Monday, August 15, 2016

Alena In Action (and Inaction)

Alena in Panels 1 & 2, Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound Page 11

I introduced the Alena character at the end of Pretty Vacant: Final Repose Part 2.  Yes, I wanted another good-looking character to place in danger, but I also wanted a character that looks different from Gigi, the series' main character.

Gigi is the fast and explosive former beach volleyball player.  On the other hand, Alena, the track specialist, is steady and methodical.  Alena was based on a track and field athlete who was banned yet reinstated for this year's Olympics in Rio.  This will be the athlete's first Olympic competition, and thankfully she now has the chance to showcase her skill to the world!   

I instructed artist Daniel that Alena's look should be lean and sleek, in contrast to Gigi, who is curvy and powerful.  Taste in beauty changes with time, and I wanted Alena to reflect that change.  Nobody knows when it will happen, but there will come a day when Alena will supplant Gigi as most visual person suitable for display who struggles against a fate prettier than death!


Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Seventy years ago this planet was rocked by two seismic events over a one week span. First was the atomic testing in the Bikini Atoll by the United States Military.  The test unleashed massive power and wreaked havoc over a sizeable portion of the Pacific Ocean.
Atomic Testing at Bikini Atoll in 1946

The second event in pop culture terms was far more powerful using far less material:
Micheline Bernardini and the Bikini's Debut, 1946

Legend has it 70 years ago on July 5th, 1946 a former automotive engineer Louis Réand was looking for a lady to model his new bathing suit. No regular model was willing to wear such an outfit, but fortunately a stripper, Micheline Bernadini, promoted the four small triangles of fabric (two on top, two on bottom) for photographers in Paris. This tiny number was named after the atoll used for atomic testing, and the bikini gave birth to a global phenomenon.

Over the next seven decades, the bikini has evolved from being banned to its general acceptance in fashion. It has been complimented in song, print and sport.  Despite ongoing controversy of female objectification, the bikini is celebrated by women for its’ liberating freedom and a simpler joy of life.

The bikini has become so prevalent in culture that when given to choice to wear another outfit for the 2012 London Olympics, female Olympians voted overwhelmingly to play in bikinis. To them it is not objectification, but the ease of use, making their bikinis highly functional.

Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound Working Page 2

The bikini has also assisted with the Pretty Vacant stories. Not only do they keep the comic from a mature audiences only rating, they also serve an in-story purpose of housing bio-sensors which provide information to monitor a person's vital signs, even when they are subject to plastination or cryogenic freezing.

Réand’s invention has expanded the audience as well. The bikini has allowed people to admire the Gigi character’s form while not distracting them from following her adventures, which cater to the sizeable female readership. Thanks ladies and gentlemen for reading Pretty Vacant, and thanks to the bikini for helping out!

Outside of Jesus feeding the 5,000 or the music of The Beatles, who knew that so little could give so much?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Soft Powers That Be

Sharing a Comic-Con Laugh with Liz!

I am having a friendly competition with the super-nice, super-talented Liz Mogollón regarding the Copa América Centenario football (soccer) tournament this month. I am rooting for Team USA, but Liz (who lives in Bogotá, Colombia) is supporting her country's side. Thankfully we both came away smiling after the first round: Colombia won the head-to-head match with the United States, but the Americans topped Group A as both teams advanced to the quarterfinals.

Team Colombia is currently ranked third in the world, blessed with many quality players (led by world-class midfielder James Rodríguez) and a free-flowing attacking style of play.  Team USA is ranked much lower (31st as of this writing), yet it enjoys ‘Soft Power’, much of this goodwill due to the US Department of Justice’s massive investigation into corruption at FIFA, football’s governing body.

The geopolitical view of soft power asserts that countries can influence others not with force or money, but through culture and values.   However, soft power can only succeed where there is a basis of legitimacy. US athletics are respected for their concept of 'fair play’, and other nations realize that America will hold its own sport programs and athletes accountable if they are suspected of corruption as well.

Soft power principals can also be used on a individual level. Neither Liz nor I have the organizational, financial or political resources to compete with big entertainment companies directly. We use a different, softer method that works both domestically and internationally (Liz in Tokyo and me in Paris later this year) to sell our artwork. 

Liz expresses her work as a print artist, her finished images ready for purchase.  I present my work as a storyteller, my images connecting to a larger purpose.  Even though our approach to art is different, we both utilize soft power techniques of vision, discipline and communication to sell our products.  I prefer the face-to-face sale, but we also have an online presence if needed.  One can watch Liz' instructional videos of her paintings while crowd-funding my latest submitted project! 

Working Cover for my Upcomig Comic

Obviously, I have a high opinion of Art. Good art does not discriminate; it uplifts. It is an inclusive club for anyone with the right passion and drive.   I never would have gained professional status at Comic-Con without the ability to produce quality art, and I never would have met Liz outside of Comic-Con.  In this manner I can relate to the US Men's Soccer team.  They may not be the best team in world, or even in Copa América, but at least they are part of the tournament.  Likewise, I may not be the best artist around, but I am grateful to be part of the fun!

Previous Soft Power Entry

Friday, May 20, 2016

Your Stretch Goal Dollars at Work

I have been taught over the course of my career to "Show, don't tell". It has proven to be sage advice with the few scripts I have written. The more precise the script, the better the artist has in interpreting what I want to see on the finished comic page:

Script Excerpt and Notes from Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound

Because my scripts need such precision, not everything can be included in a regular 24-page comic book.  Scenes have to be cut because the story is more important.  It would be indulgent to keep a scene that doesn't add anything to the story just because it made me laugh at loud when I wrote it.

Yet every once in a blue moon I can be self-indulgent.

Thanks to my Kickstarter backers, there are four extra pages for Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound!  Most of the stretch goal pages enhance the story, but the page you see below does not add much at all.  Daniel even changed the last panel from what was written to add a lighter touch to the previously gratuitous headbutt!  I am very happy that I now get to include it!

Page 14 of My Upcoming PV: HKB Comic
Gigi is well-versed in the Zinedine Zidane school of headbutting.  Have a happy headbutt day!  

Monday, April 4, 2016

Must Do Something About It Part Three

And... funded!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Must Do Something About It Part 2

One day in and we are already at 41% of the funding goal!

Didn't think I would do another book so quickly, but here we are!  Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound is currently available on Kickstarter for crowd-funding.  If you wish to know more or even back this upcoming project, please access the link below: 

Crowd-funding ends April 3rd, 2016!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Must Do Something About It

I've spent too much time long moping about. Must do something about it.

I'm too busy working too hard while dealing with family and relationship issues. Must do something about it.

It's getting harder to realize the true issues in an election year. Must do something about it.

It's too easy for me to throw up my hands and say there's nothing I can do. Must do something about it.

If something must be done, where must it start? First off, take a deep breath...

... then take a step forward.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Clara's Farewell Tour - An Overview of "Doctor Who" Series 9

Note: Sorry for the delay in this overview. I had too much fun at Phoenix Fan Fest during the show's season finale (ironically with a former cast member) and spent week last trying to catch up with my life after Fan Fest!

Same Old, Same Old: The Doctor and Clara on the Run!

“Never be cruel, and never be cowardly, and if you are always make amends.” – The Doctor

It’s a shame that the ratings for BBC1’s ‘Doctor Who’ were down for the year in the UK. It’s a shame because no one will talk about dancing shows or singing shows or baking shows in a few years, but they will always talk about ‘Doctor Who’, especially since viewership is increasing in the one country that counts as much as England to the BBC: the United States of America! These people have missed what has been the best season of ‘Doctor Who’ since Series 5!

Starting with the Doctor surviving a three-way confrontation that included Missy and the Daleks (the two-parter The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar), he and Clara went on one crazy adventure after another! Freed from anything holding her back on Earth, Clara was more carefree and bold with each episode. However, Clara’s newfound daring came with increasing risk, culminating in her death from a plot by the Doctor’s own people (the Time Lords) in Face The Raven. Outraged, the Doctor overcame a 4.5 billion year trap to make it back to his home world Gallifrey, where he overthrew the planet’s leadership. Using his newly installed Presidential Powers he ordered Clara’s revival, then escaped with her in a stolen TARDIS (sound familiar?). Yet his plan was to make Clara forget she ever knew the Doctor in order to keep her safe was subverted as Clara turned the tables on the Doctor, making him forget about her so the Time Lords couldn’t use his memories to find her!

The acting on the show this series was first-rate, but Peter Capaldi (the Doctor) and Jenna Coleman (Clara) gave standout performances. Clara was no longer a mystery to solve (Who is the impossible girl?) but a character in her own right. Coleman gave us a Clara we could root for: almost the Doctor’s equal despite only being human, making her death that much more tragic and making her resurrection that much more joyful. As for the Doctor, Capaldi threw out the grumpy, uncaring Doctor of Series 8 into the fun-loving, caring Doctor! One who not only can bring an electric guitar to medieval duel, but also make us believe he can win with that choice of “weapon”:

Most of the stories this year were two-parters, allowing for stories to develop rather than be cut short after one hour. Serious questions where asked this series (Would you kill a child knowing he would be responsible for genocide in the future?) mixed with hot button issues of this year of immigration and terrorism, adding depth to a children’s show. For all the criticism ‘Doctor Who’ takes regarding its treatment of women, the ladies really shine in Series 9! Yet the best idea showrunner Steven Moffat had was to make the Doctor less grumpy and way cooler, playing to Capalidi’s strengths. In fact Moffat (with Peter Harness) wrote this blog’s favorite Series 9 story, The Zygon Inversion, with the Doctor and UNIT scientist Osgood desperately trying to keep a peace treaty between humans and Zygons from breaking down despite the Zygons taking over Clara and UNIT leader Kate!

This series found a happy medium with experimenting with new ideas (the Hybrid, confession dials and sonic sunglasses) with the decades-old structure of the show. It’s sad that Coleman is leaving the show, but her character got the best parting gift of any companion: her own Tardis. Now ‘Doctor Who’ can be remade new again, with a new companion for the returning Capaldi, and a new sonic screwdriver:

How cool is that?

Previous 'Doctor Who' entry

Monday, November 30, 2015

Pretty Vacant Season's Greetings (2015)

Holiday sketch for Backer/Fan/Friend Steve!

To an exciting future and a well-remembered past, Gigi (and I) wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hail to the King, Baby! An Appreciation of Army of Darkness

“Good. Bad. I’m the one with the gun!”
- Ash, Army of Darkness

It may not be considered a movie classic in any traditional sense, but 1992’s Army of Darkness is a classic in any comic conventioneer’s heart!

With the Starz television network continuing the adventures of Army’s protagonist tonight with the 10 episode “Ash vs. Evil Dead”, it’s as good a time as any (Halloween) to look back on this demented horror-comedy. (Spoiler alert: Deadites in this movie and series means a human body possessed by an evil spirit.)

Discovering the ancient Sumerian Book of the Dead (the Necronomicon) in a secluded cabin in the woods, S-mart sales clerk Ash finds himself fighting off the evil dead in the present AND the past, as he somehow winds up in the Middle Ages. Armed with nothing but his trusty ‘Boomstick’ (Remington Rifle), a chainsaw and his sarcastic wit, Ash manages to fight off the Deadites, romance the inappropriately named (for the Middle Ages, anyway) Sheila, save two kingdoms and make it back to present-day S-mart in the grooviest way possible!

It’s understandable that Army of Darkness’ critics are… critical. The movie relies on cheap special effects, a mish-mash plot and cheesy one-liners. However, they don’t understand that this movie comes down on one man’s shoulders: Bruce Campbell. His portrayal of Ash is what makes Army of Darkness a cult classic. Ash may not be most intelligent or altruistic of characters, but he will always be chosen first if a zombie apocalypse occurs. He knows when to be gentle (“That’s what we call pillow talk, baby.”), when to get tough (“Yo, she-bitch, let’s go!), and even when to cheat (losing his right hand just gives Ash the opportunity to attach a chainsaw to the rest of his arm). Campbell has leading-man looks, but it’s his sense of humor that has viewers rooting for Ash!

Army of Darkness is a great movie in and of itself, but it has also influenced Pretty Vacant with the main character, Gigi. She just wants to play volleyball and model, but fate had other plans. Gigi may not be the smartest character (she keeps getting plasticized over and over), but she’s resourceful, tough and has a sarcastic sense of humor! Her character is likeable, leading to seven books -- two of which were crowd-funded! And like Army of Darkness, you don’t have to start with Pretty Vacant from the beginning. You can be caught up easily with every new issue you read.
Pretty Vacant: London Calling Page 7

Ash (and Campbell) has proven so popular that the television series has been commissioned 23 years after the movie, and incredibly, Ash is still a store clerk! However, the Deadites come back, but we’re not worried since Ash has his Boomstick and chainsaw close by, even if he is a little out of shape!

Fans have asked about another Pretty Vacant story. There’s no new story out on the horizon, but never say never. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take 23 years.

Previous Bruce Campbell entry

Update: "Ash vs. Evil Dead" has been renewed for a second season, and we haven't even seen the first episode!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Soft Touch

Even when Gigi Gutierrez annoyingly faces yet another fate prettier than death, you have to admire how she can assess her situation quickly.

Despite decisively defeating four opponents at the beginning of Pretty Vacant: London Calling 2, Gigi realizes that she needs assistance to take down her main adversary, Galaxy Diversifed. She persuades her boyfriend and a disgruntled Galaxy employee not by brute power, but with an appeal to a higher cause, English tea, bargaining to help the employee’s lover and a little mind control.

A reminder of this light approach came with the Pope’s arrival to the United States this past week. He spoke of compassion to sinners, income inequality and tempering extremism -- and people listened, not because the Pope displayed overwhelming power, but because of his appeal to a higher cause, humbleness, use of other people’s experiences and (yes) a little mind control.

Joseph Nye first identified this concept in 1990 as “Soft Power”. It rests not with coercion, force or money, but the ability to influence through appeal and attraction. Soft Power uses culture, values and policies for credibility -- a rare thing in the Information Age. The Vatican has it with the Pope, funny hats and Christian values. Great Britain has it with tradition, super-cool music and the most popular sports league in the world (the English Premier League). Even the most overtly powerful nation on Earth, the United States of America, has Soft Power with its higher education, entertainment options and open society.

The most monumental changes in United States history have come not with force (ask the South how the Civil War ended), but simply through identifying with others. People can be turned off when Presidential candidates scream at the camera and at each other but can be moved to action when someone is wronged unnecessarily or when a disaster strikes.

Soft Power principles don’t have to be confined just to politics. Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s baseball team use it finding undervalued players to win. Small press comic booths use it, not competing with corporate booths with money and slick presentations, but by having cool, cheap giveaways to go with their cool, cheap products, be it a new gaming app or well-received crowd-funded comic book.

Because it’s not how much you have in the end, but how you use what you have that matters. Just ask Gigi.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Favorite sequence from Pretty Vacant: London Calling 2 (Page 7)!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

E-7, Where Memories Can't Wait

It’s hard not to get caught up in the pop-culture tidal wave that is Comic-Con! Pacing yourself is the key. There is so much to do, and the show only lasts five days.

Last week I trudged down to San Diego to sell my latest comic, Pretty Vacant: London Calling 2. I loved seeing all the new comics everyone brought: bunny-eared leader Mike and Bare Bones Studios had the latest Pocket Book Heroes, Sandra’s newest Gothic Geisha, Stephanie with the most recent Blazin' Brandy. Our booth also had newcomer Christie and her graphic novel Personal Monsters. At the booth behind us, cool app creator Dustin displayed his newest game, Volley Village.

Even with the worst comic book ever, Killer Robot Robert’s Shadow Prophesy, it’s exciting to see comics at a show about comics (even if Comic-Con is really not about comics any more). Better yet, my girlfriend Jen decided to attend for the first time. With my friend Steve coming down to San Diego on Thursday, people I enjoy hanging around outnumbered people who annoy me.

Comic-Con is a show where unexpected moments of awesome happen! One occurred early for me when I asked to see the head of professional registration. When told he was unavailable, I asked the desk lady to leave a message that I had the latest Pretty Vacant book. Suddenly he appeared behind the clerk to receive his issue much to the astonishment of everyone around us. And it spilled over to Thursday, as Jen and I got into the dreaded Hall H without waiting in line!

Yet karma always has a way of leveling out. I got smacked in the head by a lady who somehow got past Hall H security with a suitcase that must have been carrying Thor's hammer, because I saw stars for the next twenty minutes: not the good “Jennifer-Lawrence-on-a-panel” kind but the bad “You-have-a-concussion” kind. It didn’t help that the attendees sitting around Jen and I had fun at my predicament. Venting to security and watching the "Doctor Who" panel helped, but it got bad again once I got back to the convention floor.

I was blocked at my own booth.

Mike had his free action stickmen, but instead of people moving back and forth at the booth to see all our products, Christie’s marketing manager funneled the stickmen to Christie to draw. The people waiting for Christie’s hard sales pitch prevented others from seeing my Pretty Vacant comics. I was expending too much energy to sell each copy, so when Steve offered to take Jen and I out for lunch, I gladly accepted. At a Gaslamp District strip club that served surprisingly good steak, they voiced their concerns. I told them not to worry because it all comes down to whether or not you have the energy to last all five days, not just one. I spent the rest of Day 2 writing copy for the Bare Bones Studios Facebook page, sitting in the VIP lounge and playing games with Jen. I won at Volley Village and Jen beat me at Fluxx.

Sure enough, Saturday was different. The marketing manager lost his voice, spending the rest of the show as a fan. Mike and Robert asked Christie to be more inclusive. Lastly, Mike allowed me to bring back the tip cup. Mike and I could bring people to our table by loudly proclaiming we had “free action figures”, from there Mike and I could keep people moving with our soft sell, while giving Christie room to complete her sales pitch. By golly, I was going to have fun!

And it was fun. Crowd traffic flowed easier as both Christie and I could draw faces. We gave away 3,000 of Mike's stickmen and our entertaining style was rewarded with $63 in tips. Christie related her inspirations for Personal Monsters and I lamented my situation (mostly) in jest -- a guy who has a studio option creating a comic book that’s Kickstarter-funded and Comic-Con approved reduced to drawing on Styrofoam for this show! It somehow got crazier as Mike introduced “Bastille Day stickmen”, where the Styrofoam heads were detached from the body. Attendees were amused as I would draw deceased “portraits” of Louis 16th and Marie Antoinette and roll their heads on the sales table!

Christie sold out. I sold out (if you count Kickstarter), and amazingly, the Shadow Prophesy sold out! Granted it took 15 years, but the very last of the original 5,000 issue print run has finally been sold off. Robert can finally start writing new exciting fresh material, because if he writes a Shadow Prophesy sequel, I will have to harm him!

Killer Robot Robert with his "proud" creation, the Shadow Prophesy

Thanking Mike for his generosity and parting ways the Monday after the show, Jen and I boarded the train back home. I was utterly exhausted, yet exhilarated at the same time. I dread going back to the show, but when Comic-Con comes around next year I will set aside all my bad experiences and be super-excited once again!

Note that I didn’t mention Carlos at all in this post, although I wish I could have included my Con buddies Rodney, Rachel and Chris.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Whatcha Doing In My House? A Look Back At Talking Heads' "Little Creatures"

The Album Cover for Talking Heads' Little Creatures (1985)

Long-time readers of this blog know that my favorite album (or compact disc) is The Beatles’ Abbey Road. Yet depending on my mood, my second favorite will vary. Thirty years ago this month Talking Heads Little Creatures was released, and it was surprising fun to revisit one of my second favorite albums.

Consisting of the funkiest white man at the time (lead singer/frontman David Byrne), a protopunk performer (guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison), a navy brat (bassist Tina Weymouth) and one of rock’s great drummers (Chris Frantz), Talking Heads came from the New York punk scene in the mid-1970s to become one of rock’s esteemed bands in the 1980s.

Fueled by one of rock’s great progressions between 1977-1983, Talking Heads somehow managed to bridge the gap between conceptual art and rock music with 1984’s Stop Making Sense. With a sense of not being able to top themselves, the band had a change of direction with Little Creatures the following year. Moving away from an enlarged world groove to a stripped down sound gave the band a chance to rediscover Middle American music.

Just because Talking Heads learned to how play “normal” songs did not mean that they had to water down their artistic vision as well. The song that opens Little Creatures, “And She Was”, provides a cinematic view of a girl who could (in her mind at least) fly. This quirkiness permeates throughout the album, straight through the closing number, “Road To Nowhere,” a song that could have been depressingly morbid yet is joyously fun, reminding us that it’s the journey (not the destination) that makes life worth living!

Somehow this album divides fans of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees. For fans of the progressive style, it can be a disappointment. But challenging art can be sometimes cold. What separates Little Creatures from the rest of Talking Heads’ oeuvre is a sense of fun that embraces everyone, not just an elite few. This sense of inclusion made Little Creatures the band’s best-selling album, influencing diverse rock personalities/bands like Madonna, Radiohead and Vampire Weekend!

The one thing that I truly enjoy about Little Creatures is how Talking Heads employed the word “hey”. It was used as a call-and-response in “And She Was”, sung as a melodic catchphrase in “Perfect World” and pops up unexpectedly in “Road To Nowhere.” The use of "hey" is simple yet quirky fun, which is also the best way to describe this album!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Beautiful Thing: A/B Testing

I paid for a page of artwork I may not use. However, that is not to say that the extra effort was wasted. I gained additional insight from it.

I originally wanted last page of Pretty Vacant: London Calling to dovetail into the opening splash page for the sequel, but Daniel wanted to draw the Page 2 differently. His second effort was good, but it didn’t change my mind about going with the first image. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go with my subjective eye candy test. In true analytical fashion I subjected the two drawings of the same page to A/B testing.
The two choices for Pretty Vacant: London Calling 2 Page 2

A/B testing is a simple way to test changes to your new design against the current page to determine which one produced the best result. I showed both versions of Page 2 to my Kickstarter backers and my Facebook friends to let them decide the victor.

The results validated my first impression. Image A won on Kickstarter 4-3, and on Facebook 2-1. Not only were there votes, there were reasons behind their votes! Those who chose A liked Gigi’s face, the visuals and the image’s impact while those who sided with B liked the antagonist’s reactions and the image’s spacing. And then there’s my friend Rachel, who always chooses B in these tests!

The majority feels the way I do about the images: B is good, but not good enough to supplant A. Great opening splash pages bring the reader right into the action, providing the title and creative information in the process. Image A does that for Page 2 of Pretty Vacant: London Calling 2.

Which is the beauty of A/B testing: it provides the numbers behind the feeling!