How a Page Is Born

February 23rd, 2012

Family Man layout sketches

This is a quick picture I took of one of the stages in the creation of a recent page of my graphic novel, Family Man (

Since my script doesn’t always break out action or dialogue into specific panels within specific pages, each page is its own little puzzle; how much of it will make sense as a visual unit? What moments need their own panel, and which ones can be combined? What’s important, and what can I just suggest and move on from? And does character X really need to say three sentences when she can say one?

Unless the page is very simple, I’ll start out by drawing a big brain-dump like this on a piece of printer paper, covering ALL of the stuff I think might go into the page.

I break out chunks of action, experiment with facial expressions, poses, and angles, and just generally reassure myself that I’ve given everything a good dose of consideration.

On of my great hang-ups is the belief that somewhere in my brain is The Perfect Layout, and if I just keep trying and redoing and rearranging, I’ll eventually stumble across it. Imposing a period of playful experimentation like this helps shake me out of that notion.

You can see the finished version of this page here:
And some of the visual information was bumped onto the page following it:

Happy Presidents’ Day!

February 21st, 2011

Happy Presidents Day!

In my defense: sometimes these things just happen when you’re an illustrator. With an eccentric brain.

This little abomination is up for sale on Etsy if you’re looking to decorate!

Tricorner Hack.

August 18th, 2010

Those of you familiar with my graphic novel Family Man will know that I have spent many, many hours drawing  people wearing tricorn hats.  It was a style of headgear that stuck around for quite some time, and it seems to be the first shaped hat designed expressly for the purpose of driving artists crazy.  (Later fashion provided us with the fedora and the cowboy hat, in which crucibles many a cartoonist has died screaming.)




I know that you don’t want to be that person who gives up and just draws a vague lump on your character’s head.  I can’t help you with the fedora or cowboy hat – but I’m here to lend you a hand with our friend the Tricorn.

There’s one very obvious solution for how to go about properly drawing a tricorn at any angle: buy an expensive reproduction hat online and pose or photograph it as necessary.  However, that will net you many hours of digging through endless Halloween store shopping results for shapeless faux-leather “Jack Sparrow” pirate hats and weird little woolen cereal bowls with a weak brim claiming to be “Colonial hats”. When finally you get to plonk down $400 on an accurate drawing prop, you’ll probably want to do violence to your fellow human beings.


The next most obvious solution, if you’re broke or slightly insane, is to hunt down vast numbers of screen captures from appropriate period films.  I will cop to having, on hand, roughly a gigabyte of stills from 1776: The Musical: The Movie.  I will not claim that these have been unhelpful, but perhaps you aren’t interested in paging through 53 blurry images of Blythe Danner in a corset in hopes of locating that one angle of a guy in a hat.


It’s also wise to keep in mind that any period film is ALSO filtered through the period when it was filmed – hence, in 1776 we learn that Thomas Jefferson really liked 70’s style brushed-up temples.

So if you are looking for the simplest, cheapest, most rudimentary tricorner hat hack: get ready.  This will provide you with the basic folded planes of the tricorn hat so that you can sketch out the essential shape; you’re on your own for deciding the style of the crown and providing the subtler details of material and curved blocking.

Those of you who have celebrated Purim by eating hamantaschen cookies will recognize this procedure.

YOU WILL NEED: a piece of foldable paper, a pair of scissors, a pencil.



Cut out a circle of paper.  Cut it to whatever size you like; don’t worry about the shape being perfect.  (a slightly oblong shape might actually get you more accurate results later on.)



Draw an equilateral (equal-sided) triangle inside the circle so that each point touches the edge.  Again, don’t worry too much about deadly accuracy; these are just folding guidelines.



Pinch in the paper at each point.  I find it’s easiest to first pinch up two points, then move on to the third.



Now that the points are pinched up, it should be easy for you to fold the paper along the pencil lines.  The triangle is still flat, but the extra half-circles of paper stick up.



Behold! Whichever corner sticks forward the most is now the front brim of the hat; the other two form the back.  The triangle is the underside of the hat, where your person would normally stick their head in.  You can arrange this little paper thingie at many common angles and immediately figure out the basic arrangement of the hat’s trickiest parts. You can see that the angle I held the model at roughly replicates Luther’s hat down in the inset image.

If you want to replicate the crown of the hat, make this model big enough to accommodate half of a ping-pong ball (for a round crown) or a bottle cap (flat crown), and glue or tape it on.

In actual hats, the “corners” were often not tightly pinched together, especially in the front, so if you want to replicate that look, let the tips of the triangle run off the paper, skip the pinching, and just fold up along the lines.

Now that you have this model, I recommend you go back and look at those screencaps, or at any trustworthy reference source, to fill yourself in on style and material details/divergences.  These hats were made of anything from light felt to heavy leather, decorated with ostrich feathers and gilt, tied down, worn askew, blocked so that they sat more on the back of the head than the front, etc, and came in every size from bitsy to engulfing.

Regardless, this little model will help you draw a tricky angle when your reference sources aren’t working out.

Enjoy the increased ease of drawing one of history’s most frustrating hats!


ADDENDUM:  lovely reader Jenn S. made up a nice little cheater template for those of you who don’t want to draw your own circles and triangles!  Click to view and download at full size, then print and use at will.  Thanks, Jenn!


July 28th, 2010

I’m back from Comic-Con International and, given enough naps, I think I might even recover!

While there, I kept a little sketch journal of some of the wackier things I encountered, or, more factually, my reactions to them.

Comic-Con 2010 Sketchbook

Click the picture to check out the whole set on Flickr!

It was a crazy time – wonderful to see so many friends, colleagues, and readers, crazy costumes and bizarre set pieces.  This was my first time going as a Professional Cartoonist ™ and that added a certain amount of angst – am I annoying everybody?  Will I sell enough?  Am I talking to the right people?  How many boxes did I ship?  But it was exciting to be at a point in my professional development where those were meaningful considerations.  Six years ago, I was looking up to people like me!  Pretty cool.

Thank you to everybody who spoke to me, bought a book, or gave a friendly smile at the convention.  It’s a pleasure.  Even if my feet still hurt two days out.

Monday Morning Poem: Wraiths

March 22nd, 2010



They know not the green leaves;
In whose earth-haunting dream
Dimly the forest heaves,
And voiceless goes the stream.
Strangely they seek a place
In love’s night-memoried hall;
Peering from face to face,
Until some heart shall call
And keep them, for a breath,
Half-mortal … (Hark to the rain!)…
They are dead … (O hear how death
Gropes on the shutter’d pane!)

– Siegfried Sassoon

Photo by Ashley Gilbertson for the New York Times, from a series of photographs showing the preserved bedrooms of young American soldiers killed in the last decade.

Animals for Animals: Three French Hens

December 16th, 2009

The penultimate Animals for Animals watercolor!  Next I’ll do a bat, and then I have one or two that have been specifically commissioned (I’m workin’ on em gang, don’t worry!) and won’t be for sale.


The French Hens

…why, what else did you think hens would read?  Tolstoy?  I doubt it.

This piece does double-duty as part of 12 Days of Periscope Christmas over at ComicsAlliance.  Thanks to Laura Hudson for coming up with the brilliant notion of hiring us all on to illustrate the classic carol all comic-book style.

Animals for Animals: Musical Bees! (and Gaming Rats)

December 11th, 2009

Today’s Animals for Animals:  musical bees!  Once I had the Morning Glory Victrola idea I couldn’t help myself, even though I know that fewer people are obsessed with cute insects. Up for sale at Etsy.

Bees for Heifer

Bees are the second animal I’ve painted that Heifer International actually deals with (although granted, not bumblebees like these)!  Apiaries are apparently an amazing income supplement in rural communities, and with honeybees on the wane, encouraging cultivation is more important than ever.

Wednesday’s animal was: Gaming Rats.

Rats for Heifer

I realized after painting it that it’s a chillingly accurate psychological portrait of my family’s game nights.  My dad is a tender-hearted pacifist who refuses to adopt the ruthless capitalist strategy necessary to win at Monopoly.  Whereas my mom is a heartless predator, and I’m her cheerful apprentice.

I’m knocking at the door of my $500 goal!  Yay!

Animals for Animals: Knitting Hedgehog

December 8th, 2009

Today’s Animals for Animals original watercolor fundraiser is a Knitting Hedgehog!

Knitting Hedgehog for Heifer International

What a sweet little fellow.  Maybe he’s knitting a full-body scarf for a weasel friend.

For sale on Etsy!

Animals for Animals: Connected Otter

December 4th, 2009

Today’s Heifer International fundraising painting-for-sale:  a Connected Otter!

Connected Otter

It’s not a MacBook.  It’s a ShellBook!  (that’s why it works underwater.)  This otter understands that in today’s wired world, being down on the river bottom eating a fish is no excuse for being out of touch.

Animals for Animals: Leggy Llama

December 3rd, 2009

Behold!  Another day, another fundraising critter for Heifer International.  These things keep selling immediately!  (If you want a good leap on one then I recommended hanging around my Twitter account between 11 and 3 Pacific.)

I love this one so much, guys.  Witness ye the Leggy Llama.

Llama for Heifer

Also already sold!  I think I’ll start noodging the price up a little bit, since folks seem to be very enthusiastic about both the paintings and the beneficiary.

After I raise $500 I will produce prints so that those of you without much spending money can contribute, too!

    {blog in Livejournal flavor}

    News Bulletins.
    Bite Me! will go out of print for a few months soon as I reprint the book. Order your copy before I run out!


    Upcoming in 2011: Toronto Comic Arts Festival, Toronto ON, May 5-6

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