Art and Letters

So many colleagues from the Austin children’s and YA writing community spoke on panels and signed their new books at the 2009 Texas Book Festival this past weekend.  I always enjoy this 2.5 day party on the state capitol grounds.  But I could not go this time because I was on an illustration deadline.

So Saturday afternoon while looking for music on You Tube to ink my drawings by,  I stumbled upon “Foreign Letters” by Israeli singer, composer-arranger Chava Alberstein.  Here’s her performance at a Berlin concert with the Klezmatics.  (You have to click on the “Watch on You Tube”  link.  It’s  worth it.  She’s a spellbinder.)

“Oh, how beautiful. I love foreign letters,” she sings. “They are like drawings. They are like secret signs from magic places, from different worlds.”

Alberstein’s music is typically ravishing.  For her though, it’s about words and language.  She says so herself in songs and interviews.

Chava’s song and the book festival happening downtown got me thinking about the graphic statement of the written word —  of how text =  images and the  alphabets of the world derive from pictures.

On Monday I was reading  a new blogpost by comics creator and teacher Scott McCloud discussing the presentation of text in graphic novels. McCloud linked to an interview with Todd Klein, the graphic artist who did the lettering for Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series, which required Klein to invent a different font for each character! You can read the interview here.

I thought of children’s author Charles Ghigna, aka Father Goose who posts a new poem on his blog each week full of word pictures for “teachers, librarians, parents friends …and kids.

I found myself reaching for Liz Garton Scanlon‘s resonant new picture book All the World with illustrations by Marla Frazee that happened to be lying by my computer.  Publishers Weekly has just named it to its list of  Best Children’s Books of 2009.

9781416985808

"All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

Yes — it was as I remembered!
Her poem text was rendered in
pencil.

Or else set in one very
cleverly executed font.

I contacted Liz to find out which.
She’s one of the leading lights in our Austin SCBWI chapter.

Did Marla Frazee hand letter the text?
I asked her.

“Yep,” she replied.

One more celebration of letters on the page!

“…Letters that are the beginning of everything good and bad in this world. With letters you can create anything you want. You can create disasters.  And you can create hopes and dreams — good dreams.” — Chava Alberstein

Two other authors from the  Austin SCBWI gang have books on PW‘s list of best children’s books of the year.  The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illus. by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge) and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly (Holt.)

This just in: The New York Times releases its “Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2009” list tomorrow (Saturday, November 7. ) Yes, you’ve already guessed it:  All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon with illustrations by Marla Frazee  made the list (and it’s a pretty short list.)

Have your portfolio reviewed by Caldecott Honor illustrator Marla Frazee or the wonderfully talented Patrice Barton at the Austin SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference Destination Publication on Saturday Saturday, January 30, 2010. Find the full lowdown and registration form here

And have it reviewed a month later by Patrick Collins, Creative Director of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers  at the Houston SCBWI  conference Saturday, February 20, 2010. Download information and a registration form  here.

Mark Mitchell, who wrote this post,  teaches children’s book illustration at the Art School at the Austin Museum of Art and online. You can learn about his online course here and receive some free drawing videos and a lesson.

example of Glagolitic alphabet

The Glagolitic Alphabet in action: Codex Zographensis from Medieval Bulgaria

A 24 Hour Comics Day album

On October 3, illustrators and comic book creators in cities around the world hunkered down  to produce original content.

It was Twenty Four Hour Comics Day — an annual happening launched last century by cartoonist and teacher Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics. (You can read the rules at that link.) Bawls, a company that produces caffeinated energy drinks  sponsored this year’s event.

Erik's laptop with a panel from his new comic --work in progress.

Erik's laptop with a panel from his new comic --work in progress.

In Austin the comic artists conclaved at a store,  Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy, where lots of tables had been set up for them.  There were all kinds of things going on in the store that rainy night — people were putting models together, browsing the shelves, visiting their friends.

I wasn’t a participant. Only  a curious bystander with a camera. Plus a pal–   cartoonist and writer Erik Kuntz, part of our enchanted SCBWI tribe —was doing  the marathon again this year. Erik is the author-artist of  Hex Libris, a witty,  kid-friendly webcomic with wonderful characters.

(L. to R) Bonn Adame, Erik Kuntz, Justin Rogers and Jeremy Guyton create at their table during 24 Hour Comics Day in Austin, Texas.

(L. to R.) Bonn Adame, Erik Kuntz, Justin Rogers and Jeremy Guyton create at their table during 24 Hour Comics Day in Austin, Texas recently.

I don’t do comics much anymore but they were important to me growing up.  I read them and drew them.

I acquired my own formidable classical education by reading Classics Illustrated Comic Books. Better than CliffsNotes.

A panel of sketches for "Action Packed Gorillas", a new web comic being developed by Erik Kuntz.  The dialogue balloons always come first. (Note: The character featured here is a chimp, not a gorilla.)

A panel of sketches for "Action Packed Gorillas", a new web comic being developed by Erik Kuntz. The dialogue balloons always come first. (Note: The character featured here is a chimp, not a gorilla.)

Comics are not exactly children’s book illustration.  An d yet…

Another SCBWI and Inklings Group pal,   illustrator Martin Thomas is a professional colorist of comics.

Mary Sullivan,  supremely talented illustrator for Highlights and other magazines and books and part of our Austin clan — has illustrated a beautiful and funny children’s comic book and she draws in comic panels for her own amusement.

Austin SCBWI  illustration chair Christy Stallop does great black and white  comic strip panel style illustrations

Kads and Matt. Matt has the webcomic http://ayellowworld.com

Kads and Matt. Matt has the webcomic http://ayellowworld.com

Kads and Matt (above) working on separate comics. By the way, Matt’s blog has a good recap of his experience of the 24 Hour Comics Day here.

My stepson Glenn remains  a connoisseur- collector of graphic novels.  School librarians are making more space for graphic novels on their shelves.  Scholastic Books is whipping up  its own graphic novel brand.

For years the “comic book look” has  been finding its way into wildly popular  “chapter books ” for upper elementary and middle grades.  Dav Pilkey is one example.  The Zack Proton series by Austin author Brian Anderson (of our SCBWI Mafia family) with illustrator Doug Holgate is another.

The Toon Books are comics for toddlers and children just begining to learn to read.

Disney bought Marvel.

Artist-writer Meghan Regis and her technical consultant Jeremy Zunker (an engineering student.) Meghan is the creator of "Yours Truly" a comic published in "The Paisano", the weekly newspaper of the University of Texas at San Antonio. The reason why she needs a technical consultant is that her main character is a young woman on the moon.

Artist-writer Meghan Regis and technical consultant Jeremy Zunker (an engineering student.) Meghan is the creator of the comic series "Yours Truly" published in "The Paisano", the weekly newspaper of the University of Texas at San Antonio. The main main character in the strip is a young woman who lives on the moon. So seriously, that's why Meghan needs a technical consultant around her when she's working. "Because there are a lot of technical terms that are used in the dialogue," Zunker explained.So

And Yes. Women do participate in 24 Hour Comics Day.  In addition to Meghan (above and below) there was Kad (who will let us know when she has her website up) and Melanie Moore working on her strip “Sacred Junk” with Amy Middleton (not shown.)

Meghan Regis with her panels.

Meghan Regis with her panels.

The teamwork of Jason Poland and Austin Havican ( below) can be seen here and here.

Colored comic panels (watercolor washes) on the comic strip "The Ortolan" created by a collaborative team,  Jason Poland, and Austin Havican, whose hands you see here. They described their work as deceptively simple child-like and simply but "definitely not child-friendly." See more of their work at www.robbieandbobby.com. S

Colored comic panels (watercolor washes) on the comic strip "The Ortolan" created by a collaborative team, Jason Poland, and Austin Havican, whose hands you see here. They described their work as deceptively simple child-like and simply but "definitely not child-friendly." See more of their work at http://www.robbieandbobby.com. S

Erik Kuntz laughs at one of his digital cartoons as he draws on a Wacom tablet, while Justin Rogers works with traditional comic artist materials -- paper, pencil, eraser, pen, triangle, T-square, etc.

Erik Kuntz laughs at one of his own digital cartoons as he draws on a Wacom tablet while Justin Rogers works with traditional comic artist materials -- paper, pencil, eraser, pen, triangle, T-square, etc. (In the background with beard is comics writer Tony Franklin. )

As you see, there were fun moments and lots of hard work– or should I say heart work? They go together  — accomplished by a lot of people  in that comic book store.

Erik is suggesting that we get together next year for something a little less intense than a They Shoot Horses Don’t They? draw-a-thon.

He’s calling it the “geriatric version of 24 Hour Comics Day.” I can’t say that I’m in favor of the name.  It sounds, you know, a little ageist — and hits a little close.  But the idea intrigues. Instead of laboring over pages of comic panels, we could be blitzing through picture book thumbnails and storyboards, or maybe even a dummy.

A children’s book illustrators lockdown. Check back with us in September next year to read our rules.

Seraphine

I should mention that I saw the movie Seraphine recently, about an early 20th century painter most of us have never heard of —  Seraphine Louis or Seraphine de Senlis.

Click on the image here to see the larger more detailed view on YouTube.

Seraphine offers an unblinking look at the  art vs. reality dilemma that confronts every artist sooner or later.

“Seraphine” tells us of a cleaning woman who painted “primitive” florals at night,  with paints she  ground herself from materials gathered on her woodland treks.   It’s also about the kindly German art collector who discovered her.  Billed as a fictionalized portrait, it’s still an honest movie —  as unsensational as it is beautiful.  I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve seen it.  Leave  a comment.

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Mark Mitchell hosts the “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog.

Connecting Points

A big welcome to talented  illustrators Susan Sorrell HillTina Yao , Diandra Mae and Vanessa Van Cleve Roeder who have joined our blog roll!
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We are also delighted to welcome fine artist, illustrator, plein-air painter, teacher, writer and innovating creator of art instruction materials Cathy Johnson to the our links. You might recognize her work or “voice”  fromThe Artists Magazine”, where she’s been a contributing editor for years.

Here is her website where you can sign up for her  free newsletter and e-mail art tips! I’ve been enjoying them for a long time. Here is her blog.

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West Texas children’s artist writer Michelle Munger has started a Ning groupManic — The Author/Illustrator Network: For the Author/Illustrator  that does it all.

You don’t have to be West Texan or  manic to be a member — just a double-threat creator of children’s books, published or not.  Click here to join. I’ll see you there.

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Read about the just announced  National Book Award finalists here.

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Si
gn up for Mark’s free best drawing secret videos and lesson here.
He’s giving away the “secrets”  to promote his course on illustrating children’s books.
Get them while they’re hot and available for nuthin’.
Here.

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Austin SCBWI  illustration chair

A new milieu for an old art form: Erik Kuntz and a spellbinding (kid-friendly) “Hex Libris”

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Who is the creature lurking in the library in Erik’s Webcomic? I think I know, and I’ve entered Erik’s contest, but I can’t share my guess with anyone. But I will say this much — it’s a character from a book we know. After all, the strip is Hex Libris, in which Kirby, the main character is charged with taking care of a ginormous enchanted library. 

Ever read a novel that just comes to life before your eyes? Well, Hex Libris seizes that theme and runs down the field in an unexpected direction with it. The webcomic by designer- writer Erik Kuntz of Austin, Texas began as a New Year’s resolution. So did his illustration blog A Dog a Day Project  that features Erik’s unstop able canine imagery — with doggy bites of daily commentary.  But that’s a subject for a future post. 

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Erik was thinking of the classic Nancy Drew stories of the 1950’s, mulling  how they compared to and contrasted with the Nancy Drew graphic novels being created for today’s teens.

“I wondered, ‘What if there was a place where characters could wander out of their books?’ ” Erik says. “‘And what would happen if the real Nancy Drew ran into the punky Manga style Nancy Drew?'”

Our hero Kirby meets them both as a result of his new archival responsibilities. And so it is inevitable that the trio and who knows who else (stay tuned…) join forces to solve a mystery or two.

Kirby’s story unfolds in  semi-weekly panels that move us cleanly, easily — even sweetly —  through space and time.  We care about Kirby and Amy (a girl who likes him) and teen girl detective Connie Carter ( the “original” Nancy Drew) and even the little old lady (or is she a witch?) who leases Kirby the uptown apartment that, somehow, magically contains a Library of Congress-like basilica within its tiny walls.

Erik hatched the idea at last year’s Summer Arts Workshop at California State University. He studied comics and animation in the summer program.  He knows and adores comics.  He’s studied under Scott McCloudthe author of Understanding Comics, Re-inventing Comics and other titles all about the ‘language’ of an art form that goes back to well, let’s just say paintings on cave walls. 

One of the teachers at the summer workshop, comic book writer-illustrator Trina Robbins encouraged Kuntz to see it through  — his Hex Libris storyline.

“I’ve done so much study over the last few years as to what makes a comic a comic as opposed to an illustrated story,” Erik says. “It’s a constant struggle between what needs to be put in the picture and what needs to be said ‘out loud’ in words.”  For inspiration, he looks to the late “father of MangaOsamu Tezuka and the late  E.C. Segar, the creator of Popeye and Thimble Theatre.

Kimba the White Lion  was my favorite show as a kid,” Kuntz says. “It was cartoony without being overly simple.”

“I like the older style of newspaper comics, where the adventure strips had a more realistic look.”
As much as he enjoys comic books,  Erik says, “it’s the comic pages in the Sunday paper that I most enjoy and try to emulate here — their sequential nature and the art style and sense of humor — especially from the 1940s to the 1950s, where they could work bigger and there was more possibility.” 

Alas, the gorgeous graphics of Prince Valiant (Gary Gianni carries on with the storybook imagery first created by Hal Foster in 1937) and For Better or for Worse  (Lynn Johnston) have been scrunched to near-insignificance as newspapers continue to shrink their content. 

Newspapers themselves seem to be folding (no pun intended) as a mainstream media and the ultimate cartoon delivery vehicle. But perhaps the World Wide Web can do for the old newspaper “funny pages” what Manga has done for comic book and graphic novel publishing.

“I think every artist who does children’s or cartoony stuff would do well to look at the web as an opportunity.” Kuntz says. “There is a huge number of people publishing strips. Often the content is poor. You won’t ‘get’ it if you weren’t out drinking with the cartoonist and his friends the night before. Other webstrips cater to extremely specific readers, such as Penny-Arcade.com.  “If you don’t know anything about video games, you’ll be mystified by the strip,” he says. 

“There is a stunning amount of good work out there. There are quite a few brilliant child-friendly comics.  More kids are reading comics on the Web. Half of them are newspaper strips in syndication — the traditional old newspaper strips like Calvin and Hobbes, which is being run again and again on the Web. That’s where kids go now to read Calvin and Hobbes.  My browser opens all the comics I want to read each day in tabs. I don’t read them in the newspaper any more.

“I decided some while back that the Web would be an ideal way for me to do an old fashioned serial strip.  It’s an inexpensive way to put work out there and a much easier way to get in front of somebody. With the Web and the 2.0 social networking, everyone’s sharing things, pointing their discoveries out to each other.  It’s a new milleu. It’s an old art form, but a different way of delivering it.

Some cartoonists endeavor to make an income from their sites. “The business model is web advertising, or accepting donations or sale of merchandize, such as T-shirts, mugs or print versions of their work. Others are willing to do it for free,  for the artistic expression or to have an online portfolio or as just another way of posting,” Erik says. “It’s an interesting way to get people to your site. ”

 February panel of \

 He begins by writing a synopsis of what’s going to happen in the chapter, without the dialogue.

“With a serial strip, just like in the Sunday funny papers, you kind of need to have a stop every day. You want each page of the comic to be a beat  Each one has to be a sort of mini cliff hanger. And each chapter must have its own arc. That’s the other thing I work with to get right.”

Then he sketches in the panel and the individual frames. Once upon a time it was pencil on paper. “But now I’m working directly on the computer, starting with rough sketches in Corel Painter using my Wacom Cintiq tablet monitor,” he says. “To be more precise,  I use Painter’s Mechanical Pencil brush set to a light blue color.”

“They look a lot like my traditional sketches look, since I use a col-erase blue to do my roughs on paper,” he says.  “I’m most of the way done with this roughing, I have some poses to adjust, some faces to finish and I’ve got to fix the perspective on the backgrounds, which are currently just scribbled in.  Oh, and I need a background in the final panel. Painter has a perspective grid,  which is useful for simple 2-point perspective, so I’ll be using that to get the kitchen sorted properly.”

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Erik’s ‘pencil rough’ for the March 13 panel of “Hex Libris”, except he’s done it digitally, using the “mechanical pencil” brush  (set to blue) in Corel Painter.  

“I stay with Painter through the inking process. Then I bring the whole thing into Illustrator to do the lettering. Once in a while when I’m out and about with my sketchbook, I capture a pose I want to use and scan that in and mix it in with my computer sketches.

“When I ink, I use a variety of Painter’s Ink Pen brushes — mostly the Smooth Round Pen one. For the next one, I’m going to experiment with the tools that more closely imitate traditional comics inking brushes. It’ll be looser and I am not certain whether I’ll like it. I’ll know in a day or two when I get to the inking.”

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Erik incorporates a slight shading  – a barely perceptible yellow layer — behind his “inked” panels.  The off-white tinge “warms up” the strip and maybe subconsciously evokes the nostalgia of newsprint, Erik believes. “That kind of pulls it together for me,” he says.

He imbeds his URL on the bottom left and his copyright information on the bottom right. 

Erik and his wife, writer-actress-comedian Maggie Gallant own 2 Bad Mice Design in Austin, Texas. He teaches classes (for children and adults) in animation, digital art and digital cartooning at the Austin Museum of Art Art School.  The “Hex Libris” webcomic can be found at http://hexlibriscomic.com/

Mark Mitchell writes for How to be a Children’s Book Illustrator and The Admiral’s Blog    An award-winning author illustrator, he also teaches classes (for adults) in children’s book illustration at the Austin Museum of Art Art School.