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.

Day 12 - Get Rhythm

the rhythm rig Now on day 12, the Cases have established trailer life rhythm. Roughly: Comics, eat, hike. Eat, drive, eat. Comics, read, sleep. Sleep more. Repeat.

The sleeping portion came easily. With Dorothy to bed at 7:30 PM, we're never far behind. Everyone more or less sleeps 'til 7:30 AM barring obedience to my 5:00 AM work alarm clock. Obedience has happened, twice. Taskmaster Jonathan wants a reasonable defense for that behavior, and I do have one... The quality and quantity of my dreams on this trip trumps early morning productivity. I haven't dreamed big technicolor d reams like this since college and they're much better creative fuel than the spoils of un-rested critical thinking. Someone in an old Italian art-house movie (La Dolce Vita?) said people who talk about their dreams are bores, but they were just trying to sound cool. No one writes better dialogue than dreams.

In spite of my justified lazing, work on The Guidebook progresses at a steady pace. I've gathered field data for about 50 locations according to my plus-sized Garmin watch, monarch mapand I've filled notebook #1 completely with rough draft pages. I look forward to this weekend and our arrival in Alameda County, where we just might start to see Monarchs in the first of their overwintering sites. Santa Cruz is a more certain bet. Either way we're very close, and we get to spend most of our remaining travel time in monarch territory. Just look at them there on this migration sighting map (thanks to learner.org). East of the Rockies they're lousy with monarchs, but in terms of our Western population, the Bay Area's the place to be.

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Dear Creature HCSigning at The Escapist Comic Book Store - OCT 29

Another upcoming event, also in Alameda county, is my Saturday signing at The Escapist Comic Book Store. Dear Creature's hardcover edition is the main deal, but they'll probably have a smattering of my other work, too. Looks like the trade of Superman: American Alien just topped the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels, so...what else can I say? As one of the six contributing artists on Max Landis's retelling of Superman-history, I'm one sixth of a yooge deal. Come get yours signed. Get a quick sketch for free if you're a kid or really nice. Whatever you do, if you're in Berkeley on Saturday at 1 PM, come say hey.

american alien

Speaking of motivating a turnout: What do you think's required, decoration-wise, to invite trick-or-treaters to a trailer door when said trailer's parked on a random Bay Area street? Probably depends whether we're in the Tenderloin or Haight-Ashbury.

I'll let you know!

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Sanity Strategies

Last night we discovered an incredible method to keep energy-riddled Dorothy from tearing apart our trailer's interior on a dark and rainy night. Sarah asked her, joking, if she wanted to go outside and run around the trailer a few times.

"Yes!" said Dorothy.

We geared her up with her raincoat, rubber boots, and my headlamp and scooted her outside. I asked her, just before shutting the door against the elements and my child, if she could do 10 laps around the rig. She did, pausing only to comment excitedly on her progress or the imaginary obstacles she avoided (a forest of pooping butts was the standout). I really didn't think she'd make 10 laps, but she blew past every expectation. Visible only via the satellite orbit of her headlamp, Doro's running monologue bounced passed my window a full 100 times before she reentered the R-Pod, soaked and elated with victory.

She says she's going to be an astronaut. Sarah thinks maybe a proctologist.

She probably has a good shot at both.

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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 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.

My San Diego Comic Con Schedule

 

 

 

 


San Diego Comic Con has seen fit to ship me down (crated?) as a special guest. This means I'm paneling and signing and tabling and meeting and schmoozing for many hours, starting Thursday, July 21st.

Special attention to be directed to my Saturday spotlight panel where I tell everything the young me wanted to know when I first embarked upon making books that humans read. Things like, "How can I get people to read my books," and "Why won't that editor look at me with affection?"


Here's the full scoop on where you can find me:

Thursday, 11-12 PM. Room: 5AB
Celebrate the Publishing World of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth with Archaia: To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, publisher Archaia (an imprint of BOOM! Studios) has several books set to come out this year! Join BOOM! Studios Senior Editor Sierra Hahn and artists Eric Powell (The Goon, Big Man Plans), Joëlle Jones (Spider-Woman, Lady Killer), and Jonathan Case (The New Deal, Batman ’66) as they give fans a sneak peek into these titles, which include original comics, a children’s storybook, and an artists’ tribute collection. Moderated by Nerdist Editor-in-Chief Rachel Heine.
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Friday, 1-2 PM. Dark Horse Booth Signing
Jonathan Case signs all the books and maybe some other things? We'll see.
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Friday, 3-4 PM. Room: 7AB
Dark Horse Originals: Comics literature has become the voice and visual for our changing generation, and Dark Horse Originals has it all—from underwater mystery in Jonathan Case’s Dear Creature to the surrealist return of Dave McKean in The Dreams of Paul Nash. Join panelists Dave McKean (Cages), Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba (Two Brothers), Peter Hogan (Resident Alien) and Jonathan Case (Dear Creature) as they discuss pushing the boundaries of what comics can accomplish in literature.
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Saturday, 6-7 PM. Room: 9
Spotlight on Jonathan Case: The Triumphs and Trials of Creating and Publishing a Graphic Novel— Join Comic Con special guest and Eisner award-winning cartoonist Jonathan Case (The New Deal) for an in-depth look at creating and publishing your first graphic novel. Explore one book's tumultuous journey from conception to delivery as Case offers anecdotes about the creation and promotion of his first book, Dear Creature (returning to print this fall as a deluxe hardcover from Dark Horse Comics). Q&A available— all ages and levels welcome!
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Sunday, 2-3 PM. Room: 25ABC
Cover Story: The Art of the Cover: This panel will include Jonathan Case, Howard Chaykin, Paul Gulacy, Scott Shaw and Babs Tarr. Panel will be moderated by Mark Evanier.
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Whew! I think that's everything, minus the breather I always take at the Old Globe (they do such good work!). Sarah and I are going to see Sense and Sensibility to regain our equilibrium after the pop culture barrage! Should be fun.

See you at the thing!

The New Deal Before Tomorrowland

Funny how those two titles run together and still work. I'm back from the depths. They said it couldn't be done, but here I am, writing a blog post. I put a number of things on hiatus over the last year -- public appearances, my web store, sleep. It all comes, as Christopher Robin says, of (doing) eating too much.

Being busy, for me, is not a life goal anymore. It used to be. Now it's the old aunt who won't leave unless you tell her, rudely. By way of catch up, here's a short version of what I've been up to since my last blog post, lo these nine months ago:

  • May: Wife graduated from grad school (Go Sarah!) and had our second child, Otis (Go Sarah!)
  • May: We moved to a new home, two weeks after having the kid. What, past-self? How did that make sense?
  • May (notice a lot in May?) to August: Started and finished art + first draft of crazy, hybrid-enhanced-YA-novel Before Tomorrowland for Disney. Realized a dream of seeing my name next to Brad Bird's on a thing.
  • July: Did illustrations for Aloof, the latest theo-lit book from Tony Kriz, out at better bookstores now (Just got back from Tony's reading at Powell's!)
  • Somewhere in there: Completed 50% of art on my next graphic novel, The New Deal (coming soon from Dark Horse). I ramble about it here, at CBR.
  • Somewhere else in there: Played stay-at-home-dad a couple days a week while Sarah got her counseling business up and running (Go Sarah!)

Before Tomorrowland Case

It doesn't look like that much to me, seeing it written in a few sentences here, but boy. I'm just now learning to walk and talk again. In the next few weeks, I'll dive into a bit more detail on these and other fun projects I have under way. For now, Happy Sunday. It was, by and large, a day of rest.

More please!

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.

Original Art for Survivors

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sarc

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!

Something Eerie for July 10th

What a month! Along with Batman '66, I have a second, equally retro-cool comic coming to shops this Wednesday, July 10th, as part of Eerie #3. Eerie#3

Saturnian Infantroids!

This one's an homage to Wally Wood space-race comics. It has comedy, horror, and giant space babies run amok. After becoming a dad and spending so much time in earnest adoration, it was time to shed light on the dark side of cute babies. The dark side of the babymoon.

I drew this while I took loving looks at my giant EC Stories collection. What I discovered: In almost every respect, the gap between myself and Mr. Wood is much like infinite space itself. Still, it was a fun challenge, and I'm pleased with the results.

I promise you a very weird time.

For a preview of this, and the book's other stories, head over to Comicosity.

Making Friends

This blog of mine is a sometimes barren wasteland. And let me tell you why. To me, Internet, you're a clubhouse of scary kids. I like the idea of having friends, but I'm afraid you're going to be awful. I'm afraid I won't live up to your expectations, which may be lower than low. I'm sort of afraid that if we hang out, you're going to make me kill a squirrel. That, and the fact that contracts keep me from posting work for the world to see.

But you know what I do like? In all your vast, lonesome expanse, I like this.

It's a start!

Northwest Voices

Tomorrow, I'll be in Longview, Washington, for an event with Northwest Voices, a collaboration between the Longview Public Library and Lower Columbia College bringing in local authors for workshops, discussion, signings, etc. They're having me up to teach an afternoon workshop on comics creation techniques (we'll see what we can do in an hour and a half!), and a presentation on my work at 7PM. Should be a good time! Here's the press release:

Thursday, May 24 Workshop at 3:30 p.m. in Rose Center Room 220 (limited to first 40 who sign up) Reading at the Longview Public Library at 7 p.m. in the Auditorium Come help us welcome graphic novelist Jonathan Case with a pair of events on Thursday, May 24. The first will be a workshop at 3:30 p.m. in Rose Center Room 220. The workshop will be limited to the first 40 people who sign up online through the LCC website (go to the LCC website http://lowercolumbia.edu and click on view entire calendar and then the NW Voices event on the 24th). The second will be a reading at the Longview Public Library at 7 p.m. in the Auditorium on the first floor.

Head over to the Longview Public Library site for more info.

Eisner and Stumptown Award Nominations

  Well, look at this. Both my books are up for some awards this season, and you can vote (if you're a comics pro for some, if you're anybody for others)! Here's the scoop:

My book with Jeff Jensen, Green River Killer, is up for two Eisner awards: Best Reality-Based Work, and Best Writer (Go Jeff!). Comics pros vote here.

Both Dear Creature and Green River Killer are up for Stumptown Comics Awards: Best Artist, Best Letterer (GRK), and Best New Talent (Me, for GRK and Dear Creature). Everyone and your relatives vote here.

Also note some of my favorite talents getting the recognition they deserve: Chris Samnee, Dylan Meconis, Vera Brosgol, Gene Yang— they all did great work this year, and deserve your votes!

 

 

My Gal Wants to Dark Horse All The Time

I think everything I'm working on for Dark Horse has been announced at last (internet says so), so now I get to talk about it. A little. I'm always skittish about these things, because contract lingo says, "Thou shalt not show any portion of thy work prior to release of yadda yadda"... The great thing is, one of these books is already out in stores, so I shouldn't have to sweat showing you a morsel of my artwork.

I'm on art duties for three new projects with Dark Horse, from layouts through final color. I started them all pretty much simultaneously this October/November, alongside the release and promotion of my two graphic novels, Dear Creature and Green River Killer. Sheer madness.

Two months and almost fifty color pages later, my first baby girl arrived (January 14th), and I promptly took a month off of nearly everything. Most people say the first few weeks with baby are the hardest. Maybe it's just the contrast with this last season, but it's been (new dad smug alert) the best vacation of my life.

Anyway, the smoke has cleared, and I can talk about work again.

The book that's out in stores now is the 4th issue of House of Night, by Kent Dalian, P.C. Cast and Kristen Cast. Joëlle Jones and Ryan Hill provided art and color (respectively) for the main story, while I got to do a juicy back-story about Antony and Cleopatra (as vampires). It's what the kids want, you know.

Here's a bit of my art. It's my first color comics work to come out since 2008's Comic Book Tattoo, and I had a lot of fun with it. Cleopatra has a costume change every page or so, because, you know, she's Cleopatra.

The next project is something I'm doing with John Arcudi. We're bringing back a character he developed for Dark Horse back in the day, The Creep, and starting a new story off with Dark Horse Presents #11. That should be on sale April 18th. It's a fabulous modern noir with a great range of material to draw. From the press release:

In the summer of 1987, a young teenage boy commits suicide. The boy’s mother is unsatisfied with the police’s lack of interest in the motivation behind it, or what connection it might have to the suicide of the boy’s former best friend. She remembers that she heard an old college boyfriend of hers, Oxel, is a private detective. What she doesn’t know is Oxel suffers from a debilitating condition called acromegaly. Will the contact from his old flame be all that Oxel needs to take the case?

Finally, I also did something with Dark Horse for Free Comic Book Day, but I'll save details on that for another time. I'll just say the art style is a whimsical new direction for me, and I very much enjoy whimsy. Yes.

And speaking of Free Comic Book Day, imobethere, signing books at Portland's Things From Another World, May 5th, from 12:00 to 2:00 PM.

And that, my friends, is the Dark Horse Shuffle.

It's Harvey Time

Baby Dorothy is all about pulling her weight in the family. Thanks, baby.

In case you're wondering— no, I didn't make that onesie. Credit goes to (awesome) Kelly, a friend/fan who sent it to us. I thought this would be the proper use of it.

Comics professionals, please consider not upsetting the baby, and nominating Dear Creature for some of this year's awards. Like the Harveys, for example!