Category Archives: Idea

Ping… Ping…

Filed under Content, Idea, News

Just a blog sonar ping to confirm my existence. This blog has a deadman switch that will cause it to explode if I don’t post every so often (I’m guessing, I dunno how this works).

I had a great holiday season and 2010 is looking up both career and personal-wise. I’m very busy, and I hope I stay that way. Also thinking about giving up some different kind of vice or indulgence every month and then pitching a graphic novel about it at the end of the year.

I am also growing an enormous beard, because it is cold outside, and I want to see how big it gets by springtime. I have not shaved since November 1st, except for my neck and some trimming, and I will post pictures before I shave it off.

The Two-Hour Witching Hour

Filed under Fun, Idea, Link, News

For some reason I’m really excited for Halloween this year. Perhaps it’s because Madison’s famously over-the-top celebration, which I’m most familiar with, was starting to crumble under the weight of concerns such as “safety” and “preventing property damage” (Truly, once tear gas is taken out of the equation, a street party loses its magic), or perhaps its because I had to skip it last year because I was moving and missed the one little public party in Helena, MT, and perhaps its because my birthday comes up two days afterward and this is kind of serving as a party for both. But whatever the reason, I am jazzed. This year is gonna be fun.

So I’m going to work hard the rest of this week to finish the inks and especially that promo image so I can enjoy spending time with my friends without suffering the guilt of the procrastinator.

But to return to the idea of somewhat seedy fun, I have to say “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is quickly becoming one of the best things on TV. I have watched this episode three times and could probably watch it three more:

(In case it doesn’t play on this site: )
It got me thinking, though, about comedy and personality types: When I had hurt myself the other day and was lying around with an icepack in an embarrassing place, I decided to watch some TV comedies on Hulu that are not, shall we say, targeted to my demographic, for the purposes of both research and so I had something to grumble about besides how much pain I was in.

Now, this is just some inchoate theorizing, some off-the-cuff reasoning that’s definitely not ready for peer review, but it’s been turning over in my mind and I thought I’d expose it to the light of day and see if it rots or cowers back into the shadows. When I was doing sketch comedy, the other group members and I had a theory that people who decide to write comedy fall into essentially two types, which we termed “Theater Kids” and “Assholes.” Both those designations are a little mean, but I think they paint a richer picture of the kind of people I’m talking about. These two kinds of people have, of course, very different senses of humor and approaches to writing and performing it. I would use examples from stand-up, but I think this dichotomy is much clearer in “narrative” comedy like sketch or film.

When I was in Madison, our sketch group looked down its nose at another group composed of Theater Kids (though no doubt they decried us as terrible human beings) and we found their “constructive” approach to humor to be anathema to anything we considered funny or interesting, which lead me to think that this fundamental division in comedy writing, and perhaps ultimately in art in general, comes down to the idea of “positive and negative space” — When these Theater Kids wanted to make a point, they would have a character who explicitly represents that point make various “common sense” assertions, and try to derive humor from those being shot down by the old Screwed Up World – I would term this “positive space.” On the other hand we (And I use this term loosely because it was mostly me pushing for this, resulting in many arguments during writing meetings) would try to write a character that embodied whatever foolishness we wanted to mock, and would make them out to be someone contemptible and not to be emulated – What I would term “negative space.” I prefer this almost exclusively – Things going well, and people behaving well, are not, to my mind, funny. And often times not even interesting (This is why I have trouble enjoying film dramas – They’re rarely long or dense enough for me to become invested in the plight of the characters, while a good farce simply invites you to laugh at them, and by extension the world that causes them to behave that way).

The other notion that laid eggs in my brain was the idea of “backing down.” This is ultimately related to the “show, don’t tell” adage that every creative writing professor likely has tattooed somewhere on his or her body, with good reason: Action is what brings fiction to life – Talk on its own is an essay. This notion of “backing down” brings me again to the other shows I mentioned earlier, and why I like “Always Sunny.” One of the shows I looked at was “Glee,” a perfect example of, in this case literal, Theater Kid sensibility. The story was explicit in its moral intentions, using those “positive space” brushstrokes to convey a tale about a nice kid worrying he’ll be rejected by his peers, and then pulling through in the end. But what struck me even more was the way the comedy would often “back down” from an unpleasant idea, raising only the specter of it for laughs (“The teacher thinks we should cane students!”), as opposed to actually having the threatened event occur. I suppose this can be attributed to the “hardness” of a given story’s comedic universe, but there’s something that rubs me the wrong way about posing a “threat” to the audience or characters as a comedic end in itself, as opposed to actually having the thing in question happen. It’s already fictional, so this is like making it fiction twice over… On the other hand, a show like “Always Sunny” will delve into a comedic action immediately, with the words and explanation always playing catch-up. Obviously, since these examples are TV shows, budget, network standards, and the like are important factors, but it’s still possible to have something occur off-screen or otherwise be implied to have actually happened as opposed to merely rolling them out as concepts. Next time you’re watching a show or reading a book, take note of the times something occurs as an attempt at humor versus how many times it’s merely threatened in order to get a laugh. Ultimately, what I mean by “backing down” in comedy writing is best expressed by some cliched jokes: Think of characters making a dead baby joke versus actually having a baby die, or someone saying “I banged your mom” versus actually having the character do it. I guess it comes down to the old postmodern saw about the contents of a story being a commentary on the story itself. Or something…

I’d go on, or at least re-re-rewrite until it’s clearer, but it’s only a foggy notion in my head as-is, and I don’t want to spend all my time writing and none of it drawing, so I’ll leave this off here. I don’t have any answers right now, but hopefully some lines of thought will take this post as a starting point.

The lesson of Elvis

Filed under Fun, Idea, Link, News, Sketch

If anyone ever tells you that you can’t painfully injure yourself while pooping, they’re mistaken. Sorely mistaken. (Wordplay!)

I brought up Elvis, however, to also serve as a segue into another, very different blast from the past:
I was organizing my art files earlier, and found this old, old, old drawing I did in perhaps 5th grade, showing my drawing fixation from around the ages of 9 to 12, which was centered around massive cartoon battles between Gary Larson-style lemmings and incompetent little robots with laser guns for hands:

This was essentially all I drew between 3rd and 6th grades. I had an art teacher who loved the idea, though, calling me, in my report card, the “Heironymus Bosch of the 5th grade” and encouraged me do a massive poster in this style for the centerpiece of the Parents’ Night exhibit, which was a really great idea if you wanted my friends’ parents to forbid me to come over. Every once in a while, I look back fondly on these characters and think about using them again. There’s something refreshingly basic and silly and honest about them, a certain something that makes me think that Modern Me is occasionally trying too hard.

Then, a few months ago, I saw “Superjail!,” and it all came flooding back – This is exactly what my little friends and I used to sit around and draw on massive sheets of paper. We rarely achieved the levels of blood and gore that Superjail! casually enjoys, but the simple, zoomed-out “schematic” look full of incidental detail and improvisation hits all the same notes, and for me it was like hearing a once-favorite song I hadn’t thought about in years. As an example, here’s a compilation of the opening sequences, demonstrating that sensibility:

There is a certain type of kid who should see “Superjail!” Not that you should show it to them – you as a responsible adult would get in trouble – but they should find a way to watch it some late night after their parents have gone to bed and they’ve build a couch fort in the living room. There’s something childlike yet illicit about it: It’s the TV equivalent of the older boys asking you if you want to go see a dead body. It’s the kind of thing being talked about in this essay, or in this book.
Maybe that’s all self-justification for my liking something that’s ultimately frivolous, just because, somewhat worryingly, it makes me feel all nostalgic and gooey. But there’s something to be said for reconnecting with that little kid who was just drawing lemmings and robots without any thought of whether it was good or not – Just drawing for the sake of drawing – for “fun”, that unassailable fortress of sincerity – the very act lending it an authenticity that disintegrates into ash as soon as it becomes something calculated.

…The irony, of course, being that this entire post boils down to “don’t overthink things.” I’m going to take my own advice and get back to work, and draw with my gut instead of my head.

And I think my gut has recovered.

Ow, my metabolism.

Filed under Idea, Link

Trying to peel off the layers of fatigue and get back at those inks… Seriously, I drank four cups of coffee and still just want to go back to bed… I’ll go for a run and try to get the blood moving. It backfired yesterday and left me an inanimate lump in a chair for the rest of the afternoon, but maybe today, maybe today, things will be different and I’ll be able to go at it with no unseemly breaks. After all, every day is a new beginn… Argh, I can’t even finish. It’s too corny (Also, my wireless keyboard ran out of batteries and I had to change them).

I’ll leave you with this — I heard this track earlier this year on Pandora, and I have not been able to get enough of it. I’d like to say it could be my theme song, but I don’t want to give you the impression that I am a sentient planet or some kind of pan-dimensional being that eats time or some such, because I know that’s the impression I would get from this:

Try looking at Hubble Telescope photos while listening.

Back in The ‘Go, whaddya know.

Filed under Idea, Link

Back in town, gonna work on the “Achilles” inks today and hopefully some more on an oil painting of a water tower…
Speaking of paintings, if anyone knows a good place in Chicago that doesn’t charge much to print a digital image onto canvas, shoot me an email and I’ll be your friend forever and ever, amen.

Incidentally, I’ve been on a bit of a stop-motion animation kick lately, and have even tried to make some during my downtime. While looking around for examples, I found this little video which takes the whole idea of stop-motion and hits it out of the park. Or should I say…pork? Tee hee hee:

Strikeout and About

Filed under Fun, Idea, News

Went to a little event yesterday called “Drink & Draw” to try to meet some other artists here in Chicago – A lot of jobs I was expecting that would have helped me do that have fallen through, so it was really nice to get out and actually talk to some people while drawing for a change. For some reason, the best drawing I did that night was with my right(bad) hand, so I guess I learned I that sometimes need to be a little more cautious when drawing in the future, instead of throwing down a whole bunch of wild lines and divining some pattern in them that I like – The proverbial elephant in the block of marble. Well, either way works, I suppose, as long as it results in a striking image.

Started the pencils for the “Ex Occultus” chapter via St. James Comics, and tonight I am going to ink in all the panels and balloons in preparation for doing the pencils. So help me, I still prefer the analog method since there’s a roughness to it that can be cultivated to give the drawings a lot more emotion and verve, I think.

A painting of mine was returned to me yesterday from storage with a big scratch mark down the side. It’s on panel, so I can touch it up, but I’m trying not to think about all the time I spent mixing and applying those colors and then blending them into the painting. I’ll have to get on that, though, one of these days if I ever want to see it on display again.

The Title of that one Jonathan Coulton Song Everyone Knows.

Filed under Fun, Idea, Link

I have returned. I’m still alive, you might say. Just finished some comic strips for a remake of the gag series Two Word Title (the original can be found in the comics section). Even after taking out all the objectionable content I was still left me with enough material for new strips, so now I’m back to work on the 19th Century adventures of Hollander and Wakefield for the fine people at St. James Comics, among other projects. I finished an oil painting a little while ago, and once I get it back from the venue I’ll have some pictures as well. I really need to get a new camera…

Trying to think of some new project ideas… I’m currently stuck in “comics mode” but at a BBQ the other day I was describing some gallery installation ideas that kind of got me fired up to write grant proposals again. I need some capital, after all, if I’m going to buy fancy enough objects to be worth “monsterizing.”

Not much in the way of new work I’d like to show right now, but I’ll share with you this clip from “Vermilion Pleasure Night,” a surrealist late-night Japanese sketch comedy show from the mind of conceptual artist Yoshimasa Ishibashi (Skit dubbed into English for your convenience):

The Japanese version has an funny, tripped-out deadpan that’s missing here, but this sketch still gave me a side ache from laughing so hard, and I’m probably going to buy the complete DVD collection (it’s only 3 discs). It exists at the intersection of modern art and sketch comedy, two things I try to keep a foot in, but Vermilion Pleasure Night definitely isn’t for everyone; it wants to make you work to understand it. As the kind of person, however, who often tries to think outside of the box, but then re-reads or looks over everything he does until he can just draw another, bigger box around it, and then repeats the process, it’s fun to see someone else obviously thinking the same way – VPN is full of the kinds of ideas I’d bring up when writing in a group, that would quickly get shot down with a “no one else thinks like that, Jon.” Well, this show does.

Up, Up and Away

Filed under Idea, Sketch

It might be a few hours late, but Happy 40th to the Apollo astronauts – Awesome stuff. People here might know I have a bit of a thing for space exploration, so I’m pretty jazzed about the whole thing.

For finality, here’s something of mine. I’m working with St. James Comics on a series of short stories about 19th Century adventurers dealing with the occult, and this is a preliminary character design. It’s only the first round on the way to further development, so I still feel honest posting it here:

Rough on things.

Filed under Fun, Idea

I think one day every kid discovers, against their parents’ warnings, that the green, rough, scratchy side of the sponge removes grease and dirt so much more effectively.  But I think you become an adult the day you start to wonder, “why do all my utensils and plates have scratch marks on them?”  This is probably a metaphor for a lot of things, but what they are is left as an exercize for the reader.

When Culture gives you Lemons…

Filed under Fun, Idea, Link, Sketch

Did some sketches to accompany the grant proposal in addition to the actual descriptions of the thing. I’ll just re-use the fancy collaged forms I made for the hotel gig, at least as far as the descriptions of the thing itself goes. Here are the two (very rough! These will all be full oil paintings!) sketches to accompany the app:


The basic idea is that there are LEDs behind each of the paintings, and a central control console with a button corresponding to each one. You have to press the buttons in sequence to get the cover over the large central painting to retract, and as you “activate” each painting, a section of it is backlit, providing you with a clue as to what the next painting in the sequence might be. You can’t see all those clues here, since this is just a rough sketch, but they’re described in the accompanying text (Here, they’re drawn in the left-to-right sequence you’d activate them – Try to find the connections!) The sequence is supposed to represent a progression of various styles and media in art, but have them circle back and eat their own tail, with the central painting being a kind of synthesis of the whole deal. Looking at it now, from a more objective viewpoint, I can see how it would be a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s already a literal puzzle in the first place, so I think it works out….Well, I wouldn’t have posted it, otherwise.

I’ve got three other developed conceptual installation ideas involving building rather elaborate objects, two that require old cars, and one that also requires a boat, so I’ll see if this simpler one flies first.
Excellent Madison comedian Alan Talaga, AKA Dan Potacke, has put together this video for his live talk show. Consider this a plug.