Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dreams Part 2

ONE REASON I POSTPONED writing The Subterranean was I wasn't sure it would work in scratchboard. Michel de Montaigne suggested the path to success was to create within a genre but in a new way. It occurred to me that I'd never seen a superhero comic done in scratchboard and it might be something new I could bring to the medium. I soon found there are good reasons artists have avoided scratchboard–it lends a fantastic mood but it's a lot of work!

In the second page of Cypher featuring The Subterranean he ruminates on his anger management issues. His personality hasn't changed much in the new version. He might be even angrier. Click twice on the image below to get a super close-up view (to read the text in the balloons):

Book of Dreams

THE SUBTERRANEAN APPEARED in Cypher in the last story entitled SubWayward. It is the most personal in a collection of highly personal, surreal stories. The protagonist is given a book (entitledDreams) and as he thumbs through the book he finds it's a comic book about a superhero called The Subterranean. The theme of the story is about how subconscious thoughts percolate up through our consciousness. A friend told me it was a cool idea and that I should illustrate an entire comic of The Subterranean.

At the time I was concerned about finishing the sequel to Cypher and I dismissed the Subterranean project. Cypher is a more cartoon version of reality and I wasn't thinking of The Subterranean as a realistic super hero. When I started doing the sequel to Cypher eight months ago The Subterranean completely took over and soon evolved into a realistic comic book in a scratchboard style.

Poe Story

IF YOU ARE AN EDGAR ALLAN POE FAN you may be interested in the new anthology from Graphic Classics. I did a 14 page story entitled Man of the Crowd. Perhaps not the best known story but it is an example of Poe's manic style. As always it was a real pleasure working with Graphic Classics on a comics project of this stature. Perhaps most important for me is that it was another color assignment. Another step forward in creating The Subterranean.

Using Maquettes

MAQUETTES ARE MODELS artists use in order to more fully realize a character. Maquettes are especially useful when the character reappears in an on-going series. I had known about maquettes for years. But it wasn't until I read the book Imaginative Realism that I fully understood their purpose. The comic illustrated below was the first project where I used maquettes.

In the story The Bureau d'Echange de Maux (see link below) there are basically two characters. I needed to keep these characters on-model, that is, looking like themselves no matter what the lighting or angle. The story would not work if any ambiguity was introduced. Plus I wanted to maintain a higher level of reality than in my previous comics. To keep things simple I used plasticine clay and modeled the two main characters in busts about the size of my fist.

The story was quite short but the two characters appeared in nearly every scene and to keep the narrative from getting visually boring I needed to show them in a variety of poses. The maquettes allowed me show that variety and keep my characters on-model. The technique was so effective I adopted it in The Subterranean making maquettes of all the characters in white sculpey. Since The Subterranean takes place in an even more realistic world, using maquettes has been an invaluable aid in maintaining the realism desired and keeping a complex cast of characters on-model.

Oz Story

THE FIRST BOOK I remember being read to me was Tik Tik of Oz. I loved looking at the strange creatures metaphorically brought to life by illustrator John R. Neill. More than any other artist he is responsible for my career as an illustrator. Not all the influence was useful. It was years before I abandoned trying to imitate his elegant style and embraced the rough-hewn look of scratchboard, a style truer to my own personality.

In the Cypher story SubWayward many allusions to The Wizard of Ozare apparent. There are even clock-work creatures similar to Tik Tok. For many reasons SubWayward was the most personally meaningful of all the psychologically charged Cypher stories. It was also the story in which The Subterranean appears for the first time.

With such a background, when the editor of Graphic Classics asked if I would do an L. Frank Baum story, I couldn't say no. The resulting comic, a somewhat obscure story called The Glass Dog, appeared in Graphic Classics Volume 15. Page one is posted below.

H.G. Wells story

I THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE INTERESTING to post a few of the pages from stories I've done for Graphic Classics over the years. Without these assignments I doubt I would have evolved the style needed for The Subterranean. This particular story, a five-page story called The Star by H.G. Wells, is done in a style similar to the scratchboard used in Cypher.

The editor of Graphics Classics, Tom Pomplun, suggested doing the entire story using pantomime scenes. I was initially unsure if this method would adequately tell the story. As I worked with the concept I discovered that using few words would actually work quite well. A few panels have words in the illustration like the newsman who is selling the paper with the headline explaining the main concept of the panel.

I decided to add a few words spoken by the aliens in the last panel to give a bit of texture and slow the ending down a bit, like a slow fade to black. Overall I thought the story worked fairly well and was pleased to illustrate such a venerable author.


GETTING THE COVER RIGHT IS CRITICAL FOR A BOOK. One common error for comic books is to have a cover that doesn't harmonize with the emotional quality of the inside pages. The original cover for Cypher was done in a 3D program and reflected my enthusiasm for the new medium rather than what the book really needed. I did a new cover for the Kindle version (currently unavailable) which has more graphic flair and is more in keeping with the content of the book. It also was designed so it would read well as a thumbnail, an increasingly important function.

I have seen novels with covers that look like comics which is an equally grave error. The primary function of a book cover is to telegraph quickly what the reader can expect inside. Throw the reader a curve and you probably lost a reader. I won't include a large version of the original cover but you can click on the small Amazon link to see the original:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Page 33

Hyper labs is a story that sets the scene for the next story. It is based on a composite of a romanticized version of my father's laboratory  (that I frequently visited as a child) and the bizarre and dilapidated headquarters of the magazine National Review that I once visited as a young illustrator.

My notions of what a laboratory should be was derived mostly from reading Tom Swift novels as a youth. I was always enamored with the possibility of outrageous creativity of scientific labs.

Page 34

My point here was to sketch the various fields of endeavor while casting the scientists as blasé observers of their amazing scientific virtuosity.

Page 35

The experiment demonstrating brain transference was one of the clichés of the science fiction of my era. I'm striving for irony here, hoping to demonstrate that landing a job at this lab might not be such a great opportunity.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Page 36

The idea that the brain was split into two halves was first introduced to me in the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It was a popular idea in the 1990s, spawning a veritable cottage industry of books elaborating how one could exploit the full capacity of one's brain. In retrospect it all seemed a bit naïve although a clearer view of the brain's duality still suggests that certain functions are compartmentalized in the two hemispheres.

So while the story partakes of some of the mythology of the era I think it actually holds up rather nicely as a meditation on duality.

Page 37

Page 38

More scene setting with distant and seemingly indifferent scientists.

Page 39

The story Hemispheres is not only about intuition and rationality, but also other archetypal opposites. I like symbols that contain such oppositions. There are two on the screens of the computers, one, a circle with a dot in the middle which Carl Young claimed was a universal symbol for femininity. But in this case represents the element helium, or He, in obvious masculine implications. The other symbol, a symbol for power, is a spiral, a feminine symbol, with the arrow representing the masculine.

 Once again Cypher is stepping into water a symbol of subconsciousness and a foreshadowing of future illumination.

Page 40

Invariably a job that initially seems like a dream turns into a nightmare. The fog bank through which Cypher descends represents the penetration into the subconscious which is represented by the watery globe. The desk chair represents the state of inquisitiveness, like being in school.

Page 41

One of the most important questions people can ask themselves is what is the purpose of life? I have Cypher ask that question here, posing it to the subconscious mind. An answer is given by whom? The subconscious? The hand of God? I leave identity ambiguous as expressed by Cypher's perplexed expressions.

Page 42

 The downdraft forces Cypher further into the subconscious. Apparently I like repetition of motifs because we see another allusion to the hemispheres of the brain in the part of Cypher's hair. Underscoring the possibility that the previous hand launching the paper airplane might be some omnipotent, all-knowing being, we see here an allusion to Moses crossing the Red Sea.

Page 43

The one of the artists that was very influential in my youth was MC Escher. His style is often characterized as being highly cerebral if not mathematical. I use him here as a symbol of the rational. Knowing that few would recognize him I restated the symbolism with the chess board, a tessellation, an art form Escher took to new heights. Chess itself as a symbol of rationality as well as being an homage to the movie The Seventh Seal.

Page 44

It is often difficult to make a decent segue between two critical scenes. In this case I made the transition quickly and radically and added a bit of humor as well.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


THE STORY MINOTAUR opens with a splash page comprised of two linocuts I made several years previous. I combined them digitally to create this image that combines both the sculpture of the Minotaur that appears in the story and the upcoming correspondence symbolized by a stamp.


I START THE STORY with a prologue. This suggests an upcoming epilogue. These two bookends help define the action that takes place in between. In the opening scene Cypher is working on a TV and the characters confess their undying love. This is a clue to the theme of the upcoming adventure.

The women in the story, a rather ordinary, mundane looking woman, asks Cypher to care for a delicate plant, a symbol of the delicacy of friendship.


ON THE PREVIOUS PAGE the woman displays her intelligence and insight diagnosing the problem with the television set. Here she continues by helping Cypher discover the location of the Minotaur statues that appear in the mysterious postcards he's been getting.


HERE THEY READ about the Minotaur sculpture. If you look carefully you can read the entry to the left of the Minotaur photograph. This scene, a vaguely Belgian or French location, is a subtle tribute to the Tintin stories I enjoyed as a youth.

The quote in the encyclopedia entry "out of the fires of desire and despair are forged all the irreconcilable opposites of paradox" is a quote that appeared in the Cypher story Fear of Dreaming where the characters wandered through a sculpture garden.


CYPHER REFUSES to give much heed to the woman upstairs. He is more concerned with his mysterious postcards from a distant admirer. The stamp on the scene is from the same linocut from which I extracted the Minotaur head. It is intended to suggest the state of helplessness.

I've used a very simple code in this postcard. The encrypted message can be decoded by simply reading the words written in capital letters. It's a rudimentary convention but some have said they missed this important clue to the story.


THE CODE CONTINUES as Cypher begins to fantasize about who could possibly sent these intriguing postcards.


THIS MESSAGE uses the convention of R for right, L for left, and S for straight. The previous postcard mentions the starting point which effectively makes this postcard a map to the captive writer.


CYPHER FINALLY GETS IT and begins his journey. Further emphasizing the theme of the relationship between men and women we see a variation of Atlas shouldering the world. If men carry the world on their shoulders, women carry the world in their bellies. This sculpture is a reference to the sculpture at Rockefeller Center in New York City.


I GAVE CYPHER a trenchcoat as an homage to Herge's Belgian reporter Tintin.


CYPHER FOLLOWS the directions and arrives at the manhole mentioned in the postcard.


CYPHER COMES FACE-TO-FACE with the symbolic representation of dysfunctional masculinity, the Minotaur. Now he goes underground which represents the upcoming exploration of his subconscious mind. He has the presence of mind to mark his path with an X. The fact that he does so beneath a skull (creating a death's head symbol) suggests that things probably aren't going to go as well as he hopes.


I AM TAPPING INTO DEEP, PRIMEVAL IMAGERY. The water and the subterranean nature of the scene indicate we are exploring the subconscious mind. It is also a representation of a vague memory that surfaced from Wind in the Willows.


THE SHADY FATHER FIGURE  and the criminal nature of his comportment indicates that this scene is a manifestation the dark side, or shadow, of the subconscious.
This is a straight forward pantomimes seen. No hidden messages here except for the heroics Cypher engages in on behalf of person he does not know.

I typically love pantomimes seems. They advance the story cinematically and unambiguously.


THE IMAGE IN THE CALENDAR was a linocut that I digitally scanned and placed into the scratchboard illustration. The postcard images were also scanned from a woodcut.

 No subliminal images here. But look! Woman was using a typewriter!


CYPHER LEARNS THE BAD NEWS that the woman never knew him and his appearance is purely coincidental. He also learns that his preparation of marking his trail is nothing more than a red herring for those who will be pursuing them shortly.

 It is on this page that Cypher begins to realize that what he is about to experience will not be what it appears.



CYPHER LEARNS THE NAUSEATING truths as personified by the retching gargoyle. The woman takes control and Cypher can only follow.

The woman tells her odd history, vaguely reminiscent of Moses and the Penguin.


THE WOMAN CONTINUES HER TALE as the gang arrives in by an obsessive compulsive megalomaniac.


CYPHER BEGINS TO SUSPECT that things are not going to go well. The bosses dominance and infantilization of the woman is a facet of the Minotaur archetype (or dysfunctional masculinity).

Cypher and the woman tie themselves together. This is emblematic of the often dysfunctional relationship between men and women when they subconsciously embrace a son/mother relationship.

The boss infantilized the woman, a woman infantilizes Cypher, and Cypher has a decidedly queasy feeling about all this.


Throughout the graphic novel the spiral is the symbol of transformation as well as return to the beginning. Water is also a symbol of the subconscious mind, so Cypher goes even deeper into the subconscious.