For the next week or two, I will be doing some superhero drawings. Enjoy
Well after months of work, the Mr Toast game is done and for sale in the iTunes store. Only .99 cents! In the game you control Mr Toast as he travels down the street. You need to pick up extra time and eat foods to gain speed while avoiding obstacles. There are 2 modes of play, Levels - where you have different levels to beat or Infinite - where you just go as far as you can. The game has original music by the band Shibboleth on the main levels and they did an amazing job. My buddy Todd Webb, who does the art on the Mr Toast comics, added some great incidental music. The programmer was the incomparable Mike Parent (anyone looking for a programmer should use Mike). It was a blast making the game and I hope everyone enjoys it.
Last night, my wife's friend Angela came over. We started talking about things and she brought up that she was tired of her job and wanted to pursue her dream of opening a restaurant. We talked about the whole idea that it's risky but I talked about how she needed to think about what her real goal in wanting to open a restaurant was. I talked about all the childhood memories I was dredging up and who they directly related to what I was doing now. She sat there and then had an aha moment, realizing that her interest in cooking was all based on her love of cooking with her grandmothers as a kid. The restaurant idea was completely informed by her childhood and she had never thought about it. Now by examining those childhood experiences, she could get a better idea of what it is she wants to do now as an adult.
The other thing that happened that got me thinking about this a few months back when I was on the online show Toy Break. I was on the couch talking with Ragnar and he pulled out a 1960's Marx Nutty Mad and started waxing nostalgic about it and talking about how he wanted to create a toy based on the molding principles, type of plastic and approach to sculpting. He did not want to make a copy or knock-off but to make a toy that fulfilled similar principles. I talked to him about it and it all stemmed from his childhood love of the toy. As an artist, this toy from his past was influencing what he created in the present.
These childhood affiliations inform everything we do and by examining these influences, we as artists can better understand what we are trying to create. Every book that I have created up to this point is either a small square book like my childhood Miffy book or a vertical comic book format book. These forms feel right to me. And while Ragner feels a need to revisit the Nutty Mads, as a kid I had a bed full of stuffed animals, not surprisingly, I love to make plush toys. And understanding these influences does not limit you but instead opens up your understanding of what you are trying to do. So you have the freedom to create and grow even further.
PS - You can see the fence of my childhood home in the photo above, looks a little like the one that Mr Toast is seen walking next to. Just this second is the first time I have made that connection.
When I got into college one of the first things I did was go and find out about the radio station, KUCI. My older brother Dave had also gone to UCI and had done some stuff with the radio station. I figured it would be a fun thing to do. My high school buddy, Mike Payne, was also a student at UCI and together we trained to be on the air. When I got a show it was in the middle of the week for 3AM to 6 AM. But the show that Mike did was on at 6AM-9AM on Sunday mornings.
At some point Mike started doing readings on his show and eventually doing some radio plays. I had a copy of the HG Wells "War of the Worlds" radio play and we decided to do it. But instead of doing it straight, we just took the play wherever we wanted it to go, with a liberal dose of comedy thrown in. Mike's brother Tom was the major character in the story and he was hilarious (and out of his mind). Once you start something like this it can just keep happening and we went on to do other plays like the Caine Mutiny and Death of a Salesman (I played either Hap or Bif).
Then I think Mike had a great idea, instead of working off existing scripts, he would write a loose plot in 3 acts and we would improvise every bit of the dialog. Thus we began doing the Month of Sundays radio plays. Mike was Asinus Testa, the donkey headed detective, I played Sparky the Wondercat, his assistant, Tom played Dr Frankwiler, the villain, and everyone else played a rotating cast of characters including robots, penguins and many others I have no memory of. The shows ran about 45-60 minutes.
Although we were doing these plays live on the "radio", i can't imagine anyone was really paying attention since the station's signal barely reached 8-10 miles off campus. But we just kept doing them, I am sure we did 20-25 over the next few years. Where the puppet shows depended on the audience to finish the equation, these plays just went out into the ether (although Tom did record them all). These plays were to me all about the moment, creating and hopefully being funny, an exercise in pure creativity.
And I think that is the major point I take away from this is that the moment of creation is incredibly satisfying. Every time I solve a sticky plot point in a book or I draw a really funny comic, it is great. Then once you get to share it with an audience it is just a second moment to enjoy what you have created.
The first big puppet performance I put on was "Little Henry Does Time". It was an all improvised show in which Little Henry killed a man, is sent to Hell and then has to find his way out. There were 5-6 locations and Little Henry would move from one to the next as things happened in each one, the culmination of the show was me dressed as Little Henry doing battle with a giant starfish monster. The cast was just 4 people, myself, Mike Payne, Tracy Briery and Jeff Payne. We did it 3 times in different art spaces in San Francisco, Long Beach and Irvine. In each case we had great audiences who responded really well to the show.
The second puppet performance was "Little Henry on the Moon." This one was just me and Mike Payne and went about 10 minutes as part of a larger evening of performances. I learned a big lesson on this one, during the afternoon before the performance, we did a run through. The "audience" for the run through was a group of kids who had to do community service in the way of cleaning up the art center where the performance was being held. The run through was a train wreck, the kids didn't laugh, they all just sat there.
When it came time for the actual performance, I was terrified. In the case of this show, the audience traveled from room to room for each piece. So at the appropriate time, in came the audience and we started. We killed it. We got tons of laughs and you could tell the audience loved it. The thrill of entertaining the audience was amazing but in the back of my head I still remembered the community service kids who could have cared less. When doing anything with an audience, you need to form a connection, humor is the easiest way. Once you get them laughing, they engage and will be taken along on the trip you have planned for them.
The final puppet performance was "The Adventures of Little Henry." We did this one in an actual theatre space in Los Angeles on the westside. The cast on this one was myself, Mike and Tracy. This one didn't go well. The theatre had about 200 seats and our audience as about 15 people. There was no energy to feed off and the performance suffered. I remember at the end feeling disappointed. This would be the last big puppet performance.
I was enrolled at UCI as a physics major and it was not going well. The classes did not really engage me. Since I was getting a well rounded liberal arts degree, I had to take a range of classes. I signed up for a studio art course figuring it would be different. I had no idea what I was getting into. The teacher of the class was Ed Bereal. The class was unlike any other. We drew on large newsprint sheets with Japanese Sumi brushes using ink which we had to grind ourselves. This was not what I knew art to be.
One assignment I remember was to create an actual size self portrait. There were no rules, you had to come up with an idea and execute it. No one was there to hold your hand and tell you what to do. You had to come up with a personal strategy to finish the assignment. Art was not the teaching of a set of specific skills but instead a way of thinking. This is where I learned to be a critical thinker.
So I started taking more art classes. Since I was on a path of exploration at college, I tried all the different courses, painting, sculpture, printmaking, video and then performance art. A lot of the work I did dealt with large scale drawings and large scale pieced together xerox works. In the xerox works and some of the drawings, I would use appropriated photos and drawings. One of the first drawings was a lift of a Jack Kirby drawing of the Stonemen of Saturn. Much of my visual art was a cataloging of images that appealed to me and then altering them in scale.
At some point I changed from being a physics major to being a studio art major. My parents were very supportive of the change. My parents were always supportive of me and by extension all of my friends. For a period after I had moved out of my parents house, my good friend Mark would still go by my parents house, let himself in and write papers on their computer. My mom would come home and pay him no mind.
I remember thinking at one point around this time that magazines were the ultimate form of communication since they reached such a wide audience. And I produced some small zines by xerox but never really knew what to do with them. I was producing things and slowly gaining some understanding about what things resonated with me.
Then there was performance art. I am not sure why I was drawn to performance art but it was the form that I was most drawn to at college. UCI had a great program of rotating artists teaching performance, teachers included Lin Hixson, Linda Burnham & Steve Durland, John White, The Shrimps (Pamela Casey, Steven Nagler) and Rachel Rosenthal. Looking back it was a pretty amazing lineup of teachers.
I did performances involving chemistry, archery, slide shows, fire, puppets and a million other things. The work was all over the place. But the puppet performances were the ones that worked the best.......
Want to thank everyone for their support on the game. And biggest thanks to programmer extraordinaire Mike Parent who spent countless hours getting this game ready to go out into the world. If you ever need a programmer contact Mike, http://www.holymonkeystudio.com.
When we were kids we did projects. Seemingly every weekend we would work on projects. I made a solar cooking parabola. I still remember cutting out and gluing each little mirror to the parabola. Hours spent for the payoff of slowly watching a a little pan of water boil. I have to say I remember little of what went on at school but I remember working on these projects.
We went to museums. A favorite being the California Science Museum at exhibition park. All the science displays in their modern design displays. We spent hours in the Eames designed Mathematica room. This was the place where science and art met, and I absorbed into my fertile little brain. We also loved the Natural History Museum and the dinosaurs. Just the feeling and smell of those types of rooms, makes me nostalgic for childhood. I think since I had such a great childhood, everything I do is an attempt to dredge it back up so I can enjoy it again and again. It is what really makes my life a joy to live.
Also when we were kids, there was always a super 8 camera around. We made lots of inconsequential little films sometimes involving rubber chickens. Slowly I was beginning to build a "tool kit" of skills. Every year we did science fair projects and built displays to present them. Another big memory was that on the top of the cupboard in the dining room was a stack of razor blades. The uses of a razor blade was endless and they were always there for use. No dull kiddie scissors in our house (amazing we never had a major accident except maybe the time sulphuric acid burnt the carpet in my brothers room). Still to this day I need have some sort of cutting knife/razor around which I use for everything.
This is also probably the time to talk about the rocket fuel. For some reason my dad brought home a piece of solid rocket fuel. As I remember it, the thing just sat on the shelf in the Lab. Then one day we decided to light it off. We put it an a thick walled metal trashcan and lit the thing. It started slowly, a flame out of the can, then it grew and grew and grew louder and louder, I would guess it was shooting out 10-15' tall. And then it subsided and we all said WOW! Then we went on with our day. This was our ordinary.
So science was everywhere for us as kids and in high school, I was a science kid. I did fine in history, english, social studies but I excelled in math and physics. When I entered college it was as a physics major. It made sense but I really had no particular aspirations in the field of physics. I quickly got bogged down in the college level courses, they were not about doing things like I had been brought up, they were about writing numbers on a piece of paper. And it bored me. This was not the science I grew up with.
The Artist's Path - Part 3
Today I am going to talk about my childhood. First I need to talk about a couple of childhood books. First are Ed Emberley's Drawing Books, Make a World and Animals. These books taught a simple way of drawing the things and animals that can populate a world. Hundreds of elements and building blocks to create with. Thinking back, I don't ever remember sitting and doing drawings using the books, instead these books taught me the breadth and depth of the world. Also how everything can be simplified down to it's iconic form. And a simple iconic form can be a powerful thing.
The second book of note was Dick Bruna's Miffy in the Snow. A simple story of a little rabbit who saves a bird from freezing. But this book was to me about character design. Where the Ed Emberley books did not deal with emotion, this book took a character, made her appealing and then told a story. The iconic power of Miffy stuck in my head. That simple pure design still stands as a sort of perfection that I have to always deal with. Later in life I would start thinking about "line" and how an artist creates it and it can be a magical thing. This book, more than any other is the one that set up my feelings about line.
The next significant influence on my childhood were Marvel and DC superhero comic books. I bought my first comic in 1973 and buying one, led to buying more and eventually searching for them at comic stores and flea markets. At one point I had over 10,000 comics. The early comics I owned were obsessed over. I stared at the colorful images on the pages. The design elements seeped into my subconscious. But the interesting thing is that I never wanted to draw comics. So although I loved comics so throughly, my primary imagery would come from other places. But comics would inform my love of newsprint paper, sequential storytelling, the power of marrying image with text and the glory of over saturated color.
I also can't overstate the influence of cartoons and more importantly cartoon advertising mascots. The highlight of my week was the trip tot he grocery store with my mom. My two brothers could care less about going but I cherished walking through the aisles of the grocery store. Every trip was an adventure in discovery, what new cereal might there be, what free prizes would be in the boxes. I always got to pick out a box of cereal. I still remember discovering Freakies for the first time at the store. Taking that box home and pulling out the little plastic figure was amazing. I remember reading the character descriptions on the back of the box and immediately identifying with the shy Snorledorf. These were my characters, the oddball ones, the misfits, the outsiders.
Later in life as an adult, I would go back and rediscover these characters. My childhood love would become an adult obsession for finding these lost characters and the boxes that had originally sat on the store shelves. I collected them because I loved the artistry that went into the productions. These characters had to blend entertainment with selling. As an artist this idea has become important to me, what I create needs to be fun, entertaining, humorous but also exist within a commercial format.
I still remember setting up at my first comic convention with Mr Toast and having someone buy my comic. It was a magical thing, I was now on the other side of the transaction that I had loved so much as a kid. I was the one who made the product for the public to consume. And I realized that is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I would still be a collector to inspire and inform what I did but more importantly, I was now an artist who got to share his creativity with the world. And luckily, a lot of people young and old seem to like what I do, for that I will be eternally grateful.
I grew up with 2 brothers and my mom and dad in Costa Mesa, California. My one set of grandparents lived in the house right in front of ours and my other set of grandparents lived across town. We also had our aunts and uncles and their kids living on the same block as the rest of us. So there was always a lot of family around.
My grandfather, George, who lived in front of us was an artist at heart. He was always working on watercolors. Their house was filled with his work. Occasionally he would set up out on the front lawn with his work, all his favorites had prices in the hundreds insuring that they would never sell. I don't ever remembering him try to show them out in the world. Maybe to him the art was not completed with the sale but instead completed by the creation. I remember one time as a teenager, he gave me a watercolor lesson.
My grandmother, Alice, was a cake decorator. Earlier in life she had been a photographer but throughout my childhood she made cakes. Wedding cakes, birthday cakes and even nudie bachelor party cakes. As a kid I loved seeing all the cakes but the cakes were made to be sold and not for us kids. But every birthday, she would make me a cake and they were incredible. the one I remember most was a prehistoric scene with dinosaurs and a giant blue ocean.
My other grandfather, Lowell, was a swordfisherman. A real man's man. His wife, Josie, was a hairdresser. One of the things I remember most about Josie was the little gift store she ran for a while. Also for a period she made resin ashtrays in backyard. The smell of cooking resin is always pleasant to me because it takes mr right back to my childhood (while also killing off some brain cells).
My father, Dave, is an engineer. Throughout my childhood he worked in the aerospace industry. But always on the side, he was working on projects. We had a room in our house called the Lab. A room full of screws, gears, saws, soldering irons, maps of the universe, oscilloscopes, lead bricks and any just about anything else you might need. There was paint there but it was spray paint and enamels not oils and acrylics, functional paint. And the Lab was not just for our fathers place in fact it felt like it was more for the kids. A place for use to explore science. On weekends we would make things, sometimes we would find plans in books or my dad would work something up.
My mother, Cheryl, is a crafter. She knits and crochets and makes all sorts of things. I remember she would participate in Christmas sales and for months in advance, she would be making. Hundreds of clothespin reindeer, pompom & felt Santas, little angel bells and a host of others would fill boxes in the house. All these little reasonably priced curios would be gone by the time Christmas rolled around.
I will talk about my brothers later. Sorry if this seems to be going off tangentially to where I started but I want to really dig deep into how I got where I am. Already I am seeing connections that I had not thought about. Next I will look at these influences and how they have deeply ingrained themselves into my own process.