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photo: The gang of artists

Working diligently with the city of Somerville, Hub Comics created an excellent work environment. I finished 20 pages of “Blank Spot”, my most focused 24 Hour Comic Book in over two years.

This was a huge improvement over last year's attempt, when I was too unfocused to produce. Back then, I lived in Union Square for a few months. The fun parts of my new neighborhood were still too distracting. Today, after living here for over a year, my attitude was more "been there, done that". Being immune to the distractions allowed me to concentrate on the job at hand. I never left Hub Comics. With the exception of stretching, bathroom breaks and the occasional conversation, I stayed in my seat and drew.

Art Materials

Another element was my new comfort with traditional media tools. Since last year, I taught "Art of the Comic Book" and drew 2 short comic book stories ("School Fight!" and Lucky Seven") with ink on paper. Ditching my complicated digital art process, "Blank Spot" was rendered as:

  • 7.5" x 10.75" live area on 9" x 12" sketch paper
  • Speedball Super Black India Ink
  • Short-handle round #4 sable brush
  • Ruling pen (borders)
  • Speedball nib #512 (straight lines, details)
  • Speedball C6 and B5 (lettering)
  • Ames Lettering Guide (setting 3.5 default)

Some of my local colleagues think using an Ames Guide for a 24-hour comic is a bit much. Perhaps they're right, but I really wanted to test my new C6 nibs. Using straight lines, solid blacks and the Ames guide probably stopped me from completing 24 pages. The process did, however, create an extremely readable 20 pages. Of this, I'm extremely proud.

I strongly recommend drawing on thick bristol paper instead of thin sketchbook paper. The physical act of erasing the pencils almost ripped every one of my pages!

photo: David Marshall working on pages 7 and 8

Me on pages 7 and 8. Photo by James Wellborn

Samantha Distraction

Faced with the possibility of watching me draw for 24 hours, my girlfriend decided to visit her friend Rebekah instead. I asked them to burst into Hub Comics on Saturday night. Like a pair of Lady GaGas, they'd taunt us by wearing next-to-nothing and stinking of alcohol saying "Wish we were having as much fun as you boys are! Oh well, ta-tahhh...!" Sadly, they found better things to do than acting out my "Last Temptation of Christ" scenario. The first part of the story is loosely based on this crushing defeat.

Blank Spot: The Story PDF Story | Landing Page

Following the rules, I walked in without a plan. I also swore not to look anything up, trying to keep the pen moving and work from my inner "House of Ideas". But what happens when that house has been ransacked, condemned or abandoned?

The first result is a page of me talking to readers who couldn't possibly care less about my though process. Thankfully, this time-tested stall tactic is only on the first page. The rest of the story moves along at a pretty good clip. I'm especially proud of the "real vs. drawing" banter, my childhood "blanket snakes" nightmare, the Ditkoverse path to Ball Nut Avenue (Sammy's name for any path to Somerville's Ball Square) and the Planet of Kung Fu Fighting (Sam's favorite song on my iPod).

With four pages left, I didn't get the chance to finish the story. There's no connection to the story title or the coffee cup on page one. If my schedule allows, I'd like to create a second finished version -- 4 pages in 4 consecutive hours, once again without a plan.

The Ohio State University Cartoon Library & Museum PDF Submission Form | Official Website

The official repository for the hard copy archives of 24 Hour Comics Day. The archives are currently unprocessed; they hope to make the collection available on their website soon.

Conclusion: What Did We Learn Today?

  • Focus is good
  • Union Square Somerville is a great neighborhood
  • Working with traditional drawing tools was faster than using the digital tools
  • C6 lettering nibs are terrific
  • Thicker paper is essential
  • Lady and Lady GaGa would've wrecked the event
  • Sam was the inspiration for 7 out of 20 pages (I knew that kid would earn his keep someday!)
  • Turn in your comic!

Thanks for reading. Goodnight and good luck.


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SketchCrawl sample

One lingering suggestion from my past 'Crawls is to get to Harvard Square, or at least cross Prospect Street. Call it rookie leader syndrome, but it seemed the dynamic of a pub crawl (1 drink, move on) and that of sketching (can't I just stay long enough to get it right?) seemed contradictory. Since I always gave into what the crowd was doing, we'd spend 2 or 3 hours in each pub. In that regard, getting to Tavern In The Square in SketchCrawl 22 was a major accomplishment.

For this 'Crawl, I decided to stay in each bar for no more than 1 hour. How did we do? Since this blog's being written days after the fact, I already know. You'll have to read everything below ...

Middle East Restaurant

Noon - 1:30

Samantha and I arrived a little early, getting a head start on sketching. Bartender Lisa remembered my past two 'Crawls and looked forward to seeing how this one would turn out. Some of the artists got here by media listings. Some were veterans of past 'Crawls. The final attendance was 19 artists, the largest 'Crawl I've ever led.

The first hour was extremely busy: artists strolled in, the Cambridge Chronicle arrived for photographs and interviews. To compensate for the setup time, I added an extra 30 minutes to this phase.

Once again, I was stunned at the raw talent in the room. Samantha's hard work during the month was already paying off. Joyce's work was equally amazing.

The Phoenix Landing

1:30 - 3:00

There weren't a lot of people to sketch, but strolling into a bar with a crowd this large is fun. Unlike the Middle East, this room is wide with rows of tables and booths. This made sketching each other from various angles a lot easier. Like previous 'Crawls, the artists who did the least amount of talking did the best work. Aya's watercolor work was outstanding.

Oh yeah, the anti-Frank Miller discussion had to happen.

The Field

3:00 - 4:00

I forgot to take photos, so can't remember anything remarkable. I did notice that the same regular at the bar from previous 'Crawls was in the exact same seat again. The beer is starting to take effect. Must ... keep ... moving!

Tavern In The Square

4:00 - 4:45

Was looking forward to this site, based on the SketchCrawl 22. Back then, we walked right by the hostess and sat wherever we wanted. Saturday afternoons are usually slow for restaurants, so our Art Invasion wasn't a problem. Going through proper channels, we ran into a snag this time. The hostess told us we could only use a single table (allowing us only to sketch each other). Buy the time I negotiated a better arrangement, the artists decided to take advantage of the terrific weather by drawing outside!

Central Square Post Office Stairs

5:00 - 6:00

Staying indoors would've been stupid. Judging from the work, the artists must've felt liberated by the change in scenery. In particular, Joyce did an awesome job drawing a tree. Strangers came by to see what we were up to, and then — while getting in my shot — pose for pictures. At one point, I had to stop to verbally notice something: we've already gone farther than any other 'Crawl in Cambridge.

People's Republik

6:00 - 7:00

Arguably, this was our first true "dive bar". There was still enough daylight to make the place look "sketchy but not dangerous". It's combination of lighting, size, design and decor made this my favorite indoor setting so far.

The Cellar

7:00 - 7:10

Too crowded.

Grendel's Den

7:30 - 8:30

We made it! In only seven and a half hours, we covered one mile to Harvard Square! While the number of artists got smaller, the Grendel's crowd was almost standing-room-only. We drew, drank and talked through the final hour. Hyun and I drew the same German woman sitting at the bar. When approached by us, she said Hyun's portrait was "more flattering" while I got her "German cheekbones right". And Samantha — the only non-professional artist of the group — won the art-snob hearts with her hard work, determination and good spirit!

Thanks to everyone who participated, wrote about us, gave me tips on how to be a better leader, all the friends and families who gave emotional support to the rag-tag group of india-ink slingers. Extra thanks go to the bars, restaurants and coffee houses that let us hang out to draw.

For those who couldn't make it, we hope this 'Crawl looks fun enough for you to consider joining us next time!

SketchCrawl sample


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Simply posting on the SketchCrawl Forum isn't enough to generate a crowd. After all, it's only visible to people already know it's there; most people don't even know SketchCrawl exists. As proof of concept, the only one who showed up for SketchCrawl 16 was yours truly. Since I can sketch alone any time, the lack of other people for the 'Crawl was a resounding defeat. Sitting at the bar of The Druid Pub with nothing but my art supplies and IPA, the constant thought was "How can this not happen again?"

Register With SketchCrawl

  • Go the the SketchCrawl Forum
  • Register
  • Find the topic for the next 'Crawl (example: "25th World Wide SketchCrawl")
  • Once there, search for your city/town/neighborhood (mine is Cambridge MA)
  • If there isn't a 'Crawl in your city/town/neighborhood, create a new topic with the name of your city/town/neighborhood

That's it. It's nice to think my qualifications as an artist, professional and teacher got me this powerful position. In truth, however, it goes to the first person who registers. Welcome to open-source.

Tell People You're Alive

So, how do you promote an fun event that doesn't generate a dime? For SketchCrawl 20, I did the following:

What did all that promotional effort produce? Seven new artists and an interview with the Boston Phoenix.

My next event was SketchCrawl 22, which had eleven artists. The bottom line: if you want a decent turnout for your public event, tell people.


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Thumbnail sketch of comic book page

One of the most-used lines in my Art of the Comic Book class is "In the post-Google era, there's no excuse for not knowing what something looks like". Prior to the internet, visual reference was done in public libraries, personal interviews and taking our own photographs.

Doing the research for "Lucky Seven: The Dee Brown Incident" in May/June 2009 supported this view. The story, covering Boston's difficulty with class and race, takes place in 1990. Recreating the era's surface-level items was relatively easy, thanks to Google and Boston Globe articles. Building visual details, logistics and overall atmosphere was a lot tougher. What did Dee's fiancee look like? How did the characters express their words? Which version of the incident — Dee's or the officers' — was the most believable?

As the deadline got closer, it was evident that using Google wouldn't be enough to answer these questions. Forced to use the analog research methods, I ultimately produced a more accurate, objective and honest story.

Google Web Search

May 1, 2009 | Weather, neighborhood demographics

Highbeam Research logo

HighBeam Inc.

May 1, 2009 - May 7, 2009 | An online library of archival print media, was an excellent resource. Their text-only articles (from the Boston Globe, Washington Post, New York Times and Sports Illustrated) provided a framework to start visual research. At this point, I knew what happened, but not what anything looked like.

Google Image Search

May 1, 2009 - May 16, 2009 | Revealed Dee's 21-year-old image and other surface details (the rented Pontiac Grand Prix, Reebok Pump, fashions, etc.) At this point, I didn't know what Dee's fiancee Jill Edmondson looked like. The Globe articles said she "had been a Northeastern University student", so maybe I'll try to find her in their yearbook collection.

Wellesley Hills - MBTA

Taking Photographs

May 5, 2009 | I visited Wellesley Hills via Commuter Rail today. Shooting exterior photos of the neighborhood was easy and educational. Standing on the lawn of the South Shore Bank, diagonally across the street from the Wellesley Hills Post Office, identifying the suspect would be impossible.

Getting interior reference of the Wellesley Hills Post Office was a lot more difficult. My camera is too big to take guerrilla pictures. Introducing myself to the workers as an art school instructor doing a project comparing interiors of various post offices, I asked for permission to take photos. Before 9/11, this would've worked. These days, workers get nervous when dark-skinned strangers take interior shots of federal buildings. My request went all the way to management, who ultimately said no. However, I was allowed to sketch, a practice I hadn't used since 1988's "A Sunday Walk".

It's also easy to see why people would think this was simple racism. Although bright and sunny with lots of trees, the neighborhood feels quietly hostile. Given the option of sticking around for a later train or leaving soon as possible, I got the heck out of Dodge.

In Living Color - Homey The Clown

Northeastern University

May 14, 2009 | Hoping to find Jill Edmondson in the college yearbook, I visited the Northeastern University archive library. Sadly, her name didn't appear in any of the directories. Perhaps she never graduated, or the Globe got this detail wrong. Determined to make this a useful trip, I used the 1990 yearbook to make reference sketches of hairstyles and fashions. Combined with the Google Image Search results of popular TV shows ("Married with Children", "In Living Color" and "Beverly Hills 90210"), I should be able to create my own version of her if needed.

Email Dee Brown

June 1, 2009 | Running out of options, I sent an email to "EDGE Basketball", Dee Brown's basketball camp business in Orlando FL. Mr. Brown isn't likely to respond, but one never knows.

In Living Color - Homey The Clown

Boston Public Library

June 3, 2009 | Jackpot! The Boston Public Library Microtext Department has entire newspaper pages arraigned horizontally on tape. These tapes are on reels that can be viewed on hand-cranked lightbox readers, like a giant View-Master. The manual hand-cranking makes finding exact pages a tedious process. Zooming through irrelevant pages made me seasick. After many wrong guesses, page 14 of the November 17 1991 Boston Globe Magazine had a photo of the elusive Ms. Edmondson. The image was high-contrast and grainy, but more than I had.

Boston Globe

June 4, 2009 | Called into the photo archives for a clearer version of the November 1991 Globe Magazine photo. In the days before Google Image Search, we visual artists used to invade the photo morgues of the Globe, Herald and local libraries. Spoke with chief archivist, who said he'd look for photos tomorrow.

So, What Did We Learn Today?

  • Solely using Google and Wikipedia for serious research is a lazy cop-out
  • There's no substitute for hard work and intelligence

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photo: the gang

Last year's 24-Hour Comics Day was in Kenmore Square's Comicopia, where I knew no one and was far from my neighborhood of Inman Square. Those conditions forced me to concentrate on the job at hand. While I ran out of time to make it coherent, the basic story got finished. The host's professionalism and experience was also helpful. The clock started on time, food was plentiful, and they publicized our mission to all the local media.

This year's host was Somerville's Hub Comics, about three blocks from my new apartment and yards away from Union Square. Despite this ideal situation, I couldn't focus enough to finish. By noon on Sunday, there were barely 16 penciled pages to show for my scatterbrained effort, no word balloons or inks. After my previous success, it looked like I'd finish with ink and script and color. How could I have been this wrong? How did this happen? Oh Survivior, why hast thou forsaken thy "Eye of the Tiger"?

This post isn't so much for the public, but a Momento-like note to myself for next year. Looking back, it just wasn't my year.

photo: Andy Wong

Digital Expertise: I wasn't the only digital artist,
just the least productive one.

Alibi One: Much Too much

I lost my full time web development job this Spring and've been scrambling for freelance work ever since. In addition, condo conversion forced me to move from Somerville's Inman Square to a much nicer place in Somerville's Union Square. While both changes proved positive in the long run, they put me in a state of perpetual hustle mode. Keeping all the plates spinning left me too tired to even think of the comic.

Alibi Two: Friendly Neighborhood neighborhood

My primary connections were Hub Comics' staff and building. This was my first neighborhood comic book store since Allston in the 1980s. By the time of 24-Hour Comics Day, I've logged hundreds of hours talking with the owner and staff. In this environment, I didn't mind being the oldest guy in the room. It was like hanging out at a friend's place, with kids in the den. I felt no connection to the younger artists' taste in movies, music or comics.

I wonder if John Garcia felt the same way about me. In addition to being a historian, illustrator and friend, he was also a mentor in understanding the business of commercial art. For the first time in 28 years, he's not around to impress. (For the record, he thought using digital tools on a 24-hour comic was stupid and much slower than drawing by hand.)

Alibi Three: Guess Who's Coming to Lunch + Dinner + Breakfast + Lunch?

When I got to, Hub Comics approximately 11:30, there was only one table set up, and 5 cartoonists looking for space to work. I helped the store's manager Jesse clear off 2 tables in the basement. In defense of their first 24-Hour Comic Day, the RSVPs didn't match the number of people who showed up. Officially, the noon event started promptly at 1:00 PM.

Alibi Four: Running On Empty

photo: foo

I brought 70's sci fi classics Rollerball and
Logan's Run, which Jesse approved

I tried following the spirit by not preparing. I hoped to plot and draw at the same time, creating an amazing panel-by-panel improvisation. With nothing in my head or heart at that moment, I chicken-shitted into planning a storyline. With no real concept, I strung some long-forgotten anecdotes together. According to the "Created" tag of page 1, the plotting and thumbnailing took almost 5 hours (1:00 - 5:42).

How easily-distracted was I? Sometime near 7:00 PM, I went to a local bar to watch 2 innings of the Boston Red Sox/Tampa Bay Rays Game 6, running away from both my writer's block and this rag-tag collection of productive artists.

During my freshman year at MassArt, I was somehow allowed in an advanced watercolor class. The teacher was an internationally-known 50-something with a quiet, soft-spoken style. Most of us knew to shut up and learn. There was one kid who decided he was smarter the rest of us mere mortals. Can't remember his name, but we derisively called him "The Pro". He sure talked a good game, yet his work was substandard. Once he even challenged the teacher by saying "I've been watercolor painting for 7 years, and don't need to follow your instructions." As we were in shock, the teacher said he'd been using watercolors for over 30 years and that we should listen to him. If memory serves me well, we all laughed at "The Pro", who was eventually bounced out of the program.

For this year's 24-Hour Comics Day, I might've been "The Pro". While everyone talked about how hard this mission was, most of the "pups" finished.

photo: Us at 3:30 AM

Protect and Serve: Somerville police were brave
enough to kick out this bunch.

Alibi Five: Dragnet

At 3:30 AM on Sunday morning, two patrolmen from the Somerville Police Department approached the store. Jesse was the only staff member there. They asked if Hub Comics had a permit for a public event after posted business hours. Jess said he didn't know and the owner James just left. The policemen said without a permit, we all had to leave the store. Jess pleaded by saying the store wasn't doing business and they had a casual relationship with Somerville City Hall. The cops didn't want to hear any of this and ordered us out of the building immediately.

Luckily another artist lived close by and let us crash/work at his place. In addition to having no drive, no concept and no sleep, I was now in someone else's house with a bunch of other cartoonist vagabonds. What little momentum I had was lost.

I joined Jesse (who went back to the store to clean up) around 8:00 AM, and worked until noon. For all that drama, I only had 16 pencil pages. Getting rescued by Sam was a releif.

Conclusion: What Did We Learn Today?

  • I wasn't ready this year
  • There are some wonderfully talented people out there
  • Being a neighborhood fixture isn't what it's cracked up to be
  • Most true artists don't RSVP
  • Blowhards are never productive
  • Police are very serious people, especially in cold weather
  • There's always next year

Thanks for reading. Goodnight and good luck.


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When working digitally, these are the steps to producing finished art. Instead of working on paper then scanning, I work directly with the Wacom drawing tablet. While this technique's has limitations (mainly speed, lack of peripheral vision, having the tactile and visual results on two different planes), the production benefits outweight the drawbacks. For instance, paper art has to be scanned, usually by an overworked production artist. Scanning operators sometimes produce dozens of high-resolution images, guaranteeing some loss of subtle elements. Going digital shifts all the production accountability where it should be ... to the artist.

Marshall Art Studio - Comic Book Artist + Writer: Info graphic of digital comics-making process

The process, from Photoshop to Acrobat in 5 life-draining steps.

Adobe Photoshop: Pencilling The selection, resizing, layers and "soft pencil" tools are the closest things to my traditional drawing methods (tracing paper, Xerox, scaled copies) I've found so far. Using paths to control perspective is an added bonus.

Corel Painter: Inking The anti-aliasing is "tighter" than Photoshop's, making a much cleaner ink stroke. Painter X, the latest version, has terrific brush and texture controls. The page rotation tool's a life-saver! Inking happens quickly, brushing way outside the planned borders.

Adobe Illustrator: Lettering + Bordering This is where all the vector stuff happens. The first step is importing the final inked Painter TIF in Illustrator, then sticking it in a compound path of the panels. I then letter with Blambot fonts (Letter-o-matic) in custom word balloons. Once everything's set, each page is saved as an individual EPS.

Adobe InDesign: Pagination A collection of the final EPS files. Page numbering and common elements are controlled in the Master pages. This file is used to generate the PDF.

Adobe Acrobat: Final Art Optimized for print, web and email.

Thanks for reading. Goodnight and good luck.


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Smileyface graphic

The trailer for Watchmen — adapted from the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — was released last month. On the surface level, it's a whodunit murder mystery. On a deeper level, it's a statement that superheroes couldn't work in the real world. Some of those insights were told in a humorous fashion in The Incredibles.

The trailer was positively-received at this year's San Diego ComicCon. Some of the love was from Zack Snyder's faithful adaptation of 300; most came from fan appreciation of the source material. For instance, if you're old enough to remember the actual Muhammad Ali, the Michael Mann film "Ali" was nothing more than Will Smith pretending to be Muhammad Ali (at 10 years old, I did the same thing for a lot less money.)

The film won't be in theatres until next year. This trailer has what appears to be an error (Nite Owl II looks too buff), questionable casting decisions (see Age of Characters chart) and costumes (Ozymandias learned nothing from Joel Schumacher). At the risk of sounding like Rorschach, it makes one wonder what other subtleties got missed.

Comparing the characters' ages with the actors who portray them
Age of Characters
Character Actor (DOB) Actor Age
at Filming
Age in Story

*Osterman was 30 at Gila Flats. Perhaps the powers preserved his physical appearance.

Sources: Charcter Ages, Actor Ages/Movie Stills

Nite Owl II/Daniel Dreiberg Patrick Wilson 35 45 -10 years
The Comedian/Edward Blake Jeffrey Dean Morgan 42 61 -19 years
Silk Specter II/Laurie Juspeczyk Malin Akerman 30 36 -6 years
Rorschach/Walter Kovacs Jackie Earle Haley 47 45 +2 years
Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt Matthew Goode 30 46 -16 years
Doctor Manhattan/Jon Osterman Billy Crudup 40 56/30 -16 years or +10 years*
The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964

To be fair, the characters age at least 20 years, so it was probably cheaper to make young actors look old than making older actors look young.

Readers under 30 years old might not understand the graphic novel's effect on the industry and fans, and probably wonder what all the fuss is about. I feel the same way about The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

It's easy to say "people were dumber back then" or "guess you just had to be there". While there's an element of truth in both statements, it's more constructive to define context by understanding the era as best as possible. Much like backing away from the Water Lillies, the picture becomes much clearer. This is the same methodology high school students use to understand Shakespeare.

All in Color for a Dime

During the industry's infancy (1939 - 1962), comics were thought of as a commercial, disposable extension of Children's Fiction. The editorial voice was "adults telling stories to children". There were lots of genres to choose from. Publishers survived by (a) paying talent as little as possible and (b) following market trends. Can you imagine running a business based on the whims of teenagers? If you can't, here's pretty much what happened back then:

  • January: Company A publishes a western comic that turns out to be a hit
  • February: Company A publishes 5 imitations of that same western comic
  • March: Companies B-Z flood the market with imitations of the popular western comic
  • April: Everyone is sick of western comics. Company B publishes a crime comic that turns out to be a hit ...
Fantastic Four #1

The Fantastic Four were introduced in 1961. While proving innovative superhero fiction had short-and long-term profitability, this effectively killed off all other genres. The Big Two still published a few western and romance comics. However, they used second- and third-string talent, dooming the mission before it started. To this day, it's impossible to tell if other genres would've survived. Mainstream non-superhero books were as credible as the dreaded 49ers running game.

By the early 1970s, the talent pool began to change. In my opinion, this is when mainstream comics lost their roots. Kids were expected to outgrow comics by high school. With Marvel's popularity — like Apple Computer's aura of "coolness", kept a market base longer than originally intended. The previous era's professionals were getting replaced by young adult fans. The new editorial voice became "arrested adolescents telling stories to other arrested adolescents".

As an actual adolescent and Marvel Comics enthusiast at the time, I thought this was a brilliant approach. I said so in my high school book report on "Origins of Marvel Comics". Citing the book as my only source, my report didn't grade very highly.

Notes from The Underground

Zap Comix #1 - Cover

Running parallel to this was the underground comics movement. Rebel cartoonists made uncensored personal stories, with emphasis on drugs, Jimi Hendrix, sex, violence, contempt for social conformity and distrust of the government. There weren't a lot of Nixon/Agnew supporters buying Zap Comix.

Like rebels of other mediums, the underground stretched boundaries of the possible into the probable. Some mainstream creators got so interested in boundary-pushing they lost sight of the superhero genre's larger goals.

By 1980, mainstream superhero comics were formulaic, script-heavy and predictable, but still profitable. Editors treated researching anything but other comics as a waste of time. Adolescent emotions were presented as adult thought. With some notable exceptions, the underground market and influence was reduced to Golden Gate Park.

Art School Confidential

1980 was also my first year of art school Being in an environment dedicated to Art was an important developmental step for me. History, literature and painting slowly became more interesting than whatever Chris Claremont was babbling on about. I still loved the art form, but began to hate seeing it used badly. When compared to older works (Windsor McCay, Milton Caniff, Alex Toth, Noel Sickles, lots more), the 1980s mainstream comics were soul-less, hacked-out reminders of better work.

As my 1986 graduation approached, I almost exclusively bought works by my favorite artists and writers. Consistent with the dynamic of reading two children's books per day for six years, the good ones stand out. In other words, Watchmen came out at the perfect time.

Burn Hollywood, Burn

recent photo of Alan Moore

Alan Moore: Blending in

Like lots of creative souls, Alan Moore's always had a complicated relationship with management. Creative and management need each other to survive, but sometimes it's like neither one's learned a thing from "The Defiant Ones". At times, it seems his public actions were solely crafted to irritate publishers. In the manner of "just 'cause someone's crazy doesn't mean they're wrong", he has a strong point when it comes to Hollywood adaptations of his works. "V for Vendetta", "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "From Hell" were distorted beyond recognition. If Alan were more of a personable guy, could he have worked with the producers to make better movies? We'll never know. Based on current history, the odds don't look good. Frank Miller was as pro-active as possible on RoboCop 2, and it still sucked. (Can you imagine Irvin Kershner's misery of listening to Miller yap about character development?)

At first, I thought Mr. Moore's stance on movie adaptions of his work was refreshingly hands-off. If I were lucky enough to be in the position of adapting a popular work from a living author, I'd need complete autonomy in order to succeed or fail.

Then it hit me: Alan Moore is a public isolationist. A true isolationist is never in the public eye. When's the last time anyone heard from Salinger? On the other hand, Alan Moore will talk about his isolationism to anyone with a working microphone. It's worth noting that Entertainment Weekly, The Onion and MTV mention how "rare" his interviews are.

Does this mean the graphic novel is perfect? No. The portrayal of professional psychoanalysis is embarrassing. Moore himself said his segue technique became a burden; using unnatural dialog to make the transitions work.

Despite of zealous fan complaints, it is possible to make a decent movie from comic books without being 100% literal. Spider-Man, Iron Man and Batman immediately come to mind.

Inna Final Analysis

So, What Did We Learn Today?

  • Watchmen is a terrific graphic novel (especially for those who hate superhero comic books)
  • I was a terrible high school student
  • Superheroes have lived way past their 15 minutes
  • I was a brilliant art student
  • Alan Moore is a chatty isolationist
  • Filmmakers need complete automony in order to produce
  • Statistically spaeaking, most filmmakers use that automony to make terrible movies

Oh yeah, there are worse things in life than sitting through a terrible movie.


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MAS logo

Once again, technology rocked the entire creative industry. Creating, designing, coding and publishing content — without paper media's distribution constraints — was liberating. (Blogging validates this concept today.) However, I was also following the money. Much like the DTP Revolution of the '80s, clients dumped print assignments while throwing money at anyone said they could code.

A freelance client hired me to design some web graphics. When that work got finished, he offered me HTML assignments. Since I didn't know how to code, they snuck me into their introductory HTML class. Within 8 hours, I wrote my "Hello World" page and never looked back.

I blew off print gigs while teaching myself more advanced HTML. My one-bedroom Brighton apartment was covered in tech manuals, sketches and notes that looked like they were written by a madman.

Some people do well in abstract, institutional educational environments. I seem to only learn with a gun to my head. My goal of getting in on the HTML gravy train could only be reached by building my own website. Below is the site's development history, defined by version number:

  • Marshall Art Studio Website, Version 1.0
  • Imagemapped Prime
  • July 18, 1997 - November 30, 1998
screenshot of MAS website v1.0

My first site, written in undeclared HTML. Each page is a giant IMAGE with navigation links in IMAGEMAPs. The minimal text is positioned with BLOCKQUOTEs. There are some UI concepts that can only be described as "odd". Not using HTML element tags or usability testing sure speeded up the development process!

During this 18-months, I was managing an active print media career (mostly illustration, with some page design). As a back-burner project, my HTML skills were strong enough to land interviews. The HTML shortcuts left me unqualified for larger corporate assignments. But living below the radar meant I had lots of time to learn.

  • Marshall Art Studio Website, Version 2.0
  • Blue Rough Diamond
  • December 1, 1998 - December 31, 1999
screenshot of MAS website v2.0

My first two-column TABLE layout. Based the left-thin navigation column's font treatment on ESPN's, with my own Midnight Oil-inspired, over-rendered background image. IMAGEMAP navigation replaced by linked text. The expandable width wasn't so distracting on 800 x 600 monitors.

I started off by using Adobe PageMill 3.0, tempted by its editable Preview mode, control pallets and drag-and-drop functionality. Working with it for a month proved it an unreliable development tool. The Preview didn't render exactly like real web browsers, causing major positioning discrepancies. The Source mode was equally problematic, destroying any custom line-wraps and interpreting anything it didn't understand as a potential error. Correcting published errors created by working in this buggy application erased any benefit of using the shortcuts.

To avoid these hassles, I went back to coding in SimpleText and previewing with Netscape. As my old HTML teacher explained "that's all a WYSIWYG editor is anyway."

Coding a complex website in pure HTML was very time-consuming. Without color-coded syntax, keeping track of all those embedded FONT tags was a maddening and error-prone process. In the name of "learning experience", my actual working hours easily dwarfed the billable hours. Again.

I was astoundingly ignorant of HTML fundamentals at this time. Take the BODY's background image for example. Instead of stacking a thin 144 x 288 graphic and coloring the BODY white in HTML, the background image is a really wide 1800 x 288 bandwidth hog!

Fortunately, a few factors saved me from paying the price for this markup incompetence. During this version's 14-month shelf life, the internet was still an infant in capabilities and expectations. By the time hiring managers started doing code reviews, I learned enough to correct most of these types of errors. Earning my degree from the School of Hard Knocks, I became a better designer and developer.

Of course, the learning didn't stop there.

  • Marshall Art Studio Website, Version 3.0
  • Blue Brushy Slick
  • January 1, 2000 - July 25, 2002
screenshot of MAS website v3.0

At this point, the primary marketing purpose was promoting my illustration and graphic design capabilities. Since I had a full time web design job, my freelance web capabilities and training were a back-burner project.

With that in mind, here's another outstanding 2-column TABLE layout. A lot of people said 2.0's navigation column was difficult to read. This version is an overall cleaner, more corporate look. (For some reason the Typewriter font seemed cool), loosely based on v2.0's "Five Step Artist" illustration. The layout TABLE's 532 pixel width looks small now, but was optimized for Y2K's average monitor resolution of 600 x 800 pixels.

This version uses my first Javascript, written for mouseover/preload image effects in the navigation column and index page.

While pushing Javascript through my known limits, I still didn't use the HTML element tags correctly on text. For example, here's an example of correct markup:

<h4>Foo Headline Going Across the Line</h4>
<p>Do FOO sentences go on this long, with no real purpose?</p>
<p>Yup, and another Foo sentence goes like that.</p>

Instead, here's how I would've marked up this same content back then:

<b>Foo Headline Going Across the Line</b><br>
Do FOO sentences go on this long, with no real purpose?<p>
Yup, and another Foo sentence goes like that.<p>

In my defense, I was far from being the sole culprit. This markup was considered standard practice in the work world, and didn't break in Netscape or IE. However, it exposes a lack of fundamentals that would get me laughed out of the business today. Back then? No harm, no foul. In fact, my day job rewarded me with hefty annual bonuses.

  • Marshall Art Studio Website, Version 4.0
  • Gray White Fade
  • July 25, 2002 - June 4, 2004
screenshot of MAS website v4.0

Possibly my final layout TABLE. Expanded content width to 800 pixels. Introduced CSS and declared my first DOCTYPE. Used element tags without closing them, mostly paragraph tags with "class-itis". Navigation column restored to HTML text, with the current state having a unique class selector.

The visual design was formatted to fade behind the content. The third "striped" column was an attempt to keep the the fixed-width content column looking good on increasingly-wide monitors. Returning to previous interface, the section landing pages have clickable visual elements. It probably would've been a good idea to dump the section descriptions, but they looked so nice under the headline.

Specific examples (illustration, graphic design) got moved to Javascript-dependent popup windows. This misguided attempt at streamlining the interface made sending sample's URLs difficult. In short, a marketing nightmare. The section landing page visual designs were considered a dramatic improvement. The markup of those pages made adding new content a time-draining chore. Content updates with this release were few and far between.

Emulating some of Merrill Lynch workflow practices, I started referring to redesigns as "releases".

Since print design and illustration assignments slowed down, each major release was an announcement of my growing capabilities. Gaining expertise through experience, I became known for merging technology with visual design principles to create customized websites.

In a move to market my accomplishments to hiring managers and technicians, I introduced detailed project pages with a "situation/action/results" format. This practice, along with doing better work, gained me the next level of clients and employers.

  • Marshall Art Studio Website, Version 5.0
  • Red No Table
  • June 5, 2004 - October 10, 2006
screenshot of MAS website v5.0

After testing the waters on developing client websites, this is the site's first TABLE-free, all DIV layout. Applying standards practices, all HTML element tags are open/closed properly. It's even almost WAI-compliant (images have ALT, but links don't have TITLE). By the standards of the time, a technical masterpiece.

The visual design's a bit loud, probably an obnoxious over-reaction to those who felt the previous version was too boring. I sure showed them!

Seeking to correct the popup window UI disaster, I used a Javascript toggle that hid the content in a remote .JS file. This UI works well in standard browsers, long as Javascript is on. Without it, the content is unreachable.

The toggled UI buttons (Illustration, Print + Web) was a bit restrictive as well. The buttons only looked good with complete rows of 3, creating a "tail wagging the dog" dynamic for choosing what content got posted.

On top of an ugly look and questionable UI decisions, adding new content was also a chore. As it turns out, Javascript files aren't the best place to edit text. Remembering to comment-out content single- and double-quotes was torture.

In an effort to create a more "marketing" feeling, I removed the Sketchbook and Personal Stories sections.

Since I had a full time job, the site became my testing ground for developing new XHTML/CSS practices. In two years, I had a better understanding of UI, functional visual design and standards-compliant markup.

Now all I had to do was prove it.

  • Marshall Art Studio Website, Version 6.0
  • Blue Pinup
  • Unpublished
screenshot of MAS website v6.0

Promotes my web design capabilities more than the print media skills. Shoved current content into a new "skin" based on classic pinup illustrations. While this seems like madness now, others were doing the same thing.

Technically, this version was just as unmaintainable as the last one. The buttons for Illustration, Web and Print were too big. Hiding major content in Javascript was becoming even more of a burden. The round-corner content holder prevented on-the-fly width-expansion.

As the 2-month development process ended, I realized that neither the visual design, UI or coding reflected my current philosophies of good web development. In order to get newer, more lucrative clients, I gotta rebuild from scratch.

  • Marshall Art Studio Website, Version 7.0
  • Wide Format
  • October 11, 2006 - present
screenshot of MAS website v7.0

Referred to sites that used appropriate UI and visual design. Decided to split the navigation into 2 levels, widen the content area, add a tabbed UI for new features, applied a Javascript toggle that (a) keeps all the content on the page and (b) gives all content a specific URL. For a friendlier feeling, brought back Sketchbook and Personal Stories (as a 'blog). Built 'blogs for non-commercial projects (Illustration Friday, 24-Hour Comics).

So far, this design has been enhanced with rethought elements, new functionality and easily modified content. All without having to touch every page or rebuild overall markup structure.

It's taken a decade, but I think the site's finally decent.


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Is it possible to do a Bataan Death March while standing still?

I'm not a fireworks guy. People "oohing-and-awwing" over them always seemed a bit ... dim. It was Sam's idea to go, we were on our own this year and I didn't have a creative alternative.

We started from the Lowes Boston Theatre. After "The Incredible Hulk", we walked through Boston Common, then up Boylston Street. We stopped along the way for a meal and to check out the new Apple store (he's a killer on Lego Star Wars), walked down Massachusetts Avenue to the MIT bridge. Combined walk was just under 2 miles. If you count multiple trips up 3 flights of the Apple Store, the total walk was closer to 7 miles.

photo: Sam at restaurant

We got there near 8:30 PM, just in time for 10:30 PM fireworks. The city closes off the bridge to cars, creating a large open space with a great view of the fireworks. It was about 1/3 full of standing pedestrians when we got there. By 9:00 PM it was shoulder-to-shoulder.

When I lived in Cambridge 15 years ago, that's all the city did. This year they put loudspeakers along the bridge, broadcasting the show from the Hatch Shell.

We’re On a Road to Nowhere

For some strange reason, there was a country music vibe to this year's show. Not classic country, but the watered-down, simple-minded corporate stuff that chased Johnny Cash to his grave. Toby Keith's "An American Soldier" is a perfect example. Instead of inspiring patriotic pride, the song only reminded me of David Cross' response to Lee Greenwood's God Bless the U.S.A.: "Okay, asshole. Here's a gun, there's a plane. Get moving."

photo: Johnny Cash - Hurt video

There were other classic moments, such as Jack Williams reading "Casey at the Bat", sounding even more robotic than he does at his day job. Various talking heads trying to "rev-up the crowd" getting no response. The overall feeling -- at least on the bridge -- was that the broadcasters spent way too much time amusing each other with no connection to the audience. This is what happens when focus groups are allowed to run wild.

(The 2-hour standing part might be a major source of my negativity. People with lawn chairs and the lucky ones partying in boats on the Charles River below us didn't seem to be that angry.)

I was ready to bolt at any moment, and Sam was getting dopey from lack of sleep. You gotta hand it to the rotten kid; he held onto the dream. He was going to stay if it killed him. If only he'd show the same drive in cleaning his room and three-point perspective.

During the 2-hour stand-off, I chatted with another middle-aged father from Philadelphia. He and his daughter were heading home from up north, but the horrible traffic made them stop in Boston. The most positive thing they said was that it beat being stuck on 93 for hours. He'll never do a Boston 4th again.

We thought the real show was going to start when they played the 1812. This was only a tease, meant to set us up for more lame comedy bits and failed local-celebrity crowd control.

So we all just stood there, like on some Twilight Zone version of Ellis Island, waiting for the windbags to run out oxygen.

Burning Up The Charts

Digable Planets - Blowout Comb

The literal fireworks were spectacular. The new shapes, textures, combinations, colors and progressions made me a convert, shoving my negative memories of fireworks into the same brain storage compartment that holds rotary-dial telephones, 8-track tapes and Digable Planets. In a completely different context, Sam was even more amazed.

Yet even in this space, we weren't free from our power-drunk host. (Dean Martin was a funny drunken host. Joe Hazelwood wasn't.) While everyone else plays the 1812, someone decided the most awesome fireworks display the world's ever seen needed a soundtrack of corporate-country radio songs.

At this point, after being on my feet for two hours, I was holding a 50-pound kid on my neck, watching terrific fireworks get ruined by a shitty iPod. Thankfully the bombs bursting in air eventually drowned out the nonsense.

I’m on a Road Shaped Like a Figure 8; I’m Going Nowhere But I’m Guaranteed to be Late

photo: walking back to Cambridge from MIT bridge

After the show, the Cambridge-bound crowd walked down Massachusetts Avenue, flooding the bars and roof top parties. Massachusetts Avenue was closed off all the way to Vassar Street, allowing pedestrians to take the street's entire width. I can't tell of my good feelings were from:

  • being allowed to walk down the middle of a busy street
  • seeing how happy Sam was
  • finally getting that broadcast out of my head

The crowd was well-behaved and no one was in a rush. Sam was dead tired by now, but the 83 bus we needed was still a mile away, down Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square. He never complained or whined. We had to do some last-minute running, but made our bus just in time. Poor kid finally got to bed at midnight.

Goodnight, Cow Jumping Over the Moon

photo: Sam sleeping

I wasn't up too much later. In fact, I might've done something unusual and passed out on the couch. As the darkness pushed the pain in my legs, neck and soul away, two thoughts came to mind on my express train to oblivion:

As a unique display of arrogance and incompetence, this was the best Fourth of July show I've ever seen. (Beating out Salem MA in 1996, when the fireworks were thoughtfully shot behind tall buildings). The other thought?

How will they ruin it next year?


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