Thursday, December 22, 2016

Seasons Greetings!

The "orange grove" outside my studio

December 1894

The cold lingered on for two days as they all huddled inside for warmth. A clear sky and brilliant sun greeted the third morning, and the temperature rose rapidly to sevety-five degrees.

Tobias and Zech went to the grove and found the trees not green but brown, each already surrounded by piles of fallen dead leaves. Tobias cut into the trunk of one and said, "It ain't dead all the way. They just might make it if it stays warm like this. I just thank the Lord we didn't get no rain and ice with all that cold."

"They'll make it, Pappa. We may never have another cold snap that bad. What I need to do now is replant the garden. There's not a single thing left in there alive, and I sure don't want to go back to eating wild poke two meals a day."

"Poke ain't so bad. We lived off it for years when we had to."

"I know, Pappa. But tomatoes and beans and collards is better. Soon as we get back to the house I'll put out the seeds." 

A month later Tobias came running through the woods, souting as loud as he could. "They done it! They done it!"

Everyone poured out of the cabins and house, and Zech scrambled from the barn and raced to meet his father as he came into the clearing. He said, "What in the world is all the shouting for, Pappa?" 

"The orange trees," Tobias panted, "they're puttin' out sap and new growth! They're goin' to bloom, Zech! They done made it!"

"That's great Pappa! Just great. I knew they'd come through."

"I sure thought for a while it was all gone, but the Lord's done smiled down on us. I got to go now and tell Emma."

Zech stood by Glenda and put his arm around her as they watched the frail body lumber across the clearing towards the small plot of ground bearing the grave.

- Patrick D. Smith : A Land Remembered

After returning home from my honeymoon with my wife, we were greeted with this relatively cold (at least by a Floridian's standards) and bitter Savannah weather, a mix of heavy rain and chilling air that penetrates even the thickest of winter wear. Still, it's nothing compared to the "big chill" Florida experienced back in 1894, when weather was so icy and erratic that many farmers packed up and left without even cleaning their dirty dishes. 

Yet, Tobias and the MacIvey clan pushed through, despite all odds, determined to make the best of a miserable situation, which soon after got decisively worse (but you'll need to read A Land Remembered to learn more about that). Still, we can all stand to learn a thing or two from Tobias's gumption, that even in the bleakest and coldest of times, relying on your family and yourself is what will see you through. 

So during this holiday, be sure to gather your family close and share in the comfort of your well insulated homes, with your central Air and Heat, and remember that those of simpler times did much the same with much less, and went on to do extraordinary things. 

Stay tuned, more great stuff coming soon, including CHARACTER DESIGNS! Look for that and more very soon...

Happy Holidays! 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Studio Tour

Happy December! Before I take you on a tour of my newly minted studio, I wanted to update everyone following this blog that I am nearing completion on the thumbnails. It's a tedious portion of the graphic novel process, but once completed, I can start sharing with you the more finer points in regards to drawings and storytelling techniques from panel-to-panel. So stick around, because I promise things are about to take off!

So to begin our tour, I'd like to establish the overall setting. I currently live in Savannah, Georgia, known as the first colony of Georgia (though my roots and heart are still firmly planted in Florida). I was born and raised in Gainesville and spent every summer on the beaches of Matanzas Inlet, outside St. Augustine. Gainesville gave me a sense of community, while it was St. Augustine that sparked my love of history and adventure. 

Ultimately, college is what drew me to the city of Savannah, where I attended Savannah College of Art and Design (BFA, Sequential Art, 2009). After college, Savannah continued to inspire me as an artist and I found that I just couldn't escape the city. They say that there's an old legend that says Savannah enchants it's residence to never want to leave it. Far be it for me to dispute legends and folklore (I've moonlighted as a ghost tour guide here for over a decade) but I feel that deep down, Florida will be the place of my final hurrah (very far in the future...hopefully). 

As you enter through the main door, to the right stands my obscenely tall bookshelf. The bookshelf was custom made to house my ridiculously overflowing collection of graphic novels. The novels range from the stereotypical, soap-opera-esque super hero graphic novels put out by Marvel and DC Comics, to the more unique, colorful and thought provoking graphic novels like Craig Thompson's Blankets or Art Spiegelman's MAUS. Truth be told, most of my graphic novel collection consists of graphic adaptations of historical fiction and non-fiction. Some of my favorite titles being Scott Chantler's , Arnie Bellstorf's Baby's in Black, Gene Luen Yang's Boxers & Saints and my friend, Chris Schweizer's Crogan Adventure series. All of these titles I turn for inspiration and guidance on best delivering a tale that is both rich in history and full of adventure, a story designed to capture the attention of the modern readers, while appeasing those of more "traditional" tastes. 

The image to the right is one of my most cherished possessions, my wife's wedding gift to me. A hand held telescope. One of my favorite book series is C.S. Foster's Horatio Hornblower, a swashbuckling series about a young sailor and his adventures in the Royal British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars (also, the inspiration for Star Trek, believe it or not). I received it before our ceremony and used it to actually watch her approach to the island that we got married on (it was a small island in the middle of a Botanical Garden, just to be clear). Kathleen has always supported me fully on all of my crazy adventures, and I'm lucky enough to have her support on this one right now!

While the Goliath of a bookshelf does house solely graphic novels and comics, I've dedicated a smaller David-size bookshelf against the other wall. This bookshelf is filled with all matters pertaining to folklore and history, specifically those in the areas of the South. My first three novels, which were paranormal/supernatural focused, were not without their facts. I made it my own personal mission to make sure that much of my storytelling was backed by some form of historical documentation or reference. Throughout Lost Souls of Savannah, I embarked on collecting historical information about everything pertaining to 1930's Savannah, from the cars, to the buildings and even the proper style of gravestones and use of HooDoo spells. The same level of historical accuracy will be applied to A Land Remembered: The Graphic Novel, to make sure that readers will gain a real accurate history lesson of Florida long lost. 
Beside that bookshelf, sits King Tut. He once belonged to my grandfather, Stan Kuchinski. Stan was a hero in every sense of the word. He was present at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. He went on to serve at almost every major engagement in the Pacific Theater as a Marine of the First Division. My grandfather went on after the war to be a painter...of skyscrapers, and later suffered a severe life changing injury when his scaffolding dropped several floors during a painting job and landed him in a coma for months in the hospital. He survived and lived well into old age. Despite all he suffered, he never gave up his passion and love for the arts. He would paint, sculpt, create and draw throughout his life time and it's from him I like to think that I have gained my creative talents and abilities. 

Next we come to what I like to call the Tech Station. For you computer savvy people out there, you may or may not be familiar with Wacom's Cintiq 22HD. I recently acquired this beauty and added it to my studio arsenal. The Cintiq is one of the largest format tablets, capable of a 2,000 point pressure system that allows me to draw directly onto the screen.

When I was first introduced to the Cintiq, it was the original Cintiq 21UX, which SCAD purchased for use in the Sequential Art Department. At the time, we only had a few, and people would line up to use it. Being the traditionalist, I was rather put off by the idea of drawing on a screen rather than using pen and paper and initially refused to use it. By the end of the year, the department ended up with a whole computer lab full of the 21UXs and before the end of the next year, I had purchased one for myself. At first, I under utilized it, using it only for art correction and coloring. It would be several more years before I became comfortable enough to use it to create a polished art piece from start to finish. To me, it's an invaluable tool, and the forerunner and frontrunner to all the standard artist tablets used today. 

But, A Land Remembered is all about tradition, and success through hardship and drive. With that said, the Cintiq 22HD will be used sparingly for this project, mostly reserved for touch-ups, corrections and toning. The cover, however, will be all digital, but I want the book itself to be purely from hand drawn and inked art, something with a bit more soul. 

The easel is something I've had with me since I was in high school. Back in my teen years I made money as a caricature artist at local festivals, art shows and events and I used this easel for both the practical purpose of storing my supplies and drawing, as well as to vindicate myself as an artist. When I first propped it up I remember feeling elated at how far I had come from drawing in spiral notebooks and on classroom desks. It was a big move up. I guess you could say this easel was to me what the marshtackie, Ishmael was to Tobias and Zech. I couldn't have done my job without it.

As for the picture on the easel, all I can tell you at this point is that this is a portrait of Simon Wiesenthal, the famous German Nazi Hunter. The art is not my own, it was drawn by my friend Jesse Lee, who is collaborating on a comic with me that we'll be pitching on Kickstarter the beginning of next year! Stay tuned for more info on that soon! 

So these two stuffed friends loom large over the studio. The shark is from my father's days as a fish taxidermist. Yes, that's right, my father who I always knew as "Chef Al", who spent 6 months in a French kitchen to become the Master Chef of Gainesville, started off stuffing fish. Now, before you go thinking that's a stuff shark, it's actually a plaster mold of a shark, only the teeth are original. My father grew up in Miami and to make a little cash he worked at a taxidermist that would take the teeth of fish caught and mount them into sculpted replicas. This has hung in EVERY bedroom I've ever slept in all my life, but now hangs just outside my bedroom as the guard of my studio.

The merganser (Murray as we all know him in the family). Is also a gift from my father. The story goes that one day when I was in high school, my father awoke me in the early morning hours and led me to his car. In the trunk was a bushel of stuff birds he had received from a member of the Gainesville Golf and Country Club, where he served as Head Chef. He directed me to put them around the yard, especially near the bird feeders. At first, I didn't understand, but an hour later I awoke again to my mom screaming with excitement. My mother is a member of the Alachua County Audobon Society, and an avid bird watcher. She had assumed the stuff birds were real and immediately set out to snap pictures and call all of her birder friends. Needless to say...once she caught father received quite the smacking. To this day, it's the family's favorite story.

Side note, two years later, I was taking a Florida Flora and Fauna course at Santa Fe College. The professor was an acclaimed environmental biologist of sorts and gave us an assignment to collect and catalog 25 natural Florida species of birds. Well, I can tell you that it's not an easy thing to snap 25 photos of local birds. The night before the finals were due, I only had 24 that I could find in their natural habitats. I was struggling to find a 25th when I looked up at Murray on my wall. I took him outside, covered his base and snapped a photo. I was worried my professor would catch on (just like my mom eventually did), but I received an A for the project!

We come to the last bit of the studio tour, the most important station, which is my drawing table. This is where the majority of my time will be spent for the next year and a half as I develop this book. Currently propped on it, you'll see both a copy of Patrick Smith's novel, the outlines of my adaptation and the thumbnail layouts in progress. To the far right you can also see the side of the signed contract with Pineapple Press, which I keep by me at all times in case I need to be reminded I'm not dreaming and I'm really helming a comic adaptation of A Land Remembered. It can sometimes be a little surreal to be totally honest.

I also keep Batman nearby (specifically Bruce Timm's Batman, another influence to my art style). I remember several of my classmates would keep a picture of Batman warning them of the dangers of procrastination, it's one of the graphic novelist's constant enemies. I've always been afraid of falling by the wayside on a project or not being able to finish what I set out to do. Never have I felt the stakes to be this high before! This isn't a creation of my own, I've been tasked to complete something that has a devoted fanbase, a fanbase I don't want to disappoint.

Far be it for me to not listen to Batman! Time to get back to work.