Jan 16, 2008

Scrambled Ink book-coming in summer '08

Dave Pimentel and JJ Villard after our group trek to the Comic Con last summer.You couldn't find a better bunch of traveling companions.

An early rough splash page we put together for the book--this isn't the design, nothing here is final(especially color)-very, very early; this version also doesn't yet include the name of Keith Baxter; left column top to bottom is Ken, Dave D. and JJ; on the right is Dave P., me and Ennio

This blog is usually reserved for touting animation-related doings other than my own, but I'd like to give a heads up on a group project that six of us(all story artists working on the same crew, save JJ who was in visdev)hatched 18 months ago after visiting ComicCon '06 and being mightily inspired with the artists' books that were beginning to appear in ever-increasing numbers.

Since every one of us independently had thoughts of doing a sketchbook and had started exploring the various self-publishing options we decided to do one book together and split the expense. Eventually the book of sketches became a book of stories--one we still planned to do ourselves--but several months after that the founder of comics/book/entertainment company Dark Horse, Mike Richardson, came to Dreamworks to give a talk that most of us attended. A particularly intrepid soul among us approached Mike and pitched him our book. He liked it, we sent a rough dummy--and contracts were signed.
Our self-publishing venture had changed into a real publishing deal with a real editor, Diana Schutz(who's edited for and worked with Will Eisner and Frank Miller among others, ye gods!).
So in time for the ComicCon of 2008, our book "Scrambled Ink" will be out this summer in hardcover.

I'm in the company of a great group of guys with individual points of view: Dave Derrick, Dave Pimentel, Ennio Torresan, Ken Morrissey(who eventually brought Keith Baxter on board to write the prose for his story) and last but never least the inimitable JJ Villard. We did stories from 'the back of our brains'(as Ernie Kovacs might say) and ones we had had percolating for a while on the front burner, too. They're all quite different from each other--hence the "scrambled" title--which at one time we imagined might have a vintage menu look for the the table of contents, (as can be somewhat gleaned from the old page above). It's not like that now--there's not a retro diner menu design in it--but it's still a melange, that's for sure.

Dave Pimentel drew Ennio Torresan, me, and David Derrick taking a break last spring; I'm wondering why I am pictured drawing with a big smile, though. Given the date I'd probably just made reservations for Paris-that kept me smiling for two months-before and after.

They're all good friends as well as great coworkers and my life would be so much more dull without them. It's a hackneyed phrase but true: I'm honored to be in their company. I think--I hope--that our combined stories will appeal. It's great of Dark Horse, Mike and Diana to help us get it out there.

Coming soon!

Jan 12, 2008

The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco hosts Mary Blair(among others)

I'd heard about the Cartoon Art Museum for years but was only recently able to pay a quick visit. Located in the heart of downtown San Francisco, it's a relatively small space packed with rare and beautiful art for the eyes to feast upon. Two of its current shows feature Mary Blair and Edward Gorey-in the latter's case, all to do with his designs for the stage play "Dracula" in the late 70s.

First, the Blair show:

Ten years ago a now-defunct animation store/gallery hosted what I think was the first major show of Blair artwork, and to my knowlege this is only the second. It's not quite as vast an array as that earlier show but it's certainly a must-see. Everything is great, and offers an opportunity to learn something. All of us have seen Mary Blair's work reproduced and posted over and over again, but as with all art nothing beats seeing the originals. Most of what's on display appears courtesy of Mary's son Kevin, but Pete Docter loaned some beautiful pieces from his collection as well.

an early watercolor, an unusual Blair given what we're used to thinking of when we think of her paintings, possibly done while a student at Chouinard

Even better-and much larger-in person than the Golden Book we all know

Quite without planning to I took some pictures with my iphone. I post a selection here very aware that the image quality is poor, and that's intentional. I wouldn't want to reproduce things that are privately owned or that could possibly be used in any commercial way. This is just by way of seducing any and all of you to get up (or down or west) to San Francisco and visit the artwork yourselves if you possibly can.

a later, non-Disney advert for cigarettes; gouache

There's always a lot of talk about the obvious influence of Mary Blair on artists today--so much so, in fact, that it's led in some circles to a bit of a backlash towards her or towards the stylings of artists who've been inspired by her. But when you see these up close and without the filters of photography(either the still camera's or the animation stand's)or the limitations of the published page, even now they leap out at the viewer and are as new and fresh as they must have been half a century ago. To see her technique up close is to appreciate how incredibly skilled she was. Intuitive, surely; imaginative and whimsical, yes--but also plain, keen, brilliant, diamond-hard thinking going on. It's still a big wow.

As for her impact on the current generation of artists, well, everyone's influenced by something, and a good number are influenced by everything. Blair casts a huge and prodigious shadow, and just as the Brandywine school founded by Howard Pyle a hundred years ago resulted in men and women who absorbed and adapted his theories and style into their own eventual identities, so it is with giants such as Mary Blair. In short--there's much worse to be inspired by, and I can't think of anything but good coming from learning at the feet of a master. Individual style and approach always will out eventually, anyway--and the metamorphosis is fascinating to be able to see.

In the notes that accompany the paintings on the wall the admission is made that there was some difficulty, something of a tough fit for Mary's art in the medium of Disney's animated features and shorts. Most of us have read the quotes about that, and with our love and reverence for the more constructed, dimensional aspects of Disney's character animation we can try to understand, even empathize with the animators who'd be frustrated when told by Walt to "get this stuff up on the screen".

But just as with those visual development artists working today whose work is at first glance as far from the final effect of CG animation as is imaginable, it seems impossible to me that any artist, any filmmaker wouldn't be inspired simply by absorbing the spirit of images like these--not to mention the color, the mood, the storytelling that's there. I guess I can't really understand the resistance to any of Blair's work back then--it's so obviously grounded in solid, three-dimensional knowlege--and proves how far an expert can take representational design--of animals, of humans--and push it while keeping it coherent and visually appealing. Yet resistance did exist. John Canemaker offers some ideas about why this might have been so in his singular book, whose title is shared with this exhibit.

There's much more to see in the rest of the Museum's space, including these gems:

A story sketch from Dumbo

A beautiful watercolor spot cartoon by Eldon Dedini

A 1920s single-panel comic from a woman named Gladys Parker

Many of us own books containing fine examples of work by Schulz and Herriman, Gorey and Ketcham,et al but to see these originals so much larger than their reproduced size with their underdrawing apparent, or the marks of an ink nib on illustration board or paper...I said it before but it bears repeating: it's an education in itself. And a rare privilege to get the opportunity--for only six dollars, if you can get to San Francisco.

Even if you can't make the Blair show before it closes on March 18th you should make sure to pay a visit to 655 Mission Street anyway.