“My Experiment” or “Process: Ridiculous”

I recently completed drawing John Bell’s autobio/science story “My Experiment,” for the upcoming BCR anthology (and Kickstarter sensation), Boundless.

For this project I once again put into practice my philosophy of the comics-making process, which may be described as: make everything as complicated and torturous as possible and add as many steps as you can (or maybe that should be, “retrace your steps as many times as you can”).  Works for me!

Anyway, “My Experiment” is a six page story, and it started reasonably enough, with some roughs, which i also roughly ink:


…and I’m ready for final pencils.  (Just as a side note, this comic is drawn at actual print size, unlike the usual 1.5-to-2-times larger, so each drawn page has an image area of about 4.25 x 8 inches, which is kind of challenging.)

My problems started when I pencilled the first page in blue pencil, and just “experimentally” I inked it digitally in Photoshop:


Hmmm… I liked the slickness of the digital inks, but on the whole I wasn’t satisfied.  I found the effect overall to be clean, yes, but also somewhat tight and finicky. So I resolved to ink the whole thing with a real brush and real ink.  Here’s page one:p1 v2 scan

…and I proceeded to pencil and ink the entire story that way.  Done, right?

Nooo… all the while it kept nagging at me, that the slick, clean digital look was somehow better suited for this story.  Maybe because it was about science and labs and stuff?   There were places where I wasn’t happy with my abiity to draw at this scale with a brush.  I just wasn’t sure, and I felt like the ONLY way to feel confident was, well, to re-ink the entire story digitally.

Which I did by taking each inked page, scanning, and converting to blue…


…then adding another layer and digitally inking over the “blue pencils” created from my REAL inks:


Gimmicky gifs aside, I ended up with two versions of each page, a traditional ink and a digital ink, and I could make a side-by-side comparison:

p 1 comparison

Click on it to look close, and ask yourself: which did I choose?  Which would you choose?


…I couldn’t just choose, though, that would be far too simple.  I decided I overall liked the quality of the real-brush-and-ink lines, but there were some details I was much happier with in the digital. So, since the pages were identically composed (the digital being inked over the traditional) I could just go through and grab details I wanted from the digital and paste them in over the inks.  I hoped that I was being careful enough that the different styles (no, the different media wouldn’t clash.  The final result:

Bell-Mazur p1 final

Can you spot the digital paste-ins (hint: mostly faces).  Anyway, I repeated this ridiculously complicated process for all 6 pages — for some pages I liked the digital overall better, and pasted in some details from the real-inks!

And that, friends, is how we fly across the ocean!

Next stop: MECAF

portland-animationI’ll be in Portland for the Maine Comic Arts Festival on June 4 (along with the BCR of course).  I’ll have “Hooves of Death,” the Maine-set historical romp, “The Jernegan Solution,” plus anthologies galore… Muqtatafat, What’s Your Sign, Girl?, SubCultures, plus who knows what other surprises?  And the BCR will be there too, so save the date, and save your pennies… and no matter where you are, it’s worth a drive to Portland, too!   Look for us in the Fiction/Music area on the main floor, Portland Public Library, 10 AM – 5 PM.

Comics Workbook Magazine: article on Chantal Montellier

Montellier - Les Damnes de Nanterre p1 2005 detailI recently wrote an article about French cartoonist Chantal Montellier, for Comics Workbook Magazine #10, edited by Whit Taylor.

comics workbook cover Comics Workbook is probably the smartest and most interesting journal about independent comics, and appears only in print! I highly recommend ordering a copy from Copacetic Comics. besides my article, there’s comics by Aatmaja Pandya, Hannah Kaplan, and Nicholas Offerman, an interview with Rob Kirby, Keiler Roberts and Scott Roberts, and a converbetween Sara Lautman and Scott Longo.

Since there’s no online edition, here’s a look at the article. (And I will point out that this actually came out BEFORE the Angoulême Festival’s problems with women cartoonists… so don’t think I was just jumping on the bandwagon!)

montellier 1

Montellier 2

Montellier 3montellier 4

And here’s how that page from Damnes des Nanterre looks in color:

Montellier - Les Damnes de Nanterre p1 2005

Hooves of Death: back cover ad and its sources

For the back cover of this faux-Golden Age comic, I cooked up this faux-Golden Age ad. This is a combination of digital collage and original art:

draft 1 consolidated FLAT - B jpg


If you’re old enough to remember the American Seed Company ads, this will all mean more to you, of course.

Here are some of the real ads that inspired me (and from which I pilfered elements):

1get prizes make money JPG

2men women boys girls - Impact JPG

And then especially these Cloverine Salve ads, which featured little comic strips like the one I drew for mine (you can click on these to make them more readable):

4secret of treasure cave - daredevil 93 JPG


Some showed how valuable the prizes could really be.  You might even use them to stop a rampaging gorilla:

3 Gorilla ad - Battle n41 july 55


The ads could get pretty bizarre.  This one has a strangely apocalyptic tone: the “FUNman” lets the kiddies know that the World is on Fire!

6The World is on Fire - Crime Does Not Pay 132 JPG

Here is a get-rich-quick scheme for the young folks, basically encouraging Jimmy to become a small-time crooked casino operator:

5 Slot Machine Bank - Crime and Punishment 28 JPG

One of my favorites is this Charles Atlas-type pitch, with art by Captain Marvel artist, C.C. Beck, which suggests an unusual use for your new he-man body: advancing at work by punching out your fellow workers!

7mini-gym cc beck crime does not pay 89 JPG


Hooves of Death: One last re-draw

Finished drawing the last page of this story, but I had some UN-finished business as well: I had grown disatisfied with the splash panel I drew… oh, nearly six years ago now:

p1 splash panel jpg

Problems: the horse is too pudgy, and looks more like a stuffed donkey to me.  Also not happy with the way I drew the skirt.  I’ve done a lot more drawing of horses and clothing in the past couple months, so I thought it was worth updating. And take another crack at the Ghost flying in, why not?

I used a lightbox, so I could just re-draw the figures, and have them in correct positions to insert digitally into the page, without having to re-letter, etc. Other than perhaps the tail, I think everything is better:

splash redraw grayscale jpg


Or, if you prefer to compare via an animated gif:


Hooves of Death: “Betty Holds Up an Ancient Scroll….” times four.

Another bout of obsessive panel re-drawing….  Today, it is the second panel of page ten (next-to-last page of the story!) of “Hooves of Death,” the faux-Golden Age story I’m drawing from a script by Troy Minkowsky….

p 10 panel 2 v1

Hooves of Death page 10 panel 2, first version


When I finished the page, I realized that I had messed up the perspective in this panel.  Either Betty is about twenty-four inches tall, or the horse is gigantic.  I could have probably figured out the perspective if I’d taken the time… but it’s the next to last page of the story, and I’m getting rushed and lazy!  I tried to convince myself to just leave it as it is and move on.  I took the page to the Boston Comics Roundtable meeting, though, and got some good feedback (as usual).  As well as the scale problem, it was pointed out that the horse’s legs are funny — more like table legs.

Well, it’s not like I haven’t studied horse anatomy a bit in the course of this project, but since I’m getting rushed and lazy (see above), I thought I could wing it, and not actually look at horse reference this one time.  The result: it looks like the Ghost has had a bit too much to drink and finds himself under the dining room table, which for some reason is on a racetrack.

Again, I tried to convince myself I could live with this… but… my consience nagged at me, and it was draw-it-over time.

What followed was a strange blend of diligence and laziness.  I just started re-drawing, perfectly willing to draw the whole panel over and over, but still refusing to do any diagrammatic “figuring out” of the perspective (though I did look at horse-leg reference), going with trial-and-error instead. I just felt like doing it the stupid way (or the intuitive way, to be kinder), that’s all I can say.  I got Betty better-sized, but then the relative sizes of the Ghost and the horse’s legs would seem wrong, so I tried it again… and again…

Did I stop when I got it right?  Or did I just run out of gas?  You be the judge….

p10 panel 2 v2

Hooves of Death page 10 panel 2, second version

I think the Ghost looks too small relative to the horse.


p10 panel 2 v3

Hooves of Death page 10, panel 2, third version

Now I think the Ghost looks too BIG relative to horse, and the horse’s legs are too squat.

Hooves od Deth, page 10, panel 2, fourth and final (?) version.

Hooves od Deth, page 10, panel 2, fourth and final (?) version.

A little better. I think my favorite drawing of Betty so far, and the relative sizes of the figures seem okay… though the horse’s right leg looks not quite right… but there’s the bell, class is over!

Spring Cleaning Illustrated

For nearly 10 years now (!) I’ve been drawing illustrations for Sage Knight’s “Living Well” column in the Topanga Messenger.  I just finished one for Sage’s latest, on the theme of “Spring Cleaning.”  I had forgotten (maybe Sage did t00) that there was a piece on the same theme back in 2010.  Totally different articles, of course, but I thought it was fun to compare the two illustrations.

Old one first, new one below:

spring cleaningspring cleaning 2016 jpg