Monday, August 5, 2019

King Kong Cover for Amazing Heroes!

Originally posted July 13, 2017; updated with an addendum below, August 5, 2019.

Perhaps the best piece of art I created for the entire King Kong adaptation I drew for Fantagraphics' Monster Comics imprint in the early 1990s never appeared as part of the series. Instead, it was the cover for Amazing Heroes, the little sister publication to their more upscale publication, The Comics Journal. Here is a look at the original colored blueline.

For more on the art of my Kong adaptation, visit my King Kong blog!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Don't Look Now: Identifying with Heroes Is More than Demographic (or Skin Deep)

Don’t wait for someone who looks like you to live your dream before you do.

The whole “looks like me” movement is quite baffling to me. Who are all these people who’ve been waiting for some media figure (or some fictional character) to look like them before they could fulfill their potential? Who are these kids who need a sports or movie star, or Disney princess, to be of their complexion, nationality, or religion before they have the gumption to charge ahead? And where were all those real and ideal people who looked like something who modeled for the last two or three generations of minority achievers, who apparently didn’t have anyone who looked like them to serve as role models, but found their way to success despite this lack?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Ms. Meg Must-Read: Critical Rave for Clarissa!

This is an unsolicited comment from my colleague who is proofing and Beta-reading my Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series manuscript (you can read the same chapters right now online): 
"Finished chapters 1-7 of Clarissa James' memoirs. Really enjoying it. From what I've read, I wouldn’t change a thing. There's the right balance of exposition and movement, and I find Clarissa's voice to be a perfect fit for the story. Keep it coming and I look forward to catching up on chapters 8-10!"

Monday, April 1, 2019

Comics Hate Group “Cancels” Ms. Megaton Man!

megatropolis, n.y.—Don Simpson’s controversial new Ms. MegatonMan Maxi-Series has the comic book hate group FRFB (Far-Right Fanboys) calling for a boycott, citing the work’s alleged “Social Justice Warrior agenda” that threatens their insecure, toxic-masculine “hobby.”

Saturday, March 30, 2019

For Mature Readers: The Narrative Voice of Ms. Megaton Man

Telling the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series in the first-person voice of Clarissa James solved a number of problems for me as I grappled with attempting to turn what had been a comic book series into a prose narrative. (As of this writing, six chapters have been posted online.)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Too Secure for Words: Academia's Plain-Language Problem

I recently heard a news story on WESA-FM, the National Public Radio affiliate in Pittsburgh, on a program at the University of Pittsburgh on coding. It seems that some zillions and zillions of jobs are going unfilled nationwide, and some eight thousand in the Pittsburgh area alone. The story said that mid-career professionals who were contemplating a career change was the perfect applicant they were looking for the program.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Thirty Years of Ms. Megaton Man: 1989 to 2019!

Here is the first page of sketches I did of Clarissa James in 1989 - up to that point a minor Civilian (Megapowerless) character in the cast of my Megaton Man comics - as Ms. Megaton Man. It was in an old hardbound sketchbook I took around to shows to collect sketches of interpretations of my characters from fellow pros (I've posted some of the more memorable ones here and there).

Sunday, March 17, 2019

My Latest False Start, or, Why the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series, Anyway?

As of this writing, I have composed eight chapters of what I call my "YA prose experiment," the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series. Four chapters have dropped, to use the modern parlance, on my Ms. Megaton Man Blog, and one is scheduled to drop over the next four Fridays at 8:30 pm EDT. And there's plenty more where that came from.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Phantom Mommy: When Retcons Spoil Your Fanboy Escapism

There was a time when hoping for a comic book-turned-movie project to fail would be treasonous. Now the noxious far-right in comics openly disparages any creative alteration to an established property they disagree with, hoping for the downfall – and calling for boycotts – of whatever latest blockbuster. The ideology of this fringe is incoherent and confusing – and entirely selective. Impenetrable and completely irrational to outsiders, their world view makes perfect sense to them, however; everything they don’t happen to like in comics and pop culture at any given time can be blamed on some Phantom Mommy who wants to ruin their naughty-boy fun.

Monday, February 18, 2019

"How Much Do You Need?" Hate and Jealousy in Comics, 2019-Style

The recent spate of comics hate that has emanated from certain dethroned creators reminds me of the early Image Comics years. I happened to have had a front-row seat, thanks to Moondog's Comics in Chicago, who hosted the Chicago Comicon in 1992, and my friendship with Larry Tales of the Beanworld Marder and Chris Eb'nn Ecker. Both worked for Gary Colabuono in the Moondog's central office and along with Bevin Brown, masterminded the Image Tent.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

When a Giant Pencil is Worn to a Nub on South Craig Street: Yet Another Pittsburgh Arts Casualty

Just two weeks after the announcement that the Art Institute of Pittsburgh (once the flagship of a national chain of trade schools), and only a week after a realigned Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media tacitly announced a downgraded role for traditional manual arts such as drawing, painting, and sculpture in their newest incarnation, an iconic Pittsburgh art supply store has abruptly announced it will be going out of business after 48 years.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

PCAM: 21st C. "Arts" .org Too Ashamed to Mention Drawing, Painting, or Sculpture by Name

If you want another sign of how completely debased the word "art" has become in our twenty-first century civilization (not to mention the intellectually corrosive effects of an MFA in the visual arts), herewith the Friday, February 8, 2019 email announcing a new local arts .org (note the words drawing, painting, and sculpture are completely absent):

Friday, February 8, 2019

Spectrum Disorder: Whither Drawing? Part 2

Another sign that drawing is withering away from our culture: The newly-rebranded Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media, ostensibly a fine arts .org composed of the ashes of Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, issued a press release today touting its "agenda for advancing excellence in film, digital video, photography and the spectrum of visual arts." Drawing, painting, and sculpture, once a mainstay of classes at the old PCA are never mentioned by name, presumably falling under the "spectrum" category.

Presumably, such quaint traditional arts too insignificant anymore to break out individually.

Update: read the entirety of their press release here

Full disclosure: I took all three kinds of classes and taught several cartooning workshops there myself over the decades.

Some latter-day student work from the Carnegie Museum of Art adult studio program, before 2014.

This demotion of actual art in favor of recording media follows the news of the closing of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, flagship for a chain of design schools that abandoned traditional art in favor of digital animation and other newfangled media at the turn of the millennium. (I once attended and taught there as well.)

Less than a year ago, the Toonseum shuttered its downtown gallery location and entered what was described as a year-long "curtains drawn" hiatus. Whether it will ever draw anything again besides curtains remains to be seen. (I was shown there and participated in a drawing workshop.)

Less than six years ago, Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art discontinued its adult studio art classes, including drawing. (I taught several cartooning, drawing, and sketching workshops there.)

As I remarked on Facebook, Pittsburgh, once a haven of culture, is becoming a drawing desert.

More: Whither Drawing? Part I

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Gorging at the Trump Trough: Editorial Cartooning Goes Belly-Up

It is a paradox that Donald Trump, the worst president in U.S. history, has been a boon to the Left in general and to late-night comedians in particular, but absolutely anathema to the dwindling number of local newspaper editorial cartoonists. Rather than a comic feast, cartoonists are gorging on Trump and going belly-up, like goldfish that have no better sense than to eat themselves to death.

The reasons for this phenomenon are no doubt complex and varied, but there are a few basic tendencies. For starters, the profession – and art form – has been in decline for a generation (it peaked some time around 1978; some might even say it peaked with Thomas Nast around 1878), even as the print newspaper industry itself has radically contracted. Most major cities that had two daily newspapers now only have one, and even one-newspaper markets have begun going less-than-daily or even completely paperless.

The remaining herd of staff editorial cartoonists (numbering in the hundreds a generation ago but now down to less than two dozen, with an average age inching up to around sixty) has thinned to the point that perhaps the gene pool is simply no longer robust or diverse enough to remain viable.

At the same time, less and less has been demanded of the profession. Mid-century newspaper editorial cartoonists once drew political cartoons on a daily basis, and even contributed spot illustrations and special features regularly (witness the herculean efforts of Billy Ireland, whose output for small-market Columbus, Ohio would match any five cartoonists practicing today). Since the 1980s, however, few editorial cartoonists have offered more than three daily cartoons plus Sunday, such have been the arduous demands of the political muse; the craft, for some inexplicable reason, became a part-time job.

It also became a phone-it-in line of work, literally. With the scanner and the modem, more and more cartoonists worked from suburban homes or gentrified urban neighborhoods, venturing into the downtown office only rarely. (The romantic picture of a cartoonist at a drawing board wielding a bottle of India ink and crowquill in the middle of a bustling newsroom probably wasn’t even true in 1910, let alone by end of the twentieth century.)

Megaton Man almost meets The Donald in Megaton Man #10 (Kitchen Sink Press, July 1986). ™ and © Don Simpson 2018, all rights reserved.
By the same token, more and more cartoonists won the right to start their own websites, widening their audiences by increasing easy access, but at the same time no longer motivating readers to pick up a printed newspaper. This perk no doubt kept cartoonists happy while compensating for fewer raises and even cuts to their newspaper paychecks, but it also exacerbated the erosion of loyalty between home newspapers and their respective cartoonists.

Syndicates provided newspapers with easy and cheap (and often a better selection of) cartoons on national issues; at the same time, local cartoonists, eyeing potential syndication revenue, sought to maximize their income by devoting more and more of their energy to national issues, and less and less to local themes. A cartoon devoted to city politics or regional issues came to be viewed as anathema to the current generation – a wasted drawing.
One recently-discharged editorial cartoonist characterized his fellow practitioners of this dying art form as "canaries in the coal mines," apparently oblivious to the fact that graphic art staff jobs have been disappearing by the hundreds of thousands for several decades. In fact, editorial cartoonists have been the last of a dying breed of analog artists to make steady paychecks while sitting at drawing boards. Most illustrators, designers, and cartoonists have been part-time freelancers - at best - for years, while other skilled jobs - from layout to type spec'ing to plate burning - have been wiped out by a toxic combination of digital technology and brute economics. Even in a journalistic sense, editorial cartoonists have hardly been "canaries"; rounds of buyouts and early retirements, not to mention shutdowns, have been a regular newsroom occurrence for years.
Thus local practitioners of editorial cartooning became at the same time cut off from the city newsrooms yet even more remote from nation’s capital and other power centers, the ostensible source of their inspiration. Editorial cartooning was reduced to an almost inaudible vibration in the media echo chamber, part of a nationalized feedback loop whose contributors were paradoxically marooned in irrelevant localities outside the beltway. Anyone with access to a few magazine subscriptions and NPR had the same sources of information (and inspiration) as the most clever editorial cartoonist working from the suburb across town, and had they sufficient drawing skills to produce the fashionable off-handed scrawl most contemporary cartoonists favor, could probably have come up with just as good or better observations.

Into this perfect storm strode Donald J. Trump, perhaps the most perfect foil for a political cartoonist since Richard M. Nixon. Cartoonists already instinctively driven to low-hanging fruit and the easy pot-shot have found such a trove of material in Trump and his cronies they couldn’t resist. But at the same time, they were dealing with a political phenomenon that made editorial cartooning irrelevant. Trump has been so polarizing, no thinking person has needed a cartoon to help them make up their mind.

Yet cartoonists have effectively gorged themselves to death at the Trump trough. Staff positions that haven’t dematerialized for purely economic reasons have succumbed to the “broken record” syndrome: drawings that are ugly, depressing, and utterly monotonous in their dead-horse-beating humorlessness. What rationale does a local newspaper have to keep a one-note, one-issue “voice” that only wants to speak about one thing to a national audience outside the reach of its local or regional distribution, especially when that voice is only screeching at one unmodulated pitch all the time?

While Stephen Colbert can summarize the latest Trump atrocities in a daily five-minute monologue before moving onto other entertainments, the poor editorial cartoonist could fill an entire newspaper page every day and still not scratch the surface of the trove of Trump material – and could cover reams of Bristol board before finding anything funny - let alone uplifting - about any of it. On top of which, carefully hand-crafting three or four anti-Trump cartoons per week has come to seem an almost absurdly painstaking and paltry response to a buffoon who generates three or four national emergencies per hour.

The paradox of 2019 may well be that we will witness the final demise of a once-proud art form, one that hasn’t probably hasn’t been vital or viable in more than a generation, in what - on paper - should have been a Renaissance or Golden Age. Future historians will ponder the precise reasons while those of us alive today will hardly have noticed.