Jeff Smith 7 a.m., March 30
Cartoonist Confessions: How’d He Do That?
Secrets Behind Overheard & Famous 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.
A piece like the San Diego skyline below took nearly 10 hours and a half dozen different photos to pull off, but the result is a piece that actually has the correct number of stories in the buildings depicted, even while most of the architectural elements are simplified and comic-ized, using little more than a bunch of straight lines to depict a very complex and very huge cityscape.
Likewise, 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 often did in Balboa Park…
Drawing Marilyn Monroe from a photo (time lapse)
Drawing David Bowie (time lapse)
PEPPER & SUPERVILLAINS AT HOUSE OF BLUES: 1-2-09
[SHOW PHOTOS BEING UPLOADED SHORTLY]
Nearly-famous former neighbors Pepper returned to San Diego tonight for a homecoming set at the downtown HOB, backing up their buddies in the Supervillains. Awhile back, Pepper relocated to Kailua Kona, Hawaii, but many locals still consider Pepper to be hometown heroes. The show was open to all-ages.
“The first leg of the Law Records Tour was insane every night, and this one is shaping up to be even crazier,” emailed Supervillains singer/guitarist Scott Suldo shortly before the show. “Supervillains are direct-supporting Pepper, and our horn players make cameos all over Pepper's set. Being Slightly Stoopid’s hometown as well, there's a chance we might bring out Kyle [McDonald] because he appears on our new album [Massive], but I don’t know if they're gonna be in town or not.”
Our freelance photog-on-the-spot Sage Robinson (www.myspace.com/yourmoneylady) has been reporting live from the concert, along with her friend Sylvia, though she says they didn’t think much of Pepper.
“Pepper’s drummer’s girlfriend took away our photo pass, apparently because she was jealous of us taking pictures,” according to Sage. “Pepper was not friendly to help us at all…they were complete a-holes! We were not even allowed to take photos of them!”
“Supervillains rocked, though Kyle from Slightly Stoopid didn’t show to play with them. Passafire opened the show, and they rocked. They were very down to earth, with great music!”
As this report is coming in, just after the show, Sage and her friend Sylvia are hanging out with Passafire at Sage’s place.
“I asked them if they Overheard in San Diego anything funny or dumb for your comic, and they said not until they got to my place!! Anyway, they were dancing prom style like a penguin with my girlfriend Sylvia. She is wasted right now…at the moment, she is singing Boys II Men’s ‘Legacy’ while dancing penguin style with Cliff (lead guitar for Passafire), who happens to play white reggae with the band. Picture to be uploaded shortly!” Pepper landed its first big break several years ago, when L.A. DJ "Jed the Fish" got his station (KROQ-FM) to play the reggae/rock trio's "Give It Up." That airplay spurred other stations across the country to play the song, which in turn launched a label bidding war over the band (which includes guitarist Kaleo Wassman and bassist Bret Bollinger). "There were, like, five labels," Pepper drummer Yesod Williams told Blurt (June 30, 2005). "Columbia, Interscope, Maverick...we went with Lava/Atlantic because they only release, like, 13 records a year. Capitol releases, like, 300." Lava gave the band a three-album deal. "Nowadays, no one gets huge advances," admits Williams. "But we're happy with the deal, to say the least." Pepper moved to Vista from Hawaii in 1999, eventually landing a deal with Volcom Entertainment. They started working with Matt Phillips of Silverback Management (Slightly Stoopid, Fishbone) in 2003. Phillips took "Give It Up" -- originally released in 2002 -- to KROQ. "It was similar to 'Date Rape' by Sublime," says Phillips. "That song was around for three years until it took off [via radio airplay]." The 2007 Warped Tour included Pepper and fellow locals As I Lay Dying. In their ten-year existence, the Supervillains have taken their resurgent ska and reggae sound from Oakland CA to all over the world. Since the 2006 release of their debut album Grow Yer Own on Law Records, the band has logged over 400 shows. Their patented sound is generated by a rock-solid rhythm section including two vocalists in band founders Scott Suldo (guitar) and Dominic Maresco (drums). Bassist Daniel Grundorf provides the low-end super-glue that paves the way for the fiery horn section of Jonathan Cestero (tenor sax) and Ricardo San Jose (trumpet). Their "anything goes" live performances give way periodically to their onstage musings and commentary, which often times is as memorable as the music. Capitalizing on the many different musical influences of the band members, their sets usually volley between Operation Ivy-style speed-punk and Studio One-era reggae punctuated with southern harmonies and Latin brass. The Supervillains’ newest album Massive was released November 25 on Law Records, in conjunction with Silverback Entertainment's new umbrella Controlled Substances SoundLabs (Sony RED).
More like this:
- RIP Reader cover artist and underground comix legend Spain Rodriguez — Nov. 28, 2012
- Painting Rock Stars, plus Behind the Scenes: Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors — May 8, 2008
- Secrets of Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors, Mojo & Zappa Comix, [Paint]Brushes With Fame — April 2, 2008
- Frank Zappa Comics And Stories, plus Top 5 Lists, Fallen Pinoy Idol — Nov. 10, 2007
- The Birth of Image Comics - An Illustrated History — Sept. 3, 2007