Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Secrets of Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors, Mojo & Zappa Comix, [Paint]Brushes With Fame
Cartoonist Confessions, Mojo Nixon & Frank Zappa Comix, Ken Meyer, Jr. Paints Rock Stars
Cartoonist Confessions, Mojo Comix, He Paints Rock Stars
1 – MORE Secrets Behind Overheard In San Diego and Famous Former Neighbors
2 - Mojo Nixon’s Comix & Stories
3 - Famous Cartoon Neighbors
4 - Drawing David Bowie: Time Lapse Video
5 - Drawing Marilyn Monroe: Time Lapse Video
6 - (Paint)Brushes With Fame: He Paints Rock Stars
7 - Frank Zappa: Viva La Bizarre, a feature length Famous Former Neighbors comic
1 – MORE CARTOONIST CONFESSIONS: SECRETS BEHIND OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO AND FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS
Overheard In San Diego and Famous Former Neighbors are anomalies in the comic strip world – they’re based on real people, places, and events.
There have been few such strips: Ripley’s Believe It Or Not was of course a big influence on my own “reality comics,” although Ripley’s was really a series of spot illos accompanied by text, rather than a traditional multipanel comic STRIP. There was a shortlived Dick Clark strip called Rock, Roll and Remember that unfolded musician bios, albeit usually just with static drawings and encyclopedic captions, with virtually no dialogue, character interaction, or anything resembling a “scene.”
Overheard made its debut in early 1996. Originally, I was only the writer – Scott Pentzer drew the first few Overheards, and then Joe Paradise was aboard for around two years. When Joe could no longer work on it, I was stuck with the unenviable task of either finding another artist or drawing the thing myself. I hadn’t drawn a comic strip since some crude gag strips I’d done in high school for the school paper and yearbook.
When I realized that drawing it myself meant I no longer had to split the paycheck, I decided – at the age of 38 – to become a cartoonist.
My crash course involved consuming and all but memorizing several highly recommended books on the art of comics, including/especially Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud and Comics & Sequential Art by Will Eisner. After studying those two industry bibles, and a series of How To Draw books by Tarzan artist Burne Hogarth, my first solo Overheard comic debuted in 1998.
No, I will not reproduce it here – believe me, you wouldn’t be impressed. I’m frankly still amazed the Reader didn’t fire me.
The pressure of a weekly deadline, coupled with my weak art skills, kept me chained to the drawing board over the next couple of months. Once I got the hang of using a brush with a bit of flair, as Joe Paradise had done, rather than the rapidograph technical pen that made my drawings look like woodcuts, the Overheard comics grew from barely competent to halfway decent to, I hope today, not at all terrible.
My secret? Photos.
Seriously, if it weren’t for photo references, I could never duplicate local clubs down to the chair style, number of spotlights, bottles behind the bar, and correct type of doorknob.
And my portraits of celebrities for Famous Former Neighbors? Truth be told, 75% of the rendering for Famous Neighbors is done on the computer, in Photoshop, based on countless photo references. This was originally done so that Famous Neighbors would look distinctive and different from the hand-drawn Overheard comics, tho I soon discovered that the photo-realistic art I strove for was ONLY possible by building the actual images from actual photos of actual people doing actual things in actual places.
Here’s a sort of “Art Essay,” showing you what I mean, with artwork from both comic strips alongside the photos that formed the underlying basis of each piece.
Mind you I’m not saying that doing this sort of thing is EASY, and it’s certainly not QUICK – most times, it’d be far faster and easier to just draw a few representational lines than it is to meticulously render photos into black and white line artwork. Some of the Famous Neighbor portraits take hours to render photos into a piece of art that, when published, may get looked at for no more than two or three seconds, at most.
Back in the late ‘70s, when I used to draw caricatures in Balboa Park for $5 to $10, I could whip off a portrait in about five minutes. But none would look as photorealistic and artistic as any given Famous Neighbors entry.
Plus, thanks to working from photos, people no longer frown at my art and say “That doesn’t look anything like me” and refuse to pay me, like they usually did in Balboa Park…
- MOJO NIXON COMIX & STORIES
Elsewhere on this site, we just loaded a nearly complete collection of every Famous Former Neighbors comic strip to run in the Reader since the strip’s inception (on the mainpage, click “stories” and choose Famous Neighbors from the menu).
The first Famous Neighbors comic was on rockabilly rioter Mojo Nixon. Few realize that the original idea for the comic strip was to do a series of actual comic book style stories on celebs with local connections. That concept was abandoned for the more versatile (and challenging) comic strip format. Below is the original full-length Mojo Nixon comic story, co-written with the Mojo man himself.
- FAMOUS CARTOON NEIGHBORS
I've done a few Famous Former Neighbors comic strips about well-known cartoonists who've called San Diego home, including Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Harold Gray (Little Orphan Annie), and Jim Lee (Marvel artist and Image Comics co-founder).
There are more I plan to get to.
"LuAnn" creator Greg Evans and his wife Betty live in San Carlos. The comic was launched in 1987 and today is one of the most widely syndicated of U.S. strips. Last September, Evans debuted "Luann: Scenes From a Teen's Life," a musical that premiered at the California Center for the Arts.
Pete Hansen, creator of "Lolly," is from Denmark, but has been living in the U.S. since he was two. He was a Disney animator from 1938 to 1941, but he’s best known for his newspaper comics; “Flapdoodles” (1950-1953) and “Lolly” (1955-1983).
Gus Arriola spent several years living in La Jolla. His Hispanic-themed “Gordo” comic was hugely influential (and a personal fave of yours truly), but he got his start in animation. He spent a year at Screen Gems doing Krazy Kat cartoons, before joining MGM’s cartoon department to do story sketches for the Academy Award winning Tom and Jerry series. “Gordo” was launched in 1941.
"Matthew Alice" artist Rick Geary is actually pretty well-known outside our fine city. His work has graced many issues of National Lampoon, Heavy Metal and countless other newsstand mags, plus he's earned acclaim in the comic book field for distinctive, inventive graphic novels like his true-life "Treasury Of Victorian Murder." He also drew for a locally-produced horror comic book adapting classic stories by Larry Niven, Robert Bloch, and others, called "Deepest Dimension Terror Anthology." The comic - which I wrote and edited - was the brainchild of original Twilight Zone writer George Clayton Johnson.
Scott Shaw! (the exclamation point is part of his legal name) is a longtime local, familiar to anyone who's attended his annual wacky cover slideshows at San Diego Comic-Cons, dating back to its earliest humble incarnation at the El Cortez. He began doing “funny animal” comic books like “Wild Kingdom” for local publisher Pacific Comics, but went on to animated cartoons, winning an Emmy for his work on “Muppet Babies.” He’s also the guy behind around a hundred cartoon cereal commercials for Fruity Pebbles and Alpha-Bits.
“Rocketeer” creator and renowned pin-up artist Dave Stevens was based locally, at least until the Village Voice called his Rocketeer comic “The greatest comic book of all time.” The Rocketeer began in the pages of locally-produced comic books from Pacific Comics, based off Miramar Road. Though the movie based on his comic wasn’t a huge hit, he’s become one of the most sought-after “good girl” artists since Playboy’s legendary Vargas retired.
Wesley "Gene" Hazelton moved to Lake Murray around 1975, three blocks from the summit of Cowles Mountain, and was frequently seen walking along the Lake. From 1939 to 1942, he was a Disney animator and gag writer who worked on Pinocchio (1940), and Fantasia (1940), and he did early character design work for The Wind in the Willows and Peter Pan (1953).
He spent many years at MGM doing animated cartoon layouts and character designs for both Tex Avery and Hanna-Barbera. He animated the original I Love Lucy segment bumpers, and for years drew the Flintstones and Yogi Bear comic strips. He created Pebbles and Bamm Bamm for the Flintstones TV show (Bamm was based on his son).
Hazelton was a supporter of "Canine Companions" and a lifelong dog lover. He golfed all over San Diego, and he gave talks to local elementary schools where he drew and read for school kids. He was an early mentor to Scott Shaw!
- DRAWING DAVID BOWIE (time lapse)
- DRAWING MARILYN MONROE (time lapse)
- [PAINT]BRUSHES WITH FAME: HE PAINTS ROCK STARS
Illustrator Ken Meyer Jr. illustrates trading cards for role-playing games like Magic: The Gathering and Vampire, the Masquerade. "I don't even play those games," he says. "I don't know if I lack the brainpower or just don't have the time it takes to get into it."
Meyer's work often utilizes collage overlays, paste-on photos, and digital enhancement, resulting in a pop art style that Midnight Marquee magazine described as "LSD Realism."
“I've been reading comics since I was a kid, and that is where I first started to learn how to draw, by first tracing from them in my grandmother's kitchen. I still read many comics, but they have drifted in subject matter from the superheroes of my youth to more alternative fare such as Cerebus, Strangers in Paradise, Kabuki, Preacher and others.”
Somewhat surprisingly, in light of his accomplished technique, Meyer wasn't classically trained in art. “I went to a college that happened to be close to home, and my major was art, but I was a crappy student. I didn't pay attention."
After college, he ended up in Las Vegas, working for a government contractor doing training materials like slides, diagrams, and cartoons. "It was out in the middle of nowhere, supposedly right across from Area 51. You had to have a secret clearance for the job." After a year in the desert, his job brought him to San Diego where he freelanced after hours, drawing for independent comic books like Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters and mass-market Marvel comics such as Ghost Rider and the sci-fi anthology Open Space.
Around 1992 Meyer started creating illustrations for local-based Axcess magazine, "even though they didn't pay anything...I just did it for the exposure and to paint neat subjects like Tori Amos and guys like Burt Ward from the old Batman show."
He next did a long run of fully painted comic book covers for Hillcrest-based Revolutionary Comics, most notably for the flagship title Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics (which I wrote and edited at the time).
This job led to his not-for-profit portraits of musicians. "When I started bringing the paintings to get backstage [it was because] I don't want to be just another faceless guy who meets someone and says, 'Gee, I really like your music.' I want to be remembered for giving them something unique, and maybe they sign something in return for me. It's also a way to make professional connections, in case anything will come out of it that gets me work.”
"Don Mclean was coming to town, and I did [drawings of] him. I was the club early and just by chance he walked out the door and almost ran into me. I said, 'I have these paintings I want to give to you,' and he looked at them and liked them a lot. I had some song lyrics as part of one painting, Masters of War, which is actually a Dylan song, but I didn't know it then. He didn't act offended, though."
His portrait of Sting, however, did not get him anywhere near the star's dressing room. "He was too big at the time, but a roadie took a print of the painting back to him and brought it back to me, autographed."
Meyer also failed to connect with U2 or Springsteen but did meet Tori Amos.
"Tori Amos was touring for her second album...She played I think at Sound FX, where the Bacchanal used to be. I hung around, talked to the tour manager, and he let me go backstage after the show to give her the painting. I remember she was very nice to me. She said she liked the piece an awful lot, and I had a print copy of the painting that she signed for me. There were other people waiting to see her, so we only talked for a few minutes."
Amos welcomed Meyer backstage again about two years later. "I ended up meeting the art director who was doing her tour programs, and that resulted in me getting my art into her next tour book. I did a piece [which was] part digital and part what I call analog. It started as a big painting that I scanned into the computer and added a bunch of effects to - Polaroids stuck over it, answering machine tape and stuff, kind of collaged on there." Meyer was paid for this piece.
"I used paintings to get backstage for Elvis Costello twice. He was really gracious. The first time, back in about 1983, it was after the show and he was pretty quiet, he wasn't talking that much. He said he liked [the painting] but acted a little standoffish.”
“The second time we met…I got a picture with him, something I never used to do because it seemed like such a fawning, geeky, fan kind of thing to do. Now I look back and [I] wish I'd been taking them all along."
Other successful backstage forays have allowed Meyer to meet performers like Bruce Cockburn…
…Loudon Wainwright III, and Todd Rundgren. "Rundgren was a little cold. He was touring for the A Cappella album with about 15 singers behind him, with no instruments. After the show, they were all heading for a bowling alley, they were all into it big-time, and I could tell he was a lot more anxious to bowl than talk to me.”
"The painting I gave to Loudon Wainwright [III] was kind of personal because I [based it] on a photo of him, from one of his albums, with his sister when were just kids. He really seemed appreciative and said he wanted to give it to her as a present. I've since met with the ol' Loudo again after a show, and he said she loved it. That's what I mean creating and giving away something special, especially when it ends up moving someone like that whose music has moved me so much."
Getting paid for his art became more of a priority once Meyer married. "I took a chance and quit my job to do freelance artwork at home for an eight-month period after our first baby was born. We didn't want to put her in day care right away...It went okay, she wasn't too mobile that first year, so I could handle her. It was an effort to line up work though. I did a lot of art for game companies like White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast.
After 2000, Meyer's workload included many front covers and interior drawings for locally-published Computer Edge magazine. In addition, several recording artists have commissioned paying work for him. But he says, "I'm not getting so much work on the side that I'm ready to quit my day job," he says.
His work for various goth-style role-playing games and online games like Everquest have earned him a following among the darkly dressed. "The ones into vampire stuff are surprised when they see me. They expect me to be dark and gothic'] because of the artwork, But I'm such a regular-looking guy. And they usually say I'm a lot older than they expected."
Meyer's next day job involved designing "texture maps, which are, in this case, sets of clothing for characters - leather outfits, chain mail outfits, and plate armor outfits for each character," for Internet role-playing games for a division of Sony called Verant, based in the Miramar area and best known for their popular Everquest game.
"I've never been into games, but they do amazing work, whole detailed worlds and characters that are thought our right down to the ecology and the science. It's very precise - you have no idea how hard it is, just getting a suit of chain mail to fully wrap around a 3-D moving figure.”
He recently relocated with his family to Georgia, on the east coast. “At the moment, I'm working on my MFA in Sequential Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design, having already gotten my BFA in Illustration…Summa Cum Laude, for those that are counting. I hope to teach at the college level when I am done, unless an incredible job drops in my lap.”
“However, my lap is ready, so don't hesitate, big time CEOs out there!”
(Photos & art courtesy www.kenmeyerjr.com)
Frank Zappa: Feature-Length Famous Former Neighbors Comic
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- "What's Your Favorite Twilight Zone?" 25 Local Musicos Talk Twilight, plus ShatFest — Dec. 18, 2007
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