Monday, December 31, 2007

One Banner: Epilogue

Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.–Matt. 18:20

Not one, please note. Two or three minimum.

The bottom line regarding Unity in Christian Comics is this.

You can whine about it. You can stomp your feet and insist it’s the only way. And you’ll display your ignorance and end up coming up empty.

Or… you can actually do things to bring brothers and sisters together. You won’t get them all. All you need are two or three.

You can be like Ben Avery, who helped found Community Comics and the original Yahoo comics group to bring brothers and talents together. You can be like Nate Butler who created Christian Comics International and COMIX35, which recruits talent and helps to create and distribute evangelical comics in many languages all over the world. You can be like Phil Servant, whose Cyberlight Comics provides regular online comic serials from a variety of artists. You could be like Dean Rankine who united a group of artists form Australia to publish the Pulp Crucifixion anthology, or Veli Lopenon who created an anthology and translated work for use in Finland.

You could be like Tom Hall, Dan Bradford, Kneon Transitt or Dan Barlowe, all uber-talented but still smart enough to surround themselves with more uber-talented guys to make their great work even better. You could be like Jeff Slemons who lends his amazing painting skills to his friends’ projects, or Mark Melton or Josh Alves who provide the colors for many other works, or Psycho Ann who lends her comics to every anthology out there.

Let me also toot Megazeen’s horn for a moment. MZ has been recruiting talent from all over the world for six years. One time we sold a friend’s comic online as a favor and we gradually became an online store for a hundred independent comics. We began hosting Christiancomics.net as a fellowship and meeting place for Christian artists. We co-hosted Megaunity to challenge artists and get them working together. Most recently we began to offer quality, reasonably priced print services.

You can talk about unity, or you can create situations that are conducive to unity.

Thus concludes my series on One Banner. I trust I’ve been clear, and I hope somebody got something out of it.

Happy New Year all.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

One Banner #10: Creative Differences


Huh. Been a while since I drew that guy.
Up till now I’ve talked about why unity does not work, and still made it clear that I do not support complete unity, but haven’t said why. If there is any one overriding reason that Christian comic artists should not unify under one banner, one company, one ring to rule them all, it is creative differences. This issue is amplified by doctrinal differences, pride, artistic expression and ability.

Example: Artist A only wants to do comics about missionaries and bible adaptations- pure narrative documentaries, no artistic license. Artist B is okay with bible adaptations but wants to update the stories into a sci-fi setting. Artist A is offended that the characters are not wearing robes and sandals, and cites scripture as his defense. “The Bible doesn’t require updating,” Artist A would say. “The Bible is timeless and it doesn’t matter what they’re wearing,” Artist B would say. Then Artist C shows up and does a Bible comic, but fleshes out a scene with new and updated dialogue and character development. Now A & B think this is blasphemy, since scripture is being “changed,” but artist C thinks it’s cool because they’re still wearing sandals and robes.

Just down the road some guys don’t want to do Bible adaptations at all. They want to do superheroes struggling with Christianity (o but they’re wearing tights! The women look too hot and the guys need codpieces!). Or angels and spiritual warfare (most of which requires artistic license from a combination of scripture, tradition and imagination). Or end times (pre-trib trip? Pre-trip trib? Or any of a zillion interpretations of Revelations). Or superheroes and rock music combined (gag).

Then further on there’s a group doing comics with strong storylines but a more subtle spiritual message, more acceptable in the mainstream but less acceptable in the staunchy world of Christian marketing and churchface (because it involves, you know, thinking). And then there’s the downright irreverent, that have the nerve to make us laugh, to infer that, sometimes, Christians fart (it wasn't the dog) or act downright silly and/or obnoxious.

Take these differences and throw in religious conviction (aka self-righteousness most of the time) and you’ve got a melting pot that just won’t melt. Oh it’ll boil over a lot. But it won’t melt. Particularly where people have no ability to discern the difference between principle and preference.

Cerebus-300 issues later

Okay, so back in August I mentioned that I was reading through the entire 300-issue, 6000 page run of Cerebus this year. Last night, after roughly one issue per night all year, I finally, finally completed my reading (I read the comics, btw, NOT the giant phone books).

It was interesting, in the next-to-last issue, Sim mentioned that those of us in happy relationships and marriages would likely not enjoy the last, oh, say, 120 issues and long for the days of the earlier, funnier issues.
Yeah, something like that. I found that wading through "Guys", "Form and Void" and "Latter Days" to be a nightmarish, rambling of a bitter man with so little to say and so many words to say it in. I missed the days where he could rip my heart out and stun me with plot twists and character developments, as he did during Jaka's Story, Church & State, and Melmoth and Women. Once Cerebus came back from the Ascension (the climax of the story in my opinion) he just wandered through 120 issues of pathetic, depressing "I am man hear me whine" narrative. The new characters seemed forced, where characters of the past (Elrod, Sophia, Lord Julius and the Roach, to name a few) belonged.
It wasn't that I minded his anti-feminist stand (I agree with him on many points, including his 15 Impossible Things to believe Before Breakfast That Make You a Good Feminist). I do pity his selfishness and inability to find joy in life with a good woman. They are out there. I got me one.
There were some bright points for sure in the last 10 years' worth, though far fewer and farther between than in the frst 180 issues). Loved the Last Day (although I didn't quite follow the revelations of #299 or where/how exactly SheShep had come along). I was pleased with Jaka's final appearance and Cerebus' final moments. Rick, Joanne, Weisshaupt and Astoria were wonderfully tragic characters. I'm going to miss them. I wonder if Dave does too?
If anyone has not heard of it, Dave has finally announced his new top-secret project, Glamourpuss. Will I pick it up? You betcha.
Anyway, thanks again Dave. You're not at all surprised that I didn't enjoy the entire series, but that should be okay. It doesn't make me ignorant any more than it makes you. You gave me reads that were a heck of a lot better than any superhero book I've read in the past 2 decades for sure. And I've scooped up a bunch of your Guide to Self-Publishing to give out to friends- should be required reading for indy artists.

Monday, December 24, 2007

What Would Jesus Say?

I think he'd say HAHAHAHAHA!!!

Seriously... do we think God has no sense of humor? Do we think Jesus would not have done cool trendy stuff today? He was approachable in his day, and still is today.

Of course we COULD all flip out and start blowing people up...

Nah.

www.wearefishermen.com

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas

You know what I love about Christmas?

There's a little ceramic jar in my house that my wife fills with M&M's for me, just because she loves me. And today, she came home from food shopping and had bought some port wine cheese spread and was excited to tell me that she got it for me, because she loves me.

It may not seem like much, but this is the time of year that we seem to find a few extra reasons and creative way to love each other.

My wife is a dynamic, wonderfuly smart, nuturing, hysterically funny person, and my goodness I think she's just gorgeous. Though she has little interest in the things that interest me (comics, movies, music, etc) she still seems to delight in just me. It boggles my mind.

You know what I love about Christmas?

Experiencing it with her.

One Banner #9- Parable Explained


I would hope that the Parable of the Sandboxes is self-explanatory. However, I would also hope that the truth behind it would be so self-evident that artists would be working hard to make it a thing of the past. And yet, here we are.

The sandbox is the artist’s personal vision and body of work. Pride often attaches us to these projects so much that we become isolated, and the projects never become all they can be (in fact, they often fail to materialize at all). Further, someone else’s project might be improved and realized by someone else lending a creative hand- but that requires some sacrifice. There’s that word again.

Teamwork requires a character trait that will not be found in the prideful: compromise. Compromise means that you might have to give up YOUR project to work on another one. It might mean that your creative teammates might make suggestions about changing story or art elements for the betterment of the project. If you’re a hardliner “my way or the highway” kind of guy, you’ll be alone in your sandbox in short order.

As soon as you invite people into you sandbox, it becomes THEIR sandbox too in a way. If you can do it, you’ll have a lot more fun and your comics will rock. If ya can’t hack that, play by yourself.

The Bible teaches us quite clearly that we’re not to be alone. The New Testament alone has over 50 verses that emphasize how we are to be with “one another” and “each other.” There’s a reason for this: God loves it when we fellowship, and good things come from it.

I just get plain giddy when I see artists working together. Some of my best times in comics have been when I’ve gotten to work with talented guys like Tom Hall, Hale Burckinh, Jesus Marquez, Kneon Transitt, Ben Avery and many others. To me, that’s what it’s all about.

But I’m still not an advocate of one banner, one company, one ring to rule them all (just to be clear). Doctrinal, creative and business differences come into play more the larger the pool gets. I guess that’s where we’re going next- perhaps the ugliest arguments of all that have caused the most strife.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Kalypso


Let it be know that the Endres Family does not mourn long.

Kalypso is about 14 weeks and 28 pounds already, a Great Pyranese mix that was rescued with her two brothers from a kill shelter in Georgia, trucked up to NJ for adoption.

And she's home.

Thanks to all your well-wishes and condolences about our loss earlier this week. We received a flurry of emails, cards and calls of sympathy. It really touched our hearts.
We're big advocates of pet adoption- there's nothing like the gratitude and loyalty of a shelter dog. To find a new friend, go to petfinder.com

Friday, December 14, 2007

ONE BANNER #8 – The Parable of the Sandboxes



Once there was giant playground filled fence to fence with sandboxes. Each sandbox belonged to one guy (or gal) and they were busy digging in our own sand, building their own sand castles, making their own mudpies, and all seemed well. They talked to each other, waved hi and said, “Nice job” and stuff, but stayed in their own boxes doing their own thing.

Now there was one guy that has some fine looking nice sand and a shovel or two, but no buckets, and his sandcastle didn’t hold together. He spied a girl nearby with some buckets- she was using water and her castles look sturdy, but the sand was old and has leaves in it, and the castle didn’t have much form.

The guy had a few choices- continue doing what he was doing, OR offer to help the girl out with her project, OR ask the girl to help with HIS project. Yet he was only really interested in his own sandbox, and didn’t want to play in hers because it would take away from time spent in his OWN sandbox. But he knew that he needed help, so he asked the girl to come play in his sandbox and bring her buckets over.

The girl realized very quickly that, despite how pretty the guy’s sand was, she would be doing what seemed like the lion’s share of the work on the guy’s castle, since it was obvious he couldn’t make one on his own. She didn’t want to leave HER sandbox behind either.

And so, they continued to sit, working in their own sandbox island.

On the other side of the playground, a couple more guys each had a sandbox. But here, one guy looked at the other guy, who has some mad skills working the sand, and offered to bring his Tonka trucks and Star Wars figures over. Together they built an empire in the sand.

I ask you, dear disciples, which of these was most accomplished?

“The man who shared his trucks and figures,” they responded.

Yea, and I say verily, you are correct. For that man showed humility and generosity and mad skills in the sand. Alone, your sandcastles will blow into dust and be pooped upon by seagulls. But when we work in fellowship with each other, moving mountains is as easy as shoveling sand, and we can accomplish far more.

Next: Joe explains the parable of the sandboxes

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Worst Day of My Life

Bye Heidi. Bye Mush.

You two dopey dogs, don't drive Jesus too crazy.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

One Banner #7- The Rock Star

Recapping the traditional arguments against unity in Christian comics:

Egos are too big.
People all have their own projects and don’t want to work on others’ projects.
We all approach the art differently.
Comic unity won’t work for the same reason that there are Christian denominations.
No one wants to take charge.
No one wants to submit to a person in charge.
There aren’t enough comics to justify a company.
Money.

Pride is clearly the main demon to blame for three of them, but I will go so far as to state that pride plays into every single one of them, and that pride is at the root of virtually every sin imaginable.

Egos the size of Captain Kirk’s are common when it comes to the creative arts. When my friend and I were radio DJ’s for a Christian show, our respective egos nearly cost us our friendship. No different when it comes to comics. There is something odd that comes over a person when they see their name in print. Immediately the dreams start to play into our heads and we become Captain Kirk. We can take on the galaxy. We can be Jim Lee or Alex Ross or any one of the guys that’s come of rock-star status.

Also playing into this: artists are notoriously insecure. Do not confuse insecurity with humility; they are worlds apart. Insecurity is a monster that begs to be appeased and fed with unending compliments, starved for positive feedback. Insecurity will come out as extreme defensiveness when criticized. Insecurity crushes the spirit.

Humility is its own reward. Pride asks, “How can I impress other people?” Humility asks, “How can I serve other people?” Pride asks, “How can I impress God?” Humility asks “How will God impress me?” Pride says, “Look at me! Look at my stuff with my big ole name on it!” Humility says, “Look at God!” or “Look at the work that guy over there is doing!”

I find annoying those who do nothing but self-promote on their blogs and message boards. You never see anything added to a conversation that doesn’t involve their own product placement. They’re not interested in souls or friends. They’re interested in themselves, masked in a shroud of artistic mission. If their work is attacked they take it personally and cut off friendships and fellowships. It is these types of people, whom it might seem are so active in the art, who are also doing the most to cut down unity. Coincidentally, it is these same people who are usually on the forefront of stating why unity will not work (cleverly inserting a commercial for their product into the argument along the way).

Artists: your skills came from God. They are a gift. God has also given you the means (time, money, mentors, materials) by which you can refine the gift. And any of it can be taken away in a microsecond. God and God alone is solely responsible, so we shouldn’t be taking a shred of credit for it. If you’re proud, you’re proud of something that someone else GAVE to you. And that’s foolishness. If there’s bragging to be done it should be done as boasting of God’s awesomeness, not your own contracts and premiere dates.

I’ve got a lot to say on this. I’m on a roll.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Anime Con

OOPS!!! Forgot to mention, Tom Hall and I will be at the Jacob Javits Center in NYC this weekend at the Anime Convention to promote our new book, Mecha Manga Bible Stories. Will have copies of Megazeen on hand as well as full-color ashcans and posters of the new book. BE THERE!!!!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

One Banner #6- The Elephant in the Room

Gonna get this out of the way first, since it is the most common reason cited for the failure of Christian comics, the most common reason provided for not supporting Christian comics, the most common reason cited for not printing the comics that have been created.

Money.

What a lame-ass cop-out.

First of all, the argument has already proven invalid if we were to use the scientific method. A few years ago, a guy had come upon a decent sized sum of money and decided to start a Christian comic company. He promised to collect the best talent available, and pay them, and crank out some quality comics. He did none of these things. More than half of the talent acquired was unimpressive at best, he failed to pay what he promised to many of them, and the comics sucked with a capital S. Thus proven, simply throwing money at it won’t make it work. One company had money, one company did not. The one with money, poof gone. The one with no money, still kickin’.

Secondly, the “prohibitive” cost of printing comics is hogwash. That is more of a mindset that the artist just has to get over.

There are two options an artist has to see his book get into print- (1) pay to print it himself or (2) get someone else to have enough faith in him to foot the bill. The latter option is an entirely separate issue. I won’t pretend to know a lot about it. What I do know about it is that the main motivation to pursuing a publisher or backer is money. It’s a mindset that’s tough to get over in this day and age of six-and-seven figure artists. Unless you’re willing to go through the steps of being a success in the industry (schooling, pounding the comic con circuit, collecting the mountain of rejection letters, prepping a portfolio, etc etc) that’s likely a steep uphill climb. Not insurmountable of course, but not easy.

Let’s go back to option A, self-publishing. “I don’t have the money to print.” Most artists could if they wanted to. I’m very frank about that and I believe it. The truth is not that the artist does not have the money- rather, that he chooses to spend the money in other ways. This is plain old budgetary stuff.

Let’s assume that the artist is your average fanboy at heart. It costs him at least $20 to go to a movie alone and buy a drink and popcorn. Bring a date and it’s a lot more- but hey, we’re talking average fanboy here, so dating really isn’t in the cards, is it? Ten mainstream comic books will set a collector back $30-$40 easy. A video game costs $20-$50 (without the system). Could we safely say that your average fanboy making a few sacrifices could scrape together $100 within one month? Then YOU can print 100 copies of your book, for about a buck a copy. Sell them at $3 cover and you just have to sell a third of them to make your investment back (selling 33 copies to friends and family is a piece o cake).

If you’re wise with the revenue, you won’t just turn it into another night at the movies and trip to the comic shop and PSII game- you’ll print issue 2 with it.

Money, like most everything else, simply boils down to choices. If God is leading you to write a draw a comic, which is LOADS of fun, isn’t it also logical he might be asking for a less pleasant sacrifice as well?

Now you could tell me that you barely scrimp by and eat Alpo, play an old Atari 2600 on a b&w TV and don’t have a dime to spare. But really, be honest with yourself. You don’t have to convince me. If I’m never gonna see your comics then the excuses don’t much matter to me. It’s your choice. Your elephant.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

One Banner #5- The Traditional Arguments Against

Whenever the topic of Christian Comics Unity has raised its head again like unto the Loch Ness Monster, usually a few well-meaning, seasoned vets of the movement will attempt to write off the idea in a quick nutshell, like there’s one simple overriding reason. The arguments AGAINST usually go something like this:

Egos are too big.
People all have their own projects and don’t want to work on others’ projects.
We all approach the art differently.
Comic unity won’t work for the same reason that there are Christian denominations.
No one wants to take charge.
No one wants to submit to a person in charge.
There aren’t enough comics to justify a company.
Money.

They’re all true. But they’re all not completely true. And they all should not be true. And there’s a lot more to the puzzle than any one of these individual sound bites.

I want to make it clear that I am NOT a proponent of the “One Banner” idea as it has been suggested, i.e. one ring to rule them all. I am a proponent of self-publishing. While I believe there are business reasons to do work under the heading of a larger company, I more strongly believe that artistic freedom in this industry is key to ensuring the purest expression. The greatest enemy of a visionary artist is a bureaucracy, and the worst kinds of bureaucracies I’ve bumped into have been (sadly) Christian bureaucracies.

However, I do wish to explore the validity of the arguments against the idea of unity, in an attempt to explore real solutions and to address the issue intelligently.

And when I say “intelligently” I mean that I’m not arguing these points on a message board in brief nuggets to be picked apart. “Intelligence” seems to fly right out the window on message boards. This is my little corner of the web, and my little one-sided monologue. So nyah.

“The Elephant in the Room” by the way, is money. I’ll kick off with that one next time.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

One Banner #4- The Ratings System


According to Websters, a conglomerate is a corporation consisting of a number of subsidiary companies or divisions in a variety of unrelated industries, usually as a result of merger or acquisition. The fact that the Christian Comics Conglomerate really wasn’t this didn’t deter its use of the name. It was not a corporation and had no intention of acquiring properties. In fact, it had no money. But “diversified”, yeah, it had lots of that.

In fact, it was this diversification that probably made a few stiff shirts pretty darn nervous. They didn’t want their Bible adaptations and Barney Bear-esque, sugar-sweet kid stuff tainted with the other riff-raff (like Megazeen, which again had no intention of being a part of this). We’ve already established that quality would not be a factor. And so, many discussions went into the idea of a ratings system by which all comics that SUBMIT for Conglomerate APPROVAL would be judged.

This was coming just as the Comics Code Authority was dying (CCA is now a completely irrelevant issue). So yeah, leave it to Christians to drag themselves back four decades to the sixties. Oh, but don’t worry- when Christians get a bee in our collective bonnet, we go all out and create a series of uber-restrictive rules that ensure that no risks can be taken.

Case in point.

There were two aspects of the Ratings System being proposed. One dealt with age appropriateness. Some would argue that all Christian comics should be for all ages, and be nice and safe and kid-friendly, and thereby a ratings system should not be necessary. A little closer to planet Earth, some proposed a system similar to what they have for movies. Some mild violence might earn it a “PG” type rating, move adult situations (such as characters dealing with issues like drugs or sex or death) might bump it to PG-16, and foul language could push it to MA (a rarity but it happens). Because, you know, we don’t want to offend anyone.

But of course, with Christians, life’s never that simple. For example, what if there’s a demon in the book? Even if it’s not technically violent it could scare a kid or offend a parent. Can’t have that. And violence is one thing, but blood is another, and decapitations are way out. And so, any of these aspects of controversy that wight be in the book would clearly appear on the Conglomerate Seal Of Approval/Warning Label.

The second aspect of the rating system was far more disturbing.

It was the firm belief of one of the participants (it was not the Mastermind but someone else who had been pushing for this, so he decided to attach himself to this like pork projects on a government budget) that theological and denominational issues needed to be listed in the warning label as well. After all, what tragedy could unfold if an Episcopalian picked up a Pentecostal comic book? Or a pre-trib tripper bought a pre-trip trib end-times comic? Or a comic that leaned toward free will were to be purchased by a pre-destination loyalist? The chaos that could ensue. It’s unthinkable madness.

And so, where mainstream comics have enjoyed a rapidly shrinking CCA label or none at all, Conglomerate Christian Comics ratings would be incredibly oppressive. Let’s say a comic in which a teenager deals with temptation, such as in Mark Melton’s Angeldreams, would be forced carry a warning of PG16, Blood & Gore, Demons, Drug Use, Sexual Content, Free Will Protestant.

Soccer moms would now be terrified to purchase it, and comic fans that would purchase it would likely be wondering what all the warning fuss is about. The only bright side was that, if so much description is required, there would be no need to work on that pesky cover art, since there would be no room for it.

To rip through the rest of this inane story, I remember that there was the beginning of a contract for submission drawn up and posted to the board. Then the Mastermind abruptly announced he was moving to Canada and would be unable to participate any further, and we never heard from him again. I’m not kidding about this.

Ah, the insane world of Christian comic books.

For my next magical trick, I will attempt to define & conquer the main “unity” issues, starting with “The Elephant in the Room.”

Saturday, November 24, 2007

One Banner #3- Submission and Approval

Continuing my history lesson of the rightly-doomed-from-the-start Christian Comics Conglomerate, circa 2003.

The Conglomerate Mastermind (I thought about abbreviating this but I really really like typing it every time) nominated himself to head the approval board for any comic that would apply to the Conglomerate. As a reminder, the Mastermind (to our knowledge) had no credentials, no comic book background, no theological background and no business background that any of us were aware of. So if you thought the marketing plan was fun, this should really crack you up.

This was where several people seemed to come out of the woodwork and offer their opinions. The Mastermind listened to everyone, I will give him credit for that. He was not as ornery or defensive as many are on the ChristianComics.net board (including me). He was smart enough to want to be the dumbest guy in the room (mission accomplished) and took in loads of input before making decisions. The discussion went on for a few weeks, each day getting more ludicrous than the last.

This was just one of the decisions: Quality was not going to be a factor in the approval process.

That's correct. If someone was submitting an 8-page photocopied b&w ashcan comic that he’d drawn and lettered with his feet, or someone else was submitting a glossy 48-page full-color graphic novel with amazing art and a well-thought-out story, they would both be privy to the same approval process. This was to ensure that untalented artists were not discriminated against. Because, you know, that would be unfair, and sad, and we don't want to leave anyone out.

Borrowing from Groucho Marx, pardon me while I have a strange interlude.

(It’s a good thing our police force selects fit, intelligent candidates. It’s a good thing that the airlines select thin attendants. It’s a good thing that many years of medical training are required to be a doctor, and exam is required to become a CPA, a good speaking voice is a must if you’re a radio DJ. If you want to work for Marvel or DC you have to display certain elements of consistency, competency and quality to your skill. But by golly, how many times have we all heard ferociously bad singing from a church choir, bumped into inept church board members, complained how bad most Christian music is, snored through a monotone sermon and had to grin and fake it to encourage horrible, cheesy, badly drawn Christian cartooning?!? “Having a heart for it” isn’t enough- if God has told you to jump into this pool, then in my opinion you’re obligated not just to do it but to get GOOD at it. Quality in presentation should always be an overriding factor in whatever we do, if we want to glorify God with it.)

The Conglomerate, to clarify, was not setting out to be a publisher or an editor. The purpose was to create some name brand product recognition and to allow for an avenue of marketing not otherwise available to small-press indy Christian comics. However, in yoking the talented with the untalented the "brand" would become its own worst enemy.

Let's say Blue Bunny Ice Cream (my favorite brand) put its name on Brussell Sprout flavored ice cream. Very quickly, Blue Bunny would become know for putting out crap. Now, that doesn't seem right, does it? After all, there was some well-meaning flaor technician at Blue Bunny whose heart was in it. Wasn't her fault that the public didn't like her idea. Well, yeah it is. She misread the public. She didn't do her homework. She didn't take the time to get to know her trade. And in the end she brings the brand down, despite the fact that the rest of Blue Bunny's line is oh-so-yummy.

Same thing here.

So what, exactly, was being approved you may ask?

Next installment: The Ratings System.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

One Banner #2- The Conglomerate

In a prior incarnation of the ChristianComics.net forum, someone, I don’t remember who, I don’t think we ever heard from him again whomever it was, came up with the idea of a Christian Comics Conglomerate. This was his solution to the “undeniable need” for one banner under which all Christian comics would operate.

I recall this being a particularly annoying discussion, for so many reasons. For one, the person who started the discussion and who seemed to spearhead the operation, I had no idea who he was. To my knowledge he had never made a comic book, wasn’t an artist or a businessman or anyone responsible for anything. He went under a pseudonym and nobody seemed to question the anonymity or lack of credentials.

Despite this, the Conglomerate still seemed to get more interest and support than any other idea before its time, which would have frightened me quite a bit if I’d ever had any fleeting inkling of considering the slightest possibility of submitting any of my work or Megazeen to this insane concept. The Conglomerate was so completely preposterous that I don’t even recall participating in the discussion, although I watched from a distance with great interest, much like a visitor to a zoo watching the chimpanzees throwing their own feces. You don’t want to see it, but you can’t stop watching.

The concept of the Conglomerate went something like this (and to put this in perspective, look back about 3 years ago): taking the comic-making quality Community Comics, the e-commerce mechanisms and regular online updates of Megazeen (at the time we were updating weekly) and the talent pool and online fellowship and presence of ChristianComics.net, along with some other island grass-roots efforts, and utilizing them all under one banner where each could strengthen the other. I was flattered that he’d think of Megazeen as being a key part of the puzzle, but I never offered or suggested it.

The president of the Conglomerate (the aforementioned Mastermind nominated himself) would head up marketing efforts. These marketing efforts would include online sales for sure, and comic shops and bookstores. But the big brainchild here was that somehow we’d get into the end caps of supermarket checkout lines right next to the National Enquirer and Soap Digest. Hey it was working for Disney Magazine right?

This provides a further clue to how way off-base this idea was. First of all, putting any traditional true mainstream comic books in supermarket end caps is akin to selling feminine hygiene products as impulse buys at Home Depot. It’s like pushing Star Wars figures at Victoria’s Secret. It’s like selling power drills at the pet shop. Get the idea? Know your audience. Your audience is comic book readers, kids, teens, young adult males, aging overweight slobbering adult males, not soccer moms buying their week’s groceries.

Again keep in mind, the Conglomerate Mastermind had no business experience. But he was going to conquer Winn-Dixie and Stop n Shop.

The Conglomerate would carry its own logo and any book that would submit to the Conglomerate would get a Conglomerate seal of approval. Sounds good, much like the old CCA, and providing some product recognition.

But two words should jump out as big ole red flags. Submit. Approval. If you’re not seeing the problem with this, hang on it’s a fun ride.

Monday, November 19, 2007

One Banner



I have been in the Christian comics scene since 1995, and I’ve seen it blossom since 2001 with the advent of the internet and the introduction of Megazeen. I’ll make two points here, then go right into my sermon.
1- Message boards have been both the best and worst thing that has happened to Christian comics.
2- Megazeen has played a huge role in the growth of independent Christian comics, whether the critics want to admit that or not.

However, I’m really not arguing either of those points at the moment. The thing ticking me off today is the argument that comes up at least once a year on the message boards (such as Yahoo or ChristianComics.net). It’s usually raised by someone dipping his big toe into the pool for the first time and thinks he’s an Olympic swimmer with all the answers.

The argument is presented in different ways but ultimately comes out the same: that the only way for Christian comics to succeed is for all of us to unite under one banner (company).

From an outsider’s viewpoint, it seems logical enough. One banner creates brand recognition i.e. Image/Marvel/DC. People working together creates defined jobs, synergy and specialization. Combined funds can produce and turn over product more efficiently and allow for growth. As a manager of a multi-million dollar company, I find it difficult to argue any of these points and won’t bother.

The problem comes in with the fact that this is a creative industry. Artists are a notoriously insecure lot. We like our playground and don’t like other people who want to play in our playground or criticize our playground. In other words, we don’t work well with others. Artists are also a notoriously frugal lot- we don’t have cash (thus the phrase “starving artist”). So, combining funds doesn’t much matter when you’ve got a roomful of starving artists who can’t ante up.

Now, add the word Christian to it. This should eliminate the insecurity issue, since insecurity is pride, and pride is a sin, and Christians don’t sin right? And the money thing, well, if we’re Christians we should be well-rewarded and God should meet our needs and we should know how to sacrifice. When you’re all done laughing I’ll continue.

The problem is that the Christian thing seems to amplify the other issues rather than cancel them out. Not only is the artist insecure, he’s also wickedly adherent to a theology and philosophy regarding his art. So, to attack my art is to attack me AND the way God made me. As far as money goes, Christians are stingy. We are. If every Christian tithed, world hunger could be eliminated in one year. That’s a fact. But we don’t.

Just for kicks, let’s put four guys in a room and see what happens.

One guy has a comical approach that addresses Christian weakness. Another guy swears by doing Bible story adaptations and ONLY Bible adaptations. Another will only do kid-friendly evangelical work suitable for a children’s Sunday school class. Another tells a clever, dark story with subtle spiritual themes. And these four guys are supposed to pool their resources and help each other under one banner.

What happens is that Bible Guy finds Dark Guy and Funny Guy too irreverent, and tolerates kid-friendly guy who really isn’t very talented. Dark Guy and Funny Guy get together and work on something together but produce something too risqué for Kid-friendly Guy to handle. Bible Guy gets bent out of shape because what the other Guys are working on ain’t Bible, and if it ain’t Bible then how can it possibly glorify God? Kid-Friendly Guy is feverishly working on his own on a sugary-sweet badly drawn story, but that shouldn’t matter because it’s a Godly story and he’s excited about it, but since the truly talented Dark and Funny Guys aren’t patting him on the back he’s getting quickly discouraged.

This is a lot of what happens on message boards. Imagine if these jokers actually tried to form a company together? And that’s before any money is involved.

There is a second ironic part to this. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Musings at 39- Not So Smart After All


When I was a young kid I shared a room with my brother who was five years younger than I. For the most part it wasn't a cool scene- he knew how to exploit my last nerve and I knew how to beat him up. More on that some other time, I'm still gathering my thoughts on that one.

Anyways, I had "my drawer." Every kid has a drawer or a box or a hidden compartment that only he is supposed to go through. It allows a kid to have some semblance of control, some element of privacy in a world where nearly every choice is made for them. It's not even important what you PUT in the drawer, only that it is YOURS. If I recall, I kept my Mad Magazines and limited comic book collection here, my limited cash, the guns for my Star Wars figures- you know, the important stuff.

Well, my brother liked to go in the drawer, because he knew how to press my buttons. Kid couldn't even read yet and he wanted to look at my comics. Unacceptable, right? Of course, redundant question. So to fix this, I tore the bell off the top of a toy schoolhouse, and tied a string between it and the drawer handle, precariously teetering on the edge of the dresser so that, should a bandit want to search my treasure drawer, he would surely be caught red-handed.

This is a good example of how we always assume we're just a little smarter that the next guy. What in the world made me think that my brother, at age 5, could not make the connection between drawer and string and bell? And here's the ironic part- if I'd never told my brother that the drawer was off-limits, ya think he ever would've given it a second glance?

As I have grown older, I have been gradually making the switch from thinking I'm the smartest guy in the room, which was almost always wrong, to wanting to be the dumbest guy in the room. The advantage in this second way of thinking is that you can't learn from anyone if you think the first way. If you're the smartest guy you can't hear- if you're the dumbest guy you'll listen to get smarter.

Wow. Trippy.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Musings at 39: Memorable Quotes

Just passed the halfway mark to 40 this past week.

There are certain events in our lives that may seem insignificant to those around us, and even ourselves at the time, but they stick with us and somehow transform our lives. It's in those seeming inoccuous moments that our eyes open just a little more, and we make a decision that radically changes the direction of our lives.

Think about that for a moment. From the outside, that means that YOU might say something today, in your regular rambling diatribe, while shaking someone's hand, while speaking to your children or a friend, that will have an amazing impact on them and they will never forget it. You've already forgotten it. But THEY will replay that tape in their head, over and over again, and it could change their very view of the world, for better or worse.

I will always remember a church guy who took me aside after one of my earliest preaching gigs at a church in Dover. I had preached on integrity and told a story about my friend Anthony as an example, who was an honor-filled genuine friend (not perfect but real) who got saved a few years before a brain tumor got the best of him. Anyways, the church guy was rambling on about a storytelling clinic he'd been to, and tying in a story to a message, and yadda yadda yadda, and then got to the part where he just HAD to share, "And that's why your message didn't work for me."

I didn't preach for a year after that. It took me that long to pull myself back up.

On the other side of the equation, I will always remember my dad's words as he drove me to pick up my very first date at age 12 (believe it or not). He said to me, "I won't always be there there to tell you what to do or not do. But I will tell you this. Your mother and I waited until we were married, and we have never regretted it."

I abstained until I got married, based almost solely on those words.

We must make haste to be kind and impart true wisdom. We must hesitate and measure both motives and expected results when criticizing. Our words can crush or heal, halt progress or alter history. Right now I am doing a lot of soul-searching on my own, particularly about the unfortunate impact I may have had on people's lives, and the positive potential I still have. I am 39, and I don't want to waste a remaining moment or do any more damage. I only wish that this had dawned on me a couple decades earlier. But here it is, now, for the faithful reader of ye olde guy's blog, learn from me and may these words impact you.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Obituary


Not how I thought I'd die but I'll take it.

At least that's what this site says. And hey, who am I to argue?

Starving Artists at a Comic Show


I went to a small comic dealer show in Fairfield, NJ after church today. It's a small bimonthly show with maybe 15-20 dealers. Bargains galore and good collector stuff. I find the big shows are sometimes too heavy on dollar boxes and not so heavy on good collector's items. Perhaps that's a sign of the times in the industry. Anyways, good mix at this show, and they do this cool little no-minimum-bid auction with some good stuff dirt cheap. But I'm rambling, because I'm going through this phase of not finding any comics I like. I think my continuing journey through Cerebus (all 300 issues) has sucked the life out of my fanboy side. So I bought almost nothing aside from a DVD my daughter wanted and an old Yellow Submarine Ringo/Blue Meanie figure. But I'm rambling again.

There were a few artists there doing their thing, though, so I spent most of my time chatting with them.

The point I'm leading toward (geez there had to be a point sometime) is that you can spend 10 bucks on dollar boxes or you can spend 10 bucks and support an indy artist and make his day. Having spent lots and lots of time on that side of the table, I know what it looks like, watching people walk past your table because it's the straight line between the dollar boxes and the 3-for-a-dollar boxes. Not really wanting to give you a a glance for fear that you'll talk to them Not wanting to express interest for guilt of not spending cash. Not wanting to give a few minutes time to look at work that this artist has poured his heart and soul into.

I bought some xeroxed prints from Dana Greene, who had studied at the NY school for visual arts. Once we began to talk he showed me a stack of photos of the celebs he's met at shows. He was painting an Iron Man shot at his table so I watched his technique for a while. I learned a lot. Gave him the Megazeen site to look at. Who knows what will happen?

Another artist, Michael Parla, was doing some amazing work with Prismacolor pencils and black cardstock. Really cool stuff, I'd never seen anything like it before. I bought three postcard-sized prints from him. So impressed was I that I stopped on the way home at the art store to buy some Prismacolor pencils and black cardstock. I gotta give this a shot.

The third artist (I did not get the name I'm sorry) had a portfolio of pinups and sequentials that I flipped through. We discussed inking techniques, the old "brush vs pen vs quill" debate to which there is no right or wrong, just talk of the trade.

This weekend I spent $55 having my Amazing Spiderman #129 professionally graded, and I spent 10 bucks on some indy artists. I wish it had been the other way around. And I resolve to make it moreso from now on. You should too.
Today's pic is the Sculpy version of Dean Rankine's Sticky Bunny, because I had an afternoon to kill.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Side Effects


I've had lunch with a former member of the Croatian mafia. I've met Kenny Baker (R2D2), Peter Meyhew (Chewbacca) and Rosie Perez (White Men Can't Jump). I've been a radio DJ, a comic book artist, a writer, a publisher. I've been a teacher with a captive audience. I've stood boldly on the streets of Philadelphia stating what I believe in and hoping others will too. I learned how to play basketball and played at 3 in the morning. I learned how to customize action figures. I've spoken with successful business leaders, politicians, evangelists and heavy metal guitarists. I've made friends with brothers in Taiwan, Cuba, Finland, Canada, Russia and the Bronx. I have had the honor of knowing some of the finest human beings God has created. I once went two days without sleep by consuming nothing but Jolt Cola, Yoo-Hoo and Scooter Pies. I married an awesome woman and have two terrific daughters.

These are just some of the cool side effects about being a Christian, that I would not have experienced if I were not.

So there.

The pic is of my character, the Manx, rendered by Keith Stone, whose work blows my mind.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Churchface

When we get in a group of believers and fake it. That's churchface.

I guy I respect a lot (more than he realizes) once shared with me the philosophy of "Fake it till you make it." He wasn't using it in church terms, but rather demonstrating how to handle myself as a manager. In essence, if you act like something that you're not, for long enough, you'll become that person. IE if I act tougher I will eventually be tougher.

Doesn't work. Basically, what happens is that you become something you weren't meant to be, you become a pale imitation of something else that you're just really not. So, instead of becoming a tougher manager, I learned to be a jackass, and I'm fighting every day to unlearn that.

In church, too often the same thing is expected. We learn to say words like "steadfast" and "travelling mercies" and "sanctified". We learn to pray like the others and do like the others so that we can feel like we belong with the others. But if you dress a chimp in a tux you've still got a chimp.

My wife and I are in a small group from our new church and we're truly enjoying the company of our newfound friends. Truly. The conversations are real and not held back. There is frank honesty, confession, heartfelt stories, true salvations from the depths. We can laugh and we can cry and we can talk about stuff that bugs us and not feel that it's un-Christlike to be stressed out about things. Other than the severely judgemental holier-than-thou types, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a person who would feel out of place.

And yet, I am feeling a little out of place. I practiced "fake it till you make it" for a little too long. Being among these fine folk has made me realize that. It bugged me as I was drifting off to sleep last night, that I could only get (and give) so much in this fellowship if I'm still, subconsciously, wearing churchface.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Musings at 39- Diversity

Recently I've been working with a guy, Joshua Warren. Despite many differences in opinion, differences in doctrine, and differences in creativity, we actually make a very good team. The evidence can be seen in the results of the revamp of the Megazeen site.

Joshua resides in Taiwan, but through the magic that is the worldwide web I've connected to him from the USA. Geographically, we live about as far away from each other as possible. Doctrinally, we disagree on rather important issues like heaven & hell. Our opinions on the 9/11 attacks have driven us to virtual message board fisticuffs.

To me, these are pretty important differences. They go beyond "Preferences" and push into "Principles" on many levels. See my entry on the subject.

How cool it is to sometimes still be able to get beyond these things, to get some awesome work done and have a great supportive friend to count on. Even if I disagree with him on a number of important subjects, passionately, I still covet his friendship and admire his skills.

Call me crazy, but I have this theory. I believe that there will be pre-trib and post-trib believers in heaven. I believe that there will be Catholics and Pentecostals and Baptists and Episcopalians in heaven. I believe there will be democrats and republicans in heaven. I believe there will be rockers with long hair and neatly dressed pipe organists in heaven.

Anyway, who am I to cut them off now? And why would I want to? If I wanted to only hang with those that agree with me and think like me, I'd start the First Church of Joe, membership of one, and call it quits. Pass the Kool Aid.

Talking with and conversing with Joshua doesn't change my principles. It has led to a few lively discussions for sure. And it has produced results. And it's made me a friend.

At 39 I am valuing friendships far more than I have ever in my lifetime, and appreciating the diversity. Far be it from me to allow differences in opinion, doctrine and geography to interfere.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Musings at 39- the Hollywood question

In 1991 I was at a Creation festival and Randall Terry was preaching. I'd had an admiration for Randall Terry for his pro-life message (I'll piss some people off saying "pro-life" since it's apparantly non-PC these days, but I'll live with that) but somewhere along it way it became apparant that Mr. Terry had lost his mind.

Case in point. As part of his message (the bulk of which I can't recall because it got so off-center) he began calling Christians to ban Burger King. Why for? Glad you asked. 1991 was the year Batman Returns came out. At one point in the movie the Penguin bites a guy on his nose. There were probably other reasons Terry had issues with the movie, but that's the one he spent loads of time on. And apparantly, Burger King had Batman Happy Meal toys or something.

It was at this point in my life, at that very moment, it was like an amazing rush of insight, that I realized how ludicrous it was that Christians wasted precious time on this kind of propaganda nonsense. So, when Mr. Terry asked those in agreement with his "ban" to stand up and be counted, I was the first to my feet. Here comes the punchline.

I was wearing a Batman t-shirt. Hee hee hee.

People, people... why are we so intent on making ourselves look more foolish with every turn? We're battling windmills when we should be saving lives. And they all know it. And they're laughing.

I'm never impressed with those Christians that introduce themselves with a statement like, "We don't watch TV" or "We don't go to movies." I'm not impressed. For the most part it's just lazy Christianity, like wearing an arrogant t-shirt or bumper sticker that tells everyone how much better YOU are. Christianity isn't a list of "I don'ts", or Hollywood protests and picket lines.

We have much bigger fish to fry.

There's a lot more to that Randall Terry story, but maybe I'll save that for another day.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Freedom Fair

During the past four weeks I've had my eyes opened a little more to the worldwide issue of human trafficking and slavery. As the father of two girls, ages 11 and 12, it particularly hit home in a very personal way.
The stats are staggering, so staggering that I think it's hard to wrap our minds around it. Two million children worldwide are trapped in sex trafficking. Children. Children who should be going to school and playing with dolls. Of course most of the are girls. Most slaves worldwide are female and most of them are minors. And we're not just talking about Nepal and Nigeria and Thailand and Cambodia. It's right here in the United States. In New Jersey.
We hear about it in odd little news clips here and there, but it seems so unimaginable and ridiculous that we can't wrap our minds around it. The problem is so mind-bogglingly huge and depressing and far-removed from us that we don't even want to take the time to learn about it.
I've decided to take some time to learn about it. This Saturday there's a Freedom Fair at the Holy Grounds Cafe' in Allandale, NJ, to bring about more public awareness. The woman who's running it has hands-on experience at a shelter in Thailand and is bringing a mountain of passion into it.
I'm contributing the above watercolor painting (19x24 on bristol) at the host's request. I'm still new to watercolors and I don't know whether it's crappy or not. Feel free to tell me, I can take it. But, right now, I guess I wanted to do something.
I'm not trying to preach about it and I don't pretend to be an authority. But here are a few links I've visited recently. Take a moment and try to wrap your brain around it. I'm still trying.
www.humantrafficking.org
www.polarisproject.org
www.jfci.org
This has been a public service announcement from MZJoe. We now return you to our regularly scheduled ramblings, already in progress.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Show at the Dive Bar

Tom Hall and I were invited to do a small comic book show on Long Island, to benefit the Boy Scouts. Sounded like a good deal.

When we pulled up after a brief accidental tour of Brooklyn, our directions had led us to a little bar off the beaten path, sandwiched between a condemned building, a Chinese deli, a European bakery and a cemetary. The front door was locked. Around back, behind a dumpster and through a half-open door, was the 'show'.

There was no sign advertising it out front, no sign on the door. There were maybe sixteen tables. If there there a hundred mainstream comic books in the room I'd be surprised. Yes, I said a hundred comics, NOT boxes, NOT dealers, NOT titles, a hundred comics period falling out of some flat-laying dollar boxes. There was a knife dealer, a bootleg video dealer and a guy whose table included burned copies of garage band CD's and jumper cables. There was a table represented by the Libertarian Party supporting Ron Paul.

The rest of the tables were filled with artists who had been convinced at the Big Apple Con that this would somehow not be a waste of our time.

What can you do but try to make the most of it? The good thing was that I got to spend a day drawing pictures and talking with my best friend. The only customers that anyone had all day were basically the other vendors that had nothing to do but look around. Since it was slow (deader than the cemetary across the street) the artists all spent time getting to know each other and making contacts. I did some sketches at request and we sold (and gave away) a few Megazeens and KING!s to people that will surely read and appreciate them.

I suppose this is what rock bands talk about when they start out at dive bars with an audience of four people. I wanna know, how long do we pay our dues before we play the Garden?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Truth About Lando Calrissian


Lando Calrissian betrayed his friends to Boba Fett. That's usually what he's remembered for. But then he turned it around, escaped with Leia and Chewie, and later helped rescue Han Solo AND was largely responsible for the destruction of the second Death Star.

That's pretty darn skippy.

Here's something to take note of. Sure, Leia and Han kinda laid a guilt trip on the guy. But if guilt was the sole motivator, then maybe, MAYBE, Lando would have gotten Leia and the wookiee free from Cloud City, but it pretty much would have ended there. Instead he accomplished great things, gained the trust of his new friends and changed the course of history. Even got to dance with the Ewoks during the Yub Yub song.

That's because he found the greater good from within, and some friends took some time to get to know him and believe in him. It's not because they made him feel bad.

My POINT is (yes there's a point) guilt is not a motivator. It might work, a little. It's like the annoying bug near your ear, you'll swat it because it annoys you but it probably won't make you move, and it will just cause you to, well, hate bugs more.

I say this to those who would use guilt trips as a tool to call people to action. It doesn't work. It causes people to resent you and rebel all the more. It is a destructive force like few others, ravaging friendship and partnerships, tearing apart churches and businesses and families.

I've been there, I've even used it and and I've hurt people in the past. It's a power trip and it's prideful and disgusting.

I've also been hurt on the receiving end, which is how I learned my lesson finally. It's amazing how prevalent this is particularly in the church. For example:

I've been told that I'm not listening to God if I don't get involved in a particular project.

I've been told that my salvation is in question if I don't attend a prayer meeting.

I've been told that I'm commiting adultery if I attend another church on Sunday.

I've been told that my choice not to give to a certain charity demonstrates my need for a comfort zone, thus I'm not Christlike.

I've been told that my church commitments should exceed my commitment to my own family.

The amazing thing is that someone could argue that all these points could, in fact, be true. And they even might be true, warped as that sounds. But if you lay on the guilt trip, brother, I can't hear that truth. You're just a bug I wanna swat. And I will swat.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Preference vs Principle


In church we're doing a series on how screwy the church can get. Very enlightening.

One of the things I dig about the church we're now attending, Emergence, is that they don't push the ideas that the Bible is silent about. They play rock music but are respectful of choirs and pipe organs. They don't push Republican over Democrat, or Wall Street tycoon over bohemian. They understand that, while there ARE absolute truths in life as outlined scripturally, there is room for the Holy Spirit to lead different people to different passions.

Megazeen has received its share of judgmental hate mail from those who say it's irreverent or distracting, but you know what? That's their preference. We also don't like the preachy tone that other Chrisitan comics take, and would prefer some more entertaining comics, whether deep from within a painful soul or just a good ole fart joke. That's OUR preference.

The danger comes in when we take our preference and decide that it is a principle that others should live by. There are principles we should all live by for sure. But the trick is in understanding the difference.

For example, my wife doesn't like Pink Floyd's "The Wall" or Stephen King's "The Stand", two emotionally charged works of art I thoroughly enjoy. But she shouldn't think less of me for listening to it myself. Just as I can't stand the morning DJ's or the music selection on the local Christian radio station- but I don't think they make my wife cheesier for her listening to them. These are preferences. In the end, we still go to church together on Sunday. That's a principle.

So, whether you like the new Transformers movie or are a cartoon loyalist, whether you get something out of Benny Hinn or you find him silly, whether you read Ghost Rider or Owly, or like Clinton or Giuliani, or Kirk or Picard, Disney World or Universal, Coke or Pepsi, etc or etc, they're all just preferences. It's when we decide that others need to feel MY way about the subject that we get into trouble.

Read I Corinthians if you doubt it.

A wise man once told me. "Being right ain't all it's cracked up to be." Changed my life.

I have my preferences on all the above, by the way. But that's not your problem.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mecha Manga Bible Stories

If you had told me a year ago that I would ever be involved in a project called Mecha Manga Bible Stories, I'd have laughed in your face like the cocky anti-establishment hippee artist that I always pretend to be.

But look at that preview concept art and drool.

I was humbled to be asked to be involved in this project, but not because of the intrinsic project itself or the publisher behind it (though both impressive). What really got me pumped was the incredible talent involved. I found out that I'd be working with four other artists that I have enormous respect for, all Megazeen artists that are graduating into the recognition they all deserve.

Tom Hall (whom I co-wrote with), Jeff Slemons (cover art), Kneon Transitt (pencil & ink) and Daniel Bradford (colors and letters). Add Paul Castiglia's experience as editor and you don't get a better team. Anywhere. From everything I've seen so far, this is the Bible comic I would have always wanted to read. And isn't that what we should be shooting for?

Art's underway. I'll gush more along the way. Trust me.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Getting Started in Comics


I guess I've been at this long enough now that prospective artists now contact me wondering, "How do you get started in comics?" Some guy recently on my comic board jumped in with a recommendation that you make a graphic novel because that's where the money is.

Uh, no.

Telling someone who is considering doing comics to write and draw a 96-page epic graphic novel is akin to telling a kid who's showing up at the town pool for the first time how to try out for the Olympic free style 200m race. Or telling someone at a mini golf course how to navigate the 9th tee on the pro world circuit. Or convincing someone who's showing up to a school board meeting how to run for congress.

Here's how you get started in comics.

Here's the big secret.

Ready?

Pick up a pencil and start drawing on a piece of paper.

If all you've got is a few sweet looking pinups, all that other stuff is way out of reach yet, and all it's going to do is flood you with a bunch of confusing info that you WILL NEVER NEED unless you pick up your pencil and draw on some paper. Worry about printers, publishers, copyrighting, ancilliary rights and everything else later, because it doesn't matter at all right now, and will matter very little even in the future compared to your artwork.

(FYI- I recommend finding the right graphite or lead pencil which will usually NOT be the #2 pencil everyone uses to write with. I use a 2F for lighter lines, and an HB or 6B for the heavier lines, when I'm just pencilling, but get a bunch of pencils (most art or craft stores sell a full range of pencils as a cheap set). Experiment with a non-repro blueline pencil along the way too when you're ready to start playing with ink. As for paper, I use Bristol paper and prefer vellum finish, which has a texture and doesn't smear as easily, but you might like smooth better, just as you'll need to find what size you're most comfortable with. Oh, very important, use a white Magic Rub eraser or a kneaded eraser, not those stupid pink ones that will smear your lines and destroy your paper.)

And that's how you get started in comics.

Graphic novel... oy vey.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Musings at 39 - Baseball at 13

When I was 13 years old my father took me to my one, and to date only, major league baseball game. It was the Yankees v White Sox at Yankee Stadium.

The game was probably, by accounts, a sleeper with a score of 2 to 1 Yankees, but I was in heaven. The stadium was massive, the steady muttering of the crowd was hypnotic, the game and the scoreboard and the "charge" organ were everything they were supposed to be. My dad bought me a hot dog and a soda. We never had much money, so I actually recall being so remarkably grateful and impressed with him that night, for splurging on his son, bringing me on an adventure I would never forget.

As the game ended with a quiet non-climactic strikeout (which was as exciting to me as any home run), we began our slow decent from the upper nosebleed tiers of the stadium. As I inched down the stairs with the crowd, talking with my friend Steve, I tried to hang back a bit so my father would not be far behind.

It was then that I was violently, inexorably shoved down eight steps to the platform, kneed solidly square in the back, colliding with Steve and several others before me. As my friend exclaimed, "What are you doing?" I turned to see a massive giant of a man, with mustard stains dripped down his white shirt, his huge double chin englufing his stretched out collar, his navy blue Sox hat cocked back over his greasy mullet. Glaring at me with angry, tired, cold eyes, and having not spilled a drop of the Budweiser in hand.

I saw my father behind him, looking on at me, smiling so as not to let me be scared, but a little frightened himself, an emotion I rarely saw cross his face. We were in the Bronx, and he was fifteen feet away from me. And for a moment it felt like the distance of that entire stadium. I waited at the bottom and stood way clear as Goliath lumbered past me, never taking his eye off me until he did (nor I him). Then my father put his hand on my shoulder, and did not remove it until we were back in the VW bus.

It was that day I learned that, most often, violence does not need a reason.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Musings at 39- Chest Pains

For a long time I had planned on writing some of my various musings on life, what I've learned and when and how I learned it. But I think what ultimately prompted me to start was when I got a call one night back in July.

"Joey. It's Don's mom."

I know that can't be good. I've known Donny since I was seven. We still regularly keep in touch but rarely talk on the phone unless someone died. That Donny was not the one calling me, well, yeah, that can't be good like I said.

Turns out Donny had a big ol' heart attack and had just come through triple bypass. 38 years old. What the hell? Why am I seeing so many friends cut down way before their time? Anthony, Brian, Mychael, Jenna, the list is getting longer.

But at least Donny made it through. I went to see him in the hospital the very next day, with all the wires sticking out of his body, poor guy. The cool thing about Donny is that he's not one of those old frinds that just talks about the old days. We stay in the now, we get serious when we have to, we mostly laugh, and we don't get on each others' nerves EVER.

But now... man, he had a heart attack. And I've seen my friends cut down. And I'm 39 and I eat really bad food all the time and have an incredibly stressful job. And less than two years ago I was in the hospital for chest pains. And Mike Wieringo just died.

And right now, another one of my best friends is facing HER final days. I can tell when she looks at me, she doesn't say it, but I know she's wondering how much longer, and she's wondering why she hurts and why she can't hear my voice any more.

I'm not very smart, but I guess the best thing we can do is embrace the living, especially when we know days are running shorter. Embrace the living and cherish the days. Embrace the living and do our best to ensure that we meet up again in eternity after this trip ends. That said, I have a phone call to make and some quality time to spend with an old friend.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Musings at 39- Time


No matter who you are, we all have one thing in common. It doesn't matter your gender, your job, your family size, your income or anything else. One crucial component puts all of us on an equal playing field.

24 hours in a day.

No amount of money or condition of life can give you a single second more.

What you DO with your 24 hours is what makes us different. Are we setting goals and striving ahead, or just treading water and wasting valuable minutes?

Yesterday I got up at 6:30 and took a half hour walk with my wife. I answered my emails, showered, ate breakfast and got to work at 8AM (an hour early as always). I left 11 hours later (YES, I work an average 50+ hour workweek). I came home and 'decompressed' by surfing the net for about a half hour, then put in 90 minutes working on my comic script, sending some reference shots to my artists, and answering more emails. I went to bed around 9:30 and spent an hour doing Sudoku on my DS, then read a couple Cerebus comics while watching TV, and fell asleep around 11:30 for 7 hours of sleep.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Clearly I wasted at least 2 hours yesterday. Some would say more than that, but that's my personal conclusion. Two hours that I could have inked some artwork, or pencilled something for Megazeen. Two hours that I could have spent bonding with my kids or talking with my wife. Two hours I could have spent with a friend or ministered, or prayed. Yup, didn't squeeze that in either.

At 39, I am realizing the desperate need to cherish the hours in a day.

Changes need to be made.

The picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post, just so's you know.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Colossians- The Art Team

Last month I talked about my personal series, Colossians, an idea that's been developing for way too many years, and is finally coming to fruition in ways I had never dreamed.

When I had re-written Colossians after a dismal first attempt in Cross Press Comics, I had mentioned that I thought Kneon Transitt woyld be the dream penciller on the project. He blew me away by pencilling the first 13 pages based on a quick plot synopsis I sent him. Later I convinced him to draw the other half of the story that would complete the first issue. I've been inking it slowly ever since, splitting my interest between that, Megazeen and, unfortunately, too many video games.

The project came back to life when Hale Burckinh expressed interest in coloring the pages. But as we proceeded, it occured to me there was a major problem- that the first issue was just a start, and that I did not want to leave it hanging. The initial story arc would take four issues. Kneon was already wrapped up in other projects, and I would never be happy with my own style to complete it myself.

So, I began to ponder, were there three other artists out there that would complete the dream the way Kneon and Hale had begun it?

The answer is coming from three outstanding Megazeen artists. I'd be hard pressed to find three nicer, more capable guys, each uniquely suited to draw their particular issue. I will reveal their names and share some work as I receive the first completed page from each of them.

I know I'm going to need more help before we're done. Colorists, inkers, help with the scripts. But we're rolling ahead full steam now. My heartfelt thanks to all of you for your help with this project. We're gonna blow their minds!

Things That Make Me Happy


Sea lions and elephant seals, especially if they're performing in a show (because I remember my Dad laughing at them).
Free ice at a hotel.
The Country Bear Jamboree (because I remember Dad laughing at it).
Buying cheap junk at comic shows and thinking they're treasures.
Drawing or painting something really well.
Bad 80's music on the radio.
Time spent with friends.
PB&J with Fritos (because Mom made it like that).
Watching Forrest Gump every time it's on TV (it's a rule in my house).
Going to church on Sunday morning.
A good "City of Heroes" session (a rarity).
Pink Floyd's The Wall.
My Mom's fruit salad.
The smell of a new action figure fresh out of the package.
The Gong Show (because I remember Dad laughing).
The "Head-On" stick near my bed that helps me sleep.
My massage chair.
Gorillas, Chimps and Orangutans.
Being outside at night when it's quiet.
Petting my dogs.
My wife's continuing interest in me.
The stories my kids tell of their adventures at school.
My dad's laugh.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Yoda


Yoda's my hero.

Watercolor painting this is. At a dear fan's request, painted it I did.

I have some stuff I really, really want to share about Colossians, as well as some stuff I've learned on my continuing journey through Cerebus. I'll get to that tomorrow. Deal?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Musings at 39 - The Crazees

When I was about 18 or 19 years old I was at DMV getting my license renewed. On my way out there was a guy sitting at a table, with loads of Christian literature on his table. He called me over and asked if that cross I was wearing meant something to me, which I proudly agreed that it did.

He then asked me make a donation, and to sign a petition that would make Satanism illegal.

Now, I'm not the smartest guy I ever met, and I was a fairly new "born again" believer so I wasn't loaded with ammunition. I knew that I didn't like the idea that people worshipped Satan and did witchcraft. I also wasn't the most politically savvy guy, but I knew enough that something, something was wrong here.

I told him that our country was founded on religious freedom, which guaranteed the rights of the bad with the good. I told him that many of the practices he was citing as examples (animal sacrifice, child abuse, suicide and drug use) were illegal already anyway. I told him, therefore, that I was not comfortable with where my money would be going.

He rebuked me, saying that it's a good thing that Jesus didn't just do things he was "comfortable" with.

It was that day that I learned that some Christians are crazy.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Two Things that Matter

There are only two things that really matter.
1-We were created to glorify God and ought to live that way.
2-When we don't, we can seek Jesus' forgiveness and get back on track.
Anything we say or do that deviates from one of these things is at worst a sin, and at best a waste of our time.

Cerebus the Aardvark

When I was in high school/early college I collected Cerebus comics, picking up back issues sporadically and regularly reading new issues as they came out monthly. In issue 112/113, Dave Sim ripped into a Christian who passionately tried to share the gospel with him (I think "There REALLY is a hell" was in the letter). He also posted a picture of a self-proclaimed witch. I dropped the series at this point, as my frail new belief couldn't tolerate it. That, and this was the tail end of the wordy "Walking on the Moon" series that lost a lot of his readers. That, and I needed cash for a new jacket.

Many years later, a friend of mine found an issue in the dollar box at a con and gave it to me, and I became curious once again. I went on Ebay and Lone Star and grabbed up the Swords volumes, then all the regular issues, and I've been reading it from the very beginning, in rapid fire succession rather than month-long gaps.

I don't know how to talk about Cerebus without getting gushy about it. Dave Sim is a masterful storyteller and a risk-taking pioneer. Reading it as I am, I am floored by the tightly knit storyline, in which characters and minor ideas from the past continuously have an effect on the story later. Cerebus is both riotously funny and shockingly tragic at times, sometimes turning on a dime from page to page. The ideas and events are thought-provoking, the pacing unprecedented.

I'm so glad I picked it up again, and this time through I find Sim's commentary far for enlightening and informative than irritating, particularly his thoughts on the comic industry and creator rights. I can still disagree with his take on religion (his early atheist ponderings eventually developing into monotheist or universalist), but now I can seperate that from my pure enjoyment of this series. That's part of growing up. Thanks Dave.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Musings at 39


It has dawned on me, rather depressingly, that the days of my youth are nearly gone, and that I must confront the fact that, somewhere along the way, I grew up and am growing older.

In less than nine months I will be 40.

I will say that, at nearly 40, I'm fairly pleased with my accomplishments and my general state of happiness. I'm married to an awesome woman, and have two terrific daughters. I've been to college and beyond, and have a successful business career. I've also had many unique opportunities to pursue dreams, through radio, comic books and even preaching. We've got a house and a couple dogs and we're virtually debt-free.

I think the part that gets under my skin is that life is slipping by, the girls are growing up, the hair's getting grayer and I'm far more tired than I was. Not that it's all bad- I do find my wife hotter than ever.

Realistically, I probably don't have as many days before me as behind me now, at least in this world.

So, what to do about it? And what have I learned?

I will be pondering these questions regularly in my "Musings at 39" entries, earnestly seeking assurance that I am not quite dead yet.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mike Wieringo

Mike Wieringo passed away at the tragic young age of 44 today.

Ringo was the artist who, along with writer Mark Waid, restored my faith that the Fantastic Four was indeed the World's Greatest Comic Magazine. Their work earned the FF back their title in my opinion.

His work was outstanding. Simple, elegant, he made you feel like these guys were right in your living room talking to you. I got to meet him at Wizard World in 2003, and told him that I thought his run on FF was the best EVER. He quickly told me he could not accept that compliment. I admired his humility but I meant what I said.

Of course his work went well beyond that, with the Flash and Spiderman, as well as his own creator-made series Tellos (which was getting set for a possible relaunch). Ah Mike... this sucks. We'll miss you.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Magic Our Way

So my family and I have returned from our vacation at Disney World in Orlando, our third straight year and, if I'm counting right, my tenth lifetime visit. My wife and I will hopefully chronicle our trip in some detail on another board, so I won't go into incredible detail here, but it was an awesome trip.

There were many, many good times, but a few stand out. One of them is a somewhat hidden gem at Pleasure Island called the Adventurer's Club. What a hysterical concept. It really defies description, but if you get down there take a chance on it one night. You'll thank me.

Another real treasure is the Animation Academy in MGM Studios, where a Disney animator teaches a class how to draw a character. We got to do Goofy and Stitch this year. Special congratulations to our instructor Timmy, who's moving on to the Imagineer program. This guy was awesome, passionate about what he does, very talented and over-the-top enthusiastic. He deserves every bit of success he gets. I wonder how many of us could be like Timmy if we'd not allowed the harshness of the rat race to jade us.

Finally, this guy in the picture was at Cinderella's Castle three minutes before the fireworks, freaking out because some little kids sat in front of him on the sidewalk. Very intimidating, screaming for Disney security in his mouse ears. That kind of entertainment you can't buy.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Uncharted Water Colors


My daughter asked me today if we could do some painting together. Sometimes I have to remind myself that when I go on these little quality time adventures with her they always pay off in a huge way. Much more than lying around on the couch eating.

So I broke out a couple of new sets of paints that I picked up from a local art store going out of business. I only bought them because they were cheap, since painting is certainly not my forte. My daughter asked for the one little canvas I had bought, so I gave her the acryllics and the little easel.

Me, I broke out the watercolor tubes. I had watched a guy at the Big Apple Con paint an amazing picture of the Manx using just black watercolor washes, and I was fascinated by the process, so I picked up some identical paints to see what I could do. After experimenting a little, I decided to get a little ambitious and attempt to re-create the first drawing I did in the "Old Men" series I drew a couple of years ago, on 11x14 vellum bristol. There be the results. I have no idea whether it's any good but I had fun doing it, and look forward to giving it another shot.

Oh, my daughter lost interest after 5 minutes and a canvas half-painted orange. God bless her. She's got the same attention span as her father. What were we talking about again?