It's been a while since I've been able to post anything here at the Commodore Dinosaur blog. And you may have noticed that on the main page the complete origin story is now available. Yup, that story was the thesis I completed for my master's degree in illustration (with graphic novel emphasis) from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA. Well, after 4 years I finally earned that degree in May and have since been hired on as full time faculty and faculty advisor at Mid-Michigan Community College. Basically, I got my boss's job when she retired after 30 years! And it's been a busy month since then, with a number of meetings and office work prepping for the upcoming Fall semester. This new position, and then doubling of the number of classes that I will be teaching, has forced me to change my plans as far as Commodore Dinosaur and my comic illustration, in general, to change. Originally my plan was to take the completed 24-page origin story and use that as the centerpiece of a Commodore Dinosaur series pitch...that's the process you have to go through to get a comic book company to publish your work. But now, being a full time faculty member and the head of the art department, there is simply no way my schedule will allow me to produce a full-color comic book on any sort of a regular basis. At least, not until I get settled into a regular groove. I am considering turning Commodore Dinosaur into a web-strip and simply publishing the series myself both here and at comic strip hosting sites like Comic Fury, but again, that would be after I settle into a regular schedule. So stay tuned...
Some of you may have noticed some minor changes that have occurred on the first 2 chapters of Commodore Dinosaur's origin tale. These include some small alterations to the art, changes in color choices and a change of the logo. These were all done primarily because the creation of this is still an ongoing process. The Quest of Quetzalcoatl is MFA (Master of Fine Arts) thesis being completed under the watchful eye of some of the best advisors at the Academy of Art University. These are comic book and illustration industry professionals, many of whom have worked with some of the greatest comic artists of the 20th century. Each semester I try and complete an 8-page chapter, so by graduation I will have a finished, print ready 24-page comic book. So far, it's been going great (my last two thesis classes ended with me getting an A). I'm now in my FINAL semester so look for more pages coming soon! Graduation is set for May of 2017, and I can't wait!
Another thing that I've been working on is an additional Commodore Dinosaur tale featuring new characters and settings...
These were created for a terrific class on character design for comic books taught by Mike Dubisch (watch for his work in the latest issue of The Creeps magazine). I created them for the following story (or at least the start of one) The Mysterious Mister Styx:
Keep in mind that these opening pages are only penciled. They have yet to be fully inked and colored. But I feel like I've got a good thing going with this plotline. What do you think?
Boy, what a summer it's been! Due to my wife's job we recently moved from Clare in the Central Michigan area down about 30 miles to the city of Mount Pleasant. We found a fantastic old house in the downtown district that was built in 1922 and still has a lot of old fixtures and woodwork. And what's more, it's only a few minutes walk to my wife's workplace. It's been a lot of work...not just the moving in, but settling in, redecorating and doing all of that. Not a lot of time for comic book art, although I have a beautiful new studio area to work in. This house is old enough that it has a parlor with double doors off of the dining room. So that became my new studio. It's got tons room and an ample amount of light...
We still have a fair amount of work to do around the house but most of the really time consuming stuff is already done. I have been able to get back into working on Commodore Dinosaur over the past few days, completing the inking, coloring and lettering of page 6 and moving on to inking page 7 of the origin story for my MFA thesis. The new atmosphere has reinvigorated me and ignited a desire to create that had been lacking since summer began (let's face it, the last year both teaching and working on my graduate degree was intense. That's the nice word for it.)
I've also been working hard to promote my other project, At Galaxy's Core, a science fiction strip appearing in Aazurn Publishing's Indie Comics #1 and #2. The first issue can be ordered from the June issue of Diamond's Previews. You can STILL order #1 at your local comic shop using Diamond Order No. JUN160995. Issue 2 will be in the August edition of Previews. Here's a sample of my work as it's appearing in those...
At Galaxy's Core is a lot different in both tone and art style than Commodore Dinosaur. You can find out more at my webpage for that project www.atgalaxyscore.com.
I often go over this with my Art 206 (Graphic Novel Illustration) students, but I thought it might be of interest to the general public. This is just about the creation of a page of comic art. It has nothing to do with writing the story or that end of it. Though I will say that had to come first. If you don't have a story, then you don't have a comic. Got it? Okay, then...Step 1 is thumbnailing the page out. There is no "winging it" in comics. You have to figure out your layout and pacing before your pencil touches the Bristol board. I use letter-sized sheets with a comics grid that I print out from my laptop:
Once the entire chapter (or sometimes the entire comic book) is thumbnailed out, then it is time to get out the 11" x 17" Bristol board. Bristol board is a stiffer version of cardstock and can be found in any art store. I prefer using Bristol board that has the image area and panels measurements printed on it in blueline.
The next step is to start inking it. I ink digitally using Adobe Photoshop and a Wacom tablet and stylus. It is very important to make sure that your tablet is calibrated for pressure so your digital ink line isn't what we call a "dead line". A dead line is one that is the same width in the beginning, middle and end. The ink lines need to taper on the ends. It's also important to plan ahead for color and special effects. In this case I waited on drawing the column of light, because that would be drawn in color. I also created a separate layer to draw the floating Spaniard head on. That's because I wanted it to be sort of transparent. You can do this by taking the opacity of that particular layer down. You can also see some of the minor changes and corrections I made in the inking.
Once the inking is done, then you start adding color. In comics you do this by "color flatting". What is color-flatting? Color flatting is adding areas of flat color with no shading or toning. This is done using the pencil tool in Adobe Photoshop and not a brush tool. That is so you can use the paint bucket tool to easily switch out colors if you wish. The color should be on a separate layer underneath the ink layer. That is so the kind of pixelly pencil lines of your color areas are covered by the ink lines. Once the color-flatting is done then you can go in and add shaded areas and highlight (also on a separate layer).
Another important thing to keep in mind and you color a page is color balance. Using color to draw the viewer's eye across the page. You can also see here that the light column is purely color with no outlines. I prefer to depict elements like air, fire or water with pure color and not outlined in black.
Lettering is the next stage. But before you start adding your dialogue and word balloons you need to size it down to actual comic book page size. Most comic book printing companies have templates available for free download at their websites. The typical comic book page is 7.5" x 10". If you fail to size your page down beforehand you run the risk of having your letters be a weird size and possibly too small to read. Once the page is sized down, I open it up in Adobe Illustrator. Pro tip: if your script is done in Microsoft Word you can just copy and paste the text into text boxes. It save re-typing your entire script. Each block of text should be separate so you can move them around a little for best placement. Once that is done, use the ellipse tool to create word balloons around your text. To create a tail, I use the polygon tool to make a triangle and then use the direct select tool to make the tail point to the character's mouth.
And that's about it. Remember that you always want to have editable versions of your pages available for things like color changes and lettering fixes. Once you have completed this process 24 more times, then you have a comic book! Double or triple that and you have a graphic novel!
People, particularly my drawing and comic art students, sometimes ask me about where the idea of Commodore Dinosaur came from. Now, there is a page about the history of the character since his inception back in 1987, but I'm talking about what makes up the story. Even though I cite Doc Savage as a major source of inspiration, for Commodore Dinosaur it has to go even further back to the things that inspired Doc Savage creator Lester Dent. These would be the adventure novels of the 19th Century. It was a popular subgenre of fantasy that featured "lost worlds" or "lost civilizations". There were always the stalwart adventurer, his scientist friend and may be a reporter that would go on a journey to discover someplace out of time, meet a princess or priestess and defeat the evil ruler of the place. Sound familiar? There were a number of them but the one that really stands out to me is this one...
Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, created a terrific lost world called Pellucidar in his book "At The Earth's Core". Though I gotta admit that I first became familiar with it not through the book but a 1976 adaptation.
I remember seeing it on TV one Saturday afternoon. What drew me to it was Peter Cushing. I'd seen him in a bunch of Hammer horror films playing either Baron Frankenstein or Doctor Van Helsing in the Dracula series, but here he was playing an absent-minded scientist. I was also surprised to see him alongside stalwart cowboy actor Doug McClure, who I'd remembered from The Barbary Coast, one of my favorite shows from the mid-seventies. I just never knew those two very different character actor types ever made a movie together. And once Caroline Munro showed up I was hooked.
In the film, McClure plays an American financier and former student, David Innes, of Cushing's Professor Abner Perry. They create a large drilling ship called "the Mole" and plan on demonstrating it to the public by boring through a mountain. They ship goes too fast and spirals out of control taking them deeper into the earth than man has ever ventured.
Once at the Earth's core they are promptly captured by these civilized apelike creatures who work for telepathic flying reptiles(!) who rule over the warring human tribes of Pellucidar.
David manages to escape and meet members of other tribes. After returning to rescue Abner (who discovers that the city of the reptiles is built over a dangerous lava flow) the duo unites the various tribes against the inhuman rulers.
An attack is mounted as a diversion so that some of the group can sneak into the main palace and disrupt the lava flow destroying the city. Of course, nothing goes quite as planned (Caroline Munro's Princess Dia is captured and needs to be rescued among other things) but in the end the plan works. The evil reptiles are destroyed and the human slaves are freed to rule themselves.
Now, I'll admit the the film can be as corny as Kansas with guys in rubber dinosaur suits fighting each other and stuff but it's super fun. I just dig it. And it helped draw me to Edgar Rice Burroughs work beyond only the Tarzan stuff. The formula used in this story obviously parallels the origin story of Commodore Dinosaur. There is a lost city, a warrior princess, evil rulers and so on. The main difference is that instead of battling dinosaurs, a main character becomes a dinosaur.
I once had a comic art professor at Academy of Art University tell me that nothing is truly original, but that the trick was going to the source of works that you like and seeing what inspired them. Doing that can make your idea veer off in very unique tangents that eventually become very original. I thinks that is very true. If you like Star Wars, then check out Frank Herbert's Dune. If you like H.P. Lovecraft stories, then check out Algernon Blackwood.
There's nothing wrong with expanding your horizons.
A Commodore Dinosaur Update:
Wow, I didn't realize 2 months had passed since I'd posted anything. For what it's worth Commodore Dinosaur has been approved as the subject matter for my final thesis. Believe it or not, as a person pursuing a Master's Degree in Comic Book and Graphic Novel Illustration my thesis is going to be a comic book! Is that cool or what? Well, it sure beats doing a big research project or writing some massive tome. Anyway, because of this there may be some revisions of the pages already posted.
I've also began working on the outline and writing of what will become the 2nd issue. It's a matter of what happens after Commodore Dinosaur and his friends after their escape from the lost city. He's going to have a team. This has been the plan from the get-go. A group of friends who are experts in various fields that the Commodore will collect in different upcoming adventures. They are loosely based on Roosevelt's Rough Rider which consisted of very different types of people...Native Americans, Cowboys, Harvard students and so on. A doodle in my sketchbook of a group like this quickly coalesced into actual characters with names and backgrounds. More on that to come...
sAs you may have noticed, there have been a few changes to this website as well. This reflects the advice of my advisors. They suggested that paintings and comics don't really mix and I can see their point. I'm more comfortable using a more comic like and graphic style of art for Commodore Dinosaur, anyway, and am happy to comply. With my current classes I'm a little sick of oil painting at the moment...Here's some examples of the weekly oil paintings I'm having to do this semester:
These are both 16" x 20" on canvas. Not terribly huge, but that's the size we are supposed to stick with. That makes it a little harder to put in detail and I've resorted to using a tiny brush for features on smaller figures. Some people can work in a "painterly" style, but not me. I think that because I'm an illustrator and not an artist. I had professor tell me that years ago, meaning it as an insult, but I wear the title proudly.
So much for my blogging skills...As soon as I decide to start a blog I end up getting busy and staying that way until the run-up to the beginning of the semester. Right now I'm teaching three sections of Drawing 1 Art 105 at Mid-Michigan Community College as well as taking graduate courses at the Academy of Art University. I'm still working on Commodore Dinosaur (laying out and penciling pages 17-24 of the origin story The Quest of Quetzalcoatl) and am using the work I have accomplished so far to create a proposal for continuing it as part of my graduate thesis (yeah, the degree is a MFA in graphic novel illustration). I just hope they go for it. Commodore Dinosaur isn't really like the current comics out there and that is intentional. What I'm trying to craft here is a comic book that is timeless. That feels like it could have come out in the 1940's as easily as today. That probably has a lot to do with my artistic influences. I grew up reading comics that came right of the spinner rack at the local drug store. Archie and Jughead, Marvel's Classic Comics and then later Batman, Captain America, and the Fantastic Four. Typical thing for growing up in the 70's and 80's.
Then in 1983 two things happened. The first was that I met an actual comic book artist when Mike Gustovitch gave a talk at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association Conference.
He gave a talk that lasted an hour and then sat down with a couple of us that had more questions. He was really great guy and super-generous with his time. We blew off the awards ceremony but just sitting around talking comics. I got to see that comic artists were just normal fan-boys like me, but ones that pursued the dream. Ones that decided that comics were something that they could actually do.
It was a long time ago and I'm sure Mike probably doesn't remember it... but, boy, it sure meant a lot to me. That's why I never decline an opportunity to talk to kids about comic book creation. Just this past summer I gave a talk to kids at the Coleman Public Library...
I expected about a half dozen teenagers more interested in their phones than me. What I got was around 30 kids under 10! I asked them what kind of a character they would create and then they would shout out answers. I'd start drawing the character and they would shout out suggestions as I went. We created 3 of them in the time allowed. We created a Space Princess (in a metal skirt) a Dragon Ninja and a Mermaid that liked to read alone in her room.
But I digress...back to 1983. The second big thing that year was getting a copy of Kitchen Sink's Spirit Color Album...
This was a major coup. Remember that this was before the days of Amazon and even before comic book store even existed (at least in rural Michigan where I was living at the time). I had to order it through a mail order catalogue...Bud Plant, I think. Anyway, the stories and art totally blew my mind. I had never seen such creative layouts that not only told the story, but did it with more resonance...and that all of this had been done back in the 1940's. After that I was hooked on any Will Eisner stuff I could find. And that hasn't changed. On the top shelf of my desk as I write this are 25 hardcover volumes of "The Spirit Archives" collecting Eisner's massive oeuvre. People who know comics, including my AAU professor's like Daniel Cooney and Carl Potts, still tell me that I have a "classic" style. I suppose that's just a polite way of saying "old fashioned" but that's okay. I began this Commodore Dinosaur reboot because I knew I could do a better version than I did for Cat's Paw Comics 24 years ago. But it had to be for me. It had to be the kind of comic book that I would read. I'm not creating this comic for money, but just because I like creating comics.
People keep telling me that I need to start a blog...yeah, whatever. Most of the blogs I've seen are by a bunch of navel-gazers that can't see beyond their own massive egos. With that in mind this particular blog will pretty much pertain to the creation process related to Commodore Dinosaur and maybe comic art in general.
Now, to the matter at hand...
When I first began this project I was still using the old model for self-publishing. Basically you write and draw your project with the intention of eventually sending off to a printer so you can get X-amount of copies that you then have listed and distributed. Under this way of doing thing color interiors was always something of a non-starter since the cost was so prohibitive. But now with the explosion of digital comic distribution services such as Comixology that extra overhead is essentially gone. Even though it was conceived as a black and white comic, I was curious to see what Commodore Dinosaur #1 would look like in color. So before starting on the third chapter I colored the first page with basic flats. The general consensus among my friends is that it has to be color at least for the digital distribution. As much as I love old-school comic strips that were typically done in black and white with Ben-Day tone for grays, I think that the color version has a clarity that is lacking in the B&W version. Since this is a project that is essentially a one-man show (I wrote, penciled, inked and lettered everything you've seen so far at this site) it means that the completion date will get pushed back a bit further.
So what do you think?