Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Sketchbooks - an Introduction

Realizing I've been entirely remiss in publishing to this blog, I've spent some time while off for the Holidays scanning my sketchbooks - I've actually got 4 with one almost completed, one in "stasis" due to mature content, and two in working development. You might ask yourself why anyone would want or need more than one? I'll answer that question as my narrative progresses. I'm labeling my sketchbooks as follows:

  • Sketchbook 1 (SB1) - this was the first I started gray cardboard cover 8.5" x 11"
  • Sketchbook 2 (SB2) - identical in physical appearance to SB1 also 8.5" x 11" and gray
  • Oversized Sketchbook - larger format 14" x 11" black pebbled "leather"
  • Elric Sketchbook - black cover 8.5" x 11" black pebbled "leather"

How I got started in all of this:
I've been a visitor to various comic book conventions since I was a kid - the first I ever attended while still in High School. I remember it vividly and wish I had more of an interest in art back then - at the time I was more interested in completing runs of comics. My heroes were Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Barry Smith and Mike Kaluta. I also had a great interest in any of the barbarian comics including Savage Sword of Conan and the earlier Savage Tales (I still own my original collection of these, even after selling my comics on more than one occasion, then rebuilding the collection). I didn't really think at the time about collecting art - though I did score a few pages that ended up being quite valuable (including a BWS Avengers page, an unused Adams X-Men cover and a Chaykin page - all for paltry sums by today's standards).

It wasn't until much later that the idea of a sketchbook became appealing. I had been befriended by comic creator Bob Burden (before I worked for Bob we became great friends) and it was his sketchbook that that initially inspired my to have my own. As I started doing backgrounds and fills on the Flaming Carrot comic, I traveled to various conventions - conveniently the first I attended was at the Atlanta Fantasy Fair where I reside. The way it works out is that the various artist and industry insiders often get together after the show and do a cocktail or two, where sketchbooks get swapped. Most of my sketches were from my then limited number of acquaintances, but this soon expanded as I kept seeing the same people from show to show and would occasionally share meals and drink with them as a group.

My sketchbooks are a little non-sequential as occasionally a page would be skipped (sometimes intentionally) and someone would then later back-fill the blank page. Because of this I'll going to skip around a bit and try to intersperse the sketches as they were done chronologically between all the books - I think I'll provide better context overall. I'll provide commentary on each piece as there's often a little story behind them. Sorry about the watermark but I'd rather not have these images end up somewhere and be questioned about the origin and who owns the rights. I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. The first book started in 1988:

Sketchbook 1, Page 4: Brian Stelfreeze
The first sketch in my book is by Brian Stelfreeze. I remember first meeting Brian as he was trying to get into comics - previously he had some mundane job (doing architectural renderings or something similar) and really wanted to start over in a career that better suited his talents - he did this three page short Captain America story that was very good - it was very cinematographic and landing him a job with a local comic publisher doing Cycops. It was also during this time he started doing some painted subject matter. So this sketch was from right around this time. I later ended up trading Brian some stereo equipment for some other examples of his work - I actually own the painted wrap-around cover for the cycops hardcover and I've also got this X-Men Colossus painting (with Colossus wearing a Gold's Gym tank) that Brian later told me got him his first painted cover assignments. All this was before forming Gaijin Studios.

Sketchbook 1, Page 5: Mike Grell
Mike Grell happened to be attending the same AFF convention and I got to speak with him extensively. Still rather fanboy-ish I fondly remembered the Warlord strip Mike drew for DC. I'll have to say his pencil sketch for me far exceeded my expectations - I think this rendering is better than most fully-inked images I've seen Mike do.

Sketchbook 1, Page 6: Larry Dixon
I met Larry at this convention and as you can see he's quite talented - never heard of him? This is one of those really sad tales of how someone very talented can be so turned off by an industry that he abandons it. Larry was always a big Marvel fan and finally got his big break by pencilling a Longshot story for Marvel Presents (or some similar rag) - the pencils were really outright gorgeous with fine line details throughout and great panel-to-panel storytelling. Unfortunately someone at Marvel decided to have Alfredo Alcala ink his story - now I'm actually a fan of Alcala - what Conan fan wouldn't be? But in essence the heavy inks completely destroyed the fine details of Larry's renderings - in disgust Larry went back to doing advertising art - such a waste.

Sketchbook 1, Page 7: Trina Robbins
Wow - how fortunate I feel to have gotten this sketch. Trina is an old friend of Bob Burden's and he somehow got her to do this sketch for me. I really wasn't that familiar with her work so at the time I only appreciated it from this sketch - at face value, however the fine line quality didn't escape me. Now I marvel at it. Note the word balloon - after the initial few sketches all turned out to be females someone said "Hey it's a bimbo book" and the label stuck. Most of the sketches in this book and later in book two are all of women - many scantily clad or nude (SB2 became known as "Bimbos Too".

Sketchbook 1, Page 10: Bob Burden
Not to be outdone, my pal Bob did a rendering for me while he and Trina had the book - this is Chiquita Robota who first appeared in Robot Comics. As is often the case with Bob, the image is unsigned as he felt it wasn't quite done. I believe this is the only illo of Chiquita Bob has ever done outise of Robot Comics but could be mistaken. My favorite part is the "nipple switch" - great concept!

Sketchbook 2, Page 17: Donald Sympson
I don't quite remember where I first met Don Sympson but we ended up hanging out a bit. That's how I got this sketch (I think it was at an airport where Bob and I were traveling and ran into him). Note that this is from SB2 - I got quite impatient when Bob and Trina had SB1 so decided to start another book while that one was out of commission - Don just opened it up and starting drawing - he has this amazing talent shared by some others (Sergio Aragones comes to mind) that allows him to start drawing just about anything and completing it in a matter of minutes. There's quite a bit more of Don later in my books (some of it unprintable as he was in his "Anton Drek" persona).

Hopefully I haven't lost anyone - that's it for 1988 other than some loose sketches. I'll commence with 1989 in smaller chunks as I got quite a few renderings that year.

-- Best, John

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