Monday, November 26, 2007

I Say Thee, Ho, Ho, Ho

Over at my "Blockade Boy" blog, B.B. goes undercover as a mall Santa, on an alien planet, 980 years in the future. The beefy, oversexed hero discovers that time and distance have transmogrified the concept of "jolly old Saint Nick" into something like Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Present, as filtered through the brain of Robert E. Howard. (Not that he complains, of course.)


This is watercolor pencil and ink. I tried to loosen up my brush work, both with the watercolor mixing and with the inking. I think it turned out pretty well.

It took me a while to settle on a costume design. I knew I wanted his muscular arms and chest to be exposed, like a professional wrestler's, since it was the antithesis of the portly gent's physique. I tried different cloaks and unbuttoned coats on him. At one point, Future Santa had a tall, furry hat, like the Russian cousin of Santa, Grandfather Frost. Finally, I settled on just a simple cloak, chained together (under the beard) and a crown of holly. I put most of the details on the belt/codpiece and the boots. The bear image comes from old coats of arms.

Conceptually, I knew I wanted this less-than-welcoming Santa to pose in his chair like a barbarian king. Online, I found this iconic image of King Conan...


...and I knew right away it was ripe for parody/homage. I created Future Santa's barbed candy cane weapon based on Conan's spear.

My Future Santa also has an "elf" assistant, whose costume is raven-themed -- because Future Santa also looks a bit like the Norse god, Odin. I'll post that picture later this week (when I get around to drawing th' dang thing.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Real Girl


I've been listening to the opera, Les Contes d'Hoffmann, pretty obsessively over the last week. I've listened to three versions (two with Placido Domingo in the title role) and I've looked at some YouTube videos of the Kleinzach and Olympia arias. I'm no opera buff, but I think the music is beautiful -- so beautiful it almost makes me want to cry, if that makes any sense. Also, I love the story. It alternates between comic and tragic, and overall the tone is gothic, creepy, and disturbing. If you get the chance, you should rent the Michael Powell film of it, "The Tales of Hoffmann." It's vastly entertaining, and packed with imagery the MST3K guys would call "good old fashioned nightmare fuel." (George Romero has been quoted as saying it's his favorite movie.)

I thought it would be fun to do paintings of Hoffman and his unlucky love affairs. But before I get started on the paintings -- which could be a while -- I want to do some studies, so I can settle on a composition. This is a pencil drawing of Hoffmann and his first love, the mechanical doll, Olympia. Hoffmann, the poor dumb dope, doesn't realize she's a robot because he's been sold spectacles which -- unknown to himself -- make her appear to be a living person. Olympia's "father", Spalanzani, plans to use Hoffmann's infatuation with Olympia to fleece him of all his money. Hoffmann's dance with Olympia ends with the mechanical woman going haywire and flinging him about the room. His spectacles get smashed, and he recovers his senses just in time to witness Olympia getting torn apart by Spalanzani's disgruntled business partner, Dr. Coppelius. (That's Coppelius lurking in the background, in the nifty bicorn hat.)


I always enjoy doing research for my artwork, and this was no exception. For starters, I wanted the costumes to be contemporaneous with the real E.T.A. Hoffmann , who was born in 1776. In the "Olympia" sequence of "Les Contes d'Hoffmann", he's a traveling student, looking for a scientist to whom he can apprentice himself. My guess was, that meant that he was around twenty. Ultimately, the fashions I chose for both Hoffmann and Olympia wound up being more appropriate for the early 1800's, instead of the early 1790's. That was close enough, I figured, especially considering that a lot of opera companies set the sequence in the 1830's or later.

Olympia's gown is based on a "fashion plate" of that period that I found online. I eschewed styles with longer sleeves, because they didn't make Olympia look "girlish" enough. Since Spalanzani tries to pass Olympia off as both his daughter and as a suitable mate for Hoffmann, my guess is that she's meant to look like she's in her mid-to-late teens. Both her dress and hairstyle are inspired by ancient Greece, which was the style back then. Happily, the Greek look compliments her name.

Hoffmann's outfit is based on one worn by Hugh Grant in the movie "Sense and Sensibility." According to one costume website I visited, it's a conservative look for the time (around 1800). I love how the sleeves extend partially over the hands. Timewise, this outfit is probably a few years older -- at least! -- than Olympia's. And that suits me just fine. I figure Hoffman wouldn't be a rake, but merely a poor, wandering student who's found himself in another country. Similarly, Hoffmann's hair is unkempt and a bit spiky, since he'd only spend money for a haircut every so often. It's an intentional contrast with Olympia's elaborate curls. Hoffman's glasses are more like goggles than the rectangular, "Ben Franklin" style shades a man would have worn back then. This is also intentional. I like the shape of them better, and they have more of a jarring, sci-fi feel to them, which is the effect I want. Incidentally, one minor defect of Powell's film is the whacked-out, Elton John-style glasses Hoffmann wears -- they're so ridiculous, they make it hard to take Hoffmann seriously as a romantic hero. Seriously -- there's this one close-up where actor Robert Rounseville's pudgy, Vincent D'Onofrio-like face is all aglow with delight and surprise, and with the crazy glasses on, he's the Ghost of Charles Nelson Reilly Future. It's uncanny.

I wanted to keep the background simple, like a Toulouse-Lautrec poster or a Pre-Raphaelite painting. I decided to swipe -- er, borrow the drapery from a painting of Louis XVI. The wall directly behind Hoffmann and Olympia will definitely extend downward a little more in the next version of this that I do, so that it doesn't line up exactly with the wall in the background.

I'm pretty busy at the moment, so I don't know just when I'll be able to work on a painting of this subject, but I feel like I now at least have a good basis for it.



"Deuce", a character created by fellow blogger Silvercat. Since Silvercat submitted the winning look in my "Blockade Boy" costume design contest, I reciprocated by agreeing to redesign the costumes for two of her characters. Deuce is a Harley Quinn-type sidekick. I sent Silvercat three penciled cartoon sketches of costume ideas. She selected this one, and sent me back the sketch with some ideas for color styling (as you can see on the bottom of the picture). I mistakenly interpreted the white skin on the sketches as being uncolored rather than white, so she had to fix it herself. Originally posted on Silvercat's LiveJournal on October 2, 2007.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Krazy Lantern


George Herriman's Krazy Kat as Hal "Green Lantern" Jordan, in a tribute to the latter character's habit of getting konked on the head. Originally posted on Scipio Garling's fantastic "Absorbascon" blog, on October 31, 2007. I based the cartoon on this panel from the book "America's Great Comic-Strip Artists" by Richard Marschall (Abbeville Press):


My penciled version also had Offissa Pupp, as Hawkman, standing disapprovingly in the background, but it made the composition too busy. At one point I tried casting the anonymous bystander in Herriman's original as the Flash, but again, it distracted from the main idea of the parody. Herriman was a master of pen-and-ink. I have nothing even approaching his facility. Thankfully, I was able to achieve a similar look with a brush.

Saturday, November 3, 2007



Acrylic painting of the Celtic god, Cernunnos. I worked on it this summer.

Space Pirates on Parade


My "Blockade Boy" blog character, back in his days as a space-pirate, leading his crew in a celebratory (and compulsory) march. Originally posted on that blog on July 4, 2007. This cartoon also appeared in the September, 2007 issue of "Instinct" magazine.

Red Skull 3


My redesign of the Communist version of the Marvel Comics villain, the Red Skull. The skeletal headgear is based on a Soviet-era gasmask. Originally published on my "Blockade Boy" blog on May 7, 2007.

Weight Wizard


This is a pastel portrait of Weight Wizard, a small-time "Legion of Super-Heroes" character, extensively redesigned for my "Blockade Boy" blog. Originally posted over there on August 27, 2007.

Misfit Super-Heroes


Here are four super-heroes I created for my "Blockade Boy" blog. Originally posted there on October 2, 2007, and based on concepts from the "Legion of Super-Heroes" universe. From left-to-right: Gadfly Lad, Dentata Damsel, Nightmare Boy, and Frigid Queen.

Dynamo Kid


Here's my redesign of another little-known Legion of Super-Heroes character. Originally posted on my "Blockade Boy" blog on September 3, 2007.

Rainbow Girl


This is my redesign of a terribly obscure Legion of Super-Heroes character. It was originally posted on my "Blockade Boy" blog on July 2, 2007.



My rendition of Comet, a superhero created by cartoonist Brian Andersen. This was originally posted on my "Blockade Boy" blog on September 8, 2007, and was later published in issue #3 of his comic, "So Super Duper."

The Enchanter


My design for a male version of the DC Comics character, the Enchantress. Originally posted on my Blockade Boy website on April 10, 2007. The magic symbol is a "very old ideogram" for fire, according to "The Complete Encyclopedia of Signs and Symbols" by Mark O'Connell and Raje Airey.