Day 14 - Victory on Albany Hill

Albany Hill Yesterday, in the eucalyptus trees on top of Albany Hill, I saw monarchs. This was in spite of my timing being early for their arrival in this particular part of the Bay. It was a definite high point in my journey to bring The Guidebook to life, and one of many small miracles I've encountered on our trip.

Until last night I'd only seen one monarch in the wild, this summer on top of Portland's Mt. Tabor. I'd just finished the day's work on my rough draft from my mobile hammock+notebook studio. At the moment I closed my notebook I looked up and saw it fluttering ten feet directly over my head like a little spirit come to say, "Yes, grown man. You may perform your work in the woods, in a hammock. Good idea." I watched the monarch for two or three minutes before it shot west down the mountain. I chased its shadow through the leaf canopy for a few paces before it glided into a clearing, across a road, and out of sight.

Historically, I really try not to force meaning from these moments. I want to tell the truth as best I can, even through the complete fabrications that are my books. Then along comes this year with its tragedy upon tragedy and I find it just a little easier to embrace the big pile of schmaltz that's inside me. If I have to find gratitude in impossibly awful scenarios (and I do have to), acknowledging the miraculous in very small moments becomes natural.

Last night, when I finally found migratory monarchs on Albany Hill, there was no clear message like that time on Mt. Tabor. mexico day of the deadStill, I have to claim a growing bond to these creatures and all the mysteries they embody. Butterflies are a symbol across world cultures for those who've died before their time: Soldiers in war, lovers, and lost children. Mexico's Day of the Dead is rich with monarch iconography. Even Shigeru Mizuki, Japanese master of manga, recounted a spiritual experience with butterflies in his autobio and history of Japan, Showa. A vet of WWII, showaMizuki tells in one chapter of his return with war buddies to a South Pacific island and an old battlefield covered with decades-old bones from dozens of Japanese soldiers. After a restless sleep in the jungle, Mizuki and his friends share with each other that they all had the same nightmare: the bones rose to ask them why? Why did they return? How did they deserve to live? Shaken, the men decide to gather all the remains they can find, anoint them with sake, and hold a makeshift funeral. After praying over the bones for a time, they're shocked to see butterflies pour out of the jungle from all directions, then descend to cover the bone pile in a blanket of living color. Were they just attracted to the sake? Were they the movement of spirits? Shigeru asserts the latter. I think I would too.


Photos from Albany Hill, ordered to give you an impression of my hunt:

albany hill cross

I don't think it was the random giant metal cross that prompted it, but as soon as I reached the top of the hill, I prayed for a monarch. I'd spent a few minutes circling and climbing the park with no sign of any flying insects whatsoever, maybe thanks to the thriving robin population. But... robins don't eat monarchs.

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This little one appeared moments later, maybe sixty feet above me. I thought this might be the best photo I'd get. I lost the butterfly in the trees, then spent about ten minutes circling the hilltop looking for more. I gave up, grateful for the brief sighting, and headed back down towards my car...

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When I saw another! Just down the hill the same way I'd come up. Again, far off, even with the telephoto lens.

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Closer, but not better.

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I took a few dozen wasted pictures as I tried to follow one, then two butterflies through the tree limbs. Finally:

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Some color! Blurry, but now most definitely a monarch. Then I saw this:

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A whole cluster of them!

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Two clusters! Just 15 - 20 feet above me.

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Then another flash of orange...

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Then a slow fanning of wings. A gift.

With night about to fall, I celebrated this victory with a Japanese dinner accompanied by a giant Sapporo beer. Just me, Shigeru Mizuki, and the memory of two dozen little miracles.

The Guidebook

The Guidebook Splash Today I want to share a very little bit about my next book. As we travel the west coast, dodging raindrops and making memories, I'm also gathering data and reference material for a young readers graphic novel, The Guidebook. Here's a snapshot from my proposal:

To survive in a world where mammals are nearly extinct, a little girl named Elvi and a brilliant naturalist, Flora, must follow and protect the monarch butterfly migration.

It’s 2260. Solar radiation, now lethal to mammals, has forced humans into underground bunkers while nature overtakes cities, roads, and landmarks. The only eight-year-old girl lucky enough to roam free on Earth’s surface is Elvira Jones. Flora, Elvi’s adoptive mother, is a brilliant naturalist who discovered a chemical in monarch butterflies that allows mammals to live in sunlight again. Against the wishes of important people, Flora escaped her bunker with a few supplies, a pigeon named Thoreau, and the only person she couldn’t leave behind - Elvi.

Now Elvi and Flora follow the western monarchs from north to south on America’s Pacific coast. Flora wants to make enough medicine so that every human can live above ground again. Along their adventure, Elvi and Flora rescue a mysterious baby boy, navigate considerable mother-daughter drama, and overcome a threat from five men who want control of the monarch’s secret. Elvi reflects on these and more important moments (like getting bit by a weird bug) in a journal she calls “The Guidebook.” Elvi’s journal pages pop up through the comics narrative to serve as a field guide. Sort of like Flora’s fancy naturalist textbooks, but much more fun.

On every page or two, in the corner of a landscape panel, there are coordinates and a compass heading. This allows readers to follow Flora and Elvi’s progress through real places and even travel their exact route themselves.

So we travel with Elvi and Flora. We're in our travel trailer rig and they're in an imaginary, heavily modified 1988 Toyota van (my dream rig - the one that never dies, even in a far fetched-future scenario). Our routes overlap as I map their fiction to our stops from Florence, OR to Big Sur, CA and beyond. These are the tools I use to merge our travels:

watch and compass

The big watch-like thing on my wrist allows me to get coordinates. It's early 2000s' tech, but it was cheap, it's durable, and it gets the job done. The little compass on the right gives me a rough heading towards whatever view I take in. Once I double-check these numbers, I tuck them into the corner of a Guidebook drawing and add in my fictional details... In the example below, I put Elvi and Flora's adventure van and an old driftwood stump I used to climb on as a kid in Pacific City, OR. Elvi hangs on it there in her red hammock.

The Guidebook

Adventure calls us down the road again now, so I'll leave more details for later. We're currently in Arcata, CA, headed towards the Avenue of the Giants - a place where my dad marathoned back in his wildman running days. After that, it's further down the coast toward the monarchs' overwintering turf.

Can't wait!

Day 5 - Nature vs. Blogging

Already five days into our adventure and just getting in a blog post now. I blame the wonder of nature. This is just the reality of all kinds of camping adventures taking over my time and energy. That and lack of internet. Oh, the joys and perils of the internet un-plug. I see you, (33) emails. I'll be with you in a while. It's hard to know where to begin for an update, but I'll just start with this picture, stolen from Sarah's Facebook wall:

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Look at that form! Not bad for her third time. I hope it's just a glimpse of things to come. Occupying Dorothy's a full time job, but we're keeping her busy with hikes, in-car/in-trailer artwork, and various candy bribes. Here we're sharing an art session, she painting with my watercolors while I rough out my next book:

artThese are the riches of dad-dom.

So where have we been since Saturday morning, anyway?

On Saturday, instead of getting away by noon, we left at 7:30 PM. Regardless of our underestimating the work required to launch, we were dead-set to sleep somewhere else, even if that meant our driveway. We ended up driving just a bit down HWY 99 to Champoeg Park. That marked our first night in the R-Pod as a family. All three of us collapsed into our transformable beds exhausted but thrilled to be really doing this crazy thing.

It wasn't until Monday that we felt our trip was under way. Honeyman State Park just south of Florence, OR gave us a shot of the coast's rugged beauty and our first fair weather day. When we decided to leave in October I knew that rainstorms would be an inevitable part of our mobile, semi-outdoor lifestyle, but theory differs distinctly from practice. When I shut my eyes now I see water, grease, and clinging pine needles. On the other hand, because of this season I also enjoy open roads, open camp sites, and warm tea with my girls in the morning. Speaking of the girls...

TEAM STATUS:

  • Dorothy's doing remarkably well as a travelling companion. I couldn't ask for better company in a four year old, in spite of the Princess and the Frog audio book. Currently sleeping.
  • Sarah's a born road warrior. I'm regularly surprised by her grace and patience in limit-testing moments (who knew the chaos one bunch of bouncing bananas could unleash in a travelling travel trailer). Currently yawning (9 PM is the new midnight).

We're now a few hours north of the redwoods, bearing down on one of our two time-and-place commitments. I have a short talk and signing in Arcata, CA for the Dear Creature hardcover at Northtown Books on Saturday. I promise to shower.

That's all I can muster at the moment. Next up, I hope to have the pine needles and water cleared from my brain so I can share a bit more on the new book. For now, it's scotch with Sarah (and whatever she's drinking) and a moment of quiet while our child is OUT.

Day 1 - The Limits of Planning

Planning.

You try your best and God/Nature/Life does the rest. For example: When an 'historic' storm blows into the NW United States on your travel trailer rig's departure date. Right now that storm's battering Pacific City, Oregon, my hometown and first planned stop, with wind and rain. They even had two tornadoes up the coast in Manzanita, and tornadoes are not Oregonian. They are just not done. All this to say, we may have to revise the plan before we even really begin.

 Manzanita Tornadoes

Manzanita Tornadoes

That's adventure for you.

Last night I spent several soggy hours doing trailer prep, much of it for the first time and without the proper tools (favorite scenario). I figured that since I didn't know the water tank's recent history I should give it a good cleaning pre-launch. If everything else in the Pacific Northwest was getting flushed out, why make exceptions?

Humorous scenario #1: Rolling in the dark of night on a half-working creeper under your trailer in a record-setting rainstorm to find the low point drain locations, failing to do so, then exiting slowly and awkwardly from under the trailer as rain pummels your face. At least I had my trusty waterproof+rechargeable headlamp. I endorse it here with no expected compensation from its manufacturer: It's this one.

Humorous scenario #2: A trip to Home Depot and its flooding parking lot to get the right socket to open the hot water tank, then a second trip to get the required 1/2" driver. Exiting the store a second time, you note the white sedan halfway underwater in the parking lot. You drive a white sedan...

BUT NO! It's not your car, it's some other poor schmo's. You win one.

I did eventually succeed in my mid-storm mission to flush the tanks. After I came in at 10, Sarah and I made a last few feeble efforts to pack, then collapsed. Whether to the Oregon Coast or not, we were determined to go somewhere on Saturday. Final packing would just have to wait for the morning of.

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Waking on launch day to the sound of rain and the sight of our upended house, I thought of my son, Otis. I had a plan for him too. It involved hiking through the Oregon woods together, teaching him archery, video games - the boy stuff. We bought our current home with the intention of having more room for a family of four. Our family car, too. So many decisions based on our best plan - all upended in January of this year, when Otis died of seizure complications. He was 20 months old.

I want to share a little about my boy and who he was (and continues to be) to me.

 Otis in adventure gear

Otis in adventure gear

Otis was full of love and enthusiasm for people in a way that strangers readily noticed. His big sister, Dorothy (now four) is very bright and focused on the mysterious world and how it works (plus making art and stories out of it -good girl). This is in contrast to Otis, who was chiefly concerned with the world's people. He was generous with smiles, greetings, toys, and kisses.

He didn't have nearly as many words as Dorothy commanded at his age, but he had a startling sense for relationships. One of my favorite memories is of sitting and talking with him in the dark on our big bean bag in the early morning, waiting together for the world to wake up. We 'hid' under a blanket and he ran through lists of names this way: "Mimi, Papa (my mom and dad), Daddy son. Mama, Daddy, Otis son." To be snuggled with him there, knowing from his simple words that he had a clear picture of his family - that was a universe-expanding pleasure.

In his general health and development, Otis was an ordinary boy. He had a total of three seizures in his life, two of them a month apart, but those two occurred almost a year before his last. After the first two events we put him on an anti-seizure med, Keppra. After putting him on Keppra, we saw no further signs of seizure activity. His neurologist was optimistic, and we hoped he was in the clear.

Five percent of young children experience seizures, many of them fever-related. Most of them grow up to lead ordinary, healthy lives. Even those with seizure disorders (which we could never prove Otis had) can see great, normalizing effects from a drug like Keppra. The night of Otis's last seizure, Sarah, Dorothy, Otis, and I were at the dinner table together when it hit. We'd been through the shock twice, so we knew our action plan and followed it to the letter. The difference this time was that he aspirated some food, and in spite of my attempts at CPR, his heart stopped before the paramedics could arrive. They restarted his heart, but after a night in the hospital, the doctors determined that Otis had been without oxygen for too long. That morning someone showed us a little glass vial with the piece of macerated apple they took from near his collapsed lung. It was such a small thing to make such a difference.

 Christmastime

Christmastime

We said goodbye to him in that hospital as they wheeled him away, strong little heart still beating, toward surgery. We chose to donate his organs to whomever would benefit. Hard as it was, we're grateful we chose that path, as his body gave new life to two people. A fitting legacy for a boy who loved others so well.

It's now nine months since that goodbye in the hospital. The difficult images are still with me, but they've dimmed some and are now in better balance with the joys I shared with Otis when he lived. We did hike the Oregon woods, even in his first week of life. We did play video games - or rather I did in the middle of the night while he slept next to me on the couch. And this week, I gave Dorothy her first archery lesson.

One of the many things Otis left me is a commitment to shared adventure: To pursue awe with Dorothy and Sarah and to love as best I can whoever I meet on my way. That's a sort of manifesto for this trip of ours. Whether we head out today towards the wind-battered Oregon Coast or along a more serene inland path, we're ready to step out and encounter God/Nature/Life, however it presents itself to us.

As soon as we finish packing.

Readying to Launch Our Adventure

Let's adventure together.

Get out on the road, into the woods, under the waterfalls. Hang in hammocks, cook over fires, draw and paint. Try to stay patient even after hours in the car with all time-passing games exhausted. Find many, many weird bugs.

This is my family's dream for fall. On Saturday, the Cases head out with a little travel trailer for a five week road adventure/book research trip/book promotion extravaganza. 14212787_10155176517669027_4716131817795996338_n

Characters and Plot

Meet our three-headed team:

  • Jonathan (the dad), driver of rigs, book-maker, eater of plants.
  • Sarah (the mom), master schemer, keeper of peace, dancer of swing.
  • Dorothy (the preschooler), hiker of hills, candy-consumer, absurdist.

...And our three-pronged plan:

  • Meander through fascinating outdoor places and ultimately reach the overwintering sites of the migrating monarch butterflies in California. Make and take pictures, jot coordinates, gather field data for my next graphic novel: The Guidebook --- A kid-friendly, outdoorsy-future-earth-adventure which follows the monarch's migration from the Northwest states down to the bugs' forested sanctuaries in Monterey, Marin, Santa Cruz, and surrounding counties. I'll finish my rough draft of The Guidebook while we're on the road (mostly from my hammock-office, pictured below).
  • Promote the new hardcover release of Dear Creature with bookstore and school stops along the way - do sketches for kids (and grownups, I guess), talk about graphic novels, share of our adventures. See the sidebar for our evolving tour schedule.
  • Blog it all so someone will know where to find us if we get lost in the woods.

Adventure

 

We'll take this wild ride in a 1998 Lexus LX470: also known as the fancy-person's Land Cruiser. I selected this vehicle for its reputation to not break, pull stuff, and go where others fear to tread. Example:

These things are scarce like Donald Trump at Hip Hop Fest Northwest. Still, I managed to wrest one from a local used car dealership (shudder). It guzzles gas but it'll probably outlive me. Maybe one day they'll make a retro-fit Tesla battery pack to shove this truck's 5,500 lbs across the land. As long as I'm dreaming.

Right now we're battening down the hatches at home and doing our best to maintain focus as launch day nears. We're really excited to share more on our adventure. I'll try to post updates with every place we visit, taking the 2/2/2 approach to the RV life: Never drive more than 2 hours, never stay less than 2 nights, and always arrive by 2 in the afternoon. I haven't tried such a relaxed pace to travel before, but I hope it avails us plenty of time to explore, create, and make waffles over campfires (you have to try them):

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For now, on to packing! More soon. It's time to explore the earth.

Launch Party at Ex Novo for The New Deal

You, you good-looking, comics-reading person, are invited: Next month, I'm launching The New Deal at the Ex Novo Brewing Company (minors welcome!) on September 26th, here in Portland, OR. Hit the Facebook event here to get the details. We'll have free food, plentiful beverages (including a 22 oz. beer with my art on the label), original art on the walls, and me there somewhere, signing copies. Should be a blast! It falls the next weekend after my appearance at Rose City Comic Con, so if you're traveling for that show, you really should just take the week to enjoy Portland. Right? The New Deal Launch Party Ex Novo

If you're unfamiliar with Ex Novo, they're an impressive local brewery that operates as a non-profit. From the Ex Novo site:

We are committed to donating 100% of our net profits to organizations that are working to affect positive social change both in Portland and around the world.

Ex Novo is the brainchild of my friend Joel Gregory (also good-looking), and the site of the largest mural I've ever done, so it's the perfect venue for my launch. Whether you like books, beer, or both, come help us celebrate!

We'll have these at the signing.

April 2nd is Batman '66 Day

You know why it's Batman '66 Day tomorrow? Three things. 1. I return to the series with the first of 3 loaded new chapters, enhanced for digital. This one has it all, as Jeff Parker says:

For our latest story, artist Jonathan Case who kicked off the series, is returning for another big three-parter where The Joker and Catwoman bust out of confinement and turn Gotham City upside down.

It's wild and crazy, and I'm doing the primary cover for this issue (#11) when it's all collected for print. Here's the original cover art (for sale, and still in support of trafficking survivors).

Joker and Catwoman

2. Tomorrow's the release of the first snazzy hardcover collection of Batman '66. It really turned out beautifully, and includes art from fab people like Colleen Coover, Joe Quinones, and more! Buy a signed copy here.

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3. The incomparable Jeff Parker will sign the above next to yours truly at Cosmic Monkey here in beautiful Portland, OR. 5PM-7PM, Wednesday April 2nd. Head over here for event details. Visiting comics stars Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire will join us too and sign their hit book, Moon Knight.

And we may get burgers at Sassy Burger if I can convince them. Those are good burgers.

I'll also bring some of these Julie Newmar Catwoman prints:

Catwoman

I rest my case. Batman '66 Day.

Latest Hardware Love Letter - Canon Pixma Pro 100 Printer

My love affair with tech is frequently at odds with my impulse to keep rooted in the materials of my childhood (and, history up to now). There are uses for both. There's efficiency to be gained in digital, and there's joyful play that goes with using real-world materials. I still prefer and approach to my work that balances the two, and gives me the best aspects of each: the speed and power digital layouts/pencils, and the natural textures and fun of traditional inks (and sometimes paints). In order to bridge the gap between my Cintiq Companion and my bristol board, I needed another tool; a quality large format printer. I did a good bit of research, and I've found one that not only fits the bill for comics bluelines, but a whole host of other applications (art prints, photos, last-minute valentines)- and in my use, it does it all while beating the competition senseless from a quality/value standpoint. Here it is: Swoon.

This is the Canon Pixma Pro 100. It's Canon's entry-level professional color printer, it's beastly big/heavy, and built like a tank compared to the consumer printers I've used. I'll get into what it does well in a minute, but first I'll tell you something about my prior experiences using large-format printers. Then you shall fully understand my joy.

I've used a number of large format printers from HP, Brother, and the like (and by large format, I don't mean gigantic, roll-out-a-banner size, just something with at least 11"x17" capabilities). They've all been consumer-grade, and serviceable with some coaxing. One that comics people recommended frequently for its multi-functionality is the Brother MFC J6710dw. For about $150, you get an 11"x17" scanner, printer, fax (right?), creature-feature. We have one in my studio, and I've used it a number of times to print my digital bluelines onto bristol.

We are not friends, you and I.

Here's the thing: in the mid-to-late nineties, my parents got one of these MFC things from another manufacturer, and it just did nothing well. It had constant problems, and at that time, I swore I'd never buy an MFC device. After using the newer Brother in my studio, my opinion is largely unchanged. It does produce decent blueline prints, but with enormous caveats: after only a few friendly encounters, I found it had trouble taking a single page of bristol (you have to hand-guide the paper onto the sensor, do a holy cross, close your eyes, and count to ten- and even then, it may spit the board out, or give you lip about how there's nothing there). Even when it does finally print something, it may print the image slightly crooked on the page- not a big deal for print art production, but it sure doesn't make originals look their best. In short, I found all the efficiency gained in digital layouts and pencils squandered by constant printer battles. I sometimes spent an hour, hour and a half trying to get ten pages printed. I'm not kidding. I could have had another hand-penciled page mostly done in that time. RE-DONK-U-LOUS! My experiences with our older HP deskjet were largely the same- lots of time wasted trying to get a good print.

So where do you go from there? Large-format-capable pro grade printers, even entry-level ones, typically start at about $500. Ouch. Would I eventually make that up if I didn't have to waste time battling the device? Sure, but I am my father's son, and can't help but find a deal. This is freelance art, after all. Some days I get offers from joe average that let me pay two weeks of bills in a day, and other days I get offers from major publications to do art for less than I pay my babysitter. Finding a good deal on your tools is important.

Enter the Pro 100. One of the delightful things about this printer is that it's almost always available with a huge rebate from Canon. If you go to Adorama, for example, you can typically find it for under 90 bucks after the $300 mail-in-rebate, including a nice stack of 13"x19" photo-paper. It's crazy.

Here's what's even crazier. We all know that manufacturers price their printers to make their real money from ink and toner sales. This model is no exception, with a full set of 8 cartridges running about $100. Double-ouch, especially considering how much ink you use on just 5-10 13"x19" high-quality prints (the answer is most of it). Granted, blue-line prints are nowhere near that thirsty, so you'll get far more pages out of the ink set before you need a refill. BUT. The secret to getting huge value out of this printer is using refillable inks from a third party manufacturer. Note, I'm always very leery of non-name-brand inks, and you should be too. They'll often yield less, clog more, and give you worse color. I did a lot of research on this, and found a supplier called Precision Colors that a bunch of pro photographers love (I think I found a few discussions on DPReview, among others). Their system is certainly more work intensive than just buying a new set of cartridges, but having done it myself now, it's really very easy if you follow their instructions and have a few tools around the house. I also love that I don't have to throw away so much plastic.

Squeezy caps make for cleaner refills.

The set I bought from them is the squeezy-cap system (should be on the bottom-right of this page). Do your own investigating to see if this is worth it to you, but for me, it's beautiful. The inks are formulated to match the quality and consistency of Canon's, and with the bottles I bought, I should be able to fill my cartridges about 3 dozen times for the same price of 1 new set from Canon. Precision Colors also has adjusted color-profiles you can download if you're crazy about getting everything perfectly consistent. For my uses, their inks work perfectly well with the default Canon settings.

The Pro 100's print quality and ease of operation are also big plusses. Coming from the Brother, I expected some amount of fiddling would be necessary for my bristol sheets, but much to my surprise, I've not had a single battle in a month of regular use. I can load up a fat stack of bristol sheets, hit print on a batch of pages in Manga Studio, and the printer just does its thing, no lip given, no jams, no misaligned images (knock on wood). The bristol feeds through automatically. I also used the printer for some art prints at a recent convention, using the provided 13"x19" photo paper, and the results were stellar. As good or better than anything I've received from a print shop, even on the standard quality mode. Its borderless  printing feature is also useful for art prints, or just getting the biggest working area possible onto my bristol board. The printer's wifi capable too, so I can sit at my desk/couch with the Cintiq Companion and print stuff off any time, without having to hook anything up. A pretty standard perk for a modern printer, but still very nice.

So far, I've printed about 30 pages of Batman '66 pencils, a couple watercolor underdrawings (I've gone right over the ink lines without much bleeding), maybe 10 convention art prints, some smaller photos, and a handful of other things (last minute valentine). I'm very pleased with the Pro 100 in all aspects. If you have limited space, that's a consideration, as it really is large and heavy. Otherwise, go snag one from Adorama, or wherever has the best price, and print yourself silly.

My crappy cell phone camera can't do these justice- but look at the size of that Caspar David Friedrich! Borderless goodness.

Original Art for Survivors

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Today begins a new partnership with some people I really admire. Here's the plan:

Every month, I'm donating a portion of my original art sales to SARC (The Sexual Assault Resource Center), my favorite local nonprofit serving survivors of sexual exploitation and violence. This month, I've already contributed $535 out of a possible $1,000. For December, I'll do the same, up to $1,000. Whether it's a couple pages of Batman, a color cover, whatever, the first $1,000 goes to SARC. Pretty simple. I'll start with this model and see how it goes. My intent is to raise funds and awareness for their work throughout next year.

Browse my Original Art section here.

(UPDATE: In less than 24 hrs, I've met my goal of $1,000 raised for SARC. Thank you!!!)

SARC's been around since 1977 (they're featured in this year's Willamette Week Give! Guide). Begun by two assault survivors, its staff works in the Portland metro area with a current caseload of almost 300 kids at risk for sex trafficking. It's the same population the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children talks about when they quote stats like this:

Every year in America, there are between 100,000 and 300,000 children at risk of being sold on the sex-slave market. The average age of the victims is between 12 and 14.

Globally, human trafficking is the #2 most profitable illegal business; just ahead of weapons and just behind drugs. It's really difficult to let that sink in. I'll leave it to you to follow the sources below if you want detailed information; suffice to say, I can't think of an issue that needs more support, and has less. Nationally, there are fewer than 100 beds in treatment facilities equipped to help heal and care for these kids. One of the social workers at SARC said that for every girl they take on, that girl can name six or seven others being actively prostituted. It's staggering. Nonprofits like SARC are on the front lines providing care, services, and protection, but they're hugely under-supported, especially from your average American guy (hello).

I've supported SARC financially for a few years through the Epik Project, and I want to do more. Because of who I am and what I do (an artsy guy with limited real-world skills), my options for helpful involvement are limited. This also just isn't a topic that comes up naturally in any social setting. Believe me. I've tried. Taking stock of my options to do more, I landed on art sales. Original art income is totally unpredictable; I can't depend on it to pay bills, but I can use it strategically. It's a natural fit for donation.

If this all seems a little bizarre and non sequitur coming from a comics creator, have a look at this: other cartoonists like Lora Innes and Crystal Yates are already at work on this issue. Their organization, Comics Creators for Freedom, has already raised over $20,000 to assist survivors. They've set their latest fundraiser for December 2013- it's inspiring stuff.

If you want more info on human trafficking, check these out:

Government info pages/resources

Nonprofits on the front lines (some local to me)

Donate directly to SARC here: 

 

 

Cintiq Companion Review -Surface and Note 10.1- FIGHT

wacom-cintiq-companion Techno-nerd-wise, this was an interesting month. Our neighbors to the north, Wacom, (in Vancouver, WA), got in touch with me to test their Cintiq Companion for a few weeks and give them feedback/bug reports. At first I thought they'd given me a prototype, but it turns out mine is one of the production models. The fact that it's now my own, my precious, and that it's the same hardware that you, gentle reader, would be purchasing, means the flood gates are open, and I can tell you all about it. How it compares to my faithful Surface Pro, and even a little reference to the new Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition (jeepers, that's a mouthful), which Samsung sent me (thank you). There are a surprising number of people asking for comparisons between the Note and these full-powered PCs, so I'm happy to tell you what I think.

Let's talk Cintiq Companion. When Wacom finally announced it, the first thing people said (as they do) was, "Wah, $2,000+???" Let's look at it this way, and move on: any manufacturer, be they Sony, Microsoft, Fujitsu, etc., charges a premium for a premium spec machine that will not offer drastic real-world performance gains (for most people), over something like the baseline Surface Pro (2), which starts at about a grand. If you load up a comparable Sony machine like the Duo 13 with an i7 CPU and 8GB of RAM, guess where your price point lands? North of 2 grand. And for those who feel they need 8GB of RAM to make their work lives easier (me), just having the option is huge. With the Companion, you're paying dollaz for a pro-spec machine, and one with some serious user-interface advantages for art creation. That's the gist of it.

That leads me into the heart of things; the machine and its interface. Some of what I like:

The build quality is very good. It's heavier than the others I mentioned, but it feels solid in your lap, and the surface area/bevel really works well for its primary purpose as a drawing device. The funny thing about the Note 10.1, by contrast, is that it's lighter and slippery(er), and I really need to set it on something solid for drawing. The Companion stays in place, thanks to rubbery grips, and yes, its almost-four-pound weight.

The surface of the screen also has enough tooth to make drawing a more controlled experience. It's hugely helpful to getting a stroke right the first time. The pen itself is comfortable, and obviously better suited to extended use than the stock Surface or Note 10.1's pen (or the Bamboo Feel I bought for the Surface Pro). Plus, you get additional control with the Companion Pen (buttons, tilt, pressure sensitivity). Tilt, I don't really use (it's often too processor-intensive for my canvas sizes... lag city), but the extra button and the pressure sensitivity are definitely helpful.

Other things that add up:  Battery life is surprisingly good (6-7 hours for twiddling your internet thumbs, about 4 for drawing/working). Two USB 3.0 ports instead of the usual one. The optional bluetooth keyboard has great key action (much more accurate/comfortable typing experience vs Surface Pro), is quite low-profile, and it's USB rechargeable (nice). I've actually spent more time writing script for my next book on the Companion than doing anything else (SUE ME), and I've really enjoyed the little keyboard. The Companion's included tote bag is also very nice (look for it hidden in the packaging, I missed it the first time).

Yeah, but can he do THIS?

The physical buttons on the bevel and pen go a long way to getting work done efficiently minus a keyboard. For pro applications like Manga Studio and Photoshop, that's a big consideration for those who want real mobility with a device like this. I previously never strayed much from keyboard shortcuts, even with my old Cintiq 21", but because I lacked a keyboard for a while with the Companion, I took time to configure everything and learn what I could do with Wacom's buttons, Radial Menu, and software touch-strips. I came away impressed, and happily efficient in my workflow. That's something you can't do as well with the Surface Pro, the Sony Duo, or the Note. Yes, I made that lovely lap-board to support the Surface's keyboard (wistful sigh), but then its overall weight and footprint is as much or better than the Companion's. I still like my homegrown solution, but the fact is that Wacom designed their Companion with art creation in mind, and the others really did not. There's an appreciable difference in both the feel of getting work done, and in the speed of getting work done when you're on the go, without your keyboard.

The screen is very good. 13 inches is a good compromise for portability/usability, and its resolution is just as sharp as you'd want it to be for graphical interface use (something of a struggle on the Surface Pro). A quick side note: Manga Studio's latest iteration (5.03- free update for people who own 5.0+) has a scalable tablet-friendly interface option that's worth checking out). Colors on the Companion are more accurate than my Surface Pro (not sure about the Pro 2, I know they've made big improvements in their color fidelity).

Those are a lot of the good things, and they make the Companion a great solution for my needs. That said, I've been testing this thing for a month, and I have a clear sense of its faults, some of which may be fixed with software updates. Bear that in mind as you journey with me, into the realm of Nit Picks.

Things I don't like:

The stand functions well for what it is, but what it is is hardly mobile, or very well designed. It seems to me that in V2, Wacom could easily incorporate a multi-stage stand into the device itself without adding much weight, and still retaining the rigidity and strength needed to rest your arm weight on the thing and have it stay put. It's a design challenge, but not an insurmountable one, especially as the computer components themselves shrink with future generations.

I dunno, man.

Another weird bit is the power button. It's placed right where I touch the device to shift it in my lap, and because of the button's design, it's easily depressed, putting the Companion to sleep (by default- you can change it in the Power Button options in Windows 8, but your shouldn't have to). There's a handy spring-button on the other side of the Companion for locking screen orientation. Making the power button something more like this would solve the problem. It's a weird oversight.

Also annoying is the inability to use this machine as a drawing display for a different computer (ie, a much more powerful workstation). Wacom EU's FAQ on the device says it's a limitation of Windows hardware, lack of interest from consumers, yadda and yadda. I really think this could, and should be done. It's not even about being able to use the device when its hardware is out of date, it's about using the device right now for applications that need more power than it can muster with its own internals. This uses a ULV processor, of the same ilk as the Surface Pro. The i7 vs i5 means you'll see maybe 10% additional horsepower. That's not as much as some people may be expecting. These machines are plenty fast for most illustration purposes, but just as I run into limitations on the Surface Pro, I run into similar limits with the Companion. They both comfortably process 11x17 600 dpi color files with a good number of layers. Double the canvas size, though, as I need to for Batman '66's digital edition, and things bog down. Again, that's a fairly small fraction of my work, but it's an important one. I'd like to either have a full-voltage chip inside this thing, and/or the option to hook it up to a much more powerful PC when I need to cut through a jungle of giant art files. Quick note: If you find brush strokes lagging on the Companion, make sure you have its power mode set to 'High Performance', not 'Balanced'. Click the battery icon and select 'More Power Options' to find it. 

Finally, there are a few quirks with drivers and software that could be improved. Touch and gesture support is the least configurable of the Companion's typically robust control-set. It's also the most finicky. Bringing up the software keyboard, for example, often de-registers the cursor in a text field, forcing me to bring up the keyboard, then tap the text field again to start entering text. A small annoyance, but it's there until they fix it in future drivers.

Driver and software issues may not happen to everyone in the same measure they happened to me, but they're part and parcel of a first-gen device like this (and, let's face it, most Windows devices), so you should approach a purchase knowing you may need to sort through a few more software woes than you would with something like the Surface Pro, which comes straight from Microsoft (still, that machine isn't perfect either).

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So there you have it: the good, and the not-so-good. In the end, I feel the good of this machine far outweighs its faults, and I'm very happy with it. My wife now has the Surface Pro, and I'm forging ahead with my digital art creation using the Companion. It feels good, it functions well, and it's by and large a thoughtfully designed art tool. It has plenty of room to improve, but so do the other options. If you're a professional, the Surface Pro 2 with 8GB of RAM is a compelling option, but one lacking the interface and form factor considerations of this machine. With the Surface, you really have to get the keyboard and find a way to use it on a flat surface, whereas the Companion can function pretty well without one (for art). Comparing them that way, you're looking at saving about 500 bucks if you go the Surface route, barring warranty and some extras (these mostly in Wacom's favor). To me, the Companion is worth it. If you're like me, and your file sizes are too large to make the cloud a viable means of working in the studio and at home on multiple devices, the Companion may be a very good solution for keeping everything with you, anytime and anywhere you need to work.

Note_10_Samsung

Then there's this little guy. Isn't he darling? That lovely screen, that lightness. It's a nice tablet.

The Note 10.1 is less money yet than the Surface and Companion, and also less useful in its capacity for getting work done, or drawing something easily/accurately. It's a totally different piece of hardware, nice for media consumption and a doodle/rough, but in no way capable of being your only computer/digital art device. Drawing on it is a bit laggy and inaccurate; I was surprised given its specs, but my Galaxy Note 2 phone actually draws and navigates with less lag. Weird.

If you have questions about the hardware I'm reviewing (and I know you do, based on my Surface Pro review), I'm glad to help. Google probably knows better than I do (and is faster at responding), but I'll do what I can.

Til next time!

Batman '66 Original Art For Sale

 

Batman '66 Original Art

What a lovely Wednesday morning.

Last night at midnight, two things went live: My last Batman '66 story of the year (Mad Hatter Part 2) and a new sales section for original art, with the first few pages of Batman '66 Issue 1It looks like the first two of six sold while I slept, so cheers to all you Bat-fans. I've had tremendous interest in the original art for this series, but it's taken me a while to feel alright parting with the art. It's sort of become one of my babies.

Batman '66 Mad Hatter Part 2

All that said, I'm excited to share some of this terrific book with you. I'll post more pages throughout the next couple months while I start my next graphic novel for Dark Horse (Yes!)--- then it's back to Batman '66 in November, and more exciting developments in the new year. If it sounds like I'm pleased... I am.

Also, Rose City Comic Con's coming up fast! I'll be there, next to everyone's favorite down-home mastermind and Batman writer, Jeff Parker. I'll bring more original art, and will be taking commissions too (already filling up my queue, so contact me to get a spot early, just in case).

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I hope you enjoy today's Batman, or as my baby girl calls it, 'That-man and Christopher Robin'.

This Guy Made an Awesome Surface Pro Lap Board

 

Jeff Ketter at Icono Blast took my Surface Pro lapboard design and made his own (beautiful) version. It looks extremely slick! He took the time to really polish it up and make refinements to my original design, and I dig his additions (camera hole, mouse-pad grip, jet black finish, etc...). If you're looking to build a lap board, you should definitely check out his detailed post.

Nothing like a little shared Nerd Joy to start the Monday. Thanks for sharing, Jeff!

 

Surface Pro Pen Pressure for All

PS_Surface They did it! After three months of no pen-pressure support in programs like Adobe Photoshop, Painter, and Paint Tool SAI, Microsoft and Wacom have worked out a driver for the Surface Pro that fixes it all. Head over here to snag it:

www.wacom.com/feeldriver

This is a great thing for a couple reasons.

Number one, it makes the Surface Pro a useful device no matter what creative programs you run. You can now get one with the confidence that pressure support will work as you'd expect across all your major programs.

Pressure support on Surface

Number two, it works very well. Better, in fact, than previous Wacom pressure drivers I've used on tablet PC's. Remember that Fujitsu T902? It, and other systems like it suffer from less-than ideal palm rejection (meaning every once in a while your canvas goes "SEE YA, I'm going over here now because you touched me with your hand before that pen tip, and that hurts me"). There's also typically a weird bug where every fiftieth brush stroke or so, these systems randomly lose pressure support, leaving you with the burden of hitting 'undo' frequently. Granted, the driver's only been out for a day, but so far I've experienced none of that with the new Wacom driver on the Surface. It works more like what I expect from Microsoft's Ink API, where palm rejection and pen pressure are very consistent. This all makes me a happy nerd.

The New Hotness

In other news, I've done another upgrade to my setup in the form of a different pen. This is the Wacom Bamboo Feel (I got the Carbon, because it's more durable and has a nice weight in my hand). I find it to be more accurate than the stock Surface pen, and more similar to the calibration of the pen on my old Cintiq. Explanation:

GAH! Stop hiding!

With the stock Surface Pro pen, the little doohickey that says "Here I am" to your on-screen cursor is placed slightly back in the barrel of the pen, instead of the pen's tip. This means that the cursor is usually hidden beneath the pen tip instead of being just in front of the pen tip, as you'd be used to if you use a Cintiq, or other tablet device.  This picture's taken from the side, so you can actually see the cursor, but when viewed normally, facing the screen, you totally can't see it. There are attempted calibration workarounds to this, and I tried them all and found them insufficient.

 

Switching to the Bamboo Feel, you can see the difference in registration: that cursor is right in front of the pen tip, where you expect it to be. This makes joining fine lines in a drawing and picking through tiny interface elements on the Surface's hi-res screen MUCH easier, at least for me. Your mileage may vary, but I'd say give it a shot if you aren't satisfied with the stock stylus's accuracy.

Tech blogging complete. Moving back to pretty drawr-rings.

 

Holy Retro Batman Announcement

Batman  

Today I get to announce some really fun news. Really. Fun. Comics. News. My studio-mate and fellow lover of retro, Jeff Parker, is set to write a new series of Batman comics for DC, and I'll be performing art duties for the first three stories, from layouts to color.

This isn't just any Batman though. This is the Adam West Batman, the Batusi Batman, the Julie Newmarriffic Batman. DC licensed the rights to all the actors from the 60s TV show (!), and we're set to start reeling and rocking this summer. Really, if they let me develop with any superhero project, working with whoever I wanted, I honestly couldn't have come up with a better fit: lighthearted, kid-appropriate, retro, and written by one of my favorite comics writers. The script Jeff's writing for this series is gold. You can feel his love the material, the era, the Julie Newmar.

DC announced the project last night at an event in Los Angeles. Mr. West appeared for a signing with the original Batmobile, a replica of the Bat Cave... even Batman cupcakes. Here's the press release. You can see a glimpse of my art at like, 4:13.

BATMAN CUPCAKES.

I really don't need to say more than that.

Julie Newmar Catwoman

If you want more info on all this, head over to DC's site (I think they have a bunch of 60s Bat-stuff they're announcing), or Jeff's blog. As for me, I'm going to start some layouts.

Holy happy circumstance.

Sloth Love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every once in a while, you get to do a commission that satisfies all your geek requirements. This one may be hard to top. It has it all: Romance, awesome creatures, a Dracula cape... A land-squid.

I couldn't ask for more! It's projects like this where I'm keenly aware that it's not everyone who gets an all-expenses-paid trip to the Slothlands. I'm grateful.

Also, here's a link to a hi-res version, in case you want some sloth-love wallpaper.

This weekend, I'll be at Emerald City Comic Con, taking commissions (you can totally commission something like this, and I'll mail it to you) and peddling my wares. I may even see if I can get some prints made of this piece.

See you in Seattle!

Live Interview on the Karl Show! (starring Jason)

Wolfman JackTomorrow night: Me, the interview, live, on The Karl Show! (starring Jason), broadcast from The Portland Radio Authority. I get to play DJ for an hour or so, talking about my work and playing some tunes. What sort of tunes? Some that inspired Dear Creature, some that I just like, some that are tailored to give me street cred with people in their 70s.

If you can't catch it tomorrow, they'll post the whole shebang on their website, here. Now I'm off to drink lemon honey tea.

Modern Man Painting

Here's a few process shots from my latest painting for Portland's Modern Man Barbershop. This place is one of my favorite businesses in Portland, and they just opened a new location on Hawthorne (where this piece is going up). Over the last few months, I've become a regular, and I'm just really enthusiastic about the whole business and their aesthetic. Shot of whiskey on your way in, fantastic haircuts, shoe shines, straight razor shaves, etc., and a cigar on your way out. It's a wonderful model, and really affordable (important for the likes of me, who typically goes way too long between cuts). One day I asked the owner, Chris, if he'd be interested in commissioning a painting for their space, and happily, he dug the idea.

I'm not sure when this is going up (above the barbershop's fireplace!) , but regardless, you should head down and get yourself a haircut from these people. It's a lot of fun.

Modern Man (1)

Modern Man (2) Modern Man (3) Modern Man (4) Modern Man (5)

I Love Gipi

Happy Fourth of July, America. To celebrate our independence from those tyrants across the pond, I'm showing off my favorite non-English European cartoonist. His name is Gipi, and First Second puts out a good bit of his stuff stateside. Fantagraphics, too. I really appreciate a cartoonist that can fluidly construct a figure with a sense of dimension— of really living inside a scene's geometry, while using very few lines. The more you draw, the easier this becomes, but most of us won't ever approach this guy's level of ease in drawing something so loosely, but so well anchored in the rules of perspective. His cartooning skills are closely tied to his work in animation and film. You really get the sense that he knows exactly how everything he draws should look from any conceivable angle. And that's just the start!

His watercolors are gorgeous. He picks colors that serve his cartooning, but also capture light and form with painterly depth. None of the colors dominate and call-out, "Hey, I'm a focal point!" Everything's in service to a brittle line that never belabors its subject, but gives just enough. He suggests, and invites our imagination to contribute the rest.

It's always scary to meet the people you admire, but one day I'd like to shake the hand that channels this amazing, unforced way of seeing and thinking. It's sort of miraculous to me.