustments early on with my lazy eye: thick glasses frames, eye patches, two surgeries before third grade (followed by days of eyes itching under bandages; imagine being blind and itchy that young -- no fun). My eye isn't quite so noticeable now, but I don't have true binocular vision, and I can't see 3D movies (silver lining: cheaper movie tickets). So I sympathize with his inconveniences. I wanted to do something. I offered to make that transition to prosthetic seem a little less cumbersome by turning him into a superhero.

There are a couple of established heroes with prosthetics. Lightning Lad of the Legion of Super-Heroes has a mechanical arm. Box, the Canadian Iron Man, started as a suit for a multiple amputee. Hellboy has an iron hand. Fox's MANTIS show gave a paraplegic a superhero alter ego. Winter Soldier (Captain America's revived Bucky sidekick) has a prosthetic arm. This kid was getting what's called a Hosmer hook, the classic pincher prosthetic, and the shape suggested lots of possibilities.
I started sketching some applications, mostly of the trouble-making variety. If I was, say, eight years old, what would I want this thing to do? I sketched.

If he wanted to use the prosthetic as a slingshot, for instance, I imagined he had a bottmless ahamn's bag of a front hand pocket. That would be his quiver. I also needed a name, something that suggested the range of uses for the prosthetic. "Arsenal" made the cut quickly, and, after his mom's blessing, I ran with that. She also preferred Arsenal be a younger hero and not an adult. No problem. My comic imprint is Robot Wonderboy; I likes me the template of younger heroes.

A hoodie seemed a good compromise for a cape, and a domino mask was a must. I played with symbols for a bit, abstracting the hook into a question mark to suggest mystery and aligning opposing question marks as the contour of a skull. With feedback from his mom, we narrowed it down quickly to a stylized A. I dummied up an illustration for the standard 11x17 artboard used to make comic pages. The piece would have inset images to show the various uses (aside of course from what else he might come up later on)

Once that was approved, it was time to make with he drawing. And it was right then that I hit the wall.

I wanted a classic Spider-man type image, with our web/line-slinger above the bustling cityscape. But my perspective work stinks and stinks some more. After some very bad attempts to flesh out the image, I ran to Google's free Sketch-Up software to build a city block.

For a while that was gonna be the background I would copy. But it didn't feel right. Also, I was a little burned out after polishing my comic book (Battle Royal, buy your copy here), and my art muscles were exhausted. When I tried to draw the classic Spidey/Robin swinging pose, nothing looked good.  I had to let this sit for a while to recharge. And when I came back to it, I had my swinging pose. Just like that. It fell out of my pencil during a lunch break at those Ingles dining tables.

I refined it for the vertical composition, and realized soon after, while looking through the Ingles storefront onto the mountains, that I should use Asheville for the city. I Googled up the skyline from various images and played fast and loose with it.

I used my son's toy car for the super-strength reference image, changed the slingshot image's threatening hands into tentacles, and softened up the taser victim's features to suggest a pseudo-Hulk.After getting final approval of the prosthetic depiction, I used a lightboard to trace the image to another board and inked that.

Next I scanned in that page and played with overlaying text, including the logo. I printed those out, cut them out, and pasted them over the inks.

Just a week or so back, I heard that Marvel had done something similar for a boy who wouldn't use his hearing aid. They made him into a hero called the Blue Ear. My hero idea didn't seem so slight and goofy after all.

I gave the artwork to his mom today over lunch. I also included some Xeroxes on a thick paper stock so he can color in the image. I always saw Arsenal as wearing a red hoodie. I'll be curious to find out how he sees it.

Tuesday, May 29

Hey There and Thank You

... to all those who visited the Robot Wonderboy page after seeing our ad in the Blue Ridge Rollergirl program this weekend.You can buy the single issue of Battle Royal (no longer Royale) or buy it as part of our comic 4-pack at Robot Wonderboy.

And there are some plans of producing/selling our very popular Power Jam shirt you might have seen me wear Saturday.

And go Rollergirls and French Broads. 

Monday, May 14

Yeah, About That New Comic Title ...

Last Thursday, I posted the cover for the new comic and the process behind making it. It was revealed as Battle Royale.

Maybe that evening, I had second thoughts about it. Not the artwork. That's set. But the title pestered me. The cover said Battle Royale, but my head always said Battle Royal. No final e.

I think I know when the hiccup happened. When I played with title fonts, I was struck with the symmetry of both words ending in e, and even if I thought about changing that for the correct spelling of the pronunciation in my head, the discrepancy didn't register. And I worked on this thing for a few weeks with no quibble. I may have been triggered by seeing the term "battle royal" in the most recent WWE video game.

And let us not neglect the very large already existent Battle Royale series from Japan.Why on earth would I want to confuse matters by sharing that title? Especially when I can cut the e so easily?

In any case, it nagged me. But I had already sent the comic to the printer. A quick look at my online print progress showed the comic was still in a holding pattern. I contacted them and asked to make a change to the front cover and the inside front cover only. They said it wouldn't affect the shipping date or the price. I quickly made the change and sent it along.

And the comic will now be known as Battle Royal, as it always shoulda been.

Feel free to collect the previous blog post as a pricy rarity like Revenge of the Jedi material.

Thursday, May 10

Battle Royale cover

Here, finally, is the cover to this year's comic from Robot Wonderboy. It took much longer than I thought and evolved into an image better than I could have hoped.

I drew the cover last, after plowing through the scripts, thumbnails, pencils, inks, and letters for the comic.I didn't even sketch the cover until the comic was done. I wanted to have the finished story in hand to inform me what the cover should be and how best to sell the comic.

It was originally called Black Jenny, because the former SCRAP champ was the engine driving the comic, and the title would follow the template of Focus and eMMA; each comic centers on the title character.

I played with the idea of recreating a famous cover, making an homage to one of my favorites.

Jenny and her SCRAP cohorts would bust through the cover to the eMMA comic.

I worked on this one for a good while, playing with poses and compositions, before I decided that a Black Jenny cover should feature only her, and that lead to a very simple image.

This sketch is maybe 2 inches tall. I thumbnail small to ignore concerns about detail and find a simple walloping image. But somewhere along the way, the image expanded. I thought a gloved fist would inform new readers that this was the face of a fighter and not, say, an angry pirate (even though Black Jenny was always a pirate-y name).

This was the first penciled cover image. I drew the glove on a second piece of board and layered it onto the "mughsot" in Photoshop. This allowed me to adjust the size of the fist if need be. Off we went to color:

And it didn't look right. I wanted a specific color style -- a direct, unseen light source, creating a darkening effect. It would make her shadowy, tell us she's not a good guy, and she's gone into a dark place. But either my coloring skills were withered or, I decided, the artwork was wonky. I redrew the image.

Different angle, different expression. Almost immediately, I had reservations about this. I wanted her eye open to show it was robotic. A small detail, but necessary I thought to say she's an angry, female, robotic fighter. But the linework was stronger, and it conveyed more emotion. Give and take, I thought. And off to color a second time:

And it was ... okaaaay. But not the whiz-bang image that makes someone pick up my comic. And as I approached the time to add the necessary cover elements, I realized the size of the head left little room for the logo.

SHRINK-RAY! I shrank that head and recolored the face and thought, well, it's better, it's kinda what I had in mind, and we're nearing the deadline to send the comic to the printer. Let's finish up.

The Black Jenny title gave way quickly to Battle Royale to help sell the fight story (this comic is 80% fight scenes), and I for sure wanted a word balloon on the cover. That's a lost art as many comic covers have abandoned the idea of selling a story and have become pin-ups. (In the defense of cover artists, they may not know what the story is when they're hired to provide a cover). And while I was happy to be near the finish line, I needed to fix ... something to make this cover strong.

So let's recolor the face yet again. Give her two light sources, maybe. Play with the word balloon. Yeah! It's moderately improved! It's ... it's ...

Oh, God, my cover sucks. And I want to send this book to the printer tomorrow. This isn't gonna sell, and I will have wasted all this time and undersold a good story. A really good story. All because I can't bring it for the cover. Am I exhausted? Why doesn't this look more like that first sketch I liked?

Where's that intensity? Where's that pow? I want that pow. I want to make that pow happen.






And hokey smoke, people, we got a cover goin' on over here.

Trivia: I never considered the color of her outfit until I had to make this cover. She's always appeared on b/w pages.

Instead of that background color gradient (which makes her look a little too much like she's turning into the Hulk), what would be a good comic-ky touch? She's hopping mad, and we're finally conveying that. What would sell it more?


I found a stock photo of a nuclear explosion and recreated it in Illustrator. And now to combine those cover elements.



And just for fun, here's the whole cover without color. Each of these outlined items were either hand-drawn or manipulated on the computer.

Battle Royale will be on sell in early June, right before it's unofficially official debut at HeroesCon in Charelotte. Click here for details on how you can join the early-bird publication list.

Thursday, May 3

Space Zombie


For the Sarcastic Voyage Guide to Monsters and Also Robots (buy it here and now), I submitted the artwork for the zombie listing. But of course I otherthunk it and made it an astronaut zombie.

Once I had my notion for a zombie in space (excuse me: SPAAAAAAAAAAAACE), I thought of the apocryphal stories of "lost cosmonauts." These alleged secret Soviet missions were hushed up by the state when they failed, but some outside Mother Russia claimed to receive SOS transmissions from stranded cosmonauts. If you're a frazzled Soviet dictator struggling with a burgeoning zombie epidemic, what better stone to kill two birds than getting rid of the infected while testing Soyuz technology. Because those stories were from the height of the space race, my astrozombie would be in a Mercury capsule -- Gemini, if there were two of them.

An early sketch of astrozombie/necronaut reaching toward the viewer was declined, and the sketch of a forlorn zombie looking at earth -- an astronaut in the fading last moments of clarity -- was OKed.

From there, I Googled early NASA suit designs and drew up the image in an 11x17 board.

 The capsule interior was inspired by actual Mercury designs, but I improvised quite a bit.

I then lightboxed that art onto another board, tracing the pencils lightly, and going over those new pencils with Micron pens.

I filled in the blacks in my traditional heavyhanded manner and scanned the image for color.

I digitally tweaked some inks and colored it in Photoshop.

I was flattered to be asked to submit artwork, and I hope they consider it an OK submission.

Wednesday, May 2

Another Comment on Amendment One

Speaking of Amendment One, I heard the local Christian radio station take calls in favor of the measure yesterday, and the word "sodomites" was thrown around quite a bit.

Of course Sodom was the name of a city destroyed by God in judgment of its full-throttle wickedness. Let's look at where this happens: Genesis Chapter 19. Lot was judged worthy to survive the judgement because he took in angels and protected them from a voracious riot. He offered the mob his virgin daughters instead, but the angels blinded the mob instead and closed the door. The angels decreed that enough was enough and announced death was coming. Lot escaped with his wife and his two virgin daughters. His wife turned to salt after looking at the destruction against the orders of the angels. So, good guy lives, and all the bad sodomites die, and a billion pulpit condemnations born.

But there's more.

Because Lot was getting on up in age, and his other daughters were killed in God's judgement, his 2 surviving, virgin daughters decided they had to get the bloodline going again. So they took turns getting him drunk and having sex with him. Just days after Sodom and Gomorrah were judged and wiped out, the father deemed worthy to outlive them all engaged in blackout incest on consecutive nights.

The point: If Amendment One is designed to codify proper sexual relations, let's not forget that not all heterosexuality is on the up-and-up. Or, you know, however you prefer to word that.

Tuesday, May 1

Stop NC Amendment One

This is the letter to the editor I sent to the local paper concerning Amendment One. Visitors to the site from outside North Carolina can read about the ballot measure here. A very loud part of my brain is disappointed I took the high road:

The proponents of Amendment One claim the targets of the measure are fundamental threats to our country. They have an agenda, they say. They seek to undermine our society and must be denied. But they’re not talking about, or really concerned with, homosexuals. Amendment One targets judges.

The conservatives have zeroed in on “activist judges” -- by definition those who issue rulings you disagree with -- as the new shadowy menace to raise hackles and campaign funds. The argument claims activist judges will take any opportunity to strike down laws or create subjective legal precedents. To fight this, conservatives nationwide stack up redundant laws like a woodpile.

For instance, homosexual marriage is already illegal in NC. Conservatives fret that a hypothetical activist judge will overturn the existing law by citing the state constitution. Thus the constitution must be amended.

This paranoia over activist judges peppered the 2012 presidential campaign. In a March New Hampshire stump speech, Santorum called for activist judges be sent to Guam. On a December “Face the Nation,” New Gingrich called for U.S. Marshals to arrest judges and deliver them to subcommittee to defend “anti-American” rulings. During his November Iowa campaign, Governor Rick Perry advocated a constitutional amendment eliminating the standing “good behavior” tenure for federal judges. In 2004 and 2005, Ron Paul sponsored his We The People act to ban federal courts from presiding over social issues.

It might not be coincidence that none of these men are now the dominant GOP candidate. It’s awkward to promise to alter the constitution in order to prove your love for it.

An anti-judiciary amendment is a hard sell. Instead, the conservatives packaged their stance as a pro-marriage, anti-homosexual measure, allowing churches to carry the campaign with pastors issuing moral indictments. These same leaders failed to sway Rosman aldermen to vote against alcohol sales in February and are doubling down on Amendment One to establish their sway.

Brandishing homosexuals as campfire bogeymen to push this ballot measure is disingenuous, and using blockade measures to enforce judicial restraint inflates our law books. We deserve better from community leaders and legislators.