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So How Come, 17 Years Later, Overheard in San Diego is Still Black and White??

The Reader's Overheard In San Diego comic strip made its debut in the Blurt column almost 17 years ago. Here's the tryout strip I submitted with my original sales pitch:

None

As you can see, little about the format has changed. And yet, despite most of the paper having gone full-color a decade ago, only two Overheards have ever been published with color (and one of those had just a single color).

More and more, people ask me "How come?" Time to fess up....

It all has to do with how our brain perceives things like color. I “suffer” from an ocular malformation that prevents me from seeing the full range of colors like most people. I particularly have trouble telling yellow from orange from red. It’s all one shade to me. I’m not even sure I’ve ever SEEN what most people perceive as “orange” (other than on LSD, which I’ll get back to).

My girl sends me to the store to buy oranges, I’d bring home round lemons if there weren’t signs….

Imagine what that was like as a kid. At Halloween! To this day, friends tease me with “color tests.” “Hey Jay, what color is THAT?” And they snicker when I’m apparently “wrong” (which is really more a matter of how my eyeballs translate differently the same stuff they see).

So I see the world in more or less sepia tones, something closer to monochromatic than psychedelic. That guy who did the Alien paintings, H.R. Giger, I think he has the same vision defect. And YET – I’ve colored comic books for a living! See, I UNDERSTAND the full range of colors, thanks to RGB color scales we used to do color separations with. I can tell you the exact mix of tones that equals orange. But I can’t SEE orange.

I can remember, as a kid, thinking the whole world was playing a crappy prank on me with this orange crap…

(Side note: A porn star I once dated, a very dumb porn star, asked me “So when you get to a stop light, if you can’t see most reds, how do you know to stop?” As if I can’t tell when the lights switch up from green. The same poor silly girl then asked – swear to gawd – as we pulled up to a stop sign, “So how did you know to stop?” Uh, sweetheart….cuz I can READ! Of course, this same girl also once got a boob job, and then swam in the ocean the next day, essentially contracting gangrene in her stitches – I asked what the hell she was thinking, and she said “Well, the ocean is salt water, my new boobs are MADE of salt water, so what could go wrong? It’s sterile, right?” I had to break up with her after she started a fire in my oven by trying to reheat Chinese food in a styrofoam box. Her reasoning? “Well, it works in the microwave!” ALL TRUE!)

So, yeah, our perception of reality is at the whim of how our eyeballs are shaped. And how they’re wired to our brain. Ask a bee or a fly to describe what he sees, and you’ll hear stuff only Tim Leary has imagined.

One final thought about color: The first time I did LSD. Holy jeez – colors I didn’t know existed! They WERE there, in my brain, after all! I just couldn’t get to them thru my eyes. But from WITHIN, well, damn. I’d spend hours sitting in a car, just breathing fog onto the window and wiping my hand back and forth in the condensation, creating exploding rainbows with my fingertips. “Dude, trails!” The only thing I’ve ever seen that comes close when I’m NOT on psychedelic drugs is LED-lit letters and numbers.

In the dark, the numbers on a digital alarm clock are, to me, bright enough to land a plane by!

Now then: Overheard 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.”

When Overheard made its debut, I was only the writer. Scott Pentzer drew the first few Overheards, and then Joe Paradise was aboard for around two years. Below is one of Paradise's first editions:

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.

A little known fact: my "claim to fame" in life-so-far (and probably the only career qualification that enabled me to get my big toe into the door of the Reader office) is my role in co-creating the world famous locally-produced Rock 'N' Roll Comics line of comic books (as chronicled in the new DVD documentary Unauthorized and Proud Of It: The Story of Rock 'N' Roll Comics, co-starring Alice Cooper and Mojo Nixon), and my tenure as publisher and head writer for Carnal Comics: True Stories of Adult Film Stars (the best selling adults-only comics in industry history, still published today, tho I abdicated my throne in 2000).

However, not a single Rock 'N' Roll Comics ish, nor any Carnal Comics, contain any of my own artwork! I thumbnailed a lot of stories, and even penciled a couple that were redone by REAL cartoonists, but I never considered my own meager artwork worthy of publishing. Not even while I was a publisher! And that's the only reason most comic creators BECOME publishers - to get their artwork in print.

So...when I realized that drawing Overheard in San Diego 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. I recycled a lot of Paradise's setups (and still do), frankensteining them into new creations to match the various bits of dialogue I attempt to bring to life each issue.

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.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

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.

None

This was originally done so that Famous Neighbors would look distinctive and different from the 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.

Image

Image

Image

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.

None

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.

None

17 years since my first comic strip ran in the Reader, the paper has now published over a thousand of my comics. No wonder my drawing hand is tired! Sooooo.....

WOULD YOU LIKE TO WIN SOME FREE OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO ARTWORK?

As you may or may not know, I depend on tipsters to email me stuff they've overheard around town. Whoever sends me a tip that gets illustrated gets to keep the original artwork for that week's comic strip. At this point, I've given away the majority of Overheard artwork (which made it hard to come up with recent art to display in gallery showings!)

Image

If you're interested in becoming a regular tipster, and in getting some free artwork, the things we look for are:

1) The strip should somehow be music related, and it must definitely be local-centric.

2) A locale setting that'd be fun to draw (club with unique decor, an iconic local landmark or building, lots of interesting looking people, etc).

3) Dialogue that comes across as either funny, head-scratching, utterly inexplicable, or so perfectly suited to its locale and/or the speakers that it's almost like illustrating a cliche.

4) "Guest stars" that are well-known locals or visiting celebs.

If you think you have good bits of overheard chatter, feel free to email directly to me at [email protected] .

I particularly enjoy drawing iconic locales around town, tho, as you can see above, I completely rely on good photo references to work up from.

So if you want some of this artwork for your own wall (or fridge, or bird cage lining), now you know what we're seeking! I look forward to your tips!

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…

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Importance of plastic Nutella jar.

The Reader's Overheard In San Diego comic strip made its debut in the Blurt column almost 17 years ago. Here's the tryout strip I submitted with my original sales pitch:

None

As you can see, little about the format has changed. And yet, despite most of the paper having gone full-color a decade ago, only two Overheards have ever been published with color (and one of those had just a single color).

More and more, people ask me "How come?" Time to fess up....

It all has to do with how our brain perceives things like color. I “suffer” from an ocular malformation that prevents me from seeing the full range of colors like most people. I particularly have trouble telling yellow from orange from red. It’s all one shade to me. I’m not even sure I’ve ever SEEN what most people perceive as “orange” (other than on LSD, which I’ll get back to).

My girl sends me to the store to buy oranges, I’d bring home round lemons if there weren’t signs….

Imagine what that was like as a kid. At Halloween! To this day, friends tease me with “color tests.” “Hey Jay, what color is THAT?” And they snicker when I’m apparently “wrong” (which is really more a matter of how my eyeballs translate differently the same stuff they see).

So I see the world in more or less sepia tones, something closer to monochromatic than psychedelic. That guy who did the Alien paintings, H.R. Giger, I think he has the same vision defect. And YET – I’ve colored comic books for a living! See, I UNDERSTAND the full range of colors, thanks to RGB color scales we used to do color separations with. I can tell you the exact mix of tones that equals orange. But I can’t SEE orange.

I can remember, as a kid, thinking the whole world was playing a crappy prank on me with this orange crap…

(Side note: A porn star I once dated, a very dumb porn star, asked me “So when you get to a stop light, if you can’t see most reds, how do you know to stop?” As if I can’t tell when the lights switch up from green. The same poor silly girl then asked – swear to gawd – as we pulled up to a stop sign, “So how did you know to stop?” Uh, sweetheart….cuz I can READ! Of course, this same girl also once got a boob job, and then swam in the ocean the next day, essentially contracting gangrene in her stitches – I asked what the hell she was thinking, and she said “Well, the ocean is salt water, my new boobs are MADE of salt water, so what could go wrong? It’s sterile, right?” I had to break up with her after she started a fire in my oven by trying to reheat Chinese food in a styrofoam box. Her reasoning? “Well, it works in the microwave!” ALL TRUE!)

So, yeah, our perception of reality is at the whim of how our eyeballs are shaped. And how they’re wired to our brain. Ask a bee or a fly to describe what he sees, and you’ll hear stuff only Tim Leary has imagined.

One final thought about color: The first time I did LSD. Holy jeez – colors I didn’t know existed! They WERE there, in my brain, after all! I just couldn’t get to them thru my eyes. But from WITHIN, well, damn. I’d spend hours sitting in a car, just breathing fog onto the window and wiping my hand back and forth in the condensation, creating exploding rainbows with my fingertips. “Dude, trails!” The only thing I’ve ever seen that comes close when I’m NOT on psychedelic drugs is LED-lit letters and numbers.

In the dark, the numbers on a digital alarm clock are, to me, bright enough to land a plane by!

Now then: Overheard 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.”

When Overheard made its debut, I was only the writer. Scott Pentzer drew the first few Overheards, and then Joe Paradise was aboard for around two years. Below is one of Paradise's first editions:

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.

A little known fact: my "claim to fame" in life-so-far (and probably the only career qualification that enabled me to get my big toe into the door of the Reader office) is my role in co-creating the world famous locally-produced Rock 'N' Roll Comics line of comic books (as chronicled in the new DVD documentary Unauthorized and Proud Of It: The Story of Rock 'N' Roll Comics, co-starring Alice Cooper and Mojo Nixon), and my tenure as publisher and head writer for Carnal Comics: True Stories of Adult Film Stars (the best selling adults-only comics in industry history, still published today, tho I abdicated my throne in 2000).

However, not a single Rock 'N' Roll Comics ish, nor any Carnal Comics, contain any of my own artwork! I thumbnailed a lot of stories, and even penciled a couple that were redone by REAL cartoonists, but I never considered my own meager artwork worthy of publishing. Not even while I was a publisher! And that's the only reason most comic creators BECOME publishers - to get their artwork in print.

So...when I realized that drawing Overheard in San Diego 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. I recycled a lot of Paradise's setups (and still do), frankensteining them into new creations to match the various bits of dialogue I attempt to bring to life each issue.

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.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

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.

None

This was originally done so that Famous Neighbors would look distinctive and different from the 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.

Image

Image

Image

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.

None

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.

None

17 years since my first comic strip ran in the Reader, the paper has now published over a thousand of my comics. No wonder my drawing hand is tired! Sooooo.....

WOULD YOU LIKE TO WIN SOME FREE OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO ARTWORK?

As you may or may not know, I depend on tipsters to email me stuff they've overheard around town. Whoever sends me a tip that gets illustrated gets to keep the original artwork for that week's comic strip. At this point, I've given away the majority of Overheard artwork (which made it hard to come up with recent art to display in gallery showings!)

Image

If you're interested in becoming a regular tipster, and in getting some free artwork, the things we look for are:

1) The strip should somehow be music related, and it must definitely be local-centric.

2) A locale setting that'd be fun to draw (club with unique decor, an iconic local landmark or building, lots of interesting looking people, etc).

3) Dialogue that comes across as either funny, head-scratching, utterly inexplicable, or so perfectly suited to its locale and/or the speakers that it's almost like illustrating a cliche.

4) "Guest stars" that are well-known locals or visiting celebs.

If you think you have good bits of overheard chatter, feel free to email directly to me at [email protected] .

I particularly enjoy drawing iconic locales around town, tho, as you can see above, I completely rely on good photo references to work up from.

So if you want some of this artwork for your own wall (or fridge, or bird cage lining), now you know what we're seeking! I look forward to your tips!

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…

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Here's something you might be interested in.
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Comments
1

Ha, a cartoonist friend just forwarded me a message from Robt. Crumb (who I've only met once, a quarter century ago), commenting on my confession about swiping from him for my high school paper cartoon - "And I thought you were the only cartoonist alive who HASN'T ripped off [my] Keep On Truckin." Oh well, only steal from the best, I always say ---

Sept. 1, 2012

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