Monday, April 30, 2007

Big Time Attic: The Comic

MicroCon 2007

Gorgeous spring weather didn't stop thousands of comics fans from descending on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on Sunday. MNCBA hosted its annual springtime MicroCon (the little sister of the two day FallCon ... which is in the fall), and as usual it was a cavalcade of local and regional creators, comics and toy vendors, and costumed superheroes walking around, posing for photos.

Zander and I had a choice table right up front. Our hot items for this con were our two new "pink" anthologies. Project: Romantic has been around for awhile, but this Eisner-nominated book was new to most people we talked to (After flipping through the book, Sherwin Schwartzrock called it the greatest anthology he'd ever seen. He did not purchase a copy, however.) Our other pink book was the Muscles and Fights anthology which reprinted this Versus cartoon. We're hoping that Bud Burgy will put together a second volume, titled, perhaps, "Drinks and Finks" (hard-drinking scoundrels) or "Punches and Hunches" (heavy-fisted detectives).

Most of MicroCon Zander and I were chatting it up with folks, but here are some sketches I was able to slip in (click for a larger version).

Thus begins Con Season for the Attic. Look for us at MoCCA in June, San Diego in July, Chicago in August, and back at the State Fairgrounds in the fall.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Influences: Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe

This will seem a bit silly, but one thing I loved as a pre-teen was not necessarily READING the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, but knowing that it existed. I really enjoyed the fact that every little character that showed up in Marvel Comics had an entry that talked about their history, origin, first comic appearance, strength level, hair color, base of operations, other aliases, and whether people know his or her secret identity.

Having that attention to detail in a world that is entirely in people's minds was a fantastic thing to me, and it made it seem, if not real, then at least consistent (which it probably wasn't, entirely). If you're going to escape into another universe, it might as well be a cool, well-populated one, right?

But possibly the best part of the whole thing was the covers of the deluxe edition of the series. Click on the thumbnail below to see the image (Warning-- It is 2.88 MB.)

Note in particular Mr. Fantastic's arm which spreads across something like ten issues, and the fact that the last cover leads right into the first again. Pretty cool for me as a teenager.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Old-Timey Comics: Apt 27

Sadly there's no Chapter 99 comic this week. So as filler, here's a an old comic I did way back in '02.

* Click for Larger Image *

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I Wish Someone Would Invent: An All-Book MPR Station

I am fortunate to live in the great state of Minnesota, which boasts the best public radio system in the country. For you out-of-towners, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) is a three-headed [loveable] beast: 91.1 KNOW is non-stop news and information (except for Saturday night, which is a newsless black hole of Prairie Home Companion and jazz), 99.5 KSJN plays classical music and broadcasts the Met opera every Saturday afternoon, and 89.3 the Current is like listening to your cool friend's iPod.

As a cartoonist, I cannot express how grateful I am to these stations for existing, as they provide a hands-free soundtrack to my life while I work. However, they've spoiled me, and the spoiled child always wants more. When I was in high school, I used to tune in Sunday nights to 91.1 because they'd air book readings and short stories, which I found extraordinarily relaxing. Way back then I began dreaming of another MPR station, one that would play 24 hours of people reading stuff. I know that books on tape exist, but I'd honestly much rather make someone else do the work of picking out and airing the readings. Plus, books on tape are so limited compared to the possibilities of a public radio station dedicated to reading: live poetry slams, authors reading their short stories, old scratchy recordings of Dylan Thomas and T. S. Eliot, ... etc.

I can't imagine that anything like this station would be able to get off the ground, but it's fun to think about. Here's my imaginary line-up for a typical weekday:

And of course, Garrison Keillor would pop in a few times a day to give us an update on authors' birthdays and remind us how important it is to turn the radio off once in a while and actually go to a library or bookstore.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tips and Tricks: Cheating with Perspective

Every art student at one point or another learns to draw in one- or two-point perspective, and depending on how long you study it, it can get pretty overwhelming. Drawing out every line to the horizon and mapping out how far apart evenly spaced things are from one another as they recede-- it's exhausting! And worst of all, the mathematical precision of really doing the perspective right is almost always (particularly if you are imprecise, like I am) runs counter to your intuitions about aesthetically pleasing panel layouts.

Now, certainly there are times in which you have to really do it right. Cityscapes, roads, massive shelves of books, cars, etc., those panels all really need you to take some time and figure it all out. But what we're talking about today is the other 85% of the time-- when all you need is for things to look right enough. That's where the cheating comes in.

Getting perspective right can be a thankless job. If you nail it, no one notices, but get one thing wrong and your whole panel goes kerflooey. What we need to do is make a believable environment without having to get out the yardstick.

One: The Horizon Line is Eye Level

When you're drawing a lot of panels and you want to keep them looking basically structurally sound, one of the best things you can remember is this one simple fact: the horizon line is eye level. If you are looking horizontally, and you will find that most comic panels more or less are, the horizon line is at your eye level, and so it will cross everything at that level. Say you are 5'6". The horizon line will cross everything in the panel at five feet. Is someone much taller than you? Then it crosses them at the chest. A building in the background? About 3/4 the way up the door. A hobbit? Way above their head.

But apart from a few outliers, most people in a crowd scene, for example, will have their heads more or less right on the horizon line. This is helpful from a layout point of view because then all of the people's heads that you need to look at are lined up neatly in a row, anchoring the panel and making it much easier to read.

Two: Don't Worry About the Vanishing Point

Perspective books always talk about the vanishing point, and while that's important if you want your perspective to be bang on perfect, what I find is more useful on a daily basis is just worrying about whether things go basically up or down as they recede into the distance. If they are above the horizon line (eye level, remember), they will go down as they recede. If they are below it, they go up.

When drawing a room interior like this one, in my experience, it can be counterproductive to really extend the lines all the way to the horizon, which would put the vanishing point way off the page. I like to instead just imagine the angles of horizontal lines on the wall as simply getting shallower as they come toward the horizon. The picture on the wall, for example, has its lines going in the same directions as the top and bottom of the wall, just less extreme.

You'll notice I didn't use a ruler for this panel. Some people would be horrified, but I find that it's so much easier to do it like this than by ruling it out. Besides, once you start ruling things, everything that's not ruled starts looking bad, and you have to make every line straight, and every oval perfect, and quite honestly, then you will want to quit and go play video games.

Three: Putting It All Together (And A Trick!)

You will find that anchoring your people and objects to a horizon line will immensely improve your panel layouts. People will look much less like they are floating around, and two people talking will look very engaged in what they are doing, rather than two images just cut and pasted into the same panel. Also, a scene which has a horizontal line of people that are more-or-less the same height going across it can have a similar calming effect to a panel with an actual horizontal line, which is nice if you want a scene to be relaxed, despite having a bunch of people in it.

One trick that is used very often to great effect is drawing heroic characters from a low point of view; that is, putting the horizon line at about their chest level, as if we were only about 80% of their height. Now, when you see one single character like this, with no background or other characters around him, you don't really get the effect, but as soon as you put in some other people, or background, you really get it. That guy's big!

Four: Testing your work.

Much like all things with comics, the best way to test your perspective is, first of all, does it look right to you? Second, does it look right to your friends? Third, does it look right to an art teacher or professional artist? Fourth, does it look right to Gene Ha? If the answer to any of the first three are no, then you should definitely fix it right away. If it's the fourth, well, then you've probably been following this guide to a T.

Five: A Few Other Cheats

Models: A few good plane and car models are nice to have around-- even Matchbox cars are pretty useful, considering how cheap they are. Sometimes it's useful to take a photograph of them from the right point of view and work from that, as it makes it easier to get the perspective right.

Photographs: Can't beat 'em, if you're drawing the same building from the same perspective. Do that too much, or from photographs that you didn't take, however, and people will notice.

Sketchup: Google Sketchup is a fantastic free 3D modeling tool that allows you to create environments relatively easily and then texture them, light them, and rotate them to get just the angle you need. You can also download models people have created of buildings, cars, and anything else you need to get just right. It's cheating at its very best!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Far Arden: Chapter Seven

This chapter's all about deteriorating relationships.... So put on some Bright Eyes, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy the arctic waterworks:

Read Chapter Seven.
Start from the beginning.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Influences: David Mazzucchelli

I've mentioned David Mazzucchelli before, but I can't really state strongly enough how much I admire his work and how much I looked at it (particularly in Batman: Year One) as the absolute epitome of thrilling, dramatic comics.

The most exciting thing to me about his artwork was the fact that there was literally not one more line than was needed to get the point of the panel across. No extra hatching on faces, no extra detail in backgrounds. You could read every panel in seconds, but it nonetheless slowed the eye down to tell the story at the right pace.

This panel is a perfect example. Every detail serves the story. From the open filing cabinet drawer to the file dropped on the ground, and the photo of his wife on the desk, there is no need for the captions to say anything about what is actually happening. The image tells you the whole story, and any words can address what is not in the picture. It's night, and she's requesting a transfer. Beautiful.

Mazzucchelli's willingness to leave out panel borders and let the page breathe is something that I never really caught onto when I was younger, but looking at it now really opens my eyes. This isn't the cheap trick of just blasting out big explosions so that they bleed off the page; all of the elements of the panel are still within where the panel borders would be. It's a matter of making the page a little more open and by dropping out the color of the walls and floor we instinctively focus on the characters and what they are doing rather than where they are.

One of the things that struck me about Batman: Year One was that its world, unlike other Batman comics, was a mundane one, and Batman as a character was human-sized, vulnerable, and therefore unbelievably awesome that he could do the things he did. He didn't have batcables that could just whisk him away to wherever he wanted. He had to hoof it sometimes, and sometimes he got injured. Even as a hard-to-impress 13-year-old, I thought that something as commonplace (in comics, anyway) as Batman flipping through a window or kicking a rickety old pillar in two was completely gripping, and it was all due to the fact that this artwork firmly placed it in the real physical world.

I met David Mazzucchelli for the first time about two months ago at the NY Comicon, and he was absolutely as nice as can be, but almost more importantly, he was articulate and interested in discussing the craft of comics and seemed genuinely excited about his work-- not as common a trait as you'd think for comic book artists at a convention.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Project: Romantic is deemed Eisner-worthy.

The Eisner awards were announced today, and Project: Romantic is a finalist for "Best Anthology" !

Read the full list of Eisner nominations at

Industry professionals will cast their votes this spring, and the winners will be announced at this summer's San Diego ComiCon.

Chapter 99: The Quiet Comedian

* Click for Larger Image *

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Are They Brothers? Test 2

Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon claim not to be brothers. But they both live in Minnesota, are both over six feet tall, both went to Grinnell College, and are both cartoonists. Not brothers?? Not likely!! So here at Big Time Attic, we've decided to do a little bit of extremely scientific testing to find out the truth once and for all.

This week, we go boldly where no one has gone before and take not one but three Star Trek tests. Both Cannon boys are notoriously thorough, don't you know. Hmm.

Test #1: Matthew Barr's Star Trek Personality Test
Zander's result:


Kevin's result:

KEVIN SAYS: Spock is the robot one, right?

Test #2: Sea Breeze Computers' Star Trek Personality Test
Zander's result:


Kevin's result:

KEVIN SAYS: Wow, only 30% on Spock for this one. Having never seen the show, I can only guess from the photo that Mr. Picard is a kind and gentle older gentleman.

Test #3:'s Star Trek Personality Quiz
Zander's result:

ZANDER SAYS: Yessss! And don't worry, everyone. I carry an inhaler for my charasthma.

Kevin's result:

KEVIN SAYS: Third time's a charm! Picard it is!

Truly, they could not be less alike. Bold and impetuous, quiet and reserved. They're like the yin and yang of spacefaring. And they're the favorite captains! But still-- as for this experiment:

Brotherhood Likelihood: 11%