So, a year went by (over a year, honestly) without me paying one bit of attention to my poor old website. It was high time I applied a new coat of paint and got back to semi-regular posts. So here I am, finally joining this decade's web aesthetic and generally cleaning things up.
2018 sees many fun bits of news for me, including a book deal for my next graphic novel, Little Monarchs. It now has a home at Margaret Ferguson Books, an imprint of children's publisher Holiday House. I couldn't be happier, or better supported!
Dear Creature recently saw a French edition release, while The New Deal garnered a nomination for the Oregon Book Award (soon to be determined). Go old books!
Alongside my work on Little Monarchs, this year I'm writing BOOM's Over the Garden Wall graphic novels, with series' storyboard artist Jim Campbell doing a stellar job on art duties. Alongside THAT, I keep extra busy with watercolor covers for The Thrilling Adventure Hour, the odd McMenamins painting, illustrations for TEDx, murals, and a bunch of storyboard/illustration work. I'm sure I'm forgetting something... Oh, yes: Two incredible little girls, ages 6 and not-quite-9-months.
It's a beautiful handful, and somehow the work's all moving forward under deadline (editors, that's for you).
I'll go into more detail on all these projects soon, but for now it just feels good to dust off the site's cobwebs. I almost said website cobwebs, but that's too many webs.
Today I finally get to review Wacom's MobileStudio Pro 16. It's a device I've wanted to use since - well, really since before Wacom even made tablet computers.
Way back in 2012 or so (the dark ages of mobile art tablet computing), I provided a little feedback to Wacom during their early design phase on what became the Cintiq Companion. Our first visit consisted of me giving opinions on two pieces of wood, each carved roughly into the shape of a tablet computer. There were two because one signified a device with a 13 inch screen, and the other, a 15 inch screen. I quickly made known my lust for a 15 inch tablet that would run a full operating system. Sadly for me, the Wacom rep replied that they would probably ship the 13 inch version. It made some sense - in a world where the iPad sets consumer expectations for thin and light, a relatively hefty 15 inch slab may have been a harder sell.
But here's the all-important distinction between the joy-promising iPad (even the iPad Pro) and a device like the MobileStudio Pro: Functionality. In my business (comics), professionals are used to drawing on a traditional-media surface that's 11x17 inches and up. It's a good size for making images. Head into illustration and painting, and the surfaces tend to get even larger. Most creatives that tech companies love to woo with lines like 'simulates the feel of paper' or '8 bajillion levels of precision' - they're used to big surfaces. They're used to schlepping paints and canvases and portfolios and lighting gear and nude models and God knows what. For those traditionalists, something that's 'impossibly thin' but still doesn't make their work life easier should not be seen as sexy.
At the root of this rant is my essential question: why move from traditional media to digital? Why give up the pleasure of natural media for silicon and glass? I'd wager the answer for most professionals is not the promise of more joy, but greater efficiency: More images created in less time typically benefits our bank accounts (unless we're working hourly - then curse efficiency). Mobility is nice because it gives us the option to create efficiently from wherever we are.
Now, the iPad is great tool for many. I'm not disputing that. I've never owned one, but I've tested it and appreciate its aesthetic, ease of use, and (now that the iPad Pro and Pencil exist) its facility as a creative mobile device. The Pencil is a great drawing tool. Also, the iPad's apps have matured to the point where a lot of great functionality's possible via programs like Medibang Paint, which does much of what you'd look for in say, Clip Studio Paint (formerly Manga Studio in the US) and Photoshop. But here's what an iPad cannot do: It cannot provide a mobile computer system that's as powerful and agile as one which runs a professional operating system ala OSX or Windows. Functional file management, multitasking, and the fine-grain control which professional creatives employ on a second-to-second basis, and which makes digital workflow efficient vs. traditional media, is leaps and bounds better on a system with a full, professional operating system. The iPad is simple and elegant, but that comes at the cost of efficiencies like hardware buttons, which are a necessity to efficient workflow on a tablet device. You can use a keyboard for these functions, but if that's your only option, you can't be as mobile with your drawing tablet and that's really the point for its existence.
In other words, if you're not getting the benefits of a full computer, why not just stick to your watercolor brushes and a sketchbook? Those pack down pretty damn well and they're still more fun to use than any of the digital options (unless you hate messes, and if you do, why are you making art?).
That was a lot.
Maybe we're beyond the need for debates. Maybe everyone at this point knows whether they want an iPad or a computer like the MobileStudio Pro. If you do have clarity, and that clarity directs you towards a full computer system like the MobileStudio Pro, read on. If you just want to make the occasional sketch, or hate the idea of carrying something that's not 'impossibly thin', go buy the iPad Pro.
Getting back to my lust for that cruelly set-aside 15 inch screen... The original Cintiq Companion came out in a 13 inch Windows 8 model alongside another version which ran Android and could be used as a second screen for a PC or Mac (a feature Wacom later built into the Companion 2 and this current MobileStudio). The Companion 2, which I also used, was very similar to the first gen. It was a little lighter and a little thinner, and it had a better screen. Coming from it to the 16 inch MobileStudio Pro, the weight and size feels very similar. The MobileStudio 13, which I have not tried, is supposed to be lighter. For me, the all-important thing is having a little extra screen real estate for my creative work.
I no longer own a big desktop Cintiq because I like to take my workstation with me around the house/town/world, have it be comfortable and efficient, and then to make it disappear when I don't want a hunk of technology sitting around. The Mobilestudio Pro 16 is just about the perfect size to do what I want it to do. It emulates the larger working area I'm used to from traditional media while bending to my every will. Heading to the couch? Check. To the studio? Yes. On the plane? Sure. Running any piece of software I can on a real computer? Uh-huh. Keeping all my 500 MB+ TIF files at the ready for editing wherever I am? Yeah.
Whether the screen size/weight tradeoff between the 13 and 16 incher is a big deal to you probably depends on your intended use, but if you're a professional, I'd counsel you towards the larger screen. It's a bit more comfortable, a bit more functional, and given its 4k resolution and color reproduction, a great representative for what your work will look like in print.
Getting down to the techy jargon, let's discuss the advancements of the Wacom Pro Pen and the screen digitizer. The Wacom pen now has over 8,000 levels of pressure sensitivity. Do I note an improvement from the former 2,000-odd levels of pressure sensitivity? I do not, sir. Some people claim to be able to tell the difference between 1,000 and 2,000 levels of pressure, but the fact is that most devices have pressure curves that are calibrated distinctly from one another. This results in a different response device-to-device. A good drawing program like Clip Studio Paint allows you to fine tune this pressure curve, even from one brush to another. Because of this ability, it's more important to customize your pressure curve so that it responds well to your own mark-making than it is to just accept that a higher number of potential pressure levels results in better marks. It's only after you calibrate a device with 8,000 levels to your own preferences that it serves you as well or better than your last, more familiar device with 2,000. Does that make any sense? If you care about that stuff, hopefully it will.
Another point is that most digital brushes will lag like mad if they're 8,000 pixels wide. That's effectively what we're talking about here, at least hypothetically: A pressure response that begins with one pixel at its lightest and ends with 8,000 pixels at its heaviest. No uber-powerful workstation computer I've tried on this earth is going to give anything but a laggy response to a brush that size, and then all that potential for fine control is moot.
One area where Wacom practically and appreciably improved is in the digitizer's accuracy. Parallax (the distance between the pen's physical tip and the on-screen cursor lying beneath the glass) is less than previous models, but more importantly, accuracy around the edges of the device is much better.
An example of how this edge accuracy can break down and become an efficiency drain is the contemporary Surface Pro. HA! You thought I could only rip on Apple.
Versions 1 and 2 of the Surface Pro were very good drawing tablets. I used the first one for almost a year (fancy video proof above). These first units used Wacom digitizers, and although edge accuracy wasn't great, the devices were very usable for both artistic mark-making and interface navigation. Since drawing programs (and most other programs) position their interfaces at the screen edges, it's important to be able to navigate these areas quickly and accurately. When Microsoft switched to the N-trig digitizer starting with version 3 of the Surface Pro, it was disastrous for its use as an illustration tool. Now, when the pen came near the screen edges, it would lag behind the stylus tip like you were dragging it through molasses. By the time it caught up, you'd likely have already depressed the pen point, expecting to hit a button near the screen edge - but no! You hit something else, because the cursor wasn't there yet. AAAAAAAAHHHHG.
Even drawing in the center of the screen became rough after versions 1 and 2 of the Surface Pro - diagonal lines would be jagged, the bluetooth pen's signal would drop out at random times... It was a mess. Maybe they improved things for the Surface Studio. I don't know. But I will say, if you're interested in this kind of tablet technology and want a serviceable device, find a used Surface Pro 1 or 2. It'll be far less money than the current Wacom model, and you can get a sense of whether you like working this way at all before you fork over the big bucks.
The MobileStudio Pro 16's other updates vs. the former Companion model include a touch ring (for controlling things like brush size as you would track lists on an old iPod), a 3D camera, and a dedicated graphics card (the Nvidia Quadro m1000).
The touch ring isn't of huge benefit to me. On my Companion 2 I controlled brush size by depressing a button and dragging my pen tip, which made for a fast and accurate resize. I can set up the MobileStudio the same, but to use the touch ring version, I have to first depress one of its four corners to ensure the brush size operation is selected, then scroll with my finger one direction or the other in a less-than-precise way. Rotating the canvas with the touch ring, at least in Clip Studio, was non-functional because my finger would inevitably slide farther than I intended, resulting in an upside-down canvas. It's far easier for me to manipulate canvas rotation via touch. Your mileage may vary. On that note: I was baffled for a few minutes as to why touch wasn't working correctly in Clip Studio on the MobileStudio Pro. It ended up being that I needed to go into the program's preferences and select Tablet PC instead of Wintab for the program's driver. That solved my problem.
The 3D camera seems like a neat novelty, but in my limited attempts to scan objects around my house, I've found it pretty difficult to use. My results usually look like a Dalí painting filtered through David Cronenberg's Videodrome, and while that's sort of awesome, it's probably not the intended result. I'll withhold judgment under the assumption that I'm doing something wrong, but I have a feeling that the camera's not up to what a professional 3D modeler would use to digitize, say, J-Law's head for a video game.
Speaking of video games, I went out on a limb and tested the Quadro m1000 graphics card on the most punishing thing I could think of: The PC version of The Witcher 3. Insert big nerdy musical flourish here. I fully expected it to not even run, but much to my surprise, it did run, and quite well at medium-high settings on 1080p. Didn't check the frame rate, but it was very playable. I also tried it at the machine's native resolution of 4K, which did slow things down to a slide-show, but daggum if this little tablet didn't keep from crashing, artifacting, or exploding even under all that stress. Could you build a computer that'd run the game better for 1/6th the money? Absolutely, but tablet PCs rarely contain the guts to even load up a demanding game. I was impressed.
An area that impressed me much less was the MobileStudio's included accessories. The previous model from Wacom came with a carrying case, already-applied screen protector, video-out cable for connecting it as a second screen for your desktop/laptop, and a stand. A terrible stand, but a functional, multi-positional stand. Now you get none of those. If you want them, you have to buy them or source them from other manufacturers.
In regards to the stand, that would be the worst omission if I hadn't discovered a magical and inexpensive solution via a lovely internet forum: Use two ultra-cheap rubber-coated-metal bookstands as an infinitely flexible and surprisingly rigid support for your several-thousand-dollar tablet. I can even bear down on the screen with some weight and the angle doesn't budge even at an extreme horizontal. It works amazingly well. Just use pliers to bend the ends of the bookstands so they cradle the tablet and you're good to go. Plus, they're way lighter than the old Wacom stand.
With that problem solved for no money, the video-out cable and protective case are the worst omissions. Really, Wacom? This thing costs $3,000 and you couldn't include the video cable? This seems like a decision based on some tough financial turn or a competitive acquiescing to Apple and Microsoft's methods, i.e., some people may not use this thing towards the purposes for which we designed it, so let the everyone else buy the Pencil and Keyboard for another hundred bucks apiece. To that I say, "NYEH."
What Wacom does include is the pen (thank goodness), a carrying case, a charger, some color rings to make your pen... forget it, I'll never know why you need a color ring... and a little plastic doohickey that lets you mount the pen to the side of the tablet while it's stationary. That doohickey also attaches to the top of the pen case. What's here, Wacom designed with care and that care really extends across the tablet hardware itself. It's a well-made machine. Aside from my ambivalence towards the touch ring and camera, I have no issues. It's sleek, it has a big beautiful screen, and a ton of programmable buttons. It's a design geared toward getting work done.
A last couple comments on the hardware: There's now a full-sized SD card slot, making transfers from your SLR easy-peasy. There's also three tiny USB-C ports instead of the big old USB ports. You know, the ones that everyone and everything still uses? It's one of those things where it's hard to imagine they couldn't have fit even one full-size USB port into this thing (it's not that thin), but then again, there's the future, and there's high-speed transfers, and there's added durability with the tablet's charging ports (an area of common failure in the older Companion models). I ordered a pack of four little USB to USB-C adapters from Amazon, and they work great. Just remember to travel with one in case you're out in the world and need to use a standard device.
Regarding performance, my model came with an i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. Comparing my day-to-day work against that done on the top-tier Companion 2, I don't notice much difference, but they're both very capable machines. Having 16 GB of ram is the nicest aspect of the hardware spec in terms of my work with multiple huge image files. I can keep a number of pieces open and not deal with slowdowns or calls to virtual memory.
Plenty of people will wonder about battery life, and the answer remains pretty similar to what I found with previous tablet PCs, Wacom or otherwise: About 2 to 2.5 hrs of image-creation work. Now, before all the iPad folks start raising Cain, consider this: Even the very-efficient iPad Pro, rated at 10 hrs of battery life gets only 2-3 hrs of actual battery life under comparable strain. By strain I mean working with 11x17 color image files at 600 dpi or better and a couple dozen layers. Maybe a few of those at the same time. That's a very normal work scenario, but if you're just sketching or working at lower resolutions, you can certainly squeeze more battery out of the MobileStudio. Most people buy a machine like this to use its full capacities, though, so expect a few hours at best - about the same as other similar options on the market.
So what's left? How nice is it to draw with, I suppose?
It's real nice.
I hope I provided you with a balanced impression of this machine. I like it very much, and I'm tickled that Wacom finally released the larger model that's only lived in my dreams for four years. If you want to travel, move around the house while you work, create art in coffee shops or airports and want to have a full arsenal of the best creative tools at anyone's disposal, this is a great choice. Get a bluetooth keyboard for it (I like the Logitech K850) and between storyboard jobs you can write your next book on it - which I'm doing right now. When productivity's done and you need to chill, hook up a game pad. When you want to be free from your high-tech art studio, stuff your studio into a backpack and be with your fellow humans.
This is certainly a specific (and expensive) computing device, but it's also versatile enough to be the only one you need.
Thanksgiving, and we're back from the great monarch adventure...
Although I wrote most of this post on the road, lack of internet and electricity kept me from finishing until now, so I'll cover several points from the last two or three weeks. Some reconstruction ahead.
Nov. 16th - So says a receipt in my pocket, acquired after writing most of this passage. One week after election day.
I think part of living long enough to claim adulthood is to embrace the truth that everything's broken or in the process of breaking. Bob Dylan said it and I affirm it. Here he goes, from 'Oh Mercy,' that lovely and underappreciated Daniel Lanois-produced album from 1989:
Broken bottles broken plates
Broken switches broken gates
Broken dishes broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken.
Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
I'm sitting in a car dealership sipping wifi while they change the truck's oil and I race against my bluetooth keyboard's last remaining battery charge. Last remaining because my keyboard, like many delicate things I've forced to travel a long, bumpy road, has received a blow from which won't recover. For the moment though, in spite of its busted charging port, I have juice to blog.
What can I say now, though, thirty-odd days into our adventure? With the bulk of our beautiful trip complete, we now return north to cold weather in a world that just shifted on its axis. Funny. The broken keyboard just spelled out 'shitted on its axis' before I corrected the typo. Fair enough.
On Election Day
By way commentary on the election, I'll let Dorothy's morning-after statement lead off because no one can call too much foul on preschooler politics: "Let's not make breakfast because Donald Trump might come and eat it all up!" I guess she has the gist of it. We're still trying to convince Dorothy that we didn't vote for Trump. The idea of majority is a tough sell to an egocentrist under the clearest circumstances. Here's us trying to explain it to her:
When two people want to go out for sushi and one person wants to go out for pizza, you have two votes against one, and two's more than one so everyone goes out to sushi. Right? Even though mommy and I voted for Hilary Clinton, a lot more people voted for Trump than... well actually... Hm.
So, I'll wait on explaining the electoral college. I'll also wait on explaining the full reasons for my anger, sadness, and disgust. As a Christian I'm ashamed of evangelical Christianity's support for this man. It confounds and maddens me. For a while I likened Trump to a Bond villain, then an Austin Powers villain, and then... my friend Alex gave me the perfect correlative: America, through its votes or lack thereof, just chose for its leader a Paul Verhoeven villain. Like this evil guy from Robocop. Remember him?
Like many others I find myself searching for what right action I can take now. What's reasonable to do in an unreasonable situation? Another friend of mine, Joseph, is a minister who went to Standing Rock for five days just before the election. We spoke on the phone about it. Joseph's one of my favorite people: a former atheist who received a full ride to Union Seminary in New York (the famous US digs of everyone's favorite anti-autocrat, Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
At Standing Rock Joseph saw tribal elders leading people in prayer, keeping vigil around a fire kept burning since August. This is one small part of their protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline, but an important part. He described a scene of protesters who didn't act out of desperation, but from reliance upon prayer. Even though the tribes admit they'll likely lose this cause, their grounding in prayer gives them a sense that they've already won. They're connected to something greater than their circumstances, greater than the macings, beatings, and rubber bullets doled out from local law enforcement.
Joseph said the elders had this response when he asked how his community could help: (my paraphrase) "Money, a truck, food - they're helpful, but what we need most from you is prayer." I talked to Joseph about that - how even as theists, he and I usually look for immediate, practical solutions. We fret. We grasp for a right action, wondering if we'll make an irreparable mistake. Right action is necessary now, of course. I don't condone inaction or anything that looks like apathy, but I was moved by the simple idea that right action can be grounded in the broad, sturdy peace of prayer. Peace that's victorious even in the face of defeat.
"This is what we try to do in church," Joseph chuckled. Along with practical social/political justice, yes, that is what we try to do. I'll try to do it better.
In my office I have a little prayer station filled with a few items of remembrance: A picture of my grandma, a little wooden dolphin brought back from Bali by my late brother Quentyn, a copy of Sarah's wedding vows - examples of love given to me. Last year before Otis died, he sometimes sat there in my lap. In the quiet we'd watch a candle burn down, his little hands upturned in mine, and I'd say a few thank-yous. It's a ritual I miss sharing with him, but I do get to share it with Dorothy. I think we'll start Thanksgiving that way.
Now that we're back home I've spent the last couple days repairing lots of those little trailer things that broke over the course of five weeks. So far I've been very successful, and that's satisfying. I try to know my limits, though.
Last Friday, on our last day of travel, a wheel bearing went out on the trailer in a burst of smoke and sparks. It happened just five miles south of home on I-205, rush hour. What are the odds? We were able to get off the freeway and leave the trailer overnight near an office building since we couldn't find anyone to tow it. After piling our things in two cars, one belonging to Bonnie, my beloved mother-in-law, we drove the last five miles home sans-trailer and slept in our old beds. I say 'old beds' and not 'real beds' because the trailer became a very real home for us these last five weeks. The cavernous space of our house feels alien and pretty ridiculous. Dorothy couldn't even find the bathroom, and we've lived here two years. But back to the trailer: After calling a number of places I finally secured the help of Wayne's Mobile RV Repair, who came out and replaced the R-Pod's ruined lefthand drum and bearings. Thankfully the axle was fine and we got away from it all for a few hundred dollars and no wasted time from me trying to do the job myself. I do love experts.
My work over the next few weeks should be exciting as I compile all the trip's photos, data, and rough draft pages for use in The Guidebook. I also have a meeting coming up to discuss partnership and scientific fact-checking with the Xerces Society, who lead the march to protect and restore monarchs across the country. It's great fun to start piecing everything together after five weeks on this latest trip and five years since we first set out to gather resources for this project. I know there'll be plenty of days where I throw up my hands because making books is hard, but I feel fortunate to have so many creative resources gathered up just waiting to be pieced together.
Thank you for following along on this journey with us. Updates from the road were sometimes sporadic, but that's the nature of adventures. I have so many other tales to tell - monarchs at Hearst Castle, waterfalls in Big Sur, building a lego trailer in a trailer. For now I'll leave off on this memory which seems like a good shorthand for the whole trip:
Near our southernmost point, Dorothy and I took a daddy-daughter day to explore Moss Landing's estuary in our inflatable kayak - a Czech-made Gumotex Solar 410c, for you gear-junkies. After we suited up Dorothy with life vest, sparkle skirt, and a bow strapped over her torso, she declared, "No one's going to mess-up with me." That's right, girl.
We put in and paddled for two hours, seeing in that time dozens of sea otters, sea lions, pelicans, barnacles (absurdist Dorothy's favorite, of course), and more. The kid never complained or declared boredom: A new stage for us in boating. After this we slogged ashore on a muddy bank at about noon. We slung our hammock between two cypress trees and ate a veggie-heavy picnic lunch chased by Dorothy's Hello Kitty jelly beans, which she shared with me. Miraculously, she does love to share. Then it was over the sand dunes to the beach for archery practice on monster heads made of sand. When we returned to our boat the tide had gone out enough that we couldn't paddle back, so I ended up shouldering vessel and gear the last quarter mile back to camp. A small price to pay for our fun.
And I guess that's the gist of my experience out on the road - things broke, or the tide went out, or they elected a Robocop villain for President, but these things were the least of it all. The riches outweighed them.
Leaving Berkeley on Tuesday we caught lunch at a great little Taqueria - Casa Latina on San Pablo Ave. Seems to me they're all great once you get deep into California. This one was outfitted with a table for Day of the Dead remembrances: candles, bread loaves, and sugar skulls with names of the deceased spelled out in purple sequins. Dorothy asked if there was an 'Otis' on the table, but there wasn't. We did later see his name on a street sign as we pulled into Santa Cruz. And that's where we found one of the largest Monarch groves on the coast.
If you grew up in Santa Cruz, maybe the thousands of overwintering monarchs wouldn't seem so impressive. The Cases, however, were impressed. Monarchs come to Santa Cruz every October and stay over til spring. They're generation 4, the special ones, built stronger and with greater life spans than generations 1 to 3 combined. This is all so they can travel from far northern territories to this tiny part of the earth they've never seen before. Here they will survive the winter, reach their postponed sexual maturity in spring, them push north again to bring on the next generation of migrants.
No parent ever communicates with the monarchs or guides them in their mission, at least in any way humans understand. We don't know how their navigational intelligence works, but we believe it includes knowledge of the stars, the sun, and the earth's magnetic fields. Whether genetic or mystic, there's a driving command in the monarchs that endures beyond their lifetimes. Maybe that's why native peoples see in them the spirits of their departed. Monarchs bear not only a consciousness that overcomes death, but an unmatched grace and boldness even in their frailty. In spite of my family knowing the butterflies' link to the Day of the Dead, our arrival on that very date to their winter home at Natural Bridges was pure serendipity. We've made no reservations on this trip, planned few plans, and really just let the wind blow us south. We felt that something greater than us had worked to time our arrival. Inside the monarchs' eucalyptus grove Sarah and I could only stare up in silence and watch them. She shed tears for Otis. I held her and thanked God for another moment of awe - never sufficient, but a little healing.
After lingering in the grove and absorbing what we could, we traveled outside of town a few miles to camp on some distant relatives' rural property. Our host, Luke, whom I'd only met earlier this year at San Diego Comic Con, told us that my brother Quentyn had camped in our spot years ago. Like Otis, we lost Quent too soon a little over four years ago. He was 42. Before bed we lit a candle for Otis and Quent and thought of what it might be like if they were sharing some time together. I think they'd be well matched. Both handsome brown-eyed men, both lovers of machines. Otis might teach Quent to just embrace his sensitivity already, and Quent could teach Otis how to write - something he did well but never showed me during his life.
The truth is that even though I believe in God, I'm less and less sure about life beyond death. I don't know anything about it and I don't trust anyone who claims certainty. I do know, though, that there's mystery beyond mystery, and reason behind what seems impossible. Monarchs navigate to places they've never seen or heard about with confounding confidence. If they can do it, I suppose I can keep my little faith for now, and hope that more will be revealed in time.
Yesterday, in the eucalyptus trees on top of Albany Hill, I saw monarchs. This was in spite of my timing being early for their arrival in this particular part of the Bay. It was a definite high point in my journey to bring The Guidebook to life, and one of many small miracles I've encountered on our trip.
Until last night I'd only seen one monarch in the wild, this summer on top of Portland's Mt. Tabor. I'd just finished the day's work on my rough draft from my mobile hammock+notebook studio. At the moment I closed my notebook I looked up and saw it fluttering ten feet directly over my head like a little spirit come to say, "Yes, grown man. You may perform your work in the woods, in a hammock. Good idea." I watched the monarch for two or three minutes before it shot west down the mountain. I chased its shadow through the leaf canopy for a few paces before it glided into a clearing, across a road, and out of sight.
Historically, I really try not to force meaning from these moments. I want to tell the truth as best I can, even through the complete fabrications that are my books. Then along comes this year with its tragedy upon tragedy and I find it just a little easier to embrace the big pile of schmaltz that's inside me. If I have to find gratitude in impossibly awful scenarios (and I do have to), acknowledging the miraculous in very small moments becomes natural.
Last night, when I finally found migratory monarchs on Albany Hill, there was no clear message like that time on Mt. Tabor. Still, I have to claim a growing bond to these creatures and all the mysteries they embody. Butterflies are a symbol across world cultures for those who've died before their time: Soldiers in war, lovers, and lost children. Mexico's Day of the Dead is rich with monarch iconography. Even Shigeru Mizuki, Japanese master of manga, recounted a spiritual experience with butterflies in his autobio and history of Japan, Showa. A vet of WWII, Mizuki tells in one chapter of his return with war buddies to a South Pacific island and an old battlefield covered with decades-old bones from dozens of Japanese soldiers. After a restless sleep in the jungle, Mizuki and his friends share with each other that they all had the same nightmare: the bones rose to ask them why? Why did they return?How did they deserve to live? Shaken, the men decide to gather all the remains they can find, anoint them with sake, and hold a makeshift funeral. After praying over the bones for a time, they're shocked to see butterflies pour out of the jungle from all directions, then descend to cover the bone pile in a blanket of living color. Were they just attracted to the sake? Were they the movement of spirits? Shigeru asserts the latter. I think I would too.
Photos from Albany Hill, ordered to give you an impression of my hunt:
I don't think it was the random giant metal cross that prompted it, but as soon as I reached the top of the hill, I prayed for a monarch. I'd spent a few minutes circling and climbing the park with no sign of any flying insects whatsoever, maybe thanks to the thriving robin population. But... robins don't eat monarchs.
This little one appeared moments later, maybe sixty feet above me. I thought this might be the best photo I'd get. I lost the butterfly in the trees, then spent about ten minutes circling the hilltop looking for more. I gave up, grateful for the brief sighting, and headed back down towards my car...
When I saw another! Just down the hill the same way I'd come up. Again, far off, even with the telephoto lens.
Closer, but not better.
I took a few dozen wasted pictures as I tried to follow one, then two butterflies through the tree limbs. Finally:
Some color! Blurry, but now most definitely a monarch. Then I saw this:
A whole cluster of them!
Two clusters! Just 15 - 20 feet above me.
Then another flash of orange...
Then a slow fanning of wings. A gift.
With night about to fall, I celebrated this victory with a Japanese dinner accompanied by a giant Sapporo beer. Just me, Shigeru Mizuki, and the memory of two dozen little miracles.
Today I want to share a very little bit about my next book. As we travel the west coast, dodging raindrops and making memories, I'm also gathering data and reference material for a young readers graphic novel, The Guidebook. Here's a snapshot from my proposal:
To survive in a world where mammals are nearly extinct, a little girl named Elvi and a brilliant naturalist, Flora, must follow and protect the monarch butterfly migration.
It’s 2260. Solar radiation, now lethal to mammals, has forced humans into underground bunkers while nature overtakes cities, roads, and landmarks. The only eight-year-old girl lucky enough to roam free on Earth’s surface is Elvira Jones. Flora, Elvi’s adoptive mother, is a brilliant naturalist who discovered a chemical in monarch butterflies that allows mammals to live in sunlight again. Against the wishes of important people, Flora escaped her bunker with a few supplies, a pigeon named Thoreau, and the only person she couldn’t leave behind - Elvi.
Now Elvi and Flora follow the western monarchs from north to south on America’s Pacific coast. Flora wants to make enough medicine so that every human can live above ground again. Along their adventure, Elvi and Flora rescue a mysterious baby boy, navigate considerable mother-daughter drama, and overcome a threat from five men who want control of the monarch’s secret. Elvi reflects on these and more important moments (like getting bit by a weird bug) in a journal she calls “The Guidebook.” Elvi’s journal pages pop up through the comics narrative to serve as a field guide. Sort of like Flora’s fancy naturalist textbooks, but much more fun.
On every page or two, in the corner of a landscape panel, there are coordinates and a compass heading. This allows readers to follow Flora and Elvi’s progress through real places and even travel their exact route themselves.
So we travel with Elvi and Flora. We're in our travel trailer rig and they're in an imaginary, heavily modified 1988 Toyota van (my dream rig - the one that never dies, even in a far fetched-future scenario). Our routes overlap as I map their fiction to our stops from Florence, OR to Big Sur, CA and beyond. These are the tools I use to merge our travels:
The big watch-like thing on my wrist allows me to get coordinates. It's early 2000s' tech, but it was cheap, it's durable, and it gets the job done. The little compass on the right gives me a rough heading towards whatever view I take in. Once I double-check these numbers, I tuck them into the corner of a Guidebook drawing and add in my fictional details... In the example below, I put Elvi and Flora's adventure van and an old driftwood stump I used to climb on as a kid in Pacific City, OR. Elvi hangs on it there in her red hammock.
Adventure calls us down the road again now, so I'll leave more details for later. We're currently in Arcata, CA, headed towards the Avenue of the Giants - a place where my dad marathoned back in his wildman running days. After that, it's further down the coast toward the monarchs' overwintering turf.
Already five days into our adventure and just getting in a blog post now. I blame the wonder of nature. This is just the reality of all kinds of camping adventures taking over my time and energy. That and lack of internet. Oh, the joys and perils of the internet un-plug. I see you, (33) emails. I'll be with you in a while.
It's hard to know where to begin for an update, but I'll just start with this picture, stolen from Sarah's Facebook wall:
Look at that form! Not bad for her third time. I hope it's just a glimpse of things to come. Occupying Dorothy's a full time job, but we're keeping her busy with hikes, in-car/in-trailer artwork, and various candy bribes. Here we're sharing an art session, she painting with my watercolors while I rough out my next book:
These are the riches of dad-dom.
So where have we been since Saturday morning, anyway?
On Saturday, instead of getting away by noon, we left at 7:30 PM. Regardless of our underestimating the work required to launch, we were dead-set to sleep somewhere else, even if that meant our driveway. We ended up driving just a bit down HWY 99 to Champoeg Park. That marked our first night in the R-Pod as a family. All three of us collapsed into our transformable beds exhausted but thrilled to be really doing this crazy thing.
It wasn't until Monday that we felt our trip was under way. Honeyman State Park just south of Florence, OR gave us a shot of the coast's rugged beauty and our first fair weather day. When we decided to leave in October I knew that rainstorms would be an inevitable part of our mobile, semi-outdoor lifestyle, but theory differs distinctly from practice. When I shut my eyes now I see water, grease, and clinging pine needles. On the other hand, because of this season I also enjoy open roads, open camp sites, and warm tea with my girls in the morning. Speaking of the girls...
Dorothy's doing remarkably well as a travelling companion. I couldn't ask for better company in a four year old, in spite of the Princess and the Frog audio book. Currently sleeping.
Sarah's a born road warrior. I'm regularly surprised by her grace and patience in limit-testing moments (who knew the chaos one bunch of bouncing bananas could unleash in a travelling travel trailer). Currently yawning (9 PM is the new midnight).
We're now a few hours north of the redwoods, bearing down on one of our two time-and-place commitments. I have a short talk and signing in Arcata, CA for the Dear Creature hardcover at Northtown Books on Saturday. I promise to shower.
That's all I can muster at the moment. Next up, I hope to have the pine needles and water cleared from my brain so I can share a bit more on the new book. For now, it's scotch with Sarah (and whatever she's drinking) and a moment of quiet while our child is OUT.
Get out on the road, into the woods, under the waterfalls. Hang in hammocks, cook over fires, draw and paint. Try to stay patient even after hours in the car with all time-passing games exhausted. Find many, many weird bugs.
This is my family's dream for fall. OnSaturday, the Cases head out with a little travel trailer for a five week road adventure/book research trip/book promotion extravaganza.
Characters and Plot
Meet our three-headed team:
Jonathan (the dad), driver of rigs, book-maker, eater of plants.
Sarah (the mom), master schemer, keeper of peace, dancer of swing.
Dorothy (the preschooler), hiker of hills, candy-consumer, absurdist.
...And our three-pronged plan:
Meander through fascinating outdoor places and ultimately reach the overwintering sites of the migrating monarch butterflies in California. Make and take pictures, jot coordinates, gather field data for my next graphic novel: The Guidebook --- A kid-friendly, outdoorsy-future-earth-adventure which follows the monarch's migration from the Northwest states down to the bugs' forested sanctuaries in Monterey, Marin, Santa Cruz, and surrounding counties. I'll finish my rough draft of The Guidebook while we're on the road (mostly from my hammock-office, pictured below).
Promote the new hardcover release of Dear Creature with bookstore and school stops along the way - do sketches for kids (and grownups, I guess), talk about graphic novels, share of our adventures. See the sidebar for our evolving tour schedule.
Blog it all so someone will know where to find us if we get lost in the woods.
We'll take this wild ride in a 1998 Lexus LX470: also known as the fancy-person's Land Cruiser. I selected this vehicle for its reputation to not break, pull stuff, and go where others fear to tread. Example:
These things are scarce like Donald Trump at Hip Hop Fest Northwest. Still, I managed to wrest one from a local used car dealership (shudder). It guzzles gas but it'll probably outlive me. Maybe one day they'll make a retro-fit Tesla battery pack to shove this truck's 5,500 lbs across the land. As long as I'm dreaming.
Right now we're battening down the hatches at home and doing our best to maintain focus as launch day nears. We're really excited to share more on our adventure. I'll try to post updates with every place we visit, taking the 2/2/2 approach to the RV life: Never drive more than 2 hours, never stay less than 2 nights, and always arrive by 2 in the afternoon. I haven't tried such a relaxed pace to travel before, but I hope it avails us plenty of time to explore, create, and make waffles over campfires (you have to try them):
For now, on to packing! More soon. It's time to explore the earth.
Head down to your local comic shop for the new hardcover edition of Dear Creature, now published by my friends at Dark Horse Comics. It'll look smart on your coffee table. You'll look smart too. Promise.
Dear Creature may be his most heartbreakingly perfect work to date... A meditation on humanity as much as an ode to ‘50s b-movies, Dear Creature says more about the human heart’s failings via a gill-man and his reluctant rampages than any rom-com’s leading man can manage to articulate. -- Steve Foxe
I'm excited to announce that preorders are live on my store for signed copies of Dark Horse's gorgeous new edition of Dear Creature.
Here are several reasons this hardcover brings me special joy:
1. In 2005, just before I moved to Portland to pursue comics and begin work on Dear Creature, I read Craig Thompson's 'Blankets'. It's a beautiful book that I related to as a Christian wrestling with church, self, and finding a new way. I hoped at the time that I'd get the opportunity to meet him someday. Like all stalkers, I felt we had kindred spirits.
In spite of my paralyzing respect for Craig's abilities, we're now good friends. And in spite of HIMSELF, he's given me the gift of a beautiful drawn introduction for this new edition. Thank you, Craig!
2. From the beginning I wanted this book to feel like it came right out of the sixties. I wanted that canvas hardcover feel, good quality paper, and all the things that make you happy to have a book on your coffee table. Now I have it!
3. Dark Horse and their editorial staff have been terrific collaborators throughout my first years as a comics creator. I couldn't be happier to give this book a new life through their efforts.
In sum, I'm tickled. The book comes out on Sept. 28th in comics shops, and October 11th for the book market. Rose City Comic Con attendees, watch for my signing at the Dark Horse booth, Sunday, Sept. 11th from 2 to 3 PM - we may get early copies.
San Diego Comic Con has seen fit to ship me down (crated?) as a special guest. This means I'm paneling and signing and tabling and meeting and schmoozing for many hours, starting Thursday, July 21st.
Special attention to be directed to my Saturday spotlight panel where I tell everything the young me wanted to know when I first embarked upon making books that humans read. Things like, "How can I get people to read my books," and "Why won't that editor look at me with affection?"
Here's the full scoop on where you can find me:
Thursday, 11-12 PM. Room: 5AB
Celebrate the Publishing World of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth with Archaia: To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, publisher Archaia (an imprint of BOOM! Studios) has several books set to come out this year! Join BOOM! Studios Senior Editor Sierra Hahn and artists Eric Powell (The Goon, Big Man Plans), Joëlle Jones (Spider-Woman, Lady Killer), and Jonathan Case (The New Deal, Batman ’66) as they give fans a sneak peek into these titles, which include original comics, a children’s storybook, and an artists’ tribute collection. Moderated by Nerdist Editor-in-Chief Rachel Heine.
Friday, 1-2 PM. Dark Horse Booth Signing
Jonathan Case signs all the books and maybe some other things? We'll see.
Friday, 3-4 PM. Room: 7AB
DarkHorseOriginals: Comics literature has become the voice and visual for our changing generation, and DarkHorseOriginals has it all—from underwater mystery in Jonathan Case’sDear Creature to the surrealist return of Dave McKean in The Dreams of Paul Nash. Join panelists Dave McKean (Cages), Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba (Two Brothers), Peter Hogan (Resident Alien) and Jonathan Case (Dear Creature) as they discuss pushing the boundaries of what comics can accomplish in literature.
Saturday, 6-7 PM. Room: 9
Spotlight on JonathanCase: The Triumphs and Trials of Creating and Publishing a Graphic Novel— Join Comic Con special guest and Eisner award-winning cartoonistJonathanCase (The New Deal) for an in-depth look at creating and publishing your first graphic novel. Explore one book's tumultuous journey from conception to delivery as Case offers anecdotes about the creation and promotion of his first book, Dear Creature (returning to print this fall as a deluxe hardcover from Dark Horse Comics). Q&A available— all ages and levels welcome!
Sunday, 2-3 PM. Room: 25ABC
Cover Story: The Art of the Cover: This panel will include Jonathan Case, Howard Chaykin, Paul Gulacy, Scott Shaw and Babs Tarr. Panel will be moderated by Mark Evanier.
Whew! I think that's everything, minus the breather I always take at the Old Globe (they do such good work!). Sarah and I are going to see Sense and Sensibility to regain our equilibrium after the pop culture barrage! Should be fun.
I'm happy (and vulnerably twitching) to announce I just added some newly-for-sale original art to my store, along with a gift package that includes Dear Creature, The New Deal, and an original sketch (you get to choose from a few different options on the sketch, too). I'm also offering 10% off on orders over one hundred bucks (those originals, say) with the code '10PERCENT' through Sunday, so the devoted among you can snag a deal.
The current pieces include work from Superman: American Alien, Green River Killer, Batman '66, Eerie, and a few others. I'll rotate stuff from time to time, so check in down the road if you're hunting for something in particular. You can also always contact me about specific art requests or commissions here.
Thanks for checking out the new stuff, and have a good weekend!
You, you good-looking, comics-reading person, are invited: Next month, I'm launching The New Deal at the Ex Novo Brewing Company (minors welcome!) on September 26th, here in Portland, OR. Hit the Facebook event here to get the details. We'll have free food, plentiful beverages (including a 22 oz. beer with my art on the label), original art on the walls, and me there somewhere, signing copies. Should be a blast! It falls the next weekend after my appearance at Rose City Comic Con, so if you're traveling for that show, you really should just take the week to enjoy Portland. Right?
If you're unfamiliar with Ex Novo, they're an impressive local brewery that operates as a non-profit. From the Ex Novo site:
We are committed to donating 100% of our net profits to organizations that are working to affect positive social change both in Portland and around the world.
Ex Novo is the brainchild of my friend Joel Gregory (also good-looking), and the site of the largest mural I've ever done, so it's the perfect venue for my launch. Whether you like books, beer, or both, come help us celebrate!
Big news! Dark Horse and I just put the finishing touches on my next original graphic novel, The New Deal, coming this October.
It's available for preorder through your local comic shop and wherever books are sold (you'll find a big list of options on the Penguin/Random House page). Shop owners, let me tell you: Dark Horse did an amazing job on making this a beautiful object for your shelf of choice. As a creator, I couldn't be happier, or feel better supported by my publisher (thanks, team!).
Here's our scoop on the book:
The Waldorf Astoria is the classiest hotel along the Manhattan skyline in 1930s New York City. When a charming woman named Nina checks in with a high-society entourage, young Frank, a bellhop, and Theresa, a maid, get caught up in a series of mysterious thefts. The stakes quickly grow perilous, and the pair must rely on each other to discover the truth while navigating delicate class politics.
Eisner Award-winning artist Jonathan Case (Green River Killer, Dear Creature) writes and draws this brilliant graphic novel of petty crime, comic predicaments, and vast heart in a story that speaks to class, race, and gender barriers.
To me, the '30s is one of the most fascinating periods in American history, with its industry and poverty, arts movements, social reforms, and on and on. In The New Deal, that history serves as a rich backdrop to what I hope is just a fast, energetic read: Unlikely friends, high jinks, danger. The stuff of comics.
Over at Publishers Weekly, I go into more detail about making the book, including many images of fancy hats, so check that out if you're curious. It was the love child of traditional and digital methods, drawn from (I hope) the best of both gene pools. Ew? Maybe not the best analogy, but what am I, a writer?
Moreso now than in recent years, which makes me happy. This is my first solo written/drawn book since 2011's Dear Creature. Too long. Like any job you do as well as you can, writing and art brings at least as many hard days as fun ones, but the fun ones have a special magic. Making books and raising kids might be the only experiences in my life where just a handful of highs can supersede the miles and miles of thankless trudging/feelings of I want to leave you in the rolling hills and just drive away.
So there you have it: Late September for comics shops, early October for bookstores, and debuting at Rose City Comic Con in my own Portland, Oregon. The cover says ages 14 plus, but for those mature middle-schoolers out there, you know who you are. Or at least, you have some idea, and your parents think they know who you are.
Save me from a bad joke, but yes, tomorrow, April 7th, my latest work, Before Tomorrowland, hits bookstores, Amazon... even Walmart, apparently. Sharing credits with Jeff Jensen, Brad Bird, and Damon Lindelof gets you into the 'mart, you see.
Here's copy from the back, to tell you what it's all about:
Based on the spellbinding world of the Walt Disney Studios film, Tomorrowland, this original prequel novel features a 20-page comic book and unlocks a place of unfathomable science and technology and the famous people behind it.
The year is 1939.
A secret society of extraordinary geniuses is about to share an incredible discovery with the world.
A misguided enemy--half man, half machine--will stop at nothing to prevent the group from giving this forbidden knowledge to humanity.
And a mother and son on vacation in New York City are handed a comic book infused with a secret code that will lead them straight into the crossfires of the conspiracy.
Jeff Jensen, whom you may remember from our collaboration on Green River Killer, co-wrote the screenplay for Disney's Tomorrowland with Brad and Damon, and brought me aboard to create the illustrations, the comic book segment, the cover (so wild about that retro gold leaf), and in a wild turn of events, to share authorship on this, our book. We produced it during a very hard season, at a pace and intensity that, to paraphrase Jeff, "kicked our butts". I think (hope) the result is something special. It's a wild hybrid of so much: Retro sci-fi, intense family drama, prose, and comics. I'll clam up and let you be the judge of it, but I hope that you (and/or your kids) give it a whirl.
The book's out tomorrow, but signings are coming up next month. Jeff and I will be at Powell's Books in Portland on May 2nd (Free Comic Book Day!) and the University Bookstore in Seattle the following day. I've also heard rumblings of other events, online and offline, but I imagine more will be revealed post-release.
In a bit of serendipity, I'm also working this month with local TED Talk, TEDx Portland, to supply illustrations for their Tomorrows-themed event coming up in May. I get to draw various futuristic visions of the Rose City, both fun and scary. It's really a hoot. They're talking about a gallery show and some other things, but again, no exact details yet. If I can, I'll find a way to bring Before Tomorrowland into that mix somehow. It just seems like a natural match. In the meantime, keep a watch for more signings on my appearances column, and on my store for autographed editions of Before Tomorrowland.
Now, back to the madness. The New Deal, my next authored/drawn graphic novel with Dark Horse, is ridiculously close to deadline, so you go, read other book, let me know what you think (except for first-edition typos, don't tell me any of those or I'll never sleep) and I'll keep making the other new book.
Funny how those two titles run together and still work.
I'm back from the depths. They said it couldn't be done, but here I am, writing a blog post. I put a number of things on hiatus over the last year -- public appearances, my web store, sleep. It all comes, as Christopher Robin says, of (doing) eating too much.
Being busy, for me, is not a life goal anymore. It used to be. Now it's the old aunt who won't leave unless you tell her, rudely. By way of catch up, here's a short version of what I've been up to since my last blog post, lo these nine months ago:
May: Wife graduated from grad school (Go Sarah!) and had our second child, Otis (Go Sarah!)
May: We moved to a new home, two weeks after having the kid. What, past-self? How did that make sense?
May (notice a lot in May?) to August: Started and finished art + first draft of crazy, hybrid-enhanced-YA-novel Before Tomorrowlandfor Disney. Realized a dream of seeing my name next to Brad Bird's on a thing.
July: Did illustrations for Aloof, the latest theo-lit book from Tony Kriz, out at better bookstores now (Just got back from Tony's reading at Powell's!)
Somewhere else in there: Played stay-at-home-dad a couple days a week while Sarah got her counseling business up and running (Go Sarah!)
It doesn't look like that much to me, seeing it written in a few sentences here, but boy. I'm just now learning to walk and talk again. In the next few weeks, I'll dive into a bit more detail on these and other fun projects I have under way. For now, Happy Sunday. It was, by and large, a day of rest.
You know why it's Batman '66 Day tomorrow? Three things.
1. I return to the series with the first of 3 loaded new chapters, enhanced for digital. This one has it all, as Jeff Parker says:
For our latest story, artist Jonathan Case who kicked off the series, is returning for another big three-parter where The Joker and Catwoman bust out of confinement and turn Gotham City upside down.
It's wild and crazy, and I'm doing the primary cover for this issue (#11) when it's all collected for print. Here's the original cover art (for sale, and still in support of trafficking survivors).
2. Tomorrow's the release of the first snazzy hardcover collection of Batman '66. It really turned out beautifully, and includes art from fab people like Colleen Coover, Joe Quinones, and more! Buy a signed copy here.
My love affair with tech is frequently at odds with my impulse to keep rooted in the materials of my childhood (and, history up to now). There are uses for both. There's efficiency to be gained in digital, and there's joyful play that goes with using real-world materials. I still prefer and approach to my work that balances the two, and gives me the best aspects of each: the speed and power digital layouts/pencils, and the natural textures and fun of traditional inks (and sometimes paints). In order to bridge the gap between my Cintiq Companion and my bristol board, I needed another tool; a quality large format printer. I did a good bit of research, and I've found one that not only fits the bill for comics bluelines, but a whole host of other applications (art prints, photos, last-minute valentines)- and in my use, it does it all while beating the competition senseless from a quality/value standpoint. Here it is:
This is the Canon Pixma Pro 100. It's Canon's entry-level professional color printer, it's beastly big/heavy, and built like a tank compared to the consumer printers I've used. I'll get into what it does well in a minute, but first I'll tell you something about my prior experiences using large-format printers. Then you shall fully understand my joy.
I've used a number of large format printers from HP, Brother, and the like (and by large format, I don't mean gigantic, roll-out-a-banner size, just something with at least 11"x17" capabilities). They've all been consumer-grade, and serviceable with some coaxing. One that comics people recommended frequently for its multi-functionality is the Brother MFC J6710dw. For about $150, you get an 11"x17" scanner, printer, fax (right?), creature-feature. We have one in my studio, and I've used it a number of times to print my digital bluelines onto bristol.
Here's the thing: in the mid-to-late nineties, my parents got one of these MFC things from another manufacturer, and it just did nothing well. It had constant problems, and at that time, I swore I'd never buy an MFC device. After using the newer Brother in my studio, my opinion is largely unchanged. It does produce decent blueline prints, but with enormous caveats: after only a few friendly encounters, I found it had trouble taking a single page of bristol (you have to hand-guide the paper onto the sensor, do a holy cross, close your eyes, and count to ten- and even then, it may spit the board out, or give you lip about how there's nothing there). Even when it does finally print something, it may print the image slightly crooked on the page- not a big deal for print art production, but it sure doesn't make originals look their best. In short, I found all the efficiency gained in digital layouts and pencils squandered by constant printer battles. I sometimes spent an hour, hour and a half trying to get ten pages printed. I'm not kidding. I could have had another hand-penciled page mostly done in that time. RE-DONK-U-LOUS! My experiences with our older HP deskjet were largely the same- lots of time wasted trying to get a good print.
So where do you go from there? Large-format-capable pro grade printers, even entry-level ones, typically start at about $500. Ouch. Would I eventually make that up if I didn't have to waste time battling the device? Sure, but I am my father's son, and can't help but find a deal. This is freelance art, after all. Some days I get offers from joe average that let me pay two weeks of bills in a day, and other days I get offers from major publications to do art for less than I pay my babysitter. Finding a good deal on your tools is important.
Enter the Pro 100. One of the delightful things about this printer is that it's almost always available with a huge rebate from Canon. If you go to Adorama, for example, you can typically find it for under 90 bucks after the $300 mail-in-rebate, including a nice stack of 13"x19" photo-paper. It's crazy.
Here's what's even crazier. We all know that manufacturers price their printers to make their real money from ink and toner sales. This model is no exception, with a full set of 8 cartridges running about $100. Double-ouch, especially considering how much ink you use on just 5-10 13"x19" high-quality prints (the answer is most of it). Granted, blue-line prints are nowhere near that thirsty, so you'll get far more pages out of the ink set before you need a refill. BUT. The secret to getting huge value out of this printer is using refillable inks from a third party manufacturer. Note, I'm always very leery of non-name-brand inks, and you should be too. They'll often yield less, clog more, and give you worse color. I did a lot of research on this, and found a supplier called Precision Colors that a bunch of pro photographers love (I think I found a few discussions on DPReview, among others). Their system is certainly more work intensive than just buying a new set of cartridges, but having done it myself now, it's really very easy if you follow their instructions and have a few tools around the house. I also love that I don't have to throw away so much plastic.
The set I bought from them is the squeezy-cap system (should be on the bottom-right of this page). Do your own investigating to see if this is worth it to you, but for me, it's beautiful. The inks are formulated to match the quality and consistency of Canon's, and with the bottles I bought, I should be able to fill my cartridges about 3 dozen times for the same price of 1 new set from Canon. Precision Colors also has adjusted color-profiles you can download if you're crazy about getting everything perfectly consistent. For my uses, their inks work perfectly well with the default Canon settings.
The Pro 100's print quality and ease of operation are also big plusses. Coming from the Brother, I expected some amount of fiddling would be necessary for my bristol sheets, but much to my surprise, I've not had a single battle in a month of regular use. I can load up a fat stack of bristol sheets, hit print on a batch of pages in Manga Studio, and the printer just does its thing, no lip given, no jams, no misaligned images (knock on wood). The bristol feeds through automatically. I also used the printer for some art prints at a recent convention, using the provided 13"x19" photo paper, and the results were stellar. As good or better than anything I've received from a print shop, even on the standard quality mode. Its borderless printing feature is also useful for art prints, or just getting the biggest working area possible onto my bristol board. The printer's wifi capable too, so I can sit at my desk/couch with the Cintiq Companion and print stuff off any time, without having to hook anything up. A pretty standard perk for a modern printer, but still very nice.
So far, I've printed about 30 pages of Batman '66 pencils, a couple watercolor underdrawings (I've gone right over the ink lines without much bleeding), maybe 10 convention art prints, some smaller photos, and a handful of other things (last minute valentine). I'm very pleased with the Pro 100 in all aspects. If you have limited space, that's a consideration, as it really is large and heavy. Otherwise, go snag one from Adorama, or wherever has the best price, and print yourself silly.
Tomorrow I have an interview on radio/podcast Where Monsters Dwell. I'm going to do my best to rally through this cold. Get ready for some sweet, sweet, frog-voiced action. Looks like we're talking Batman '66, SARC donations, and about Jeff Parker (because I like to link to his blog).
If you want to ask me a question, it looks like they even have a section for that. I'm prepared to tell all.
Today begins a new partnership with some people I really admire. Here's the plan:
Every month, I'm donating a portion of my original art sales to SARC (The Sexual Assault Resource Center), my favorite local nonprofit serving survivors of sexual exploitation and violence. This month, I've already contributed $535 out of a possible $1,000. For December, I'll do the same, up to $1,000.Whether it's a couple pages of Batman, a color cover, whatever, the first $1,000 goes to SARC. Pretty simple. I'll start with this model and see how it goes. My intent is to raise funds and awareness for their work throughout next year.
Every year in America, there are between 100,000 and 300,000 children at risk of being sold on the sex-slave market. The average age of the victims is between 12 and 14.
Globally, human trafficking is the #2 most profitable illegal business; just ahead of weapons and just behind drugs. It's really difficult to let that sink in. I'll leave it to you to follow the sources below if you want detailed information; suffice to say, I can't think of an issue that needs more support, and has less. Nationally, there are fewer than 100 beds in treatment facilities equipped to help heal and care for these kids. One of the social workers at SARC said that for every girl they take on, that girl can name six or seven others being actively prostituted. It's staggering. Nonprofits like SARC are on the front lines providing care, services, and protection, but they're hugely under-supported, especially from your average American guy (hello).
I've supported SARC financially for a few years through the Epik Project, and I want to do more. Because of who I am and what I do (an artsyguy with limited real-world skills), my options for helpful involvement are limited. This also just isn't a topic that comes up naturally in any social setting. Believe me. I've tried. Taking stock of my options to do more, I landed on art sales. Original art income is totally unpredictable; I can't depend on it to pay bills, but I can use it strategically. It's a natural fit for donation.